As I look at the pictures I took on my birthday, I feel pride for what my life has created, for the unique perspective I have on the world, for the things that have transformed in me, and the ways I will continue to grow. The best life is one of constant learning, integrating what serves you, and letting go when it’s time. Parenting, relationships, control, our bodies…there is a beautiful freedom about not fighting the current of life, but instead leaning into it and letting it float you downstream. This is the process that has taught me to forgive, feel stronger, take better care of myself, be more and do less, and understand that we are all worthy without having to prove anything to anybody. I feel this freedom when I move, whether it’s playing volleyball, flowing in yoga, swimming laps, or even just walking and letting my mind go. What I’ve realized about myself is that my executive functioning brain is primed and ready to journal and sort things out on a cognitive level, but my limbic brain holds on to the trauma, the old stories and false truths that I clung to for a long time. For me, movement is where it’s at. It's my release and reset, where my body can learn to live the fullest expression of my story. So while I am not chasing youth, I am fully invested in taking care of what I have so that I can move through this life as long as possible.
This week, as I started my 47th year of life, I started to think about the things that make us wiser instead of older. When I was playing volleyball the day before my birthday, I made a joke about how I wouldn’t trade my 46 year old body for my 22 year old brain. But maybe the trick is to learn to integrate and maximize where we can. So how do we do that?
1. Sleep - I’ve said it before, it’s the foundation of our success. It boosts our immune system, helps us store memories and things we learned, promote tissue repair, reduce inflammation, and help us manage our moods and our stress better. Here are some ideas to help you sleep better:
* Set a consistent sleep and wake time. When we go to sleep and wake up at the same (or close to the same) time every day, our body is able to maintain it’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm. This makes it easier for us to fall asleep and wake up unassisted.
* Seek the morning light & the evening sunset. This is another sleep/wake habit that I practice regularly. The morning light coaxes your system awake. Walk outside within minutes of getting out of bed and you will find your mood and energy for the day lifts easily. Watching the sunset adjusts allows your body to begin processing that bedtime is near.
* Skip the blue light at least two hours before bed. Blue light blocks melatonin, the hormone that helps us fall asleep. This is by far the hardest one to stick to for me. With the presence of our phones and laptops in life, it’s hard to stay away from blue light for two hours before bed. But if we do, we sleep better and have a better shot at getting ample REM and deep sleep that are key for learning and recovery.
* Skip the late night snacks - Intermittent Fasting taught me about how much better I sleep when I don’t have food in my stomach that needs to digest. If we make our last intake at least three hours before going to bed, our heart rate lowers quicker and we get a sounder nights sleep.
* Skip the alcohol - My Oura ring (best sleep tracking device ever!) has taught me what alcohol does to our sleep cycle. When we drink, our heart rate lowers later in the night, preventing us from getting enough Deep and REM sleep. We may feel like we fall asleep faster or even “pass out” but the sleep in this state is not restful.
* Skip the snooze button, or the alarm altogether. I have always hated the alarm clock and the sleep that we get after we hit the snooze button isn’t quality sleep. Since college, I have left my curtains or shades slightly open so that the morning sunlight will come through and gently wake me. Only if there is a plane to catch at an ungodly hour do I set an alarm.
2. Let go of binary thinking - The older we get, the more we learn that life is not a black and white place. It takes maturity to let in the shades of gray, to admit that a story has multiple sides. So rather than judging someone is wrong, consider that it’s possible that more than one person is right. Basically, there is a little truth in a lot of things, so you may as well learn from a different perspective and avoid being the cynic in the room. If you feel threatened by someone’s truth, slow down and ask yourself why. It’s nearly guaranteed that you don’t know the whole story. When we feel that need to criticize or judge, it’s usually an indication that it’s something we need to work on for ourselves. You can be honest with yourself without feeling shame, so breathe, listen, trust your instincts, and embrace curiosity instead of fear.
3. Forget Habits, Embrace Practice - For a long time, I created good habits that would help me create structure and take care of myself and the people I loved. The short side of this focus though, especially if you have some perfectionist tendencies, is that if you fall short for a day, or a week, or a year, it can be shame inducing. And nothing drains our energy to push forward more than shame. Yoga taught me to view my entire life as a practice…to show up ready to grow and flow, and then when I falter, to integrate that wobble, extra movement, or even a fall into my day without letting it define me. Practice allows us to evolve, improvise, and trust ourselves a little more each day. Then we can make a habit of getting better every day.
4. Let your expression of wholeness be greater than the sum of your parts. As I closed out Friday afternoon with a beautiful sunset near the Manhattan Beach Pier taking a volleyball class with six women, I had this thought. As an athlete, I will always believe in solid fundamentals, and even keep working on them where I stand today, I love the challenge. But my body was struggling to do the little things right, get the deep bend in my knees, not wobble on my feet, set with my legs…when I break the skills down into basics, there are so many things I struggle with because my body is lopsided, stronger on the left than it is on the right because of a age old ankle injury. But when I trust, and let my instinct take over, my body knows what it can do for itself, blending all of its strength and limitation. And that’s when I can get a one handed dig at the back of the court and get a transition hard angle kill that lands in, right on the line. Learning to trust our instincts helps us have confidence in ourselves. No one is going to do things exactly like you can, and our strengths and vulnerability make up our own sense of what is whole.
Adding another year to life is about finding YOUR way, with grace, and ease. Don’t fight it, embrace it with all of it’s imperfection because, as my sweet friend Jeri reminded me this week…hope and fear are two sides of the same coin. I’m rooting for hope as I start my 47th year on this earth, and I feel it winning with every sunrise.
Some of the best things that have come out of 2020 are great artists with double album releases - here’s my choice for song of the week this week. Hope you enjoy!
With love & optimism,