Embracing the Darkness

Embracing the Darkness

by Emma Szczepanek

July first marks the beginning of the second half of the year. For those who are goal oriented, or even for those who are not, this can sometimes spark a new beginnig similar to New Years Day. I always aim for my writing to be uplifting and inspiring, and I wanted to bring you something about fresh starts, but as July carries on, I have realized that a fresh start is not my current experience. I want my writing to be a space of authenticity, and with the veil of social media, it’s easy to make our lives look effortless and perfect, but that’s not real life. We all experience hardship, and to compare our hardships to others “perfect” social media posts makes life a lot more difficult. This space doesn’t need another New Year, New Me post, #MondayMotivation or #lifegoals post. This space we call the internet needs something real.

I have, for a long time, and still do, struggle with my relationship with food and a very distorted body image, and unfortunately, this summer has not been an exception to those emotions. This summer has been hard. I’ve struggled with my body, I’ve struggled with anxiety, and I’ve spent a good majority of my time at the lake or pool worrying more than I have enjoying, but as I explore my emotions, I come to understand that they are exactly what I need to feel.

Five years ago I would have handled these emotions very differently. I would have used self harm and other destructive behaviors to cope. Today, I choose to sit with my feelings, and experience them. I no longer restrict my food intake, I don’t turn to self harm. I pick myself up and try to keep myself in the moment, focus on the facts of the situation, and turn to gratitude, because I know those are the healthiest choices I can make. As I reflect on my 27 years, I understand that my summer experience may not be picture perfect. It may not be Instagramable (is that even a word?), but it is the exact experience I need to continue growing on my journey.

With mental illness and hardships, there are always days where it may feel as though you’re slipping back into old patterns or behaviors. Some days it feels like the mountains you’ve climbed to “recovery” were only small hills, but in those times it’s important to dig deep, and to reflect on those emotions, because in doing so, you’ll realize that you’ve come a lot further than you have given yourself credit for. The simple act of recognizing that old patterns and behaviors are surfacing again, is growth within itself. Recovery is truly a journey and not a destination (sometimes really cheesy sayings are just true, ok?). Five years ago I was lost, ill, and completely unsure of myself. I was willing to follow a well built path to society’s ideas of success, at the expense of my own happiness. Today,  I have a clear vision of what I want. Today I have started to build my own path to the success that I’ve imagined for myself, and that is something that I would have never thought I would do. While yesterday’s emotions may have seemed similar to 22 year old me, my reaction to those emotions was completely different. That is where growth lies. That is what recovery is about. Recovery is not about the emotions you feel, recovery is about the way you deal with them.  

So, yes. New month, new you. New week, new Monday, new morning, new minute. Make the changes you feel you need to make in order to live up to your highest potential, but when things get dark, when old emotions surface, embrace them. Dive into them head first, sit with them, experience them, and then, let yourself grow.

Five Tips For Loving Yourself

The concept of self-love has always been hard for me to grasp because I spent so long at war with myself. I always equated self-love to having the perfect body, and because I could never achieve that (Newsflash: No One Can) I felt that I could never truly love myself. I spent a lot of time looking for love and validation in other people, which put me in some really unhealthy relationships. It wasn’t until I realized that I am capable of living in a state of love all on my own that my life started to change for the better. We spend so much time focusing on our relationships with other people that we often forget about the one we have with ourselves. We’re willing to jump through hoops to please others, but how often do we do that for ourselves? We would never fathom putting up with an abusive relationship with someone else, but how often do you talk down to yourself on a daily basis? How often do you really give thought to your relationship with yourself? If you haven’t done that in a while, I suggest taking some time out to really tune into that relationship. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it abusive? Once you’ve tuned in to the current state of your relationship with yourself, here are some tips to improve that relationship, and to cultivate the self-love you need and deserve.

  1. Create and Commit to a Morning Routine

Mornings are powerful. You can make or break your day by how you spend your morning, so why not dedicate some serious time to it? When we spend our mornings rushing to get out the door we set ourselves up for a hectic day right off the bat, but if we slow down, and take our time getting ready for the day ahead, it’s much easier to take that mindset with you the rest of the day. Wondering how you’re going to find extra time in the morning to slow down? Start with just five minutes. Set your alarm five minutes earlier than you normally would and start from there (without pressing snooze!)

  1. Self Care

This one seems like a no brainer, but you can understand where this gets hard. Showering, brushing our teeth, doing our hair, all of these things have become second nature to us at this point, but sometimes when we’re down on ourselves, or spend an entire day in bed these things get pushed to the back burner. Make self care a priority in your life. No matter what your day looks like, make sure you’re taking time out to physically take care of yourself, and when you do that, take a little extra time to do something special. For me, putting on lotion is a big one. It’s something small and simple, and something most people do without even thinking about it, but I often skip it because I’m in a hurry. When I get out of the shower and moisturize, I feel like I’m doing something good for myself, and that’s really important. It’s not anything huge, but it’s something small I can do on a daily basis to show myself that I’m worth the extra time, and I care about myself.

  1. Date Yourself

I love this one because it’s fun! Often times we think that dating is strictly for people in relationships, but let’s take a second to break down that idea. We go on dates with our partner to spend time with them and enjoy their company. If we think about the idea of having a relationship with ourselves, don’t we also deserve that time alone to enjoy our own company? At first, this can sound scary, it’s really hard to be alone with your thoughts, especially if you aren’t used to it, but once you get used to the idea it can be extremely therapeutic. Take yourself out to a restaurant you’ve been wanting to try. Go to that museum you’ve been wanting to check out. That art opening? Take yourself! When we constantly look for other people to experience things with, we’re sometimes subconsciously settling. We’re worrying about whether or not the other person will enjoy the activity, instead of just spending our time in the moment enjoying it ourselves.  When you do things on your own, you only have to do things that YOU like and enjoy. You can be present in the moment, form your own opinions on the experience, and I believe that’s really important in discovering our true selves. I challenge you to try it once a month. Even if it’s just an hour at a coffee shop you’ve been wanting to try. I promise you’ll end up loving it, and looking forward to your monthly date.

  1. Exercise

Ok, I won’t spend much time on this one, because we all know how important exercise is, but because it is important, I wanted to touch on it. We all know that exercise releases endorphins, that natural chemical that makes you feel good, and self-love is all about feeling good. Many people get caught up in the word exercise and write it off because they don’t enjoy lifting weights or running, but exercise can be anything that gets you moving and increases your heart rate. Yoga, walking, rollerblading, dancing with your kids, all of that is exercise, so find something you really enjoy doing and dedicate just thirty minutes to it a day.

  1. Meditate

Meditation has started to become more mainstream, which I’m loving, but I still feel that people have a skewed idea of what meditation is, and the time it takes. Put simply, meditation is just focusing on the moment that you’re in while you’re in it. Seems simple and complicated at the same time, right? I promise you, once you start it won’t be as complicated as it seems. There are a million ways that you can go about meditation, but if you have access to a smartphone, I recommend trying the Headspace app. It’s available in the Android marketplace or on the iTunes store, and the app itself is free to download. Once you download the app you can get ten days for free, which I think gives you a really great base, and a good idea of what meditation looks like. After the ten days, you can continue to use Headspace by paying for a subscription, or you can start meditating on your own with your new found skills. If you don’t want to mess with Headspace, there are also tons of resources on YouTube that you can check out, but I really believe that Headspace and apps like it (Calm, Aura, etc)  give you the most education about meditation, and lays it out beautifully with really zero effort on your part, outside of the whole meditation part of course.

So, now that you have a few tips on how to make your relationship with yourself the best it can be, try them out! Set some goals, maybe focus on just one of these each week. Start to create a healthy relationship with yourself and see how your life changes!


Losing The Last 10 Pounds…

Before I opened the studio, I actually had a go at teaching pre and post natal fitness in the Grand Rapids community. I soon realized that screaming babies in strollers was not my thing, but I did learn a few things about patience, which every parent is rudely awakened to, AND to be patient with my own body post-baby. For most moms, we spend nine months accumulating new weight, for a good reason, so we can’t expect it to shed in just 21 days, right?

With any weight loss program, it requires a certain amount of patience, especially if you are going to do it the correct way. Now that Jackson is almost 11 months old, I am FINALLY back to my pre-pregnancy weight and can share some of my top tips for you, in losing that last few (stubborn) pounds! Especially when you get down to the last 5, 10, or 15 pounds you want to lose, the scale may suddenly refuse to budge. You might be tempted to drastically reduce calories or increase the amount of time you spend working out. Don’t do it. Instead, here are some simple tricks to consider…

1) Pump Iron. If you are not already doing it, make the focus of your workout strength training. There is a huge misperception that you need to do lots of cardio to burn calories. Sure, when you do cardio, you burn calories during the activity, but with strength training, you burn calories both during and afterwards for up to 48 hours! This is known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) or the more well-know “afterburn”. Resistance training also boosts your metabolism, improves insulin resistance and shuts down the fat-storing enzymes in your body. Just remember that cardio is another form of movement, but you need variety to see results. No one will look his or her best without resistance training, a cornerstone of my training programs. I strength train at least 4 hours a week, including Body Pump, RIPPED, TRX, Pilates and Bootcamp.

2) Bump up the intensity of your workouts. No matter what workout program you’re doing, you will lose weight faster if you kick up the intensity. Jump higher, squat lower, and increase the weight you’re lifting to burn more calories, rev your metabolism, and stoke the fat-burning fire. Don’t just go through the motions; attack your workouts and push harder.

3) Change your exercise routine. If you’ve already increased the intensity of your workout program and still find that your weight loss has slowed, it might be time to try something different. When you perform the same exercises over and over, your body becomes more efficient at them. As a result, you use less energy and burn fewer calories. By starting a new fitness routine, you’ll shock your muscles, reignite your metabolism, and get the scale moving again. Think about which classes you have not tried or what you can do outside of Allegro to compliment your fitness even more!

4) Stand up. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that lean people spend 2 more hours per day on their feet than overweight people. Participants in the study who stood, paced, and fidgeted burned as many as 350 extra calories a day and were much leaner than those who didn’t move as much. Get up from your desk at work, talk on the phone while standing, and stay on your feet in waiting rooms—the simplest effort will yield an extra calorie burn that may help you shed those remaining pounds. As a busy mom, I don’t even know what the concept of sitting is, besides passing out every night when I hit the bed!

5) Drink more water. You may not realize how important water is for weight loss- it’s not just a tool to help you eat less. Being properly hydrated will balance your energy levels, which allows you to exercise with intensity. (Have you ever been so thirsty during a workout that you couldn’t perform as well as usual?) Drinking enough water may also increase your metabolism and promote muscle building—a well-hydrated body can more efficiently repair and build muscles. On the other hand, being dehydrated encourages muscle breakdown. So drink up, especially since you are exercising regularly.

6) Shakeology. It’s not just a fluffy shake or supplement. This stuff is the most nutrient dense meal you will find, ever. Stay fuller longer, reduce your sweet cravings and maximize your workouts. This meal contains your daily dose of pre and probiotics, all your super foods, minerals, vitamins and more. Think of it like 10 fitness classes in ONE workout!

7) Relax. Believe it or not, you may be trying too hard to lose weight. If your workouts are very intense and your diet is too strict, you could overtrain and burn out. Your mind and body will just not respond in the same way when they’re tired. Muscles need rest to repair and grow, and sometimes your brain needs a break from constant calorie counting and worrying about the last few pounds. Instead of becoming frustrated and diving into a box of cookies, try to relax and reduce the intensity for a little while. You may be surprised to find the scale moving again when you give your mind and body a rest.

– Coach Kendra

Seeing True Beauty- A Healthy Body Image

Most of the clients I get to coach are women, but for those of you who are not, this STILL applies to you!

Women, in general, are their WORST critic when it comes to seeing themselves as beautiful.  We are so critical of our OWN flaws, but when asked to describe our best friend or co-worker, we point out all of their most positive and beautiful characteristics.  Think about it, when was the last time you wrote down all the things you truly LOVE about you?  This got me thinking about the conversations we have during coaching and how we have a tendency to practice negative self-talk.  It’s true.  We have ongoing conversations with ourselves and if you pause long enough, you will hear that conversation inside.  What does that voice say to you, repeatedly throughout your day?  Is it your greatest cheerleader or your biggest critic?  With more awareness, are you able to shift that conversation to be more uplifting and encouraging, whether that be during your next workout, on your way into work or as you spend the day with family?  I have found it helpful to develop a mantra you say repeatedly through your day- a favorite quote, bible verse, positive affirmation, etc.

Also, at some point in this journey, it is important to stop worrying so much about the number on the scale and accept who you are and the beauty you radiate to others.  Some of the most beautiful, intriguing women I know are not a size 4.  They are amazing, strong and confident women. They are positive and carry themselves with grace.  They don’t dwell on always wanting to lose weight.  They know how to wear clothing that accentuates their best places and they are healthy because they are strong.  Where are YOU this week with accepting your beauty, inside and out?  Are you making progress or still fixated on the scale to define your worth?  Yes, being at a healthy weight is important to your overall health, but being HAPPY is what life is all about.

Recently, I watched a power video that shows how quick we are to point out our flaws and not our natural beauty.  Check this out and share your comments below.  What did it teach you?  Can you relate? http://realbeautysketches.dove.us/

– Coach Kendra