Costa Rica Week 1: Dancing in the Rain

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Costa Rica – the land of green landscape, volcanos, beautiful beaches, world-class waves and “Pura Vida” or the pure life.

I arrived last Tuesday ready to embrace everything Costa Rica had to offer and begin another Iron Gypsy adventure.

One of the things on my list was “Latin dancing.” I love to dance; however, one of my limiting beliefs is that when a partner is added — all of sudden I go from a free spirit with a little bit of rhythm to an awkward teenager dancing with a boy at the junior high dance for the first time.

Either way, my idea of dancing and what the universe delivered must have gotten lost in translation – but the experience was very similar in that I once again felt like an awkward teenager.

Stick with me, and let me explain.

The arrival

I arrived on a rainy night after dark. It’s rainy season and since Costa Rica is close to the equator, it gets dark by about 6 pm and light by 6 am year-round.

I had arranged for a trustworthy tour company to transport me the 90 minute drive from San Jose to Jaco. As a single female traveler, I do not mess around with public transport when I arrive in a new place at night. NOT WORTH SAVING A BUCK!

Everything went smoothly. He showed me around the small city of Jaco, took me to the local grocery store (Costa Rica’s version of Wal-Mart), translated the check-in conversation with the guards at the complex and helped me get all of my bags up to my condo in the pouring rain. He was a genuinely kind soul, and I felt very fortunate.

When I woke up the next day, I literally had to pinch myself. I was in Costa Rica! EEEEEK! I’ve wanted to travel here for so long! A couple of of years ago, I looked into surf camps here. But since I am now living this “nomadic gypsy lifestyle,” why not try Costa Rica for a little longer? Combine surfing and scenery with a city that has highspeed Wifi and the comforts of home – like a coffee pot and a gym with a squat rack.  Therefore, I decided to rent a place in Jaco for two months.

My first outing was nice. I saw the beach, checked out the city seeing all of the American options like Subway and KFC tucked in next to the Costa Rican “sodas.”

I checked into a local gym where there were a few others who appeared to be “non-local” but the majority were speaking Spanish and looked very “at home.” I immediately felt disconnected from people and embarassed that I do not speak fluent Spanish.  Yes, I’ve traveled to many countries where I did not speak the language. Spanish is different. I  wish that I had more command of the language than the few words I’ve managed to hold onto from senior year of high school.

Connection is HUGE for me…And this made me very uncomfortable and ashamed.

Then the rain came…

This time of the year, it’s typical for rain to set in during the afternoon. Sometimes it rains all day. So I committed that I would enjoy the mornings while the sun was out – walking the beach to get to the gym, handling any other errands on my way home and possibly hitting the beach early in the day – allowing me to focus on work in the afternoons when the rain set in.

This was the routine for most of last week. I  felt a shift – adapting to a new energy, a new routine, a new culture, a different climate, a language barrier, etc. I usually do feel a shift and a time of transition when I come to a new place; however, during my previous travels I was in each location for such a short time it felt much different. It was much less “permanent.” If the vibe was off – not to worry. I would be in a new location in a week or less.

Then the weekend set in. The shift in energy became more intense.

I woke up on Saturday to rain — and Sunday as well. Plans to go surfing were cancelled due to rain.

As I spent those days alone in my place besides the rainy trips to the gym, my mind began to fixate on everything that was wrong with this situation – AND BEYOND THAT — everything that is wrong with ME.

My body.

My business.

My personality.

The place.

My inner dialogue was ugly!

So what the “f” happened? How did this positive “Iron Gypsy” completely fall off everything she talks about daily? Everything she stands for? Everything she coaches? Everything she’s worked so hard to change in herself?

Learning to dance

At this moment, I don’t know exactly where all of these bullshit stories came from or why I suddenly became overwhelmed with them – but I do know there is a reason that is bigger than what I can comprehend today.

I know reading this, at least half of you will have an extremely negative response, and I don’t blame you. Looking back at it, I’m ashamed – embarrassed – that I thought this way.

I am completely aware that I was in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, living my dream of helping people live healthier, happier lives, steps away from the beach in a great condo — and I was finding everything wrong with this place, me and life in general.

#firstworldproblems

Yup. I agree. Part of me believes it’s despicable and embarrassing.

So why am I sharing this? Why is someone so dedicated to “self-love” sharing a post about how she spent her first five days in one of the most beautiful countries in the world beating herself up and questioning everything about her life?

Because…It needs to be shared.

Yes, I’m ashamed. Yes, I’m embarrassed. Yes, I’m quite surprised by what came over me, but at the same time – I hear the voice of my soul saying:

“You’re human.”

Often times we hold ourselves and others to a God-like standard. I catch myself thinking that because I have “done the work,” and have learned the lesson once before that I am never allowed a moment of what feels like going backwards. I expect perfection and a journey forward with no bumps. I judge myself for being HUMAN — when that’s what we are  created to be.

If we were capable of being representations of God, living in a state of perfection at every moment – would we be here? I honestly don’t know. What I do believe is that we are here to learn. And sometimes it takes us “falling off our pedestal” – the one we mentally put ourselves on and the ones that we place others on — to be reminded of the bigger picture. We’re here to learn, and we are created to be HUMAN not GOD.

We have God in us – absolutely. When we work with our Creator, we are capable of anything and everything. However, that doesn’t always unfold the way WE want it to. The lessons and the rainy days and the “awkward” dances are there to teach us something. I believe the Creator’s job is not to make us believe we are perfect in every moment, but to help us see that we are perfect in every moment because of our imperfection.

So…now can you relate?

How many times have all of us been in a similar position – where we feel sorry for ourselves, get all “woe is me” – yet we know how blessed we are? And then we beat ourselves up for  having those stupid thoughts, and we feel even worse about ourselves.

Ring any bells?

Yes, this can happen whether the situation is a gypsy living in Costa Rica, someone with a beautiful family or famous athlete or performer making millions of dollars a year.

Our location and circumstances do not always dictate how “happy” and sane our thoughts are.

One thing is certain, this was not a setback, but a moment of growth. The fact that I was able to dip so low and pull myself out of it (with a little help from a great mentor) is a victory in my book!

So what do I believe really happened here? What is the lesson? And what did I do to pull myself out of this?

 CLIFFHANGER!

Watch for next weeks’ blog post where I will share what I did to get back to me and how my “dancing” skills and rhythm are getting better every day here in Costa Rica.

But…know this. EVERY IRON GYPSY STORY WILL HAVE A HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

No need to worry mom and dad — or all my beautiful family members, Tribe members and friends throughout the world. I am in LOVE with this place and rhythm I have found here! I mean that!

Since these days are behind me everything looks different – I MEAN EVERYTHING! It even smells different! It’s beautiful and everything I hoped it would be! It wasn’t the location. IT WAS ME!

Most importantly, I am growing throughout this experience and that my friends, is why I am here! I am living my true purpose every day.

The smile you see in the photos – it’s real. When it’s not real, you will know. Also, know this. Even on the days when I don’t feel like smiling, deep down, I know I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.

I’m trusting the process, enjoying the journey, writing my own story and learning to dance – even in the rain!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Health and Fitness Mistakes and Iron Gypsy’s Secrets to Success

PREFER TO WATCH THE VIDEO VERSION? Click here! 

MISTAKE #1: All or nothing.

This is the number one challenge that so many of us deal with. We start with great intentions. We start ‘ON FIRE’ ready to make a change once and for all. The minute we “fall off,” we immediately throw in the towel. Or we don’t start at all because we are waiting for the perfect time.

IRON GYPSY’S KEY TO SUCCESS:  Progress, not perfection. 

Three of my favorite phrases when it comes to health and fitness — or life — are:

  • “Enjoy the journey.”
  • “Progress, not perfection.
  • Choices babe.”

Whatever you do, it’s not worth it if you’re miserable every second of the process. So, we in the “Iron Gypsy Tribe” like to think of it as  the 1 percent rule or 90/10! We strive for 1 percent improvement each day. 90 percent of the time, we are “on point” with our health. 10 percent of the time we choose to indulge just a little. It all comes down to conscious choices, not perfection — choosing what is best for us in each moment.

MISTAKE #2 – Less is best.

One of the biggest mistakes I see with nutrition is believing that eating less is the key to weight loss. We don’t have to starve to see results. Sipping shakes, eating diet food or counting macros is not the way to long-lasting health and happiness.

IRON GYPSY’S KEY TO SUCCESS:  Choosing healthy, natural, nutrient dense, real food. 

Fuel your body with adequate amounts of the RIGHT foods and improve metabolism by making health a priority!  In the Iron Gypsy programs, you’ll learn how to choose the right foods and portion sizes to fuel your body improving metabolism, digestion, gym performance, concentration, energy and your overall outlook on life! No weighing foods, tracking or macro counting!

MISTAKE #3: More is better.

One of the biggest mistakes I see – and I made this one forever – is that more cardio, more reps, more weight, more training sessions is better. The answer is NOT ALWAYS! If you cannot do the movements properly – with intention – you will not see results and you will expose yourself to injury. Overdoing the cardio is also a mistake I made for so long. It just doesn’t work!

IRON GYPSY’S KEY TO SUCCESS:  Train with intention. 

You’ll learn how to perform movements in a way that will get you results without injury and spending your life at the gym. Clients LOVE this style of training for the way it makes them feel – and look! The best part is, it doesn’t require heavy weights or fancy workouts. To start, you can train at home with a set of dumbbells! You’ll learn to strength train in a way that is fun and effective and add cardio, yoga and mobility work WITH INTENTION!

MISTAKE #4: Short-term syndrome.

Just about every health and fitness program can work – for a while! But does it really make you healthier and happier long-term?

IRON GYPSY’S KEY TO SUCCESS:  Put your health and happiness first. 

Make your goal about your health and how you feel on the inside. With the Iron Gypsy program, our goal is longevity – health and happiness long-term! We build a LIFESTYLE that make you LOOK AND FEEL GOOD and that you’ll want to maintain over time.

MISTAKE #5: One size fits all. 

The same nutrition and the same training strategy is not going to work for everyone. Not only because of various body types but because of different phases of life, different lifestyles and more. Also, many clients of “non-negotiables.” For example…When I first started my health and fitness journey, I didn’t want to give up my red wine and sushi nights! And I was traveling for work several nights each month.

IRON GYPSY’S KEY TO SUCCESS:  Learn to listen to your body and your own intuition. 

I’ll guide you on how to listen to your body and will provide the education and building blocks to  help you make the right decisions for you. This is not a cookie-cutter, drill sergeant approach. We work as a team to build a lifestyle you enjoy.

MISTAKE #5: Going at it alone.

For so many years, I struggled. I tried everything I could find in magazines, went to group exercise classes and bought at-home workout DVDs. But I never once went to a personal trainer. I thought that was for the rich people.

For one, that’s a very limiting mindset! Number two, there is so much misleading information out there it’s impossible to make sense or stay on top of all of it.

IRON GYPSY’S KEY TO SUCCESS:  Find a coach and a “tribe!”

Invest in a coach who inspires and educates you — someone who not only talks the talk, but walks the walk! Someone who knows their stuff and can help you get results much more quickly than going at it alone. Find a group – a tribe of people you enjoy – who lift you up! Whether it’s Iron Gypsy or another group or coach, I believe this is CRITICAL to success.

MISTAKE #7: A one-dimensional approach.

Tackling ONLY fitness, ONLY nutrition or ONLY mindset or spirituality won’t work long-term and will lead to a life and a body that is out of balance. We can create an amazing body, but if we’re not right on the inside, the results won’t stick or may not come at all. For me, I managed to get the results but I still wasn’t whole on the inside resulting in an unfillable void in my soul.

IRON GYPSY’S KEY TO SUCCESS: A true mind, body and spirit approach.

I believe this is the biggest differentiating factor for Iron Gypsy. This program is not only about looking good (you will get amazing results) — but feeling healthy and happy. IT’S ABOUT LEARNING WHO YOU ARE AT YOUR CORE AND LIVING FROM THE SOUL.

I’ve built Iron Gypsy on hours of research, dozens of classes and travels around the world! It combines what I’ve learned through yoga, meditation,  self-development courses, Precision Nutrition, Poliquin certification, training with top body builders and so much more. My content is always expanding as I continue to work on my personal growth. This is not only my work – but the sharing of my personal journey and what I believe is my current mission in this lifetime.

Whether you decide to make your health and fitness journey with Iron Gypsy or another way, I urge you to make now the time that you stop settling for less than what you deserve – for less than who you truly are. If I can help, please contact me at kesleytweed@gmail.com.

My next Iron Gypsy Journey pre-program activities kick off this weekend! Executive coaching is now available for professionals, entrepreneurs and other BUSY PEOPLE who want accountability and personalized coaching. Spaces will be limited. Contact me for details!

Forgiveness and Unconditional Love

Today marks the beginning of a new era for the Iron Gypsy blog. 

As you know, it’s been quite some time since my last post. I have been focusing on giving my all to my Iron Gypsy Coaching clients, attending additional courses (including Tony Robbins Business Mastery, Tony Robbins Leadership Academy and Reiki Level I and II certification), continuing with my own spiritual and health journey and growing other social media platforms including the Iron Gypsy YouTube channel.

All the while, I’ve been beating myself up for neglecting my passion project — the Iron Gypsy blog. 

So today, I made a decision. No longer will the fear of imperfection get in the way of progress. No longer will the fear of not being perfect get in the way of sharing the Iron Gypsy mission. No longer will I continue to beat myself up for what I’m NOT doing with the Iron Gypsy blog.

I will focus on WHAT I CAN DO! 

So, from here on out, you will see more stories! Some of the stories will be content that was shared through other social media platforms. Some will be snippets of content that I’m sharing with the Iron Gypsy Tribe (aka my coaching clients). Some will be raw, nearly unedited original content or a melding of content from various sources.

It will be imperfect. But it will be content that I feel passionate about sharing. This will also allow me to continue to reach those not on other social media platforms, while at the same time continue to place emphasis on my current projects and my future (other) passion project — a book! 

To kick things off, I want to share some content originally developed for Instagram that really captures the moment and essence of this decision. 

Next week, I leave for Costa Rica, so stay tuned for that. Additionally, I will be sharing random thoughts that have come up over the last couple of months since my last post. One thing is for certain when it comes to the future of Iron Gypsy — it will be a real, beautifully raw and wild ride!

Stay with me, friends! Love and light to you all! 

xoxo,

Kesley (aka Iron Gypsy) 

“Forgive yourself.”

This was what came to me in meditation this morning when I completed the assignment given to me by my reiki and spiritual teacher.

“Forgive myself for what?”

All the places I should be, other than where I am. All the things I should be doing, other than what I am doing. All the things I didn’t do. All the people I didn’t help. All the things I am not.

I find myself focusing on and beating myself up for all I am “NOT” instead of finding peace in the present and WHAT IS.

Why do I deserve this forgiveness?

We all do. We are all human. We were born to be perfectly imperfect.

If we cannot love and forgive ourselves, how can we find that same forgiveness for others? At our core, we are all the same — HUMAN.

So as I continue to reflect on the topic of unconditional love…this is where I am today.

To love we must forgive. And forgiveness and love starts in YOU.

 

The journey to “I AM”: What I learned on my “Date with Destiny”

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When I signed up for Tony Robbins’ ” Date with Destiny,” I was not looking for a guru and didn’t feel like I needed saving. That’s a bold statement, I know. Stick with me. 

Like most others who attended “Date with Destiny,” I signed up because no matter how amazing life is, I believe we should always look for opportunities to level up and become the best version of ourselves. Tony Robbins is one of those people who has the unique ability to pull that out of all he interacts with. I attended Robbins’ Unleash the Power Within” (UPW) one year prior and left the event having walked on fire and having made the decision to take a bold step to pursue my true passion for health and fitness.

What I didn’t anticipate with the “Date with Destiny” experience was that I would leave feeling LESS like a new person and feeling MORE like I’m finally living the “ME” I was born to be. “Date with Destiny” is much more about uncovering who we are at our core and developing strategies to live true to that core than it is about about rewiring who we are. I left feeling like a more authentic, alive version of myself. I now have the courage to step into and live from this place. The event was six days of non-stop jumping, dancing, networking, connecting and putting in hard work to uncover parts of myself that I felt I had lost somewhere along the way.

Through sharing my experience, I hope it will help you remember something you’ve forgotten about yourself or overcome deeply rooted fears or limiting beliefs.

Secondly, I hope that you will consider your own journey to uncovering who you truly are – whether it’s attending a program like “Unleash the Power Within,” “Date with Destiny” or another method of self-reflection. Make time for you. 

Nearly every single person in the room had at least one breakthrough during the six-day event. (I know because Tony asked us to raise our hands.) Even if you think you have no work to do, life is all about expansion. Although perfection is not the goal, continued progress is.  Progress, not perfection, is the key to happiness and fulfillment! 

Here are a few of my top reflections and learnings from my Date with Destiny experience.  

My values and priorities did not align with what I wanted out of life: We completed an activity in which we looked at the filters of “self,” “relationships,” and “work” and how we prioritize each. We also looked at the needs we are trying to fill under each of these areas. (Learn more about the six human needs here.) This was a breakthrough moment for me! So much in fact that when Tony asked us to raise our hands to share, my hand went up so fast I didn’t have time to talk myself out of it. Next thing I knew, I was on the big screen explaining my realization in front of 1,700 people. I was prioritizing everything above love and relationships, hoping that I could “achieve” my way to earning love from others. Despite having success in many areas of my life, relationships (in particular romantic relationships) were a struggle! The reason suddenly became apparent. I was putting relationships last. 

I was clinging to certainty: When I attended “Unleash the Power Within,” I took a close look at the six human needs and determined my top two. Robbins says it’s the top two that shape our lives. If significance or certainty are on the top, we’re in for a tough road ahead. “Certainty” was not one of my top two – or at least not that I could recognize at the time. It was not until “Date with Destiny” that I realized that all of my “achieving” was not only an attempt to earn love but also an attempt at control and create certainty in my life. One of my favorite quotes from Tony is, “The quality of our life is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably deal with.” To live a life that we are passionate about, we must take risks! Mediocrity does not create a life that makes us want to jump out of bed in the morning. I was clinging to certainty and safety instead of going for what I REALLY wanted to avoid my fear of not being enough.

I had limiting beliefs about masculine and feminine energy: Among the participants I’ve talked to, our learnings about masculine and feminine energy seemed to be most impactful. Going into this event, I believed feminine energy was weak, needy and dependent. I told myself that masculine energy is controlling and egotistical – but also the way to get ahead in life.  (Sorry guys. I know better now. ) I had programmed myself to operate from a masculine energy the majority of the time because this was the path to success and the way to earn love, I thought. I learned about masculine and feminine energy and saw the beautiful dynamic that exists when we operate from our core. More importantly, I felt it — the polarity of masculine and feminine energy. BEAUTIFUL!

“Adult-ing” caused me to forget who I was created to be: We did several activities to help us remember who we are, who we were created to be and what truly lights us up. Part of this was removing the “masks” we’ve learned to wear to make us less masculine or feminine than we are at our core. But I also remembered many of the things that I loved to do as a child and how these are the activities and emotions that get me excited to this day! I’ve always loved to move my body – specifically to dance. We did plenty of that, and it woke me up inside! I remembered how much I’ve always loved to create and write and how I treasure beauty. (One of my first words was ‘pretty’ after all.) It feels good to remember all the things that being an “adult” and having to “produce” helped me to forget. Now that I remember, I’ll be doing a whole lot more of them!

I wasn’t clear about what I really wanted out of life: Another of Tony’s famous quotes is “Where focus goes, energy flows.” Sure, I’ve thought about my values. I’ve set goals and have even put them in writing. But I can’t say I selected my path carefully and created a roadmap for getting there that flows from my core and values and aligns with my purpose. Heck, many of us go through life never really thinking about our purpose. Or we spend our whole life trying to identify a grandiose reason we are on this planet. I now have a written life purpose, and it’s SIMPLE. But I truly believe in it! Sure, it may change, but for today it feels right. I have a list of values that I’m going to live by. I’ve prioritized these values in a way that helps me to make better decisions in life. Sure, these values may change, but for today it feels 100 percent like the best way to live. I’m now living life true to who I am, 100 percent certainty I’m headed in the right direction and 100 percent certainty that there is NO SUCH THING as CERTAINTY. Life is a journey! My purpose here on this planet is to simply, “Enjoy the journey.”

If any of this struck a chord with you, I strongly encourage you to begin a journey of your own self-discovery. Leveling up and fulfilling your destiny simply begins with a commitment. Decide today that you want to live true to all that you are at your core.

Remember this…”I AM.” (Thank you to one of my group leaders for planting these two powerful words inside me.) Everything you want to be, and have, and do is already inside you. You already ARE all these things and emotions and attributes. You just need the clarity and courage to step into your true self. Make today the day you begin to live true to the “I AM” you were born to be and the powerful “I AM” you already are.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our bodies: Tools, mirrors & art

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Sharing this image with this post put a feeling of fear in my gut. It was taken as part of an impromptu photoshoot on a rooftop in Bangkok. (Yes, I am still completely covered in the front despite what it looks like!) I absolutely love it! Everything about how it happened to how it turned out. To me, it’s art. But I thought about the reaction it might get. “Will I be judged? Is it too much?” The answer to that question for some of you is probably “yes.” I’m sharing it anyway…Not as a cry for attention but in hopes that seeing another human taking a step out to love herself and the beauty of the human body will help others see the beauty in themselves and others.

We are not our bodies. But our bodies are not the enemy.

I’m not trying to be confusing or philosophical. As I’m transitioning to a career in fitness and also on a path to greater self-acceptance, I’ve been thinking a lot about the body, what it means to me and the perception of the physical body in society.

Throughout most of my life, I’ve viewed my body like it was the enemy and my “healthy lifestyle” was the war. I was angry at my body for not responding properly to all the exercise I was doing and all the “bad food” I was not eating. “I should be skinny,” I always thought to myself. “Does this body not realize everything I’m doing for it?” I was angry not only at my body but also at myself for my failures. I was a martyr, sacrificing daily for this ungrateful, unresponsive body.

Slowly, as I began to take up bodybuilding and saw how diet and training allow us to shape the body, things began to shift. As I finished my first competition, I immediately shifted focus to the second and getting my WBFF pro card. Soon, I was gearing up for training twice a day and a crazy-strict diet for a show that was months away. Every morning I would wake up and take progress photos, my entire self-worth determined by whether or not I was feeling “fluffy” that day. At that point, the body was no longer the enemy. It was my identity.

Now that I am a fitness professional, this brings a whole new perspective to how I view my body. I work in an industry in which the body is a billboard. The industry consists of two extremes. At one end, there are those who believe that showing your body to the world is part of the job and the way to make it in the industry. The more skin, the more ab shots, the more gym selfies – the better. Then there is the second group. These people are anti-selfie and focus 100 percent on sharing hardcore training tips and the science behind it all. There are many who fall somewhere in the middle. I do not believe either opinion is bad. What I do believe is that it’s important to know where I stand on this continuum.

Whether you are a personal trainer, or someone who is also struggling to come to peace with your body image, I challenge you to look at how your view your body and how your self-worth and identity may be tied to it. We spend every day inside our bodies. The least we can do is determine what kind of relationship we want to have with it. By no means am I telling you what to believe, but I will share my own personal beliefs in hopes that it will give you some food for thought.

After much reflection, here is what I believe about the human body:

The body is a tool.

We are not our body, but the body is here to help us move through and experience life. If we take good care of this body, it can run like a brand new Ferrari. If we treat it poorly, it will be in the shop often or move through life at the pace of a Fred Flintstone car. You are not your body, but your body is critical to living, experiencing and enjoying life. Treat it with kindness, fuel it properly and it will reciprocate.

The body is a mirror.

I believe that if we are in a good place on the inside, our bodies will reflect this energy. Our energy radiates from the inside out. To be beautiful, believe you are beautiful. To be strong and masculine, believe you have this energy inside of you. Reflect these emotions to the external world, and your body will change with your internal state. It all starts with deciding to live in a beautiful, peaceful, positive, self-loving, non-egotistical state.

The body is art.

Often times we look at the fitness industry, particularly the bodybuilding world, like it’s full of half-crazy, self-obsessed people. And, yes, those things can be true. However, what I’ve found is that these half-crazy bodybuilders can be more like artists and scientists. I’ve learned an important lesson from bodybuilding – our bodies are art. I used to look at pictures of models in magazines with envy believing they were somehow granted magical powers and that could never be me. “It’s not fair,” I would think. “I can’t have that.” Bodybuilding has taught me that if we focus our effort and energy, in this case our bodies, we can create what we envision. It may not be exactly what we see in a magazine if we’re choosing an all-natural, non-photoshop approach, but it will be beautiful because it’s our creation, marked with our own signature and struggles.

As I grow my new business, I will share images of my own body (like the one accompanying this blog post.) I share in hopes that seeing another human appreciating her body will help others see the beauty in themselves and others. I will never have the perfect body. Perfection is not the goal. Perfection is the lowest human standard. Let’s appreciate the bodies we were blessed with while striving to be the healthiest versions of ourselves.

Let’s also respect and recognize the beauty of the bodies of others by practicing non-judgment. Whether it’s looking in the mirror, looking at social media or in everyday life and whether we are looking a body covered in frumpy clothing or half-naked, let’s appreciate the beauty of the human body as artistic expression of the journey through life.  The bodies are art. Art is all about valuing the differences and the imperfections.

The body is physical representation of something much bigger – YOU! Let’s be a society that honors, uses, appreciates, admires, creates and loves our bodies rather than a society that is obsessed, abusive, judgmental and ashamed of our bodies. Let’s see our bodies for what they are – not our identity or the enemy but tools, mirrors and art. Let’s spend our energy building from the inside out. Nourish your body, respect your body and believe anything is possible. Your body will respond.

 

 

 

 

 

Balance Part II: Clarity + Effort = THE HAPPY ZONE

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My first pull-up didn’t happen overnight. I had to get clear on my goal, identify what was holding me back and focus 100 percent of my energy on training the right muscles to achieve that pull-up. Life is very similar. Clarity is the starting point for success, balance and the “happy zone.”

I came home – tired and inquisitive — after the first day of the coaching certification course I was enrolled in. We had spent the day learning how to run an assessment to determine where “structural imbalances” exist in the body. The next day, we would have to time, count, spot and calculate our way through the procedure to pass our certification test.

Although we’d touched some on actual exercises, in my mind we had learned very little of what I thought would make someone look good in a bathing suit, fit into their skinny jeans or build massive biceps – the goals people typically have when they come to a fitness professional for help. We were investing a lot of time in the assessment and improving flexibility and movement but very little on the big, fancy exercises. Why?

This was no gimmicky fitness training class. The philosophies behind this program are used to train world-class athletes and have also been adopted by some of the top fat loss, physique and bodybuilding coaches on the planet. This program is known for getting results and producing winners.

I started to think about all the times I had reached a goal, inside or outside the gym. They all had one thing in common. I knew EXACTLY what I wanted. There was no lack of clarity. I was 100 percent crystal clear and because the image was so vivid, I was willing to do whatever it took to get there.

From this perspective, learning how to conduct and analyze a proper assessment made perfect sense. You have to know where you’re going before you can jump in and just start doing a whole bunch of bench presses and squats hoping to get “stronger” or “leaner” or “faster.” Anyone who’s ever done a whole lot of working out with zero return on investment will know that strategy NEVER works.

So connecting the dots to my previous article on balance, how does this relate?

If we’re clear and focused on what we want, we can take the most direct path to getting there. In life this equates to wasting valuable time, energy and money trying to make ourselves happy when we haven’t even taken the time to figure out what “happy” means to us. We spread ourselves extremely thin to accomplish things that aren’t aligned with what we really want – thus creating a lack of balance in our lives and pulling us away from our happy zone.

For those in the business world, think of this as a strategic approach to life. In business, we strive for initiatives that align with the overall mission and values of the company. My  team at work would go through a regular exercise of evaluating time spent versus value back to the company, based on how our projects aligned with the overall company strategic plan. Tasks that were a large investment of time with little return on investment – were removed from the to-do list immediately.

We can use a similar approach to life. Does the activity create value and align with your big picture goals? Here’s what this approach to life has meant for me:

Last year, I started thinking about what I wanted in life. Generally speaking, I want to surround myself with loving relationships, have experiences that allow me to learn more about myself and the world and be healthy. This is my “happy zone.”

Then, I started to think about the barriers that were pulling me away from that big-picture goal. It started to become clear that the very things that I thought were bringing me closer to my goals – making money, climbing the corporate ladder, having a large social circle, external achievements like getting my “pro card” in the fitness competition world – were pulling me away from my overall purpose. Stress was stealing my happiness and the output required to accomplish all of these things was taking me away from the things that really mattered most.

I spew all of this goal identification stuff out like it was a quick and easy process.  Identifying what TRULY makes us happy is the hardest part. In the future, I will share more about the process I went through; however, my point in this post is this:

NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO, GET CLEAR. Lack of clarity is a major reason we feel so out of balance. It’s also the biggest reason why we fail.

We all have the same number of hours, minutes and seconds in a day. We can choose to spend that time focusing on activities and experiences that align with our purpose, or we can spend those hours doing things that essentially waste our time and energy with little return on our investment. This is what leads to exhaustion because we have no way of deciding when to say “yes” and when to say “no.” I think most of us would be pressed to think of examples of times we failed after being 100 percent clear on what we were trying to accomplish.

So it all comes back to focus. Finding your happy zone starts with identifying what the “happy zone” is for you then aligning all energy, time and effort toward that place.

Chin down, guard up, more hip, less fear: My experience as a Muay Thai rookie

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The ladies I trained with at K.Y.N. — strong, scrappy and beautiful inside and out.

Each phase of my journey comes with its own set of challenges. This leg of the journey, was no different.

As my plane landed in Phuket, Thailand, I started to think about the reality of the next 24 hours. I was signed up for three days of training at K.Y.N. Muay Thai. I didn’t even know how to spell the name of the island where I was headed. Koh Yao Noi is very remote and only accessible by boat. I had never done Muay Thai or any martial art or contact sport in my life. All the campers were to purchase pads. I could only imagine what those were for. Yes, I’d signed up for a three days, six training sessions, of getting punched in the face, grabbed around the neck and kicked in the shins on some remote island. What was I thinking?!

Fear. Anxiety. Uncertainty. Whatever you choose to call it, I had to fight hard to push it out of my mind.

From the moment I arrived at K.Y.N., it was as if I was always meant to be there. Lisa, who owns the gym with her husband, welcomed me and knew who I was without even asking my name. She fitted me for pads and showed me to my private room which was next to the pool and just steps away from the gym. I put my things away and headed to the restaurant, which is the hangout for all “campers.” (I call them campers because an experience at K.Y.N. is like summer camp for slightly crazy, active adults.) By early evening, and after conversations with a few of the others, I felt like I fit right in. One of them asked me what my goal was. I responded that by the end of the week I wanted to be able to throw a real punch and not “punch like a girl.” He laughed and said that was a lofty goal.

I woke up bright and early and did something I know how to do — went for a run. The path led me along the water, the sun rising and dozens of boats already on the water. The locals waved as I jogged past. As I entered the gym for training, I had another moment of doubt. “Maybe I should have done a little more research? I mean, I have these pads, and I really don’t even know what to do with them. Do I wear my shoes? Am I actually supposed to hit someone?” I recalled every time I had tried to throw a punch in the past, only to be laughed at.

We began the session with stretching and warm-ups followed by shadow boxing. I felt completely out of my element. It was worse than my first day of strength training, and that was pretty bad! I think the coaches assumed I had some idea of what I was doing because I have an athletic build. My lack of technique and the clueless look on my face gave away my rookie status very quickly.

I felt like my body and brain were completely disconnected. I was punching with the wrong arm and swinging it like a hammer. I nearly fell over every time I tried to kick. And my blocking was…well, basically non-existent — unless you count blocking with the elbow five seconds delayed when I was supposed to be blocking with my leg.

The Thai trainers were wonderful and very patient, but I was having a difficult time interpreting their enthusiastic and brief instructions. The other campers occasionally translated for me. I was paired up with a young boy, approximately 12 years of age, for sparring. He literally kicked my rear.

After the first session, I was mortified and frustrated. I thought I may drive the coaches crazy if they had to repeat “more hip,” “relax,” “no hurry,” or worst of all — “no good” which usually came along with a look of disappointment– one more time. Part of me wanted to quit. I could stay the three days, sip coconut protein shakes and sit by the pool. “Sign me up for that, and enough of this Muay Thai stuff,” I thought.

But as challenging as it was, I was having so much fun I couldn’t bare the thought of quitting. Something about the idea of starting from “nowhere to go but up” made me want to push harder. It’s like I was cheering for the underdog, and the underdog was me! I told myself to just keep showing up, do my best and have fun! And that’s exactly what I did. It’s amazing how much fun getting punched in the face and kicked in the shins can be. Eventually you learn the hard way after being clocked in the face enough times to keep your chin down and your guard up.

By the end of the second training session, I was smiling from ear to ear. I had already gotten the hang of kicking, and clinching had come pretty naturally. By the end of the third session, I had signed up for three extra days – as long as I could possibly stay before making my way to Sydney for my next course.

This was a long introduction for me to get to the moral of the story. Please excuse my language, but I cannot think of a better way to say this…Fear is bull $%&#!

Since my words are not so eloquent, I’ll rely on a quote from Tony Robbins to help me say it better: “The quality of our lives is directly correlated to the amount of uncertainty we can live with comfortably.”

Think of all the times you were fearful and you pushed through and experienced one of the most exciting times of your life. On the flip side, think of all the times you let fear overcome you and shrunk back, only to regret it later.

In this situation, if I had let my doubts control me – if I had let every question I had consume me – I would not have experienced one of the most exhilarating weeks of my life. If I had let the fear of being punched cause me to hole up in a corner, I would have gotten my behind kicked and my face punched in.

My six days of Muay Thai training brought me face-to-face with self doubt and fear and taught me a valuable lesson about doing it anyway. I’ve started to look at all the aspects of my life where I’ve previously let fear dominate. Fear can show up in a variety of different ways. I’ve seen it in my views on money and my resistance to leave a career I didn’t love. I’ve seen it in clinging to old habits, material things and relationships that no longer suited me.

I’ve also seen it in my interactions with others and the way I tend to hold back my real thoughts in order to protect myself from judgment or to protect others from things they may not want to hear. I experience it each time I click, “publish” on the “Iron Gypsy” blog and expose my deepest thoughts and editing errors to the world. I’ve also seen fear show up as attempts to control every detail of my life. I used to call this minimizing risk, but there is a point where minimizing risk becomes a detriment to living life.

I’m committed to observing the different ways fear shows up in my life. As I observe, I can work toward overcoming. Where there is resistance, that is fear. Where there is anxiety, that is fear. Where there is a voice that says, “I want to, but…” or “I should…” that is fear as well. Fear is stopping us from having the things, experiences and relationships we want in life. I’m learning to recognize it, acknowledge it and give it jab, a hook, a knee and a kick to the gut with all the “hip” I can muster.

“Keep your cup full”: Iron Gypsy on alone time

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Loneliness is a state of mind. We can be alone in a crowd of 10,000; or we can feel completely happy and fulfilled in a room all alone.

As I sat alone, immensely enjoying my sushi, I couldn’t help but notice the sad eyes I kept getting from the waitress. Finally, she asked where I was from, then in broken English said, “Happy life…”

I wasn’t sure if it was a question or her observation. I responded with a big smile, “Yes, happy life.” She proceeded to tell me from what I could make out that she assumed I was sad because I was alone.

I think we’ve all made this assumption. At least I have. We see someone sitting alone at a restaurant or walking in a park, etc., and we assume that they are lonely. Over the last year, I’ve spent more time alone than ever before. At some points, I questioned whether I was becoming a hermit because I chose to be at home alone, rather than in a crowded bar or restaurant with 20 or so of my closest friends. Thanks to a couple of dear friends who reassured me (multiple times) that I was not going crazy or becoming anti-social, I got comfortable with being alone and most importantly — comfortable with the fact that I liked being alone.

I’ve thought a lot about why I need alone time. I’m an extrovert by nature, so it really didn’t make sense to me at first. I absolutely love being around people! I enjoy hearing their stories and sharing their energy. However, the passion I have for being around others is the very same reason I also need alone time. Time alone allows me to “come down” from the high I get from being around others. I NEED alone time to re-group and recharge my batteries.

Additionally, alone time allows me to get lost in my own thoughts. This can be good or bad. While at the yoga retreat, as I shared in a previous post, we went through a period of silence. This is a prime example of where you do not want to allow solitude and quiet to take you. The quieter I got, the louder my internal dialogue became. There was all kinds of self-defeating chatter — from all the things I should be accomplishing, to questions about where I plan to go from here, to confirmation of every self-doubt I have buried deep within me. This chatter was completely unproductive, and I think this is how lonely people eventually end up driving themselves to insanity.

It was during this time that I began to reflect on surrendering to life. Since that time, the chatter is still there, but it is much quieter. I’ve opened up space for more productive, creative and positive thought to present itself.  I’m not attempting to control or direct the thought. I’m just letting it come and approaching the things that pique my interest with curiosity. I’m asking lots of questions and allowing time and space to bring about answers. I’ve always been the type of person who can have a difficult time coming to key decisions, but when I know, I know. And the answers always come through quiet time alone.

So why am I telling you all of this? 

Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, I believe we all need alone time to create balance, stronger relationships and inner peace. I also believe we do not get enough solitude in today’s world for two reasons.

First, we are afraid. Much like the waitress when many friends, family members and acquaintances found out I would be traveling solo for the majority of my “Iron Gypsy” journey, they looked at me with the same sad eyes as the waitress did. “Don’t you have any girlfriends you can invite?”

Do I? Possibly. Is that what I wanted? No offense to any of my friends or family, but no. I am excited to welcome the company of a dear friend who will join me for part of the trip and cannot wait to surround myself with like-minded, fitness and growth oriented individuals at the courses I have coming up, but I chose a journey of solitude because I wanted to have the freedom with my time and headspace to think and reflect.

To those of you who say, “I could never do that,” here is my advice. Maybe traveling alone for three months is not feasible, or even desirable, for you. However, learn to embrace solitude. I think many of us travel in packs, not just for vacations — but in life — because we fear what we will discover if we are alone. What will people think of me? How will I manage? Will I be lonely?

These are all valid fears, but also fears that I encourage us to overcome. Yes, being alone does shed light on weaknesses and insecurities. Sometimes people may judge and make assumptions that we’re alone because we’re lonely and do not have people who love us. Yes, there may be moments where you will be lonely or feel (or literally be) lost. But this is how growth  occurs. When we constantly surround ourselves with technology, to-do lists and people, we are never forced to explore what’s going on inside.

Secondly, we avoid alone time because we are too busy. I understand we all have obligations  and people who count on us, but my hope is that we can begin to view alone time as an investment in ourselves and our relationships. And it can be as simple as taking two minutes to sit quietly and breathe!

I believe you must “keep your cup full” in order to have anything to share with others. If you take care of you, then you will have the energy and love to share with those around you. So please. Never feel guilty for making time to be alone. The to-do list can wait for five minutes. Keep your cup full, first.

Iron Gypsy Travel Update: Reflections on India

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Oh India. You provided exactly what was promised to me by every travel blog, You Tube video and visit with other travelers.

Transformation might be a strong word, but at a minimum, I feel molded. Just as everyone suggested, India is one of the most challenging places I have ever — and probably will ever — travel. It can be crowded, loud, dirty, you can’t drink the water, and you have to be careful about what you eat (which I learned the hard way!) A trip here is like stepping back in time, especially for a female traveling alone.

But hold on…There is a much brighter and intriguing side to this country.

Visiting India came with great rewards. Those who remain connected to the traditional Indian culture demonstrated they recognize the important things in life. They approach life with a sense of ease and a focus on family and health. For example, traditionally, Indian people sit on the floor and eat food with their hands. At the Ashram, we ate in silence. It was explained that eating with the hands and sitting on the floor allows for connection with the food and providing energy and balance to the body. In my yoga training program, we learned breathing practices to balance lunar and solar energy (or masculine and feminine energy) prior to eating and meditation. We also learned post-meal breathing exercises to aid digestion.

There is great emphasis placed on Ayurveda and eating according to your dosha. I have only begun to learn about Aruyveda, but I certainly buy into the principle that our physical make-up and personality should affect how we eat. We will thrive with certain diets and crash with others.

I also found the view of women in India to be particularly interesting. Women here do not show their legs and shoulders. However, they do take great care of their appearance. Women wear colorful, jewel-encrusted saris anywhere and everywhere; they are not reserved for special occasions.

I had the opportunity to visit a traditional Indian home and learn a little about their lives. As I entered, there were four women sitting quietly in a dark room with several children sleeping on the floor. Although it didn’t appear they had much for material possessions, they welcomed me with open arms. I shared gum and almonds with them; a young lady, about 15, offered to paint henna on my hands. She painted for almost 30 minutes, steady and focused the entire time. One of the women asked to put red lipstick on me, and I obliged.

We discussed, mainly in gestures, that I had been to the gym that morning. The women could not believe that I would go to a gym. One woman asked to feel my biceps and smiled and pointed at hers. She certainly had some muscle! In broken English she explained they don’t need to go to the gym because they work keeping up the home. In fact, the first gym I visited in the city of Jaipur was for men only. This is changing as women begin to work outside the home. I did see women at the gyms in Delhi, but they did not have the muscle development of women in the U.S.

In this family, the men (7 sons, two of which I met) work to provide for the other family members. The women cook, clean, do laundry and care for the children. Some of the kids go to school. Since they have to pay for each child, the family decides who will go. From what I understand, the two sons who spoke strong English are self-educated.

Indians also love to celebrate! I was able to experience a festival called HOLI and an Indian birthday party. HOLI is a festival of color, love and friendship. The people paint one another with powder and feast on “sweets” which symbolizes leaving all hard feelings in the past. At the Ashram, we had a bonfire the evening prior and the next day walked about painting one another and even had an impromptu dance party! The birthday party was a beautiful celebration marking the birth of a three-year-old. Guests enjoyed an amazing meal in a beautiful hotel courtyard and danced with the boy and his family. It was a fantastic celebration of life and love!

I’m blessed to have had these experiences, which gave me a look inside real life in India.

A couple of other eye-opening things to note if you ever travel to India:

  • If you have light hair and light skin, be prepared for lots of photos. This was especially true during my trip to Jaipur. I estimate I took nearly 100 photos that day. Westerners are few and far between here — maybe one in a couple thousand people has light hair and skin. It was fun to see them get excited when I agreed to take a “selfie” with them, especially the children and teenage girls. It’s the teenage boys you have to look out for. One group tried to steal a kiss and “a feel,” and I had to explain that is not how you treat a lady!
  • Be ready for animals…running wild…everywhere. I thought the monkeys were adorable until it was explained that they will attack if you look them in the eye and do not like to be photographed. On one occasion at the Ashram, we had a gecko who was wreaking havoc on my roommate, nearly falling onto her face in the middle of the night. Cattle and dogs roam the streets. The cows are considered sacred and do not create too much trouble except for causing a traffic jams every now and then. Apparently many of the dogs have rabies, and even in cities like Delhi you may hear them barking or fighting with one another through the night. It’s all part of life here and the locals do not seem to notice, but even this farm girl found the “wildlife” a bit shocking.
  • I think most people are aware of the crazy traffic in India, but it’s worth including in this post because it’s unlike anything I have ever seen. Honking is continuous – both when passing other vehicles and pedestrians. There are very few actual sidewalks so most of the time pedestrians are walking on the side of the road, close enough to have their toes run over. In addition to the cars, the streets are filled with tuk-tuks, motorcycles and rickshaws. I did see a few high-end vehicles and SUVs in Delhi but very few compared to the U.S., which makes sense considering the congestion on the roads. At one point, I was riding in an Uber (yes they have Uber in India), and we heard a loud thud on the back end of the vehicle – like someone had hit us. The driver just said “huh” and kept on driving. Another day on the streets of Delhi!

All that being said, I am so grateful for this experience. I was looking for a destination that would challenge me — and change me. India provided that and more. I will return home with a new outlook on all the excess we have in America.

India, thank you for shedding light on an alternative way of living and for also making me grateful for all that I am blessed to have in my life in America. To all of the amazing new friends I met, thank you for opening up your lives and sharing your culture with me. India has truly been an experience of a lifetime!

Next stop…Thailand.

Two weeks at an Ashram in India (aka Expectation Rehab)

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As I shared in a previous post, I did not think my “Iron Gypsy” journey would be complete without delving into the world of meditation and yoga. The word, “yoga” can be misleading. For most Westerners like me, it triggers images of high-end yoga studios and lanky yogis in Lululemon apparel.

In the Himalayan Yoga Tradition Teacher’s Training Program, there was some Hatha or movement-oriented yoga, but there was a much greater focus on meditation. I began meditating nearly one year ago, and I believe it has helped me manage anxiety and tap into my intuition — although it’s a continuous work in progress. I was looking for a program to help me go deeper, and I was not disappointed.

The program was intense, beginning with a wake-up call at 4:45 am daily, followed by morning hatha, a one-hour meditation and classes running through 9 pm. We had a second meditation from 5:45 to 6:45 pm in the evening. I make it sound like a grind, which it was, but at the same time it was a beautiful process. There was also plenty of time to relish in the surroundings which included flowers blooming and a great view of the Himalayas.

On our first day, the program manager revealed that the teacher training course was really a personal transformation program. I was ready and began to form expectations about how I would be different after two weeks in the Ashram. I even made a list of ten life-altering questions I wanted to have answered at the end of the two weeks.

Expectations. They’re a funny thing. Even while I was at a meditation course learning to let go of thoughts and spending countless hours learning how to relax and breathe, I began to set unreasonable expectations for myself. We learned a step-by-step process for relaxing into our meditation. I put so much effort in the relaxation process that I gave myself a migraine. I put so much focus into my breathe that at times I forgot to breathe. After having a few “good” meditations I expected each one to be exactly the same or better than the last.

Then there was the day of silence. I had practiced silence at previous meditation retreats, so I was looking forward to the day with much anticipation. Our silence began with a meditation in a small room where the top-ranking Swami of the Ashram was seated just a few feet in front of us. This was quite an honor and opportunity; however, from the moment I sat down I was stressed. My body was aching as I was seated cross-legged in the traditional meditation style. My mind would not focus, and I was afraid he could see inside my thoughts. It was a long hour and by the time it was over I had given myself one of the worst migraines of my life. I distictly  remember one word that the Swami said in his comments at the end of the meditation. It brought tears to my eyes and has stuck with me as the theme for the entire program experience. “Surrender.”

No matter if I’m at work, at the gym or even in meditation, I push and push telling myself that harder, faster, longer and more is always better. It is the American way. We have been led to believe that good things come to those who work for it, and to this day I still agree with that.

However, what I’ve felt recently is that grinding harder isn’t always the best choice. Meditation has become a metaphor for life. The days I would breathe deep, relax and turn inward – not overcomplicating the process – were the days I felt most at peace and had the deepest experience. The more I would relax in my meditation posture, the more I would feel supported by the energy within. Those who practice yoga may be able to relate to the feeling that you are literally sitting completely straight or in another seemingly impossible posture, but you are not putting any effort into the pose. You’re completely supported by something bigger than you and deep within you. I still had to show up in my meditation seat. I still had to have pure intentions and 100 percent focused attention. But additional forced effort would not get me anywhere.

I think the same can be said for life. What is meant for us will never pass us by. In life, we have to show up and focus all intention and energy on the path ahead. Slowly the path will reveal itself step by step, moment by moment. Additional effort beyond that point or fighting the system will only exhaust us and will not lead us anywhere productive.

Letting go is scary. I battle with myself every day as I attempt to control all aspects of my life and search for answers about what the future holds.However, slowly as I’ve been taken out of my comfort zone while on this journey, I’ve been forced to let go and to trust that my gut and the grace of God will keep me moving in the right direction. It’s a lot more fun and lot less exhausting.

I surrender.