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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roots and Wings: Iron Gypsy on “Family”

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While spending time in North Dakota these past few months I was reminded of my roots — the love of the Tweed family I was born into and the small town environment I grew up in.

Each member of our family is unique — with our own strengths, points of view and personalities. This is what makes our relationship so beautiful and what makes us FAMILY.

As I spent time in this special place, I remembered the magic of this state.

North Dakota may be rural and sparsely populated, but it will always hold a special place in my heart. These people are my family — my roots. They showed me how to care about those around me and see them as more than just people. North Dakotans share a special bond, and this family bond runs deep.

As my summer back in North Dakota comes to a close, I look at my life with so much gratitude — for the family I was born into, for the new family members that have joined us and for all the people who are part of my extended family. I have gratitude for my community and state, my “Iron Gypsy Tribe,” and those I’ve met while living in different cities, through my travels and courses, and on my many adventures in life thus far.

Whether blood or “soul family” — I know one thing for sure. The people in our lives are “called in” for a reason.

Everyone who is part of our journey is there to help us learn what we are here to understand in this lifetime.

We are all teachers and students in this journey of life. This is what connects us as “family” — and as humans.

We’re all on this crazy journey together — learning, growing, loving and experiencing. At our core, we all have the same fears and the same limitations. And the best way I’ve found to navigate this crazy life is to help one another, focus on our shared experiences on this earth and to see one another as that — as family.

Thank you to my “family” — blood and soul — for being part of my wild, passionate journey. All of you have played a part in who I am and who I am becoming. And you make each day of this journey even better than the last.

Love and light to the Tweed family and to all!

XOXO,

Kesley

(aka Iron Gypsy)

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.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

My Journey Toward the Middle Path: Four things I learned from chatting with the monks in Chiang Mai

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These two young monks are studying in Chiang Mai and participate in the “Monk Chat” program to practice their English and educate “foreigners” on Buddhism and the life of a monk. Interestingly, they do have cell phones and one of them is even planning a trip to New York in the near future. On the flip side, monks must follow 227 strict rules for their lives.

I was raised in a small town with little to no cultural or religious diversity. Nearly everyone I knew was either Catholic or Lutheran with Scandinavian or German heritage. Up until about a year ago, sadly, my main source of knowledge on Buddhism was the quotes I had seen on social media attributed to Buddha. It was about that time that I started to become  curious about various religions and began to research.

One of the first things I learned was that Buddhism is not a religion at all. It is not concerned with creation and how we all got here, and there is no worshipping.  Buddhist philosophies focus on solving the problems of human life and making individuals – and society – better. The teachings focus on spiritual development and inner freedom.

Buddha means “Enlightened One” or “Awakened One.” Buddha was born in the area that is now Tibet in sixth century B.C. He was born a prince, but at the age of 29 he realized that “worldly life” did not bring happiness. He was determined to find the cure for human suffering. At the age of 35, after years of meditation and seeking, he found a way. “The middle path,” he called it. He wandered from place to place sharing his message until passing away at the age of 80.

Recently, I had the opportunity to deepen my knowledge of Buddhism while spending time in the cultural center of Thailand — Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai has dozens of temples in the old part of the city alone. There are Buddhist monks on every street and many young monks studying English and other subjects at university. While in Chiang Mai, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity, so I attended a “Monk Chat” and a one-day Buddhism meditation course.

I don’t claim to be an expert on this very deep topic, but my limited knowledge has brought me to a place of appreciation for many of the ideals. Nearly every Buddhist monk I met has what I am seeking — a smile that can light up a room because it’s genuine, and a love for others and for life that comes from a place within and is not based on any external achievement or material possession.

Look at the Dalai Lama for example. There is no denying that he has something ALL of us are seeking — joy, peace, love and fulfillment. There has got to be something to this whole Buddhism thing. I’d like to share a few of the concepts that I learned and hope to apply in my life. Whether you are Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish, Muslim, another religion, or do not practice a religion at all – my hope is that you can find some new inspiration.

  1. What goes around comes around (aka Karma): Karma simply means cause and effect or what goes around comes around. When I began to reflect on this, it allowed me to release some of the fears I have about being taken advantage of. Many times, I fear that if I give or trust too much, I will allow others to walk all over me. If I focus on doing the right thing with no expectations other than to do good, it releases much of that pressure. The concept of karma has also caused me to look at how I treat people and my surroundings much differently. You can see this in Thai people. They approach both material things and people with great care and respect — always taking off their shoes before entering a building and bowing. I want to approach life and others with this same reverence.
  1. “Don’t blindly believe what I say…Find out for yourself what is truth, what is real.”: 
 Buddha encouraged his followers to experiment with his teachings and see the results rather than blindly following. In my Christian upbringing, I made the mistake of doing just the opposite. I followed many of the traditions with no feeling and no ownership. I am taking a fresh approach to my spirituality, building it from the ground up based on my curiosity and genuine commitment.
  1. All we have is the present: I have been extremely guilty of speeding through life, not stopping to “smell the roses.” My new philosophy is not only stopping to smell the roses but seeing, smelling and touching “the roses” throughout the entire journey. I’m focusing on enjoying my food, taking in the beautiful sites and literally allowing myself to be carried away by the amazing scents of Thailand. And my hope is that this approach will continue long after this beautiful experience. For Buddhists, a major part of learning to stay in the present is meditation. Buddhists practice a style called Vipassana, but essentially all meditation is similar in that it teaches us to breathe and have a single point of focus. This may be breath or another sensation in the body, the movement of feet in a walking meditation, a color or light, a mantra or even a focus on feelings. I plan to post more in the future on the how-tos of mediation. Most importantly, breathe deeply through the nose and relax the body and mind.
  1. The middle path: Buddha believed that suffering is caused by attachment to things that are impermanent. As humans, we attempt to fulfill our desires, which only lasts for a short time, before more suffering occurs. Buddha suggested a life of balance rather than resorting to extremes. I think of this as a life of simplicity and gratitude, versus a life of desires for material things and achievements. As a person who is in many cases has resorted to extremes, this one is probably the hardest for me. I think it’s also the most important to master in order to have freedom and inner peace. I could (and probably will) write an entire blog post about my attempts to resort to extremes in training, in my job, in relationships and in life. One thing is certain. My first month on the road, many great conversations and much reflection has led me to believe that happiness is found on the middle path.

Once again, I don’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve taken much of what I learned to heart. If you are interested in learning more about Buddhism, there are many great resources on the internet and books out there. I’m currently reading one by a monk who founded the “Monk Chat” program called, “Buddhism Ethics and the Path to Peace.” It’s a good read if you’re curious!

Whatever you decide to do with all this, my hope is that we can all find our own path to peace and happiness.

“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.

Iron Gypsy Travel Update: My first days in India

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My first day in India and first temple visit on the drive from Delhi to Rishikesh. More photos on my instagram feed, @kesfitlife.

Note: Due to my “internet detox” while at the Ashram, I’m posting this about 10 days after the initial writing date. There is much more to come on my experience in India in the coming days. 

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Today is my fifth day in India, and I can say that even if I would return home now, I would not return the same. I’ve traded my protein-centered meals for rice and legumes. My morning workout consists of light stretching and self-massage to wake up the joints and glands versus lifting weights. Chai tea has replaced my “as dark as you can make it” coffee.  I’m washing my clothing by hand and hanging it to dry in the sun.

Most importantly, I’ve had the opportunity to slow down and have learned to appreciate relaxation and balance, although implementation is a work in progress. One of the quotes that perfectly sums up the experience so far is, “A wrinkled forehead is a wrinkled mind.” All focus in the Ashram is on detoxing the mind and the body, but most importantly transforming self.

In my next post, I’ll cover more on that and what I’m learning in the yoga certification course. But first, for those who are more curious about my travel experiences, let me step back to recap my journey thus far.

I set out the evening of Thursday, March 3 on a flight from Houston to Istanbul. No surprise to me, I was able to sleep most of the 12+ hour flight. I had a 5-hour layover in Istanbul, where my blonde hair and American accent were certainly outside the norm. I found my “happy place” in a Starbucks where I was able to relax over a cup of coffee and observe my surroundings. At that moment, I remember thinking, “Wow. I am in Istanbul, Turkey. Alone. Traveling to India. Alone.” It was not a moment of panic, but more so a joyful, “Wow… How did I get here!? This is awesome!”

The second flight went just as smoothly and brought more rest and some studying time.

It was 5 am in India when I touched down in Delhi. This was the moment I had been anticipating the entire trip and for weeks leading up to it. What would it be like out there? I had been warned about the cultural differences, including how men may react to a Western woman. There was no turning back now, so I wrapped my golden shawl around my shoulders and exited the plane.

Throughout the journey, I had an excited, yet calm, feeling. It was if I kept waiting for a moment of fear or anxiety to set in. It never came. Instead there was joy. There was gratitude. There was peace.

I made it through customs with ease (despite my own concerns about my many supplements and powders) and found my driver for the 6-hour taxi ride, and he was a friendly, genuine Indian man. There was absolutely nothing to be afraid of, so the anxious feelings I had been anticipating never came.

The drive from Delhi to Rishikesh was a colorful introduction to the culture. There were very few miles of open road during the six-hour drive. The majority of the trip was spent weaving in and out of cars and honking each time we’d pass another vehicle. There were no SUVs, pick-up trucks or semis like you would see on major highways in the U.S. There were motorbikes with multiple passengers, tuk-tuks and occasionally even a horse and wagon transporting goods. It was Saturday, and the driver explained that in a few hours, the roads would be jam-packed. In India, it’s business as usual on Saturdays — even school is in session.

Beyond the traffic, there were interesting sites along the way. I saw cows grazing next to restaurants and shops, dogs roaming and there were small stands selling food and other goods lining the roads. The women were dressed very conservatively, most wearing long tunics with leggings and scarves — always with their shoulders covered. The men were also covered from head to toe but in more Western apparel. Several were wearing sweater vests over their clothing, even as the heat of the day ramped up.

With the exception of one woman in the back of taxi as we entered Rishikesh, I didn’t see another “Westerner” the entire journey. I noticed a few curious folks observing me, but for the most part, I never felt uncomfortable.

The driver stopped just out of Delhi so that I could visit my first temple. I had visited Buddhist temples while in Taiwan several years ago but was a little rusty on the protocol. The guards kindly reminded me to wash my hands and remove my shoes before entry. Once inside, there was a Priest seated at the front who, speaking only in Hindi, explained the statues that lined the walls. He brought me to the front provided me with holy water. He instructed me to drink a sip then put some on my cheeks and hair. I obliged, despite hearing the warnings of every travel website echoing in my mind. He also tied rust-orange colored string around my left wrist and presented me with a handful of gems and other colored items.

When we arrived in Rishikesh, I had a feeling if anticipation as we pulled up to the Ashram. I had reviewed photos and blogs about the experiences others had at this particular Ashram but had no idea what to expect. The grounds are beautiful in a very simple, understated way. Flowers line all of the walkways and the cottages are made of brick, each with its own porch for sitting and for drying clothing. The cabin I share with two other women is right in front of the river, and there is a beautiful view of the Himalayas in the distance. Monkeys play right outside my door. Although, I’m still I awe with the fact that there are monkeys in my “backyard” I’ve been warned to keep my distance as they can be very aggressive.

Upon arrival, I made my way to the dining hall for the first meal. Meals are eaten in slience, and the food is vegetarian cooked according to Ayurvedic principles. Although I wasn’t all that hungry, I tried some rice and my first curry dish. Fantastic! The food has not disappointed, although I am supplementing with pea protein and amino acids to ensure I get the protein my body is accustomed to.

In my next post, I’ll talk more about what I’m learning during my stay at the Ashram. To give you a brief preview, in the first three days here, I have relaxed in such a way that I never thought possible. In this traditional, meditation-based style of yoga, success is not about how you far you can push the extremes of your body but on how far you can push transformation of the entire mind, body and spirit.

For now, I want to close by saying say thank you for your continued support and interest in my journey! Until next time, Namaste.