Your body & soul

Super Easy Summer Pasta Salads

The dog days of summer are here.

It is too hot to walk. Too hot to move. Too hot to cook.

Well, maybe there’s a little time to cook.

If you need to bring a salad to a summer barbecue or are just looking to change up your summer cooking repertoire, I found two super-duper easy pasta salad recipes. These can be eaten as a side dish or because they both have veggies and protein, they make a great meal if paired with a green salad.

As many of your know, I am a fan of simple recipes with as few ingredients as possible. The first recipe has just four ingredients, and the second has seven (not counting salt and pepper). Get ready to wow whoever eats these!

Caprese Pasta Salad

I found this on a beautiful blog called The Recipe Critic. Alyssa Rivers is a Utah-based food blogger. Just looking at her Pinterest-worthy recipes is enough to make you want to lick your screen. Check out her take on a classic Caprese salad (fresh mozzarella, basil, and fresh tomatoes).

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 oz. pasta (I used cellentani)
  • 1 cup (8 oz.) small fresh mozzarella balls
  • 2 cups (10.5 oz.) grape tomatoes, halved
  • 3 tablespoons pesto
  • Salt and pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Cook and drain your pasta according to package directions. Drain with cold water and set aside.
  2. In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine pasta, basil pesto, grape tomatoes, and mozzarella balls. Toss together until it is coated in the basil pesto.

Serves 4-6 people.

I wolfed this down in two sittings. It is easy-peasy to do. Although Rivers gives a recipe for homemade pesto in the original recipe, I am lazy and used store-bought pesto. I can use it again for sandwiches, pasta, meat, etc.

20-Minute BLT Pasta Salad

Baker by Nature is another mind-blowing food blog. Ashley Manila cranks out decadent photography and damn easy recipes. Look at this BLT salad you can nosh on all year round! (Note: The original recipe is HUUUUUGE so I halved it here.)

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 ounces bow tie pasta
  • 1/2 cup zesty Italian salad dressing
  • 1/4 cup ranch salad dressing
  • 1/2 pound thick cut bacon, fried until crispy then cut into strips (I used salad bacon bits to save time, but they didn’t work well after they soaked in the dressing. Real is best here.)
  • 1 large ripe tomato, diced
  • 5 leaves of crispy romaine lettuce, washed, dried, and chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 1/4 cup red onion, diced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes.
  2. Drain pasta and rinse under cold water until cool.
  3. While the water is coming to a boil, heat a skillet over medium heat; add bacon strips, and cook until crispy, about 4 minutes on each side. Transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate.
  4. Place cooled pasta in a large serving bowl; set aside.
  5. In a small bowl combine zesty Italian dressing and ranch, mix well. Add dressing to pasta and toss well to coat pasta.
  6. Add bacon, tomato, and onion to the pasta bowl, mix well to combine, and season with salt and pepper as desired. Serve at once, or chill until needed.
  7. Add romaine right before serving, or else it will get soggy and gross.

Serves 8-10.

There were no leftovers when I made this for my family. Like I said, real bacon is best because my real bacon bits didn’t hold up in the soggy dressing. But I like it even better than BLT sandwiches. There, I said it.

Both of these recipes are super easy and guaranteed to wow you or your guests. I loved them, and you will too!

What is your favorite summer salad? Comment below!

I Did Parks & Rec Fitness for One Week

I don’t think I have ever mentioned this on the blog, but I work for my city’s Parks & Rec department.

Cue the L’il Sebastian and Jean-Ralpio Saperstein jokes. Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard ‘em all.

With summer in full swing, Parks & Rec has a huge selection of activities not available any other time of year: swimming, softball, canoeing, special hikes, and other free classes. Being thrifty by nature, I gave myself a challenge to see if I could do at least four days of free fitness classes using only what Parks & Rec offered.

Challenge accepted.

Tuesday—Canoeing

I was at our city’s Fourth of July celebration to serve dinner to our employees working overtime. But before it was dinnertime, I went out to the lake (site of the fireworks show) where the Rec people had kids’ games and other demonstrations. One of them was canoeing. The Rec staff asked if I wanted to hop into a canoe.

“I haven’t been canoeing since the nineties,” I admitted.

That excuse wasn’t good enough. They slapped a life jacket on me and chucked me into a canoe.

If you’ve ever been in a canoe, you know the first couple minutes are a little hairy because you swear you are going to tip over, and that was my experience. As soon as I managed to feel even-keeled, though, I started drifting further away from shore. My quick demo would turn into a three-hour tour if I didn’t do something! Thankfully the water was not deep. I shoved my paddle into the water like a gondolier and made my way back to the bank.

I served dinner with hella sore arms, but proud I could navigate a canoe alone after 20+ years.

OK, so technically it wasn’t a class. But I got more exercise in those fifteen minutes than I do many days of the week!

Wednesday—Yoga

I have talked before about how much I love yoga, so this one was a no-brainer. I had to negotiate a longer lunch since this was in the middle of the day (12:00-12:45). I quickly changed into yoga clothes at lunch, sped the 10 minutes to the park where the class was, and rolled my mat open.

I was pleasantly surprised. There were only four other participants, so I got a lot of one-on-one instruction from a local yoga instructor. Though all of us were intermediate yogis, the teacher truly taught the class for any level. She suggested pose modifications to make things easier or more advanced. What I appreciated most was that she helped me make modifications for my bad back on the concrete surface below my mat. She was a true pro!

Thursday—Water Fitness

This was after work at a local pool. I was hesitant to break out my new Lane Bryant suit, but I paid a lot for it and dammit I was going to use it!

There were about thirty people there, almost all women. And they were all shapes and sizes, so why should I feel self-conscious about my size? It was basically a water aerobics class without using any props—just body weight for resistance. The teacher did a great job of teaching to those without much experience and suggesting ways to make it harder if we wanted to push ourselves.

I took a semester of water aerobics in grad school and it is a phenomenal workout. I used all my muscles, got my heart rate up, and best of all, my perpetually sore back didn’t hurt. If I’m honest, that was the best workout I had all week!

Saturday—Yoga

This was similar to Wednesday’s experience, but there were a dozen people in this class instead of five. I still got great, individual instruction. I also got to roll next door to one of my favorite cafés for breakfast! 

Sunday—Water Fitness

This was a similar routine to what I encountered Thursday, but the pool was absolutely packed. There had to be at least sixty people in the pool. It was a little more harrowing to find my own spot and harder to hear the instructor, but I still had a ton of fun. Though I couldn’t see well with water smacking my glasses, the age range appeared to be college kids to people well in their seventies.

It was the same instructor from Thursday, and I am amazed how she managed to keep sixty people corralled in one pool, motivating everyone, offering suggestions to modify the workout, and keeping us all laughing. She was worth her weight in gold!

All in all, I had a great week doing my Parks & Rec workout. If you are looking for something to do, why not see what your local Parks & Rec has to offer? You never know who you will meet, and it’s all low-cost or free!

What was the last fitness class you took? Comment below!

Six Reasons Why You Should Take a Retreat

Playing around on Google recently, I was stunned by the number of different retreats out there.

Religious ones. For writers. Yoga. Silent. Team-building. Corporate. Leadership. Health/wellness.

And they come in different types: guided, self-paced, structured, unstructured, silent, social, teams, couples, prayer…the list goes on.

I can already hear you saying: Are you seriously trying to convince me to go on a retreat? I’m already single. I get plenty of alone time!

You may get alone time, but how do you fill it? TV? Internet? Errands? Going out?

Those are all good things in themselves, but the word “retreat” comes from the Latin retrahere which literally means “to pull back.” How does it sound to take a week or weekend and just concentrate on you and what you want to do? However you want to do a retreat, I think it’s a powerful, transformative experience. Here are six reasons a retreat why a retreat may be just what you need:

  1. Shut out the outside world. One of the most obvious reasons to go is to take time away from work, family, friends, daily stress, and just be. This is strictly you It is not greedy or selfish to take a few days away from everyone and concentrate on yourself. Because if you don’t take care of yourself, your work, relationships, and other aspects of your life will suffer.
  2. Develop deeper connections. Whether it’s connecting with a higher power in a religious setting, making new friends at a writing retreat, or rekindling your inner fire at a yoga retreat, these are all very important. Be it another person, God, or your very self, foraging these connections are at the very heart of what it means to be human.
  3. Gain perspective on your problems. I am one of those people who have difficulty seeing the forest through the trees. Petty problems can bog me down that I forget the big picture. But taking time alone to think about life reminds me that running errands isn’t such a big deal. Or that I could be more patient in traffic. Or nicer to everyone I meet. The little problems just don’t seem to matter when you step back and really examine it.
  4. Declutter your mind. Just as you get to put life into focus, you can also shake the cobwebs out of your brain. Ditch thoughts of that toxic coworker. Don’t beat yourself up that you forgot a friend’s birthday. Stop worrying about the number on the scale. It just doesn’t matter on retreat. Take a long, silent walk or luxuriate in a hot bath. Journal. Do what you need to do to quiet your mind, forget your shortcomings, and just move on.
  5. Rediscover what peace is. It is in that decluttering that you can remember what it is like to be at peace with the world. As cheesy as it sounds, I think retreats make the sunset and sunrise more beautiful. Food tastes better. Life seems happier. I feel calmer and more confident. When was the last time you were able to say you felt peaceful? I mean really, truly peaceful? That is the power of retreats.
  6. Cultivate or perfect a skill. Whether you try journaling for the first time, perfect a yoga stance, read a book on a topic you’ve always wanted to explore, or learn to cook a new dish, you are adding to your skills set. You are taking time to (re)learn what makes you happy, and that added depth will stay with you, even after the retreat is over.

 I went on my first retreat—with nuns—when I was 16. I haven’t been on one in a few years, but these are all things I’ve experienced firsthand. And yes, even us single ladies deserve some alone time!

What type of retreat appeals to you? Comment below!

Things You Should Never Say to Yourself Living with Chronic Pain

When I was seventeen and working the crappiest food-service job of my life, I had an accident. I fell and somehow my tailbone slipped out of place. It didn’t bother me for fifteen years until one day, out of the blue, it flared up. And I have been living with chronic pain ever since.

Chronic pain is something that lasts for more than three months. It can be intermittent or get progressively worse. Mine is permanent; I have good and bad days. As someone living with chronic pain and depression, it is so easy to feel sorry for myself and allow despair to win. It’s also easy to be depressed knowing this is a reality of aging.

I may not be able to control my pain, but I sure as hell can control how I react to it. Below are four things you should never say to yourself if you live in chronic pain. These are all based on personal experience, and it is my sincere hope that if you also live with chromic or even just occasional pain, it will give you hope that you can control your thoughts and improve your outlook.

“No one knows how I feel.” This is absolutely false. One hundred million Americans live with some form of chronic pain, according to the Institute of Medicine, in a report commissioned by Congress. That means that about out of every three Americans knows exactly how you feel, so you are definitely not alone.

One day not too long ago I was having a pity party. I put it out on Facebook that I was having back pain and it never seemed I would ever get better. It was then I found out friends of mine also had crippling back pain to the point of getting surgery, lived with constant migraines, or had even been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

I’m not saying that to scare you. I am saying that to let you know you are less alone than you think. A lot of people who care about you understand the frustration, and they are there to link arms with you.

“I’ll never be able to do ‘X’ again.” As someone who loves to jog, this is probably the hardest thing to face. I couldn’t take my beloved early morning jogs without paying for it in agonizing pain for days after.

So I had to adjust. I looked at exercise options I could do instead of running: biking, swimming, walking, and yoga. Since I don’t like to bike or swim much, I started walking (slowly, and only for 15-20 minutes) and going to yoga class. It gives me a sense of accomplishment I am doing some exercise instead of none, and the yoga is helping strengthen my back.

My goal is to be strong enough to run again, but I literally have to walk before I can run. I have to adjust to where I am now, and I refuse to allow myself to feel sad about it.

“There is no hope/treatment for my pain.” I saw my general practitioner to discuss the pain. All she gave me were meds I can’t even take because of my anti-depressants.

I saw a chiropractor whose treatment actually made me feel even worse and who wouldn’t give me strengthening exercises to do at home, even though I repeatedly asked him.

So now I am taking matters into my own hands. I am going to a clinic specializing in back pain to see if cortisone injections or something similar will help with the pain. I am also open to acupuncture or going to physical therapy. All this is to say I am getting second and third opinions. I am not accepting substandard care and will continue to look for ways to treat pain.

“I can’t.” Just like my inability to jog, I found myself saying “I can’t” to a lot of different little situations: taking the stairs at work, bending down to pick stuff off the floor, getting on my hands and knees to scrub my bathroom, etc. My thought is, My back hurts, so why bother?

That’s not the case. I do have good days. So I need to ban the I can’t mentality and trade it for Let me see how I feel right now. If I’m having a good day, I need to take advantage and climb those stairs. Maybe I’m having a bad day, but I can get on my hands and knees to scrub if I am careful.

The victory here is I am re-programming my thoughts to align with how I feel. I am cognizant of the bad days and don’t overdo it. On the good days, I do more, but I don’t go nuts. It’s about being in tune with your body and refusing to allow the negativity to win.

***

Don’t allow yourself to become a hostage to your pain. You do have to adjust your life to live with it, but that is a sign of strength, not weakness. You control how you live with your pain – it doesn’t control you!

Is there something I missed in this list? Comment below!

How to Find a Church by Yourself

There are some things in life that once you find them, you hold on to them and don’t let go: a great hairdresser, an honest mechanic, or a doctor who really listens to you.

Another staple of many peoples’ lives is a good church. But if you are single and unsure of how to find one, how do you even know where to begin? I want to give you some practical tips on how to find a church that suits you and will support you on your spiritual walk.

One thing to consider is what denomination of services you would like to attend. Some people prefer to go to the church of the religion they were raised in, which is fine. However, if that doesn’t meet your spiritual needs, consider taking this quiz to see where your leanings are. This BeliefNet quiz is for entertainment purposes, but it can give you insight if you prefer a more liberal, conservative, or middle-of-the-road church. For example, I scored highest as a Liberal Quaker, ranking far above the Catholic faith I was raised in.

However, being a Quaker isn’t terribly practical in my city of 300,000 people. They meet in a private residence once a week, and I’m not comfortable sticking out like a sore thumb for their meetings.

Another way to find a church is to ask your like-minded friends, relatives, or co-workers if they can recommend any churches. Ask them why they would recommend it, and if they think you would enjoy it. I think you will find their answers to be very telling. Ask if you can go to a service with them – there’s nothing like going to church with someone who can make introductions!

When I visit a new church, I have a list of what is most important to me:

  • Was I welcomed? I like a warm greeting. I don’t want to be a nameless face in the pew.
  • Music – Personally, I like more contemporary music.
  • Sermon – What was the central message of the sermon? Was it hellfire and brimstone, or did it teach an inspirational, gentle, and hopeful lesson?
  • Congregation– Is there diversity in the congregation? Is it all families or all older folks? Do you see unattached adults? If there is a good age spread, I take that as a good sign that the church reaches out to everyone.
  • Ministries – Many of these are highlighted in the church bulletin, which I highly recommend reading. Does the church offer anything of interest to you, like singles’ ministry, bible study, classes, or volunteer opportunities? Opportunities to get you involved will make you feel quickly at home.
  • Service time – I’m squirming after 45 minutes. If it goes past an hour, they’ve lost me.
  • Miscellaneous – Is there anything else that stands out about the church? Things I’ve noticed are coffee before or after services for fellowship, wonky parking lots, use of multimedia in the church, and the general overall church vibe. 

Of course selecting the right church for you is an intensely personal process, and you will unfortunately go to a few churches that just don’t resonate with you. But if you are brave enough to explore churches, keep in mind what is important to you in a church family, and visit the “maybe” churches more than once, I think you are well on your way to finding a worship community that’s just right for you.

If you attend church, how did you find the place you currently attend? Comment below!

Quick and Easy Meditation for Beginners

Cell phones. Car alarms. Noisy neighbors. TVs and radios blaring. Dogs barking. Kids screaming. Fire alarms when all you want to do is boil water.

No matter what your kryptonite is, I think all of us suffer from a world of excess noise and distraction. If you’re anything like me, you probably bombarded with cacophony from the minute you wake up till the moment your head hits the pillow.

Is it possible to hit the restart button and refocus your thoughts? How do you find your calm in the middle of a busy, loud day? Is it even worth taking a couple minutes to shut your brain up?

In a word…yes.

Now, I’m not going to lie: I came to hate the words meditation and silence when I was in training to be a nun. I had to go through several silent 48-hour retreats. We weren’t permitted to say a single word and were supposed to be in prayer and silence. I’ll be the first to admit I failed miserably. All I did was sleep a ton and sneak in books in order to have something to do. Because in my 20-something-year-old mind, I demanded stimulation and I didn’t want to take time away to pray.

And honestly, structured prayer isn’t my jam. But as I’ve gotten older, I see the wisdom and power of meditating. It has been proven to reduce stress, improve concentration, as well as increase happiness and self-awareness.

So how can you snatch a few minutes to calm your brain down and re-center yourself? I have to admit, as single women, we actually get more silence built into our day than wives and mothers. So why don’t we take advantage of it?

Below are a few quick ideas you can try today. Try doing any one of these for two or three minutes every day. It doesn’t require any fancy equipment. All you need is the intention of wanting to meditate.

In the Morning

  • Hold a hot cup of coffee or tea in your hands. Savoring the aroma, breathe deeply and focus on what you are grateful for in the day to come.
  • Practice three yoga sun salutations. There are many YouTube videos to get your started.
  • Sit comfortably in a chair. Concentrate on your breath. Each time you inhale, focus on a mantra or an intention you have for yourself. Suggestions for a mantra could be love, peace, joy, serenity, or a similar notion.

In the Middle of the Day

This will require you to disappear for a few minutes. If you can’t shut people out in your office or cubicle, go to your car, bathroom, break room, or even a storage closet if you won’t come across as a total weirdo.

  • Sit comfortably and focus on one good thing that has happened so far today. Replay it in your mind and thank the universe for it.
  • Close your eyes. Concentrate on your heartbeat and your breath. Be really present in the moment and think about how strong your body is, how alive you are, and how amazing it is to simply be today.

At Night

  • Lie down in corpse pose (arms away from body, hands up, feet shoulder-width apart). Breathing slowly, focus on your one-word mantra. Reflect on how it played a role in your life today.
  • Look up a quote on a site like dailyzen.com or http://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/buddhism/daily-buddhist-quote.aspx. Sit in your favorite chair. Soak in that quote and let it flow over you.

What do you do to hit the “restart” button in your mind during a busy day? Comment below!

Blood Be Gone: Why I LOVE Mirena

Let’s talk periods for a blog entry. And no, I’m not talking punctuation marks.

What I am talking about is Aunt Flo. The Curse. Your monthly.

Whatever you call it, periods are something all women from teens to well into their 50s have to endure, and I’m no exception. We shell out hundreds of dollars a year on tampons, pads, cups, pantyliners, and other things to stop us from being the vampire victim every 28 days or so.

CSI: Constantly Soiled Items

Speaking for myself, my periods have always been a horrid curse. I was diagnosed with menorrhagia (abnormally heavy periods) in my early 30s. As early as my late teens, I could sleep with a tampon, two pads, and be on a towel, and I would still wake up on a bed that looked like a crime scene. I ruined countless items of clothing and bed linens. “Ultra heavy” pads and tampons were utterly laughable. As a teacher with one 20-minute break in a nine-hour day, I had to wear yoga pants so I could drag through the day. And it was gross. Just gross.

Sick and tired of the blood and anemia, I drew a line in the sand at the age of 31. I went to my OB/GYN, begging for something, anything, to relieve my symptoms.

That was when the miracle of Mirena was introduced into my life.

What Is Mirena?

Mirena is one of four hormonal IUDs available in the United States (the others being Skyla, Liletta, and Kyleena). It is a small, plastic, T-shaped device about 1.25” long and just as wide. Prescribed and inserted by a medical practitioner into your uterus, it shells out a low dose of the hormone levonorgestrel. There are strings that are trimmed after insertion you can still feel, but it shouldn’t interfere with your normal activities.

Advantages of Mirena

  • Up to 20% of women reported periods stopped altogether after their first year
  • Has a five-year success rate of 99.3% in preventing pregnancies
  • Effective for five years (although some women get a new one after 3 years)
  • Thanks to the ACA (Obamacare), many health plans cover Mirena
  • On the market in the US since 2001 with an extensive body of literature supporting its effectiveness
  • Nothing needs to be done prior to sex – it really is a “set it and forget it” form of birth control
  • If you change your mind and want to start a family, 90% of users who wish to become pregnant do so within 2 years of removal

Disadvantages of Mirena

  • Mild to moderate discomfort when it is inserted (from my own experience, I won’t lie – it hurts like a bitch)
  • Irregular periods and spotting after insertion
  • Side effects include: lowered sex drive, nausea, acne, weight change, change in glucose tolerance, lower back/abdominal pain, and mood swings

Of course, check with your physician to see if you are a candidate for Mirena. But in my personal experience, I saved my pennies to get it and gave my OB/GYN the green light to insert it. And the day I got my Mirena was the last day I had to worry about periods. Other than a couple days of light spotting, I haven’t had a single problem with my periods.

And it has been liberating. I can travel without worrying about my period. I can swim whenever I want. Stained clothing is but a distant memory, and I can even wear white pants without fear. My quality of life has gone up dramatically since Mirena came into my life. And yes, I do suffer from some side effects, but that is nothing in comparison to the joy and freedom to live my life on my terms without suffering from menorrhagia and anemia every month.

So what do you have to lose? Discuss Mirena or another hormonal IUD the next time you go to your GYN. You may just change your life, and for the better.

What has been your experience with birth control? Has it enhanced your quality of life? Comment below!

Easy Breakfast for Dinner Recipes for One

What’s not to love about having breakfast for dinner? You get to eat the foods you love when it’s dark outside, you can wear your jammies, and binge-watch the latest season of BoJack Horseman while you eat, so you got the cartoon aspect covered, too!

There are lots of good casserole recipes, or you can make pancakes, waffles, bacon, sausage, or even just cold cereal. But I have two quick egg recipes that require about six ingredients apiece and are perfectly portioned for one person!

  1. Savory Egg Bake (modified from a Weight Watchers recipe)

Ingredients:

  • No-stick cooking spray
  • 1 tablespoon marinara or pizza sauce
  • 1 tablespoon feta (or similarly crumbly cheese)
  • 1 large egg
  • Spices of your choice (the original recipe called for fresh thyme; I used garlic powder, herbes de Provence, and crushed red pepper flakes)
  • 2 pieces bread for toast

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  • Spray ramekin with the cooking spray (be sure your ramekin can resist temperatures of 400!)
  • Add all the ingredients into the ramekin (I like to poke my egg so it comes out runny)
  • Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees

After it cools just a bit, enjoy with toast and fruit. Plenty of protein, filling, and super easy!

 

  1. Easiest Quiche EVER (modified from a Food.com recipe)

Ingredients:

  • 1 premade frozen pie crust
  • 5 large eggs
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 2 cups filling – cheese, leftover veggies, meat, or any combination (for this one I use ½ cup cheese and 1½ cups from a bag of frozen onions, celery, and peppers, which I thawed and drained)
  • Season to taste (I like crushed red pepper, garlic powder, and black pepper)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Beat eggs in a large mixing bowl
  • Add the filling and milk, then mix all together
  • Pour the egg mixture into the pie shell
  • PLACE THE PIE ON A COOKIE SHEET (I have had more than one quiche drip onto my entire oven)
  • Bake for about 50 minutes, until the top is browned, and a knife inserted in center comes out clean

This is so easy and so good. Enjoy with a green or fruit salad, and maybe a piece of toast. It refrigerates very easily for breakfast or lunch the next day.

There are so many ways to make this: Tex-Mex with peppers and steak, Italian with garlic, onions and spicy sausage, or the classic quiche Lorraine with bacon and Swiss cheese. 

I am definitely not a huge egg fan, but these recipes are so simple that I can have them whipped up in very little time with minimal effort. And let the brenner party begin!

What is your favorite breakfast food to eat for dinner? Comment below and try one of these recipes this week!

Yoga and the Plus-Size Woman

“Ohm…shanti…ohm…shanti…”

You probably think those of use who practice yoga sitting around in our yoga pants, watch incense waft heavenward, and pray to weird Eastern deities.

Yeah, no. That’s not how yoga works. (Although, as a sad/funny side note, my local ultra right-wing Catholic bishop tried to tell women practicing yoga was a grave sin.)

I took my first yoga class in my twenties, and I was hooked right away. I loved being able to shut my loud brain off for 75 minutes at a time. I was amazed I could actually do some of the poses as well as or better than my classmates, like the bridge pose and sitting in a butterfly pose with my knees flat on the floor. And when I could do things I had never done before, such as a handstand, I knew yoga would always be a part of my life.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro, an intermediate yogi like me, or a total newbie, I hope you will consider doing yoga. Even though we are curvier women, yoga offers so many benefits, they simply cannot be denied:

  1. Improved respiration. A lot of yoga centers on breathing. You focus on different parts of your body receiving oxygen. The deeper you breathe and the more you focus on it, the more it improves your overall breathing.
  1. Increased flexibility. I am amazed at how much more flexible I was after a few months of yoga class. Postures I had to skip in the first few classes were ones I could actually do! And it was fun to try to recreate those movements at home.
  1. Perfects your posture. While Pilates are better for core work, yoga also focuses a lot on your core and tucking your belly button into your spine. Yoga stretches make you longer, leaner, and your posture will naturally follow suit.
  1. Increases blood flow. Believe me, when your head is below your heart – like in downward dog – the blood flows to your head. And you start to feel arteries, veins, and capillaries you don’t even know you had!
  1. Inspires a healthy lifestyle. I don’t know about you, but I am less likely to grab fast food on the way home from yoga class. Somehow my body craves better food, and I make better choices. I drink more water, less alcohol, and I actually want to eat stuff that’s good for me.
  1. Fights depression. Not only does yoga center you and help you focus on your breathing, but your endorphins kick in. I seem to feel particularly happier after a round of hot yoga.
  1. Improves your balance. Yeah, I wobble and fall when I’m trying to balance on one leg. So what? Over the weeks, my balance improves. So not only can I stand on one leg, but I can stand on one bent leg!
  1. Fosters deeper sleep. It is connected to the focus on breathing and being centered, but I always slept like a rock after yoga practice. The calming breathing and soothing feeling of well-being lend themselves so well to a good night’s sleep!
  1. Yoga is a sport you definitely see improvement in. As I mentioned, literally everyone improves after a few weeks in yoga class. I dare you to try it out for a month. Tell me you don’t see marked improvement.
  1. Centers you. After a long, tiring session, it feels so good to lay there in corpse pose, breathing, and connecting with the universe. That is a sense of peace and tranquility I have never found in any church. Ever.

So if you want to practice yoga for increased flexibility, as a way to ease symptoms of depression, or you are looking to take up a new sport, yoga is simply amazing. Give it a try at your local adult education classes or see if a local yoga studio offers free introductory classes. You might get hooked!

Have you ever done yoga? What were the results?

How the Convent Trained Me for Life as a Single Woman

How the ConvvLife as a Single Woman

Maria von Trapp. The Flying Nun. Sister Mary Clarence (Sister Act). Me.

Yes, yours truly was a nun for a year before I was booted out. Even though I wrote a book about it, I really don’t talk much about my time in the convent.

But the longer I blog about life as a curvy single woman, the more I realize that my time in the convent was excellent preparation for living as a single woman in my 30s.

I was 27 when I entered the convent. I came fresh out of grad school and I had never lived really, truly on my own before. The lessons learned during that short year stay with me to this day:

  1. I learned how to do things for myself. I had to learn how to change a tire, cook for six hungry people in 30 minutes, basic household repairs, and how to make $100 (our monthly allowance) last for an entire month for entertainment, clothes, and toiletries.
  1. You will not get along with everyone you meet. Contrary to what movies or TV might show, some nuns are actually notoriously difficult to get along with. They can be crabby, long-winded, or just plain unpleasant to be around. But in the spirit of community, you do your best to put on a cheerful face, act like an adult, and tolerate their company as best you can.
  1. Treasure your own company. I hated the retreats where we to be silent for 48 hours. But in the everyday hustle and bustle, I came to appreciate the hour of quiet I had in daily prayer. That was me time, and that allowed me to recharge my batteries after taking care of others for so many hours.
  1. Everything changes, yet everything stays the same. It seemed the nuns were moving all the time, changing jobs, or starting new ventures. But the older nuns were calm, serene, a little sassy, and were always just there. They had seen and lived through so much, that nothing ever seemed to faze them. I envy their serenity, and I hope as the years pass, less will bother me and change will not weird me out as much.
  1. Giving up control is not a bad thing. I can be a control freak. I hate getting lost, not having an itinerary, or being at a social event where I don’t know anyone. But I had to live in the convent without Google maps and I was often at events where I didn’t know a soul. But I learned to rely on my sense of direction and I actually started trusting myself things would be OK if I got helplessly lost or if I had to make awkward small talk. And I was actually fine!
  1. The deepest joys do not require a lot of money. I didn’t care if I didn’t have the latest fashions or gadgets. I was happier playing cards at home or going for walks out in the neighborhood.
  1. An open spirit can lead to unimaginable blessings. I got thrown into so many situations I did not sign up for (volunteering at a women’s shelter, rebuilding blighted houses, renovating the motherhouse), but those were some of the biggest joys I experienced in my time with the sisters.
  1. I am stronger than I think I am. I am braver than I give myself credit for. I thought my life was over after I left was kicked out of the convent. I really thought that was what God wanted me to do, but it wasn’t. Contrary to what I thought, my life wasn’t over. I had a broken heart for a while, but I learned to heal and get on with my life. I really did have everything I needed in me, and while I may have bent, I didn’t break.

I sometimes still get asked if I would ever consider entering the convent again. The answer is a resounding N-O. I tried that life, and it is not a good fit for me.

But the passing of years has brought wisdom and grace. I have grown a lot since I was 27, and the lessons I learned with the nuns were wonderful training for the woman I am today. I followed my heart, and even though my convent experience blew up in my face, I am stronger and wiser for the time I spent with the nuns. I am that much more able to handle life as a strong, single woman.

What life experience has had the biggest effect on you? Comment below!

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