All Possibilities Within

A photo of me doing mermaid pose on a beach at sunset overlaid with the text "All Possibilities Within."
My latest guest blog for Nova Yoga.

I’m guest blogging for Nova Yoga again! Click here to read my take on core vinyasa, inner strength and my favourite mantra.


“Om namah shivaya. As a mantra to invoke a sense of awakening, respect and honour for one’s self, these are powerful words.”


A Lesson from the Sniffles

As I lay in bed, a tissue crumpled in my hand, breathing shallowly through my mouth and wishing away the congestion in my sinuses, a thought flitted through my mind: “I just want to feel good.”

This is a meaningful phrase for me. When I was recovering from broken ribs and a year in which I had sustained a concussion, endured serious insomnia and fell victim to multiple flus and viruses, I felt broken. I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt at home in my body and as I reached out to a friend who ran Beachbody challenge groups, I told her “I just want to feel good again.”

A quote about gratitude set against an ocean view.

That motivated me for several months. “I just want to feel good” became my reason for committing to an exercise program, my deal-breaker consideration when faced with unhealthy options, my “why” for resolving to work on all aspects of my mental, emotional and physical health.

And it worked! I got healthier, I felt stronger, I wasn’t sick all the time, I gained control of my insomnia (most of the time), I took courses in nutrition and I learned strategies to work on the other areas of my life. But as I continued to learn and grow, I also began to take my health for granted.

I’ve always had a weak immune system, it seems. I’m not sure if this is truth or something that I’ve incorporated into part of my being through the stories we tell ourselves (“Hi, I’m Susan, and I’ll get sick if you sneeze in my general vicinity”). Regardless, it was truth because I believed it and I did regularly get sick every few months with whatever virus was going around the office or my social group.

So to not have to deal with the sniffles for a year was a pretty big deal for me.

It took lying in bed for a few days and a cough that is still lingering to remind me that health is precious and not something to be taken for granted.

Over the past few months, I’ve faltered a little on my nutrition commitment. I’m not sure why but I’ve been indulging a lot more in junk food than I used to, and I’ve had trouble trying to motivate myself to find my triggers and start working on rebuilding those healthier habits. I’m wondering now whether the two – too much junk food and my recent illness – are connected. Did I let my body get run down, even a little, and did that make me more susceptible when the germs crossed my path?

I don’t know.

I realize that a cold isn’t the end of the world. There are plenty of people out there who face greater trials and whose illnesses, unlike mine, won’t heal.

My point is that it took catching a cold to make me realize I’ve been taking my health for granted.

And – mid-sneeze – I had a moment of gratitude for that reminder.

Mantras and Power Phrases

One of the things I’ve learned through practicing yoga is the power of a mantra.

From the Sanskrit words “man” (to think) and “tra” (instrument), a mantra is an instrument of thought. It’s a tool used by yogis, typically during meditation, to turn inward and find stillness away from the noise of the outer world and the chaos of our thoughts. It helps quiet and focus the mind and establish a connection with your true self.

My yoga teachers usually start a class by asking us to set an intention or sharing a mantra to use throughout the practice, and that combination of purposeful thinking and physical movement often helps me let go, find peace and cultivate inner strength.

Recently, I listened to a podcast from The Chalene Show, hosted by fitness leader and entrepreneur Chalene Johnson, focused on power phrases. She described these as phrases, words or sayings we repeat to ourselves in times of difficulty, when we need to find strength and power through a challenging time.

I use both of these techniques, depending on my mood, activity and what I need in that moment. I thought I’d share some of my favourite mantras and power phrases.

Be bold, be true – I used this one for a long time in the long months following my divorce when I felt shattered and emotionally adrift. I repeated this phrase daily to remind myself to be brave and true to myself, and it helps me choose the best path for me, even if it’s not the easiest. It’s a mantra I continue to use and which I hope will guide me for a long time to come.

Maybe that’s not true – This is how I question my brain when it’s telling me that I have no friends, that no one wants to hear what I have to say or that I’m not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, whatever. This simple phrase is enough to question whether what I’m thinking is based on reality or whether it’s possible that my anxiety disorder is taking over, and usually that’s enough to power through the moment and start practicing cognitive behavioural therapy.

I am stronger than I think – Courtesy of Autumn Calabrese, trainer in the workout program that I do, this power phrase helps me dig deep through forearm plank or mountain climbers or any other challenging fitness situation in which I find myself.

Total health – Since I signed on with the 21-Day Fix program, this has been my guiding principle. I seek total health on a daily basis: mental, physical, emotional and social. If something doesn’t serve that purpose, I think twice about whether I should do it. After several years of feeling awful in every way – of being sick, tired and injured, of being filled with anxiety and depression, and of feeling professionally and personally unfulfilled – reminding myself to seek total health has resulted in me being happier and healthier today than I’ve been in a very long time.

Om namah shivaya – Sanskrit for “I honour the divinity within myself” and sometimes translated as “I am, I will,” this mantra helps me believe in myself and find inner strength.

Today I choose joy – I don’t use this one a lot but when I do, it’s powerful. I reminds me that I always have the choice to choose happiness and that I can make that choice right here, right now.

Fuck it,* I’m doing it** – I find myself saying this when I want to do something but fear is holding me back. It’s my way of shrugging off the doubt, feeling the fear and remembering that I’m strong enough to deal with the consequences when they occur. In the meantime, I’m going to do it and have fun.

What are your favourite mantras or power phrases? Tell me in the comments!

*It’s my blog and I’ll swear if I want to.

**Quite often used before jumping out of trees, ziplining or clicking “post” on The Post that Started it All.

When a Picture Isn’t Worth a Thousand Words

Before and after pictures of the author after 48 days of physical activity.
Slightly more toning around the middle.

Today I had to give myself a little reality check.

I’m nearing the end of Beachbody’s Summer Strong Challenge, and one of the requirements to participate is to submit before and after pictures. This is quite common with Beachbody programs and as a coach, I encourage the use of pictures because they quite often show results that a scale doesn’t measure. I also think pictures can encourage us to focus on the things we love about our bodies and to view them as a source of pride as we recognize the results of our hard work.

However, this morning, when I took my Day 48 pictures and put them side-by-side with my before pictures, I wasn’t happy with the results. In fact, there’s hardly any difference at all.

To say I was disappointed and discouraged is an understatement. I texted my sister with a woe-is-me attitude, lamenting that I’m not seeing results in the pictures.

A side view of before and after pictures of the author.
No difference here at all.

But in between pep talks from her, I also started giving myself a little talking to.

First, the reality: I’ve been doing really good with the workouts and regaining physical activity but I haven’t stuck to the meal plan 100 per cent. With my coaching group, we encourage living by the 80/20 rule, meaning that 80 per cent of the time you follow the meal plan 100 per cent. The remaining 20 per cent is for those times when we want or need to treat ourselves or indulge a little.

My 80/20 has been more like 65-70/35-30.

I have a sweet tooth, which I’ve complained about publicly on Facebook, and it’s gotten the better of me sometimes. And while I don’t keep junk food in my house, it’s often at work. Sometimes it’s hard to resist; other times I make the healthy decision.

So nutrition is something that I need to continue working on.

Here’s some more reality:

  • I’m stronger than I was 48 days ago. I’m lifting my heaviest weights almost all the time. In fact, I need to buy heavier weights to continue challenging myself.
  • I’m regaining my fitness. I’ve surprised myself a couple of times by swimming more laps in the pool than I thought I could and at my first football game of the season yesterday, I felt strong.
  • My pants fit a little more comfortably. It’s not drastic but it’s noticeable (by me, at least).
  • I like what I see in the mirror. Yup, I do. I can see more muscle now than 48 days ago. I am comfortable in my own skin, and that’s a good place to be.

    A rear view of before and after pictures of the author.
    I like this view. It’s the triceps.

The point of this post is really to reiterate something that I tell my clients all the

time: fitness can’t be measured by just one tool, and neither can progress. Whether it’s the scale or measurements or pictures, taken alone, they only tell one part of the story. And a story isn’t complete without all those other details.

I am a work in progress. My body, my fitness, my mental health and my emotional health – I take them all together as my why (my reason for making health and fitness as a priority), which is total health. It’s what I strive for every day so that every part of me is working towards being the healthiest and happiest that I can be.

These pictures show one aspect of that. I’m not where I want to be but I’m getting there. And working towards that feels good.

Managing Anxiety

Since learning that I have an anxiety disorder, managing it and learning to recognize its symptoms has become an important part of my life.

I take medication daily, which I feel is the right choice for me at this time. That may change in the future but it also may not, and I’m OK with that. For now, I find it gives me the breathing space I need to manage my anxiety without being overtaken by it.

Aside from that, I’ve slowly developed techniques and practices to help me cope with anxiety and depression. Some have come with professional help; others I’ve discovered on my own.

Physical exercise – For me, taking good care of my physical health is central to everything else. I beat myself out so I can sleep better. I exercise so that I feel better about myself (yes, that includes my physical appearance but it’s not the sole, or most important, factor). I play sports because they are fun and I can socialize with friends and other like-minded people. Exercise is also an excellent distraction. Whatever I have going on in my life, whatever stress or cloud I’m under, it provides short periods of time in my day when I’m not thinking about anything other than what my body is doing at that specific moment.

Being in nature – Studies show that even looking at green space outside of an office window can have a significant positive impact on mood. Being outside is always a mood enhancer for me, and you will frequently find me on the East Coast Trail with my dogs. The fresh air calms my mind, the chance to chat with a friend provides a sense of connection to others, and hiking with my dogs amuses me. Their joy at being outside, running free, becomes my joy. When I’m in the woods or near the ocean, I’m instantly calmer.

I’m lucky that I live in a city that has easy access to hiking trails and beautiful, wild coastlines that are just minutes away from my house by car. Get outside: fresh air will cure what ails ya! (Still not convinced? Read this.)

Questioning negative thoughts –Cognitive behavioural therapy is an important tool for anyone who suffers from anxiety, and it’s one that I learned from a counsellor. There are several facets to it but the ones that help me the most are challenging negative thoughts and looking at the evidence for what’s probable versus what’s possible.

For people with anxiety disorders, worst-case scenario thinking is common.  It doesn’t take much for me to jump quickly from a disagreement with a friend to believing that I have no friends, for example, and my brain often tells me that I’m a burden to others. Is it possible? Sure. But does the evidence show that either of these beliefs are probable? I simply have to look at the actions of my friends and family to recognize that no, they are not probable.

Good nutrition – In order to feel well, I have to eat well. I definitely indulge sometimes and my sweet tooth occasionally gets out of hand but I also put a lot of effort into fueling my body with healthy and nutritious food that supports the active lifestyle that I love.

Looking for joy – Call this whatever you want: taking pleasure in the little things, practicing gratitude, counting your blessings, etc. For me, actively looking for joy often means that I find it, even if it’s just for a brief moment in my day.

Anxiety isn’t a pleasant feeling, and being consumed by it is downright damaging. And although I still struggle, often on a daily basis, I’m learning how to live a more mindful, authentic and grounded life in which I look forward to what it will bring me next.

What helps you manage anxiety or mental illness? What strategies do you use to get through your day? Tell me in the comments below.

Getting Started is the Hardest Part

"The secret of getting ahead is getting started." - Mark Twain
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” – Mark Twain. Wise feller. (Photo copyright
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is start.

I’ve been putting off resuming a full fitness routine for about two weeks. Although I was purposely taking it easy to ensure I am fully recovered from my concussion, I also started using it as an excuse.

The truth is that I was scared. You know why? Because I knew the first week was going to be really hard, and I knew it was going to hurt.

How ridiculous is that? To not do something you really want to do because it’s hard?

I’ve never been one to let fear hold me back for long so on Monday, I put on my big girl pants and began. I’m now four days into daily workouts and cold turkey on the sweets and chocolate. With a bit of work, dedication and luck, I hope I’m on my way to getting back into shape so I can resume my active lifestyle in the near future.

In a way, I’m lucky. I’ve had LOTS of practice at starting over (after two concussions and three broken ribs in 1.5 years, I should be an expert by now). And while I’m not glad that I endured these injuries, I have taken some positive lessons away from the experiences.

Here, in no particular order, are my tips to help you get started with whatever it is you want to do.

  1. Set yourself up for success – Change doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen without changes in your routine. Take a hard look at the behaviours that you need to change in order to support what you want to achieve. For me, I can’t get up in the morning to work out unless I’ve had a good night’s sleep. The problem is that I’m also an insomniac night owl who’s addicted to her phone. So here’s what I’ve been doing to make sure I can get up in the morning:
  • I set an alarm on my phone for 9 p.m. to remind me that it’s time to put the phone away and start my bedtime routine;
  • I told family and friends not to try to contact me or expect a response after 9 p.m.;
  • I set my phone to go into do not disturb mode at 10 p.m. every weekday;
  • Since my phone is my alarm clock, I put it across the room so I have to get out of bed to turn it off;
  • To ensure I can move quickly into my workout routine, I set out my workout clothes at night so that all I have to do in the morning is roll out of bed and get dressed without thinking about what I’m doing or give myself a chance to make up excuses.

I am slowly but surely turning myself into a person who enjoys morning workouts, something I once refused to consider as a possibility.

  1. Tell people – Enlist your accountability team (read more about this here)! Tell a friend, your significant other, your social media followers, etc. what you intend to do and ask them to remind you of your goals when you feel like slacking off.
  2. Set realistic goals – The old adage that goals should be SMART (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely/Time-bound)) is true. Set achievable short-term (i.e. 1-4 weeks) and long-term goals. Write them down. Put them somewhere you can see them, like the homepage of your phone, the screensaver of your computer or on your bathroom mirror. When you feel like giving up, look at your goals and focus on why you want to achieve them.
  3. Trick yourself – I do this all the time because I’ve discovered that my brain is gullible. For example, I recently was engaged in a text conversation with my sister. Instead of writing something like “I hope to do a yoga class this weekend if I have time,” I purposely wrote “I am going to yoga on Sunday.” Immediately I’ve put myself in the mindset of designating a time to do yoga instead of waiting to see if I could find time for it.
  4. Think about how it feels to achieve your goals – Instead of dwelling on how much my body was going to hurt, which I had been doing for two weeks and getting nowhere, I started thinking about how it feels to increase my weights, to work up a good sweat, to look in the mirror and like what I see. Eventually, the desire to feel these things again began to outweigh my dread of physical discomfort.

Getting started really is the hardest part. But already, after only four days, I’m feeling back into the swing of a healthy routine that includes daily workouts. That’s not to say I won’t have bad days or stumble occasionally. I definitely will. But when I do, I’ll remember these tips and use them to help me start again.

What are your best tips for getting started? Leave them in the comments below.

Concussions are the Worst

I promised myself when I started writing this blog that I would always be honest.

So far I’ve been able to do that while focusing primarily on aspects of my life that I’ve had time to reflect on and for the most part, deal with and move past.

This post is a little different.

I’ve got a list of dozens of topics I want to write about but they all feel dishonest because at the moment, I‘m in a pretty bad place known as Week Five of Concussion No. 2.

I started 2016 full of inspiration and excitement. I had started a new business venture that I believe in and know I can do well at given some time. I was on my way to being in the best shape of my life. I hadn’t been sick in months due to a renewed focus on my health and improved nutrition. I was feeling pretty darn good about life.

But then I made a split-second stupid decision and wound up with my second concussion in a year. The first one lasted a month. Now into week five, there is no end in sight.

Instead of daily workouts and getting stronger, I’m faced with deciding whether I’m up to walking my dogs each day. I did well on the nutritional front for the first month – still cooking, meal planning and staying focused – but I’m increasingly losing the will. Instead of feeling inspired, I feel isolated and withdrawn.

Physically, concussions are not fun. Mentally, they’re even worse. My brain is injured and I can’t tell whether it’s the injury that has me teetering on the edge or if it’s the cumulative impact of a lack of exercise and social life.

After five weeks, I’m also beginning to consider whether some tough decisions are ahead of me much sooner than I wanted or anticipated. Will I be physically too far behind my team to rejoin them when this finally does go away? Will I have to give up sports? Even the thought of this is devastating to me. I love sports. It’s a huge part of how I define myself and comprises the majority of my social life. But what happens if I don’t stop and I get another concussion? How will that impact my life, my ability to earn a livelihood and my physical and mental health?

There is no way of knowing the answers to these questions for sure but right now I have nothing else to do but ponder them while feeling like I’m going to throw up.

Did I mention that concussions aren’t fun?

So that’s my honest post about what’s going on with me. I really didn’t need another reminder of how quickly life can change – or maybe I did to keep me from making another stupid split-second decision in the future.

Do you have any tips for managing concussion (or other long-term injury) recovery? Share them in the comments!