Get Out of Your Own Way – and Get Healthier Now

I just returned from Serious Business, the leading conference organized by Neill Corporation, and the brainchild of Debra Neill Baker and Carol Augusto. This year’s theme was “Get out of your own way,” a powerful reminder that despite our best intentions, we are sometimes our own worst enemies…  

One of the keynote speakers was Ben Greenfield, who spoke about habits to enhance health and longevity, as reported in the book Blue Zones. This resonated with me particularly strongly as I recently read the book Ikigai, which touches on the same theme, and am in already struggling to keep some of my New Year’s resolutions.

The list of healthy habits below may not be new information, but I know I get in my own way, and needed the reminder. Here are Ben Greenfield’s healthful recommendations for cleaner, better, longer living.

  1. Don’t smoke. (If not for longer living, do this for better skin)
  2. Avoid sugar and vegetable oil.
  3. Eat dark colored fruits and vegetables, like purple cabbage and blueberries. (And put them on your skin too!)
  4. Eat legumes.
  5. Implement 12-16 hours of intermittent fasting in your routine, to help your body “clean up the trash.” That may mean giving up breakfast…
  6. Go to the gym, yes. But beyond that, incorporate low impact movement every day. (Walking or gardening come to mind) 
  7. Ensure you have a strong sense of community. (When is the last time you called your best friend?) 
  8. Possess a strong life purpose, what the Japanese call “ikigai”
  9. Ruthlessly eliminate the sense of hurry to minimize stress.
  10. Engage in a spiritual discipline, religion, or the belief in a higher power.  
  11. Remain reproductively useful. (Yes, he did tell the audience to have more sex) 
  12. Drink a little every day, mostly wine, preferably red.

Beating Burnout

Burnout. This could be a four-letter word. While I have never spent time thinking about what this word really means, I think I have come close to burnout twice in the last 5 years. Is that good or bad? I am not sure.

What I am sure of is that for me, Dana Campbell’s (CEO of Optimize Corps) talk on burnout earlier this week at the Women in Wellness Leadership conference was the highlight of the day.

She defined the symptoms: to be burnt out, you need to have 2 of the following 3:

  • Exhaustion
  • Cynicism
  • Inefficacy

She reminded us that we contribute to our own burnout, with the following:

  • Incorrectly defining success (we should all have our own, genuine definition of what success means, beyond “keeping up with the Joneses”)
  • Celebrating busyness (I gave up the word “busy” for Lent one year, I think I should give it up altogether).
  • Striving for perfection
  • Allowing ourselves to be distracted from our goals and purpose
  • Multi-tasking

She made us rank ourselves from 1-5 (1 being great, 5 being abysmal) about how we feel on the following parameters:

  • Workload (how overworked are we really?)
  • Control (burnout feelings increase when we feel out of control)
  • Values (are our businesses’ values in line with our own?)
  • Fairness (how fair is our work or family environment)
  • Reward and recognition (are we being recognized for our efforts, at work and at home?)
  • Community (apparently the #1 thing people need at work is a best friend – how do we feel about our work community?)

(If you are all 4s or 5s, you are in or close to burnout).

So how do we beat burnout? By being resilient: by having the skill and capacity to be robust under conditions of enormous stress and change. She reminded us of a truth we probably all know – that avoiding stress or change is not a strategy. She also reminded us that resilience is like a muscle – it can be trained, it can become stronger.

How do you train for resilience?

  • You create white space. Give yourself time. Silence. Unscheduled moments. Alone time.
  • You objectively face reality. Objectively and calmly. Not with the anxiety blinders on.
  • You find meaning in suffering.
  • You fill your tanks. Whether that is through sleep, exercise, time alone.
  • You claim your truth. You identify what is most important to you, what you are great at, what you need.
  • You see possibilities where others don’t. Instead of focusing on the problem, open your mind to solutions.

Thank you, Dana, and thank you Julie Keller of American Spa for putting on this conference, and for finding such amazing speakers.

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Heyday Bliss

After working with Heyday for the last few years – since before co-founders Adam and Michael opened their first facial shop in New York’s NOMAD neighborhood (they now have 5 locations in Manhattan), I finally made the time to experience one of their facials (yes, this is my first facial of 2018… the cobbler’s daughter and all).

I experienced a 50-minute treatment by the fabulous Jenna who has magical hands. She gently approved of my appointment, saying that indeed it was time for my skin to have a “reset” and that extractions were “necessary” (I loved how she didn’t say “overdue.”).

If you have not yet been to Heyday, they are not a “traditional spa” but rather a “facial shop”. What you will not find at Heyday are no dimly lit rooms, robes, silence, spa music. Instead, the space is open, with movable “walls” made of fabric. The space is well-lit (“Doesn’t it help for me to really see your skin?”, Jenna asks with a smile), and sound travels – which is actually delightful. Looking at the space, I could tell there would be no silence. What I couldn’t experience until lying there was how lovely it is to hear unintelligible chatter from the front area or other “rooms” – it sounds casual, fun, happy (I heard laughter a few times). And the music is amazing – great current tunes (apparently Heyday has a Spotify channel).

Beyond the environment, the facial was one of the best I have experienced. I don’t trust my face to many other than my father, Dr. Luigi L. Polla, or the therapists at Forever Institut – but I will absolutely come back to Jenna and will happily recommend Heyday to anyone asking.

She started by measuring my hydration levels (not surprisingly given my travel schedule, my skin needs more moisture). She then proceeded to cleanse, exfoliate, extract, massage, and hydrate, using a blend of products – Alchimie Forever, Naturopathica, Image, and Shaffali, an ayurvedic brand that is new to me. The blend of products was chosen specifically for my skin and created not only immediate results, but also an amazing sensorial experienced. My favorite part of the treatment was Jenna’s massage, which she did with a mixture of Alchimie Forever Kantic Brightening moisture mask and Naturopathica Carrot oil, pre-extractions. In effect, as she explained, the massage will soften the skin and make it more malleable, hence the extractions easier to perform. And they were indeed painless. She then used a micro-current machine to help serums penetrate deeper into the skin, and applied multiple masks (for different areas of my face, as my T-zone needed purifying and my cheeks needed moisturizing) before sending me on my way.

I left glowing, without a mark on my face – and photos to prove it. (If you haven’t ever experienced a facial because you think you will leave with blotchy skin, please think again).

I can’t wait for the next Heyday training, which will once again end with a treatment!

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Immediately Post Treatment

Ranunculus and other farmer's market delights

Two of my commitments are to support small businesses whenever possible, and to commit to wellness on a daily basis. Last night, I realized that my Sunday trips to the Dupont Circle farmer’s market (a relatively new tradition) are really the coming together of these two commitments.

I love the Sunday visit to the market more than I could ever have imagined. I look forward to seeing the male couple that runs Firefly Farms, where I buy my favorite (non-Swiss) cheese. I even look forward to the slightly grumpy man at Blue Ridge Dairy Company where I now buy butter. The mushroom lady makes me laugh. And the ladies as EcoFriendly Foods, where I have been buying meat, discusses sausage and bacon fat in ever innovative ways. Going to the market makes me feel good in so many ways: shopping local and supporting small businesses; purchasing healthier produce; learning what some vegetables look like in their natural state (this is coming to me later in life…); learning what fruits are in season when; and feeling like I am doing something fabulous for my health and my waistline.

Last night, I realized that having all of this fresh, expensive, locally-grown produce in my fridge actually made me want to make myself dinner (instead of just having cheese and crackers, which is my standard). If you know me, you know that I really don’t cook. I own two pans and three different wine bottle openers, if that gives you any idea. Yet last night, I made myself a salad (fresh tomatoes, a boiled egg, and a bit of cheese), and I roasted some kale (sprinkled in coarse salt and olive oil). I actually used my oven for the first time since I moved into my apartment… And it was delicious.

With a glass of chardonnay and a beautiful bouquet of ranunculus (going to the market even teaches me new English words!) in front of me, eating delicious greens, I remembered the trips to the farmer’s market in Geneva my grandmother took me to when I was little – and I wondered why I waited so long to regularly visit the one in Dupont Circle. Is it Sunday yet?

My personal wellness pledge

Two weeks ago, in honor of Lent, I gave up artificial sweetener. Really, my main worry was how I was going to drink my 8 daily cups of coffee (which usually contain 2 Splendas and lots of skim milk). The switch to black coffee actually hasn’t been that challenging. Harder than expected, is my once-in-a-while craving for a Diet Coke, which has been gnawing at me for about 4 days now. I have found myself re-reading the recent NY Times article on the association between diet sodas and heart disease to help maintain my resolve.

Having given up artificial sweetener, I thought I might as well look at the rest of my lifestyle and make some adjustments to my health and wellness habits. I might have been inspired by SpaFinder’s Wellness Week pledge. Or by Hillary Leeb’s weekly health tips. Or by the fact that my “fat pants” are feeling a bit tight and that bathing suit season is around the corner. In any case, here are the rest of my healthy living resolutions, which I have been steadily following for about 10 days now:

  1. No artificial sweeteners; as I mentioned, this means no Splenda in my coffee, and no more Diet Cokes, at least until Easter (although I am planning to kick the Splenda habit forever).
  2. Drink at least 32oz. of water per day.
  3. Take one Emergen-C every day (I love the Super Orange flavor); this is helping me with resolution #2.
  4. Eat my vegetables first, at least at lunch and dinner. That means a salad first. Before anything else.
  5. Go to the Dupont Circle market every Sunday that I am in DC; I love love love this market, and one trip there means that I have veggies for the entire week (see resolution #4 above). Also, benefit #2 is fresh flowers for the house.
  6. Go to Barre 3 twice per week; I really have no excuse to not go as this is literally around the corner from my office. LeeAnne Cress, also known as the “evil redhead” given how hard her classes are, is my current hero and girl crush. If I can get half as toned as she is, I will be really happy with myself. In the meantime, every muscle in my body hurts…
  7. Run once per week, to get in some cardio. My current favorite run is the Memorial / Key bridge loop.

Let’s see how long I can keep this up…