THE “SECRET SAUCE” TO KEEP COOL AMIDST CHAOS

When Julie became a client, she was existing within a number of challenges that made daily joy, calm, passion and inspiration consistently seem ‘out of reach’. Julie was struggling with an all too common collection of ‘stuff’ that strong, high achieving women experience. A bit of anxiety, chronic busyness, and stuck in the throws of perfectionism (and its myriad plague of fears and self-doubts). She also struggled with the inevitable exhaustion, lack of play and adventure, career issues… and well, you get the picture (in fact, ‘she’ may be you!)

 

Fast forward to now, and I am incredibly proud to share with you the woman she has evolved into! An amazing and beautiful transformation from a version of frantic (body, mind, spirit, and life) into a Zen Goddess… Below is a blog written by her on a topic she has become very passionate about! Enjoy…

 

The following was written by Julie Granger Jessee, -Julie Granger, business Owner, Physical Therapist

 

“What if I told that you could break up with your diet, your social media feed, your sleep aids, your busy fitness schedule, your massage therapist, your acupuncturist and your supplements?

 

To my massage therapist and acupuncturist: If you’re reading this, please don’t worry. I’m not actually breaking up with you.

 

But seriously—everywhere we look these days we are bombarded by diets, supplements, fitness training plans, beauty regimens, books, sleep aids, friendship and relationship builders, TV shows, grocery delivery services, vacation packages, self-made business schemes, and child care how-to’s that claim to provide the “one thing” that will make you happiness.

 

I don’t know about you but I’ve certainly tried out, more than a few of the above. I too have been led to believe are the latest and greatest life fixer-uppers will eventually ‘make me happy’. Especially when Amazon delivers them for free within 48 hours!

 

But, what if I told you that—for the most part—subscribing to the belief that a book, box, pill or plan (usually) results in wasted time, money, and energy?  Ironically, isn’t it true that we spend so much time, money and money to hang onto…wait for it…time, money and energy!?!?!

What if I told you that the secret to getting those things IS NOT in buying or striving.

 

If you haven’t already rolled your eyes, clicked away from this page and onto your Instagram feed, then take a deep breath and stay with me here.

 

Take another deep breath. Inhale through your nose for a 4-count as you fill up your belly and your chest. Hold it for 7 seconds. Now let it out slowly through your mouth (like you’re blowing through a straw) for 8 seconds.

 

Now do it again. This time as you exhale, release any tension you notice in your forehead and jaw.

 

 

No really, do it again. I’ll wait here.

One more time, with your eyes closed—releasing any tension through your shoulders, hands, belly, butt, inner thighs, calves, and feet.  Ok go on, close your eyes and focus on this.

Did your mind wander over to that email or text notification that just flashed onto your screen? That’s ok! This is the beauty of life—we can always start fresh and refocus.  So before you proceed any further on this post, go back, start over at the first breathing exercise, and give it a go again.

 

Now let’s just do it one more time for good measure.  In for 4, hold for 7, out for 8. Notice any tension and slowly let it filter out of you on your exhales.

 

Now, how do you feel? A little lighter? Maybe lightheaded? A tiny bit more calm?

 If you’re feeling lightheaded, perhaps, like me, you hadn’t stopped to focus on your breath lately and now you’ve hyperventilated a little bit!  That’s no big deal—it will get better with practice, as will the lightness and calm!  Maybe you feel a little more focused. Maybe for a half second you forgot about your Instagram feed, grocery list, kids’ after school schedule, or that big meeting you have coming up.

 

If you don’t feel any of those things, please don’t worry.  Sometimes it’s hard to let go of life’s to-do lists over the course of a few breaths.

 

But congratulations—whether you feel different or not—you just participated in meditation!

For me, becoming a mindful meditator has been a lot like learning to roller skate for the first time—you can’t understand it or learn meditation through busyness or Facebook.  Instead you must do it—and do it often—to learn best.

 

I don’t really remember learning to roller skate but I do know I was never very good, so the metaphor still stands!  Regardless, as I learned to skate—and to meditate—I probably drifted down a path I didn’t love without even realizing.  I felt awkward at first.  I fell on my face.  At times with meditation, I felt like I was making a fool out of myself when my husband would walk in on me facedown in some strange posture.  For realskies—on occasion he’d come over and make sure I was still alive and breathing.

 

Like skating, I felt I wanted to hold on to the side of the rink for dear life while watching everyone else ‘do it’ seemingly effortlessly.  But eventually, I found the balance between thinking through it (or not thinking at all), feeling what was natural, and finding what wasjust enough effort, but not too much.  I realized that the more I did it, the more natural it felt and the less effort it took.  And most importantly, I found that my whole world seemed to stop and melt into calm as I continued to glide along amidst the chaos around me.

 

You may be thinking what I thought initially: “What do I do when my mind drifts?”  “Meditation is SO hard!”  “I can’t turn my mind off!”

 

Yeah dude, me too.

 

I’m the President of Mind Chatterers Anonymous (though I guess it’s not anonymous anymore) See?  There’s my mind chattering away even as I write.

 

But the thing is—minds DO wander!  And meditation doesn’t have to be perfect.  Your mind can drift.  It can be messy.  Welcome to being a human and not a pre-programmed robot.

 

And do you handle a wandering mind?  You make friends with it!  You know that friend you hang out with sometimes who has one too many glasses of wine and gets a little silly?  Drifting from stranger to stranger at the bar, swearing they are all her new best friend?  Yeah, that was my mind when I first started meditating.  It liked to wander and talk about any and all other things, distract itself, and most definitely run down my seeming, 30,000 to-do lists.

 

During my early meditation practices, I’d just have to do for my mind what I’d do for my friend.  Put my arm around her, whisper gently in her ear to “shhhhh”, and pull her back into my safe circle, telling her it’s ok to drift away, but I’d much prefer she stay with me.

So why do I meditate?

 

The real answer is “Why not?” But that wouldn’t make for a very juicy blog now would it?

Throughout my 20’s, I was the picture of anything but a calm, gliding roller skater, unaffected by all the chaos.  In fact, I was the chaos!  I invented the chaos.  I strived to be the best, brightest, prettiest, healthiest, smartest, sexiest, coolest, and funniest at anything and everything.  I thought, that I was having my cake, eating it too.  All with a big bright (feigned) smile on my face.  Everything was perfect.

 

I was also the drunk girl at the bar.  Though in actuality, I was never really the drunk girl, because that would interfere with my striving to be perfectly in control of everything at all times.

You can probably guess where this is going…

 

Eventually, the effort it took to try to be perfect all the time caught up to me in the form of a severe panic attack.  Ok, wake up call.  Time to make some changes.  And change I did.

I’ve become darn good at taking care of myself and finding the ‘secrets to freedom and happiness’, but there was still an something missing.  Here are some examples of things that I did to maintain my ‘perfect’ life.

 

Extremely clean eater (no gluten, no dairy, low sugar, high protein, plant-based) diet –check

Daily exercise –check

Supplements –check

Plenty of water –check

Decaf coffee only –check

Sunscreen –check

Organic cleaning products –check

Short commute –check

Keeping up with friends via social media –check

Pilates –check

Massage –check

Acupuncture –check

Plenty of vacation –check

Reading a million self-growth books –check

Keeping a journal –check

Shed the perfectionism left and right –check

Spending quality time with husband and family –check

Quiet time for myself –check

Hiring a kick ass coach –check

Listening to what kick ass coach told me to do –check

 

After all, this was overachieving me we’re talking about here.  Of course I did all of those things with bells on!  You tell me to jump, I make sure to calculate exactly how high and build my own springboard in order to help me not only get there, but get there fast, and stick my landing for a perfect 10.

 

While I was admittedly making big strides to shed the demons of fear, anxiety, shame, and perfectionism, I continued to be abundantly aware that the feeling of “not _____ enough” was still dominating more of my thoughts than I liked.  I realized that despite all of the wonderful self-growth I’d done, I’d still felt brainwashed to believe I needed to do a million things to be happy, free, successful, and… enough.

 

Meanwhile, along the way of “life renovation,” I faced a new life hurdle that many might consider the Mount Everest of life hurdles.  Without disclosing too much, let’s just say it starts with “C” and rhymes with “answer.” Yep, it is what you think it is, though if you can come up with another word that rhymes there, please humor me!

 

I’ll save you the story behind that one.  The point of talking about it at all is to show that ironically, navigating this huge hurdle seemed to point me in the direction of the answer to life’s best way to renovate and improve itself.  The secret sauce finally found me, and with open arms.

 

What was it?

Spoiler alert: you’ve experienced it a few moments ago, remember?

Meditation.

 

Before the cancer diagnosis hit me, I’d give myself what I now consider a B+ at being mindful and carving out “quiet time” for myself.  Whether it was through a long walk, drawing or painting, a long swim, or simply laying, stretching, breathing or cleaning every nook and cranny in my house—mindfulness and meditation seemed to come easy to me.  Or so I thought.

On the long walk, I always found myself focusing on how I was moving—which muscles were working, what my cadence was, what my heart rate was, how many steps I was getting in, etc. One might consider this mindful—I was focusing inward, right?  But if you know me, you’d learn I’m an athlete and physical therapist, and movement is my wheelhouse and a constant challenge to perform.

 

To reach an elusive goal of movement perfection that is probably nonexistent and unattainable.  On the long swims—there was a constant focus on how I was performing in technique and speed.  For laying and stretching and breathing, it was always a physical therapy exercise.  Cleaning…well…you can imagine how much perfectionism had a field day there.

 

On the surface, I was doing all the right things.  But was it meditation?

Sometimes yes.

Sometimes no.

 

Why was it not?

 

Fear.  Shame.  Perfectionism.  Comparison.  Like it or not, these things rule our lives, folks.

So finally, as I was clearing space and time to increase self-love and healing amidst healing cancer, my coach (um, yes, Shawn) gave me the task of meditation and mindfulness for no less than 3 hours per day.  You laugh and probably think, “Ha! 3 hours!!?!?!  I don’t have time for that.  You must not have kids/a job/a life if you expect to get that done.”

That’s what I thought, too.

 

But I was feeling a little adventurous, so I made the time.  I figured out what meditation and being mindfulness really meant and got right to work.  Soon I would find it took a whole lot less effort and work than I originally thought… Just like roller skating.

 

To make this happen, I took fresh action!  I cancelled appointments.  I even meditated during massage and that 2 hour medical test.  I meditated while walking and painting, instead of obsessing over how good it was.  I logged out of social media.  I built a fort out of my Pilates and yoga equipment.  I got some sun/vitamin D while meditating and moving outside in the spring weather.  I focused more on the liberated feeling of moving outside and less on how I was performing.  I asked for help and delegated tasks.  And along the way, I realized there were many things I thought I needed to do that I could easily skip, postpone, or eliminate altogether.

 

Here is my experience of what happened in just one week after dedicating 3 hours of daily mindful meditation practice.

  1. I started bleeding Zen. And people noticed.  And they were envious.

No really.   People started telling me they couldn’t believe how “zen” I was and how beautiful it made my smile.  I also realized that this was the best compliment that this overachiever/perfectionist/straight A student/athletic achiever has ever received.

 

I was able to let even the smallest stressors just roll off of my back.  Chemotherapy?  No big deal.  Major cancer surgery coming up?  Come on, hit me with something that’s actually stressful.  I didn’t get everything done that week, and I fell a little behind on emails.  Oh well, they’ll still be there tomorrow.  I skipped makeup and wearing my favorite outfit to work.Nobody really cares anyway…

 

Worry was gone.  Fear took a hike.  Perfectionism was a thing of the past.

In other words, #zenisthenewblack.

  1. I slept like a baby.

Like many other driven and high achieving peers, I, too, have one of those cool activity trackers on my wrist.  Usually I only pay attention to how many steps I’m getting, how many miles I’ve walked, and how many calories I’ve burned.  You know—the “doing” metrics.

But what about sleep?  Sure, I always paid attention to how much sleep I got.  But what I never really paid attention to was the quality of sleep.  My Garmin VivoFit tracks light versus deep sleep and I pretty much always got 50% deep and 50% light sleep for at least 9 hours per night.  I thought I was kicking ass at sleeping.

 

Until I dedicated targeted time to meditation.  What happened?  Every day that I meditated, my percentages shifted to 80% deep and 20% light sleep.  My inner perfectionist voice LOVED this one: YOU MEAN THERE’S A WAY TO GET A HIGHER SCORE!!?!

 

But for me the secret was not in doing more.  It was not in sleepy time tea, nightly magnesium pills, or cutting out caffeine.  Sure, those things are important and helpful.  But just giving my mind time to breathe was the secret sauce.  I also started to require less total sleep.  My average of 9.5 hours/night turned into 7-8 hours and I awoke more light, vibrant, and energized.  I didn’t require that coffee or feel resentful when my alarm went off. #zenisthenewcoffee

  1. I could breathe a little easier.

No really.  I teach breathing for a living in my physical therapy and Pilates practice.

I know almost everything there is to know about the physiology of breathing, and then some.

But I’ve always felt muscle tightness around my chest that I can’t attribute to my decades long asthma, musculoskeletal issues, or the grapefruit-sized tumor in my lung tissue.  And newsflash: you don’t have to have cancer to feel the effects of stress on your breathing (though having a tumor certainly doesn’t help).  I noticed that mindful meditation and a focus on breathing has melted away most of that tension.

 

I also noticed that when I’m in tense or anxious situations, my stress is carried right at my heart and I feel like I can’t breathe.  If you’re familiar with the 4th chakra (heart chakra, emotional center), you’re probably nodding along thinking “Duh Julie, that makes sense.”

But being more mindful and aware has helped me release those demons, so to speak, and learn how to breathe into the area and face the world with courage and self love during tense situations. #zenisthenewoxygen

  1. I slept in the most random of places.

If you meditate well enough, you’ll be asleep in no time.  Case in point: I fell asleep on my hardwood floor and spent the entire night there, only to wake up in a puddle of drool and with an aching hip.  But seriously—you know you’re truly in the zone when you fall asleep while meditating.  And that’s a good thing! #zenisthenewsleepnumberbed

  1. I had better focus and more free time than I ever imagined.

I found that I was not constantly distracted during a task and could really dedicate my mind and heart to things I actually needed to complete.  This led to more free time and more time for meditating.  

 

What?  Seems counterintuitive and doesn’t seem to make mathematical sense, doesn’t it? You dedicate more time to meditating (IE “doing nothing”) and end up with more time to do nothing. Don’t believe me?  You don’t have to.  But don’t knock it until you try it!  #zenisthenewpersonalassistant

  1. Life became an Instagram Filter

The flowers were brighter, the trees were greener, the rivers and lakes sparkly-er.  Or maybe that’s just because it’s springtime in Georgia.  But still—there was more joy, zest, playfulness, and fun in life.  With no Clarendon or XProII filter required.  #zenisthenewcolorbooster

  1. Annoying people ceased to exist

Ok that’s a bit of a stretch.  But by raising love for myself, other people’s nuances and neuroses become much more agreeable and forgivable.  It’s called the beauty of compassion and patience, folks. #zenmakestheworldgoround

  1. My metabolism sped up

I was hungrier but craved vegetables, clean meats, and anything but sugar or all the things “comfort food.”  I fueled my “perfect” machine with life-loving nutrients.  I took the care to prepare my food, sit, observe, chew, and swallow my food, and had none of the “normal” symptoms we all have like cravings, binges, heartburn, bloatedness, and indigestion. #zenisthenewfaddiet