Laura Mary Healthy Living
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Hello and thank you for reading the first edition of my monthly newsletter, Laura Mary Healthy Living! Though I am a yoga teacher by trade, I have so much more to share beyond just yoga, and this newsletter will be my place to do it. I have touched on many topics relating to health, spirituality, and, of course, yoga in my classes, but these brief moments are not enough to fully impart my philosophy on my students. Each month, I will present ideas for living a full and vibrant life, including recipes, spiritual thoughts, yoga posture breakdowns, yoga videos, and guest posts from my students on related and interesting topics. But what is “healthy living”, exactly? My picture of healthy living is whole body and mind, and it’s really an approach to life.
Rather than focusing on treating disease (dis-ease - when something is not at ease in the body/mind), my focus is on the way we approach our lives and interact with our environment. Yoga plays a roll, but so too does taking your yoga practice “off the mat” in whatever form you choose: hiking a mountain and connecting to nature, going for a run and burning through some pent up energy, celebrating a birthday, dancing in the rain, painting, or writing in your journal (see guest post by Derek Linsley, An Ode to Journaling, on Page 4). My hope is to motivate you readers to get outside your comfort zone; jump out and experience the joy of being the best version of you. Thank you so much for letting me share my passion and love for healthy and happy living. I hope you apply bits and pieces of Laura Mary Healthy Living to your life and watch the positive cyclical and contagious shifts unfold.
So who am I, exactly, to lecture you on how to live a healthy and more fulfilling lifestyle? Well, here is my story. I grew up in Wellesley, MA a small suburb of Boston, where my four brothers and parents raised me to be a strong but feminine woman. I was a two-sport NCAA athlete at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. My experience on the soccer and lacrosse fields taught me the disciplines of hard work, perseverance, and strength. After earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Skidmore, I was hired as a clinical research assistant at the most prestigious psychiatric hospital in the world, McLean Hospital in Boston. At McLean, I worked on several psychopharmacology research projects investigating various drugs and how they worked in the treatment of mood disorders. Many of the patients were overweight due to medication weight gain side effects, lack of motivation, and food cravings. They were caught in a vicious cycle, in which weight gain led to depression, and depression led to more drugs and overeating. During the weekly study interviews the subjects chronicled episodes of binge eating. They described the cognitive dissonance they experienced between their knowledge of how to be healthy versus the willpower required to incorporate exercise and eating in moderation into their daily lives. It became clear to me that one’s mood was inextricably linked with the state of the physical body. I was both deeply moved by their personal stories and intrigued by the health related decisions that needed to be made and the reasons behind why those decisions were not followed through with action. As time passed I found my own interests drifting away from wanting to help individuals with mood disorders and more focused on the physical body and the etiology of obesity and risk and resilience factors related to disease.
My shifting interests brought me to San Diego, where I worked with a famous neuroscience researcher at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine, Dr. Igor Grant, and a pioneering childhood obesity researcher, Kerri Boutelle. With this new position came a serious change of scenery; suddenly I was surrounded by the ocean, mountains, and sunny weather of beautiful Southern California. The experience of living there combined with my new body/mind research precipitated a full on love affair with yoga, which I picked up after college to help with the transition from full-time athlete to full- time researcher. I became a 200-hr certified yoga instructor and continued my daily practice. I noticed all of the shifts in my life. I was doing more and more of what I wanted to do. I volunteered every Saturday at the Del Mar Farmers Market and ate farm-fresh fruits and veggies weekly. I hiked every weekend and brought all of my roommates along with me. I enjoyed a quality vegan dinner with my brother and sister-in-law every Sunday night. Time was so sweet and so precious, and somehow, I finally understood this idea.
San Diego wasn’t the end game for me; I decided to go back to school, and I looked into graduate programs all over the country related to my personal interests in obesity. I chose to study under a well-renowned childhood obesity researcher at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. I had never been to Hawai‘i, but within a few months I was flying out to the beautiful island of Oahu with no place to live and a few dollars in my pocket. I landed on a Friday night, found a place to live on Saturday, moved in on Sunday, and started my research position on Monday! There is a future newsletter article on the benefits of planning ahead somewhere in that experience. For the next year and a half, I was researching 20 hours per week, taking a full schedule of graduate-level courses, and teaching nightly yoga classes. Occasionally, I would find time to explore this beautiful island that I found myself on. I was in constant awe of the magnificence of Oahu. Living in Hawai‘i took the beauty of Southern California to the next level; it’s the closest I’ve felt to experiencing Heaven on Earth. Between moving forward with my own dreams of helping others and consuming my time with what made me smile, I started to shape my own view of public health. I hurried through the program in a year and a half and graduated as a Master of Public Health. I was hired to conduct full-time research at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center in Kaka‘ako. At the same time I was teaching roughly 10 yoga classes per week and found that, though the research I was doing was important, yoga allowed me to reach out and help a larger amount of people in a more intimate setting. My teaching reflects my passion and love of yoga and reaches tens of thousands of people. I can see the shifts first-hand that my students experience both on and off their mat, the same shifts I moved through as I began my love affair with yoga. I decided to hold off on submitting PhD program applications as I originally planned, and tried my hand at teaching yoga full-time.
And so here I am: full-time yoga teacher trying to broaden my audience and allow my students the best opportunity to live the life that everybody is capable of living. So you’re probably still wondering what “healthy living” is exactly, right? Get to the point already, LM! Well, I definitely won’t be able to explain it in these two pages. For now, I’ll point you in the right direction and elaborate over the coming months. In a nutshell, healthy living comes down to the management of two very broad topics: food and yoga. I think together these areas of life form a killer combo for health and happiness.
It all starts with food. I eat a vegan diet, and I have for 7 years now. All the recipes that I share in this newsletter will be vegan. If you don’t eat vegan or vegetarian, I encourage you to give them a try (starting with Carrot Ginger Soup on Page 3). They are all hearty and delicious, tested and approved favorites of mine and my friends, omnivores and vegans alike. But, don’t you worry - I am not the radical vegetarian who is going to think you are a horrible person for eating a hamburger. Vegan does not necessarily mean healthy (a pack of Oreos and a 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola qualifies as a vegan meal), and non-vegan doesn’t necessarily mean unhealthy. The more processed your food is, or the more chemicals, additives, fillers, and food dye that have been added, the further from the “source”, or its original form, it becomes. I try to eat as close to the source as possible. However, I will be the first to tell you that I am not perfect. I have my own vices, such as french fries; when I am starving or have taught six yoga classes in one day – bring on the french fries! I am also a fan of celebrating and sometimes that means enjoying a good margarita to cheers with someone special at the end of a long and awesome day. I try to find a balance of healthy and happy in eating; the recipes I will include in this newsletter encompass both. Your diet should make you feel good, vibrant, and awake. If you don’t, something is not right, switch it up!
Yoga practice rounds out the foundation of healthy living. Yoga is for everyone, not just the skinny, flexible, or ex-athletes. Nearly every day, people tell me, “I can’t do yoga; I’m so inflexible that I can’t even touch my toes!” I tell these people that yoga is a perfect match for them. Picture yourself as a clean slate, or an empty canvas; so many possibilities! However, yoga is a humbling journey. You will be challenged, and if you don’t approach your practice as a student you will fall on your face, quite literally. All of the asanas, or poses, represent a journey and when you string them together in flow, the experience is magical. I encourage people to just begin. Show up. Once you establish a regular yoga practice, your body, mind, and soul start to open up. Everything, and I mean everything, bubbles up to the surface, from your sprained ankle in high school, to your current desk job and tight hips, to your major heartbreak from 5 years ago. You will feel it all. But the biggest challenge is to begin; after that, sit back and watch your yoga practice and life change before your own eyes. Magic? Yes, it is magical, just wait and see. Yoga is more than just physical exercise. In fact, the asanas are just one of the “eight limbs” of yoga, described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which I will elaborate on in future newsletters. By adding a yoga practice to a healthy diet, you will start to feel more connected and aware of the state of your body and mind. You will notice that the foods you put into your body affect your yoga practice, both in terms of your ability to twist and handstand to your ability to relax and let go. Yoga is a great way to connect, to check-in with yourself and scope out the terrain of your body and mind, and to figure out how you can step-in and shake things up.
I feel grateful every day to be here, living, breathing and sharing what inspires me. It’s an honor to share my yoga practice with everyone as well as my passion for living a healthy and vibrant life. I hope you enjoy reading the future issues of Laura Mary Healthy Living. Please share the newsletter with any and everyone who you think might be interested.