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The Multanimous Mind Forgets

April 30, 2011

Productivity  Series Tip # 1

I have found the coolest productivity tool and I want to share it with you immediately.

There are two things that I do a lot of:

  1. I spend a lot of time on the Internet. And I’m talking a LOT, as in, hours upon hours of reading, researching, and browsing.
  2. I often forget things. In fact, I am seriously, pathologically absent-minded sometimes.
I don't know Photoshop as you can see

I know I generally come across as a fairly put together person, which I am, I swear. But every now and then I have a little lapse and I will do something like throw my cordless house phone into my handbag and skip out the door…or, (and I can’t believe I’m sharing this with you online but I’m going to anyway), parking a convertible car outside Wholefoods in California once and popping in for half an hour to do my grocery shopping, forgetting the keys in the ignition…with the ENGINE RUNNING. True story.

Granted, these both happened while I was pregnant, so we will reserve judgement and blame it for now on the spikes in the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) during pregnancy, (which has been linked to Alzheimer’s!), otherwise known as ‘Pregnancy Brain’. You know what I’m talking about…..

But even in my mostly lucid moments, I find that I am constantly discovering amazing things online and then forgetting where I saw them. It’s really annoying.

The solution:

Evernote has become my brain, on my desktop. I love it and use it every single day.  This is how it works.

You download the software onto your computer, (PC or Mac) and then you get their little elephant logo in your browser. Now every time you see anything you want to remember, you just click on the elephant, and it stores the image/video/text/file in a perfectly organized way AND synchronizes everything to your account online so that you can access it from anywhere. Really, it’s amazingly useful.

I have loads of folders on it, but I have named my default folder ‘ROCK IT’. It’s for stuff I find that will help me grow my business, improve my fitness, be more productive, you know just generally rock it.  It kind of makes me feel happy and empowered every time I add something to it. If I wasn’t already using Evernote, I would add it to my Rock it folder.

Plus, I love the elephant. It’s not explained anywhere on their site, but I’m guessing it must be a nod to the saying that ‘an elephant never forgets’. Do you remember Colonel Hathi in Jungle Book?!

So , to those of you that have bookmarks saved on multiple browsers…or lists of links, or a million files cluttering up your desktop (you know you do!) …do yourself a favour and get Evernote, you will thank me.

I leave you with this:

PS. Just for fun, click here to learn the origin of the phase ‘An Elephant Never Forgets’.


30 Days of Yoga Done. Now What?

April 27, 2011

For years, I have wanted to be one of those people disciplined enough to practice yoga at home. Finally, I took on a challenge to practice 30 Days of Yoga, which ended this weekend. This is how it went.

Want a cartoon of yourself too? Click here.


The first few days were….interesting. I wrote about them here. Some days were better than others for sure. At the beginning, it was difficult not to feel guilty and self-critical when I did not practice every day. We can be hard on ourselves when we don’t meet our own tough standards. What helped immensely were Marianne’s daily emails. (Yep, 30 of them.) It was like she was reading my mind. Just as I started to get annoyed with myself for skipping a day, I would get an email saying ‘be gentle with yourself if you can’t do it today’. When I started thinking some background music would be nice to practice to, lo and behold, an email would appear in my inbox with song suggestions, and so on. Seriously, it happened all month. Cosmic, man.

I also veered away from the set practice routine I had chosen at the beginning of the course. Some days I did a little more, or a little less, or something altogether different. During the week I traveled over Easter, I did not do a single day. Yes, I felt bad about that, but more importantly, within a few hours of landing back in Beirut, I was on the mat again. Instead of giving up and letting it slide, I reset my intention and began again.

Gradually I began to feel more in tune with what my body needed each day and began responding to that. This, I think, was the most important lesson for me, and is something that carries through into life off the mat.

Some thoughts about yoga class vs. home practice.

  1. It’s definitely liberating to be able to do what you want at your own pace, like just sink into a pose that feels amazing and stay there…for….ever… On the other hand, having a teacher present to correct alignment, introduce new poses and challenge you to try something that you might be too scared to try alone is a definite plus.
  2. The group energy of a class can be motivating, but there is also sometimes a certain competitiveness in the air that can tempt us to push ourselves a little too hard. (What??! Yogis with egos? No!) At home, no one cares if you can’t twist yourself into a pretzel. But how about this, you can practice and practice in privacy until you can outpretzel them all at your next class. Ha! Take that!
  3.  Pajama yoga. Definitely the unsung perk of home practice.
  4.  Mindfulness. This is the best benefit of all, and where I’m going to sound a little crunchy and new agey. Bear with me.

The thing about practicing yoga alone is that you learn to focus. In a class, the entire class keeps moving even if , while you are upside down, you are wondering what’s for dinner, or oooh she has a nice mat wonder where can I get one… At home, if you let your thoughts wander, your practice virtually stops. It takes persistence and discipline to learn to quiet your mind, breathe, and pay attention to what you are doing so that you get the most out of it.

I don’t know when, in our evolution as a species, concentration became so difficult, but I’m sure it has never been as hard as it is today with the amount of information we are expected to process all day long. Sometimes I feel like our generation has the attention span of a mosquito and it’s hard to get my own mind to stop racing. I imagine that athletes would say the same thing about martial arts and other sports; that the act of concentrating on the physical motions frees the mind from this information overload and gives it a much-needed rest.

The meditative aspect of yoga makes it even more so, and its vocabulary reflects this; you repeatedly hear the words “surrender, let go, breathe”. Even as your limbs shake and you break into a sweat in the toughest poses, you are always reminded to listen to your body, not to push too hard, be gentle with yourself. As I’ve said before, there is a fine line between kindness (to yourself) and self-indulgence, but deep down we know when we really need to take it easy, and when are just being a lazy bum.

As Marianne said in one of her emails: “Sometimes I forget what I need to do to be well. Sometimes I remember, but the resistance in me is stronger than the acceptance, so I don’t do what I know is good for me”. When we look at our own actions without judgment or blame, we can better understand where the resistance is coming from, try to absorb it and ultimately dissolve it. (I’m not sure you can ‘dissolve’ resistance, but you know what I mean, right?)

So what’s next?

Well, there is so much to learn about this deep and ancient art, the physical practice is simply one aspect and I’m only a beginner, so I would not stop going to classes. However, these 30 days have shown me that it’s not so hard to integrate some home practice into my week, if only a few stretches and moments of meditation each day. The point to remember is that a little bit goes a long way.

Some days I will not get to it, but that’s ok. Baby steps. One day that pretzel at the front of the class will be me. Oh yeah!

Tapping in

April 21, 2011

The idea of reinventing ourselves is a powerful one. We all carry around our pasts to some extent, and the thought of creating a new persona and starting fresh appeals to a lot of people, whatever their reasons may be. But what if you could leave all your proverbial baggage,  (bad choices, bad relationships, bad hairstyles),  at a lost luggage stand somewhere and just walk away to create a new you from scratch. Where would you begin?


Do you remember what this feels like?

A good place to start  from is who you were when you were about 5 years old. I think a lot of our passions are already established in us by this point. We loved space, animals, dancing, running, singing, painting, jumping with….JOY. Then what happened? Well, it wasn’t cool, probably. Then you had to grow up and get a real job……..

By now, your cumulative experiences have shaped you, which is great, yes, but they have also created a certain identity for you that you can feel stuck with. You know, like “Oh, I would LOVE to try [insert here: snowboarding/scuba-diving/writing a novel…] but it’s just not me. Can you imagine me, on a snowboard?” Well….Yes actually. And if you can imagine it, you can achieve it.

But it’s not that easy, is it?

We’ve worked hard to get to this version of our grown-up self, and it’s not that simple to make changes. Those around us may not be helping, either. We all have friends that we’ve kept because we share some great history, old relationships and trust, etc. But sometimes they are not the best people to motivate us into changing or growing because, luckily for us I suppose, they love us just the way we are!

This, I think, is why online networking sites are so successful. I don’t mean Facebook, I mean the sites that connect people with the same passions. Whatever your interest, if you don’t have friends around you that share it, you can turn to the Internet. There you can track your progress, share your stories, and most important, get positive feedback from complete strangers who relate to what you’re trying to do, because they are doing it too.

I have been meaning to get back into running after a 2 year break, but I don’t really have any friends living near me who run (that I know of… ) Then I read this amazing book by Christopher McDougall called Born to Run which has inspired me to try to rediscover the joy in running. Three days ago, I discovered a site called Daily Mile.  It’s sole purpose is for runners to track their own mileage and give each other motivation to stick with their training. Within minutes of signing up, you are connected to whole community of happy, energetic people who are obsessed with running, and are there to convert you too. Guess what happened then: I rushed out and ran 5k 🙂 . Then I came home and posted it to my page, and in no time, I had people cheering me on! No cynics, no sarcasm, just sincere encouragement from people who get it.

To me this one of the great powers of the Internet and one which we are finally making good use of. The revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia are obviously one of the most impressive examples of the power of social networking,  but it can be life-changing on a smaller personal level as well.  My brother-in-law calls it ‘digital motivation’, and here is why I think it works:

  • A network for typically solitary activities, like running, cooking, or reading lets you participate in conversations that team players get to have at their golf club, basketball court, etc..
  • These groups are self-sustaining. People come for the encouragement, find it, and are then happy to give it back to others, creating a positive feedback loop.
  • These communities are only interested in the particular dimension of you as a fellow dieter, runner, knitter, cook, or whatever, and not in the least in your other personal details.
  • Free from the self-censorship that comes from, say, your gender/background/community, you can focus on growing in a supportive environment.
  • And of course, accountability. Patrick Reynolds, a yoga instructor and personal trainer based in Japan,  founded the Peak Condition Project, in which participants must blog daily about their progress. I know people who have completed his program, the results are pretty amazing. He says, “Transparency brings accountability. It is when we feel like we’re alone and no one cares if we quit that we quit”.

I have lots more to say on this topic but I’ve rambled enough for one day.

But just think about this, what did you do with JOY as a child, that you could tap into again?

Don’t delay. Find the time and dive in.

Good Tunes to Work to, Part I

April 10, 2011

I had a roommate at high school who was a musical genius to me. She would sit at her desk solving problems for her Advanced Maths A level with one hand, and every now and then her other hand would suddenly rise  to play her invisible violin to the Dvořák concertos streaming from our speakers. If ever there was living proof that music and learning go well together, she was it.

Years later, I am still listening to much of the  music I first heard in that dorm room.

(Thank you Maiko).

Choosing music to work to is always a bit tricky, because it’s hard for me to just hear the music without actually listening to it. I am easily engaged by lyrics, dramatic solos, thundering crescendos… But put something on that gets my head bobbing involuntarily, and I can slip into a ‘zone’ for hours without even feeling the time go by.

That state of flow, famously described by psychologist  Mihalyi Csíkszentmihályi is the ultimate work state. In fact, Professor Csíkszentmihályi  actually uses a music metaphor to describe it as  “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Doesn’t that sound exactly like where you want to be!?

In my quest for getting transported to that place, I’m putting together a playlist that helps me shut the world out and get those twin powers: focus and productivity.  Channel your inner superheroes..“Wonder-twin powers….Activate!”

(In my mind I can also hear Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid saying ‘Focus, Daniel-san!!’..but I can’t find it on You Tube to share with you..)

Research suggests that music that has a tempo close to our resting heart beat (60 beats per minute), is most conducive to concentration. All I know is that good music makes me happy, and when I’m feeling happy, I do good work.

Here are some  of the tracks I listen to for working.

Now go! Flow !

  • Anouar BrahemLe Voyage du Sahar .  Trio of Oud, Accordion & Piano
  • Ino Hidefumi Living Message. Jazz piano / electronica from Japan – Not sure what to call it, but I like it.
  • Johann Sebastian Bach Suites for Cello Nos. 1-3.  Beautiful, unaccompanied Cello.
  • Brian EnoMusic for Airports.  Not tunes, just trippy ambient sounds but bizarrely soothing. I forget it’s on, which is good.
  • Franz SchubertPiano Sonata in B flat Major Andante Sostenuto.  Lovely and peaceful.

What music do you listen to when you’re working? Click on  COMMENTS  to share, and I will include them in Part II.

30 Days of Yoga, Week 1

April 3, 2011
Today I completed the first week of my 30 Day Yoga commitment. Eight days is not a lot, but it was actually harder than I thought it would be in some ways. Finding time every day to be alone, peaceful and undisturbed was just about doable, but the hard part was making myself use that time to do yoga, instead of read, check email, reorganize a sock drawer……you know, anything but.
I imagined myself right here

Sunset over Qanat Bakish, Lebanon. (1910m - 2050m)

And it didn’t start very well. We spent last weekend in the mountains, to catch the last days of snow before spring really sprung.  I was thinking yogi thoughts for my first day : Me, on a mountaintop, effortlessly holding Warrior Pose as the sun set and the mist swirled beneath me….

My kids were thinking a different thought:


They’ve seen snow before. Many times, in fact. But that is what is so amazing and beautiful about children, they can get that excited over and over again about the same thing. Why can’t we be more like that? (Probably because we’d be put away pretty quickly….how sad!)

So I let my older daughter play outside while I practiced in front of the window where I could see her. But I couldn’t concentrate. I kept stopping to stand up and peek at her. Back to downward dog… Then I’d stand up again just to make sure she was safe. Then again. The day was so gorgeous…..finally after about 30 minutes I gave up and just went outside to play too.

See what a gorgeous day

Yes, I was taking pictures between poses.

Day 2: Better.

Day 3: Useless. Kept putting it off and putting it off and before I knew it , it was 11pm. I mentioned (hopefully?)  to my husband that I hadn’t done my yoga and he didn’t let me off the hook at all, “No babe come on, you have to”. Drat. OK. Tired and grumpy, I rolled out the mat, but 10 minutes into it, our little one woke up and refused to go back to sleep…….

Day 4: Better.

Days 5, 6 & 7: I figured out that I had to make this a priority if it was going to happen. I went back to Kaizen – a little bit every day. I promised myself to do whatever I could, and so I created Pajama Yoga. First thing, before breakfast, before everything, and it was fantastic.  Almost immediately I started feeling the benefits, both physically and mentally.

Day 8: Today. Still Pajama Yoga, but being Sunday, the whole family joined in; Husband, two-year-old, four-year-old and me. Ok, it wasn’t very serious, but it was lots of fun.

So my family is supportive (!) which is key, and the emails I am receiving daily from my teacher have also been helpful . Every few days I received an email addressing the precise issues I was dealing with – it’s like she’s reading my mind, actually kind of spooky.

What I learned this week:

1- It’s hard to do something every day, but there is something liberating about it too. Learning to be disciplined with yourself physically has a positive effect on your mental discipline as well. I have a feeling I’m going to have more to say about this when my month is through.

2- There is a subtle but important distinction between kindness (to yourself) and self-indulgence.

3- A little bit, every day, goes a long way.

And a bonus lesson came in an email after day 1, from my ‘yoga buddy’ Angelique, who is a writer in New Zealand and is also taking this course:

You should always stop and go play with your kids when you can.  I get to say this because my eldest, who is 18, has just left home and it feels like yesterday he was just four.  I still have two at home and I’m so aware of how fast time goes. I’m so proud of them and yet at the same time I wish I could hold on to them forever.  But that isn’t a parent’s job – so Hana – go play with them.  A half hour is plenty of yoga :O

Have you ever done anything like this?

Not necessarily yoga, but any kind of commitment to doing something every day ? I would love to hear about it.

Requiem for a Twinkie

April 1, 2011

Ok, here is what happened today.

I thought it might be a good idea to write a cute little note about healthy snacks for kids. So I started with this title, because I LOVED Twinkies and ate lots of them as a child, and also because they represent the ultimate junk food masquerading as a harmless little “cake” (yes, in quotes).  I don’t think they are available in Lebanon, which is just as well.

The crazy thing is, once I started Googling ‘twinkie’ today just for fun, I found out that not only does it have THIRTY-NINE ingredients, but it’s even the subject of an entire book called Twinkie, Deconstructed, and all kinds of other seriously scary stuff !

Here are the ingredients in each Twinkie:

Visual Ingredients Copyright © 2011 All Rights Reserved

Now that I actually know what’s in it, I probably will never eat one again.

Farewell, fair Twinkie, I loved you once…

Of course by this point the whole issue of processed food has me distracted, (my husband will be rolling his eyes, there she goes again….) and it has completely hijacked my post. I really wanted to sound all Martha Stewart with ideas for dried fruits and roasted nuts that I make at home (I do..) but now I’m just going to sound like a crazy hippie mom.

I’m not that person, really.

Our kids eat junk sometimes, chocolate and ice cream and UFOs – unidentified frosted objects –  at birthday parties which turn their mouths blue. And I laugh and take pictures and try not to make a big deal of it, (I do…but is it a bad thing that our daughter knows the words ‘food colouring’ by the age of 4? Actually she says ‘colouring food’….).

But MOST of the time, most of the time when it comes to treats,we manage to limit their intake to actual food. Cakes, pudding, popsicles made at home, where we know what’s going into them, or snacks that don’t need a lab to reverse-engineer them; raisins, kaak, nuts, fruit, Hello! (No, I don’t make my own kaak, are you kidding, but if you wanted to, you could).

There is something so welcoming about walking into a house where there is appetizing food just laying out for you to help yourself. The last time I went home to Jeddah, I went over (hungry) to my Aunt Reema’s house, and she had the most delicious tray of snacks on her coffee table …I practically ate the entire tray by myself.

I tried to recreate it today. I roasted some raw almonds in the oven at a low heat until they turned golden, then pitted a bunch of dates and did the same with them. When the sugar in the dates started to caramelize and give off a really yummy sweet smell, I left them in for a few more minutes and took them out to cool. They come out a bit chewy and crunchy on the edges.

SO delicious and the kids love them.  Ah, now there’s a Martha Moment.

P.S. I plan to post a page of books that I’m reading / have read about the production and processing of food soon, but not today. Check back : – )

Hello Yoga, Remember Me?

March 29, 2011

Westminster Abbey I first discovered yoga when I was 16, at British boarding school in the 80s. Really! For a school that was established in the 12th century,  it is remarkably progressive. Incidentally, of all the wonderful places I studied, the time I spent there was amongst the most enriching and inspiring. So, I discovered yoga in a little hall that was probably a monk’s dormitory at some point in time, maybe that’s why it stuck.

What I love about yoga:

Aside from the obvious stretching, toning, grounding, centering, calming, energizing and other physical benefits….I love the fact that yoga loves me too. She is much more forgiving and kinder to me when I abandon her for weeks, sometimes years. I’ve done dancing and kickboxing, currently do weight-training and in the last couple of years have discovered running. All of these bring out the inner superhero in me in the best way. I imagine I’m Bionic Woman on the treadmill sometimes, I swear I actually do this…..(More on superhero visualizations another day) but ditch them for a few weeks and you’ll be sooooreeeee…. Yoga is not like that, she is always there for you, non-judgmental and smiling. She helps you to listen to your body, really listen. You can’t stretch that far? Don’t, it’s ok. Don’t push it, you will get there.

And that’s why I keep coming back.

One of my favourite yoga teachers of all time, lovely Dani, is always encouraging us to cultivate a home practice. I like this word, because it describes perfectly what developing a home practice is. I recently read a quote by Stephen Covey (of 7 Habits fame), that says:

“The only thing that endures over time is the ‘Law of the Farm.’ You must prepare the ground, plant the seed, cultivate, and water if you expect to reap the harvest”.

So I have decided to finally commit to cultivating my home practice. I have signed up for a programme called 30 Days of Yoga with Marianne Elliott, an amazing teacher and person. Research suggests that 21 days of consistently practicing anything is enough to make it a habit, so if I can keep it up for a whole month, I’ll be rocking. Hopefully.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

** Update: Lessons from week 1.


** Update: 30 Days Done: How it went.

Meanwhile, I leave you with this excellent blast from the past.

Chained up prisoner : “How you able to do dat?!”

Steve Austin: “Vitamins”.


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