NEDA Awareness Week Show and Positive Mental Health Movement for Coping with COVID-19

Hi lovely readers. It’s been a minute. February was a very busy month, with three shows, and lots of big changes in my personal life. This post is to highlight some of that. However, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a need to raise awareness about mental health and suicide rates – which at desparate times like these – begin to rise. People are laid off, can’t feed their families or pay their bills… anyone struggling with their mental health could be negatively impacted by this pandemic in a very bad way.

As someone who has struggled with her mental health throughout her life, I find the need to spread some positivity during this crisis, and let you all know about some cool things the NYC dance company I dance for did back in February. At the end here, I also want to give you some suggestions on movement-based activities you can do while you are quarantined and/or if you are struggling with your mental health and being stuck inside is driving you insane.

I currently dance for Borne Dance Company, which is a New York City based dance company who’s mission is to bring awareness to mental health and destigmatize eating disorders. The last week in February is the National Eating Disorder Association’s (NEDA) National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Borne Dance Company celebrates the end of our season with a showcase during Eating Disorder Awareness Week. We host other artists, singers, performers, dancers, poets, and musicians who gather to play a show.

Admission to the show was donation-based, and 80% of the proceeds were donated directly to NEDA after our show weekend was over. This year, Borne performed a new 25 minute piece titled “Bound“, which explored themes of isolation, and showcased the negative thoughts and coping mechanisms we hang onto as people.

The work was well-received, and we generated a lot of donation money through everyone’s generous donations. It was such a special day, and one of those full-circle life moments for me. Eight years ago when I was sick with anorexia, I never thought I’d be dancing professionally in NYC, let alone in a show with a company that cares so deeply about raising awareness about eating disorders.

PC: Human Stories Photography NYC for Borne Dance Co.

This all being said, it is always important to check-in on your friends, family, and loved ones all times of the year. Especially now, however, during this crisis, we need to keep checking in with those in our lives who are struggling, were struggling, or who we suspect might be struggling. Not just check-in on their physical health, but check-in on their mental health. Ask how their feeling, and if the answer is not positive, offer ways you can be there for them. Phone calls, video chats, text messaging – any way you can extend a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear, do it. It could save their life.

90% of the stimulation and nutrition to the brain is generated by movement of the spine

Dr. Roger Sperry

Now if you yourself are not feeling your best, or you want to find ways to help someone you love feel better, here is a list of ways to use movement to improve your mental health during this time of isolation and quarantine. Dr. Roger Sperry says 90% of the stimulation and nutrition to the brain is generated by movement of the spine, so staying active and mobile during this time is crucial for maintaining positive mental health. Here are some fun movement activities you can do solo or with a friend/partner (maintaining social distance of course) that could help increase/maintain your mental health.

  1. Exercise! Schedule specific times during the day or throughout the week dedicated solely to moving your body. Whether you find a yoga routine online, an at-home HIIT workout, or some cardio – find time to keep your body engaged throughout the week!
  2. Dance party! Maybe you’re cleaning the house, or maybe you’re really stressed and tight from sitting at your home computer and working from home. Turn on your favorite tunes and start grooving! Even if for five minutes! Dance like nobody’s watching, or have your family members join you! I bet you will be smiling within the first two minutes. Dancing increases blood flow, and seratonin (the happy hormone!) levels!
  3. Stretch! Ok dance and exercise isn’t your thing? Maybe Google some light stretching exercises you can do at home to stimulate blood flow, and let your muscles lengthen gently! It’s amazing what a little bit of light stretching can do to improve your mood, and how you feel physically.
  4. Play with a ball! If you have children, or a partner or roommate, take five minutes and just toss a ball back and forth to each other. You don’t have to have a lot of skill to do this, and it will get your blood flowing and you can even wear latex gloves so you don’t have to physically touch the ball! Don’t have a partner? Play fetch with a pet OR play wall-ball where a wall is your surface to pass from!
  5. Play with your pets! If you are a pet owner, you can take your dogs for a walk, or cuddle or play with your cats, hamsters, bunnies, etc.! Pets are the best for comfort, and they are an amazing excuse to go outside and talk a calm walk down the street ๐Ÿ™‚
  6. Create! If you are an artist, dancer, or person who can’t sit still, try creating a dance or movement flow organically. Take some time to move and create, just like you would sit and create a painting, craft or song! You can keep it private, or show it online/to friends or family (following pandemic guidelines of course). You might surprise yourself with your creativity and what you will make!

These are just a few simple ways you can use movement to improve your own state of mental health, or help engage a family member or friend who might be struggling at this time. So much healing can come from simply moving your body, and it will also help pass the time while we wait for equillibrium and health to return to our society.

Thank you for reading, and I hope this post brought some positivity into your morning, afternoon, or evening (whenever this post reaches you!). Stay positive, healthy, and moving my friends! I hope to connect more soon.

xoxo

Why You Shouldn’t Compare Your Body to an “Instagram Fitness Model”

Hi everyone,

In wake of my Arbonne 30 Days to Healthy Living, I’m inspired to write this piece about the importance of recognizing what we see on the internet as staged, superficial, and anti-reality. I wanted to write this article a while back, but because it is January and this month “diet culture” becomes synonymous with “New Year’s Resolutions”, I want everyone to keep some things in mind while they strive for their 2020 goals – specifically if they are related to health and fitness.

Also as a disclosure – this article is in no way shaming men and women who are dedicated to health and fitness, and/or those who make their business/money from that online. This is for all hard-working people who care deeply about their health and physical fitness, who feel they cannot “live-up” to the standards they see on social media.

Let’s get one thing straight – Instagram is a galaxy of humans young and old wanting to display their BEST selves to all of their peers, colleagues, and family members. Yes, people post for themselves, but deep down people post for validation for the things they are doing. As a member of this generation, I don’t see anything wrong with it. Social media has completely changed the course of online marketing, business, and self-promotion. If I have a great photo of myself, or something I did, ate, drank, saw – I will probably post it somewhere online.

That being said, do I ever post photos of myself I feel ugly in? Of course not. Do I untag myself from friends’ photos I don’t like of myself? Of course I do. No one wants to be seen in their “worst light”. I will add, a lot of the time we are all our own worst critics, so many times what we feel is “ugly”, we don’t actually look ugly. However, the point is, people post the best version of themselves online. And there is nothing wrong with doing that.

Nonetheless, the greatness of social media comes with a sleu of other issues. Seeing everyone’s best version of themselves online every day, at any time of the day can become mentally and emotionally exhausting. It can make you feel like you’re not “doing enough” or “being enough” – either for others, or even yourself. Being recovered from anorexia, I see my favorite dancers and fitness professionals online everyday and think to myself,

“I am not doing as much as their doing. That’s why I haven’t reached their level of success.”

Or their level of beauty. Or their level of fitness, technicality, etc.

It makes me feel terrible if I don’t keep my thoughts in check – If I don’t sit back and take a second to recognize that these images and videos I am seeing are not that person 24/7. No one can uphold the “Instagram standard” every day, 24 hours a day, every day of the week. We are all human and we are all FLAWED (physically, emotionally, mentally – in all capacities). And flaws can be and are beautiful too.

Here is an example. Before I started my 30 Days to Healthy Living, here is an image I took of myself on Snapchat immediately following a HIIT workout.

The image depicts me at a moment where I felt “fit”, at an angle where I felt “showed off” my body in a great way. I had compression pants on and felt put together. The lighting was good, and photo editing apps make filtering the photo to be more appealing really simple and easy.

Is that what my body looks like all the time? No. Now here are some images of me first thing in the morning, before I ate anything, PMSing, hadn’t worked out in three days.

I took these images the first day I started my cleanse last week. These photos were snapped three weeks after the gym photo – totally unrelated to each other. These photos of me I do not like. I wouldn’t really think to post them anywhere because I do NOT like the way I appear in them. Also, you’d think if these were a “before and after” shot, the more recent photos would be first and the gym photo would be most recent.

Reality is – a good angle and good lighting can make anyone appear “better”. Im also not being self-deprecating. I love my body, and I’m a firm believer that muscular definition wouldn’t appear in photographs if it wasn’t truly there. Meaning, the main way to look muscular is to have muscle. So if you see muscular definition, it’s because it’s there. That being said, good lighting and nice filtering can enhance the definition of our muscles or our appearance. We can smooth out fine lines/wrinkles, shrink waistlines, make our skin appear tanner or fairer, etc. Heck, I even increased the color saturation on these photos before I put them into this article!

So next time you’re scrolling through Instagram and see your favorite dancers, athletes, models, whoever – remember their life is not always that glamorous. It is not always picture perfect, with a friend on standby ready to snap gorgeous “candid” photos of you at your best angles in your best light. Instagrams are carefully curated by each owner, and they are meant to display us “living our best lives”.

Wherever you are in your journey – of life, fitness, health, and your goals – you are exactly where you are supposed to be. You are ENOUGH, and no one is uniquely like you, even if their Instagram makes you feel like you’re not in the gym enough/working hard enough. Comparison is the killer of all dreams, and never compare yourself to others because of what you see. Everything online is surface level.

Xoxo

My Arbonne 30 Days to Healthy Living Cleanse

Happy New Year beautiful people!

2020 is here, and it is a fresh decade! New beginnings are all around us! I wanted to share with you I recently joined Arbonne as an Independent Consultant, and will be completing their 30 Days to Healthy Living cleanse for the month of January! I’ve been debating on whether or not I wanted to invest in this cleanse since August. However, recent problems with my health and my stomach have inspired me to finally dive in.

My goals for this cleanse are to reset my gut health, reduce my bodily inflammation (hopefully helping the health issues I am dealing with), cut back on my dependency on sugar/coffee, sleep better, and reduce my anxiety. I also would like to lose about 5 pounds.

All of the symptoms and health conditions I’ve been dealing with, the 30 Days cleanse targets to resolve. The cleanse is supposed to reduce symptoms and signs of physical toxicity. Physical Toxicity is the state in which the body accumulates toxins from the different foods and alcohols we consume. These toxins build-up in the gut, and over time cause the body to be in a state of physical toxicity. The symptoms can include/are not limited to some or all of the following:

Acne/skin issues, bloating, insomnia, anxiety, inflammation, nausea, mood swings, PMS, difficulty concentrating, difficulty losing weight, brain fog, bad breath, low energy, headaches/migraines, fatigue.

Arbonne discusses the cleanse as a “cellular reset” – unclogging the “kitchen sink”- the “kitchen sink” being your gut. The cleanse eliminates inflammatory foods and food groups and sugar, and supplements your diet with clean protein (no sugar, gluten, dairy, animal byproducts, soy, or GMOs) and clean caffeine replacements; increases your fiber intake; and detoxifies your gastrointestinal tract.

They provide all of the nutritional products and supplements (you can choose your flavors), and provide you with support the entire 30 days. You’re given recipes, meal preparation tips, food shopping lists, tips for maintaining the cleanse while you travel, or if you go out to eat. You’re even added to a Facebook group with other women and men who are doing this month’s challenge with you, so if you don’t have a partner to do the cleanse with in real life, you have an online support system. The Facebook group is monitored by a registered dietician who can also help answer any questions you might have.

I spent only $222 (with free shipping!) for this cleanse (that’s the price as an Independent Consultant), and was also gifted over $200 of free products for signing up. I am trying two of their skincare products (their RE9 Facial Cleanser and RE9 Nightly Resurfacing Pads), their Metabolism Support powder, and will receive a free gym bag. I am most excited to try their protein out! I haven’t found a clean, vegan protein powder that was affordable in a long time.

I am looking forward to eating clean and feeling better in 2020, and I have a really good feeling this cleanse will help me and help my health issues that are not getting better.

I will be taking progress pictures along to the way, so stay tuned for a follow-up!

If you are interested in the cleanse, you can take a peak at my shop which I will link below. If you have ever completed the 30 Days to Healthy Living, I would love to hear your feedback and results.

http://juliaobrien.arbonne.com

xoxo

Soft Discs – Flex Company Alternative Menstrual Products

Hi everyone!

Recently, I switched my period products and have to tell you about the success I’ve had with them. This year I’ve realized the importance of my sexual health, including my period care when I have to deal with my monthly visitor. I’ve been curious about alternative period products for a few years now, and two months ago, I decided it was time to experiment and try out other products because tampons are just not cutting it for me anymore. Specifically, I want to discuss the Soft Discs menstrual discs made by the Flex Company.

I grew up thinking tampons, pads, and panty liners were the be all – end all period products because of their longevity on the market and my familiarity with them. I’ve been loyal to Kotex for almost six years now too. I never gave much thought to alternative period care because of the “mess”, “clean up”, and the intimacy of it. Menstrual cups and discs require you to empty, clean, and/or change the product every 8-12 hours, in addition to being comfortable touching yourself and self-inserting the devices.

The main differences between discs and cups are that menstrual discs block the cervix and catch period blood at the opening of the cervix, while menstrual cups sit lower in the vaginal canal and catch period blood before it exits the vagina (where a tampon would usually sit). Menstrual cups are usually reusable and made of silicone, and menstrual discs are typically disposable (though there are some reusable discs on the market). Both types of products are NOT linked to Toxic Shock Syndrome (which you can contract from using tampons).

Nevertheless, I have prior experience with the NuvaRing birth control which requires you to insert a ring-shaped birth control device into your vagina up to the cervix, so inserting a menstrual discs was not a big transition for me to be comfortable with. Soft Discs are a BPA-free, phthalate-free, latex-free menstrual disc that you can wear for up to 12 hours a day. You can swim, exercise, sleep, and even have SEX with them in (more about the sex part later). They hold up to 5-tampons worth of blood, and can be worn during heavier and lighter flow days. Because they do not absorb blood, they decrease odor; and also decrease cramping, and dryness. This isn’t as important, but they’re a cute pink color and come in discreet purple packaging (I’m a sucker for cute packaging). Way cuter than a tampon!

To insert properly, you should wash your hands, sit on the toilet, and relax your muscles. Pinch the sides of the Soft Disc, and push the device up into the vaginal canal, and then down to fit up towards the cervix. Push it down until it rests under the public bone. With the disc under the pubic bone, it creates a seal that shouldn’t leak. The pushing down part of this process is important, because if you just insert it straight up like a tampon, it won’t slip into place and create the seal. You can use your fingers to adjust and push it further up and down into place as you see necessary.

To remove, you should wash your hands, sit on the toilet, and relax. insert a finger, hook it underneath the rim of the disc, and pull it down and out. If you can’t get a good grip, bear down on your pelvic muscles (think like doing Kegels) and it should move the disc further forward so you can grab onto it. Empty the contents into the toilet before wrapping the disc in the wrapper it came in and toilet paper to dispose. I’m right-side dominant, but I use my left hand for removal, so try both hands and see which is most comfortable and easiest.

On my heaviest days, I have to change my disc three to four times, and I also wear panty liners in case there are any leaks. My cramps are intense, and they cause my vaginal muscles to contract pretty hard which sometimes moves the disc out of place if I am being really active. If your flow is heavier in the beginning like mine, expect a bit of a mess removing, dumping, and inserting a new one. I carry around baby wipes with me while on my period, so if I am using a public restroom, I wipe my hands before I leave the stall, and then obviously wash my hands again afterward.

This product has been GAME-CHANGING. Once you get passed the learning curve of learning how to insert the product, I feel almost as if I’m not on my period. I can sleep over my boyfriend’s house with confidence knowing I won’t have to wear a fat diaper-like pad, or won’t leak and stain his sheets. I can go swimming, or hit up an Orange Theory workout without worrying about soaking through my tampon halfway through my treadmill run. Even more importantly, I don’t have to worry about Toxic Shock Syndrome, or yeast infections due to the period product I chose to use that cycle!

Now here’s the best part – you can have mess-free period sex with this product. You don’t have to ruin towels or sheets, or even worry about making a mess on your partner. Let’s face it, your hormones RAGE while you are on your period, but if you’re like me, you probably feel the least sexy during that week of the month due to the blood and the bloat. But Soft Discs are a great alternative to the old “put a towel down and hope for the best” method.

The only thing I suggest is changing your disc to a fresh one before you and your partner do the deed. If it’s been in for a few hours and full of blood, sex could cause leaks. But I have tried this (sorry mom/grandma if you are reading this), and it WORKS. With a new disc inserted before, I’ve never had an issue. Also, if it is inserted properly, your partner can’t feel it.

**Worthy to note – this period is NOT a vaginal diaphragm, so it will not protect you against STIs or pregnancy. In your throes of passion, be vigilant with your birth control and STI protection, ok? Especially if you have more than one partner.**

I just completed my second cycle with Soft Discs, and I will probably never rely on tampons again if I don’t absolutely have to. The Flex Company also makes a product called the Flex Disc, which is a tad more expensive, but available in a monthly subscription for a slight discount. They retail about $14/box, and apparently the Flex Disc is made slightly differently. I’ve read it creates a better seal and molds better to your anatomy. I am probably going to try the Flex Discs next month to see if I have a better experience on my heavier days. Also, how pretty is the gold and black packaging??

In short, if you’ve made it this far in my post, thank you for reading. If you’ve been curious about alternative menstrual products but haven’t felt brave enough to try it, take this as your sign to try something new. The worst that can happen is you hate it and never use it again. Be prepared to learn how to use it, and if you experience insertion issues, or leaks, remember back to the first time you tried inserting tampons. I remember that took me three months to figure out (and I’m not ashamed to admit it). I sat in my upstairs bathroom with a box of Playtex and tried to insert it until I relaxed enough to get it inside. Which took three cycles. But your girl finally figured it out eventually. It’s the same with the discs. It takes experience and practice, but eventually you will learn how to use it most effectively for your body.

I hope you found this article helpful or insightful, and if you have any questions about my experience using this product, feel free to comment below! I would love to try to help in any way I can.

xoxo

Pegli, Italy – Una Ballerina, Focaccia, e un Caffรจ Latte Macchiato

It’s been so long since I posted on here, and usually October is the month of the year each year I am actively blogging about Halloween, fall activities, and happenings in my life. Usually I am preparing for Nutcracker and drowing in Dunkin pumpkin coffee, but this year is a bit different.

As the weather changes over to autumnal coolness, I am feeling myself yearning to be back in Italy. For the Joffrey Ballet intensive I attended, I stayed in a small beach district of Genova on the Mediterranean coast, called Pegli. I have been missing the beautiful, simple town; the delicious foccacia, pesto, and espresso, and the intense heat of the sun during the long dance days.

My two weeks with the Joffrey School were so magical and enlightening. Not only did I travel – BY MYSELF – to Pegli (which involved a 7 hour flight, THREE train transfers at stations with no escalators, and a 50 lb suitcase), but I trained hard in a beautiful dance studio on a mountain (that had no air conditioning), with people from all over the USA and Italy. I still can’t believe I was brave enough to do all of this on my own, and with my own money.

No one in this district spoke English, so it forced me to use the little Italian I do know, and learn how to speak. Joffrey also equipped us with four Italian language lessons while we were there. I was told I have great pronunciation, and a lot of Italian people believed I’d been speaking Italian for a lot longer than one week!

Here are some images from the district I lived in. I walked up and down the lungomare (path along the sea) after every meal, and admired the scenery, culture, people, and beaches.

I drank an ameretto sour at a beach bar with my roommate late one night, and tried to communicate with our waiter in Italian to figure out if the other waiter was his brother.

“รˆ tuo fratello?”

“Si, mio gemello!”

I made friends with the hotel baristo and he gave me a bottle of the wine I drank every night for free as a parting gift.

I traveled to Milan and toured the Duomo, and the La Scala theater. We toured Genova, and toured the Princess of Genova’s palace, and the Genova Aquarium – the second largest aquarium in the world.

I ate the most bread and pasta I have in my life, and also drank the best coffee I’ve ever had in my life every morning and afternoon! I cosumed so much gelato I’m surprised I didn’t turn into it. My favorite flavor of gelato is yogurt gelato!

We even toured the world’s best, and freshest pesto company greenhouses, and made our own pesto with their family recipe! Genova pesto is known to be the best in the world.

I cannot wait to travel back to Italy to explore more of the country. With this experience under my belt, I am not afraid to travel alone anywhere. I am so thankful for this experience, and will remember it all for the rest of my life. Thank you to the Joffrey Ballet School for this amazing experience, and all of the amazing faculty.

xoxo