Born to Roam- A Road Trip Adventure (Part one)

Born to Roam- A Road Trip Adventure (Part one)

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”

The last day in March of this year (2017) my wonderful boyfriend and I embarked on the trip of a lifetime. I had never been on a trip quite like this before, and I was so happy I would be able to share seeing so many amazing places with someone whom I love so much. It had been months in the making, and we were incredibly excited about the stunning views and experiences that we were sure awaited us. We planned to leave from my home in Virginia and head west, eventually hoping to make it all the way to the west coast. We had a very general plan about places we wanted to see along the way, but no real set in stone plans of dates or reservations. We thought it would work best to just allow the road to take us along, and we would enjoy every moment along the way. This proved to be a good idea for the most part, although I suggest if you do something like this to make sure you make reservations ahead of time for some of the areas that may be more popular along your route.

IMG_6204Our route took us through Tennessee where we spent some time in Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis. In Nashville we discovered a great vegan restaurant called the Sunflower cafe. ( Insert huge smile here… I love sunflowers!) We used the app “HappyCow” to find it. This app was a big help for us because we are both vegan/ vegetarian and finding suitable food can bit a bit of a challenge on the road. We then continued on through Arkansas where we did some hiking in the Ozark mountains which was really lovely, and passed through Oklahoma where we stopped and saw some beautiful Native American handiwork.

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After this we went on toward northern Texas where we decided to stop and see a state park called Palo Duro Canyon. It’s apparently the second largest canyon in the United States besides the Grand Canyon. It was very beautiful, and at that time I couldn’t imagine how the Grand Canyon could possibly be even bigger! Although this place was visually appealing, unfortunately it was also the site of a very unfortunate occurrence on our trip. Someone broke into our car here, and stole some very valuable things such as my laptop and wallet. Although this was a very upsetting event at the the time, I feel I am able to look back on it now and see it as a valuable lesson. I urge anyone on a road trip to please be careful of instances such as this. Apparently car break ins are the number one crime in America. Also, during this event I very distinctly remember in the midst of my disbelief and anguish, that a beautiful sunset was occurring over the canyon. It was as if the universe was saying to me, “There is still so much love and light that exists in this world, please do not forget this.” I also extend my thanks to the kind park police officer who was so very helpful to us in this time of need, my boyfriend Bryan who was so very supportive, and last but certainly not least my mom who helped me with all of the more logistical issues. Well, enough with the not so happy stuff, let’s move on to more exciting adventures!

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Palo Duro Canyon

As you could imagine we were fairly eager to leave Texas behind us, and move on towards New Mexico. It was actually snowing in New Mexico as we drove through, and we had to be extremely careful on the road. We made our way to Santa Fe where we stopped for the evening. I definitely recommend checking out this city! It is very clean, and has a very beautiful mix of cultures. There are lots of cool shops to check out downtown, and the food choices are great as well ( even for vegans). From Santa Fe, we headed towards Taos, New Mexico where my friend Monica from my graduate school program lives. It was wonderful to catch up with her and her husband, and such a treat to stay in a home instead of a hotel room. We stayed with her for a couple of days, and explored the Taos area while we were there. We saw the Rio Grande bridge and spent most of the day at a hot springs/ spa called Ojo Caliente. It is absolutely amazing and I cannot recommend visiting there enough. They have several different hot springs as well as a mud bath. It was just what we needed after driving longs days on end, and it helped us relax and unwind.

The following day we went back to Ojo and took one of my friends yoga classes. It was great to get back into the practice, which had been a bit lacking with all of our time spent in the car. And of course it was great to share in the space of a lovely teacher as well. After class we bid Monica adieu, and headed further west towards Arizona.

On our way to Arizona we stopped at a park called the painted desert. It reminded me of pictures I had seen of the “badlands” in South Dakota. This was perhaps one of the most beautiful surprises on our trip. Bryan and I both really enjoyed the beautiful color variation you could see in the earth. It was mind blowing to imagine all the thousands of years of history that this earth contains. Bryan and both remarked about ancient creatures living here at one time such as dinosaurs. The park also had very cool pieces of petrified wood scattered throughout as well.

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We stayed in a town outside of the park that night in one of the coolest motels I have ever seen! Its called the Wigwam motel and you actually get to stay inside your own private teepee. 10/10 recommend this place as well if you’re in the mood for something a little different. Our plans were to drive towards the Scottsdale/ Phoenix Arizona area the next day. Bryan had some family who lived in this area and we planned to stay with them. His cousin also had a very exciting surprise for us in store. However, I will save that for the next blog post!

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Keep your eyes out for the next post; I’ll fill you in about some exciting places such as the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Page, and then onto Utah, Nevada, and California!

Until then, thanks so much for reading!

Love,

Em

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What’s your hidden talent?

There are often certain qualities that are valued more than others in any particular culture or society. This means that people who possess these more highly valued skills are perceived as more successful, and leaves those with other talents feeling undervalued. This can even apply to certain personality traits such as extroversion and introversion. In American culture, extroversion is often more highly valued, and this leaves many introverts feeling inferior. In order to appreciate these other traits, we have to change our perspective on them.

To get into a more personal aspect of this, I am going to share a little bit more about myself. I have always been considered a quiet person, or so I am told from those close to me. I agree with this, as I am always more willing to listen than to speak. Even the tone of my voice is very soft, and throughout school years I have been teased for how quiet and soft spoken I am. I used to be embarrassed of this quality, which truly only exacerbated the issue with me speaking out even less so. My perspective of myself was that my voice was a weakness, and therefore I should strengthen or change it in some way.

I spent some time during my college years pursuing more outgoing pursuits that helped me gain confidence in my speaking, and eventually went on to pursue getting my yoga teacher certification. Although, I was very excited to pursue this opportunity I was also quite nervous because I knew it involved speaking in front of groups of people. However, I received encouraging feedback from my teachers and fellow trainees. What surprised me most time after time was that many said I had the “perfect” yoga voice. Imagine my surprise! These people did not have any idea what that small compliment  truly meant to me. What I had once perceived as one of my biggest weaknesses could now be considered a strength. My voice had found a purpose that suited it. It was never that anything was “wrong” with it, I just needed to see it from another point of view.

I think sometimes in our lives, we do not realize the gifts we have been given to share. For whatever reason that may be, it can be quite the task to understand that perhaps what makes you stand out can be what the world needs most. Instead of seeing those qualities we or others dislike about us as purely negative, maybe we can find a way to change our perspective and turn them into something that is useful and worthwhile. This could mean finding a career or hobby that allows your particular talent or trait to shine. Mine happened to be teaching yoga and guiding deep relaxations with my soft voice. It still isn’t the best suited for some things, but I found an option where it can be positive and useful. Once you gain confidence in the newfound perspective of your abilities it can vastly improve your well being.

So I ask you, is there something about yourself that you have decided to see in a negative light? It may not always be the case for all things, but perhaps instead of forgoing that trait altogether you can shape it into something it is good for. Your talent may not be so hidden after all. Best of luck with whatever it may be! 🙂

On why I don’t eat green eggs & ham

On why I don’t eat green eggs & ham

I’d like to first start off by saying that this blog post is a little scary for me to write. I know there is a lot of controversy that goes in both directions when people discuss going to a vegetarian/vegan life style or plant based diet. (There are differences in those terms which I will go into a bit later.) However, I truly just want this post to be about sharing a little of my own experience in making the switch including some of the struggles and benefits I have had personally. I also hope this post will help people who may be interested or curious about what it all means, but this post is certainly not meant to put down anyone who does not choose to live this way. I do ask that as you are reading please keep an open mind and heart.

imageMy first experience with vegetarianism actually began in high school. After taking a class that was based on agribusiness and seeing the process of this up close I decided that I did not want to eat meat anymore. I was met with backlash by my family and friends who simply did not understand. Many simply were trying to look out for my well being because they believed that you could not live a healthy life style without having meat as a part of your diet. I must admit that I did not thoroughly research before I made the switch and mainly ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. (Which is not healthy either, but at least I had a semblance of an understanding haha.)

Moving on to my time in college, and I actually fell off of the bandwagon a bit. I moved to more of a pescetarian diet which includes fish and other seafood, but not poultry or other types of meat. For the most part I felt this was a healthy change as I ate quite a bit of salmon and have always been a seafood fan. I actually still struggle with keeping this out of my diet a bit, but after doing more research I feel that is is the right choice. (for myself at least.) Later on in college I fell off the bandwagon all together, but was always still curious and interested in how food and nutrition affected your body, mind, and soul.

Shortly after graduating from college, I went to obtain my yoga teacher certification. The school I went to served a fully vegetarian diet there, with many vegan options as well. During my time there I learned more and more about the health benefits of switching to a vegetarian diet, and even more so a vegan one ( also free of dairy and eggs). It definitely helped that the food cooked here was absolutely delicious, and being surrounded by people who were knowledgable in the area was helpful as well.

After graduating from this program, I decided I wanted to stick to the vegetarian or plant based diet and work toward a vegan life style as well. I knew this would be no easy task… mostly because I am currently still living with my family who does not necessarily hold the same views about the subject that I do. I amped up my will power though, and decided to push through. This was important to me, and something I truly believed in! I must be honest that I have not been perfect in sticking to this plan( especially during travels it can be difficult) but I can confidently say that I have made many steps forward in this process. I have completely cut meat out of my diet with the exception of some seafood tastings in my travels abroad, and am making big steps forward into cutting dairy and other animal products out of my diet and lifestyle as well.

I also want to acknowledge that I understand this can be a difficult transition for many people. We live in a culture which really revolves around the meat industry, and is often reinforced by advertisements of those products as well. However, I also want to express that if this is a change you want to make, it is definitely possible. I actually think that transitioning to this kind of diet or lifestyle is actually easier now than ever before. There is a whole wealth of information available about how to do it in a healthy way, and also there are many alternative substitutes available! (Thank you Ben and Jerry for making vegan ice cream!)

As for me, it has been such a rewarding journey so far, although it has definitely had its ups and downs.Upon first removing dairy and eggs from my diet I felt a loss of energy, but after finding an adequate B12 supplement I feel better and more energized than ever. I feel like I have more of a glow to my skin then I did before, a clearer and more vibrant mind as well, and many other benefits I can go into more. ( If interested let me know and I can address it further.) Besides these more physical and mental benefits, I also feel like I have grown in my spiritual love with the world around me…especially an even deeper compassion for animals. I always have considered myself an animal lover, but feel that I have a much better understanding and appreciation for them now.

Overall, making this choice was the right thing for me. My parents are still not entirely onboard, but are slowly coming around. It has been more fun educating them than anything else. Everyone moves at different paces in this journey and I feel like I am moving forward at a good one. I am working on transitioning even more so into the vegan life style by also being conscious of cosmetic and clothing products too.

By no means am I telling any of you readers what to do, but perhaps just be open to a lifestyle such as this. There are astronomical benefits not only for yourself health wise, but also for the health and well being of the planet and its other inhabitants. Many people tend to think that they cannot make a difference because they are just one person, but truly you can. Even just a a small positive change in yourself can send a ripple effect through those you are surrounded by. One of my favorite quotes is by a lovely lady named Margaret Mead who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

If anyone is interested in more details of why I made the change ( including some of the health end environmental benefits) please let me know and I would be more than happy to discuss them! I also have a lot of information including documentaries, books, websites, and even some really yummy recipes and other great products I have discovered if you’d like to learn more. I am still very much learning myself, and continue to find new information everyday.

Thank you so much for reading and keeping your heart and mind open! 🙂

 

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Becoming a Yoga Teacher

Before I jump right into my experience of getting my yoga teacher certification, let me explain to you why I wanted to become one in the first place. I did not actually begin the practice of yoga until I entered my freshman year of college when I discovered the gym of my university offered a class. I decided to try it out, and absolutely loved the sense of peace and contentment I felt when the class was over. I had assumed yoga was just like any other fitness class.( Which even nowadays people sometimes see yoga as just another form of exercise.) However, it goes so far beyond the idea of fitness. If you go back to the roots of yoga, which go beyond when world religions were first created, you find that the physical movements of yoga were put into place to help make the body more flexible so that meditation would be less difficult. (This is where it comes in handy for those of us who tend to fidget and can’t sit still for long periods of time.) Yoga itself is meant to be a type of moving meditation helping to quiet the mind so that one can discover the inner peace within themselves.

It was this idea of finding peace and contentment that truly made me fall in love with the practice. I definitely enjoyed the movement and healing benefits of the different poses, but being able to help heal the mind, and even the spirit was so intriguing to me. To back pedal just a bit, I studied psychology as my major in college. I hoped to be able to counsel others in some way and help people work through different mental and emotional issues. I also wanted to be able to inspire others to be the best versions of themselves. I wanted to teach others to take care of themselves in all ways; including nutrition, exercise, and other various health avenues as well. It was not until I gained awareness of all the combined benefits of teaching yoga that I realized it had the possibility to allow me to help others with all of those things. Some famous yogi once said something along the lines of, “where modern psychology ends, yoga begins.” So it was after this realization, that I knew that I would become a yoga teacher, and hopefully go even beyond that point to become a yoga therapist. (They have extensive anatomy and yoga philosophy teaching beyond the average teacher and can help people with severe physical disabilities as well as mental illnesses heal.)

So enough with the background story… let me tell you about my experience of actually getting my yoga certification. Upon researching different training programs I was amazed to find that there was a place called Yogaville only about an hour and a half from my hometown. This quaint yoga ashram was founded by Swami Satchidinanda and is located in the blue ridge mountains of Buckingham, VA. How had I not known about this place?! But the universe works in mysterious ways, and it often places knowledge in your life at the perfect time. I researched further into the Yogaville training programs and found that they offered month long intensive teacher training courses. This means you basically lived at the ashram for a month and practiced and learned about yoga 24/7. This probably would’t necessarily be ideal for everyone, but it sounded perfect to me! A program was coming up in October and I put my application in. After anxiously waiting to hear back, I found out that I was accepted to the program!! I can’t even begin to describe my eagerness and excitement.IMG_7486

A few weeks later I made the drive out into what seemed like the middle of nowhere and arrived at Yogaville. I was nervous about exactly what to expect and hoped that I would have the skills necessary to pass the course. Upon first walking in the academy doors I was greeted by some of the kindest souls I have ever had the chance of meeting. I was instantly put at ease, only to have my picture captured by one of the staff as she explained to me that they always took a before and after photo of the teachers in training so at the end of the process we would look and back and see our own personal growth. I thought this was a really beautiful idea, and I pondered how I would change and grow along this journey. IMG_7478

Throughout the training we practiced yoga daily, meditated several times daily as well, and had several different classes a day focusing on topics such as health, anatomy, Raja yoga, the philosophy of yoga, and many more that I am probably failing to include. It was certainly a lot of work and long days. It was all made easier by the wonderful fellow teacher trainees that were going through the process along with me though. In some ways I feel like I learned more from them in this journey than anything else.  The staff were also amazing and were there to help guide us through this yoga adventure. In them as well as my fellow teachers in training I felt an intense and deep connection that I knew would go far beyond our time at the ashram.IMG_7451

After a couple weeks of studying and hard work getting through our midterm exam, and learning the art of teaching a class all the way through, it was time for us to have our teacher qualification. We had learned a tremendous amount of knowledge over the past month, but many were still nervous about passing this final test. We had to be able to teach an assigned set of different poses, explain the benefits of each one, as well as teaching a deep relaxation, and breathing practices all within an allotted amount of time. By some miracle, (and a whole lot of time studying and practicing) I passed my qualifier and officially became a teacher! I do not exaggerate that this was one of the happiest days of my life. Happier even than my college graduation I had experienced just a few months beforehand. I was also extremely happy for and proud of my now fellow teachers who had also made their way through the process.

We were now at the end of our time together and graduation was upon us all. Family and friends came to see us as we celebrated our accomplishments. It was a month full of so many beautiful people and amazing memories that the act of becoming an actual teacher was just the cherry on top of perhaps the most incredible experience of my life.IMG_0432

I absolutely love being a teacher and currently teach at an exercise therapy center as well as managing my own group classes. I encourage anyone who is thinking of possibly pursuing this goal to please try it! It is so life changing in the most positive of ways. Not only for you, but for the countless people who come to your classes that you are able to help heal in their bodies, minds, and souls.

 

Walking a mile(or 500) in someone else’s shoes

My senior year of college I decided I needed to explore after graduation. I wanted to get a feel for the world around me, and experience a bit of adventure. So I decided that I would sign up to take part in a study abroad trip. This would not be a typical study abroad however. Instead of sitting in a classroom, this class would take part as a true test of mental and physical endurance on a hike across Spain. This hike is known as the Camino De Santiago which is an over 500 mile journey beginning in the Pyrenees mountains of western France and continuing across the length of Northern Spain. IMG_6342Pilgrims (a term used for hikers on the Camino) have made this trek for thousands of years and for many different reasons. Most prominently people hike the Camino for religious and spiritual undertakings. There are many other reasons someone may partake in this great trek, and all are important in their own way. The end goal is to reach the city of Santiago and arrive at the cathedral of Saint James. There many pilgrims will stand in awe of the journey they have undertaken, and the many obstacles they have faced along the way.

For myself, this journey was a test of the limits I was able to endure, and in other ways it was the chance to prove to myself that I was capable of incredible things. I wanted to test the abilities of my body and mind, and force myself to endure the pain of walking ten plus miles everyday. Some people may say this is a bit extreme, but at the end of every long day I was so astounded by the fact that my own two feet had carried me and my twenty pound backpack to where I was supposed to be.

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It was no easy task. I do not exaggerate that I asked myself what I could have possibly been thinking by signing up for this trip a hundred times. My feet hurt, I was homesick, I didn’t like the food. But despite the many complaints I may have had, each day I got up before the sun to carry on and journey to the next destination point along they way. Why did I keep going you ask? Well, I didn’t want to fail myself. I didn’t want to give up on me. I had faith that I could get through it and make it to the end.

I didn’t make it through this journey all by myself though. I had the support of my classmates and the various other friends I made along the way. One of the things that stood out most for me on the Camino was the kindness I received from strangers. On the second day of my Camino I awoke to find that my hiking shoes had been stolen. I was very distraught at the occurrence and was trying to figure out a solution to my situation when a kind woman offered to let me have her hiking sandals. I was in awe of her generosity. Without her help I would not have been able to continue my journey that day. This was the first of many generous acts of kindness I received on the Camino and is a true testament to the pilgrim heart. I decided from that day forward until the end of my journey I would wear these sandals.IMG_7107

Most of us have heard the cliche saying, “Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” This phrase is meant to express that we should attempt to feel empathy for others or allow ourselves to feel what someone else may be going through. I had assumed that throughout my life I tried to do this phrase justice, self-proclaiming myself as empathetic. However, it was not until I had the literal opportunity to take a quite a few steps in another’s shoes that I came to realize what it actually takes to accomplish this task. I was tempted many times to invest in a new pair of my own, but felt the Camino had given me this test for a reason. I wanted to know what it felt like to put myself in this woman’s shoes and walk her journey as part of my own. In her shoes I experienced different obstacles than I would have faced if wearing mine. I actually came to find out that I had a stress fracture in my right foot from wearing shoes that did not support my feet properly. I also ended up with quite a few rocks and blisters on my worn out feet. Although these physical issues were encountered, I believe this is a metaphor for the problems we face in life.

Often we are so caught up in our own issues, and think that our problems are enormous, but If we were asked to throw our difficulties in a pile most of us would grab our own back in an instant. Perhaps because we are better equipped to handle the problems we know, or maybe there is another reason I have not discovered yet. Whatever the case may be; it is important to take a risk in life and see what its like to face other’s problems. Only then can we have true empathy for those around us, as well as gain a new perspective on our own issues.

Now that I have returned home from my Camino and have had time to reflect on my time there I have an even deeper appreciation for the journey. While there it is easy to get caught up in the moment; which is important to the entire learning experience. I have learned many things from my time on the Camino, including knowledge that we truly do not need much to survive, we are capable of much more than we could imagine, and perhaps most of all that traveling and experiencing things first hand is the most intense and best form of learning. The lessons a pilgrim finds along the Camino are what they will carry back into their lives after the journey ends. Those lessons will not only benefit the pilgrim herself, but all those she touches in life. In this way one can see that the Camino has an immeasurable impact upon this world. The Camino is a small version of the big picture of life. In it we can see what is truly important and take those gifts with us afterwards so we can share them with all those we encounter.IMG_7128

I hope that by sharing this story my experience will help others learn. If life gives you the opportunity to figuratively or even literally take a walk in another’s shoes I suggest you try it. You’ll be surprised not only what you discover about the other person, but also about yourself.