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Tori Olson: CHAARG Changed My Mental Health

While many girls join CHAARG for similar reason [find the fun in fitness, learn a workout routine, develop healthier habits, + become a part of a community], their journey stories are all unique + empowering.

This Q + A post features Tori’s #ChangedByCHAARG story + more about her journey!

Meet Tori Olson

University:

University of Toledo — join #UTCHAARG here!

Major:

Psychology with counseling minor!

One Word To Describe You:

Ambitious

Reason I Joined CHAARG:

My fitness journey started with practicing yoga to help with my anxiety, PTSD, + depression. I saw CHAARG on Instagram + decided to try it out because I did not know how to workout ++  I found that it really has helped my mental health : )

Favorite CHAARG Memory:

Probably the CHAARG Tour because I met so many amazing women + got to meet my role models : )

#inCHAARG Instagram Crush:

I don’t know if it can be someone outside of CHAARG, but if I can do that, probably @hannahbower2. Hannah is possibly one of my favorite Instagram fitness trainer because she knows her stuff when it comes to exercising [she’s certified] + she’s real about everything in her life! Inside CHAARG, @lexgarv_inchaarg. I met her at the CHAARG Tour + she’s absolutely amazing + *so* inspirational!

Philosophy On Wellness:

Everyone starts somewhere. Start with something that’s comfortable + don’t feel bad if you look around the gym ++ see people doing intense workouts or lifting heavy weights. There’s always room to grow : )

Favorite Self-Care Practice:

Netflix with my phone on silent or off + maybe a face mask or something skin routine related

2019 Intention:

This was my intention that I thought of last November, but I never really practiced it. I’ve focused more on myself this year than I think I have ever before. I got back into counseling, went out with friends guilt free, + said “no” when I knew my body wasn’t up for going out or being around people.

Ideal Morning Routine:

Sleeping in, snuggling with my puppy, + actually making myself look presentable.

Book Every CHAARG Girl Should Read:

“Becoming” by Michelle Obama. Even if you don’t like the Obamas, I highly recommend reading it because Mrs. Obama is a badass woman + her story of how she got to where she is now is really inspiring. Grab it here!

Greatest Lesson On College:

Don’t be scared if you grow at a different rate than your friends or other people you know. Everyone grows at different times especially when you and your friends have various goals, desires, + interests that expand during your time in college.

Advice To Your Freshman Self:

It gets better. It doesn’t seem like that now, but wait a year/year + a half + life will only go up from there.

Being #inCHAARG To Me Means:

Being #inCHAARG is taking control [or some control] of my life in the physical, mental, + emotional aspects. It means trying new activities + getting out of my comfort zone like when I applied + became a part of the UT Exec Team. Being #inCHAARG means living life to the fullest.

How have you been Changed By CHAARG?

CHAARG has changed how I look at myself + honestly my life in such a positive way. I have found some of my best friends through CHAARG + I have become a better person because of these uplifting women.

Learn more about your CHAARG Chapter here + grab your membership here! <3

CHAARG’s Guide To Ojai

Ojai [pronounced — oh hi!] would be my favorite weekend escape… if I lived in California ; ). It was truly magical — all the healing + holistic vibes, PLUS lots of wine + cute boutiques. This is a perfect place to visit for a solo vacation or girls trip! I went with my friend Melissa, + while I could spend a week here, 48 hours was also perfect!

Pro Tip — If you are traveling from LA/LAX, take the 1 to the 101 to the 33 [thanks Jackie]… it’s so much prettier than just the 101. Plus! It was strawberry season, so there were tons of strawberry stands on the highways… aaaahmazing. ++ stop at Erewhon, because it is truly my grocery store heaven.

Coffee + Cafes

1] Revel Kombucha Bar + Acai Bowls: While this place has incredible kombucha [+ the acai bowls looked bowl], you absolutely need to get the nitro coffee with a scoop of coconut ice cream, yes please. It transported me back to Vietnam.

2] Food Harmonics: I wish I had lunch here, but only had time to grab a chai + dessert. All of their drinks + desserts are to die for, you can’t go wrong.

3] Sage Mindful Meals + Elixers: Again! Another place I wish I had gotten food at [not enough meals for 3 days!]. Get a tonic + elixir here for sure, + it’s right next door to the cutest crystal [+ dog, lol] shop.

For Next Time: Coffee Connection, TRUBLEND [juices + smoothies]

Restaurants

1] Hip Vegan: So hip they basically have a non-existant website, aha. Get the AVOCADO TOAST. Truly the best avo toast of my life, no joke. ++ the green ginger smoothie!

2] The NestThis restaurant was hyped up… but it wasn’t a “must” — it’s good for a fast + casual, yet healthy meal. I loved the crispy brussels.

3] Ojai RotieCurrently, it opens at 5PM until the food runs out… so, make sure you get an early dinner here! I was obsessed. Quarter chicken with all the side veggies [cauliflower was my fav]+ GET. THE. BREAD.

4] The Farmer + The Cook: Went here for lunch on my way out — ginger shot + veggie burger on spelt bread = #lyfe. Everything looked so good here… another place that I really want to go to for brunch!

5] Westrige Market + Rainbow BridgeGrocery shops for “takeaway” lunchs or dinner… stop here before a hike for some goodies! 🙂

Wine

1] Ojai Valley Inn: If you want to totally splurge, spend the night here… buuuuut if you just want to see what the vibe is all about, definitely get a drink here. You can grab a glass of wine + walk around the property. It’s so beautiful! Definitely an oasis.

2] Tipple + Ramble: Didn’t end up getting wine here [lol], BUT… next time! Looked so good. I did have the mediterranean spread + it was incredible.

3] Topa Mountain Winery: Great wine, great vibes — you can’t go wrong. I usually never like rose, but we ended up getting a bottle here… that good!

For Next Time: Chief’s Peak, Majestic Oak Vineyard, Ojai Vineyard Tasting Room, Noso Vita [also has coffee!]

Shops

1] Bart’s Books: THE. CUTEST. BOOKSTORE. OF. MY. LIFE.

2] KariellaSuper cute boutique for jewelry, bathing suits, clothes, + the like.

3] Elemental Apothecary: Herbs, essential oils, elixirs… thangs like that.

4] Summer Camp: Everything you want, nothing that you need. [Or is it the reverse? ; )]

5] Dharma + Dog: Yes ,this is both a pet store + spiritual shop — into it.

6] deKor + Co: You’ll find $500 dresses here, but hey… they’re gorgeous. Go here for shopping inspo, not so much to purchase anything, lol.

7] Boku: Superfood store… the trailmix is BOMB.

8] Walk down Ojai Ave + Matilija Street: In case I missed anything, these are the main two streets… walk up + down, + pop into whatever speaks to your soul ; ).

Wellness

1] Ecotopia Natural Hot Springs: YES. YES. YES. Make sure you book ahead of time, as it frequently fills up. This is a must! Also, you’ll have no service when you get in the mountains, so make sure you know where you are going ahead of time!

2] HIKE! This is a no brainer. There are many different trailheads — we did the Shelf Road Trailhead. It is stuuuuuning.

3] Ojai Yoga Shala: If you want to get a yoga class in, this is a great place to check out [although there were many studios!]. This studio is right next to Hip Vegan though which makes it an easy decision ; ).

4] Ojai Farmer’s MarketEvery Sunday from 9am — 1pm. You gotta go, enough said.

5] Pepper Tree Resort: This was the home of Krishnamurti, an Indian philsopher + mystic — check out his library + walk the grounds. After visiting, I’m inspired to read his books.

6] Intuitive Ojai: If you’re into the woo woo, you need to get a reading in Ojai! I’m sure there are tons of incredible people to choose from, but I really liked Carrie. Melissa chose the psychic reading + I received the body wisdom healing. Pro tip: record it! I wish I had! Even though I trust that… “I will remember what I need to hear.”

For Next Time: Light + Space, Earthtonics [for a facial], Healing In America

Stay: YOU MUST STAY AT THIS AIRBNB. SHE IS A FRENCH BULLDOG BREEDER, OH MY GOSH. Literally, incredible. There were 10 puppies when we stayed there + it was a BLAST.

10000% coming back to Ojai. Already excited to bring my mom/Isaac here [on separate trips, aha].

Check out my instagram highlights “Ojai” for more at @etavierne.

What I Learned After 100 Hours Of Meditation In 10 Days, Aka Vipassana

The moment you guys have been waiting for! Drum roll please + thank you ; ) If you are reading this + not quite sure what I’m talking about: this is my last post on a series sharing my experience at Vipassana, a 10 day silent meditation retreat. Links below!

It’s been exactly one month since Vipassana ended. In a way, it feels like a far removed dream. I had been talking about going on Vipassana for so long, + when it finally happened, I didn’t have the experience I expected… so my mind is a little bit like, “did that actually happen?”

Here’s what I expected my experience to look like [based on journeys from people I know]: tons of memories from childhood, childhood traumas released, flashes of profound insight, the hardest thing that I’ve ever done but the most rewarding.

To my surprise, I had zero memories from my childhood [I realized what an incredible, privileged childhood I had] + the overarching takeaway from the 10 days: It’s okay to be okay.

It sounds so weird, but I had [have!] such a hard time coming to terms with this.

After watching Brene Brown: Call To Courage, this feeling “it’s okay to be okay” sunk into me even more. She talks about feeling joy, + how it’s the most vulnerable emotion we experience in our lives.

“We are terrified to feel joy. So often we’re afraid to be grateful for what we have, especially in front of people who’ve gone through great trauma + loss because we think it’s insensitive.”

So many people experience great suffering. My heartaches + pain seem so small compared to the traumas of others I know, not to mention those I read about in books/see on the news. I don’t belittle any one else’s suffering, why am I belittling mine?

A follow up thought to it’s okay to be okay was: while you may have not experienced the *flavor of suffering* [this is a Tony Robbins term] as others, doesn’t mean you can’t help + show up with love. Be a good, loving person! It’s as simple as that. ++ be grateful for what you have — you’re on the path, stay on the path.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to — I desire [yet am terrified] to be fully seen. I believe most humans are. I must remember: “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

Other things I learned//takeaways…

1] Many of you know my left shoulder has been in chronic pain for years. I talked with a Medium about it, + even she could easily tell by my aura that it had to do with stuck traumas + was undergoing healing. My only *flash* of insight that I had was on the fourth day: I discovered the root of my shoulder pain [it has to do with expectations]. Crazy enough, it has been feeling much looser.

2] More meditation, always! I want to sit 30–45 minutes every morning.

3] Use lovingkindness meditations to improve relationships.

4] Move s l o w e r — this is always a takeaway I have after retreats. In this world that glorifies busy it’s so hard to implement. This was a quote on my tea bag during Vipassana that I loved: Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.

5] Wedding ideas [lol]. I’ve never been the girl with the Pinterest board that knows exactly what she wants for her wedding. On one of the later days, when I was extremely bored doing the body scans… I was like, “Eff it, I want to think about something!” So, that’s what I did ; ). [PSA, no I’m not engaged.]

6] Really enjoyed the *simple* things [probably because it was the only thing other than meditation + eating that I could do] — loved flossing, tongue scraping, making my bed, seeing how slow I could walk. I will say… I’ve made my bed every day since Vipassana! Flossing… not so much.

7] I want to do a yoga/meditation retreat with my mom.

8] One of Goenka’s stories that I loved portrayed how much we all care about *my + I* — “A friend’s expensive watch falls on the ground + breaks, we say aweee that’s a bummer. Our expensive watch falls on the ground + breaks, we get extremely upset… maybe even cry! It’s the exact same watch! Why different reactions? Because we care so much about the my — my watch. We are so attached to our possessions.” Yikes.

9] Take a silent day [or weekend!] every season to #rechaarg. Including journaling, writing, + reading though ; )

10] I don’t need to accept someone’s “anger” present. If someone’s angry/frustrated/etc, + takes it out on me… it’s easy to marinate on their words + allow it to be trapped in my mind for awhile. Instead: stay calm, + don’t take their negative energy personally!

11] Look up meditation groups in Chicago, or start my own with friends.

12] Loved, loved, loved the technology silence. I didn’t think about my phone at all during the 10 days… which I was shocked by! A few days after getting home, I kept the *technology silence* going + was barely on my phone/instagram. It was so, so nice. I must admit, I’m back to my typical habits. This is another reminder to myself to let go of the addiction.

It’s crazy to think that after 100 hours of meditation [okay, more like 75 if you read *my schedule* — BUT STILL. A LOT OF HOURS!], I really only had a handful of takeaways, right? That’s why I was discouraged after Vipassana… I wanted tons of groundbreaking insights! But the funny thing that I’m starting to realize: Life is pretty simple. We are the ones that complicate it so much.

Less striving, more living… more loving!

Rooting for you,

Vipassana, 10 Day Silent Meditation Retreat: The Schedule vs My Schedule

*Note — this may be a little controversial ; ). I don’t recommend reading it if you like to follow the rules to a T. ALSO! Don’t read this if you are planning on doing Vipassana + want to go in with no expectations.

Vipassana Intro!

Vipassana Part One: Packing List

Let’s begin with the “official” Vipassana schedule:

Meditation: Yes, that comes out to 10 hours + 45 minutes of meditation… every single day. The first day, you strictly focus on your inhale + exhale. Each “teacher’s discourse” you learn a new step to the technique, eventually learning Vipassana on Day 4.

Dinner: You are looking at the schedule correctly… there is no dinner :). You get fruit [apple, banana, + orange] ++ tea during “dinner time hours.” I would also down a couple glasses of soy milk for protein/calories. You get used to it [kind of]. Nevertheless, I’d wake up starving + so excited for breakfast [if you’re dying to know: oatmeal, dates, cereal, toast, apple, banana, + orange ; )].

Rest + Interviews: The “interviews” with teachers were optional, + if you chose to sign up for it, you can 10 minutes with the teacher. The rest of the break time, you could walk, sleep, shower… or meditate some more if you wanted to, aha.

Teacher’s Discourse: This was probably my favorite part. Goenka is wise + hilarious. Before the retreat, my friend Cat said: “I can’t wait to have Vipassana inside jokes with you.” Now I totally get it. Every “old student” has access to the discourses online, so I’m excited to eventually watch them again.

Don’t Forget: It’s 10 days of no talking, no phone, no reading, no journaling, no looking at others, no killing spiders [lol, but really], no yoga pants.

My Schedule:

If you’ve even meditated for 20 minutes, you may be able to BARELY imagine how extremely difficult it would be to meditate for 60 minutes… 10x a day. I think I would have had an easier time if Vipassana was “visualization” meditation, but it’s not: Vipassana is only about present moment awareness, so you are told to only focus on either the breath or specifc parts of your body — depending on what day it is.

I can’t even put into words how sloooooooow the day would go… how sloooooooow even an HOUR would go. I felt like one day was 10 days. + 10 days was at least one month. It was crazy. Being present really does extend the days! Not always a good thing if you aren’t loving what you are doing ; ). However, Vipassana is about practicing equanimity — no craving or aversion… letting every thought [“I’m bored, this is uncomfortable, how many more hours until we can eat again…”] pass… as well as not getting attached to pleasant bodily sensations as well.

I made it through Day 5 keeping the schedule. I was doing fine — part of me laughing through this experience, part of me thinking it wasn’t too bad, part of me BORED AS HECK, part of me exhausted. I really wanted to sleep in. I decided to give myself a “treat” + allowed myself to sleep during the Day 6 4:30 AM meditation… + then it was downhill [or uphill ; )] from there. I ended up sleeping through every 4:30 AM meditation after that day because it felt SO GOOD to sleep in + my body needed it. I asked myself… “What would it look like if I listened to my body? What does my body need?” Hilariously enough, a couple of my roommates followed suit.

Day 6–10, this is what my schedule looked like:

  • 4 AM — hear the gongs, sleep in until 6:30 AM.
  • 630 AM — breakfast + walk… around the dorm + in the parking lot. Literally, the walking path was .15, I’m not even kidding. I don’t recommend going to Wisconsin strictly for that reason. It felt like we were truly in a prison, confined to a tiny parking lot to walk. It was crazy!
  • 8–9 AM — meditation in hall, this was actually my favorite time to meditate.
  • 9–11 AM — meditate for 45 minutes in the hall… + then I’d go back to my room + do static yoga postures. I needed to get into my body.
  • 11–12 PM — lunch, by far the best meal. It was always exciting to see what was on the table. A couple days we even go a cookie + hersey kiss for dessert ; ). Also walked after lunch, in the parking lot!
  • 1–230 PM — I would typically nap during this time. ++ meditate for 30 minutes somewhere during this chunk on my own.
  • 230–330 PM — meditation in hall.
  • 330–5 PM — meditate for 30–45 minutes in the hall… + again, back to my room! I brought a lacrosse ball, so I’d alternated between foam rolling + staring out the window.
  • 4–6 PM — tea time + walk, walk, walk.
  • 7–815 PM — discourse, the best part.
  • 815–9 PM — meditation in hall
  • 9 PM — shower + PASS THE EFF OUT.

I should mention: every time I’d see Isaac, I’d say hi with my eyes [sometimes lip talk to him… ++ make sure he was okay, aha]. It was so so comforting to see him every day.

On the 8th day, during my “yoga time” [lol], my roommate was also in the room [about to do yoga] + she said: “Do you want a piece of gum?” At first I was shocked to hear a voice, + then I said, “YES!” As soon as I starting chewing on the gum, I started hysterically laughing, “This tastes sooooooo good.” That led to an hour conversation about our lives + it was SO REFRESHING. Once we broke the silence, we couldn’t stop sharing. Every chance we got, we went to our rooms to hang out + whisper. Another one of our roommates joined in pretty quickly after.

Writing this out, I sound like a horrible Vipassana meditator + if I am being honest: I really don’t want to share this. I’d rather keep my “schedule” to myself + pretend that I meditated 10.5 hours every day. But, this is my experience! One of my favorite definitions of meditation is: “doing one thing at a time.” That’s it! I will say that I did absolutely that during Vipassana — whether it was eating, walking, meditating, doing my stretches… I was totally immersed… + THAT to me is totally a win.

~Namaste~

What I Do With My “Used” Journals

I posted on instagram story yesterday about how I filled up my entire journal + how SATISFYING it was. Ashleigh [@busybee.inthecity] asked: “What do you do with your finished journals.” + that prompted this post ; ).

I’ve been writing in journals since kindergarten [no joke, + it’s the funniest thing to read ever], yet I’ve probably only filled up a handful of journals in my lifetime.

It’s typical for me to stop halfway through, + buy a new journal… for a variety of reasons, example: “Awe, this journal is so pretty! I’m so inspired by this journal! I need to buy it!” + then I would ditch my old journal. Thus, I have MANY half finished journals on my bookshelf.

In the past 2 years, I’ve cut my spending way down on material goods [I still spend way too much on groceries + skincare, but that’s a story for another time], + gotten rid of a TON of items in my apartment. I was inspired by The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up.

Ironically, around the same time, I started a journaling process that helped me finish journals entirely ; ), as well as create a space for what I wanted to remember from all of my writings.

So, the short answer to: “What do you do with your finished journals?” I throw them out. But, first: they go through my a little clearing process. + that’s what I want to share with you today!

My Messy, Yet Organized Journaling Process:

Step One: I use two journals. One is my “daily journal”. The other is my “year of X journal”.

Step Two: At the beginning of my “year of X journal”, ie — 2019 journal, I write down activities that I want to do [or things that I want to create] in the BACK of the book. I also keep a list of books that I read that year on the back cover. It’s almost like a brain dump of ideas. I’ll look at it every so often, + once I’ve done an activity [like Vipassana!], I’ll cross it off.

Step Three: Monthly intentions. On the first of every month, I write out my intentions for the month in my 2019 journal — including personal + career intentions. Here’s an example from 2017. I was really specific, aha… this year, trying to be way more in the flow + be as simple as possible in my intentions. Example… my April intentions are:

  • Increase my iron… take yellow doc daily, + do additional research on iron levels
  • 30/45 min morning meditation, + ask a question to my subconscious at night
  • Conscious consumption… what does this mean to me?
  • Make more space for God
  • Finish all the prep work for Bootycamp!

Step Four: Write in my daily journal… every day! I don’t have a specific process for journaling. It’s my to do list, diary, workout planner, a place I write down quotes, etc.

Step Five: Every month, I do a “month in review” in my 2019 journal. This looks like: Reviewing my intentions, + journaling on how they went, ++ freewriting about my month. THEN, I look through my daily journal + transfer anything that resonated from that month into my 2019 journal. This could be quotes, self-discoveries, growth lessons, etc.

Step Six: Once my daily journal is completely filled up, I throw it out! However, I do save the “year of X journals” — this is my third year doing this, + it’s truly amazing to see the growth + change within the seeming “short” amount of time.

Do you have any journaling practices that you love? I’d love to hear them! If you’re inspired by this, try it out + let me know how it goes.

Rooting for you always,

Vipassana, 10 Day Silent Meditation Retreat: Packing List

Re: This is Part One in my Vipassana Series — intro here!

If you’re reading this… it means you are thinking about going on Vipassana ; ) — with nothing to do but meditate for 10+ hours every day, it’s essential that you have a killer packing list. Not joking. Here’s probably the most specific [+ the most extra] packing list for Vipassana you’ll ever find >>

Apparel

  • You can’t wear anything tight [RIP yoga pants], so I lived in my joggers + flowy pants
  • Layers are really important, as you’ll notice your body temperature will change through the meditation session— comfy tees, sweatshirts, scarfs, WARM SOCKS
  • 5 outfits are more than enough, but you can even get by with even less sure [ex — Isaac wore the same sweatpants every day, lol]
  • I wore bralettes rather than sports bra… seriously, make yourself as comfy + cozy as possible… most of my sports bras are way too tight, lol
  • Shoes: rain boots, tennis shoes, flip flops [for the shower] — I also brought slippers, but I didn’t use them

Toiletries

  • I went overboard here… + I’m so glad I did. I used this time to really soak up my skincare routine
  • Face masks, all of my skincare products, good lip balm [I love Cowshed’s Lippy Cow], face towel
  • Tongue scraper, floss, toothbrush, toothpaste… I LIVED for tongue scraping + flossing… literally did it three times a day. Have I done it even once since I’ve been back? Nope, lol
  • Dry brush, shampoo + conditioner, luxurious body creme, towel [you aren’t supposed to bring anything scented — but mine had natural scents]
  • CBD Lotion + Tiger Balm — I only brought a tiny bit of CBD, + I so wish I had more. My body was so achey the first five days especially.
  • Lacrosse Ball… for all the knots!

Sleep

  • I brought melatonin, but I never had to use it… a lot of people mentioned not being able to sleep at night, but I slept through the night, just had a ton of crazy dreams
  • Eye mask, lavender essential oil, Sleepy
  • Alarm Clock *never used — I could easily hear the gongs
  • Ear Plugs *never used… luckily my roommates didn’t snore ; )
  • Pillow, bed sheets, comforter, blanket… I was freezing at night, so I’m glad I brought what I did [they give you a pillow + light comforter, see photo]
  • SILKY PJS

Other Things

  • Massive thermos for tea
  • Water bottle
  • Nuun + Emergen-C
  • BRING YOUR OWN TEA PACKETS if you’re a tea snob [like me ; )] — I wish I did
  • Gum… oh my gosh — a girl gave me a piece of gum on the 8th day + I literally started laughing so hard, it tasted SO GOOD. So bring a pack of gum + treat yourself ; )
  • Aleeve/Advil if you are a coffee addict… the coffee is instant coffee, so I doubt you’ll want any. This means you will probably get caffeine headaches. Start decreasing caffeine prior to Vipassana!
  • Donation! I read that the standard is $100–500, but it’s totally up to you. You also don’t need to donate while you are there — I waited until I got home from the trip

As A Note

  • Obviously, you can’t bring journals, pens, reading material, your own food, phone, computer, etc. It might be tempting to hide it in your backpack — but don’t do it. Allow yourself to fully receive what the retreat center has to offer. Even though I mentioned tea, gum, + nuun — if you want to go all in, don’t even bring those items. Heck, don’t even bring face masks. I’m just sharing what my packing list would look like if I were to [ever] do it again!
  • Bring things that remind you of your loved ones/things that are important to you… example: I wore my Papa’s flannel, CHAARG Tee, + tee that reminds me of adventures in nature, ++ slept in Isaac’s comforter
  • If you forget something, the center will most likely have it — they had tons of baggy clothes, rain boots, hair dryer, alarm clocks, toiletries, etc

Have any questions? Let me know!

Rooting for you,

My Trip On 10 Days Of Silence At A Vipassana Meditation Retreat

Oh man. Where to begin? Maybe the “why” would be a could place to start. : )

Immediately, when I would tell people that I was going on a 10 Day Silent Retreat, their reaction was: “WHAT? WHY!” + then most said: “I could never do that.” Honestly, that was one of the reasons I wanted to go on Vipassana… to prove to myself that I could do it [hello ego!] + check it off on my spiritual bucket list [lol, I don’t have this… but if I did, Vipassana would have been on there].

I’ve also had so many friends who have gone on it before who raved about it, + said it was one of their best experiences. I even have a few podcasts episodes where we talk a ton on Vipassana — here + here + here.

In 2018, I knew 2019 was going to be the year I experienced Vipassana… + so I signed up with Isaac for a retreat in Wisconsin in March. Really didn’t think too much of it until the day of the retreat on our 5 hour drive up there…

Half through our drive, I started getting butterflies: “Are you getting nervous?” “Yes.” Even if we wanted to turn around, we couldn’t — we were carpooling with someone we had just met. Deep breaths. Embrace the butterflies.

I read a ton of blog posts prior about people’s Vipassana experience. It’s not recommended to do that, since you’ll create expectations… but hey, I’m a curious girl. I remember one review said: “It wasn’t the most transformative experience I’ve ever had, but it wasn’t the hardest experience I’ve ever had.” + I remember thinking: “Awe, that’s a bummer. 10 days of silence for not THE BEST (or THE WORST) experience?!” Ironically, that’s how I felt after coming out of the retreat… leaning even more on the: *Did I experience this correctly? I feel like I didn’t release any traumas?*

Part of me wants to keep my experience fully to myself, but at the same time… I’m a writer at heart + there’s SO MUCH CONTENT here. Plus so many of you have asked me already to share —I’m going to make it a three part series:

#1] The Packing List

#2] The Schedule ; )

#3] My Experience + Takeaways

To give you a sneak peek into my experience, even though I didn’t come out of Vipassana saying: “EVERYONE NEEDS TO DO THIS! THIS IS AMAZING!” [which I thought would be the case] — I did leave feeling inspired to further my meditation practice to 30 minutes + 20 minutes a day, have so much more awareness on my reactions, + created a stillness inside that I want to continue to foster. It was unbelievable to not have my phone for 10 days, + I want to integrate way less phone time in my daily life, while still maintaining a social media presence. Also, I have so much focus!

More to come in future posts… just wanted to say: I’m alive! + I’m SO HAPPY to be out of “meditation prison” ; ).

Love to you all + thank you to everyone who prayed for me during the retreat!

CHAARG Book Club: First, We Make The Beast Beautiful

My mom actually recommended First, We Make The Beast Beautiful by Sarah Wilson to me about a year ago after reading a review on the book that said it was a refreshing take on destigmatizing mental illness, specifically anxiety. As someone who faces generalized anxiety disorder, I was super interested + grabbed a copy immediately.

I won’t lie, this book took me nearly a year to read. I took a long pause in the middle of the memoir because it seemed to actually trigger my anxiety, which makes sense with the author’s random, somewhat chaotic writing style. On top of that, the book gave me more “anxiety about having anxiety” – those who are challenged with anxiety often experience anxiety about having anxiety [it’s a vicious cycle].

You’re probably wondering – why did you pick it back up? Well, 1] I was in a better mental space, 2] despite the first half triggering anxiety, I was actually enjoying the read + it was offering a significantly different perspective on anxiety than most of the *self-help* type books that I dive into + don’t find useful to my particular journey, + 3] I needed to find out more about this metaphor to make my own beast beautiful… + find out what this meant ; ).

I am so glad that I ended up completing it. For those who are challenged with anxiety + don’t love traditional *self-help* books or if you resonate with more research based writing, this book is for you. OR — if someone you love suffers from anxiety, this book is an incredible resource to help you better understand them. I truly do think that this book is helpful on so many different levels, even if you have to take a short break in the middle of reading it.

Below are my three largest takeaways + a few discussion//journaling prompts inspired by the book —

TAKEAWAYS

1] We’re not alone in our experiences — Mental illness can seem extremely isolating + this book helped me realize that I am not alone in facing anxiety. Not only is it filled with the hard facts about how many people face challenges with anxiety [aka one in thirteen people across the globe], but Wilson also shares her own personal experiences with mental illness as well as collections of other anxiety sufferers’ opinions, anecdotes, + advice. From how others explain what mental illness “feels like” to stories about how to explain mental illness to your loved ones.

2] Shifting your perspective can help you heal — the entire theme of this book is to learn to “make your beast beautiful.” Mental illness really can be seen as a beast that we work with + experience every, single day. Sarah Wilson explores the idea of making the beast beautiful/shifting your perspective rather than trying to bring down the beast. The reality is that mental illness may never be completely cured, but in the meantime, we can shift our perspective to see it as useful, a part of us, a “cute” little habit, etc. — anything that resonated with you! There are also plenty of tidbits that help you shift your perspective throughout the book.

One of my favorite examples was a study run by Dian Fossey on a tribe of gorillas. She discovered that a couple of gorillas in the group actually had anxiety disorders. As a part of her research, she removed the anxiety-ridden gorillas from the group… a couple of months later, the entire group had not survived. Her research shows that anxious individuals are necessary for survival in the group to sense danger early on, find food, etc. Of course, this isn’t what our current day requires, HOWEVER, there are still advantages to have someone anxious as part of your group or team!

3] You control your environment — There are practical ways to cope with anxiety that don’t include endless amounts of meditation, journaling, or even finding a cure for it. From finding your “non-negotiables” [more on that below] to tailoring your spaces + schedule for your anxiety. Ultimately, it’s up to you to control your environment to make yourself as comfortable – mentally + physically – as possible! If you’re hot, you would turn on a fan, right? Anxiety should be no different. If you’re living in mental discomfort, choose to make a change in your environment to ease the way you’re living. For me, this means routine, getting enough sleep, + making plenty of time to wind down before bed.

REFLECTION

1] What is a beast, or challenge, that you’re currently facing that you could change your perspective on + see from a different angle?

2] The book talks about the history of anxiety + how anxious people are actually necessary as a part of society [see the gorilla example above!] – when is a time that your anxiety was useful?

3] Flip the switch – many of the symptoms of anxiety mimic those of excitement [butterflies in your stomach, racing heartbeat, etc.]. When is a time when you thought you were anxious, but it could have also been viewed as excitement?

4] This book does not end with Wilson overcoming her mental illness + living happily ever after. She still experiences plenty of anxiety, but she has learned to live with it. What are 3 things you can do daily to cope with anxiety?

5] In the book, Wilson talks about “non-negotiables” aka things that ease your anxiety/mental illness that cannot go undone. These could include things like exercise, sleep, meditation, etc. + can also include more particular things like showering before bed. What are your non-negotiables?

Again, I highly recommend this book to anyone who either a] suffers from anxiety/mental illness or b] genuinely wants to know more about mental illness. There are so many stories + tidbits that anyone can take away to improve their own mental health + shift your perspective.

Nandi Janay Sparrock: The First Time Someone Believed In Me

While many girls join CHAARG for similar reason [find the fun in fitness, learn a workout routine, develop healthier habits, + become a part of a community], their journey stories are all unique + empowering.

This Q + A post features Nandi’s #ChangedByCHAARG story + more about her journey!

Meet Nandi Janay Sparrock

University:

University of Missouri — join #MizzouCHAARG here!

Major:

Spanish + French with a minor in textile + apparel management

One Word To Describe You:

Adventurous, I’m a traveler at heart, + I love trying new things. I get bored easily, so I’m always looking to step out of my comfort zone!

Reason I Joined CHAARG:

I love fitness + I love celebrating women, + CHAARG is an organization I can do both 🙂

Favorite CHAARG Memory:

A studio spotlight with API Fitness! It was a really hard work, I mean REALLY HARD! It was our second Weekly Workout on campus, like ever, + the energy was amazing. So many girls who knew nothing about each other, so fully supporting each other through this workout! It brought me to near tears towards the end, because I saw the power of women encouraging women! By the end of the workout, there was so much love + pride in the room, because we were all dying during the workout, but we didn’t give up, our bodies showed us how strong we were, + we did it together!

#inCHAARG Instagram Crush:

@mak.inchaarg! She’s such a sweetheart + so real too! I love how open she is + how kind she is with her body, I feel like that sort of genuineness is rare on social media today!

Philosophy On Wellness:

Listen to your body, don’t overthink it!

Favorite Self-Care Practice:

Trail running, something about releasing all your stress + energy into the Earth, as it pushes back what it has to give to you. Real nice sensation in the feet : )

2019 Intention:

2018 was the year of finding myself, 2019 is the year of owning my truth, cause it’s one thing to know who you are, + another to fearlessly show it!

Ideal Morning Routine:

Meditation, Trail Run, Toast, Tea : )

Book Every CHAARG Girl Should Read:

I don’t read a lot in my free-time, but the most recent book I finished was “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Maya Angelou, + it was pretty good!

Greatest Lesson On College:

Don’t be afraid to fail, just learn from it! I’ve taken soooo many L’s in college, L’s in school, my personal life, with boys, you name it! My anxiety will really get the best of me when I fail too, but I’ve learned to learn from my mistakes, instead of obsessing over the fact I failed. Sometimes it’ll take a few good failures before a success really sticks, but you just learn how to get up. You gotta respect yourself enough to get back up, never give up yourself, you’re capable of so much more than you think : )

Advice To Your Freshman Self:

Go to class lol, like really, don’t skip.

Being #inCHAARG To Me Means:

Independence, mentally, physically + emotionally. I feel like this is so under-rated, especially when it comes to things like being educated, etc. You gotta be able to think for yourself, so many women aren’t given that luxury. When you can be fully independent, that means the people + things you have in your life are there because you want them there, not because you need them. Independence gives you the ability to let go of those people/things that are toxic in your life in order to become the best version of yourself. It allows you to make choices based off of what is best for you, not what is kinda good for you, in order to accommodate someone else staying. That’s not to say you can ask for help when you need it, or lean on people when you need to. Sometimes life gets hard + that extra shoulder is really appreciated, but when you’re independent, you never have to compromise your self-respect/worth, to keep someone who’s no good from leaving your life. I think that is so important.

How have you been Changed By CHAARG?

I’ve always been self-conscious + second guessed myself. When I applied to be a founding ambassador for Mizzou, I really didn’t think I’d be good enough to do it! I’d call my mom crying all the time because despite the 10s of hours I’d put in, and my dedication to the organization, I really thought I wasn’t good enough. Getting the Ambassador position for me was life changing not because it proved to me that I was good enough, but it inspired me to start giving more love to myself.

All my life, I was letting other people make decisions for me + expecting them to determine my worth, when in reality I was the only person that should’ve been doing that for myself. Becoming ambassador was an eye opening experience for me because in my head something just clicked! I thought “If this group of incredible women think I’m good enough to found a chapter, if they see my worth, then maybe it’s time for me to start seeing it myself.” I’m forever grateful for CHAARG because it has given me the courage to find myself and love myself, flaws and all! Going into the adult world soon, now when I face a challenge or fear, no matter how big, I always face it head on, and tell myself “I’m good enough.” I’m so thankful for that!

Learn more about your CHAARG Chapter here + grab your membership here! <3

What to Expect During your First Therapy Session

Attending your first therapy appointment can be intimidating + scary, and there are a lot of misconceptions about what happens in a first therapy appointment. These nerves are completely understandable, because often people explore topics in therapy that are deeply personal + can be difficult to talk about, especially to someone that is a stranger at first!

I currently work as a therapist in training, + have had a handful of first intake therapy appointments with clients. Here are a few things to expect:

#1] Paperwork – It is common there will be some type of paperwork involved to collect demographic + insurance information, as well as fees for services + HIPPA information. Do not hesitate to ask any questions about this paperwork! An important piece often includes a confidentiality agreement; meaning whatever is said during therapy sessions remain confidential aside from circumstances of anyone being in harm [plan to harm yourself or harm someone else]. Find more about this here!

#2] Helicopter Flyover – This is the term I use to describe an initial session. It is a brief flyover of your life; the initial session is an opportunity for your therapist to get to know you + for *you* to get to know your therapist. You can expect questions like the following:

  • Where are you from?
  • Can you tell me about your family?
  • What is your past medical history?
  • What is your relationship history?
  • Have you seen a therapist before?
  • What do you like to do for self-care?

Not too bad, right? : ) Also, you may not vibe with your therapist right away. I encourage you to give it a few more sessions before you decide to try a different therapist. Therapists understand that not everyone is a fit for them + this is part of the process!

#3] Goals Of Therapy – Your therapist will ask what is bringing you into therapy at this current time. This question will help your therapist guide future sessions + understand what your goals of therapy may be. You do not have to talk about anything in therapy that you are not comfortable with! You can mention that you are coming in for a certain reason, but you are not ready to provide any details. That is okay! The therapist will let you guide the pace of your healing journey. You can expect questions like the following:

  • What is bringing you into therapy at this time?
  • Do you feel that anything is off in your life?
  • Are you experiencing any symptoms?
  • What are you hoping to gain from therapy?

#4] Overview Of Therapy – You can expect to learn, understand + ask about how the process of therapy will work. Not much can be done in one session, therapy can take multiple sessions + lots of time. Therefore, during your initial session you can start to understand what this will look like [aka how long the sessions will be, how many sessions a week, etc.]. In addition, every therapist has a specific style they practice from — you can ask your therapist to describe their *therapeutic style* to learn more about them as a therapist!

#5] Non-Judgment Safe Space – Therapy is a space where you can sit with someone, completely non-bias to your life, + have them listen to your story whole heartedly. You can expect to have a therapist who will accept you for exactly who you are! If you do not feel this non-judgmental acceptance for any reason, this therapist may not be for you + that is okay!

++ Alissa Becker, a therapist in training ; )

My Journey With Mental Health + Hormone Imbalance

I’ll begin by introducing myself. Hello, my name is Aya, I am a Senior Instructor at SoulCycle- you may have taken my class — I’m pretty bubbly + upbeat, wearing a smile or laughing a lot of the time. I can get sassy in class, but it always comes from love. You may know that I love loud music + dancing, that I enjoy life, but what you may not know is that I am living with anxiety + depression.

Anxiety, depression, + other mood disorders look different to everyone + on everyone

I cannot stress this enough. I, like many others, grew up thinking that people with any type of mood disorders were unstable or troubled. This is really not due to any other reason besides not knowing. It wasn’t a conversation that came up in my family or something they taught us about in school in length. The only mental health conversation I remember from school was learning about depression + one of the signs is that someone may say that they want to go to sleep forever- what kid doesn’t? I digress.

I believe there is still a huge area of opportunity for our society to be more open to this conversation of mental health + what we choose to share + teach each other. We have made really great progress but there is still more to do. So, here I am, with an open heart ready to share a bit of my story in hopes that I can reach someone who might be dealing with similar issues not feel like they are alone or that they have to hide. Or maybe to someone else who is curious- this is my attempt to help break the stigma.

My journal with mental illness

I have dealt with anxiety on + off for many years. I suffered from panic attacks when I was 18, + when they stopped I thought it was all over, but probably affected me more than I knew for a long time after that. Let’s fast forward to about a year ago.  I remember a lot of anxious thoughts, mind racing, + many days of feeling sad for no reason. I remember crying on my birthday. I remember feeling really removed from my friends + wanting to be alone because it was easier than being uncomfortable with people. Any social situations I was part of, I was in my head the whole time — my anxiety reaching an all time high around people.

Then, I would go home + my mind would race through all of my interactions + I would become paranoid. This was one of the things that shot a red flag for me. I’ve always been really social + thrive off of being with others. My social behaviors totally changed. When I was alone, it felt safe, but also sad + often times lonely. It was hard for me to show up + do my job a lot of days, which most people would never have been able to guess. I felt phony + irritated that I was feeling this way on the inside + having to show up as this happy, energetic version of myself several times per day. I wasn’t feeling good in my mind or my body + I knew I had to do something about this because it was becoming debilitating.

I tried everything from meditating to journaling, talking with the people closest to me, essential oils— really any remedy you could think of. Nothing made a big enough difference. I listened to podcasts + did some research on my own + one day stumbled upon the topic of hormone imbalance + how it effects women + mood disorders. I made the choice to stop taking birth control [in the form of an IUD] for the first time in over 10 years. Many women in my age range have been on birth control since we were teens, + I read that its a good idea to take breaks from time to time — to allow your body to reset its hormones naturally. While I don’t know for sure whether this was the actual cause of my anxiety increase, I did feel at ease when I went free of birth control. One step toward figuring out what was going on + finding a solution.

After seeing a naturopath + some other doctors, I decided I would give therapy another chance. I had gone to therapy when I was younger, but did not have a connection to my therapist + did not feel like it helped. I “shopped around” by first finding a therapist within my healthcare network, + knew it was at least a starting point. I was then given a recommendation from a friend, + this was the real pivoting point for me.

Every week for a few months, I would go to my appointments, answer questions, + share. It took several appointments to really feel like I could open up + trust, + from then on was when I really began seeing + feeling a difference. I cannot advocate for therapy enough. Regardless of what you are dealing with- I think every single person should have a therapist. There is something really valuable to having an unbiased person to speak to + share with. It was here, with my therapist who acknowledged my anxiety + depression + really listened to what was going on, that has allowed me to process where I am. For the first time in nearly a year, I feel like I have a handle on my mental health.

A work in progress

Please don’t get this confused with completely having my sh*t together- because I definitely don’t. I am one hundred percent a work in progress, I still have bad days where nothing makes sense. What’s different now is my awareness for my thoughts + my emotions. I have tools that I’m using, + everyday is work. I am still experimenting with treatments + figuring out what I need, but I am seeing the benefit of my efforts + I feel really proud. I am proud of standing up for myself + knowing something wasn’t right with how I was feeling + loving myself at least enough to try to do something about it. I sit here in my apartment, worried about what people are going to think of me after reading this article. I’m feeling vulnerable for sharing this much of myself in such an honest way. But this is my journey — it’s the truth + I know there are so many people out there living in shame or silence with different stories + experiences.

I am still + will continue to be a work in progress. I have appointments to test my hormones, have been working with a nutrition coach, going to acupuncture – I have a whole army of help. Here’s the thing — I didn’t do this alone + I couldn’t have. One thing I want anyone reading this to take away, regardless of what you are dealing with, is that you know yourself best. If you know something feels off- say something about it. You have resources, use them! You do not have to suffer. I can say, with confidence today, that I am not suffering from anxiety + depression — I am thriving with it.

Morgan Buckley: Why Not

While many girls join CHAARG for similar reason [find the fun in fitness, learn a workout routine, develop healthier habits, + become a part of a community], their journey stories are all unique + empowering.

This Q + A post features Morgan’s #ChangedByCHAARG story + more about her journey!

Meet Morgan Buckley

University:

Butler University — join #ButlerCHAARG here!

Major:

Health Sciences with Neuroscience + Chemistry Minors

One Word To Describe You:

Courageous

Reason I Joined CHAARG:

To join a community of women who shared similar passions to me

Favorite CHAARG Memory:

My first Weekly Workout as Ambassador — Outside Yoga — where we had the most people show up to an event ever!!

#inCHAARG Instagram Crush:

@allymiller_inchaarg, my Treasurer, makes the best food recipes on her CHAARG insta!

Philosophy On Wellness:

The most important thing is to keep trying!! Trying new foods, trying to get in a workout, trying to be a better person!!

Favorite Self-Care Practice:

Getting my nails done! There is some kind of feeling after getting your nails done, basically the feeling of being so put together nothing in the world can stop you!

2019 Intention:

To always ask “why not?”

Ideal Morning Routine:

Waking up without an alarm [which never happens anymore], taking time to do my makeup + hair while watching How I Met Your Mother, + getting coffee before heading to class or work!

Book Every CHAARG Girl Should Read:

To be honest, I have not had the chance to read a lot of non-academic books recently, but this is a hobby I’d love to get back into.

Greatest Lesson On College:

Be open minded! My opinions + beliefs have been challenged a lot in college, + this is a good thing!! This helped me to become stronger in who I am as a person, + go into all experiences open to any possibility.

Advice To Your Freshman Self:

There is not one correct way to do life! You might have a goal career//life in mind, but there is not one correct way to get there. Focus on doing the things that make you happy +/or make you a better person!

Being #inCHAARG To Me Means:

Being a strong, dedicated, passionate woman in everything I do.

How have you been Changed By CHAARG?

CHAARG improved my leadership skills, encouraged me to strive for overall wellness, + given me confidence in new adventures!

Learn more about your CHAARG Chapter here + grab your membership here! <3