The New Bildungsroman: An Ode to 20-somethings

BirthdayzIn just a few short hours, I will tackle the huge obstacle of accepting 23.  Now I know that for a lot of people, 23 is still very young.  I am not under any impression that I’m getting old and wrinkly or that my life is all down hill from here.  I have always filled the spot as “the young one” in my peer groups, and whenever my older friends complained about their birthdays I’d laugh at them and tell them that they were being ridiculous.  But here I am.

I guess the thing about birthdays is that you can’t stop them from coming.  As much as you drag your heels or make excuses, it’s going to happen.  So why is 23 sticking out so much in my head?  It’s not all that significant- there are no definite new responsibilities that come with being 23, but whenever I thought of 23, I thought of someone who is very much an adult- they’ve got it all figured out and are on their way down their chosen path with a real handle on the whole life thing.  I look around at my fellow 23s and it just ain’t so.  “No Offense.”  The majority of us just aged out of the college lifestyle but are still the low woman on the totem pole in the office.

My only real exposure to an upper-level literature class was Spanish Lit, and although I was focusing more on the language and cultural aspects, I did pick up a few literary terms along the way: e.g. Bildungsroman- the Coming-Of-Age story.  This is a really popular niche for authors because- and I’m making a huge assumption here- being a kid is F*ing hard and makes for an exciting story.  There are so many erratic emotions flowing through these kids as they try to figure out how to have their own mind and what to do with it, yet they face the paradox that they aren’t really allowed to make any of those decisions at all; it’s like growing a new voice that no one can hear.  I get it- I did it and I never want to go back there again.  When I reminisce about not being almost 23, I do not  envision the 15-year-old me. Helllllll no.  Anyway.

So the real definition of Bildungsroman is a literary genre that focuses on the journey from youth to adulthood.  For some reason, a lot of these stories focus on teenagers and their first dabbles with maturity.  It’s a great field guide for kids going through all of those changes, giving them hope that it’s going to be alright and that they aren’t going to explode in a big hormonal fireworks show.  But it never tells you what happens in the years following the almighty “Age” that they “Came to”.  For many of us, we think that we came of age, we went to college and thought we had our shit together because we did well in school and had that first taste of independence…and it was all working.  Shit, it was even fun.  But then you graduate, and reality sets in.  The real Bildungsroman doesn’t end with the main character splurging on cute first-apartment decorations and Instagram posts;  The real Bildungsroman shows the main character putting down the bottle of wine and buying some toothpaste and paper towels because you can’t just steal them from campus; it shows her forgoing the cute new bikini in favor of some adorably bland, unisex “office appropriate” slacks and matching flats (slacks wasn’t even a word in my vocabulary until 23 came at me).  We’re facing those annoying paradoxes of our youth all over again!  We’re expected to have jobs that put meaning into our fancy degrees, but we aren’t accepted anywhere without five years of experience that we somehow missed.  We’re supposed to be self-sufficient and live in cozy apartments with rugs that really tie the room together, but most of us have crippling debt (see above: fancy degrees).  Our elders tell us to take advantage of our youth/stop worrying so much/live in the moment, but scold us for being lazy or entitled when we follow their advice and set high standards for ourselves.  We want to travel and learn and explore, but again, that crippling debt thing.  There is so much for us to figure out, and our resources are limited.  The one thing we do have?  Time.  And just like birthdays, it will pass whether we want it to our not.

The lesson we get to learn as we trudge through this Bildungsroman is that we already fought for our voice in round one..so use it.  We didn’t go through all of that high school growing up nonsense just to pore over any Buzzfeed article that validates our sense of confusion.  The very nature of our 20s is that we have to start making meaningful decisions, and these little shits are tougher than working through the games section of the LSATs or figuring out if that “We’ll be in touch//I’ll call you” was genuine.  The original Bildungsroman chronicles youngens as they summon the bravery to reach emotional maturity; they decide what they believe in, but ultimately they still can’t make solid decisions about the important things in life (like where to find the cheapest organic food).  I love to imagine our classic “Coming of Age” characters like Scout Finch or Stargirl making all of these outstanding strides towards independence, but still having a bedtime.  This time around, as we come of age again, we really do get to call the shots.  We already know what we believe in.  And hey, if we’re wrong…well we’ve got time.

Pigeon Tales (VOL. II): Healthy Struggles vs. Pain and Five Ways to Know the Difference

Pigeon Tales is a “special edition” of this blog, coming at you hot off the mat from yep, you guessed it…Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (known to most of us as Pigeon Pose).  As most yoga teachers will tell you while you try to find and maintain stillness in this intense pose, pigeon has a unique ability to tap into your emotional memories and bring up some pretty juicy- and often introspective- stuff.  Each edition of Pigeon Tales comes in a pure and spontaneous manner, dissecting the thoughts that cross my mind while in I give in to the release of the foundation-based chakras…those thoughts I want to share, anyway.  This is, in effect, my dream journal of those deep pigeony places.  I encourage you to try doing the same!

Quite often, when getting settled into a Sleeping Pigeon, yoga teachers will take the opportunity to share some wisdom with their class- usually to get you to focus on something other than the intensity of the pose.  We always want to acknowledge the feelings, but try not to “bite the hook” and act on that feeling by shifting around or coming out of the pose; it is meant to be intense, it is meant to hurt.

If you’re still reading, congratulations.  Most people would lose faith in a writer that insists pigeon (or any pose) is meant to hurt.  That’s because in this situation you can easily identify the difference between Pain and Healthy Struggle.  Pigeon is a great place to bring up this discussion because you know to expect a breath-stealing sensation, but if it hurts (i.e. your feet are going numb and your knee feels like it has been prepped for amputation) you need to make an adjustment.  How you should properly modify falls beyond the scope of this post so if this is you, talk to your teacher next time it comes up!  What I want to talk about here is how to recognize and identify the difference between a healthy struggle and pain in other situations, namely relationships.  Not necessarily just romantic relationships, but all relationships (work, family, friends, etc). When you experience life’s inevitable adversities, ask yourself the following five questions.

5.  Am I Able to Grow?

Pigeon has a laundry list of benefits, the most immediate of which being the release of tension in your hips and stress in your mind.  When practiced daily, this deep hip opener can help you move better throughout practice and increase the accessibility of scores of other poses, ultimately helping your practice grow.

A natural side effect of a healthy struggle is the overall improvement of the self.  When we work through tough times in a healthy way, we come out of it bigger and better than before.  If you get into pigeon and it hurts like hell, and then continues to hurt like hell two hours later, and it hurts worse than hell the next time you get into it…it might be Pain that you need to let go (and by might I mean it is, and by let go I mean change your approach!)  In some of our worst relationships, we find it easier to give in to the insane notion that things will just get better.  Is it practical to think that your pigeon will just stop hurting if you do it the same painful way over and over?  Before I started an active yoga practice, I was a dancer and pigeon pose was something we practiced quite often to improve our flexibility.  I have vivid memories biting back tears and asking what I should do if my feet were going numb, to which my instructor said “just hold your breath and think of something else until we’re done.”  I learned later in life that my problem wasn’t that I am naturally and eternally doomed to live without a comfortable pigeon, it’s that I needed someone to show me a healthy approach from which I could grow.

4.  Is there any relief?

As soon as your body is ready to move out of pigeon, the sensation of that release is almost twice as good as what you feel while you’re in it.  A constant struggle is not a healthy struggle.  There should be a natural rhythm, and ebb and flow of adversity and ease; You need a little struggle to grow stronger (see #5).  The presence of a healthy struggle increases the delight and appreciation of the release.  We all crave the bliss that comes after the clouds subside, but when it does you have to ask yourself if you welcome the clouds back with open arms.  If what you are experiencing is pain, it’s likely that you never want to get into pigeon again and you will make an effort to tip-toe around to avoid causing the clouds to return.  On the other hand, if you welcome the challenge because you know it makes you better in the end and you are able to find a sort of peace in the intensity, it might be a struggle of the good variety!

3.  Am I Open to Variations?

The more you do it, the better you understand what to expect and your familiarity creates a sense of understanding.  This can be a slippery slope.  If you are talking about a painful pigeon, growing might mean that you come to terms with the fact that you need to make an adjustment.  But, maybe your pigeon is just boring!  A boring pigeon isn’t that much different than a painful one when you get down to it.  We know because our mothers told us: if it hurts don’t do it.  But what about when you don’t feel anything?  The monotony of the same routine over and over can be just as distracting as the pain of a bad one.  When pain is absent, introduce a little healthy struggle to spice it up.  Challenge yourself to go deeper, to get to know your pigeon a little more, or to find a new variation altogether.  Your instructor may cue a sleeping pigeon, but maybe you want to take a leap of faith and go for mermaid.  It’s your life, find your mermaid!

2.  Am I Jealous of the Pigeons Around Me?

Honestly, if your mind is wandering hard enough to look at that sleeping pigeon next to you and you think to yourself “Wow, that dude is so peaceful in his pigeon, what a lucky guy”…you might be in the Pain territory.  That guy is not lucky, he just knows what kind of pigeon is good for him.  Maybe he has had a few bad pigeons in the past and learned how to avoid the painful part so that he is at peace with the struggle.

1.  Am I ACTIVELY Avoiding or Distracting Myself?

Well this is numero uno, so you can probably guess that it is my personal cardinal question.  If the sensation that you feel in your pigeon (okay, we all understand that ‘your pigeon’ is actually your relationship, right?  Cool.) is so intense that you find yourself avoiding your own questions, it’s time to get out of the pose.  If you have to tell yourself it will feel better when you know it never does, or the pain happens more often then the release, it’s time to get out of the pose.  If you start looking at other people’s practice and wish that you could be as blissful (or Happy) as them, it’s time to get out of the pose.  Distracting yourself from the real problems and pain that come up are the number one red flags indicating that you can do better.  Life is not meant to be lived by telling yourself things will be different and then doing nothing to effect that change.  If you find that you are unable to be present because present is pain, modify something– starting with the source of the pain.  You’re stronger than you think, and you deserve only the healthiest of struggles.

Pigeon Tales (Vol. I): I Found A Friend This Year

Pigeon Tales is a “special edition” of this blog, coming at you hot off the mat from yep, you guessed it…Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (known to most of us as Pigeon Pose).  As most yoga teachers will tell you while you try to find and maintain stillness in this intense pose, pigeon has a unique ability to tap into your emotional memories and bring up some pretty juicy- and often introspective- stuff.  Each edition of Pigeon Tales comes in a pure and spontaneous manner, dissecting the thoughts the cross my mind while in I give in to the release of the fundamental chakras…those thoughts I want to share, anyway.  This is, in effect, my dream journal of those deep pigeony places.  I encourage you to try doing the same!

I met a friend this year.  Or rather, I got to know her.  She’s someone I’ve seen around town for a long time.  I always knew that she is elusively interesting, but also hard to hold a conversation with.  I used to tell myself that I have tried to break down her walls before, but in my heart of hearts I knew that I never put much effort into it.  We have a lot in common, but something about her was so intimidating that I couldn’t bring myself to dig deep and devote some time to understanding her.

This year, I decided to make her a priority.  I started paying more mindful attention to her.  I wanted to know what she wanted to do with her life, where the thoughts she had came from.  In the past, whenever I tried to ask her, she just shrugged the question off (which is fair, because no one really knows what they want with their life).  But this year I committed to her, and to our friendship.  I could tell that if I really wanted to figure her out, I would have to commit to her- not now and again when it was convenient, but on a routine basis.  So, I started doing yoga with her.  That 60 minute class gave us the opportunity to connect on a level that I never thought was possible.  I learned about her strengths, her struggles, what empowered her and the pains that she carries.  She never really spilled the beans on her grand plan in life, but I stopped focusing on that as something I had to find out.  I started enjoying her company, often in silence, rather than searching for answers.

Eventually, our friendship blossomed outside the studio, too.  It was slow at first, but each yoga class strengthened the new bond that we had initiated.  There are still times when I feel stubborn and avoid her calls, but she never holds it against me and we are able to pick up where we left off, usually after a good conversation on the mat.  She used to intimidate me, but after putting a concerted effort into connecting with her, I feel her strength and confidence invigorate my vulnerabilities.  She makes me a better person, and her friendship has made me a better friend- not only to her, but to the others in my life.  It has been an amazing year, and I know that my good fortunes are all rooted in this friendship.

I got to know myself this year.  As it turns out, I am a pretty good friend for me to have.

Healthy Eating 101: Go With Your Gut

Being healthy is easy.  Any simple Google search will tell you that.  Get Fit Quick!  Eat this to lose that in two days!  This Secret Food is making you Fat!  Sound familiar?  As a society we have been through countless fitness and diet fads and we just love the idea of a quick “fix.”  I have been suckered into almost every trend imaginable and if I have learned anything, it is that knowledge is key.  Not just knowing what foods are ‘Good’ and ‘Bad,’ but knowing how my body feels and what works for me– physically and mentally. Disclaimer:  Just to clarify, I am not on a diet, but my diet is very mindfully crafted. If you take anything away from this post, I hope it is the conscious decision to stop using the word Diet as a verb.  Let’s stop dieting together!  

Growing up, I was like any other body-conscious teenager (and by body-conscious teenager, of course I mean that I had an insanely warped idea of what bodies should look like…).  I was active and aware of the necessity of healthy eating, but I was all about that calorie counting game.  “Diet” and “Low Fat” and “100-Calorie” portions of processed, sugary foods were my go-to and after taking painstaking care to consume 1200 or less calories per day, I just could not comprehend why I wasn’t the pencil thin version of myself that I wanted so badly.  A lot has changed since then, especially the image that comes to mind when I say “healthy”… but that is a subject for another post.  For me, the most important health tip is that it all starts in your gut; You’ve got to fuel the machine with goodness!

With all of the health trends out there it can be difficult to even know what ‘good for you’ is.  Eat this, not that….avoid that and do this every day.  It is exhausting to try to keep up with the never ending stream of information.  My approach has always been experimental, and the biggest take away has been that I need to listen to my body.  In the last year I have tried a few extremes, including a rigorous Atkins-style plan, multiple variations of the Paleo Diet, Vegetarianism…even a brief period of strict Veganism…and I finally landed on a full-fat, meat-filled regimen that works for me.  I loved a lot of aspects of each food philosophy, but ultimately it comes down to understanding how I react to different foods.  For example, I really loved my stint as a Vegan, but it wasn’t practical with my lifestyle- I didn’t have time to cook every meal and the lazier I got, the more carbs came out and I stopped feeling so energetic.  The lesson learned?  Simple: I can be full without eating a huge slab of meat for every meal.  Fast forward to my current eating habits: a high-fat philosophy that would make my 14-year-old self want to jump off a cliff.  I start each day with a steamy cup of coffee…complete with a chunk of grass-fed butter and a scoonch of coconut oil to really rev the engine.  Lunch is usually (reluctantly) a rushed part of my commute so it has to be accessible and efficient;  I like to chop up an avocado with a few hard-boiled eggs and whatever veggies are available (spinach and tomato?  Ohh yeahhh), and of course, a healthy dose of a good oil.  Dinner is always different, and I like that!  I like to include as much variation as possible whilst following a few simple guidelines:  include lots of color, get a clean protein source, eat as close to the sources as possible and knock out as many carbs and sugars as you can stand to lose.

As someone who is cursed to live in constant fear of being hungry, I always keep some sort of easy, healthy snack on hand.  However, I noticed that since I’ve upped my intake in the good fats department (and cleansed my cabinets of sugars and carbs) I rarely reach for the snack.  I eat as much as I want until I feel satisfied, and it keeps me full longer.  This may not be the ideal regimen for everyone, but it works for me.  Even though I was petrified to try it and had to defend my choices the whole way (repeat it with me:  I am NOT a Fad Dieter!), ultimately experimenting with foods has helped me find my easy ‘fix.’  I get to eat delicious food, I have fun experimenting in the kitchen, and I feel amazing.  If that isn’t a success story, I don’t know what is!  Stay tuned for some specific recipes!