By Martha Iachetta
My husband, who is not liberal with the compliments, described me recently as "the real deal." As it was in the midst of a disagreement, I am still not certain it was a compliment. While I am by no means perfect (just ask my husband and friends), I can honestly say that at 39 years old I finally feel like I live my life according to my dreams and values. And nurturing these dreams and values includes self care, even small versions of it every single day, especially during busy times like the holidays. A wise person once said, “I meditate a half hour each day except for when I am very busy. On those days I meditate for an hour.”
I know I am not alone in my persistent desire to live the most meaningful life I possibly can. I also know I am not alone in aspiring but struggling to do whatever I need to do on a daily basis to make that happen. My gift to myself and all of you is a reminder to put your self on the top of your holiday list. Maybe it is cashmere socks, a massage, a manicure, a walk, a cup of tea with a friend… whatever it is, just do it.
My other strong suggestion is attention to your health and wellness. Take time for yourself, exercise, and, most important, breathe. My two current favorite places for support on how to do those things both on a day-to-day basis and via time away are the YMCA and Kripalu’s center for yoga and health. In very different ways, they provide me with the R & R I need to be re-inspired, relaxed, rested, rejuvenated, and renewed (actually R, R, R, R, & R).
The YMCA and Kripalu are both places that are the "real deal." While maintaining their missions, they truly celebrate and respect racial, ethnic, cultural, spiritual, socio-economic, age and whatever other kind of differences and diversity you can think of. What I also especially like about them is their dedication to providing financial aid in order to attract people from diverse and often under-served/under-represented/under-voiced populations.
My YMCA offers options for swimming, weights, exercise machines and classes such as yoga, kick boxing, belly dancing, step aerobics, cycling and more every single day (though we’d like more on the weekends and mid-afternoons, please). Just as importantly, it provides me with affordable rates, free child care, classes for my son and free parking. The staff is friendly and respectful and they provide both me and my son with the Cheers-esque feeling of going to a place where everyone knows our name and are always glad we came. Thanks to a new collaboration between all the YMCAs in the state, one membership gives you access to any Y in Rhode Island, and often any Y in the country, for no additional fee.
The value of regular fitness, whether we actually find time for it or not, is common knowledge. However, what is perhaps less known is the value of getting away, ideally by yourself, to simply exercise, breathe, connect with nature and eat well--all without breaking the bank. Kripalu is a yoga and retreat center, located less than two hours from Providence in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts, that offers both extensive courses on health and wellness with a yogic slant as well as anytime retreat and renewals. It is a beautiful place to focus, get or stay fit, eat well, and unwind. While perhaps not the right setting for everyone, I think people willing to turn off their inner cynic and critic enough to let their inner goddess and warrior see the light of day would have an amazing, perhaps life-altering experience there. I certainly did.
The original intent of my recent autumnal visit was a mom’s weekend away with an old friend now living in upstate New York so that we could catch up, walk and talk, eat well, take yoga classes together and take breaks from our respective families. An unexpected emergency limited us to only a Friday night dinner together before she needed to surrender to the fact that it was not her time for a weekend away. But that Friday night was enough to honor our appreciation, mutual love, respect and reliance on each other and then, after she left, I realized how much I needed to just be by myself.
Kripalu is a place where you can make a friend or not. You can eat in a silent dining room if you’re not in the mood to talk or you can grab a seat anywhere, maybe catch the eye of one of the many other solo travelers, and make a connection with someone on a level of "realness" that the busyness of daily life often does not allow . The meals are surprisingly savory, with both vegetarian and non-vegetarian offerings, and often consist of local and organic ingredients. The food is so delicious you will not be able to restrain yourself from eating more vegetables than you are used to and, a word of caution, you can expect that your intestines may be in shock for days.
I participated in their “R& R” program that includes several lectures and unlimited classes in yoga, meditation, tai chi, dancekinetics, and more, as well as use of their grounds and facilities. The lectures ranged from introductory to advanced and included such offerings as “The Mind/Body Connection,” “Kundalini Breathing,” and “Healthy Living: What Does it Mean to Thrive.” More often than not, the lectures were really interesting and my brain shot off all sorts of ideas of things I wanted to do and try and think and feel and express. Though at times new-agey, they consisted of solid, meaningful material and provided a perfect way for me to reconnect with my exhausted, used-up self.
The Saturday noon-time dancekinetics class to live drumming is one of the most popular programs of the weekend. It made me grateful I came alone because I had no inhibition while gyrating and shimmying and feeling funkier and sexier and more passionate than I have in, well, I don’t know, maybe ever? By then, any concerns I brought along with me were out the window, and I was ready to explore with an open mind whatever my uncharted, off-the-map course might bring my way.
I made one of my favorite connections with Matthew Stearns, a Kripalu volunteer during one of my solo-but-I’m-open-to-making-a-friend meals. Kripalu offers no-cost food, housing, yoga, community and workshop participation in exchange for 35 hours of volunteer work per week with a six month commitment. Each volunteer has their own private reasons for taking a break from the world. My particular volunteer friend shared his dream of translating his love for sewing into a line of clothing that combines fashion with freedom of movement so that his products are comfortable, cool and versatile enough for either work or gentle exercise. He stood up to model a pair of his flowing, linen pants, beautifully accented by pink satin down the sides, and I committed to buying some on the spot. He provided me with a surprisingly reasonably priced opportunity to simultaneously nurture someone’s dream and be two steps ahead of the latest wearable-art fashion trend. Check out his website and contact information at
My other favorite connection was with Fredi Cohen, a woman I met in one of the morning "shares" (small group opportunities to speak, uninterrupted, about one’s emotional or non-emotional experience at that point in time). I later learned she is an acclaimed New York sculptor, but when she was still just Fredi, she joined me for a great walk and talk and I felt I’d made an unexpected new friend for life.
I took a risk with an advanced yoga class Saturday afternoon, and by the time evening rolled around I was almost too tired (and sore) for the 7:30 p.m. Kundalini workshop. All the breathwork and mantras were a little too advanced for me and I would have snuck out early had I not been sitting directly in front of the instructor. But, surprise surprise, that introduction to Kundalini yoga is quite possibly what rocked my world the most.
Since starting my day with a few minutes of intense, focused breathing exercises, I’ve been stunned by the synchronicity, synergy, passion and opportunities placed in each day that have left me available for incredible levels of both personal and professional development. When I came back and raved about my weekend to a friend, she said, “I am a firm believer in having things to look forward to--book your next trip there NOW!” So, I have plans in place for a post-holiday respite toward the end of January.
Should you choose to book a trip there as part of your holiday self care agenda, I have a few tips: Unless you are the type of person that truly needs no frills, I suggest splurging for a private room, even a private bathroom if you can afford it. If not, bring your robe for the 3 a.m. trek down the hall to the bathroom, arrive early if you don’t want a top bunk in the dorm, and be prepared to forgo having a private place to respond to your body’s needs. They are building a new facility to allow for more personal room amenities and comfort (aka, plenty of rooms with private baths), but that stunningly environmentally friendly building is still in the planning stages.
Take advantage of the hiking trails, whirlpool and sauna, and, at least once, get up early for a gentle sunrise kripalu yoga class to start your day with a blast of early morning grounded-ness that most schedules do not allow. Despite knowing that I can’t possibly fit all that self care into the reality of my daily life, I definitely left with ideas for briefer versions of more pleasant ways to start my day and maintain (or resume) feeling centered even during busy times like the month of December.
So, I ask you: How will you take care of your self this holiday season? What inspires you to remember what your life is really about? Is it a spiritual community? A gym? A women’s group? A book? For me, I’d have to add my women friends and family to my list of inspiration. But the YMCA and its classes truly help me maintain my self and mission amidst the realities of my busy, overtired, over-multi-tasked, working parent, imperfect world. And Kripalu is my newfound companion to using yoga to help me redefine and recommit to my mission as I strive to be a useful, productive participant in my literal and figurative surrounding world. Maybe you will like them, too. Check them out at www.greaterprovidenceymca.org and www.kripalu.org. Even better, let us all know what works for you.