Why I'm celebrating Thanksgiving on the beach (early)...

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My birthday usually falls around Thanksgiving so a few weeks ago I decided to to check what flights to Miami would be like during that time. As foreigners, Chris and I don't celebrate Thanksgiving. Over the years we've been invited to many different family gatherings and while we enjoy them, they don't hold the same meaning for us as they do for everyone around us. Only problem is... we are leaving tomorrow because I was sure that Thanksgiving was tomorrow. Flights were cheap, great hotel choices and weird enough, nobody was traveling.

This also meant that I had to reschedule the rest of the week and cancel my classes for Friday and Saturday.

Most people laughed, one or two thought that I was making this up. Chris was a surprised when I told him to take some time off from work. But guess what in the end, I'm so happy this mistake happened.

Chris and I haven't had a vacation by ourselves, without responsibilities in forever. We both run businesses, we eat, sleep, breathe our work and we take care and dote on Zola.

We have taken family vacations to Germany and Australia. Those were beautiful. But we didn't have too much time for just us.

So this is what we are going to do for the next 4 days:

- focus on each other

- turn our phones off

- sleep in

- eat, drink, be merry

- AND: NOTHING!

I can't wait!

We all live in an interconnected world that has us constantly buzzing with information, messages, and more. We are constantly reachable, we check email first thing in the morning, and Instagram last thing at night. Meeting friends requires more organizing than before smartphones, now we can text and cancel, our opentable reservation as well as with the person we're meeting. We are running later and because we can let someone know in an instance, it's ok... because they are probably answering emails while they wait.

When do we truly unplug? Even for an hour... maybe even for a weekend.

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This holiday season I hope you get to unplug with people that you love. Take some time and share it with someone else. Give the gift of feeling and being fully present, not rushing and enjoying yourself.

Let me know how that goes for you. Happy Thanksgiving.

Roma

Postpartum Exercise after C-Section

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*** Please note that this article lists general recommendations that can never substitute your doctor's or other healthcare provider's opinion. Please make sure to obtain their clearance before engaging in any exercise or strenuous activity. *** The woman in the picture had her second baby 2.5 months ago. She also had a particularly difficult time after what was planned as a routine C-section. Recovery was much longer than the 6 weeks that doctor's often list as a good amount of time for women to wait before engaging in postpartum exercise after a c-section. But she braved it impressively and now only another 8 weeks later we did a first postpartum session since her daughter was born.

Before her c-section we trained 2- 3 times per week up until a few weeks before the birth and well into the third trimester, with a belly that was creating discomfort and even pain - when her pelvis sunk on one side and was pressing on the sciatic nerve and caused the leg to swell up with extra blood.

One thing that she kept saying throughout was that exercise (that was always tailored to her daily form, trimester and became less intense as the pregnancy progressed) had multiple emotional and psychological benefits for her. It eased the tension on one leg, it alleviated back pain caused by the weight gain and it always left her less tired after, than she had been before. Plus with a big smile on her face.

This particular example has taught me, as a health and fitness provider, 5 very important things about how to approach postpartum exercise after a C-section:

  1. I can't stress it enough: the exercise before birth has incredibly beneficial effects on the exercise after. Women who stay active before a c-section, recover faster and once they go back to working out, their body remembers and can re-enter on a higher fitness level as well as motivational level than if the last workout was over 9 months ago.
  2. After having an open wound, jumping into exercising too quickly will do you no good. Just like exercise is being tapered down with each trimester, you have to build up again, too. Athletes reduce their amounts of workouts before a big event and afterwards they take a break and then ease into it again. You have nothing to prove to anyone and the added stress of caring for a newborn will most likely have you running around as is.
  3. I like to create programs that focus on body areas that were under a lot of stress during the pregnancy before zeroing in on the core. I know all women want is to get a flat stomach and their core strength back but there are other areas that have had a lot of work to do and continue to, such as the arms, back, legs and hips. Focusing on these areas first, can give the stomach some more rest but works the cardio-vascular system and speeds up the metabolism.
  4. Partner exercises are a great thing to do both for strength workouts as well as relaxation and stretching. If you have had a long day and didn't make it to yoga or didn't have time to fit in a workout, take 20 minutes in the evening with your partner. Once the baby is asleep, you can challenge each other to some partner squats, some plank high fives and finish up in a partner stretch such as this one:postpartum exercise after c-section
  5. Relax: after a c-section you are healing from a big operation. On top of being tired, getting less sleep than before, your body has to heal multiple layers of tissue. For that, it needs time and especially recovery time. Make exercise part of your day in walks, taking stairs, and playing with your baby. If you can, take a few minutes a day to sit still, have me-time, meditate, enjoy a cup of tea, reflect, journal or day dream. It will give you so much more strength to deal with everything else that is happening around you, including exercise.

I wish you well.

xxR

Pear Cornbread with Rosemary Syrup

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For my baking project of the week, I adapted a pear cornbread Real Simple recipe and it turned out really great. The combination of buttermilk and the cornmeal in this recipe give it a different texture from cake that is made with just all purpose flour. I drastically reduced the amount of sugar and instead of using cornmeal I used Trader Joe's cornbread mix. Ingredients

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted, coconut oil for the pan 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup cornbread mix (I used Trader Joe's) 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 teaspoons baking soda 3/4 cup sugar 1/2 cup buttermilk 2 eggs, whisked 2 ripe pears, cut into 8 wedges each 6 large sprigs rosemary freshly whipped cream, for serving (optional)

Directions

Heat oven to 350° F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Mix together the flour, cornbread mix, baking powder, baking soda, and 1/2 cup of the sugar in a large bowl. Whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter in a medium bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk to combine. Fold in the pears. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, approximately 50 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the rosemary, the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, and ¼ cup water in a small pot over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until the sugar is melted. Remove from heat, cover, and let sit, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes and up to 4 hours. Discard the rosemary sprigs. While the cake is still warm, brush the top and side with the rosemary syrup. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream, if desired.

Pumpkin Seed Cookies!

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I love it when people send me recipes. This recipe is for pumpkin seed cookies. You must have some left over from Halloween, no? In this adaptation of another recipe, my friend Anahi, added coconut and she will be experimenting with caramelized ginger soon, too! I'll make sure to post an update when she does. 1/2 cup unsalted butter 1 cup rolled oats 1/2 cup coconut flakes 1 tablespoon whole wheat flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted 1 egg 1/3 cup cane sugar + 1/3 cup brown sugar 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat until it starts to foam, then watch until you smell a nice light nutty scent. Remove from heat and let cool slightly, about a minute, before stirring in the rolled oats.

While the butter is browning, combine the buckwheat flour, baking powder, spices, salt and pumpkin seeds. Set aside

In a large bowl, whisk the sugar and egg together until the mixture becomes creamy and batter-like. Add the vanilla. Whisk in the flour mixture, then stir in the butter and oat mixture, stirring just until combined. The dough will be quite loose and runny.

Drop tablespoons of the dough onto your prepared cookie sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake until golden brown around the edges, about 8-10 minutes, turning the pan half way through cooking time. Let sit on baking sheet several minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

(I love the Milk Beer glasses in the picture! Thank you, Anahi!)

The Body Sculpt Class - What is it? Who is it for?

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I'm teaching a body sculpt class three times a week now at Melt Massage & Bodywork, an awesome massage space that has a beautiful room for yoga, pilates, workshops and me :) For most of what they offer, the class description is straight forward or people don't even have to read it because it speaks for itself. Prenatal yoga, Feldenkrais, Reiki, postpartum workshops, Pilates... I wanted to add something into the mix that is similar but different. A class that allows people to move continuously for 60 minutes without a Bootcamp or Crossfit feel where you push through exercises, in competition with yourself and everyone else. But rather exercises in which we work together and individually, making them easier when we work together. For both of us. But with an option to always challenge ourselves, too. Every class ends with yoga to stretch the muscles that we used and open up areas of the body which may be stuck and which - once released - feel so good and thereby make our mind feel good. At the very end: Savasana... everyone loves a few minutes to relax.

Melt is set up with everything you and I need. Therabands for sculpting and lengthening, of course yoga mats, blocks and bolsters for restorative poses at the end and blankets to sit on while we do ab work. It has a great group of instructors and where else have you seen a reception area that has water, apples and candy?

So who is it for? I've seen a lot of women taking my class and I think men believe that if it doesn't involve weights but mainly your own body weight, it may be too easy for them. But that's not the case. I have seen grown men struggle when I showed them exercises, that pregnant women did with ease and grace and anywhere we work with our own body weight, it can get pretty challenging. After the session, you will already feel, that areas that we exercised feel tighter, your core will be burning, but you won't be exhausted. You will be sweaty and relaxed and proud of what you accomplished.

Having studied many different disciplines, I am convinced that each practiced individually has tremendous potential but combining them is even more effective. Because there is no set routine, your body can not plateau and get used to being worked in the same way as previously. It needs to adapt and become smarter. And that's what we want, a continuously evolving body, that is smart, strong, flexible and ready to take on any task that life throws at us. You will also gradually see your waist whittling away and your arms and legs becoming more defined as an added bonus.

The biggest advantage of working your body in this way is, that it is fun! Exercise doesn't become a dreadful chore, but we look forward to it. We see results in our strength, cardio-vascular capacity and flexibility. The positive side effects also include the influence that this kind of training has on other disciplines. So it can be a great add-on for runners, triathletes, yogis, swimmers, etc.

I hope to see you at one of the classes. If you haven't yet, make sure to sign up for my newsletter with updates on health, food, new classes and much more.

Like my FB page if you liked this blog post, comment and share.

And come stop by at Melt - more information can be found here: www.bit.ly/chittamelt

I dare you to sweat with me!

xxR

Simple (Prenatal) Exercise Routine for a hot day

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It is September 11th, an important date in the US and specifically in New York City. Exactly 12 years ago this city and the world watched in horror at the events that unfolded in the Financial District and later mourned together all those who were lost and their families who were affected. Today it is also unusually hot and humid, not the weather we were expecting in September after an unseasonally cool August and people have been dragging their feet and feeling heavy and uncomfortable.

I was training with one of my pregnant clients today who is due in 3 weeks (!!!) and who is in great shape but was feeling tired like me. The following is a routine of five exercises that energized us but also wasn't too strenuous and can be done by pregnant and non- pregnant people alike.

Seesaw Stretch:

Sit in a wide legged seat and either hold hands with a partner across from you or interlace your fingers and point the palms out in front of you. Inhale straightening your back, sitting tall and exhale leaning forward as much as you can without collapsing in your back. If you do this exercise with a partner, they assist you by holding your arms up. Together you should get into a rhythm of inhaling/ exhaling sitting tall and leaning forward. Do this for 2-3 minutes.

Simple prenatal exercise

All fours / leg lift:

Come to all fours and do a few cat and cows (inhale arch your back, look up and exhale round your back and look towards your thighs). With a neutral back, lift the right leg, knee at a 90 degree angle and foot flexed. Lift the leg up and open up the hip as if you were kicking something behind and above your left hip. Repeat 25 times and then switch to the left side.

Supported side plank core work:

Come into a side plank on your forearm. Lower and lift your hips with feet stacked and legs long and strong 10-15 times on each side. When you are coming down, avoid touching your mat.

Inner thigh work:

Lie on your back and if you are pregnant elevate your hips by placing a yoga block under your hips. Turn you feet all the way out in opposite directions. Then cross them while engaging your inner thighs. Bring your legs apart and then cross them. Switch between the right leg on top and the left one. Do 3 sets of 30.

Lizard into pigeon into ankle over knee:

In a low lunge with the right leg in front bring both of your palms to the inside of your leg. Keep the back knee up and then lower down to your elbows if possible. Breathe deeply. After 10 breaths scoot your right foot over to the left and set yourself up in pigeon pose. Fold over your front leg and take 10 deep breaths. Then, swing your left leg forward and cross the ankle over the right knee. Melt over your legs and relax. Switch sides and repeat the routine on the left.

Simple prenatal exercise

Extra pose for pregnant ladies to stretch out the achy side and hips:

Stand about arms length from a wall or tree if you are outside. Face it sideways and place the inside foot outside the outside one, crossing over the front of the ankle. Place your hands as low on the wall as you can and press your hips outward. Then switch sides.

Simple prenatal exercise

I hope you enjoy the routine, that it gives you energy, some strength and relieves some minor aches and pains. Stay cool!

xxR

Moving with ease and accepting impermanence

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This post falls under the same category as 'how our puppy taught us to stay sane' except this time she is the culprit among other things. I have been known to do things fast, to do many things at the same time and somehow that results in me, always having a deadline...

So for 2013 that meant getting above mentioned brand new puppy in January and training her, concluding a yoga teacher training in March, opening a business in April, planning an international wedding in May, bidding the in-laws and family farewell closer to June (they all decided NYC was only worth a trip if it was at least two weeks) and then marching full steam ahead with promoting my business while working with clients. It is only August but I feel like I've filled the first half of this year with enough tasks for a full 365 days.

And now... we're moving apartments. To be exact by the end of this month. Boxes, movers, bills, organizing, while maintaining our jobs as two entrepreneurs who work from home. And right on cue, Zola our pup came down with a UTI (urinary tract infection). I am sure all of my female readers can commiserate and believe me, the symptoms are just the same. I wonder if it's stress related.

The term 'moving with ease' is used a lot in the wellness field. Usually to describe economical physical movement. Ultimately it means that we move using little strength while getting to where we want gracefully without breaking a sweat.

I am not good at that.

As an athlete I was taught how to do things economically, in an agile way and simply trained so many hours, that very little could make me tired. International competitions involved the following: travel, short nervous first nights, a semi-final on the first day, one recovery day of light training to get rid of as much lactic acid as possible, the biggest event: the final on day three, another day of recovery at which point that lactic acid had stubbornly set up camp in our muscles, and the team event. 5 days, 3 full pentathlons, one last night of partying and connecting with everyone and a flight home. The next day I was focused on the next competition and back on (the) track.

My current events are slightly different but I was thinking of ways to make them easier. This is not a five step plan on how to do things. For that you could check my article on how to lead a balanced lifestyle. But rather I would like to describe a feeling to retreat to when things get overwhelming, that has helped me and that I have to fight for to create in my daily life.

I usually get into that feeling in random places. In NYC most often on the subway. It is one of the few places where there is no cell phone service and if I am not reading or drafting emails a place to reflect. It is there that I remember that I constantly am planning the outcome of different things and even the ones that can not be planned. On a side note I recently saw the kaleidoscopic art work by Suzan Drummen where she lays pieces on the floor to create mandala like structures. And people can walk right up to them to admire them. It made me very nervous to think that someone would bump into one of the pieces or step on them and destroy Ms. Drummen's thousands of hours of work.

But then (after laughing out loud at myself) I thought of the Buddhist concept of impermanence and how important it is to remind ourselves that it is not a bad thing. And that's exactly where I found some peace. Things around us are in flow. We, mere mortals, can't stop it. Things happen, sometimes amazing things. Sometimes things that initially are disappointing but ultimately lead to something different. And most of the time that next situation is not half bad.

Of course there are very trying times when there seems to be a succession of only yucky things and right now I feel like there are a lot of chores awaiting me while I would much rather enjoy the lull of August and kick back instead of leaning in.

I am working hard and somewhat successfully to take each day as it comes, to wake up and not rush to mid-afternoon or evening in my head. To acknowledge that if I allow the hours to unfold, they pass slower than if I'm already at 5pm and stressing out over how short the day is. To really enjoy downtime, be it a meal, a quick coffee with a friend, a workout session I particularly enjoy or walking the dog. And to stay present without escaping into the crazy future place in my brain.

There you have it: presence and impermanence. The two states that help save my day. Today.

I dare you to try it. Have a calm rest of your week.

xxR

5 ways to get back to a healthy back

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I mention in my about section that I suffered from sciatica... It started at the ripe age of 28 and I had no idea what was happening. I was in a very stressful office environment under a lot of pressure to make a project happen and suddenly my leg started aching. Having just run a half marathon I assumed I hadn't trained appropriately or over-trained or simply wasn't young enough anymore to bounce back without problems as I would have ten years earlier.

With more pain that wouldn't stop, other thoughts came up: "it's the long term effects of training so hard as a young person", "I have a serious injury that I keep aggravating by exercising", "maybe I should try yoga", "ouch, stretching hurts- yoga is not the solution".

I became increasingly alarmed and stopped running, by this time the pain was shooting down my hamstring into the back of my knee and all the way down into my pinky toe. The result was that I couldn't sit in an office chair for many hours a day and worse, even lying became a problem.

I spent hundreds of dollars on heat patches, arnica, traumeel, tiger balm, eventually acupuncture and a chiropractor. I tried for as long as I could to stay away from pain medication to avoid getting hooked on them. What I didn't know at the time because it had never happened to me, was that chronic pain can cause a large number of other related issues: my digestion became horrible, irregular and it caused weight gain, any meal caused painful bloating. This was closely followed by skin problems, my face became a minefield of acne that I couldn't get under control, so I stopped going 'bare' and used more make up (I don't have to tell you that that wasn't a great idea). Other side effects included fear because I didn't understand what was happening and people suggested herniated and/or bulging discs, anxiety trying to still do well in my job and ultimately a slight onset of depression because nothing worked.

I am not trying to depress you here, but this is to show you how bad it was for me... Eventually I found out what sciatica was (I was way too young for it, but it is happening more to younger people).

And here is, what helped me:

  1. Realizing that there is usually a psychological component to physical pain that becomes chronic. I had gone through a breakup, work was intense and I tried to do it all at once, all by myself, and as fast as possible.
  2. Finding out that my pelvis and therefore my hips and shoulder strap were about 2 inches higher on one side (no wonder I was in pain). An amazing chiropractor placed a finger on my right hip and then one on my left, stepped back and showed me...
  3. Accepting that anti-inflammatory medication when used responsibly to avoid pain and manage it, will help. I was always worried about addiction.
  4. Walking away from doctors that were ready to operate, prescribe incredibly strong pain medication for open-ended periods of time and generally anyone who told me that I would never be well again.
  5. Listening to myself and addressing the root of the problem, namely the anxiety that was caused by my job, the stress that came with it and learning relaxation techniques (I went back to autogenic training, tried meditation and learned how to do yoga without overstretching which can aggravate lower back issues). Also, mindfully removing those same triggers from my personal life, carving out 'me time' and not being rushed.

I get VERY few onsets of sciatica these days, a whole lot of things have to happen all at once to bring on an attack but I've also learned exercises and tools to get back to pain free. It took 2 years to get to where I am now. And I am writing this article precisely because I don't want people to wait as long as I did, to take action and hopefully avoid surgery.

The NY Times Health and Science section posted an article today on how back pain is being over-treated. I will be posting a video of a few exercises to help level the pelvis and restore balance in the hips, soon; to contribute to healing naturally and empowering individuals like you, to stop the pain.

I hope you will like it and mostly of course, that you don't need it in the first place!

Today I ask you to tuck your pelvis and engage your core!

xxR

 

 

Organize, Enjoy, Repeat

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Today seems to be the first day in a long time that it is overcast and slightly cooler. A perfect day to tend to some business at home. Things that usually pile up because the summer lures us outside. Whenever I tackle the chaos at home, I usually start in my head. I like to make lists, look ahead and determine short term, mid range and long term goals. In my last post I mentioned manifesting and I would put that under long term goals. Manifesting or visualizing for me is a way of becoming clear about what I would like a the best outcome to be in the future. Mid range goals usually include my calendar for the upcoming week, including groceries (to be able to grab healthy snacks and cook well) and taking care of our dog, Zola. I try to get an idea of my husband's calendar, too but it tends to change on a daily basis.

Today is a short term goal kinda day, clean and store my workout equipment, clean the apartment, prepare my next sessions and decide which ice cream to make next in our new ice cream maker.

When I'm organized I tend to eat better, sleep better, create better and generally feel more at ease; but in a hectic city and being plugged in electronically 24/7 it is sometimes difficult to achieve. Some people hire others to help, them but what if that is not an option? My coach was pretty good at giving sound advice on this topic (and could be strict enforcing it) during my very active years. So here they are: tools necessary to organizing yourself despite what is thrown at you on any given day:

  1. Take a step back: don't dive in head first, you will exhaust yourself trying to do everything at once. Instead, take a step back and assess and then create a list of what needs to be addressed first, second, etc. Competing in five events and training for each one, taught me that it was probably less detrimental to miss a shooting practice than losing hours in the pool or on the track.
  2. Don't get distracted: mindfulness is beautifully described in this recent article: "This Simple Mental Trick can slow down Time". Pay attention to what you are doing and maybe you will find some fun in it. I never particularly enjoyed stretching before a swim practice but I tried to focus on each stretch and what its benefits were.
  3. Remember the big picture: if you feel like you failed at any given time, don't dwell on it too much. Things are still moving along. Who says you won't meet your goal? You're likely to cause more damage beating yourself up than remembering where you are headed and marching on. My coach was a master at creating semi-annual goals and remembering them throughout smaller setbacks. If I got sick, there was really nothing we could do than be patient and get back on the horse (literally!).
  4. Reward yourself: once you meet a deadline, achieve a goal or a part of it, celebrate it! Now that can be a very individual thing, whether you enjoy a good massage, a nice meal or quality time with friends it will all help you to be even better in the future. In athletic terms there is something called supercompensation when you take a sudden dip from a plateau before you soar to much better results. Recognizing that point of having reached a new high is important. Only through rest and contentment can we tackle new things.
  5. Do everything with focus and diligence: similar to not getting distracted this is even more important. Treat each task as if it was the most important one. Only then will you finish it satisfactory. If you clean the apartment (find help on Sous Style) but only parts of it instead of focusing on getting it all done, you will keep that nagging feeling that it's not quite right and not be happy with it. In sports, if I didn't give it my best when 100% were demanded in practice, meant that during my next competition I would be missing these important seconds, the speed, the agility or the endurance and precision.
  6. Delegate: ultimately, when you can't do it all yourself. Get help! This is particularly important in an office environment or in any other team environment really. You can't do it all by yourself. As much as I was a professional athlete in an individual sport, I was only as good as the support both practical and emotional that I received from my coach and others that wanted me to succeed.

I dare you to try it. Have a great weekend! Enjoy the calm after the storm.

Big Sur

 

Keeping things in perspective - how our puppy taught us to focus on the positive

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In December, my husband and I - after not much deliberation - decided to get a Vizsla puppy who at the time was roughly 4 weeks old. We had seen her photos and despite knowing the breed's size and temperament as hunting dogs who need a lot of exercise, couldn't resist getting her at this time, although it was a rather trying period in our professional lives. For the next 6 weeks, we were giddy with anticipation and brainstormed names. We decided to name her Zola, which means "tranquil" in the Zulu language and were assured that all Vizsla's from this breeder were extremely relaxed, sweet mannered and therefore easy to handle. So in early February Zola arrived in Brooklyn and quickly became the darling of our neighbourhood. People squealed on the street and she learned soon that there was nothing to fear - not fire trucks nor noisy buses - and came to enjoy the attention quite a bit. We would take her outside every 1.5 hrs and made sure we followed every rule in the book to be calm and assertive parents but she was (and still is) a puppy. Sleep deprived and covered in little teeth marks we went through multiple evenings of testing each others' boundaries and almost every other week included a visit to the vet for vaccines or one of the several things that young dogs can have.

While being parents to Zola, we were both building businesses, so we had to go through paperwork and meet with accountants and lawyers. I was finishing certifications for pre/post natal exercise and a yoga teacher training all while we split up exercising her for almost 2 hours a day.  With the stress of training a young dog and not being able to leave the house for longer than a very hurried dinner, we soon came to be less than fond of our forced time together not to mention the stress we felt about yet another event: our impending (second) wedding with friends and family flying to New York from all corners of the world.

And then something magical happened. At the point of all of our stresses culminating, we took a trip to the Hamptons, strapped Zola into the back seat of our rental car, made a reservation with a dog friendly woman and left. New Yorkers will attest, that leaving the city behind can have a soothing quality and so it happened that we arrived on a freezing beach a few hours later and didn't mind it. Zola ran and was the happiest dog in the world, leash free in the sand, turning, chasing balls, focused on just us because there was nobody else crazy enough to be there. And she made us giggle, frozen and tired we could finally laugh about all of it.

Since our little getaway we have talked about how we need to relax and introduce a lighter mood into our current life. When we get stuck in a rut we look at Zola and watch her curiosity, her insatiable hunger for learning and her way to never hold a grudge even when she doesn't get what she wants. We recognize her eagerness to please, rather than focusing on her occasional testing of boundaries and our being together has changed drastically.

Zola Easterbunny

In life, we go through stages that are difficult, we are tested and tried and when everything happens at the same time, it's difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel and keep our chin up. Too often, one negative thought can lead to the next, the mind somehow convincing the body that it is too tired to move and the not moving adding to the downward spiral of a negative self image. It's in these situations that we can learn from our four legged companions. Movement keeps them happy, they don't hold on to resentment, they focus on the important things and if there is something to be happy about, they embrace it wholly! In some areas, we have already learned from animals, we place newborns and preemies on their parents' bare chests to create a bond and make them feel safe and at a later stage people with disabilities or high levels of anxiety have the opportunity to profit from being around animals in therapy that helps them feel grounded again. Often senior citizens who have a pet feel less lonely, too.

We have come to love Zola's 'velcro' personality when she insists on being part of everything we do. If she can have maximum body contact with one of us she is almost as happy as when it's a pile of all three of us on the couch. She entertains us with things she learns and melts our heart with her pure and unconditional love. When we get stressed, she will often deflect the situation by doing something that makes us laugh so hard, we have tears streaming down our cheeks and forget what we argued about. She has taught us so much and continues to do so. We couldn't imagine life without her.