Namaste Not So Much

I walk timidly into the hot yoga room, searching for an inconspicuous spot in the back. I roll down my mat, spread out my towel and look around.

My peers for this evening are doing Olympic stretches, preparing themselves for some kind of battle. Why are you all stretching? Isn’t yoga basically one big stretch fest?

Our instructor walks in and leads us through some basic poses. Okay, I can do this. This doesn’t feel like 105 degrees at all! I breathe through the exercises, letting the dark room consume me.

Fast forward 10 minutes and my organs are ON FIRE. WHY DID I LET THE ROOM CONSUME ME?! I steady myself. Nhi, you can do this. Breathe.

The instructor leads us to through some ridiculous pose that I call the Kill Me Now. Kill Me Now involves some kind of lunge maneuver which can then be manipulated into poses your body hasn’t experienced since before birth.

Anyway, Kill Me Now is a toughy for me. I have scoliosis and a lot of double joints, so poses generally don’t look as straight on me as they do on other people. Take Yogi in Training in the front row, for example. She’s blonde, tan, sculpted and probably does fitness commercials on the side. She hasn’t had a problem with a single pose yet, and I instantly hate her.

Yoga teacher comes over to fix my Kill Me Now. She’s instructing in the semi-darkness, and I am trying to adjust my awkward body to her liking. When I finally get it right, she comments to the class, “Well… Now that you’ve all been in that position for 5 minutes…” Aca-scuse me? 

Listen here, lady. Not all of us have the body of a 13-year-old gymnast. As I continue curse her under my breath, I hear a tiny fart escape from my neighbor to the left.

Great.

My body begins to do things against my will. For example, I’m rolling my eyes at every ridiculous pose she suggests. She wants me to put my foot where? My hand where? My tush where? No. I’m shaking uncontrollably, and I may or may not be experiencing my first seizure.

“You don’t have to shake all over the place,” she jeers in my direction. “You can cheat on the tough poses.” Thanks for the late news flash. Even though I’m pretty sure my cells are starting to light themselves on fire one by one, I resolve to make it through the entire class just to piss off my instructor.

I continue to neglect most of the standing poses, sinking into child’s pose every time I feel dizzy. Whatever. My neighbor to the right has given up on life altogether, lying spread-eagle just staring at the ceiling. At least I’m not that girl.

“I don’t hear anyone breathing,” the instructor calls out. Oh, really? Maybe because it’s hard to breathe when it’s approximately 165 degrees.

A little more than halfway through the lesson, everything is spinning and I am practically drowning myself in water to stay awake and alert. Right on cue, my neighbor to the left releases another lovely fart during a John Mayer ballad, and I nearly faint.

This is what Hell must be like. Satan probably conducts mandatory hot yoga sessions after forcing the sinful masses to eat burritos.

At this point, I black out for a good 15 minutes. I black in to find myself on my back, ankles in my hands, rocking from side to side, my babymaker in the air for all to see.

We move on to the stretch/flexibility portion of the class, which I conquer like the Asian contortionist that I am. Even Yogi in Training is jealous. Okay, only a little bit.

My insides are burning at a good 200 degrees, and I am praying–with each prayer pose–that the end is quite near. I have visions of myself melting Alex Mack-style and sneakily oozing past the doorway.

“Are there any other poses you would like to do today?” my instructor asks the class. I glance around. If anyone even dares I will strangle them with the tiny bit of strength I have left. My inner Buddhist tuts at me. Who knew yoga could make you so angry?

The instructor leads us through some “relaxing” closing exercises, and she suggests that we feel ourselves melt into our mats. I am trying to stay calm, but my neighbor to the left is breathing so hard that it makes my lungs hurt.

As the lights flicker back on, I book it out of there as fast as my Jell-O legs can muster.

So how did my first hot yoga experience go, you ask? Namaste not so much.

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Messes

As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, I hate when things get messy.

Not the little things, mind you. My clothes tend to pile up on the bathroom floor, and the stacks of papers on my desk are a bit more disheveled than I like them to be.

It’s the big things that get under my skin.

Lately, when a metaphorical mess occurs in my life, I have this uncontrollable urge to clean. I want to pick up the pieces, glue them back together, even spruce up the mess with flowers. Afterward, I would survey my handiwork. Good as new, I would lie to myself over and over again. And then I would lie to others.

What I have learned over these past few weeks is that some pieces in life aren’t meant to be picked back up. They aren’t meant to be glued back together, and they especially can’t be covered up with flowers.

Some pieces in life are broken for a reason. Some messes in life can’t be cleaned right this instant. Perhaps tomorrow, perhaps next year. And you know what? Some messes just aren’t my damn fault. I will pick up the pieces eventually, the way I pick up my clothes from the bathroom floor each week. But I can’t control every aspect of my life, and there are times where I need to learn to let go.

Because these messes? These so-called problems and heartaches and failures? They’re a part of life.

And life, like you and I, is quite messy. And sometimes, messes are just as beautiful as the people who created them. If we would simply change the way we perceive them.

What a beautiful mess this is.

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The Embrace of Aging

Monday night I attended the premiere of a documentary called, “The Embrace of Aging.”

Although it was from the male’s perspective, I found the experience entirely fascinating. (“I figured if I messed it up, guys would be more forgiving,” says producer Keith Famie, who is currently working on the women’s perspective. Smart man.)

It wasn’t the documentary itself, which discussed ways to embrace aging–physically, mentally and emotionally. It was the fact that I was probably the only person under the age of 40 in attendance.

Want proof? Before the premiere, I was standing in the hallway when an old man trudged past me, looking a little confused. A second later, he walked back out.

“Do I get my ticket from you?” he asked pointedly. I shook my head no.

Ah, the joys of being young.

So, like I said. It wasn’t the documentary itself. It was the people I watched it with.

Sitting in the back of the room, I could observe their raw emotions. I saw when they were mesmerized, I saw when they were laughing, and I saw when they were truly sad.

At the end of the film, one man raised his hand during the Q&A. I expected him to ask a question but was completely caught off-guard when he told his peers, “We need to do all the things we’ve ever wanted to do while we still can.” And the way he said it… it made my heart lurch.

Here they all were in their 60s, 70s… maybe 80s. And it seemed as though there were so many things they all wished they had done. Things they still wanted to do. Things they didn’t have time left to do. It made me feel so utterly guilty.

So there, in the back of the room, I silently vowed not to take my 20s, 30s, 40s or 50s for granted. I vowed not to let anything hold me back from following my heart or my dreams. I vowed to travel, to experience and to live life in the fullest of ways.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: If you’re going to embrace aging later on in life, you need to start by embracing being young.

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P.S. I highly encourage you to check out the documentary on PBS, which is part of a series. It’ll open your eyes as to what’s really important in life.

Happiness vs. Meaning

Let me tell you, being a millennial is difficult. From birth, our generation has been told to get a decent education which leads to a great paying job which somehow magically leads to marital bliss. In short, we’ve been taught to seek happiness.

Therefore our thirst for happiness is insatiable. We buy things we don’t need. We crave things we can’t have. We lust after a better image and a better life. And for some inexplicable reason, we are never completely satisfied.

I have been driving myself crazy with that concept. Over and over on this blog I’ve repeated how much I want to just be happy. As a recent graduate, however, I’ve discovered that happiness is just that–a concept.

It’s not that I’m unhappy. It’s just that I’m stuck in a such a strange limbo, and I’m sure a lot of my recent graduate friends feel the same way. Every day is a blur: wake, drive, work, lunch, work, drive, dinner, sleep, repeat. Some days I stop to wonder. Is this really what life is?

What’s that one quote? “What screws us up most in life is the image in our head of what it’s supposed to be.” Or something like that. We see all our friends with fabulous lives, traveling to places we’ll never see and buying things we could never afford. And with social media, it’s rubbed in our faces more than ever before.

But then I found this. The title of the article is “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy.” And if you don’t feel like reading it, let me sum it up for you:

“Research has shown that having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency, enhances self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression. On top of that, the single-minded pursuit of happiness is ironically leaving people less happy, according to recent research. ‘It is the very pursuit of happiness,’ Frankl knew, ‘that thwarts happiness.’”

When I finished the article, it was as though all the gears in my head had clicked together. I stopped wishing for happiness and instead, began searching for meaning.

Sometimes, my meaning is to provide brides-to-be with ideas and inspiration for their weddings. In a broader sense, my meaning is just to tell a damn good story. Most days, my meaning is to simply be there for my loved ones.

The more I think about it, the more I realize it’s the people who are consumed by their desire for success who end up the legends. It’s the people who agonize over their work who leave their mark on the world. It’s the people who understand their true purpose. It’s about realizing that it’s not just about you and your happiness–it’s about the big picture.

Because really, when it comes down to it, there’s so much more to life than being happy.

#26Acts of Kindness (Part 2)

Act 14, in honor of Grace McDonnell, age 7

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It was such a crazy day that I ended up making it to the fire station pretty late. My sister and I had been giggling all day about how old and not cute the firefighters must be because, as we all know, Naples is God’s waiting room.

The reception area was closed when we got there, but we did find two firefighters working on a truck. They were mildly surprised, but their thanks were so sincere. I could tell that they really appreciated the gesture. Side note: They weren’t old and not cute.

Act 15, in honor of Anne Marie Murphy, age 52

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This act was quite interesting. I went to Starbucks, got a coffee and bought a $10 gift card. I scribbled #26Acts on the card before handing it back to the barista. “This is for the next person that comes in,” I said.

“What?”

“This is for the next person that comes in,” I repeated.

“Oh my gosh, that’s so nice of you!”

I sat down at a table, teeming with excitement. Well, the next customer turned out to be a girl from my high school and her family. She, of course, had no idea it was me, and I couldn’t help but smile a little bigger while chatting to her. Life works in funny ways.

Act 16, in honor of Emilie Parker, age 6

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My baby sister really wanted to participate in an act of kindness. We had spent the previous day buying candy canes and painting the sign, and even though it had been a long day, I couldn’t say no to her precious begging.

“Please, Nhi,” she repeated over and over in her cute whine.

Okay, I told her. Only an hour.

It ended up being such a blast. We eventually stationed ourselves on a pretty popular street in North Naples and watching people’s reactions was pretty priceless. They would gasp, point, honk, wave, and in one instance, turn their car around to get some candy canes.

One man threw us $1.  People snapped photos and videos, and my sister and I spent some much-needed quality time together.

At one point I asked, “Do you know what #26Acts is?”

Yes, she replied, making a vague comment about Sandy Hook Elementary. But then my 9-year-old sister said something I will never forget.

“It’s really sad,” she said. “They probably all had Christmas presents under the tree.”

Act 17, in honor of Jack Pinto, age 6

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Elviona and I went out to The Pub, as is tradition (South Park voice), and we had a really cool bartender. He let us try some ciders and was pretty attentive and fun. As a result, I was extra generous with my tip.

Acts 18 and 19, in honor of Noah Pozner, age 6, and Caroline Previdi, age 6

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We had A LOT of leftover candy canes. So on Christmas Eve, my sisters and I went around the neighborhood dropping them off at random houses. I think they had a lot of fun. Scratch that. I know they had fun. At one point we all agreed that we felt like Santa’s little elves.

Act 20, in honor of Jessica Rekos, age 6

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I planned to buy scratch cards to put on cars at the hospital, and I thought, it must really suck to have to work on Christmas.

So I brought the gas attendant a slice of gingerbread cake. I could tell that she didn’t know how to react. I think she might’ve thought I was a bit off my rocker, but I hope she at least read my card.

Act 21, in honor of Avielle Richman, age 6

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I drove to the hospital near my house, and my sister and I searched for cars that looked like they might need a little Christmas cheer.

Act 22, in honor of Lauren Russeau, age 30

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My family had planned on volunteering at St. Matthew’s house on Christmas, but they had “been booked for weeks.” So we bought some urgent need items and dropped them off instead.

Act 23, in honor of Mary Sherlach, age 56

I see the same homeless man on my drive to work every day. Every. Single. Day. I finally worked up the courage to jump out of my car at the stop light to give him some change. It wasn’t much, but I hoped it helped.

Act 24, in honor of Victoria Soto, age 27

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This one is also in honor of my dad, who donated money to Nhi’s 26 Acts Fund. I left $20 at the pump for the next person. I hope it made a difference.

Act 25, in honor of Benjamin Wheeler, age 6

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Every little kid’s dream come true. I left as many quarters as I could in the machines at Publix.

Act 26, in honor of Allison N. Wyatt, age 6

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I wanted my last act to be lasting, so I made the first step toward becoming a Big Sister. I still have to turn in some paperwork and interview for it, but I am beyond excited to start this journey.

Joining the #26Acts movement has been an honor beyond all my wildest dreams. I cannot believe the amount of love and support I received from people I barely even know. All your kind words… tagging me in your acts of kindness… calling me an inspiration… I don’t deserve anything close to that, but I thank you so much.

If there’s one thing I learned from all this, it’s that I know how easy it is to commit an act of kindness. How easy it is to think, “How do I turn what I’m doing into a nice gesture for someone else?” Most of the time, they are things that we should have been doing all along… opening doors, stopping to help or just spreading hope.

You never know. You never know who may need a helping hand. And even if it’s not much, it can make a world of a difference.

All our lives we’ve been fed that line… That one person can make a difference.

Well, here’s proof.

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Missed Part 1? Read it here.

#26Acts of Kindness (Part 1)

The day of the Aurora, Colorado movie theatre shooting, I ended up at the mall. I walked around in a complete daze for hours, making circles in stores. I didn’t understand what I was doing there, but I knew I didn’t want to go home to an empty apartment to think.

Like many others out there, I just don’t cope with tragedies very well. Something about them shakes my very core, and I just can’t fathom the existence of so much hatred and misunderstanding in our society.

I heard about the Sandy Hook tragedy just moments before my weekend trip to Naples, and I spent the next three hours in tears, listening to the news unfold over the car radio. I have a precious 9-year-old sister, and the thought of someone harming her…

The thoughts of those innocent children and their devastated families and the communities that will never be the same. It appalled me more than anything; That I live in a society where human life seems so invaluable. And I can honestly say that those thoughts have yet to leave me.

To be candid, I found myself in a pretty dark place up until I saw #26Acts. I had heard about journalist Ann Curry’s compassionate movement, but I hadn’t considered jumping on the bandwagon.

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Out of curiosity, I searched the hashtag on Twitter and found some pretty simple yet inspiring ideas. One person Tweeted about how they wrote to their elementary school. I can do that, I thought. In fact, I can do that right now. 

So I took out a thank-you card and wrote a note to the First Grade Team at my old elementary school. And when I dropped off the envelope, I felt somewhat lighter than before.

The next thing I knew, I was hit by the #26Acts bug. Everything I did (and still do) revolves around the movement. How can I turn this simple activity into an act of kindness for someone else? It’s been so therapeutic and knowing that I made someone else’s day a little bit better has been more than worth it.

And so it began:

Act 1, in honor of Charlotte Bacon, age 6

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I wrote a note to the First Grade Team at my old elementary school, thanking them for what they do each and every day.

Act 2, in honor of Daniel Barden, age 7 

I was browsing the aisles at Wal-Mart when I overheard a mother stressing on the phone. She had had quite the day so far, and on top of it all, she had to cook dinner that evening. I secretly hoped that I would run into her later.

At check-out, I purchased three $10 gift cards. Grabbing my purchases, I saw the mother and her two children rushing out to the parking lot. I ran after them, my heart racing. “Excuse me!” I yelled.

She turned around. “Yes?” she asked cautiously.

“I just wanted to give you this $10 gift card,” I said in a rush, holding out a gift card.

She took it from my hand. “But… why?!” she asked bewilderedly.

“Because I’m doing 26 acts of kindness in honor of what happened in Newtown, Connecticut,” I said. “And.. I felt like you may need it.”

She enveloped me in a hug, murmuring, “Those poor children.” She told me that her brother works as a teacher one town about from Newtown, and I was struck by how close to home all of this really is. After some thank yous and holiday wishes, I walked away feeling even lighter than before.

Act 3, in honor of Rachel Davino, age 29

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With another gift card in hand, I circled the Wal-Mart parking lot until I stumbled onto a van with one of those corny student bumper stickers. I stuck the card in the windshield wipers, hoping that they’d find it sooner than later.

Act 4, in honor of Olivia Engel, age 6

This time I handed a gift card to a mother and her daughter walking into the store. The mother looked at me funny, shrugged off a thank you and walked away.

Act 5, in honor of Josephine Gay, age 7

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Even though I had “sworn off” my McDonald’s diet (this happens once a week), I couldn’t resist the temptation of a drive-thru act of kindness. I pulled up to the first window and told them that I wanted to pay for the family behind me.

I admit that this act of kindness made things complicated for employees, and I felt a bit guilty afterward. But I do hope the kids enjoyed their complimentary Happy Meals as much as I enjoyed my figurative Happy Meal.

Act 6, in honor of Catherine V. Hubbard, age 6

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Several times online I had stumbled onto the fact that Catherine really likes animals. So for this act, I made a donation to her Animal Center memorial fund.

Act 7 & 8, in honor of Dylan Hockley, age 6, and Dawn Hocksprung, age 47

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I wanted to drop off flowers to a nursing home for one of my acts of kindness because in my experience, a lot of residents don’t get the attention they deserve. During my lunch break, I bolted to the grocery store to grab two bouquets of flowers before searching for a nursing home on my GPS.

It somehow led me to a dialysis center, and I looked up at the sky and laughed. Talk about a sign from above. My late grandmother spent a lot of time at dialysis centers, and all I really remember about her appointments was that they were bleak and cold.

I knocked several times on the building’s sliding doors until a nurse came forward. She walked up to me, a scolding look on her face, her arms in the shape of a W.

“What in the world…?” she began. I immediately assume that people don’t usually knock on these doors.

“I’m here to drop off flowers,” I explained.

“To who?” she asked.

“To anyone,” I replied.

“Anyone?” she repeated.

“Yes,” I confirm. “Anyone who may need them.”

I finally get a smile. “God bless you,” she says, as I walk back to my car.

Act 9, in honor of Madeleine F. Hsu, age 6

Occasionally, we get free food at the office, and in this case, they were delicious mini cupcakes.

I took five home and instinctively drove toward Panera Bread. I’m always doing extra work there, and I am very thankful for their kind employees.

I slammed on the brakes when I saw a Salvation Army bell ringer outside Winn-Dixie. I made a u-turn and practically ran out of my car and up to her. She had just taken a breather, and upon closer inspection, she looked exhausted.

“This cupcake is for you,” I said. “Thank you for what you do.”

“Thank you!” she exclaimed. “I really needed this.”

“I’m so glad,” I responded and dashed back into my (still running) car. She waved after me, shouting that the cupcake was delicious.

Act 10, in honor of Ann M. Marquez-Greene, age 6

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I sneakily entered Panera through their back door with the rest of my cupcakes. I left them on a table with a note explaining my act of kindness. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that their employees discovered them, but who knows.

Act 11, in honor of Chase Kowalski, age 7

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I had super overdue library books, so I figured I could turn it into an act of kindness. I put a kind note in each book, hoping that someone in need will someday read them.

Act 12, in honor of Jesse Lewis, age 6

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I was dropping my grandma off at the hair salon today when I noticed the humane society sign. The photo above speaks more than my words can.

Act 13, in honor of James Mattioli, age 6

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This one’s a bit complicated. I was in the check-out line at Wal-Mart (We live 3 minutes away from Wal-Mart… It’s a blessing and a curse.) when the cashier asked if we were ready for Christmas. Yes, I responded and asked her the same.

“No,” she said. “I’m scared.” She explained that she still has a lot of things to purchase and that she just welcomed a new grandson today. I felt an immediate rush of emotion for this woman and after paying, I went to purchase a gift card for her.

I gave her the gift card, and she adamantly refused, giving me a huge hug. Apparently Wal-Mart doesn’t allow their employees to accept gift cards inside the store. Um, what? BS, Wally World. Let’s not even talk about how underpaid and undervalued your employees are…

I walked out of the store completely distraught, and my sisters and I decided to give the card to the Salvation Army bell ringer outside. He graciously accepted the gesture, and it put THE biggest smile on his face – completely worth it in the end.

To be continued…