Letting go

While out doing the “girls that do lunch” thing, my friend Kate asked me what being mindful meant.  Pretty deep stuff (and awkward to answer with a mouthful of cheesecake) But in between my munchings, it made me wonder what it really means, “to be in the present moment” ?
It’s a great question !!! I wonder what your answer would be ?  For me, being in the moment means being mindfully aware of what is going on right here and now, in our experience, and this includes any thinking we do about the past or future. Much of the time our experience does not have this quality of awareness or mindfulness. A lot of the time we are like robots, automatically living out habitual patterns of self-pity, anger, wish fulfillment, fear, etc. These habitual tendencies take us over and run our lives for us – without our being able to stand back and decide whether this is what we actually want to be doing. It can be a real shock when we start to realize just how habitual and automatic our lives are, and when we realize how much runaway thinking leads to states of suffering.
When we’re in this robotic state, we’re not mindfully aware of what’s going on. We may know on some level that we’re angry but we probably don’t realize most of the time that we have an option not to be angry. We fantasize without any discernment of whether what we’re thinking about is making us happy or unhappy. And in fact, a lot of the time when we are letting our habits dominate us we are not making ourselves or others happy – often quite the opposite.
Being in the moment is just another way of saying that we are aware of what is going on in our experience, that we are not just being angry (or whatever) but are aware that we are angry and are aware that we can choose to be otherwise. Of course a lot of the time when we are not being in the moment, we are literally thinking about the past or present. We might be dwelling on the past – brooding about some past hurt. Or we may be fantasizing about a future in which we have won the lottery and are living out our lives in some imagined paradise, or daydreaming about being with the perfect partner.
Often these fantasized pasts and futures are not even real possibilities, but simply fantasies of how things might be or of how we would have liked them to have been. And as with all unmindful activity, we have no awareness that this fantasizing is pointless. All that it does is reinforce unhelpful emotional tendencies that can never truly enrich our lives.
Reflecting with mindfulness

There are, of course, ways of mindfully thinking about the past or future. Being in the moment does not mean that we are stuck in the moment. We can mindfully and creatively call to mind past events, or imagine what might happen in the future. We can think about the past and think about how we might have acted differently, or wonder why something happened the way it did. We can think about possible futures, and of how the actions that we commit now will make those futures more or less likely. When we are thinking about the past or future while being in the moment, we are conscious that we are reflecting and we’re not lost in thought. We don’t confuse fantasy with reality. We don’t stray from thinking about the past in order to construct imaginary pasts in which we said or did the right thing – or if we do so then it’s part of a conscious thought experiment to see what we might learn from the experience. We think about the future, but rather than it being idle daydreaming we’re thinking about the consequences of our actions or otherwise reflecting on where we want to go in life.
Sometimes daydreaming can be creative. It can be wonderful to relax the reins of consciousness and allow our creative unconscious mind the opportunity to express itself.

But it’s generally far more useful to have a part of our conscious mind standing by, observing, watching for any sign that the creative expression of the unconscious is turning gray – turning into the repetitive and reactive expression of old and unhelpful emotional patterns. The conscious mind can intervene at such moments with a light touch, a gentle redirection of our mental energies so that we stay in the present; aware, mindful, and creative.

 

Love and Light

New year, New beginnings

makeup instructor

2019 is shaping up to be a hectic and exciting year for me !!!  Not only have I got a number of really amazing projects on the go with my charity work, but following a number of discussions with my friend Lesley, I agreed to join her team at Lesley Gray as their make up instructor, working on helping trans women in the states learn how to make best use of their makeup as well as helping Lesley developing her business in preparation for retirement.

It’s always so much fun working with Lesley, not only is she a wonderful woman and great friend to me personally, but she gives so freely of herself, with no thought of reward, that you can’t help but be inspired by what she is doing and  join in !!

I’m really excited to join her team for a number of reasons, firstly, its a natural extension of what we’re doing in the UK with YNotbU and the Transgender Makeup pages and groups I run in Facebook, but secondly, it continues to validate my work as a professional makeup artist.  Something I’m not only having a lot of fun doing, but also immensely privileged for the trust, friendship and the chance to be able to share what I’ve learnt with Lesley and her friends.  Really thrilling for me !!

Bring on 2019 is what I say !!!

Joanna

10 Alternatives to going to the gym…

When we mention fitness training our minds tend to normally waver towards hours on the treadmill, waiting for your turn on the weights machine, sweating it out in a spinning class or perhaps doing some funky moves at home to the latest workout craze…but getting fit and staying in shape doesn’t have to be all about the gym with reps, and sets and timings.

It should be about enjoyment and living your life.

So I have listed out my 10 favorite alternative approaches that not only will get you in amazing shape but also offers the opportunity to learn a new skill set, make new friends, get out of your comfort zone, vastly improve your health  and generally become a more interesting person than ‘Jenny , I spend hours at the gym looking in the mirror and taking selfies more than I do working out’!

1- Mixed Martial Arts

WomensSelfDefense-900x600

MMA fighters are arguably some of the fittest athletes out there. Their style of fighting is a combination of boxing, kick boxing, Jujitsu and wrestling to name but a few. Even if you don’t have any desire to be a fighter, simply training to be one will place you in the best shape of your life. I’m not talking about doing an MMA class with your local fitness Instructor, I am talking about enrolling in an actual MMA gym and training as if to become an actual fighter.

The benefits of MMA style training include:

  • A full body workout
  • Brutal cardio sessions
  • Builds Strength & Power
  • Improves coordination
  • Improves flexibility
  • Learn to realistically defend yourself and build self confidence
  • Burn calories FAST
  • Instill a sense of discipline you can carry over to other areas of your life
  • Its fun & safe
  • Make friends and become a part of a family

Here is a little motivation if you feel like you wanna be badass!

Continue reading “10 Alternatives to going to the gym…”

10 Alternatives to going to the gym…

When we mention fitness training our minds tend to normally waver towards hours on the treadmill, waiting for your turn on the weights machine, sweating it out in a spinning class or perhaps doing some funky moves at home to the latest workout craze…but getting fit and staying in shape doesn’t have to be all about the gym with reps, and sets and timings.

It should be about enjoyment and living your life.

So I have listed out my 10 favorite alternative approaches that not only will get you in amazing shape but also offers the opportunity to learn a new skill set, make new friends, get out of your comfort zone, vastly improve your health  and generally become a more interesting person than ‘Jenny , I spend hours at the gym looking in the mirror and taking selfies more than I do working out’!

1- Mixed Martial Arts

WomensSelfDefense-900x600

MMA fighters are arguably some of the fittest athletes out there. Their style of fighting is a combination of boxing, kick boxing, Jujitsu and wrestling to name but a few. Even if you don’t have any desire to be a fighter, simply training to be one will place you in the best shape of your life. I’m not talking about doing an MMA class with your local fitness Instructor, I am talking about enrolling in an actual MMA gym and training as if to become an actual fighter.

The benefits of MMA style training include:

  • A full body workout
  • Brutal cardio sessions
  • Builds Strength & Power
  • Improves coordination
  • Improves flexibility
  • Learn to realistically defend yourself and build self confidence
  • Burn calories FAST
  • Instill a sense of discipline you can carry over to other areas of your life
  • Its fun & safe
  • Make friends and become a part of a family

Here is a little motivation if you feel like you wanna be badass!

Continue reading “10 Alternatives to going to the gym…”

Body image and losing weight

 

shutterstock_114975982Even if we’re not intending to transition, as trans women we’re frequently intense observers of female behaviours in our quest to achieve that elusive ability to be able to “pass in public”.  While there are lots of facets to this “ability”, for many, this is felt no more acutely than the difficult topic of “body image” or more specifically “weight”.   The media bombards us with perfect images and articles on everything from “the benefits of dress size” to “how to achieve the perfect body shape” with all the negative connotations for our self esteem that come with them.  So how can we get to overcome these stereotypes and be happy with who we want to be ?

For many, addressing excess weight or unwanted muscle mass is a key part of the transition process and with the power of the internet at your disposal, within a few clicks, you can be left with a bewildering array of options.  Don’t get fixated on losing weight though, the key thing to a successful transition when you think of it, is being happy with the skin you’re in, whatever shape size or colour it is. Remember, a real woman is whatever she wants to be and so can you be too.

But if you do want to lose weight in a healthy way without resorting to starvation or anorexic behaviours, here are some tips from Vicky and me to get you going in the right direction.

  1. Be Patient, you’ve got time.  The transition process itself takes time and so does  losing weight.   You don’t need to rush either.   Most diets we looked at targeting an average weight loss of between about 2.0 – 2.5 pounds per week  (That’s about a Kg in new money).  This is only an average though, when you start you may lose more (a lot of the additional weight loss will be water weight) and some weeks, you’ll plateau and not appear to lose any.  Both are perfectly okay, relax !!!
  2. Weigh yourself at the same time each day. When you weigh yourself (and record the associated weight) you want the record to be as consistent as possible.  Doing this will take a lot of the swing and emotion out of your efforts which can lead to a loss in motivation.  I personally weight myself weekly because I find it more of a reasonable and better indication of success.  Remember, it’s  a health game and not a numbers game !!!
  3. Plateaus are normal !!!.  A weight loss plateau is a stall in your weight loss, where your body is overcoming latency.  Although its frustrating, don’t lose your motivation.  You’re doing all the right things and you don’t want to change your routine with drastic actions such as starvation.  Just be patient and continue what you are doing and you will break through when your body is ready.
  4. Oestrogen will take care of your shape. While there are lots of exercise products which claim to target specific areas, these claims are mostly not true.  Oestrogen however will redistribute your body fat and reduce some muscle mass, you only need to concentrate burning calories and eating healthy.
  5. Consider Yoga and Pilates.  Its easy to get fixated with losing muscle mass to the point where they will avoid any form of weight training because they see it as a form of “bulking up” which is the last thing they want.  The truth is though that it takes bodybuilders mad amounts of time in the gym to bulk up.  Exercise regimes like Yoga and Pilates help “sculpt” and “tone” muscle leading to a better shape and posture.  You’ll actually develop metabolically active muscles without the fat they are helping you burn.  You will actually get a little smaller.
  6. Make use of a personal trainer.  Lying to yourself and making excuses are easy ways out when you’re struggling, particularly when you are trying to do things on your own.  Taking advantage of your gyms personal trainer is a useful way to make a commitment to your goals and getting support when you need it.  Those things are just secondary benefits though, their primary benefit is to help you make the most of the exercises you are doing and use the equipment safely without damaging yourself.
  7. Whatever you do, exercise should be something you ENJOY.  Ideally, you’re looking for three to four exercise sessions a week (more if you can manage)  So you’ll likely be spending quite a bit of time doing it.  If you’re going to stick to it, it makes sense that you should enjoy it.  If you absolutely hate exercise, it will become to skip sessions or worse quit altogether.  Even if you do enjoy your preferred routine, mix it up every now and again to prevent you from falling into a rut and just “going through the motions”.
  8. It generally takes about 30 days to form a habit.  When you start changing your lifestyle for the better, each change, whatever it is will take time to become “normal” Remember what we said at the start, you have more time than you realise and there are no quick fixes. Transition is a long term plan you’re looking at and losing weight is just one part of the journey.
  9. Take an interest in cooking.  The more you cook for yourself and prepare your own ingredients, rather than microwave a meal for 4 minutes or so, you’ll start to appreciate your food more.  It also is a great distraction from just sitting in front of the TV with a plate on your lap and can be tremendously social too.  It also feeds through into your shopping habits too, when you start to think about cooking something and preparing your own meals, you go through the supermarket with a plan and a list, rather than hunting out bargains and “two for one offers” which tend to be unhealthy food choices.
  10. Don’t think of it as a diet, more of a change in lifestyle. Once you reach your goal weight, going back to your old lifestyle will only take you back to where you used to be.  Your transition and routine needs to be a real lifestyle change. Continue living healthy with good food and great exercise.  Between this and the Oestrogen, you will pull off a healthy woman’s appearance into the rest of your life.

 

So, there you go, that’s our tips – what are yours ?  Let us know – who knows, we may even try them out and get back to you !!

 

 

 

 

More than just a label

LabelsKeeping support meetings fresh and interesting for the people who come can always be a challenging proposition, particularly when the group is well established.  You tend to find people migrate to their familiar friends and cliques inevitably form which can make the group seem intimidating or unwelcoming for “nervous newbies” when they first come. This month at the Stratford upon Avon meeting I support, I thought I’d try something a little different, just to mix things up a little, based on the perennial hot topic of “labels”.  The reason for this being that we not only get a number of helpline calls on this subject, but I knew of two people who were coming were struggling to understand the various labels they were coming into contact with.  Far from an ideal situation and one that was creating other problems diverting from the core issue.

In the end, Wednesdays group meeting had five “newbies” to welcome.  So, after everyone had settled down and got themselves drinks and munchies, I split the meeting into two groups, distributing the newbies among them, dimmed the lights and put up a screenshow……..

“More than just a label….”

Cue the groans.  “Hey, you can’t pre-judge a whole evening on just 5 words, stick with it.  I think you’ll find there’s something for everyone in this.  It will certainly get you thinking and talking” I said as I distributed handouts, pens and post-it notes.

The idea behind the presentation was pretty simple, each slide had a written profile of a person next to a blank outline of a body. No pictures, no clues as to gender, just the words of the profile.  Everyone would then get 2 minutes to write a word on a post-it and then attach it to the blank outline.  No guessing, just based on the profile that was presented.  The persons picture would then be revealed in the next slide and we would share thoughts on the labels we had attached, discussing any that people wanted.  Five slides in total.  The next slide was a blank outline with some hints on writing a personal profile.  Five minutes in total (after all, who knows more about being you than you ?) I would collect them up and then redistribute them among the group for another two minutes and then present for discussion.  Crucially, this was all anonymous, with no judgements.  The presentation then ended with a slide containing each of the common words used within the trans community and then an open discussion as to what each of these words meant to our group.

If you’re interested, you can download an updated version of the presentation here.  (I’ve updated it based upon the conversations we had in the group)

There were some interesting points that came out of our groups meeting that evening

  • It’s really difficult to label a person with just one word !
    • It was interesting to hear the discussion on this point and how it developed.  Initially, people were hesitant, “its unfair”, “how can I ?” were common observations.  It got even harder when everyone’s personal profiles were distributed.  People suddenly became aware that they could potentially upset someone in the room, through the choice of an inappropriate word.  Fortunately, two of the more established group members chipped up at this point and asked “why would the words we choose be negative ?”, another chimed in and asked “if we’re finding it difficult to choose one word to label people we either don’t or barely know, why do we get hett up on one word to describe ourselves, without seeing the damage it can cause ?
  • No-one labelled any of the personal profiles as trans*
    • Kind of weird – it would have been an easy label to attach.  When I pointed it out though, one person commented “you said we could only label based on the profile the person shared and they didn’t say that about themselves”  To which someone quickly replied, “I’m also all those things too, I guess, those are the things I would like people to recognise about me as I do myself.  The trans label, it’s as unimportant as male or female.  Its only part of who I am not the whole.”
  • Trans people can be unaware of their communities Icons, community, history and culture
    • Three of the profiles I showed were of leading trans people through the ages.  People who were either leading activists, public figures or supporters of our community and rights. When we talked about these people though, the conversation seemed to fixate on “who are they ?”, “why have you picked those people ?” or even “That person doesn’t know anything about me, or my struggles, why do they feel they can speak on my behalf ?”  Izzy, one of the new girls stepped up to the plate on these points though and asked “We want to feel we aren’t alone, that we’re part of a community, but look at what we do to those people who put themselves out there on our behalf, shouldn’t we be supporting them ?  These people are clearing a path out in the real world, so that I can lead my life more easily in the open.  They deserve everyone’s respect, but especially my thanks ”  Not everyone agreed with this, but for me, I really thought this was a positive, outward looking perspective, which I really admire in people.
  • Trans people often don’t even agree on the definitions of the labels themselves
    • Oh my golly, if you want to cause confusion, try to get a group to agree on a common definition of labels.  We spent almost 10 minutes talking about this, going round and round before Ester, one of the quietest people you could ever wish to meet stood up and had the following conversation with Michelle
      • Ester :- “If even we can’t agree on this, what’s the point ?”
      • Michelle :- “But they’re critical.  Doctors use them all the time to prescribe our treatments”
      • Ester :-  “are you a doctor ?”
      • Michelle :- “no”
      • Ester :- “So why are you worried then ?”
      • Michelle :- “What if they use the wrong word and it prejudices their diagnosis and my treatment ?
      • Ester :- “Tell them they’ve got it wrong and to try again.  they’re labelling themselves as Doctors not infallible”
      • Michelle :- “That’s easier said than done”
      • Ester :- “nothing worthwhile ever is easy.  Being you shouldn’t be one of the things that is hard though”
      • MIchelle :- “I’m not going to win this am I ?”
      • Ester :- “No dear, if you want a label, try tea lady.  Milk with sugar please”

After the slideshow, a few people came upto me and thanked me for the presentation.  Three of them thanked me for the talk, Sarah even said “thanks for making me concentrate on me and not the label used by others to frame my transition”.  I’ve since had some emails too.  My favourite one said

“Thankyou for this evening.  I had become so fixated on what label to attach to myself it was affecting my health and ability to be happy with myself.  I was quickly becoming consumed with what am I, thinking I needed it as part of my identity, but after hearing everyone tonight, I realised that I could let that go finally and say, I’m me and concentrate on being me.  I like that”

It takes a lot of trust in the group to do this sort of thing and for people to share, but I’m glad I felt I could do it and that people joined in. I can honestly say, I’m really privileged to know such wonderful people, who are prepared to take a chance and support each other.