3 Life Lessons From A Peruvian Shaman

Machu Picchu is one of those destinations that has been on my bucket list likely since birth. Ranking in my top three places I must see ASAP (the others are Antarctica and seeing molten lava), I knew I had to book a trip sooner rather than later. That’s exactly what I did last month, but kicked it up a notch.


For starters, instead of just taking the bus up the mountain to see the incredible ruins, my husband and I opted to hike from kilometer 104. If you’ve ever considered going to the ancient site yourself, I highly recommend this trek. It’s the perfect middle ground if you like a bit of a challenge, but prefer not to sleep at smelly campsites when doing the five-day-long Inca Trail hike. You get the experience of the trail with a comfy hotel bed at the end (my idea of camping). Bonus: you get to see other Inca sites only reachable by foot like Winaywayna.
 
Next, wanting to fully take advantage of Machu Picchu, we decided to go back up the mountain the next day. This time with a Peruvian shaman. The Sumaq Hotel in Aguas Calientes offered this incredible opportunity to have a mystical tour of the grounds and learn about magical connections with Pachamama (Mother Earth) and the sacred temples. It is called the Sacred Valley after all!

Though we had been there the day before, it was a completely different experience arriving at sunrise with the shaman. He took hours explaining the history and meaning behind the many different parts of Machu Picchu. But, these were the biggest (and most practical) lessons I learned.
 
1. Big Ideas Start Small

While we were walking around, the shaman stopped at a rather unassuming wall (see picture above). He explained, with the help of an English interpreter, that the wall was built strangely with smaller rocks on the bottom supporting the large rocks on top. This was meant to signify that it’s the smaller ideas that allow our grand ideas to come to life. It’s a reminder to embrace and nurture our everyday thoughts to create support for our bigger, more creative thoughts of the future.
 
2. Slow Down
With many tour guides, their goal is to get you in and out as quickly as possible. At the end of our tour, the shaman took us to a grassy spot overlooking Machu Picchu and told us just to sit in silence and take in the moment. We could meditate, we could keep our eyes open or closed, we could lay down, we could do whatever we wanted, as long as we just soaked in the moment. How often do we have people instructing us to slow down? Usually it’s quite the opposite. The handful of minutes (I’m not even sure how long we sat there), gave me time to reflect on my goals for the future while appreciating the present.
 
3. We Can Rid Ourselves of Negativity
While the shaman went through a whole purification ceremony using crystals, coca leaves and other cosmic offerings, it was really the instruction of thinking about the negative energies in my life that left me feeling lighter. Before blessing us and using what looked like a handcrafted wand to whisk away negativity, he instructed that I think about the things bringing me down and how I wanted them to change. It was giving myself this time for some self-reflection that helped me work through some issues causing me stress. We don’t need a healer or magic wand to rid ourselves of negativity. We just need to devote the time to knowing we want a change.

How To Disconnect On Vacation (For Real)

Smartphones and computers are great for researching adventures, finding restaurants or posting waterfall photos during a trip. But, if you're really trying to take a vacation, staying glued to your digital devices can keep you attached to life's daily stressors like work, chores and plans.

According to a recent poll conducted by NPR,  30 percent of Americans focus a significant amount of energy on work during their “getaways” — meaning that our stress is getting packed right alongside our bathing suits and flip flops.

It’s time to break the vicious cycle! Make the decision to truly disconnect next time you travel, using these five simple steps as a guide. After all, you and your iPhone do have something in common — at some point you just need to recharge.

Bring a Legit Camera

Sure, our phones have cameras that rival most top-notch digital SLRs, but you might be tempted to quickly check Facebook while snapping a pic of that palm tree. Bringing an actual camera allows you to leave the phone in the room so you can stay focused on the adventure ahead. With so many compact and easy-to-use professional cameras on the market, we promise it will be just as easy pressing that button on your phone.

Take a Yoga Class

For most of us, it wouldn’t be vacation unless lots of vegging out and eating were involved.  But to really revitalize, try choosing someplace that offers daily, healthy activities. That sunrise beach yoga class will help you to get into a deeper sense of relaxation and focus your mind back to taking care of you, instead of the to-do list waiting for you back at home.

Go to a Place Without WiFi

This might be tough (and there may be some days of withdrawal!) but going to a place with no Wi-Fi or cell phone signal will force you to be MIA from the world. (Your parents did it their whole lives and you never had cell phone access as a kid, so this can be done.) Or simply choose not to sign up for the Wi-Fi your hotel or resort offers. Trust us, the world will keep on spinning without you knowing every one of your Aunt Milly’s status updates or the latest memo from your boss.

Indulge in a Spa Service

Whether it’s booking a traditional massage or attempting a unique treatment like a ritual bath, there are tons of spa services all aimed at one thing — helping you detox from your busy day-to-day life. Find one that suits you and spend a little extra cash to decompress.

Sleep

It may sound like a simple thing, but many Americans (42 percent to be exact according to The National Sleep Foundation) are sleep deprived, so getting some shuteye on vacay is a vital step to feeling recharged. Tom Brady and actress Brooke Burke-Charvet have even admitted to taking “sleepcations” where they book time off just to catch some zzzz’s.

Any tips we missed? Tell us your secret for completely unplugging during those precious vacation days.

Why I Needed to Take a Vacation From My Vacation

Hitting the road or hopping on a plane can be exciting, but it also comes with a lot of stress. There’s packing, getting to the airport on time, dealing with traffic and delays, drawing the short stick when it comes to seating options, and body clocks that often get out of whack. That’s exactly what happened to me this past summer when I decided to fill every waking moment with travel. 

I’ll admit, I’m one of those people who gets the travel bug if I don’t go somewhere every six or so weeks. I constantly need a change of scenery, even if it’s a quick trip upstate. So, when I was pushing the three-and-a-half-month mark of no trips, I went a bit nuts with the planning.

First up was a cruise around the Mediterranean, where I led meditation classes for a week, followed by a two-night trip to Denver, where I spoke at a conference. Then, I made my way over to Portland, Oregon for the Fourth of July, where I ate five meals a day, and lastly, headed down toRio for the Olympics, where sleep wasn’t on the itinerary. While I am immensely grateful for each and every one of these experiences, I was also extremely tired. 

The time spent traveling to and from airports and working non-top while on the road caught up to me by mid-August. My back was sore, my skin broke out, and I had a tension headache that wouldn’t go away. Although I chose this, I needed to reset and reboot before autumn set in. So what did I do? I planned another getaway. Before you throw your arms up in the air, hear me out. This trip was going to be different -- I would spend my days sleeping, eating healthy, exercising, and doing absolutely nothing.

To avoid another long-haul trip, I opted for a destination that's all about relaxing: Boca Raton, Florida. My husband and I booked a two-day stay at Boca Beach Club, an oceanfront hotel that's perched on a half-mile stretch of private beach. Translation: it's quiet enough to fall asleep to the sounds of the Atlantic. The property also has two fitness centers, multiple restaurants with health-conscious menus, and a top-rated spa -- all the necessary ingredients for a true escape. 

To get into vacation mode, we did the unthinkable: put away our computers and cell phones. Studies show that six out of 10 employees have conducted some work on a recent vacation. And a Framingham Heart Study found that men who didn’t take a vacation for several years were 30 percent more likely to have a heart attack. 

Once we got over the discomfort of disconnecting, we made an effort to relax. And what better way to do that than by eating? We chowed down on some delicious fish tacos and guacamole before heading back to the room and taking a nap. I couldn’t remember the last time I napped in the middle of the afternoon.

Food and sleep -- we kept it to the basics. We took advantage of the fact that we had time and a beautiful location on our hands, so we splurged for the romantic panoramic dinner. The next morning, we indulged in sunrise yoga. For us, it was something out of the ordinary, romantic, and the perfect activity to kick off a day of other healthy activities. We wrapped up by 7 a.m. and were at the pool two hours later, ready to take another short nap. The afternoon was filled activities like walking on the beach, chatting, and hitting the gym. Typically, our workouts are squeezed in the morning before work or after leaving the office, so it was a nice change of pace to exercise together. And before dinner that evening, we decided to catch up on a little grooming like haircuts and manicures (I even convinced my husband to get his first one ever). Then, it was on to another delectable dinner before calling it a night. 

On our last day, we went all out -- in relaxing. This was our spa day. We opted to try the ritual bath experience, followed by a couple’s massage to make sure we were 100 percent blissed out by the end of this marathon de-stress weekend. The 50-minute bathing experience was unlike anything I've encountered before. You go from an aroma room to a personal tub in a Turkish hammam-like setting, followed by a shower that feels like you’re getting sand blasted. Next, you're transported into another tub, where water is steadily dumped on your back for an aquatic massage. The whole experience ends in a communal whirlpool.  Needless to say, all the visible wear and tear on my skin from months of traveling had been scuffed away. The hour-long massage took care of my muscles, releasing the tension that had built up from carrying luggage and unsuccessfully sleeping on planes.

At lunch, in our robes, we looked at each other with a smile that said “we did it.” We were stress-free and feeling refreshed. Getting on the plane later that night didn’t have the same sting as the flights earlier this summer. And when we awoke the next morning in our New York City apartment, the world was a little easier to handle. All we needed was a vacation from our vacations.

6 Things I Never Knew About the Olympics Until I Attended Them

The Olympics is one of those events that's engrained in us from childhood. Every four years, folks around the world set aside time to cheer on their home team. So when I got the chance to actually attend the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this year, I thought I knew what I was in for. After all, having tuned in on television for years, I knew there would be plenty of cheering, team pride, and even some inevitable chaos. And while all of that held true, I learned many more tidbits that could only be picked up while on the front lines. Here are six of those things. 

1. Not all athletes are created equal.

When you think of the world's best athletes, people like Michael Phelps, Serena Williams, and Usain Bolt come to mind. They're paid millions by sponsors and leave people starstruck. But those stories are few and far between. I got my first taste of this before I even set foot in Rio. On my flight from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro, I spotted a couple of athletes from the Colombian soccer team. One of those players sat next to me in the middle seat. It wasn't glamorous -- there were no private jets or special services. The only difference was that they were going to be competing for a gold medal and I would be a mere spectator. 

2. Athletes are fans too.

During the opening ceremony and several sporting events, I snapped approximately one thousand photos. That's typical fan behavior, especially given that this moment occurs every four years. Funnily enough, the athletes we were there to cheer on were doing the exact same thing. During the opening ceremony, they had their phones out to take photos of the stadium as well as one another. I even watched as they went up to athletes on other teams to ask for selfies. In other words, Olympic athletes, they're just like us.

3. The opening ceremony might have been better on television.

I've watched the Olympics opening ceremony several times on TV and always thought how incredibly spectacular they must look in person. Though it was breathtaking to see the fireworks and feel the overwhelming camaraderie of nations first-hand, most of the technical marvels were designed for those watching at home. Approximately 30 million people tuned into this year's ceremony -- about 400 times the number of spectators in the stands. Given this information, it makes sense that the event was geared towards TV watchers. The 3-D projection mapping of performers jumping over buildings didn't translate as well in person and the sheer number of people in the Parade of Nations made it difficult to see the athletes. I caught myself watching the big screens to get a better sense of what was going on more than a few times. 

To make it even more enjoyable for viewers at home, the broadcast was delayed by an hour to a more convenient time (it aired 8 p.m. EST rather than 7 p.m. when the opening ceremony actually began). While the evening was nothing short of spectacular, the best seats for viewing the opening ceremony were clearly the ones on the couch at home.

4. Crime and Zika were talked about more on the news.

There are security risks at most major events in the world, but Rio was particularly in the spotlight this year. There was political uncertainty and unrest among the residents of Brazil, high crime rates, a crumbling infrastructure, and fears about Zika. All of these things were top of mind before heading to the games, but once there, it was never the main topic of conversation.

Of course, I heard the stories of cameramen being robbed, but it didn't scare me (or others) from exploring the vibrant city. Did I walk around by myself at night? No. Did I wear jewelry or keep my phone out? Also, no. The water is contaminated, so I stuck to bottled water. Zika is spreading, so I wore long pants and sprayed any exposed skin with bug spray. It was a matter of taking precautions and limiting myself as a target. I stuck with a group and for the most part, people were in high spirits.

The only time I noticed a lack of structure was at the opening ceremony. The lines to get into the stadium were chaotic. Others who had previously attended the Olympics described an orderly system. In Rio, however, it seemed a bit disorganized. I even discovered that about 35 percent of the volunteers didn't show up to the ceremony after getting their free shirts the day before. All of that being said, the discussions still mainly surrounded the sporting events.

5. Attending the Olympics is a workout.

Getting to and from the events at the Olympics required quite a bit of walking. To put things in perspective, we left three hours in advance for the opening ceremony show. Not only was the line long, but it took about a half-hour to walk to my seat once inside. In the Olympic Park, it took up to a half-hour to walk from one area to the other, depending on where the next event was being held. To top it off, there were plenty of stairs to climb, just in case your adrenaline wasn't already pumping during the competitions.

6. Timekeeping is a huge undertaking.

Three things make the Olympics possible: talented athletes, a place to host the competitions, and a way to time them. While there, I had the opportunity to chat with the official timekeepers, Omega, to find out exactly what it takes to make sure the results are precise.

Since medals can be won and lost by milliseconds, taking on the responsibility of timekeeping is a rather crucial one. "We create the technology that takes the scores and measures the points and times. It's about precision, accuracy, and attention to detail," Omega timing CEO Alain Zobrist told Oyster.com  "There's a whole system in place to make this happen. We have 480 timekeepers and 450 tons of equipment that record the results for all the athletes for the entirety of the Olympics." He also explained how the first timekeepers actually go down three years before the event to start setting up. In addition, they test the equipment for a full year before the very first event. "Every sport is tested in the environment not only technology-wise, but also for security," he added. "We're already in Pyeongchang working on the 2018 Winter Games."

Portland is Good For the Body and Soul. Here's Why.

Over Fourth of July weekend I was lucky enough to take a quick trip to Portland, Oregon. I never really spent time in the Pacific Northwest, aside from a wedding in Vancouver last summer, so I went in with an open mind.

Of course, I was told the typical tales of how every resident wants to secretly be a farmer. While I didn't speak to enough people to confirm that rumor, what I do know is that the way of life there is made for healthy and happy living (my goal in life if you haven't noticed).

Aside from the creepy man who followed me for blocks insisting I put my hand in his brown paper bag, overall Portland is what holistic health coach dreams are made of.

Here's why:

1. The food is da bomb
Sure, you can have donuts for multiple meals (which I may or may not have done), but the fresh ingredients and flavors make eating a salad a religious experience.  “In Portland, we’re surrounded by small farms that are capable of producing customized ingredients for chefs who only know how to cook seasonally,” Marcus Hibdon, Travel Portland's senior media relations and PR manager told me. Joshua McFadden, executive chef and partner at Ava Gene's added, “The access to real food is amazing. The raw products here are some of the best in the world.”

There are so many healthy options, like vegan ramen for example, that it's not hard to stick to eating whole foods and lots of greens. It makes all of the indulgences (Salt & Straw ice cream anyone?) available that much less resisting, but also that much more satisfying when you can, well, indulge in them.

 2. It's easy to be active
It seems like everyone in the city would prefer to use two wheels instead of four making it easy to join in on the bike culture. This constantly active mindset is one that I always try to instill in my clients. Just move every day. Then there's great outdoors to be explored nearby and it seems like that's what everyone is doing every weekend. Mount Hood and Multnomah Falls are within and hour of downtown and the drive there is just as stunning. Who needs late night bar hopping on a Saturday when you can go natural wonder hopping?

3. Creativity is encouraged
Unfortunately, so many of us fall into the trap of working 9 to 5's and feeling like a cog in the machine. By the time you get home, you're exhausted and have no energy to pursue outside interests if you have any. In Portland, the whole community encourages you to turn your side passion into a full time business if you want. There are literally entire stores dedicated to promoting local craftsman and many restaurants are owned by locals.

Having a place that inspires you to open your mind to possibilities and tap into that inner childhood dream is ok in my book. It's one of the things I feel we as a society are missing the most. Want to create hand-stitched leather saddlebag for bikes? Go for it!

4. People genuinely care
Ever get asked by a stranger how your day is going? Well, in Portland they mean it. And there will follow-ups. Yes, there is the stereotype of how everyone is super nice, but it's true. The cab driver was so excited it was our first trip to the city, the woman at hotel check in took the time to point out her favorite bars on a map and every store I walked into took time to compliment me (without pushing a sale).

As a New Yorker it took me a little while to settle into this friendliness, but after a couple of days it was nice to feel like I could let my guard down and relax. I heard so many interesting stories from different people and felt genuinely considered everywhere I went. Living in a place like this can certainly make it easier to live a happier life. It's contagious right?

The Secret to Curing Your Food Addiction

Trying to eat better? Brad Lamm has a solution: Know your style.

Lamm, an interventionist who works with those struggling with food addictions, has identified six types of eaters and their motivations. Knowing your type is crucial. “It reveals the behavioral changes you need to make,” says Lamm, founder of Breathe Life Healing Centers in Los Angeles. To find your style, read on.

Emotional eater

The style:

“You eat in tragedy or triumph, rather than [by taking] natural hunger cues,” says Lamm. You lack the ability “to distinguish between food as fuel [and] food as a coping mechanism.”

The strategy:

List “nonfood” ways to elevate your mood, such as a spa treatment.

Habitual eater

The style:

You indulge in junk food under a “just this once” excuse, but don’t stop eating. “If you’re not careful, ‘just this once’ becomes a part of your daily routine,” says Lamm.

The strategy:

“Journal about your eating each day to help you see your habits in black-and-white, and keep an eye on where and when to cut back,” says Lamm.

External eater

The style:

You fall victim to food that appears in front of you, like bagels in the office kitchen, and you’re susceptible to advertisements.

The strategy:

Shake off the “I see, therefore I need to feed” mentality, says Lamm. Be aware of external cues and your sensitivity to them. “Stop and think, ‘Do I really want to eat this?’ ” says Lamm.

Critical eater

The style:

You have a wealth of knowledge about nutrition and health but a strong “all or nothing” way of thinking. You might consume an entire box of snacks and think, “Well, this day is a bust anyway, so whatever,” and subsist only on green juice the next day to counteract your overindulgence.

The strategy:

Ease up on your food rules and be more realistic. “Think less about how self-destructive you feel when you’re ‘off the rails’ and more about how your next eating choice will be a healthy one,” says Lamm. “The whole day doesn’t have to be a wash if you made one poor meal choice. Restart it at any time.”

Sensual eater

The style:

You relish every bite and don’t hold back when trying exotic and decadent dishes — even if it means putting on the pounds.

The strategy:

“Keep your portions in control and this style of eating will not get the best of you,” notes Lamm. “Stick to the ‘three forkfuls’ rule” — allowing yourself only three bites of indulgent dishes.

Energy eater

The style:

You work out all the time, so you think you can eat all the time, but you tend to “inaccurately calculate the quantity of fuel [you] actually need to power through [your] day,” says Lamm. The snacks you’re eating are likely healthy, but you’re consuming too many.

The strategy:

Try journaling to get a clear picture of just how much you’re eating, and make an effort to eat more protein to help you stay satiated.