Loving what you’ve got.

In the not so distant past, I wouldn’t have ever posted this picture. Instead, my head would’ve gone here: I haven’t worked out, I just ate lunch and my baguette is making an appearance just below my belly button. I would’ve thought a million thoughts that would have deterred me from showing my body in a way I thought was less than perfect.

But then something magic happened. I learned to love. I learned to love what I’ve got because it’s all I’ve got. It’s mine and always will be. I started learning to love what I’ve been given and began truly appreciating all the things this body has done for me, does for me and, if I’m lucky, will keep doing for me.

In the past 30 years, I have climbed mountains, danced for hours on my tip toes, swam to the bottom of the sea and fallen more times than is probably normal. This body has been there for me. In the past 30 years, I have eaten more than my fair share of ice cream (if there is such thing as too much ice cream) and I’ve certainly enjoyed bottomless mimosa brunches. This body has been there for me. She’s got my back and I owe it to her to give her a little more credit.

At the end of last year I decided I wanted to start teaching barre fitness classes. I had been a dancer for ten years and used barre as part of my 3 year rehabilitation after a bad injury. Barre made moving my body fun again. It made it laugh again. It made it okay for me to laugh at myself again. Teaching meant giving that gift to other women just like myself. After getting my certification, I started teaching and got hooked.

The motivation, the drive and the full on #girlbossness my students gave in each class made me take a second look at how I viewed myself. There I was encouraging them to treat their bodies with respect and motivating them to love themselves for their strength, but was I doing the same thing? I left each class feeling empowered not by the words coming out of my own mouth but at seeing the reactions to what I had to say. My lady bosses squatted deeper and pushed harder than they thought they could. I would ask them to look in the mirror, give me their all…and then give 20% more. They left an hour later exhausted, with sweat dripping down their face and smiles that spanned ear to ear. They gave me a deeper squat but they gave themselves a big dose of love.

Writing this now, I am on my boat far from the magic of those studio walls. I don’t have my lady bosses around me and I don’t have a room full of women to motivate. What I do have, however, is me. Me and the little body I call my own. So I am going to start practicing a bit more of what I preach. I’m going to love what I’ve got, be thankful for how hard I push her and be thankful she’s there for me even when I don’t give her the attention she needs.

 

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What would you do if you could do anything?

This question often solicits more eye rolls than answers. It sucks, really. It’s got that huge two letter word that seems to be the barrier between day dreams and reality. IF.

To give my own eyeballs a break, I prefer to reframe the question like this: with the cards in my hands, what can I do that will elicit the most happiness? Happiness, of course, is up for interpretation. Define as you will!

Reframing the question and removing the big IF in the room makes the gap between dreams and reality much, much smaller. You’re working, instead, with what you already have and opening yourself up to achievements within your reach.

After writing my last post, I’ve been reflecting a lot on my own ability to accomplish goals and dreams. Reassessing where I’m at, where I want to be and what it’s going to take me to get there. 2017 has been a year of immense growth and I’m pretty convinced the momentum is stopping anytime soon. With the remaining six months of the year, I’ve got a hodgepodge list of things I want to accomplish that I’m confident will contribute to my feel good life:

  • Be my own boss. More on that soon…
  • Learn to surf well enough that I can catch all my own waves…
  • Cut loose some of the excess baggage of my emotional life (it’s okay to admit it, we’ve all got it!)…
  • Master a headstand!

However big or small, there’s nothing quite like the confidence we build when we accomplish something we’ve set out to do. I’m motivated to play the cards I have in hand, see what works, what doesn’t, and close the gap between my dreams and my realities.

What’s on your list for 2017?

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6 things I learned traveling solo.

After one year and 10,000 nautical miles, I decided to leave the sailboat behind for a solo adventure. Though I had acquired quite a few stamps in my passport, I never created the opportunity to explore a foreign country on my own. I enjoy sharing experiences with someone special and, hey, there is safety in numbers. Yet, as my sailing adventure hit the year mark, a desire arose to strike out on my own and test my limits in a new way. So, after trembling through my nerves and conducting next to no research on my destination, I took off for Indonesia.

Little did I know, I was embarking on the biggest growth spurt of my life. 

The six most important things I learned while traveling solo:

1. I am capable. Don’t get me wrong, I am a tough cookie. Life has thrown me lots of lemons and with them, I have made a shitload of lemonade. But when it came to taking off into a world unknown, alone, I was nervous that maybe, just maybe, I couldn’t do it. Turns out, I can. I can carry my own bag, I can find my way around town, I can barter, I can achieve my goals.

2. My wants are important, too. Traveling with others requires obvious compromises. Usually, it’s a plus. You get to experience things you might not otherwise have sought out on your own. I’ve come to realize, however, that I am a people pleaser and I tend to let my own wants get pushed way down the list. Alone, I was empowered to make my own choices. One month, I spent every single day practicing yoga and meditation, fasting or eating “weird” health foods. The next month, I drove jungle roads to surf at sunrise and drank homemade rice wine with locals at sunset. I finally got to dictate how and where I spent my day…and in the end, I spent them smiling.

3. Alone and lonely aren’t the same thing. I genuinely enjoy the company of others and can talk to just about anyone (or anything), but during this trip, I chose to pass on finding “fillers” for all my extra hours. I needed to learn to enjoy my own company, to sit with my own thoughts and just be in my own skin.

4. The weight of the world is about 50 pounds. I was so proud when I left the boat that I had downsized my life into one 40L backpack and one small daypack. Two days later I was the crazy girl talking to herself, “You really had to bring 5 shirts didn’t you?!” Okay, so really, I didn’t pack all that much, but it was still more than I needed. Every travel list will tell you that you need less than you think, but really, you. need. less. than. you. think.

5. Change is something that happens on the inside. Every single day during this solo adventure I felt myself evolve. I allowed myself to explore thoughts and ideas I hadn’t give time to before. As if I was on the outside looking in, I could see myself grow. That is a radical feeling. However, in coming home, I realized that this “new me” was wearing an invisibility cloak to everyone else around me. No one seemed to notice the profound changes I had experienced. But that’s the thing about change. It’s got to come from you…for you

6. No one can be your everything. When it comes to companionship, I feel like we’re often misguided in believing that there is someone who can be our everything. No single person can check off all of your boxes, and honestly, we can’t expect them to. That’s a huge responsibility. That job is up to you. You have to be enough for yourself and traveling alone taught me that. I needed to learn to be my own shoulder to cry on, my own cheerleader. I needed to learn that I was enough for me.

 

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The big gain in loss.

“C’est un mal pour un bien.”

One of the most optimistic French phrases I’ve learned. It’s a blessing in disguise. When facing loss, any kind of loss, it feels nearly impossible to find the positive. How on earth could losing something or someone you love be a good thing? Your entire world feels like it’s been turned upside down. But the truth is, there is always a blessing in disguise…and once you find it, it’s incredible how quickly your empty glass becomes half full.

On Mother’s Day, I said goodbye to my grandmother, Ligaya. She was more than just a grandmother in the traditional sense. She raised me alongside my mother, drank champagne with me at bars, knew how to dougie and had the biggest heart you’ve ever encountered. In fact, the doctors said her heart was twice the size of the average heart. But if you knew her, you already knew that. Ligaya means joy in Tagalog, and joy is exactly what she gave everyone around her. Compassion was her guiding principle. She taught me that true strength came from the heart and that compassion didn’t make a person weak, it made a community stronger. Given that her heart was twice the size of what it should be, it seems clear to me that she practiced what she preached.

In losing her, I’ve gained a valuable lesson: it is immeasurably important to walk the walk. Or at least to do your damn best. Often times, if we take a second to reflect, we can see that our actions do not always match our principles. I’ve always thought of myself as a compassionate person, but in her passing, I constantly wonder if I am actually walking the walk. If I could do more. Give more. Listen more. The answer is always yes. We can’t go back in time to right past wrongs, but we can right them by moving forward with bigger, more understanding hearts. We can learn from the times we didn’t put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and the times we could’ve been a little gentler.

Compassion does not mean self-sacrifice and it does not mean putting your own needs on the back burner. Compassion is understanding that everyone is fighting their own fight and that a little empathy goes a long way. My grandmother once invited a homeless man to live in our kitchen while he found work, helped an elderly couple get back on their feet after life had been hard on them, and always took the sides of my boyfriends when I was PMSing. That woman walked the fucking walk.

Losing my grandmother, physically, has made me more conscientious about how I can help her live on. As the sadness of loss fades, the excitement of awareness and opportunity fills my cup. Compassion is the secret ingredient to a happy life. I strive to use it liberally.

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How traveling made me want to become a morning person.

Gina and morning person do not often find each other in the same sentence. Unless that sentence reads: Gina is not a morning person.

There is not a single early riser in my family. Minus my grandmother. She used to get up before the sun came out, silently sipping her black coffee in the dark kitchen. We all thought she was nuts. Like, who actually wants to be awake that early? It turns out she was onto something…

On a boat, the two best parts of the day are directly connected to the sun: when it rises and when it sets. Twice a day, if you’re lucky enough to see both, the sun commands your attention. Hey you, yeah you, pause. Enjoy. (Insert a sort of diva face here).

On the road, I realized that there are a multitude of reasons as to why cultures have always governed themselves around the sun and I, an avowed night owl, have started sipping the Kool-aid. Many of the places I visited in the past year were extremely remote. When there were inhabitants on these islands, many of them did not have electricity. Work needs to get done and life needs to be lived during the hours of daylight. Makes sense. One point for practicality! My grandmother, however, had electricity and I think her allure to the morning hours was more inline with mine…

Allow me to digress.

Unlike other kinds of travel, sailing requires that someone always be awake during the night. We organize our “watches” in three hour shifts starting after sunset, ending after sunrise. Watching the sun come up after 10 hours of blanketed darkness is like seeing the finish line at the end of a marathon. It couldn’t come sooner. Yet, in that transition to the “end” there is a new beginning. A new notch in your belt, another day accomplished, the intrigue of what you can accomplish next. What lies in store for me now? It happens quickly, that transition, but to an active mind, it can also feel really slow. It’s a time to pause, to set the tone for what’s about to come. When you get to the finish line, are you going to complain about your achy muscles? Or are you going to ride a runners high? What tone are you going to set? The rest of the day is indeed governed by the intentions you make at sunrise.

 

 

On and off the boat, I started making new morning routines to get me excited about being Gina the Day Chaser. I began to enjoy the calm silence of the early morning left to me by the other night owls of the world. Alone, I drank my tea, jotted down my intention for the day – who did I want to be, what energy did I want to give off -, had a look at the to-do list I made the night before and usually took off for a bit of exercise. There is really nothing like kayaking around a blue lagoon at sunrise, doing yoga to the sound of chirping tropical birds or running the streets of Paris as the smell of butter seeps from bakeries opening their doors. Cliche? Yes. Seriously f’ing awesome? Double yes.

I am still a work in progress and have yet to permanently cancel my membership to the Night Owl’s Association, but I am making the transition. For a type-A, tornado-like thinker such as myself, there is immeasurable value in having time to stop…pause…and just be. The good news is, sunrises and early mornings aren’t just for when you’re away. They’re for when you’re awake. Learning to love the mornings has given me an edge on finding joy, finding adventure and finding that feel good, travel happy high right here at home. 

 

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Life changing magic of not driving.

Turning 16 was supposed to be the ultimate. The key to freedom was just on the other side of 16. My 16th birthday was the day I would have the right to go where I wanted, when I wanted, without having to ask. I envisioned long, lazy drives with my girlfriends, singing Britney Spears with the wind in our hair…I dreamt of stretches of land without a car in sight…I imagined Disneyland, always within my reach! Hey, I was a kid after all 😉

What I didn’t conjure up in my mind was the day to day of getting from place to place, the traffic, the chores, the responsibilities and the stress. Now, this is not a plea against driving, because truth be told, I absolutely love driving. It can be relaxing, therapeutic almost. But something big happened when I decided to use my own two legs instead.

After that fateful 16th birthday, I got a car and along with it the freedom I had imagined. I could go anywhere (sort of) and do anything (sort of). What happened? I tried. I over-committed, I said yes to everything, no to nothing, and I tried to fit in all my errands in impractical amounts of time. Because why? Because I could get around faster!

Fast forward a few years later, I got a scooter to zip around San Francisco. No more wasting time looking for parking, no traffic…now I could really do everything! Plus, what isn’t awesome about a cute little scoot?! What happened? I over-committed even more, I made several plans within an hour, thinking I could do it all because, hey, I thought I could! I was late all the time. That’s the irony, right? I knew it would only take me 5 minutes to drive to spin class so I left 6 minutes before it started. This might sound dramatic, but I sucked as a friend because of my desire to fit it all in. I was late for this party, then late for that dinner, then a no-show at that concert because I was too late to the dinner to leave right away! Even though I genuinely wanted to make everyone happy by being a YES friend, I made no one happy by being a flaky friend.

Then, I went sailing. For a year, I traveled at a max speed of 5 miles an hour. I moved slow and there was nothing I could do to go any faster. I had to learn to appreciate slowing down. Seeing as how most places I visited were the definition of remote, my own two legs were the only method of transportation…and I loved it. I explored, I experienced, I felt like I was part of my environment. Now that, my friends, was the ultimate.

Readjusting to life in San Francisco, I have decided to take a slower approach to the fast pace of city living. I walk. Everywhere. With the hills of San Francisco being as steep as they are famous, the temptation of hopping in a $4 Lyft can be pretty strong, but I have realized that in forcing myself to slow down, I am actually a lot happier…and my friends are, too.

When I commit to less, I can really give and get the most out of what I do decide to do. I can be present. My mind isn’t stressed about the next thing or feeling guilty about the last. I take new routes to familiar places, I see the details in the streets that used to be a blur as I zipped by. I get to soak in this city as if I were a visitor. And if you know anything about San Francisco, you know that there is always a sight to see.

So sure, maybe it takes me an hour to walk to a Sunday picnic, maybe I have to leave the house earlier or just wait to go to the post office tomorrow. So what? I do less but I experience more. That, my friends, is what travel happy is all about.

I dare you to give it a go! Even for a week. Enjoy your own two legs, take your time and explore a place you think you already know.

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Send someone your good vibes.

It has been a long time since I’ve felt a real Monday morning. The dreaded, please don’t make me leave my bed, Monday morning. But here we are…and I’m running late.

While I must admit that I never had a case of the Monday’s during my two months in Indonesia, there were some days that demanded a lot more of my mental (and physical) energy than others. On these very days, as if reading my mind, my meditation teacher would ask us to dedicate our practice to someone else. If you’ve ever done yoga or taken a meditation class, you are familiar with setting your intentions for your practice. Why are you there? What motivates you to get in the zone today? Typically, intention setting is about YOU. Or in my case, me. But something awesome happened when I dedicated my effort to someone else: I worked a lot…happier.

I smiled more, I had more positive thoughts and I worked harder to send that person my good vibes. Of course, your recipient doesn’t know they’re on your mind, and quite frankly, that might be the best part about it. Giving is about the act of giving, not the validation of your gift. It feels good to devote your energy to someone or something else, even if you get nothing in return. But in case you’re worried, don’t. Karma is real 😉

To pull me out of bed and through the front door, I’m channeling my intentions outward instead of inward. Look out, good vibes might just be on your way!

 

 

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Destination: Palmerston. Population: 57.

 

Some call it “The End of the Earth”, others call it home. Well, only 57 people call it home. Plus man friend and I…for two days. Palmerston Island is just about as remote as is gets.

Sailors like to say that plans are things written in the sand at low tide. That couldn’t be more true. By the time we had sailed to the Cook Islands, we had changed our minds about a million times. Do we go to New Zealand? What about to Hawaii? Should we just stay in Tahiti another year? The life changing magic of a one way ticket! While visiting other parts of the Cook Islands (more to come on that later), we met some locals that told us stories about the tiny island of Palmerston. As the stories grew, my curiosity grew along with it.

With less than 40 sailboats visiting the island each year, Palmerston is off the beaten path for just about everyone traveling through the South Pacific. In fact, a cargo supply ship brings goods to the island twice a year. Maybe. Less than a mile wide, the island is a mere dot on any map and the massive reef enclosing the island makes navigating a heart-thumping undertaking. So why did we ever decide to go there? Palmerston has a past so rich that we wanted to live it in the present.

In the mid-1800’s, William Marster, a British seamen working aboard a whaler ship, claimed the island as his home along with three Polynesian brides. He used the islands dense tamanu tree forest to make a village out of the mahogany wood we covet today. As of our visit, the island was inhabited by three families – 57 descendants of the three wives. According to the locals, there are over 350 Marsters worldwide.

As we pulled closer to the island after a three day sail in heavy weather, we were welcomed by a man who introduced himself as Joe and his young daughter. He helped us set our anchor and told us that he would be back in an hour to bring us to his home for lunch. Before we had the chance to decline, he was already waiving goodbye.

We spent the day with Joe’s family, feasting on traditional dishes made by Grandma Marster, as we came to call her, playing with the kids and touring the island. The kids brought us to their school and proudly pulled out the books they had been studying from. We had the opportunity to meet their school teacher, a young South African woman stationed on the island with her husband, who explained some of the cultural challenges of working with the Marster crew. The teaching materials are written for children homeschooled in the US, so when words like “elevator” or “escalator” come up, she admitted to being stumped as to how to explain such foreign concepts.

The weekend with the Marsters was unlike any other. It had all the makings of a blockbuster film, or at least a truly amazing adventure. If this is what it meant to be at the end of the earth, I would’ve been happy to have stayed right there.

If you’re keen, check out a video journal I made here.

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Finding Magic in Mexico.

Can I admit something possibly bratty sounding? I was not excited about spending five months in Mexico. If you read this post, you know that I was “stuck” in Mexico at the end of 2015 waiting for the weather to clear in the South Pacific so I could sail across the ocean to French Polynesia. For those who might not know, and I’m assuming that’s most everyone because I certainly did not know, when traveling by boat, your schedule is 100% determined by weather seasons.

So there we were, man friend and I, heading to Mexico where we would wait out the storm season until April. Up until this point, the only Mexico we had experienced was one of tequila shots, whistles, beads and nightclubs. We certainly felt too old for that shit now. To our pleasant surprise, what we found instead couldn’t have been farer from the wild nights of years past.

For five months, we explored all corners of Baja California and discovered that there was true magic to be found. Leaving the big cities, we found ourselves sometimes alone for weeks at a time, our only company being dolphins, tuna ready for eating and cacti. Huge, gigantic forests of cacti. The remoteness of Baja California lent itself to the feeling that we might have been the first people to have ever set foot on the land. It was so surreal. How could we be so lucky to see this beauty…and have it all to ourselves?

We learned to be self-sufficient, fishing for our food, making our own water and power. We learned what it meant to be alone and to truly appreciate silence. We learned, first hand, that nature is it’s own reality show and if you just sit back and watch, you’ll be amazed at what you see. No, really. Manta rays during mating season jump out of the water and the louder the flapping sound they make as they hit the water, the sexier they are to their potential mate. Boy, did these rays flap. For hours. And the sunsets? We pulled out cocktails and popcorn for this nightly event. Best sunsets ever…and we saw a lot.

When we did interact with the community, we were met with such a warm welcome. We were introduced to a culture so vibrant and rich, people were genuine and engaged. We hung out with local kids who showed us fishing spots and we taught them how to sail. We met strangers on a beach, days away from any town, and shared our stories with whatever words we knew from each others’ languages. I mean, talk about engaged.

What an amazing thing it is to be so totally wrong in your assumptions. It’s really hard to wrap up five months into one post, but I will say that Mexico brought out a magic I had never felt before.

 

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The pursuit of happiness.

This morning, during my typical routine of drinking tea, opening emails and listening to NPR’s 5 minute news update, I came across an article that caught my eye. Written by Berkeley professor, Tania Lombrozo (haaay), the author asks the question: Is Happiness a Universal Right?

Today is International Happiness Day – a day that the United Nations created in order to practice support for the belief that happiness is a birthright. But is it? Lombrozo provides numerous studies that challenge us to ask ourselves some important questions. Should we all have the right to happiness? To pursue happiness? She asks if the act of finding happiness is actually making us less happy. Considering my recent blog post on finding happiness, this really got me thinking.

Is the pursuit of happiness creating the illusion that we have less of it than we think? Perhaps, in chasing this feeling, we’re not able to give attention to the happiness we already have? Hmm. It begs me to ask myself, and you since you’re here: how do you define happiness?

In the article she provides a study that argues that Americans define happiness in more individualistic ways but that in cultures that define it as something tied to social wellbeing and connectedness, the pursuit of happiness indeed does make us happier.

I can’t even count how many times I have gone down a rabbit hole of angst even in the midst of doing something I’m proud of. College is a great example of this. If I do say so myself, I crushed it in college. I maintained good grades, I enjoyed my classes, I was proud of what I was accomplishing…but the second I paused to compare my success to others, I felt worse. There will always be somebody doing “better”. Work is the same way. Should I even bring up the gym? If I can honestly admit it, I sometimes felt this while traveling! Ooh that boat is sooo much more awesome. Oh wow, they got to go to that island?! I don’t even want to admit that I was thinking this while drying off from snorkeling tropical waters. Uh, hello?! Perspective, Gina!

As the saying goes, you’re happiest when you want what you already have. So, to bring it full circle, that travel happy I talked about yesterday? Yeah, you already have it. You already possess loads of experiences that you lived and that you loved. Not to say you shouldn’t continue seeking them out, (because of course you should!) but perhaps finding a way to relive that collection of moments will create a deeper gratitude for… you guessed it, the happiness you already have.

Check out the article on NPR and let me know what you think!

What questions does it make you ask yourself and how do you define happiness?

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