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My Month of Teal-In Loving Memory of Marie Speece

Staci is one of our amazing ambassadors and when she asked me if we could support The Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation this month, I immediately said yes! I'm so grateful for Staci and that I'm able to use my company to support a very personal cause such as this one. Please read on for Staci's touching story! At the end of this month, we'll be donating 10% of all sales to The Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation in honor of Marie Speece!
XO,
Mariel
Hey THINKers!
My name is Staci and I'm one of the lucky ladies who gets to represent THINK as an ambassador!! 16 years ago in April, my mom passed away from ovarian cancer.  Her passing has been the single most defining moment of my life and I have worked hard to promote awareness over the years as a way to share her memory. As a woman, I think it's important to share with other women any knowledge I have on awareness, so I participate in an annual 5k.  Last year, I found a new 5k through the Sandy Rollman Foundation, which just so happens to be April's THINK charity! I'm so grateful for Mariel painting April TEAL with her brand and I thank YOU all for sporting THINK gear! Together in April we can empower one another while supporting a great cause!
On April 10, 2001, I was just a normal 4th grade girl getting ready for school when I saw that my dad wasn't ready for work.  Confused, I asked my stepmom why he was still home and she said "Oh, he's just being lazy."  I carried on with my morning routine and bopped my way downstairs to eat breakfast.  My dad was sitting on the couch and asked me to come over to sit with him.  When I sat down next to him, he reluctantly told me something that would change my life forever.
"Mommy passed away last night."
At 10 years old, I remember getting up to look at the calendar on the fridge. April 10th. Tears welled up in my eyes and I looked at my dad. "But Danielle's birthday is tomorrow!" And from that moment on, the tears would not stop for hours.  My older sister was turning 15 the next day, I had just turned 10, and my oldest sister had just turned 18.  We were all babies and we were all about to embark on a journey that affected us all so differently growing up.
To rewind, my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in August of 2000. She was diagnosed way too late didn't even make it a full year before she lost her battle. She was 40 years old.
My mom was my best friend and now, at 25, I always wonder what our relationship would be like.  I went through the most critical years without my mom and it has certainly had a massive impact on who I am as a person today!
I spent my middle school and high school years working my butt off to make her proud!
I got myself ready for my high school proms and received my high school diploma with someone missing in the audience. I even asked my entire family not to utter the words "Your mom would be so proud of you" that day because if I heard those words, I knew I wouldn't make it through the ceremony. 
I had a few good friends who had lost their moms years after I lost mine, but being a motherless young lady left me on a path that not many will understand until years from now. I lost a lot of friends because of it.  Depression started to take over in my college years, and it was then that I really tried to do things to make my mom's memory alive for everyone who loved her, not just me!
I started running in the Teal Ribbon 5k on Memorial Day Weekend in Philadelphia, creating a team each year named Team Bizness. My mom's nickname was Biz, because she loved being in everyone's business! :)  Sometimes I had some friends participate with me, other times I was a team of one. But I made sure to spread  "teal" around with me.
When I started student teaching in my senior year of college, I asked everyone to wear teal on April 10th, to help me remember my mom and to help spread awareness of ovarian cancer.  It's called "The Silent Killer" because it takes so much time for doctors to give a diagnosis that it is sometimes too late. 
Slowly but surely, awareness among family and friends started to spread and now, every September (Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month) I have friends from all over the country sending me pictures of what their hometowns do to honor those women who are effected by this disease!  It warms my heart and helps me think I'm doing something to tell my mom "I haven't forgotten you."
This year, I was introduced to the Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation, which is also based out of Philadelphia.  On April 23rd, I will be running in my first 5k with them, in memory of my mommy and in honor of all the women who are fighting now (and those who will have to fight later).  This year, April has been my month of teal!
As I write this, I get ready to remember the day, 15 years ago, that I woke up to a changed life.  At that moment, although I didn't know it yet, I would be the rock for many of my friends who would go on to lose parents.  I would be the one who took everyone under her wing when their beautiful mothers became angels.  I have become a mentor to my young high school students who sit in my own shoes. 
I have continued to live for my angel mother and do something every year to remember her in a big way! She is constantly on my mind and I know she is with me every step of every day.
But my goal for my participation in the Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation is to help ensure that no little girl ever has to wake up and hear that their mom is now an angel. That no little girl ever has to dress herself for proms, have high school and graduation pictures that are missing that important leading lady, get married to the love of her life without her best friend holding her hand, and to bring her own children into this world while the absence of her first love is felt.
When you buy THINK gear this month, YOU are helping another woman in her journey! YOU get to help us move toward a world where TEAL doesn't have to stop and grab people's attention!!

Living Your Passion

I am honored that I was asked by Mariel of THINKALLWAYS to write about my experience with living my passion and how it gives me purpose. As I started writing, I realized my whole life has been driven by my passions and that living those every day was my only real choice. I had to find something every day that I felt was using the tools and talents I was given in life to enrich the lives of others… and that was the only way that I would feel fulfilled in my career and in my life. It motivated me to start our fitness brand, Shine Studio , and keeps me working every day to find a way to make those passions a full time career.

 _______________________________________________________________

  From a young age, I have been driven by my passion for dance. As a kid, nothing pleased me more than giving my 5th or 6th bow at the end of a show (yes, this actually happened. Haha!). As a teenager, I gave up any spare time I had to dance or cheerleading, to the school musicals, or choir practice. I gave anything else up to enjoy music, and dance, and my love of performance and movement. The truth of this is, I never felt like I wanted more “free” time because I enjoyed it that much! Even on the weekends I’d make up dance and cheer routines in my room, cutting the music on a double decker tape recorder.

  Those days in dance class shaped me more than anyone would know. I fell in love each day with movement and became attached to the discipline of showing up to class and giving my best effort each time. When it came to deciding on a potential career, my mind was nowhere else but dance. Many people would say, “Don’t you want a back up plan?” or “Are you sure you shouldn’t double major?” But my heart didn’t tell me anything else but- “You need to pursue this dream.”

  And so I did. I went to college for dance at Loyola Marymount University and trained hard for 4 years. Before I graduated, I had my first professional dance job for Disneyland. I was so proud of that accomplishment! Then I went on to dance for Holland America Cruise Line and after that, straight to New York to pursue more dreams.

   The truth is, making a living out a passion can be incredibly hard. It requires intense personal diligence and sacrifice, and a never-give-up attitude that is hard to sustain. It took the toughest skin imaginable to go to auditions and get cut over and over, only to have a job here or there prove that you do have something great to offer the world! After 3 years in New York, it was the hardest decision I ever had to make, but I decided to move back to California. I missed the year-round sun and my car, but truthfully, I wanted to find a place where I could be more settled. Meet someone, have a family, and make a life.

  When I got back to California, I was a bit lost, but I was still determined to find a career and life that fulfilled me. In the first few years back, I was working jobs to simply pay the rent. But many of my other dreams came true! I started a company called Spotlight Dance Parties that does dance parties for kids, wedding dances, flash mobs, etc… and… I met the man of my dreams, got engaged, bought a house, got married, and went on a honeymoon of a lifetime! All the while still searching for a way to pursue my passions full time.

  In this crazy couple of years back in California, I realized that I still really wanted to share my love of movement and dance and thought a great way to do that would be through a fitness studio. During my dance training, I had also studied Pilates and Yoga (and gotten certified in Pilates as well), and really felt like there could be a way for a studio to come together that would be not only a place to get fit, but a place of community, support, and positivity. A place where each person could come and feel comfortable in their own skin and never feel like they were judged or expected to look a certain way or be anyone other than themselves.  Meanwhile, I had met a new friend named Yaya and she and I had started having a dialogue about this studio concept. Over the next year, it started to take shape. Soon enough, we were looking at spaces and looking at each other like… “can we do this?!?!”

 And here we are!! Only 4 months into owning our own studio, Shine Studio in Redondo Beach. It’s a small boutique studio, but our very own little space that we created by ourselves, from the ground up. It’s a space of love, community, positivity, growth, and friendship. Just like we wanted. We see our clients’ smiles every day and it renews our faith in the ultimate goal that healthy living and fitness can actually be fun. Sure, we have definitely had trials and days where we wondered what we got ourselves into! Haha. But we believe so much in the idea of living our passions every day. And if we stay dedicated to that and let it SHINE through us in every class and every day, we know that it will spread like wild fire.
 
 Part of choosing to live your passion is simply jumping in, working hard, and knowing that if you are being true to yourself, it will be reflected back in your success.


What fuels you each day? What passions do you have that you can share with the world? Its time to get started!!



 

Finding My Strength

I remember the morning after that life-changing night like it was yesterday. The sun came shining through the old dusty window and hit my closed eyes. Beams of light made little streaks in the dusty air of my friend’s old farmhouse. I slowly sat up and looked outside. It was a beautiful day and, for a second, I almost smiled but the memories of the night before quickly flooded in and I reached for my phone. I didn’t have service. My friend woke up and she asked me if I was okay, I nodded but looked away. I couldn’t believe things had escalated so quickly the night before. I grabbed my shoulder and felt the pain from the night before.

This isn’t something I like to talk about very much. And, in fact, I really haven’t told this story in over a year now. I find myself sharing this part of my life when I notice that someone needs a push or a little hope. When Mariel asked me to write about an experience that seemed like the end of the world, this was, undeniably, the first thing to pop into my head.

First off, let me say that it takes immeasurable courage for many women, many of whom have it worse than me, to talk about their abusive relationships. Please read without judgement and comparison. Everybody’s story is different.

Sixteen is one hell of an age. You start feeling more like a young woman and less like an adolescent. You are granted certain freedoms like being able to drive a car. Sixteen is also a very vulnerable age. That’s how old I was when I started dating my first boyfriend. Our relationship was hot and heavy from the start and I felt on top of the world with him.

After 6 months, I was so deeply in love the way that sixteen year olds can be. After 6 months, I began to slowly realize that I was in trouble. His behavior became very erratic and inconsistent. He began to call and text me all the time to see what I was doing or where I was but, he was always angry when I asked him the same questions. He became aggressive and always tried to argue with me or anyone around him. He became paranoid. He was paranoid that I was going to leave or cheat, of other people trying to steal me away, and of other people being racist or judging him based on his looks. Long story short, my parents and my best friends became scared for me but, I was determined to help him.

I knew about mental illnesses and, quite frankly, had always been fascinated by them. I knew he was sick and that I was not safe around him all the time. I had to grow up quickly. I was, suddenly, a 17-year old with a sick boyfriend. Even his parents depended on me to take care of him and supervise him. Even after all I did for him, he cheated on me or broke up with me on numerous occasions. He was expelled before we graduated for attacking my high school basketball coach. I was in such denial about the whole ordeal.

He had to stand across the street to watch me receive my diploma as I graduated high school on a beautiful, sunny day at an outside ceremony. We went to different colleges. He went to Roanoke College and I went to George Mason University. Somehow, he was still able to emotionally abuse me four hours away. I wasn’t allowed to go to fraternity parties. I had to drop out of rushing for a sorority that I really wanted to be in because I needed to leave my weekends open to be able to visit him.

My friend, Kerri, took me on a couple of road trips that year to other colleges. I felt so free going somewhere else without him. He didn’t know all of the parties we went to. I didn’t dare to tell him.

My first year of college I failed three classes, drank heavily almost every night, and gained 30 pounds. I failed my classes because I slept during the day and stayed up all night either texting him or just enjoying solidarity. I was constantly sick and in a state of depression with constant anxiety. Then, came a diagnosis! He was diagnosed and given medication and I remember hoping that it would all be over and we could, finally, be happy together.

As our first year of college came to a close, I was drifting farther and farther away from him. I wanted out but he kept telling me that he would kill himself if I left. I was stuck.Everybody began coming back home from college, ready to kick off the summer.

A popular hometown girl was throwing a “Welcome Back” party for everyone. We went and so did a lot of my friends, including Kerri. I dropped my overnight bag at his house and we quickly drove out to the party and met up with Kerri.

The doctor had given him strict orders not to drink. He drank anyway and then, he snapped. I tried to run away but I had fallen, twisting my ankles. He came after me with so much rage. Kerri helped me up and we ran inside the house to find somewhere to hide. We locked ourselves in one of the bathrooms and I began panicking and calling his parents for help. They picked up and told me in an upset voice, they were on their way. He burst through and Kerri tried pleading with him. He shoved her aside and made his way to me, grabbing my wrists and restraining me against the wall. He threatened me not to call his parents. Kerri and I were able to push him aside and we ran.

He came screaming looking for me, but we were off, safe, in the distance. A 16-yr old girl approached him and he punched her in the face. The entire male population at the party attacked him. His parents rushed in, gravel flying, in his dad’s 67 Corvette. I was so grateful they were there. I ran over to them and they began to yell at me telling me how unbelievable it is that I couldn’t make him stop or help him. I was done. That very moment, I was done. I was free.

I made my way home the next day and thanked Kerri for everything. I don’t know what more could have happened if she hadn’t been there that night. I had never felt so low in my life. I felt worthless and weak.

The day following my return to my parent’s house, I woke up with so much anger. How could I have let it get this far? I am NOT weak. I ran. I couldn’t stop. I ran 10 miles to my family’s old church and collapsed when I got there.

I decided right there that I would never feel weak and worthless again.

I had found my strength.

Life can be funny in a way because you can let it define you. I chose to rise up strong. I would work hard for my goals and focus back to finding myself again. It wasn’t easy. It took several years of failed relationships and therapy to get where I am today, mentally.

Where am I now? I am a graduate of George Mason University who just took her LSAT in hopes of attending law school. I have the most wonderful, loving, and kind husband whom I married with Kerri standing next to me as my maid of honor. I am a woman who puts her fitness and health first. I am anxiety free and strive to find the positive in every day, even in the darkest of times. I am strong. And, so are you!

Finding My Strength

I remember the morning after that life-changing night like it was yesterday. The sun came shining through the old dusty window and hit my closed eyes. Beams of light made little streaks in the dusty air of my friend’s old farmhouse. I slowly sat up and looked outside. It was a beautiful day and, for a second, I almost smiled but the memories of the night before quickly flooded in and I reached for my phone. I didn’t have service. My friend woke up and she asked me if I was okay, I nodded but looked away. I couldn’t believe things had escalated so quickly the night before. I grabbed my shoulder and felt the pain from the night before.

This isn’t something I like to talk about very much. And, in fact, I really haven’t told this story in over a year now. I find myself sharing this part of my life when I notice that someone needs a push or a little hope. When Mariel asked me to write about an experience that seemed like the end of the world, this was, undeniably, the first thing to pop into my head.

First off, let me say that it takes immeasurable courage for many women, many of whom have it worse than me, to talk about their abusive relationships. Please read without judgement and comparison. Everybody’s story is different.

Sixteen is one hell of an age. You start feeling more like a young woman and less like an adolescent. You are granted certain freedoms like being able to drive a car. Sixteen is also a very vulnerable age. That’s how old I was when I started dating my first boyfriend. Our relationship was hot and heavy from the start and I felt on top of the world with him.

After 6 months, I was so deeply in love the way that sixteen year olds can be. After 6 months, I began to slowly realize that I was in trouble. His behavior became very erratic and inconsistent. He began to call and text me all the time to see what I was doing or where I was but, he was always angry when I asked him the same questions. He became aggressive and always tried to argue with me or anyone around him. He became paranoid. He was paranoid that I was going to leave or cheat, of other people trying to steal me away, and of other people being racist or judging him based on his looks. Long story short, my parents and my best friends became scared for me but, I was determined to help him.

I knew about mental illnesses and, quite frankly, had always been fascinated by them. I knew he was sick and that I was not safe around him all the time. I had to grow up quickly. I was, suddenly, a 17-year old with a sick boyfriend. Even his parents depended on me to take care of him and supervise him. Even after all I did for him, he cheated on me or broke up with me on numerous occasions. He was expelled before we graduated for attacking my high school basketball coach. I was in such denial about the whole ordeal.

He had to stand across the street to watch me receive my diploma as I graduated high school on a beautiful, sunny day at an outside ceremony. We went to different colleges. He went to Roanoke College and I went to George Mason University. Somehow, he was still able to emotionally abuse me four hours away. I wasn’t allowed to go to fraternity parties. I had to drop out of rushing for a sorority that I really wanted to be in because I needed to leave my weekends open to be able to visit him.

My friend, Kerri, took me on a couple of road trips that year to other colleges. I felt so free going somewhere else without him. He didn’t know all of the parties we went to. I didn’t dare to tell him.

My first year of college I failed three classes, drank heavily almost every night, and gained 30 pounds. I failed my classes because I slept during the day and stayed up all night either texting him or just enjoying solidarity. I was constantly sick and in a state of depression with constant anxiety. Then, came a diagnosis! He was diagnosed and given medication and I remember hoping that it would all be over and we could, finally, be happy together.

As our first year of college came to a close, I was drifting farther and farther away from him. I wanted out but he kept telling me that he would kill himself if I left. I was stuck.Everybody began coming back home from college, ready to kick off the summer.

A popular hometown girl was throwing a “Welcome Back” party for everyone. We went and so did a lot of my friends, including Kerri. I dropped my overnight bag at his house and we quickly drove out to the party and met up with Kerri.

The doctor had given him strict orders not to drink. He drank anyway and then, he snapped. I tried to run away but I had fallen, twisting my ankles. He came after me with so much rage. Kerri helped me up and we ran inside the house to find somewhere to hide. We locked ourselves in one of the bathrooms and I began panicking and calling his parents for help. They picked up and told me in an upset voice, they were on their way. He burst through and Kerri tried pleading with him. He shoved her aside and made his way to me, grabbing my wrists and restraining me against the wall. He threatened me not to call his parents. Kerri and I were able to push him aside and we ran.

He came screaming looking for me, but we were off, safe, in the distance. A 16-yr old girl approached him and he punched her in the face. The entire male population at the party attacked him. His parents rushed in, gravel flying, in his dad’s 67 Corvette. I was so grateful they were there. I ran over to them and they began to yell at me telling me how unbelievable it is that I couldn’t make him stop or help him. I was done. That very moment, I was done. I was free.

I made my way home the next day and thanked Kerri for everything. I don’t know what more could have happened if she hadn’t been there that night. I had never felt so low in my life. I felt worthless and weak.

The day following my return to my parent’s house, I woke up with so much anger. How could I have let it get this far? I am NOT weak. I ran. I couldn’t stop. I ran 10 miles to my family’s old church and collapsed when I got there.

I decided right there that I would never feel weak and worthless again.

I had found my strength.

Life can be funny in a way because you can let it define you. I chose to rise up strong. I would work hard for my goals and focus back to finding myself again. It wasn’t easy. It took several years of failed relationships and therapy to get where I am today, mentally.

Where am I now? I am a graduate of George Mason University who just took her LSAT in hopes of attending law school. I have the most wonderful, loving, and kind husband whom I married with Kerri standing next to me as my maid of honor. I am a woman who puts her fitness and health first. I am anxiety free and strive to find the positive in every day, even in the darkest of times. I am strong. And, so are you!

So You’ve Graduated College, Now What? 7 Tips For a Better Post-Grad Life

When it comes to growing up, we are constantly making transitions in our life.  In many cases, these transitions happen seamlessly. For instance, we start out in elementary school, advance to middle school, then onwards to high school. After graduating high school, many make the choice to advance their education and peruse and undergraduate degree. If you were to ask college students what their plans for the future were after graduation, many would probably say “I’m going to have a degree in this and start a career in (insert field/career here)”; but, what many do not realize until AFTER graduation, is that the transition from undergrad to post-grad life is not as seamless as majority of our past transitions were.

First I want to tell you my story. As a recent graduate of December 2015, I was that person quoted above. “I’m going to get my Bachelors of Science of Nursing, I’m going to pass my NCLEX, I’m going to get a job in the ICU, and my life is finally going to begin!” What I didn’t realize at the time is there is more to transitioning form undergrad to post grad then just landing that job. After graduating from Kent State University in Ohio, I moved back to Maryland to live with my parents in order to save up money while studying for my boards. The first thing I realized after moving in back home is I had lost touch with a lot of my friends from high school. Many were off in different states/areas all focusing on their own lives. After a few weeks I became rather homesick of my beloved Kent State University and all of my friends I had up there. My nursing friends, sorority sisters, and everything else I had come to love over the past 4.5 years was over 400 miles away from me. Though missing my friends and college life, I set off to work spending 3 months studying night and day for my NCLEX; it was without a doubt the most stressful and emotionally draining 3 months of my life. In addition to studying for my boards at this time, I began looking online and applying to as many ICU RN positions as possible. I didn’t realize until at this time just how much work it takes to truly and thoroughly fill out a job application to look like a good candidate for a position. It’s almost like taking on a full time job!

Luckily after tirelessly searching and applying for jobs, I got called for an interview in a neuro ICU. I was ecstatic, especially with my boards being only a month away at this time, I finally felt like I was making progress in this whole “adulting” thing. Long story short, I went to the interview and did my shadowing on the unit with the nurses, and loved it. I went home that night after a long day and woke up the next day to an email saying I didn’t get the job. I was crushed. There was a job fair at another hospital going on that day, I really didn’t’ want to go. I wasn’t in the best mood and I was honestly drained from already interviewing the day before. But, I got up, had my coffee, and headed up to the hospital. I interviewed with the director of a neuro/surgical ICU and a few weeks later was offered a job as long as I passed my boards. Three weeks after the offer I took and passed my boards on March 1st, and two weeks later I was orienting as a registered nurse. I finally thought things would start really coming together at this time. It did, but I also began facing new challenges; like understanding and selecting benefits for my job, moving to an apartment to have a shorter commute time, buying furniture, learning how to cook for one, get acquainted to a new area, and make new friends (the list could go on but I think you see where I’m going).

It has now been eight months since I’ve graduated from college and took on the post-grad world. Based on my story, here is my advice to those of you who will soon be joining the post-grad crew.

1. Have a game plan. It doesn’t have to be perfect or permanent, but having a general idea of where you want to go and what you want to do will help you organize and prioritize to achieve your general goals. As you research and start organizing, you can fine-tune and re-prioritize when needed.

2. Keep in contact with your friends. The people who graduated with you are the ones who will know best what you are going through because they are going through it themselves. When I was studying for my boards, my two nursing friends and I would have weekly phone calls and send motivation memes and pictures to keep us going when things got rough. We still keep in contact at least one or twice every two weeks.

3. Utilize your resources. Being close with college professors and being actively involved in my sorority really became beneficial when applying to jobs. Most job application want a MINIMUM of three letters of recommendation. Sometimes those can be harder to find when you are starting out in the workforce and don’t have much background in terms of job experience. References from groups like a sorority, volunteer organization, professional organization or part-time job you had while in college can really help you stand apart in the application pool.

4. Make friends with your co-workers. Once you do land your first job, it’s important to create bonds within work. This will make your transition into your job easier if you have people you can rely on for support.

5. Use a planner and budgeting app. Having a planner isn’t only helpful for college. Using a planner in post-grad life can help you keep track of appointments, your work schedule, and help you make sure you don’t over-book yourself. Additionally, once you start making those big bucks, it can be easy to splurge or lose track of where your money is going. I personally love using the app You Need A Budget (YNAB) to manage my finances to make sure I can pay all my bills, put some money away in savings, and also have a little to treat myself.

6. Make time for yourself. When you start working fulltime, life gets busy. It’s easy to let work control your life. It’s important to make sure to take care of yourself and set aside “me-time”. Prioritize so you can get that late night sweat sesh in or that early morning yoga flow. Take a hike or go explore a new part of town. Don’t let yourself get into a rut of wake up, go to work, come home, eat, sleep, repeat. If you don’t make time for the things you love, you will burn yourself out not only physically, but mentally and emotionally.

7. NEVER GIVE UP! You will have days you feel like you have absolutely no idea what you are doing. You’ll sit there and feel overwhelmed trying to pick out and insurance plan and understand how paid time off (PTO) works. You won’t get called back for the job you really want, or maybe you’ll get the interview but they selected another candidate for the job. You’ll question if you picked the right career or have to make a big decision that will scare the daylights out of you. It’s okay, breathe. If you get knocked down, stand back up and keep going. I’m a firm believer of “what’s meant for you will not pass you”. If you give everything your all, no matter the outcome, it will all help somehow (maybe you don’t see it now, maybe you won’t understand until later); but you will find your path, and once you get going, there’s nothing to hold you back from reaching past the stars.  

Here is a quote from one of my favorite books I got when I graduated high school and undergrad.

5 Ways to Incorporate Yoga and Mindfulness Into Your Life

 

“Yoga” is used in Sanskrit to denote any form of “connection”. Whether to other beings, creatures, or inanimate objects, yoga is a practice of connecting; connecting to ourselves, to one another, to our environments, and to the universe.

Yoga is the journey to self-awareness. It is through this awareness that we begin to develop connections with the external. But first, we have to internally connect to, and understand ourselves. Through yoga, we begin a process of mindfulness and self-discovery that enables connection.

What we tend to forget is that yoga is far beyond just the physical practice (asana). It is the lifelong practice of mastering the prana, or life force. By identifying and unveiling this force, we can access our inner being—we can achieve self-awareness. We do this by walking through life in a mindful manner.

I started practicing yoga five years ago as a means of cross training for my competitive running. I left my first class feeling wholly blissed out, though at the time I didn’t know why. After developing a regular practice, however, I now realize that the feeling of bliss I experienced was a direct result of being present.

In the physical practice of yoga, the focus and goal is to focus on the breath while moving through the different poses, or asanas. By drowning out external stimuli, and focusing purely on movement and breath, we are able to arrive in the present moment. The practice of being mindful is sustaining this focus in our daily lives—constantly striving to remain in the present. By practicing yoga, both through asana and pranayama (breathing practice), we learn how to carry this focus off the mat, and by doing so, lead a more fulfilling lifestyle.

As I continued to develop my yoga practice, I began to notice differences in my perspective on, and how I experienced, day-to-day life. I became less worried about circumstances that I had no control over, and more focused on what I could control: my reactions. I began to savor the little things, and the experiences I encountered. My practice on the mat began to translate.

Now, I have a daily personal asana practice, as well as a daily meditation practice. Both continue to improve my ability to live mindfully by teaching me to appreciate and reside in the present moment.

Obviously, it’s impossible to be present all of the time. Life gets in the way. We all have about a billion things on a to-do list that is constantly reeling through our brains. The key to developing a practice of mindfulness is just remembering to take a step back every now and then to just breathe. To breathe deeply, and with focus. This is what yoga and meditation teach us: how to breathe.

When life gets overwhelming, just breathe. Step back, close your eyes and take three deep breaths. Focus on the movement of the breathe in and out the tip of your nose. Notice the way it fills your belly and lungs, and the contraction of your abs on the exhalation. Feel how the breath moves through your body and powers your muscles. Do that, and you’re doing yoga, you’re practicing mindfulness. You’re connecting.

Though it may seem kind of lofty, mindfulness truly is so easy to incorporate into your life. Here are some quick and easy methods:

Set an alarm on your phone reminding you to take a deep breathe, or connect to your immediate experience.
At any given moment, tune into your senses: what are you feeling, seeing, smelling & hearing?
Identify the tasks you do on “autopilot”. Maybe it’s brushing your teeth, waiting in line, or driving to work. Try to invigorate awareness to these tasks.
Meditate, even if just for a few minutes.
Keep a journal to reflect on your experiences.
Being wholly present during an action. If you’re coloring, tune into your breath and senses, and focus solely on the action of coloring, etc.

Yoga teaches us to focus on the breath and listen to our bodies. It teaches us to tune into our senses, to feel, and to experience life moment to moment.

My yoga practice started as a solely physical one, but the more I went to class, the more my practice grew beyond the physical, it became emotional and spiritual. Yoga became my thought process. It became the lens through which I perceived life and my experiences. Through my practice, I became mindful. I learned how to connect.


With love & light,
Nicole

Why Toxic Friendships Can Turn Into a Positive Experience

We all know someone that’s toxic, whether or not that person is a part of our past, or in our present. There’s someone at one point whom you felt close with, that this person was one of your best friends, maybe even a significant other, and you thought that without this person, you’d be alone. You’d feel alone, that you’d have nobody.

You and this person have fun together, but there are times that this person makes you feel bad for being who you are. This person also has talked a lot of s*** behind your back, and when you found out, it hurt, a lot.

This person always knows you’ll be there for them. Catering to their needs, being there when it’s most convenient for them. But wait a minute…what about you? When you need a friend, this person makes excuses not to be there for you. HOW is this person a friend?

Take a minute, breathe, it’s going to be okay. When I first had this realization about my “friends”, I went haywire. Was I not deserving of decent people in my life to be there through the hardships? Of course I am, everyone is.

These weren’t the right people, and I knew I had to get them out of my life. That’s a hard truth that I had to deal with in my last year of college.

This is something everyone will go through. You will have someone in your life, and they will hurt you. They’ll talk you down, and if you’re happy, they’ll make you feel bad about being happy. And if you’re sad, they’ll make you feel worse about being sad. And at one point, you have to end it. A friendship, a relationship, whatever toxic relationship you have in your life, get it out. Trust me, you will feel SO much better.  Cleanse yourself from the negative and focus on the positive.

Surround yourself with positivity. Be around others who are going to cheer you on through your successes, but also be there when things go south. Those are the types of people you want in your life. Do not settle for fakeness, or people who think they are better than you.  Have people in your life you WANT to be there, to hang out, talk, or even just go do a yoga class together after a stressful week.  Because everyone is just as special as the next person.


“When a toxic person can no longer control you, they will try to control how others see you. The misinformation will feel unfair, stay above it, trusting that other people will eventually see the truth, just like you did.” - Unknown


Emily Huxford brought this unknown quote to my attention and it definitely sparked some interesting thoughts, and Emily’s thoughts about this are spot on:


“This is so true and it’s something you don’t necessarily realize when you finally build up the nerve to cut a toxic person out of your life. You often times don’t just lose one person- you lose a few. You remove the main source of negativity, but then you realize that this single person’s negativity has overflown to contaminate other people, and you have to remove them too. In the end, you often lose more than one person. It takes so much courage to remove a toxic person out of your life. It took me years to realize that certain friendships weren’t in my best interests – rather than building me up and supporting me, my toxic friends were ripping me down every chance they got, and I didn’t even realize it. I let their negativity seep into my life and make me a negative person as well. Once I realized the source of my negativity and I built up the courage to remove that person from my life, EVERYTHING changed. I’m a firm believer that you take in the type of energy that you put out- meaning that I was putting out negative energy and in return, that’s all I was receiving in my life. Once I removed my toxic friendships, I started putting out positive energy, and suddenly my life took an amazing, enlightening, and positive turn! I put out positivity, so positivity is what I started receiving back."-
Emily Huxford


More people deal with toxic relationships than you think,  here’s some intake on my friends’ personal experiences with toxic people in their lives and how they’ve dealt with them:

Everyone always tells you “You could do better” “I don’t like how they treat you” or “He/she is a ____ “But its way easier said than done. There’s always excuses like “She had my back for years” “things were so good in the beginning” or “she’s not that bad, you don’t know what its like all the time”. But after a while, you start to see what everyone else does. The glasses come off and you see the character flaws in someone, whether it’s a romantic partner or just a friend. One of my experiences with toxic relationships involved girls I had been friends with almost all of college.  They only cared about drinking, partying, and themselves, while I had bigger things on my mind. After all the petty comments, posts on Instagram, and lies being told about me I was finally done. I was finally sure of myself for the first time probably in my life and while it hurt and it was hard, I am not at all sorry that I decided to leave their juvenile behavior behind. However, it turned out to be better for me.  Thoughout that experience I learned it’s ok to outgrow people and it’s ok to miss people. However, the most important thing is to do what makes you happy. Because YOU are with yourself forever so your own happiness is really the most important thing.
- Sarah Schreiber



“If a friendship causes you more stress than enjoyment, it’s not worth it. Ending a friendship can be one of the hardest things you ever do, but keeping someone in your life that makes you upset more than they make you happy is harder.”
- Leigh Caulfield

After I graduated from college and moved to Charlotte, everything got better. I was closer to Mariel, and became involved with the BBG Community in Charlotte, which has opened so many doors for beautiful friendships and so many women who inspire me to be a better person everyday.  I also reconnected with one of my friends from college, Sarah Saxon, who has been nothing short of amazing and has brought so much happiness and joy into my life. Find people who bring joy to your life, not stress. It may take awhile, but the wait will be worth it.
My THINK family and the BBG community has brought so much positivity into my life. I am so grateful for EVERY human who has been a part of my journey to lead a more positive-filled life. All the ladies who a part of THINK and the BBG community each has their own unique personality, and that’s what makes them so special. To you ladies in THINK and BBG I owe you everything. Thank you and your beautiful souls for making life sweeter and filled with positivity and happiness. 

Triumph Over Depression: An Invisible Chronic Illness

 

WRITTEN BY ROBYN ANKAWI

Many people associate a disease/illness as something that is physically seen externally. But if you were to line 10 people up in a line, how many of those people would be suffering from an invisible illness?

The symptoms are manifested internally and are chronic which means episodes and remission are constantly a cycle. The young 20-year-old guy who has to park in a handicapped spot looks fine walking to into the store, maybe you think he’s just lazy—in reality he has a heart defect that makes breathing difficult with too much movement. You can’t see it, but he has it.

The girl who goes to work and hangs out with friends is throwing up every morning for four hours and cannot eat any food causing her body to be malnourished which ends up with chronic fatigue, joint pain, weight loss, and depression—she has Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome. You can’t see it, but she has it. Fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome, heart disease, diabetes, and depression are just a few to name.


One of our THINK ambassadors Staci was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes widespread pain, sleep problems, fatigue, and often psychological distress. I asked Staci to share a bit of her story with us. As an individual in her mid-20s, Staci has always been a “go-go-go” kind of person and never really slowed down.

Soon enough, she started to get really tired and achy and thought maybe she was getting the flu. After about 3 months of this ongoing tiredness and achiness, Staci went to urgent care where they tested her for mono, Lyme disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus, but everything had come back clean. After that, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

Being a teacher has been difficult since people don’t understand the fact that even though Staci comes off as a happy and healthy person, she’s achy, her memory can be foggy from time to time, and sometimes she feels awesome in the morning, but by the time that noon comes—she is spent.

Her positivity is what drives her and if you don’t really know her, you wouldn’t know that she deals with these symptoms on a daily basis.

My personal story is with depression, the dark hole that plays the biggest mind tricks on me--an invisible illness? Most definitely.  

I have been on the cycling path of depression since I was a sophomore in high school (2009), but was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder in 2011. High school wasn’t very pretty for me—I lost a lot of friends due to working at the age of 15 my sophomore year, my brother passed away my junior year, and senior year I was just trying to get through it all.

Losing friends my sophomore year of high school was just the beginning. Loneliness and helplessness started and I turned from the once popular girl with plans all the time to the girl waiting for someone to talk to me. I was called a “waste of an invitation” because I could not always attend parties because of work. I felt like I was losing myself.

My junior year of high school was when I completely lost myself. My brother passed away in a car accident and my life was turned upside down. I lost not just my brother, but my best friend. I had completely shut down inside and I went to a really dark place. The depression really got to me and I started feeling helpless and hopeless. I was over-eating and sleeping 12-16 hours a day. I was being watched by my family to make sure I wasn’t suicidal. This dark place is scary. I didn’t talk to my mom for a year and she always said how she just wanted to “fix me” because she didn’t really understand what I was going through inside. She didn’t understand that depression is not an easy fix, it is a grueling process to overcome.

Thankfully (yet unfortunately) my sister-in-law who experiences depression was able to help my parents better understand what was going on in my head. Did they completely get it? No, not at all, but they did understand that I was the only one who could “fix” myself and get back to who I used to be.

To describe this darkness to someone who doesn’t experience depression first hand is difficult. For me, I literally will lay in bed for hours because I physically cannot move my body. My body feels so heavy that there were days I would be awake and staring at the ceiling for 4 hours because I could not get up. I gained about 50 pounds because I ate my feelings all day and slept all the time.

My sleep pattern was so disturbed that it was exhausting – too much sleep, turned into waking up every hour for an hour for hours on end. The feelings of loneliness, helplessness, and hopelessness over took my mind. I felt like I couldn’t keep going with life and was emotionally breaking down at the smallest things. It’s this cloud over me that is never leaving and it was fogging my mind.

I’m lucky enough to say I have an AMAZING support system. My family has been too amazing for words. My sister-in-law, brother, niece, and nephew really took care of me the year after my brother passed away. My niece and nephew kept me alive. They made me smile, laugh, and realize that my life is worth living. They were my constant reminders to keep fighting through this vicious cycle. I know I wouldn’t be where I am or who I am today if it wasn’t for them.

My sister-in-law helped me mend my relationship with my mom, and now I get to call my mom my best friend. She was there for me when I finally admitted I needed help and I went on anti-depressants. Those anti-depressants made a huge difference. I could finally get up in the morning, I stopped sleeping all the time, and emotionally I was feeling positive.

This disorder probably doesn’t seem like it’s invisible, but it is. On the inside I was dying in this dark hole of depression. On the outside I was a happy, smiling, laughing girl who kept going on with life. I have always been an optimistic person and I really kept trying to embrace that through believing in hope. People thought I was doing great, but little did they know what was really going on with me. That’s the thing with invisible illnesses, you can’t see what’s going on in the inside. You can’t feel or see the heaviness in my body or the helplessness and hopelessness in my mind.

My greatest advice to anyone who knows someone with an invisible chronic illness is just be there. Most invisible illnesses have no cure and there’s nothing anyone can really do for the individual to make them better. I always told my friends: if I want to talk about my feelings please just listen, be there—whether it’s in silence, with ice cream, with wine, or laughter, just be there. Most importantly, be patient. I cannot always control how I feel or my symptoms. Be patient with me. Be patient with the process of battling this dark hole. Love me. Love me at my darkest and brightest moments. Don’t just be there when things are good, be there when I feel like I’m never going to see the light. It is truly the little things that make the biggest difference to me in my moments of darkness.

Just remember: you never know what someone else is going through.

 

 

My Month of Teal-In Loving Memory of Marie Speece

Staci is one of our amazing ambassadors and when she asked me if we could support The Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation this month, I immediately said yes! I'm so grateful for Staci and that I'm able to use my company to support a very personal cause such as this one. Please read on for Staci's touching story! At the end of this month, we'll be donating 10% of all sales to The Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation in honor of Marie Speece!
XO,
Mariel
On April 10, 2001, I was just a normal 4th grade girl getting ready for school when I saw that my dad wasn't ready for work.  Confused, I asked my stepmom why he was still home and she said "Oh, he's just being lazy."  I carried on with my morning routine and bopped my way downstairs to eat breakfast.  My dad was sitting on the couch and asked me to come over to sit with him.  When I sat down next to him, he reluctantly told me something that would change my life forever.
"Mommy passed away last night."
At 10 years old, I remember getting up to look at the calendar on the fridge. April 10th. Tears welled up in my eyes and I looked at my dad. "But Danielle's birthday is tomorrow!" And from that moment on, the tears would not stop for hours.  My older sister was turning 15 the next day, I had just turned 10, and my oldest sister had just turned 18.  We were all babies and we were all about to embark on a journey that affected us all so differently growing up.
To rewind, my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in August of 2000. She was diagnosed way too late didn't even make it a full year before she lost her battle. She was 40 years old.
My mom was my best friend and now, at 25, I always wonder what our relationship would be like.  I went through the most critical years without my mom and it has certainly had a massive impact on who I am as a person today!
I spent my middle school and high school years working my butt off to make her proud!
I got myself ready for my high school proms and received my high school diploma with someone missing in the audience. I even asked my entire family not to utter the words "Your mom would be so proud of you" that day because if I heard those words, I knew I wouldn't make it through the ceremony. 
I had a few good friends who had lost their moms years after I lost mine, but being a motherless young lady left me on a path that not many will understand until years from now. I lost a lot of friends because of it.  Depression started to take over in my college years, and it was then that I really tried to do things to make my mom's memory alive for everyone who loved her, not just me!
I started running in the Teal Ribbon 5k on Memorial Day Weekend in Philadelphia, creating a team each year named Team Bizness. My mom's nickname was Biz, because she loved being in everyone's business! :)  Sometimes I had some friends participate with me, other times I was a team of one. But I made sure to spread  "teal" around with me.
When I started student teaching in my senior year of college, I asked everyone to wear teal on April 10th, to help me remember my mom and to help spread awareness of ovarian cancer.  It's called "The Silent Killer" because it takes so much time for doctors to give a diagnosis that it is sometimes too late. 
Slowly but surely, awareness among family and friends started to spread and now, every September (Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month) I have friends from all over the country sending me pictures of what their hometowns do to honor those women who are effected by this disease!  It warms my heart and helps me think I'm doing something to tell my mom "I haven't forgotten you."
This year, I was introduced to the Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation, which is also based out of Philadelphia.  On April 23rd, I will be running in my first 5k with them, in memory of my mommy and in honor of all the women who are fighting now (and those who will have to fight later).  This year, April has been my month of teal!
As I write this, I get ready to remember the day, 15 years ago, that I woke up to a changed life.  At that moment, although I didn't know it yet, I would be the rock for many of my friends who would go on to lose parents.  I would be the one who took everyone under her wing when their beautiful mothers became angels.  I have become a mentor to my young high school students who sit in my own shoes. 
I have continued to live for my angel mother and do something every year to remember her in a big way! She is constantly on my mind and I know she is with me every step of every day.
But my goal for my participation in the Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation is to help ensure that no little girl ever has to wake up and hear that their mom is now an angel. That no little girl ever has to dress herself for proms, have high school and graduation pictures that are missing that important leading lady, get married to the love of her life without her best friend holding her hand, and to bring her own children into this world while the absence of her first love is felt.
When you buy THINK gear this month, YOU are helping another woman in her journey! YOU get to help us move toward a world where TEAL doesn't have to stop and grab people's attention!!

THINK Positively, EAT PositiveLEiGH: XMAS COOKIES

Christmas is my FAVORITE holiday and I love baking Christmas cookies. I always make the same ones, Mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup cookies, and Chocolate Crinkle Kiss cookies. If I don’t, my family is disappointed ☺ This time, I added a traditional sugar cookie to the mix because I wanted to try out my decorating skills.

This year is supposed to be the warmest Christmas in Maryland since the 1920’s. I’m upset about it because I love the cold and I love the snow. I was worried that it just wasn’t going to feel like the Christmas season because of the weather. But baking these cookies today was just what I needed to put me in the spirit.

I made all of the cookies today and they’re already halfway gone, (told you they’re a hit). This post includes my most favorite of the cookie recipes I’ve found and made, the Chocolate Crinkle Kiss cookies with candy cane peppermint Hershey kisses. Make them, eat them, enjoy them and have a Merry Christmas ☺

Chocolate Crinkle Kiss Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened baking powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups granulated sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar
Peppermint Hershey Kisses

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla. Stir flour mixture into sugar mixture, until just combined. Place plastic warp over bowl and refrigerate dough for at least 2 hours.

Meanwhile unwrap Hershey kisses, place in a small bowl, and freeze until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or spray with baking spray; set aside. Place powdered sugar in a small bowl; set aside.

Scoop dough into ½ tablespoon balls, roll in powdered sugar, and place on baking sheet. Bake for 11-13 minutes, until cookies crackle and no longer look raw (they’ll start to look cakey).

Remove from oven. Immediately press a frozen kiss into each cookies, then place cookie sheet into the freezer just until chocolate is set and no longer shiny. Remove from freezer and allow to cool properly.

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