This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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In Frederiksberg Gardens

The beauty of Frederiksberg Gardens was once curated to the extent that no one poorly dressed was allowed in. And like a proper English landscape garden, the curves of the waterways are just a little too neat to be natural, and the tall waterfall looks gorgeous and natural – but out of place in flat Denmark. English garden styling is like the ideal image of natural beauty.

Scattered here and there between the trees, dozens of great gray herons hunker down for winter, standing like statuettes, necks warmly folded under the neck feathers. In windy Denmark, Frederiksberg Gardens is probably a nice resting place for birds. And on a cold Saturday in November, the park is a perfect place for a leisurely walk, some headspace, and good conversation.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; November 2020)


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Always a beginner

My pretty pink yoga mat had spent most of this year rolled up, propped up against the wardrobe wall. Save for post-work yin on Fridays, I had not touched it. The last time I did a sun salutation was in November 2020. What happened?

Life happened. And when life happens too much, too fast, and too painfully, I am overcome by the urge to run. And so I ran. Every other day (because every other day I forced myself to just walk). In fact, I ran so much I hurt my knee again in January 2020. This time, no surgery was required. Just spending most of my home-office hours with my leg stretched out on a chair. After all these years, I still find it impossible to roll out the mat when I need yoga the most: when I need to just spend the time to mindfully pay attention to my body and breath.

In August, I started a new job. The life change and pressure to do my best caused my back to stiffen up like a slab of concrete. “Not good”, my Thai masseuse tutted on my monthly visits as I groaned underneath her hands and elbows.

And so, one weekend in November, I finally grabbed my pretty pink mat, rolled it out on the bedroom floor, said the ashtanga opening chant, and folded forward into a first sun salutation. A very stiff one. I wavered like a toppling tree in the leg lifts. My hips refused to comply in the warrior poses. Like a beginner, I went no further than the standing poses, followed by the second half of the finishing sequence (and sore shoulders for three days thanks to the chaturangas). But the second time I went into the first seated poses. And the fourth time I completed the entire finishing sequence except for the headstand. This is a new beginning – and truly a beginning, once again.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; November 2020)


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My mornings, 2020 edition

I used to travel every week for two to three days. Sometimes four. For nearly a decade. Then 2020 came around, with two job changes and coronavirus. They downside is, I am losing my elite airline status. The upside is, I have gained a new morning routine for WFH and weekend mornings. They are many, and so sticking to a routine which works best for me now is easier than ever.

Why is a custom-built morning routine so important? Because it sets the foundation for a productive and energy-balanced day. What works, then? Well, I can only share what works for me, and it is not the 6 am wakeup with bullet-proof coffee followed by meditation and a workout that is favored by many.

The key to my own morning is the understanding of how my energy qualities shift during the day: I am mentally most productive before 2 pm, prefer a physically energetic workout in the late afternoon to relax, and a meditation at night to wind down for the day. This means that I pile up all writing, powerpoint slide creation, and planning before lunch and, if possible, push meetings and video conference calls into the afternoons. In the weekends, I begin my mornings with a concentration-requiring book followed by blogging, journaling, and other writing tasks until lunch.

I support my morning productivity with a protein-heavy breakfast to establish a stable energy level throughout the day. I used to do intermittent fasting for my entire adult life (and I had no idea it was a “thing”, it just felt better to skip breakfast) until just a couple of years ago. But when lunch became my main meal and I moved my dinner earlier, striving to be done by 7 pm, I realized I needed sustenance in the mornings. The overnightly fast is now a moderate 13-14 hours.

Here is my morning routine for most of 2020, version WFH:

  1. Wake-up 7.00-7.30 am (also weekend mornings. Consistency is key.)
  2. I open a window and burn incense, the fresh Japanese little sticks, to freshen up the air. A lovely Marie Kondo habit I adopted.
  3. I make a hot tonic and leave it to cool. A big glass of hot water with the juice of a quarter organic lemon, or fresh ginger or turmeric, with a quarter teaspoon honey. During more stressful times I used to go for lemon juice with salt (calms down cortisol levels) and cayenne pepper (wakes up a lazy stomach).
  4. Office worker’s stretch: Fold forward, arms hanging, to stretch legs. Grab ankle with both arms, legs straight, and pull back, stretching the hip of the other leg. Repeat on the other side. Sit down into a deep squat and extend arms forward to maximize the lower back stretch. Go down on knees and do 12-15 slow, careful scapular push-ups to prevent mouse-arm strain. Finally, stretch shoulders by standing up, interlacing fingers, folding forward, and bringing arms over head to hang.
  5. Tonic + supplements. I take a baseline of supplements supporting a woman on a meat-free and nearly dairy-free diet, along with a few performance-optimizing supplements.
  6. Reading. Could be as short as 15 minutes, also during work mornings. I usually reserve mornings for concentration-requiring or spiritual books. Right now I am reading A path with heart by Jack Kornfield.
  7. Breakfast. Plant-protein powered smoothie, or protein-powered oatmeal. Or gluten-free protein pancakes with berries if I have the time.
  8. Start the day. By now the time is around 8.30 am, leaving me enough time to get into shape for work and video conference calls before 9 am.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; November 2020)


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Around Damhussøen

Saturday sun felt like the first bright day in a month. What a nice day to saunter around the lake in Vanløse with a friend. There were swans, dog-walkers, and yellow leaves on the gravel road. And there was much head-shaking between the two of us, about how this year turned our lives upside down in such profound ways.

In the bleak but welcome November afternoon sun, we concluded that life still tasted good. So did the tea, cake, and waffles.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; November 2020)


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Like an oil painting

I stopped by the little lake on my daily route around the park. With the yellow, falling leaves and deeply overcast sky it looked like from an old, English countryside oil painting. Except that it was so much more rich and detailed.

I sometimes forget I am not in a central European country but in the Nordics – because the Nordic, impenetrable spruce thickets and lofty halls of pine trees are all missing. Even on Jylland, the coniferous forests consist of trees planted in rows. But that is okay, because the parklands in Denmark are beautiful, especially now.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; November 2020)


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Just sitting

“Just sit, every day. Doesn’t matter if you can concentrate or not. Just sit down and be present for a while.”

This was the most practical meditation advice I got, from the late Michael Stone. And I went on to discover it really is as simple as that. He also defined mindfulness as simply coming back to the present: refocusing when the mind has wandered. Over and over again. Because the mind will wander, and it’s okay.

When I sit, I do not try to accomplish a meditation. Sure, I have analyzed my meditation with Muse a few times, noticing what it’s “supposed to feel like” when I heard bird song, which is the app telling me I am in a deep, calm, meditate brainwave state. I know I can get there within five minutes, sitting on a bar stool in the middle of a busy conference exhibition hall, like I did the first time I tried Muse. But I also know it is not my goal. Sometimes, the best meditation is simply to sit for fifteen minutes and observe the cramp in my foot after a long day and too little hydration. I used to think anything less than twenty minutes is not useful, but I also used to skip sessions because I did not feel like meditating for a full twenty minutes. So I cut it to fifteen. Because the main goal is to just sit, every day.

Through the tumultuous 2020 I did not feel a need to sit down until I changed jobs. With that major change addded on top of other major life changes, I felt the need to get back to just sitting. Two months later, after just fifteen minutes a night, at least six days a week, I am so glad I re-established this little daily reset routine. And no, I do not have that short legs – I just spare my knee by sitting on a higher zafu (try it if you have a runner’s knee!).

(Copenhagen, Denmark; November 2020)


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When at home: microgreens

It must be winter soon, because my poor radish microgreens stretch towards the window with all their might. Interestingly, they rotate towards the kitchen light, in the opposite direction, every night. I try to keep their suffering brief.

No travel means lots of opportunities to experiment at home. I tried growing microgreens in a compostable paper wool. It looks hassle-free, but begins to smell before slow-growing sunflower microgreens are ready. I am also not convinced I get good quality nutrition and may just end up making these superfoods less super. So I went back to potting soil. Perhaps coconut husk would be another less messy option?

(Copenhagen, Denmark; October 2020)


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Quiet week

It has been a silent week. Unlike Belgium, France, and Spain, Denmark is not yet in lockdown, but we have been given further restrictions, and my employer issued a stricter recommendation to work from home.

With the clocks turned back, running in a Danish park after dark resembles moving around an African village: little streams of light from lanterns barely light up the path in front of my feet between pools of darkness, while my head is constantly enveloped in the black night. All around me I hear talk and human noises. And as I cannot see around me, walking or jogging after dark is a strange meditation on the importance of light and sight.

Low lighting of parks must be some kind of climate action, but it surprises me that even here in the capital people are not encouraged to stay active after dark. Forget about footpaths and bike paths in Brande or Vejle after dark – they are not lit at all. After-work joggers pound the pavement for four months each year. In Finland this would be unthinkable, both because people are encouraged to go out even in the darkest time of the year, as well as for personal security after dark.

Under the lamp, after dinner, I have been busy bringing order back to the life of my weeping fig bonsai, which I brought over this summer. It looked like a big green wig after growing untouched for the most of 3 years. Lacking sufficiently thick wire for the thickest unruly branches, I tied them to a trunk until I could find the supplies I need. According to the rules of grooming I should probably have cut off the low branch crossing the trunk, but given how bare the tree is now, I left it for the time being. We all need a break in this strange new world order.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; October 2020)


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Any given Friday

Any given Friday one can work, or one can take the day off and check into an Oriental day spa for the entire afternoon.

I decided to do the latter – and all in. The entire shebang. With champagne, chocolate fondue, smoothies, massages (plural!), and private sauna good enough for a Finn, and a bubble bath.

Why not, as all other holidays are canceled this year?

(Copenhagen, Denmark; October 2020)