This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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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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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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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)


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Back to just sitting

Some weeks ago I sat down on this one, for the first time in well over a year. The last time I meditated was last year’s December, at a vipassana retreat in England. When life gets stormy and I would need meditation the most, it is always the first good habit that slips away. I wonder why – and I wonder how its disappearance goes unnoticed, until it is way past late?

This past summer I had so much time on hand that I did not need more meditation than simply going out for runs or walks in the countryside and forest. But when August came around, along with a new job at a new company, I had to build a new daily routine. After letting the swells of newness and exhaustion sweep over me the first two weeks, I pulled out the pouf, set the Insight Timer app, and sat down. Just for fifteen minutes.

How could I have forgotten the physical sense of relief and relaxation that comes when I just am, for a while?

(Copenhagen, Denmark; September 2020)


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Shinrin-yoku, every day

shinrin-yoku-3Shinrin-yoku, or forest-bathing, every day. The Japanese prefer slow mindful sauntering instead of aerobic hiking. As a form of nature therapy, shinrin-yoku means not only crossing through a wood, but bathing in it: letting it fill one’s lungs, ears, nose, and eyes. It means not talking or listening to music, but listening to the birds, the grasshoppers, and the wind in the trees. And it means wandering off the path to caress the warm, dry bark of a tree, just because it feels like the best thing to do at the moment.shinrin-yoku-1That is why forest-bathing is best done alone. And while I like to alternate between running and walking through the forests in Loviisa, I still do it every day. And I come out from the forest feeling very centered and alive.
shinrin-yoku-2(Loviisa and Kotka, Finland; June 2020)


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Older, but better

booksLovely ones, it’s been a different spring and summer for all of us. All my sabbatical year plans flew out through the window: going back to San Sebastián to study Spanish in January, visiting friends in the US midwest in February, and finally walking underneath cherry trees in Kyoto in April.

Instead, in February I dove into a new work project. In March I freaked out about the job market post-coronavirus, and doubled down on career planning and job searching.

And in late March I turned forty. Forty years old. It certainly felt historic, considering the circumstances. When I think back of my 30th birthday, never in a million years would I have imagined celebrating it in a global pandemic lockdown, and in Denmark of all places.

That day I closed the door on an unexpected and difficult decade, which threw the components of my life in the air more than once. I find myself collecting books about aging, and planning a 360-health check at a private clinic once travel is possible: metabolism, hormones, epigenetics and biological age; and the whole nine yards. Oddly, floating in the middle of global and personal uncertainty it feels like a new start.

Also, there were gorgeous flowers, and a fantastic flødebolle-picnic by the lakes. I’m lucky.
bday(Copenhagen, Denmark; March 2020)


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In Copenhagen, confused and concerned

CPH-1Lovely ones, my new slow life has begun. In Copenhagen. For now. After two weeks in a lovely apartment in Østerbro I found myself in a furnished, bright little place in Nørrebro, with a view over the ring of lakes that divide the North half of town.

Instead of weekly travels to London and criss-cross the Nordics I now find myself on a monthly travel schedule to Belgium, plus a tour of a handful other European countries this spring (provided I can avoid coronavirus hotspots). Instead of crazy 8-9 hour workdays I find myself deeply entrenched in one project for 6-7 hours a day. Instead of dragging myself out for a run or onto the yoga mat at 5 pm I find myself running around the lakes mid-afternoon, before going back to work with more energy.

It all sounds wonderful, right? In truth this is a tough training in how to live with uncertainty: where will I live after May 1st? Where will I work next year? What if I can’t find a job if I really like? What if nobody will like me well enough to hire me? Is there a future for the relationship I’m in, now that I had to move out? What if I just can’t muster the energy to work all this out?

And the biggest question of all: I will turn 40 this year. How will I set myself up for success for the next 10 years, including healthy aging? CPH-2(Copenhagen, Denmark; January 2020)


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Silence

Devon-2Life is in a flux again, and how hard it was to just be present in silence for a long weekend in the Devon countryside. Instead I found myself thinking of the future, the past, or an alternative present. When work-hour sign-up was open I signed up for garden duty, to get outside. And when garden duty started I signed up to shovel compost, so I would be worn out by the time daily meditation sessions would begin.

The young man assigned to the same task quit after one day. So for an hour it was just me, a wheelbarrow, a spade, the compost, and a hungry robin fluttering around my wheelbarrow, taking good chances of being covered in muck before breakfast was done.

And then, then it was silence in sitting, and silence in walking. And some reflective words every night. And so much silent kindness, from fellow retreaters of all ages. It is what impresses on me most deeply each time I retreat into silence: an expression of kindness needs no words.(Devon, United Kingdom; December 2019)


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Sleep stories

There is something soothing about focusing one’s attention on a single voice which calmly and contentedly goes on about unimportant but poetic details. Like fuzzy, friendly bumblebees visiting a strawberry planting, or a base guitarist in a rock band who discovered that flowers were his true calling and opened a flower shop. I discovered the Headspace Sleepcasts when they were launched and have loved them since.

Like someone said, I, too, would love to listen to the Night Town sleepcast lady read a phone book. Who is she? Also the narrator of Rainday Antiques and Slow Train seems to have friends. He does sound a little like Sir David Attenborough. Wish it was less of a mystery!

(Copenhagen, Denmark; February 2020)