Please note: make sure not to miss the main part of this post - the interview with NINA - an amazing transgender woman I had the privilege to spend an hour with this past fall. Blurb at the end of this post, but if you'd rather jump straight to the interview, click here!
In January of 2017, National Geographic’s cover page [and special issue] featured Gender. The issue also contained a piece called I am nine years old, about nine-year-olds of 2017, from all over the world, who share their thoughts on gender and gender identity.
In September of 2016, I graduated an all-female coding bootcamp. It was VERY EXCITING! Also, super scary. Before landing my first ever software engineering job, I conveniently (but not that surprisingly - after all, it's me we're talking about), suddenly developed an obsession with gender – transgender specifically – so, a lot of the hours that should have been 100% dedicated towards coding and applying for jobs were spent researching everything transgender-related. (I am happy to state that I did find a job that I love just a couple of months later, and while I’m one of very few female engineers in the company – and industry – there’s also something special and unique about exactly that.) So, why transgender? I’ve thought a lot about that, because people frequently ask, and I think the most accurate way to describe it is that I am fascinated by anything that feels unfamiliar or unimaginable to me.
So ... why nine-year-olds? Funnily enough (and totally coincidentally), Jo and I have recently spent a decent amount of time reflecting on (and connecting with) our childhood selves, and engaged others in this discussion. We find it interesting and important, and to a degree we even feel privileged to have found a way back to those “childhood selves”.
NINE-YEAR OLD ANNIE & JO – we’re born the same year, and were both nine in 1991/92. Jo in Texas and Annie in Helsinki, but you can see the same 90s fashion in the clothes we’re wearing. Not knowing each other yet at that time, I find it pretty funny how much it looks like we would have been friends if we'd known each other back then.
Science Friday, one of my favorite podcasts, recently did an episode on the teenage brain. It brought up some interesting facts and misconceptions about why teenagers are the way they are, and what we perhaps can learn by being aware of the changes our brains go through during that time. In an ever more rapidly changing world, the ability to adapt is pretty important, and from what I’ve observed, a resistance to change can start to generate bitterness. My grandparents, now 96 and 93 years old respectively, are great role models for me, and a perfect example of how you don’t ever really have to grow up, in a traditional sense. Yet they were robbed of most of their youth due to the war that hit Finland throughout 1939-1945. I could bet on the fact that their overall youthful attitude to life has kept them in such good health to this old age. (After all – it does make sense that you remain younger longer if you simply feel young and think of yourself as young, doesn’t it?) Fear is all too often the enemy, whichever the fear may be – fear of embarrassing ourselves, fear of getting hurt, etc. – the older we get, the more “scary” situations we’ve been through, which leads to this growing collection of fears. Of course, the hope is that we’d be able to find a way to let go and stop being so afraid.
One final point before getting to the interview with Nina - I was fortunate enough to witness a total solar eclipse this past August. It was visible throughout the US, and I saw it with about 50,000 other people, at a big festival in Oregon. There was a strong Native American influence at the festival, and in a beautiful post by Delilah Friedler, she interviews Aztec ceremony leader Esmael Xiutecpatl, who states that, in his understanding, this eclipse brought with it a shift - a unification of masculine and feminine energies, where the sun represents the masculine and the moon the feminine, and water. This representation – the moon's entrance into the solar eclipse – is called atl-tlachinolli in the Aztec language, and translates into “water-fire”. Xiutecpatl says this is a time for energetic possibilities to transform ourselves, and by transforming ourselves, we transform our families, our communities, and the world. The feminine energy comes in and blocks the sun, illustrating that it’s time for us to get out of our heads, which is masculine – to be thinking; to do what we think is correct – and get in touch with the feminine, which is our heart-mind. I’ve had several intense personal experiences post-eclipse, and I’ve also spoken with many people who felt the same. I find it so fascinating. After all (for women), our menstrual cycles follow the moon, and as I’ve matured and gotten more tuned into my body, my cycles have also become more and more like clockwork.
In December of 2017, National Geographic’s cover featured The Real Jesus. Maybe that will become my next obsession (bring it on, 2018!!!).
I was honored to get the opportunity to interview the absolutely incredible Nina Cherubin, a transgender woman who in fact will be the first one to graduate the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC.
FINLAND. The country I am so grateful to have been born and raised in, celebrates 100 years of independence today. Its complicated history is still fresh in the memory of my generation, and in my personal opinion, a large part of our identity because of how recent certain events were. Quoting a recent article by the Huffington Post, Unrecognized Courage, "Given the enormous stakes for the country, Finland's behavior stands as an unparalleled act of principle. The U.S. Holocaust Museum would do well to memorialize the Finnish story, both to illustrate that in the real world moral choices are usually complicated, and to provide the public with an inspiring example of courage on a national scale."
What’s so special about Finland? A few noteworthy things:
(1) The nature. There are 187,888 lakes in Finland (the definition of lake being "a body of standing water larger than 500 square metres"), and Finland is also famous for having lots of beautiful forest land, 65% of total land area (link).
(2) The sauna and surrounding culture. Apparently, there are about 3 million saunas in Finland, and the sauna-culture is famous world-wide (link). I recently traveled to Portland, Oregon, and visited a beautiful sauna facility called Löyly (Finnish word for the wafts of steam that arise when you ladle water onto the hot rocks of the sauna “stove”; the kiuas) - the founder of Löyly fell in love with the Scandinavian sauna culture while traveling through Europe. She wanted to create a space in her home that is about community, health and relaxation. Finns shamelessly go in the sauna naked - unisex, amongst family and/or friends - and many also swim in the ocean year round along with this routine; some even roll in the snow between sauna sessions...
(3) Santa Claus is from Finland, obviously (read more here).
(4) Gender equality - a move towards gender equality was taken in Finland long before the country became independent. In the 1850s, Finnish women spoke about the importance of education for girls. Even the Finnish language does not distinguish between its gender pronouns! (Both are simply called “hän”. In Swedish, she is “hon” and he is “han”). Finland’s 11th president, Tarja Halonen is also female and served for 12 years (2000-2012), which is very significant. No wonder I felt completely unaware of gender inequality when I first moved to the US, and ever since, I’ve never stopped believing that I'm just as capable as any man, if not more! Why wouldn't I be, exactly...!?!?! This baffles me.
(5) The humor. Finns have a unique, off-beat and unexpected sense of humor. Check this out to get an idea. The "typical Finn" is also a huge introvert, and Finns are famously awkward in social situations, such as on the bus, or while waiting for the bus.
The good thing about this type of personality (at least if you ask me) is that there is very little room for bullshit, and Finns usually get straight to the point.
(6) On that note, work-life balance in Finland tends to be pretty good. A recent study by the Australian National University suggests that Finland "might be a good model where the majority of men and women both work full time, with lower average work hours and less gender gap.” (Link)
(7) And well, of course, the education system. This article explores it in more depth, but in my opinion one of the most noteworthy things is how equal the education is across the country. There are very few private schools, the public school education is excellent, and teacher is a generally respected profession (as it should be - hello!!?).
(8) The Midnight Sun is famous in all of Scandinavia; meaning that the sun barely sets at all in June-July, when also the Midsummer celebration happens. Read more here. This is, in my opinion, the best time to visit Finland, although the crayfish-party season in August/September is a good time as well (link).
(9) I almost forgot - the Moomins! If you're not familiar with them yet, I highly recommend getting to know them. Fast-track to something super cool I just found, which also enlightened me about the theme for our celebratory year - "Together". Go figure! :)
(10) To illustrate the final point which I also almost forgot - the wonderful, modest, and hard-working people. The badass women who usually wear the pants. Finnish people are REAL and loyal.
More reasons to visit Finland below - if you haven’t already. I wrote this post in a haste, so I know I've forgotten to mention a ton of things!
Language & heritage. The Finnish language is said to be one of the world’s most difficult. It’s classified as a Uralic, more specifically Finno-Ugrig language, and is only similar to Estonian, although it’s related to Hungarian. Finland is both geographically and linguistically isolated from other parts of Europe, and studies indicate that it is genetically isolated as well. There are two main theories of how the country’s population originally arrived in Finland - one suggests they came from Siberia only a few centuries AD, while the other one, based on more recent archeological findings, proposes that they in fact came much earlier from South-Eastern parts of Europe. We cannot know for sure, but what’s true is that language spreads and genetic expansions can occur independently, so both theories could hence be true. Personally I am a part of the Swedish speaking 5% minority population of Finland (you can read more here). Typically everyone in Finland will learn both languages in school, but there are separate schools for the Swedish speaking Finns, as we're called, and I attended those my whole life up until university, where the courses I took were mainly taught in English. Swedish is a completely different language to Finnish, and is classified as a North Germanic language (far easier to learn and a lot more similar to English!).
Too good to be true? Obviously I can’t make this post purely positive (Finland definitely has its downsides - let’s not forget that I’ve chosen not to live there…), so I tried to search the internet for something negative too. I’m pretty sure Finland ranks high in alcoholism, suicide, and depression rates. But instead I found this blog post, which made me laugh and miss Finland! Oh well, I’ll just have to leave the bad news for another day. Happy birthday Finland! <3
Did I mention Finnish women are badass? ;) Well, now you know. And yes, that's my badass ass on the right (circa 2006 in France).
If you’re at all like me, you see and meet a lot of new people every day. We all have bad days sometimes, but when we’re constantly surrounded by lots of people – on the subway, at work, in the grocery store etc. – we'll almost inevitably get affected by the energy of those around us. It’s great if that energy is positive, but especially during the winter months that isn’t necessarily always the case and, well, the current political climate doesn’t exactly help either.
Lately I’ve started to really enjoy observing people and trying to see love in the energy they radiate, and in how they treat people around them. It’s quite fascinating! “Self-love” might sound weird, like some sort of narcissism, but that’s actually not at all what it is. Looking for acceptance, respect, and love is something I believe we will all keep doing throughout our lives, but one thing is so obvious that it’s almost painful: a person who loves and respects her/himself will rarely be mean or resentful, especially not for no reason. Spreading happiness, and spotting it in other people brings a lot of joy to me, and at the same time it’s become quite intolerable for me to be around people who try to bring others down, or who spread toxic energy. I have no problems dealing with them when I have to, but I wouldn’t choose to spend a lot of time in their company. Life is way too beautiful, and short, for that.
This brings me to the other thing I’ve been spending time considering, which is how we truly will always be the children we once were. Nothing really changes all that much. Time flies by. We might think we change – and of course we do – but why does “becoming an adult” have to be a thing? Who has really decided that at 18, or 21, or 16 or whatever, you can do this and that and suddenly you’re a grownup. Haha! It’s a human construct, much like everything else we simply accept as “the way things are”. Challenging these types of thoughts is a lot of fun, and so is realizing how intuitively we knew things when we were kids, and then we “learned” a bunch of stuff about how we should be living our lives, only to (at least in my case) come to understand at some point, that we’re never going to know what’s going on any more than we did as kids. Adults can learn so much from kids, there is no doubt about that. And similarly, I think we can all learn from our childhood selves, if we are able to find them in there.
It’s been a while and a lot has been going on. Today I wanted to write a post about what the word holistic means to me in my coaching practice.
Well. To start with, I am a problem solver. I love software development for this reason as well. When clients come to me for coaching, often (though not always) because they want to lose weight, I could just help them do that. In the past I tended to focus more on simply helping them achieve whatever goal they presented to me. However, as I’ve grown more experienced I’ve understood that unless the cause of the problem is thoroughly explored and addressed, it will come back again after my time with the client is over.
It can be hard to confront, and dig into, deeper problems, but this is what “holistic” is all about. It’s easier to avoid the real issue, and put on a temporary fix - a band-aid – but that won’t help in the long run, if you keep hurting yourself the same way again and again. Looking at a person as a whole means that we talk through different areas of their life and discuss how content they are with each of them. These areas include career, relationships, love, creativity, finances, diet, home environment, physical activity, mental stimulation/education, and spirituality.
Another thing worth mentioning is that holistic health, to me, also means that health is much more than just having a good diet and exercise routine (and what’s “good” in this context is different for each individual). A lack of mental stimulation or emotional fulfillment can be just as detrimental to your health as eating a bag of potato chips every day. Conversely, drinking beer, eating chocolate, or going to parties can be great for you - as long as you enjoy it and it isn’t excessive or mindless. Guilt is the real enemy. I find that people who do a lot of dieting tend to experience strong feelings of guilt, which triggers a downward spiral that is hard to get out of.
I’ve had many clients who successfully lost weight long-term, and it was never through a quick “diet”. It was achieved through gradually making small changes that they were able to stick with. Without criticizing the methods of any other health coach, I try to be very open about the fact that my lifestyle and eating habits are by no means “perfect”. Nor do I believe they should be. In fact, one past client did not open up to me until they saw me eat a plate full of pastries and cake. Perhaps the illusion of having to restrict yourself in order to achieve a certain goal felt intimidating, unattainable, even miserable to this person. Fortunately most of us realize that losing weight is not worth it if it has those implications.
For me personally, this past year has been filled with lessons learned. I’ve pushed myself harder than I ever have before, by deciding to learn software development and enter a male-dominated field from an entry-level position. This has certainly taken me to some very low lows and depths within myself I didn’t know existed, but it has also made me so much stronger and more convinced than ever that anything is possible, and this life is a continuous quest towards self improvement, acceptance, and exploration.
Hope you've all had a chance to enjoy some of the nice weather we've been having lately! I thought I'd share with you a few of the latest updates from my end! :)
Jo and I were thrilled with how our June workshop turned out, and we once again thank everyone who attended.
The workshop consisted of two main parts. The first, outside in the park, learning the basics of contact improvisation and moving together. The second was at the World Yoga Center, where we discussed nutrition, practiced mindfulness through group meditation, and enjoyed some healthy snacks.
Part two is in the works, and it will most likely again include some contact improv, as well as nutrition and mindfulness related activities.
Some comments from the workshop participants:
"It was nice meeting new people. I think encouraging people to interact was helpful. Doing contact improv for the first time certainly felt awkward but I think it got better as we got more comfortable with each other."
"I really liked the nutrition tips and made some almond coconut milk myself!"
"The combination of shared movement with strangers and practiced mindfulness was very refreshing!"
It's never too late to sign up for our newsletters (you can do it here!). We write about themes relating to wellness, dance, art, community, and other topics of interest. Below are some excerpts from the latest ones - we're more than happy to forward you the full newsletters in case you missed out.
JUNE/JULY - HUMAN & NATURE RELATIONSHIP
"It started when I recognized a feeling of being on top of a globe that revolved around a huge circular bright presence in the sky. I realized that the language we use to describe the movement of the sun (rising and falling) is anthropocentric (human centric). In Lapland it was most obvious that the sun stays put, and we go around."
MAY - FEAR / WHAT ARE WE AFRAID OF?
"Are we delusional? I’ve thought about this above mentioned avoidance of “scary” situations, wondering if most of us even acknowledge everything we avoid on a daily basis just because we find it uncomfortable. If we’re not even aware of our fears, how can we address them?"
APRIL - GET TO KNOW US
"QUESTION : What do you struggle with the most in life?
JO: I struggle not to worry about ideas I've been socialized to believe such as beauty is youth (i.e. gray hair is bad, wrinkles are ugly), and fill my mental space with learning new things and understanding the body from the inside as opposed to worrying about its outside appearance. Also I'm a people pleaser so I struggle with making sure that I listen to my needs.
ANNIE: I struggle with being overly emotional – always have. I'm constantly trying to learn more about myself though, and that way also learn how to better deal with negative emotions, and focus on the positive ones. It's important that emotions get expressed, but maybe not always externally. Having a filter can be good from time to time. ;) Meditation is great, and definitely something I recommend anyone to learn more about.
QUESTION : What can everyone do to improve their quality of life on a daily basis?
JO: Pay attention to the basic needs. Give yourself adequate sleep, food, water, and exercise. Pay less attention to the needs represented to you by anyone else than yourself.
ANNIE: Show love to others; as much as you can! And be genuine. Because why not? I promise, it will have a direct impact on your health and how you feel. :) Also, I’d like to add that showing love to others starts with showing love to yourself."
Balance, balance, balance. Everyone (including myself) talks about balance. But what does it really mean? Meditation is all about finding inner peace, and trying to react less (at least in terms of negative reactions). Being somebody who is highly excitable, I sometimes find it hard to come to terms with the conflict between the need for stimulation, and the need for peace. I’m sure I’m not the only one who struggles with this. We want to be stimulated, and yet we’re often over-stimulated by everything that goes on around us. This is true especially in a city like New York, and that’s exactly why I love it! I am wondering if it’s such a bad thing to be excited and want to do a lot of things? You can still be “balanced”, right..?
Everyone is different, but I do think that no matter how busy you like to be, it’s important to remember, and connect with, who you are, and not avoid dealing with that – something I too have been guilty of doing in the past.
Another thing I wanted to touch upon is food and sleep. When I’m going through phases of being extra inspired and excited about something, I struggle a little with forming consistent sleeping and eating habits, and often end up not getting enough of either. In case anyone else ever feels the same, I wanted to share a few tips here:
Hopefully at least some of you found this useful! It’s great to feel excited about life, and we all have a purpose here, so let’s focus on the good. And spread those good vibes! Happy Thursday!
I thought I’d share with you my favorite recipe for almond-coconut milk. I’ve tailored it to my own taste, and it’s the best I’ve ever had! ;) I’m going to put this up in the recipe section too, so you can easily access it anytime. This recipe is so versatile, and you can use it for many purposes – making shakes and other drinks with it, making chia pudding (will post a recipe for that soon as well!), bircher muesli, and more. It’s rich in healthy fats, and is perfect for people who are sensitive or trying to avoid dairy - and anyone else too! I love the added richness and sweetness that comes from the coconut. I always make some chia puddings when I make this milk, and next I'm planning to make matcha shakes with it, can't wait.
4 cups cold water
1 cup (2.5dl) raw almonds
1 cup (2.5dl) coconut flakes
1 tbsp coconut oil
cinnamon – according to taste
1 tbsp maple syrup
a dash of sea salt
***SOAKING OF ALMONDS IS OPTIONAL AND CAN BE DONE SINCE THE NIGHT BEFORE, OR JUST A COUPLE HOURS BEFORE MAKING YOUR NUT MILK.***
1. Blend the water, almonds and coconut flakes.
2. Pour the liquid into a nut milk bag (cheese cloth can be used as well), inside of a bowl or big jug to make sure no liquid goes to waste. Squeeze out all the liquid, then you can save the meal that’s left in the nut milk bag if you like, or throw it out.
3. Pour the liquid back into the blender, add the rest of the ingredients, and blend everything again.
4. Your nut milk is ready, and should taste creamy and delicious! It’s best served cold, so I recommend keeping it in the fridge for a while before drinking it, and always shake before drinking. Enjoy!!
Health coaching is still a fairly new phenomenon, in the sense that it isn't something people automatically think they might need. We go to the doctor, the dentist, get massages (if we're lucky!)... some people even have personal trainers, and pay huge sums of money for that. I'm not saying I think it's a waste of money - nothing is, as long as the person offering the given service is good. And that's where it gets tricky. How do you know? Even if somebody else had a good experience that doesn't necessarily mean you will.
What I really wanted this post to be about though, was why I personally think everyone would benefit from seeing a good health coach or therapist. By good, I mean someone who matches you and your needs.
I remember that throughout my school years (even already in elementary school) I used to love going to see the school counselor. Admittedly it was partly because I wanted to skip class, but a big part of it was that I just liked to have someone to talk to; someone to bounce thoughts and ideas with, who wasn't directly involved in my life. It can be tough to only bounce off peers and family members all the time, especially when we're young and just starting to form our sense of self. I always felt that talking to a counselor or therapist about things helped me process them, and make realizations on my own. Ever since then I've regularly seen different therapists myself, for periods of time in my life, and even though I don't have a mental illness, I think it helps me think more clearly and feel more stable. Maybe this isn't true for everyone, but there's certainly something to be said about the benefits of "cleansing" - whether you refer to physical or mental cleansing. (One definition of cleansing is to rid (a person, place, or thing) of something seen as unpleasant, unwanted, or defiling.)
A good health coach should be able to listen to the needs of her/his clients with genuine curiosity, and ask the right questions that will make the client dig out answers from within themselves. Holistic health takes into account the whole person, and all aspects of the person's life, so a holistic health coach needs to know where to apply knowledge about these different aspects. Many people come looking for diet and exercise guidance, without fully understanding the correlation between all the parts that affect the patterns we form. This is where a coach can really help untie the knots.
Got to love New York, that's all I can say. One thing I love the most about this city is definitely its diversity. How you can dress any way you like and do weird things (yes, I love doing weird things, who doesn't?) without anyone thinking twice about it or paying much attention. And all the funny things you see every day! All the random 1-10 minute conversations you have with strangers of all different backgrounds and ethnicities.
Spending all of winter (Australian summer) in Sydney was a wonderful privilege, and I enjoyed every minute of my time there. But as soon as we started approaching NY on the airplane back, I started feeling the familiar tingling sensation of coming home. New York fills me with a sense of drive, motivation and ambition - a feeling that anything is possible.
It's funny how different places and cities also can make you feel like an entirely different person. Today it is freezing cold here, but I so enjoy seeing all the mustaches, the very varying fashions and styles, the street musicians... and just soaking up the vibe.
The energy of this city is not for everyone, but it is definitely for me. Happy Thursday everyone!
I said I would write more about meditation, so here we go. Up until recently, I had this idea in my head about meditation, that it's all about sitting perfectly still with eyes closed, while trying to empty your mind. I'm sure many of you know that isn't quite the case - but some of you might think of it a bit like I used to. I kept thinking "I really should start meditating, it would be so good for me" etc. Being a very restless person who finds it hard if not impossible to sit still for longer periods of time, I also almost dreaded the mere thought of what I believed was meditation. My mind constantly wanders, and it is extremely hard for me to stop it, so perhaps I was afraid of failure?
"Our spirits just want to jump up and down, but sometimes our brains interfere."
Happy Vibes Project is, first and foremost, a space where I share my excitement and fascina-tion about being human. I have a tendency to fall into research rabbit holes on almost any topic from science & technology to film ma-king, philosophy, cultu-re, art ... and, of course, holistic health. Happi-ness only gets better when shared, so feel free to reach out if you have an interesting story or would like to con-tribute in any other way! <3