When I was “whisked away” to my charming little placement town of Hongseong (the actual town), Naepo (where I lived for the first six months), and Gwangcheon (where I teach), I quickly realized this would be no gentle, “poof you’re a teacher,” magic spell cast by a loving fairy godmother (The Korean Fulbright Commission). Don’t get me wrong, they truly did their best, and without the comprehensive eight-week orientation reviewing the Korean I had learned and introducing me to the terrifying reality that I would soon be a teacher, I would have been much worse off (as many of my friends who work for less supportive organizations can attest to). However, a combo of culture shock and what I’m going to call “occupation shock,” or the teaching-learning-curve, immediately plunged me into the dark night of the soul, or “Seoul” in this case. The light in my life narrowed to a pinhole, and my daily experience revolved around a vicious cycle of anxiety, failure, exhaustion, and depression. However, I have an extremely low spiritual pain tolerance, so from the very beginning I experimented like mad with different spiritual and physical practices and techniques, trying everything in my power to get the upper hand on inspiration, to boost my energy, and above all to stop hating everything about my life.
By God’s grace, I discovered certain practices which vastly enriched my spiritual and physical functioning, pulling me out of that dark night and enabling me to begin to blossom into my true identity. Everyone is different, and we must all pray for God to show us what changes to make in our lives to bring us closer to Him, but I would have loved for someone to share the wisdom with me that I have found only through trial and error, so here are practices which have had a hugely positive impact on all aspects of my life. You might be surprised these practices can make such a difference in mental and spiritual clarity as well as overall life satisfaction, but try them for yourself and see!
We spend so much time in our heads thinking uselessly when God is not in our head. Yoga takes me out of my head and puts me in touch with my body – muscles, joints, breath – and I have found that the more time I spend in my body, the more the stillness of God is able to come into my whole life.
2. Intermittent Fasting
I have struggled with appetite regulation my whole life. Temperance is harder for me than anything else, but through intermittent fasting I have discovered that I can totally banish this particular problem. I used to snack and eat and never feel satisfied, but now I drink water when I feel hungry instead, and eat only one or two meals at most per day. This changed my life; my head is clear, my energy has tripled, my whole system feels incredibly clean and healthy.
3. Hydrotherapy/Cold showers
There is no better way to jump start your circulation every morning, enhance immune function, and just in general give yourself a really great adrenaline rush. It also really helps when my spirit feels heavy or I am struggling to surrender my selfishness. Something about the physical act of surrendering to the cold helps me surrender to the Holy Spirit. I’ve also really loved the chance to spend as much time as I want in the Korean spas or 찜질방, where they have many different temperatures of baths as well as dry saunas, steam rooms, and other treatment facilities. These spas are one thing that makes me want to stay in Korea forever.
Every morning I wake up and do a ten-minute ab exercise routine and run twenty flights of stairs in my apartment building five times. In the evening I lift weights or practice yoga. I love hiking just for fun, and playing soccer. These activities all put me in touch with my physical body, and thereby allow me to listen to God’s still small voice more fully because God speaks to us through our body, not our mind, and when our body’s physical energetic system is bogged down, burdened by stress, tension, over-eating, lack of exercise, lack of rest, etc. we often cannot hear God’s voice or perceive his signs pointing us which way to go.
I go to bed sometime between 9 and 10:30pm every day and wake up between 4 and 5am because this schedule is what our bodies were optimized for. It gives me so much more mental clarity and energy for keeping up with my 130~ elementary students, besides strengthening my spirit.
When I first graduated from college I struggled to find myself. I was unceremoniously dumped by my boyfriend of three years, I had no idea where to go or what to do next, and no idea what my personal identity was. I hated being alone with my thoughts because I would suffer from intense anxiety and mental agony. This experience only intensified when I came to South Korea and had to deal with the stresses of learning to be a teacher, adjusting to a new culture, accepting my inability to fully communicate and participate in social life, and all the other old anxieties I brought with me from the US. I tried everything: yoga, meditation, sleep, exercise, talking to people, eating my feelings, etc., but the only thing that worked in the end was praying a simple prayer: “God please take it away.” When the anxiety and fear for the present and the future attacked me, from that moment on I simply would pray “God take it away,” and it was gone like magic. After awhile it didn’t even reappear at all. Praise God, he answers prayers!
Our physical space is a direct mirror of our spiritual space, so if our physical space is cluttered and overwhelming, we will feel the same way about our life. I always knew I felt overwhelmed by too many choices and being surrounded by material things. It felt like a burden on my spirit. Living abroad has definitely helped me in this area by forcing me to reduce and reuse. Gradually, I’ve learned not to buy into the culture of consumerism, and have found that the less I have the happier I am. This also extends to food as well. When I eat less, the things I eat are far more satisfying. The secret to happiness lies in taking less, not more. How paradoxical, how divine. ❤
One of my favorite blogger/Youtube Creator couples is EatYourKimchi’s Simon and Martina, and recently I watched a video Martina made about her struggle with EDS and the depression that has become concurrent with her chronic and increasing pain. She talked about finding ways to build a ladder every day in order to climb out of whatever dark well of life circumstances or mental/spiritual agony we find ourselves in, and these things I shared were some strategies I used to #buildaladder.
Here is the link to Martina’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zUgi4bWudR4
Please leave a comment and tell me what practices you have picked up in your life that have made a major impact for you, and ask me any questions you have!