Mindful Way Through Depression

I share a lot of resources with my students, and this book, The Mindful Way Through Depression, is one of them. Given to me by my therapist well over ten years ago now, it’s probably one of the most important books I’ve ever read.

Having completed graduate work myself (as a first generation college student nonetheless) and now working in higher education, I’m acutely aware of many of the challenges students face in completing their degrees. As a McNair director, the central charge of my work is to encourage low income, first generation and underrepresented students to pursue Ph.D.’s. This path is not for the faint of heart, nor is it the best path for a lot of people, but for those who feel called to be a creator of knowledge, it’s the only way to go. As such, I’ve grown even more interested in learning more about what these journeys are like for our students, as well as questioning the very nature of academia and the extreme stress and hardship that many endure.

Just google “graduate students and mental health” and you’ll find various articles on the topic, highlighting recent studies pointing to higher rates of anxiety and depression among the graduate student population. The experience of graduate school is a complex one, and certainly one that is unique to each individual given their program, area of study, quality of mentors and advisors, peers and support networks. It’s complicated and many factors impact the process, but my bottomline question is: does it have to be this way and what can we do to alleviate some of the suffering?

Suffering is a strong word, I know. But having recently witnessed about forty or so Ph.D. graduates of color share their experiences achieving their degree, I would say suffering is an accurate term. These students persevered, and we should be thankful because we need their voices, but at the same time, should the process really have to entail traveling to the darkest depths of one’s soul in order to persevere?

I’m typing off the top of my head here, but I think this to be a legitimate question. I also realize this isn’t necessarily the case for all students; however, it seems to be a legitimate concern for many.

Coming back to the topic at hand then, addressing the issue of mental health in graduate education and using all resources and approaches available, this notion of mindfulness and how it can help students maintain greater health and wellness is a useful one. I personally suffered from my most significant bout of depression post-grad school; I also utilized many different tools in dealing with it, including medication and exercise, as well as experimenting with mindfulness meditation.

More Ph.D. students are talking about this important topic and I’m really happy about that. As a matter of fact, part of my writing along this topic area is an opportunity to contribute to this conversation through The PhDepression. I’ve always been interested in helping our students explore the benefits of mindfulness, through yoga and more recently, through meditation. And so I’m really excited to be able to reach an even greater number of students, to provide support and encouragement in their graduate journeys, and help pass along resources + tools that I’ve personally found absolutely transformative in my own journey.

I welcome your thoughts! Please feel free to email me at lynn.curry.619@gmail.com or use the contact form on this site. I’ll be sharing more experiences and conversations as I revisit this important text, The Mindful Way Through Depression, and perhaps go even deeper into my own continuing struggles.

Bright Spots Friday

My CrossFit gym has a great community that is really active on Facebook. Besides getting to know folks while in the gym, I’ve found our Facebook group to be a really great way of feeling connected even though I might not know everyone on a personal level. We’ve recently started to share Bright Spots Friday with one another and this had added an even lovelier dimension to our exchange.

I thought I would write a short post for today’s Bright Spots Friday cause I wanted to talk a little more in-depth about how my participation in this community is impacting my life. After feeling like crap for a few weeks, I finally found some energy this week! For me, this meant pushing myself again, if even in small increments.


I’ve enjoyed working out in a number of different gyms over the years, but CrossFit is different. I’m still working on figuring out exactly why that is so, but I’ll give it a whirl right now.

  • you monitor + measure your progress in a highly detailed way which lends to great insight to your growth in the long-term
  • these “gains” as they are called are celebrated as they are actually happening during a workout and once the results are posted in Wodify (a convenient app for signing up for classes + seeing everyone’s stats)
  • for me, I take great inspiration from those around me and even if I’m not even close to the kind of weight my fellow CrossFit-Worthiers are moving, I still feel inspired by their achievements + milestones

It proves it’s possible, which to my sometimes self-limiting brain, might not show up that way.

  • the encouragement of others is palpable, much more so than I’ve experienced in other places (I think it’s related to the nature of the work we’re doing and how it’s tracked)
  • and the coaching … gosh the coaching … is sincere, is safe, is supportive, is encouraging, is phenomenal really
  • Jeremy + Susie have created something special … not only am I grateful to be a part of it, but I’m grateful that I am able to offer this experience to our McNair scholars as they strengthen themselves + grow their confidence in themselves before continuing on in their graduate journeys

I deeply believe the work our McNair students get to do here @ CrossFit Worthy will have rippling effects in their journeys for years to come.

This week I worked on my clean + jerks. I sent this text to Jeremy after a workout which said: Feeling like I want to do more of those 65# cleans so that 65# starts to feel like 35# – thanks for being most awesome. He replied: Keep kicking butt!


For me, cleans, especially when you receive at the bottom (look at me being all … like I know all the technical terms … not! lol!makes me feel really tough. I’m serious. I can do 35# like nobody’s business. And 65# is *starting* to feel a little more manageable. Which leads to sheer amazement when viewing others (women, yes younger, but still) doing upwards of 150#!

Bottomline? This work is exciting and it feeds all other parts of my life. It helps me be focused with my work. It helps me be a better mom. It helps me be more confident in the things that I want to do + express. It makes me feel frickin’ amazing and that just feeds everything else.

I take those accomplishments at the gym and I translate them in my daily life.

It’s a foundation. A non-negotiable. Because of the way this work feeds my life, it’s got to happen and I choose to make it happen. I really think this is the key when it comes to moving +  strengthening our physical bodies. Once we experience this foundation, we begin to see how critical it is for all other parts of our lives. It clears our head and gets rid of the detritus. And allows us to really soar.

Good or Bad.

I read a great post the other day from Jina Schaefer of the Healthy Happy Truth – I love her tag line – not your typical wellness guru. Love that! She boils all the complexities of food down to one simple concept – it’s either gonna help you – or – hurt you. Period. Done. That’s all folks! Brilliant.

Jina extrapolates the concept to pretty much anything in life – your relationships (with yourself and others), choices you make about your body, what you choose to spend time on, how you treat your kids, how you respond to annoying situations – you name it!

Right now I’m thinking back to my “Little Debbie saga” in December and how this mantra could have helped snap me back into reality even quicker. Every night when I was eating my Little Debbie’s I should have been asking myself – is this helping or hurting me? Is it good or bad for me? It might have been “helping” by allowing me to burrow in to my nasty little habit that felt comforting (and delicious?) at that moment. In the long-run though, it was definitely “hurting” my health (on so many levels) and making me look like I was preggo (which I most certainly am not)!

Our McNair program assistant – Kim Whitney (who knows me well!) – sent me this HILARIOUS picture that pretty much sums up the Little Debbie debacle.


Now I’m not sure if it’s really this “little bitch” making me fat or me choosing to put shit in my body that’s making me fat. It’s the latter, but of course! And wouldn’t you know it, but you barely turn around after the Christmas season and they’ve already stocked up for Valentine’s Day. AND, they’re on sale! Now that’s convenient!


Valentine Little Debbies! Just what you need for the special “holiday.”

So I “technically” might be off of my Little Debbie habit these days, that’s not to say that I’m not perpetuating certain habits that are clearly in the “bad” and “hurt me” categories. For me, my triggers definitely come during that time between when the kids go to sleep and when I go to sleep. For some reason, I think since “I’ve made it through the day” that I’m “entitled” to eat a little sweet treat or sometimes it doesn’t even have to be sweet – maybe some cheese + crackers + wine? That sounds good, doesn’t it? All while kicking back to a “relaxing” episode of Frontline on PBS.

I’m going to start using this mode of thinking more often – even beyond the food choices I am making. I’m going to think about the things I choose to spend my time on, how I might respond to a certain situation – I’m going to ask myself – is this going to help or hurt me? Will this be good or bad for me? And with this simple pause, I just might start reversing some of my not-so-good behaviors.

Jina wrote another recent post talking about how if there are things that you absolutely love to do, but just might not be the best for you, that you shouldn’t try to totally stop doing those things. Just do them in moderation, and maybe, just maybe, do a little less each time you do.

So what this might translate into for me:

  • not filling my glass of wine to the top
  • having a few M&M’s instead of 20
  • maybe even having a cup of tea instead of those M&M’s?
  • watching one episode of Project Runway and vedging out on the weekend instead of two or three or….
  • spending quality time with my kids playing games or reading together, or just listening to them – really listening to them and being present with them – instead allowing my mind to be going in a million different directions when I’m with them
  • spending quality time with my husband even though hitting the pillow is very enticing after a busy day – being mindful and giving him some of my time and energy is important to keep our relationship growing instead of stalling out during this crazy time of child-rearing and just trying to “hold it together” on a daily basis

Help or hurt. Good or bad. Let those thoughts pop into your mind the next time you are doing something that might be a little “questionable.” Even if you go ahead and do “the thing” – you’re going find yourself becoming a little more mindful the next time you do.

Little Debbie – Friend or Foe?


Where it all started.

Pure and simple: sugar is evil. On December 5, I cracked. I bought a box (note: just one box) of Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes. See my Facebook status for proof. A little background here – I’m a sugar fiend and have been for a very long time. I typically indulge (the most) right before going to bed (probably the worst time, I know). Through the years I’ve gone between double-stuff Oreos (four at a time, cracked open, filling sides eaten first, plus a cold glass of milk), pop tarts (toasted, two, plus milk, I was especially fond of pop tarts when I was pregnant), peanut M&M’s (I’ve been known to take the whole bag into bed with me, I eat at least 20 at a time) and the clincher—Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls.

Now, I should provide more context when it comes to Little Debbie’s. Back in the day, Mum was the master of stretching the budget (thanks Mum!). I practically grew up on generic brands, except when it came to Little Debbie’s. Given these delectable treats are also pretty economical, they typically frequented our back hall closet (the special place reserved for board games, cereal, snacks of all sorts, oh and shoes and coats).

Through the years I recall the following Little Debbie’s as a mainstay: Swiss Cake Rolls (by far, my favorite), Fudge Brownies, Star Crunches, Pecan Spinwheels, Nutty Bars, as well as the myriad “holiday” cake-type options that would appear from time to time, including the now infamous (at least during this past month for me) Christmas Tree Cakes. It’s funny, in doing a little research for this piece, I didn’t quite realize the extent of Little Debbie offerings. The editors at HuffPost Taste found themselves exploring the lesser-known varieties in this humorous piece.

Suffice it to say Little Debbie’s have been a staple throughout my life. We all know that too many Little Debbie’s is not a good thing. But just how many is too many? Well, that depends upon the person. My husband Ken can easily chomp just a few M&M’s and be wholly satisfied. I mentioned my 20 minimum above, so it’s probably no surprise when I explain how it’s never just been “one Little Debbie” for me. At minimum, I’m a two-pack in one-sitting kinda gal. Since in most cases that means four actual Little Debbie’s – that can add up quick – especially at about 200 calories EACH a pop!

When it comes to the Christmas Tree Cakes – in either the red velvet or plain variety – I started (like most people do) with that first scrumptious bite. I’ve been off of my Little Debbie habit for some time (actually it’s been several years now) and so that first bite was especially grand. Too bad it quickly escalates and then goes down hill from there! So, there’s five in a box. I started with one box. And I started with one Christmas Tree Cake.

The next night I had two – because I couldn’t just have one. When I initially bought my “one box” at Meijer, I thought – one box won’t hurt. Well. The next week I was at Ric’s and noticed the Little Debbie’s on sale two for five bucks. A sweet deal (literally)! So I bought a couple more. Then Meijer had an even better sale (lucky for me?) – THREE for five bucks that following week. And it grew from there.

The week before our holiday break, I came home with what was probably ten or so boxes (assorted). Ken saw the stash and said, “Stocking up are you?” I guess that’s what you could call it. The kids knew that “my” Little Debbie’s were off limits (just let Mommy eat the BAD sugar), although I did share with them a red velvet tree or two between December 5 and December 30 – the day I squashed the rest. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

So for about a month straight, I would eat at least two Christmas Tree Cakes every night, sometimes more. You might find it especially amusing that while eating my xmas cakes, I was reading a book called, Spark, which is all about the benefits of exercise. Funny, I know. While I knew my growing habit is not good, in fact, it’s HORRIBLE – I justified it to myself by saying – oh, I’ll stop by Christmas day.

Christmas day came and went and I realized that my Little Debbie habit had really started to impact my life. All that extra sugar was causing me to feel fidgety, compulsive and my stomach pretty much doubled in size (typically my “problem” area). It was affecting my sleep too – I wasn’t sleeping well at night and then I would find myself falling into sugar-induced naps mid-afternoon during our break (that’s when I started eating them in the afternoon too). Something radical had to be done.

So I’m starting over with my love-hate relationship with those pesky Little Debbie’s that jump out and say “hello” each time I walk down the bread aisle at Meijer (they command a good third of the aisle mind you). While the kids watched in disbelief, I took out the remaining Little Debbie’s and STOMPED them flat. They were like – “Why did you do THAT, Mommy?” Actually, I felt pretty good about it – they see me donning some pretty questionable excessive sugar habits, but they also see me reeling things in, making a change, moving toward more of an “all in moderation” mindset.

Of course they know that lots of sugar isn’t good for them and as far as we can tell, at least one kid (Milah) isn’t going to be a sugar fiend like her Mommy (thank goodness). Still, I think it’s important to be straight up with the kids and let them know that this is something that Mommy struggles with. It’s a bad habit period. I explained to them why I stomped on my Little Debbie’s and they get it. Our informer, Maeve, told Daddy the second he woke up, “Mommy stepped on all the xmas trees!”

I explained to them why I stomped on my Little Debbie’s and they get it.


My Little Debbie saga.

Hallelujah, I did! And I’m already feeling better – it’s been three days since my “last” xmas cake. Amazing just how much a bad sugar habit affects your sleep! I hit up the gym yesterday and I’m thinking about my EAT SLEEP MOVE Challenge for the New Year. Making small changes in each of these categories – means moving toward a stronger whole overall! One of my scholars, Andy Derry, recently started a blog called Whole Life Living and writes about this very topic. His tips include: finding an “accountability partner,” setting modest goals (aka making small changes), getting right back into it (without judgement) if you falter and taking things one day at a time. Great advice!


Hitting up the Lunch Crunch at Seung-Ni Fit Club – great camaraderie and great energy!

Do you happen to have a “Little Debbie” habit – or a habit just like it? If so, consider signing on to the EAT SLEEP MOVE Challenge with me! Click HERE for the details – it’s a great way to kickstart the New Year. Here’s to less Little Debbie’s and more choices (aka small changes) that will lead to feeling good and strong in 2014 and beyond.

Happy New Year!

Getting Stronger

Funny thing happened while taking on the 30-day Yoga Challenge with Debbie Williamson this past month – you know that when you’re consistent and work on improving something everyday – you get stronger. I say this in a “sorta” joking way since that’s a pretty obvious thing. BUT, at least for me, I rarely get myself into that mindset where I’m (really, really) committed to doing “a little something” everyday so that I can grow my skills, my knowledge, my writing, my whatever. So doing this challenge really nailed this concept down for me firsthand. It’s also pretty damn cool connecting with fellow yogis across the country (granted, a good portion of Debbie’s tribe are Wisconsinites, of which, I am also one!) – sharing our goals, our challenges, our small steps being made, the funny things that might happen along the way, perhaps even our deeper observations of self and how this journey might really be striking a cord at the moment. A breath of fresh air.

yoga challenge

30-Day Yoga Challenge

I didn’t do “my challenge” EVERY SINGLE DAY but of the 30 days, I probably hit it for 25. That’s pretty damn good in my book and for those days I didn’t, I decided not to beat myself up about it. Maybe my arms really needed a rest or maybe I just needed not to be accountable that day. The point is that – overall – I really rocked it! Since I’ve been wanting to jump back into chaturanga from crow (see pic below) for a while now, I decided that my daily goal would be to hold crow 2x for a minute each time. Since I really don’t enjoy L-shaped handstand (thus the real challenge) but know it really builds strength, I also held L-shaped handstand 2x daily for a minute each time. I “threw in” holding a forearm plank and high plank too just for kicks and giggles. Now believe me – while holding these poses did get easier, I would still be squirming, losing focus, stopping my breath and itching for the final 30 seconds to GET DONE pretty much every time I held L-shaped. A great practice in patience, perseverance and “breathing through” any real challenge that might arise – on the mat or in life.


This was my goal – which I have now achieved – jumping back from crow into chaturanga. Now I’ve got to work on having enough arm strength to float into up dog.

I’m inspired to continue with my “daily challenge” and I’m thinking about expanding and getting a little crazy creative – maybe even starting to hold my full handstand (still against the wall, of course). I tried it out the other day and did a 30-second hold 2x. I even brought my feet from against the wall and challenged my balance, holding in mid-air for like 3 seconds. As my yoga teacher, Heather, always says — milliseconds count! So, I’ll have to keep you updated on my progress. In the meantime, I challenge you to think about stepping up and exploring with something like this – especially if you are already a yogi or even if you aren’t and are interested in seeing what yoga can possibly bring to your life. Start with a simple down dog. Holding and breathing deeply in down dog, even for 20 seconds or so, can help release tension and get the blood moving, just like that. Simple simple! It’s a start that can open the door to a life-changing practice.