Matzo, Meditation, & A Birthday Dance Party: An Autism Advocate Reveals Her Wellness Routine

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Today: Elaine Hall leads an incredibly busy life. Just look at her resume: She's a life coach, an author, an autism and inclusion advocate, and the founder of The Miracle Project, a theater and film program for autistic children and their siblings and friends. She shares how her wellness routine keeps her calm, centered, and focused — even during the week leading up to the release of HBO’s Autism: The Sequel, which co-stars her son and premieres on April 28 at 9 p.m. EST.
Location: Santa Monica, CA
Occupation: Life coach and founder, executive, and artistic director The Miracle Project 
Day One
7:00 a.m. — I wake up. My 25-year-old autistic son, Neal, is patiently waiting by my bedroom door. He motions for me to shh, then shows me the sign language for “walk.” It’s the beginning of our Sunday morning ritual — if he lets me sleep in, I will take him for a walk to Whole Foods. 
I quickly say my morning gratitudes, brush my teeth with Himalaya Botanique Whitening Complete Care Toothpaste ($5.99) and get dressed. I notice that Neal is still wearing the same shirt he wore to bed last night, so I gently remind him to change and brush his teeth, and I help him brush his hair. I love these close moments. I can’t believe he is almost 26 years old now. 
We don our face masks and outdoor protective gear to walk to Whole Foods. We usually like to get the Nugo’s gluten free dark chocolate protein bars, but since it is the fourth day of Passover, we opt for a box of Gluten Free Matzo ($5.49).
On the way home, I notice a peacefulness, a calm, and a beauty in the flowers, the birds, the families dressed up standing outside of their churches for Easter Sunday. Bittersweet.
8:45 a.m. — As Neal munches on his matzo, I prepare my computer for a 9:00 a.m. live stream yoga class, sponsored by Santa Monica Yoga and led by Julian Walker. (Regular classes are $20+ but these virtual classes are $15.00). I mirror my computer so that I can watch on my TV, lay out my yoga mat ($15.99) and grab a yoga block ($9.99).
Julian’s classes combine slow stretch, deep breathing, mindfulness, and strengthening postures. I have been going to his classes for years. When he sees my name on the roster, he speaks directly into the screen, “It wouldn’t be Sunday yoga without Elaine here.” I smile. A little bit of normalcy within this new normal. 
My husband Jeff hangs with Neal while I am in my living room yoga class.
12:00 p.m. — Neal’s life coach, Josh, arrives from the agency Diverse Journeys, to help Neal prepare for his week. The life coach from Diverse Journeys is covered by the State of California, through their regional center program. We are very fortunate that right now, California provides support for individuals with severe developmental disabilities like Neal. Their sessions are done at Neal's apartment, where he lives part-time with a 24/7 support roommate.
Again, Neal willingly puts on his mask as they walk out the door.
Jeff is a therapist, but his hobby is gourmet cooking. He’s been preparing a beautiful brunch for us: matzo brie, a traditional recipe combining milk, whipped eggs, and crushed matzo into a fluffy omelette with homemade applesauce. We spend the next hour enjoying the quiet calmness of being together. In this crazy world, we have each other.
1:30 p.m. — I get the idea to surprise one of my BFF’s, Ilene, by driving by her house to wish her a happy birthday. Jeff and I stay in our car, and we chat for a few minutes to Ilene, who’s on the street. Then we sing her Happy Birthday. From a distance, her neighbor smiles.
3:00 p.m. — Back home, I move some furniture out of the way to prepare for part two of Ilene’s birthday celebration: a Zoom dance party! We invite some guests to join. One of the pluses for COVID-19, last-minute invitations are welcome and most everyone is available!  Ilene gets to be the DJ so she can pick her favorite tunes. Soon friends from all over the country begin to join, coming in and out of the zoom room, as Ilene and I are dancing to everything from ABBA to Michael Jackson. What a fun way to spend the afternoon! I ask myself, “Why don’t I do this more often?”
7:00 p.m. — While I’ve been dancing abandonedly around my living room, Jeff has been cooking up a storm and preparing one of his fabulous meals. Tonight, it’s Caesar salad, roasted beets, homemade chicken soup, and vegetarian lasagna with sliced zucchini instead of pasta. How lucky am I?
Daily Total: $52.46
Day Two
7:00 a.m. —  I wake up with the sound of the birds chirping outside my window. I rarely use an alarm except when I have to catch an early morning flight, which used to be twice a month for speaking gigs. Of course right now, that’s not something I have to worry about. As soon as I open my eyes, I remind myself to take a deep breath and thank my Creator for bringing me another day.
Before I can reach for my phone to read emails, I perform my morning ritual: four kundalini circles to the right, four to the left, then a brief body meditation. After this routine and a hot shower, I feel full, energized, and ready to move my body. This routine, which has long been established prior to our quarantine, has truly saved me during these challenging times.
I grab my phone and try to keep it in my pocket before I do my daily reading, but I can’t help myself. It’s 7:45 a.m. and as I check my work email my jaw drops open. A producer from the Today Show has learned about The Miracle Project holding its musical theater classes for individuals with autism online, and wants to come to visit my virtual class tomorrow night!!!!  
To celebrate, I brew myself some special green tea, gifted to me when I spoke at an arts therapy conference in Beijing two years ago. I am almost out of this precious elixir and since I will not be visiting China in a long time, I worry about what I’ll do when it is gone! I prepare it in a bottom dispensing teapot, given to me by a former colleague. I truly believe it’s one of the most ingenious inventions ever made.
12:30 p.m.I take a break from emails, phone calls, and texts with my office to have lunch with my husband. Lunch is something even I can make! I grab a handful of pre-washed organic, protein-rich greens, chop up some romaine lettuce and the now-cold roasted beets from last night’s meal, add some cucumber and cherry tomatoes, and voila! We have a salad. (That amounts to about $14 in produce, but we already had it in our pantry from our last trip to Trader Joe’s.) Sprinkle salt, pepper, garlic, a few splashes of lemon juice, vinegar, and oil and we have a deliciously fresh salad dressing!
We spend this precious time together, and he reads me what he has written in his creative writing class, something he has started doing since the quarantine via Zoom. I step outside for a breath of fresh air. Sometimes I can go all day without realizing there’s an outside outside.
6:00 p.m. — Time for a Zoom meeting with my team from The Miracle Project to discuss the upcoming visit from the Today Show. We work through some glitches and make a plan. I don’t get off the computer until 8:30 p.m.
Jeff has prepared leftovers from the night before, adding in Asian vegetables to his homemade chicken soup. Although I’ve promised not to eat after 8:00 p.m., tonight I enjoy the great food and his company; they’re the perfect way to wind down from a productive and intense day.
Daily Total: $0
Day Three
11:30 a.m. — Before COVID-19, I went to a jazz dance class every Monday and Tuesday morning taught by Jill Strauss at the Electric Lodge in Venice, CA. This was not just physical fitness for me. It was community, it was connection, it was my therapy. To say I’ve been missing it is an understatement. My body, my soul, my entire being, longed for these movements. Today, Jill offered her classes to all of her former students for free on Zoom. (Typically they cost $20 per class to $17 if you buy a series.) After class, I feel like a new person. I reconnected with my body, my soul, my dance community... and I’m ready to face the day.
4:30 p.m. — Usually before any type of TV or public appearance, I would get a manicure, have my roots covered, get a facial, and sometimes even have my make up done. Well, we are in COVID-19 times so it’s up to me to look camera ready!
Fortunately, I have the products I need. I wash my face with Verabella’s Honey Almond Oatmeal scrub ($38), then use the Firming Mint Mask ($48) to, well, firm. Looking pretty good for a stay at home facial! Now the hard part, the hair. I have very fine hair and whenever I attempt a blow dry, it comes out flat and stringy. I pull out my Conair Easy Start Hot Rollers, ($40) and begin to roll.  
While the curlers are cooling off, I start on my makeup. First, I apply a skin-calming primer from  Colorscience ($49), then a mineral-based organic blush from INIKA ($48.99) and a mineral-based eye shadow from Colorscience ($49) which has 4 shades to make the “perfect’ smokey eye.  
Make-up complete, dressed in my Miracle Project t-shirt, I remove my hot rollers, touch up my roots with brush-on root powder, let the curls fall as they wish, and in the immortal words of Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, I mutter to myself, “Mr. Demille, I am ready for my close up!” 
6:00 p.m. — I’m on the Zoom meeting with The Miracle Project staff and Carly Marsh, the producer from the Today Show. Before every class, we always do a mindfulness grounding meditation to get present, focused, and allow our highest selves to be available for ourselves and our students. Tonight is no different. When we prepare internally, the external takes care of itself.
6:15 p.m. — The students arrive, excited to see each other on Zoom, and we check in. “This isolation has been hard, I’ve had a fever for two weeks and can’t be out of my bedroom, but when I see all of you guys on my computer, I feel like I am less alone,” says a young adult with autism. All of the technical pre-planning the night before was worth it — the interview is a success. The classes are going so well that we have decided to open up virtual dance, music, and other classes to people around the world. 
Daily Total: $272.99
Day Four
7:00 a.m. — The birds are chirping, but I’m not so chirpy. I was so wired from the success of class last night that I couldn’t fall asleep. I’ve never been much of a sleeper, actually. When I was a little girl, my Dad, who was a trained hypnotherapist, used to help me get back to sleep using visualization and relaxation techniques. I prided myself on writing the majority of my first book, my memoir Now I See the Moon, from the hours of 2:00 a.m to 5:00 a.m.
A few months ago, knowing my peculiar sleep habits, Jeff bought me the book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker ($18.85). As important as Dr. Seuss’ book was for me as a child, Why We Sleep is a life saver during this COVID-19 crisis. Sleep is the most important preventative medicine we can give to ourselves.
I guide myself to go back to sleep and start the day again at 9:30 a.m. 
12:30 p.m. — I move slowly through the day and allow myself to feel the joy of last night’s accomplishment. I’m so proud of how we were able to get our Zoom classes up and running in less than a week so that our families would not feel alone during this challenging time.
I am filled with excitement and pride! And I know I need to really practice my self care. Soon, HBO will be airing the film Autism: The Sequel, which profiles my son and four other young adults on the spectrum as they navigate what independence means to them and manage both challenges and triumphs as adults living on the autism spectrum. With all the excitement, and trying to just keep our small non-profit running, I have been working 12 to 14 hour days since the beginning of our quarantine. I need to slow down.
6:00 p.m. — It is the last night of Passover. In honor of my heritage, I choose to take-out food from Fromins, our neighborhood deli. I call and order a whitefish sandwich, cole slaw, and steamed spinach ($38). I ask them to hold the bread and add matzo instead. It’s the first time I have ordered take-out since all of this began. I don my mask and outdoor garb and stand in line, six feet away from others as I wait for my meal. I’m handed my order, and I thank the woman at the counter for being of service during this challenging time.
When I return home, I reflect on one of the core messages of Passover, freedom. Passover traditionally celebrates the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt. Each year, we are tasked to feel as if we were once slaves; to have empathy for others who might be today enslaved by injustice or prejudice and knowing that in any generation, if one person is not free, none of us are free. In the mystical tradition, we are invited to reflect what is our personal enslavement? How do we keep ourselves back from being true to our essential selves? How can we be freed from this internal oppression? And in this time of COVD-19, in what ways are we still free? To offer a smile to someone, to share our love and support, to eat delicious food.
Daily Total: $56.85
Day Five
7:30 a.m. — It is the last day of Passover, a day that, in my tradition, calls upon us to remember our deceased family members and say a prayer. Last night I lit candles that will burn for 24 hours to honor my dear father, mother, my former mother-in-law, and one of my best friends who have long been gone. I added a candle for the thousands of people who have lost their lives to the virus.
9:00 a.m. — Usually I will attend services at my local synagogue to gather with others to say traditional prayers. I am concerned that I will not have this opportunity, and then I hear of Ikar, a progressive synagogue that will be doing services through Zoom, from Julia Moss, the advancement director from The Miracle Project. She’s a member of Ikar and sent me the link for the services.
By singing the songs of my youth along with Cantor and joining the others virtually, I participate in this holiday in one of the most meaningful ways I can ever imagine.
Daily Total: $0
Day Six
7:00 a.m. — I begin my morning routine: breathing, thanking, meditating and stretching. I read from my daily dose of The Tao of Joy Every Day: 365 Days of Tao Living by Derke Lin ($4.99 for Kindle version). Today’s reading is about simplicity.
Today is also the anniversary of my dear father’s passing. My father was able to find joy in everything, every situation.
12:30 p.m.   A while ago, I had a private health assessment with Dr. Kaymar Hedayat, who gives me supplement recommendations that I receive today: Lipoic Acid Supreme ($40.75), Myco Botanicals Brain Supporting Mental Clarity ($25.95); a Bone and Wellness tincture ($215.63); and Gluconic DMG by DaVinci Laboratories ($61.40). They come every three months.
Jeff has gone shopping at Costco spending around $260 on groceries.
5:00 p.m. I tune back into Ikar for their Friday night service. A festive hour of music, story, and prayer.
6:00 p.m. — Neal and Josh join us for dinner. Jeff has prepared a cucumber and sesame seed salad, miso yaki sea bass, grilled asparagus, and baked Japanese sweet potato. Our neighbor brought over homemade lemon curd and croissant. A wonderful way to end our matzo-eating eight days.
Having Neal over for the weekend brings great joy, as his coach shares the week they had together. Jeff had found a box of construction masks in the garage and Neal and Josh went to UCLA Hospital to give to the first responders there. I was so proud of him.
6:45 p.m. We light Shabbat candles with Rabbi Naomi Levy, my rabbi from Nashuva who guides us through a most meaningful meditation on Facebook Live. These extra spiritual practices are so important to keep the positive spirit alive.
Daily Total: $608.72
Day Seven
7:00 a.m. Saturday, a day of rest. Neal and I take a walk to look at the lavender flowers. We both enjoy the scent of the lavender, and he alone enjoys watching the bees. Neal has always loved bees. So much so that he can pick them up, look at them, smell them, and then let them fly away. I used to try to stop him for doing this, fearing he would get stung. But he never did. He is sort of the bee whisperer. I think they must sense his kindness, his awe, and his respect for their being.
I cherish these days with Neal and am reminded of the times that he was so sensory sensitive that he could not even walk out of the house. Today, he is an emissary for autism, receiving national awards, walking red carpets with movie stars, being a semi-professional model and actor, and presenting with me at the United Nations while using his iPad to speak for him. Before the quarantine, Neal had two part time jobs, the first helping to pick and bottle organic spices at an organic garden, known Shemesh Farms, and the other at the Farms Grocery Store on Montana Avenue.
I am reminded to look at life’s blessings and to remember that they are abundant now.
9:30 p.m. — After Neal goes to sleep, Jeff and I tune into HBO to watch a comedy. And — what?!!! We see the trailer for Autism: The Sequel airing on HBO, and there is Neal’s photo! Pinch me, is this real?
Daily Total: $0. Time with my family, priceless. 
Weekly Total: $991.02
Reflection: I cannot do the work that I do, be the mother and wife that I am, without making my overall wellness and my wellness routine the most important thing in my life. When I sleep, meditate, drink lots of water, stretch, and read uplifting books and articles, I find gratitude in all aspects of life. The best parts of my week were my dinners with Neal and Jeff. The connection, the food, the love made me ever so grateful.

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