Get to know Maria Del Russo, a sex and wellness writer for online publications such as Refinery29, The Coveteur, and The Cut, as she openly shares her personal struggles in dating, being mindful and how she tries to lean into optimism. Ever the avid reader, Maria offers great book recommendations on meditation, sex, and feminism.
Q: Part of the health and wellness movement that isn't as openly discussed is the mental aspect and we LOVE how you provide simple solutions in your articles (Man Repeller, The Coveteur, and The Cut) to prevent slipping down the all too common rabbit hole of self doubt and focusing more on "leaning into optimism." Have you always focused on sex and wellness and what inspires you to share your own personal struggles in your writing?
A: I actually started my career as a beauty editor - in fact, I've only been doing the sex and wellness writing for about two and a half years. During my time as a beauty editor, I was the most interested in how people interact with beauty in their everyday lives. So I started writing about how beauty influenced my life, and a big chunk of my life at the time was my dating life. I started writing openly about my dating life through my beauty writing. (I once wore nothing but red lipstick on first dates for a month to see how it affected my dates.) I eventually moved completely over to sex and relationship writing with a story I wrote for Refinery29 about how I was learning to grapple with the idea of never finding love.
That story actually encapsulates exactly why I write so openly about my personal struggles with sex, dating, and mental health. Growing up, I never saw stories from people my own age about the things that mattered to me. As far as dating content went, I was always seeing articles from third-party voices telling me what I was doing wrong, or how I, as a woman, could make men like me more. It was terrible advice, and a lot of it led me to feelings of self doubt. I'd follow the advice, fail, and then wonder what was wrong with me. It wasn't until I got older that I recognized that it wasn't just me, and that other people struggle, too. So I write about my own personal struggles to help other women realize that they aren't crazy, they aren't weird, and they definitely aren't alone in their feelings.
Q: In one of your articles in The Lily you speak about a book by Jessica Graham and how she helps her clients awaken spiritually through mindfulness and sex. You were practicing what Graham describes as "Focus on Self" several times a week in addition to your daily meditation. Are you still doing this and if so, what changes have you discovered from continuing it?
A: Well firstly, if you haven't read Jessica Graham's book Good Sex, then you're missing out. It's a must-read for anyone who is looking to be more present in their sex lives, and it helped me be more present in my everyday life, too. I actually recently came back from an entire two-week trip that could fall under the "Focus on Self" portion on that book. I was in Paris alone for 14 days, and spent the time really trying to listen to myself, figure out what I was telling myself, and be comfortable with being alone. There's nothing like being alone in a foreign country where you don't really speak the language to get you in touch with yourself.
I do still try to meditate every morning. I try to take my headphones out when I'm walking around the city and pay attention to things that give me pleasure. If I'm alone at a coffee shop or on a park bench, I try not to fiddle with my phone, and instead try to be ok with just being with myself. I learned all of that from my research for that story. I definitely have times where I fall off and forget. But I have absolutely discovered that, when I follow these little practices, I'm more content and happy overall. Getting in touch with how I'm feeling and listening to myself has also taught me to get over stressors and emotional triggers more quickly. If I'm having a terrible day, I know how to either pull myself out of it, or how to give myself the space to feel sad where I'm not just spiraling into an emotional hole. I loved that story, because it didn't just help me help other people — it helped me help myself, too.
Q: The path to wellness is a unique journey for everyone and can vary from intense daily activity to a more mild, moderate regimen. You often present a more approachable view on fitness and health to your followers and readers. Could you give us a little insight as to your typical daily fitness / wellness routine?
A: I mean, I never try to act like I love working out. Because I don't. I think that's the number one thing. I am one of those people who whines before a workout, whines during a workout, and then feels like a badass goddess after her workout. My trainer John is Irish, and tells me that I'm one of the biggest "wingers" he's ever met. I wear that badge with pride. But I remind myself that being active is a small part of a healthy lifestyle, and that I don't have to be doing 1000 crunches or tossing kettle bells around to be fit.
Even though I'm a freelance writer, and I have a flexible schedule, I still wake up at 6:45 every morning. I like how calm things are first thing in the morning, and I prefer to take my time getting ready. I meditate, even if it's only for five minutes, just to kind of get my head on straight for the rest of my day. As far as workouts go, I just try to gauge how I feel. I prefer to work out in the afternoon. It helps get me out of the work mindset and into my "me time" mindset, which helps me unwind.
I work out with my trainer, John (who also happens to be the bartender at my go-to pub), every Wednesday in Central Park. I try to get a run in twice a week — usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Mondays and Fridays, I go to yoga, spin, or barre. That is an ideal schedule, though, and it's rare that I work out five days a week. I'm usually doing four. But that "do what you can" approach is what works for me. If I try to stick to an insanely regimented schedule, I tend to fall off the wagon easily. So I try to be gentle with myself in my approach to my workouts instead of being my own personal drill sergeant.
Q: Do you have any favorite authors / books / podcasts that you would recommend to those interested in trying or starting meditation? And do you have any great books that you have read recently?
A: The best book for a beginner to pick up is Just Sit by Sukey Novogratz. It's actually the book that got me to finally commit to a meditation practice, and it breaks down the ideas of the practice into steps that even the worst ants-in-your-pants New Yorker can appreciate. I also loved the book Wake Up The Joy Of You by Agapi Stassinopoulos. It has 52 meditations, so you can hop around and find the ones that work for you.
As far as other books go, I will never stop singing the praises of Unscrewed
by Jaclyn Friedman. It's a deep dive into the systemic patriarchal systems that women are constantly up against in our fight for true equality. Hard To Do
by Kelli Maria Korducki is another incredible look into the surprisingly feminist history of the break up. I read it in two days. And Peggy Orenstein is my favorite feminist writer of all time. Her book Girls & Sex
was groundbreaking in its discussions about modern teenage girls' sexualities. I'm also a huge fan of her latest book Don't Call Me Princess
, which is a collection of essays.
Q: As a New Yorker, we tend carry everything we need for the day in one bag. Tell us, #whatsinyourbag?
A: I will say that, as a freelance writer in New York who works out of coffee shops, that is doubly true! My bag functions as a purse, gym bag, and office in one. So aside from the typical things (wallet, phone, sunglasses) I'm usually lugging...
- My laptop, laptop charger, and phone charger
- Two different notebooks — one for work, and one for my own personal writing — and a mini case for all my pens
- My Powerbeats headphones, for runs and for podcast listening
- Two reusable straws
(I drink a lot of iced coffee and iced tea during the day)
- A packet of Justin's Peanut Butter
, plus either a piece of fruit or sliced veggies (I've been loving radishes lately) to snack on before or after my workouts
- A pair of regular socks (for spin class) and grip socks (for barre class). I keep these in my bag 24/7 because I ALWAYS forget to pack them. They literally go right from the laundry into my bag
- A tube of red lipstick (right now I'm wearing a French brand called Rouge Baiser
) and a mirror
- And finally, four different mini crystals — obsidian, to protect against anxiety; green jade, for courage; clear quartz, for clarity; and amethyst, for protection. I also wear pink quartz around my wrist for love!