Find Your Tribe – Your Health Depends on It

Life gets hard. Life is hard. Personal struggles build up and then there’s all of the negativity in the world at large. Stress and anxiety are common and ever present in our daily lives, especially with frequent use of social media. Stress strains our moods, relationships, and health. As much as we try our hardest to impress  to the cyber world how great our lives are, how much fun we’re having, and what great food we’re eating, the inside does not always match the outside.

It is important to pause now and again and deeply reflect on what is and what isn’t bringing you joy and happiness. If something does not serve you, and for the purposes of this post – if someone does not serve you, then it is time to make some edits. It might sound slightly harsh to mention editing relationships, but we’ve all been in toxic relationships with romantic partners or ‘friends’ that cause more harm than good, in those cases, recognize the detriment and let those people drift away.

There are some communities of people in your life that benefit you and some that bring you down. We all go through different phases in our life – possibly partying when we’re young, settling down when we’re older, finding and dropping habits and routines. Scan your social scene and ask yourself if the way you’re spending your time is healthy and beneficial, and is there anything lacking or could you add more beneficial activities. You can go to the bar for happy hour on Friday night, and still go to the gym a couple of times a week. It’s not one or the other, it’s recognizing if some aspect of a healthy lifestyle could be added to your routine. Not just for your figure, but for an increase in endorphins, dopamine, and oxytocin –  senses of pleasure and bliss through releasing of hormones that occurs through physical activity. 

Mental Health Awareness Month

Being a yoga teacher, of course I am a promoter of the many health benefits of a yoga practice. Through the physical challenge of the asana practice and calming control of the breath, a state of relaxation and calm can come over the body and mind. Learning and utilizing a tool that helps you to manage your moods, whether it is yoga, boxing, surfing, etc., adding or increasing positive physical practices can be life-improving additions to your life.

Not only does a new, positive habit aid your bodily systems – circulatory, muscular, etc., in functioning the best that they can, it can also give you a much needed boost of endorphins in a day to day life that is wrought with cortisol secreting activities such as checking how popular your most recent post is on social media. The icing on the cake of starting a new healthy habit can be that it might create a new social outlet for you.

The blue light of screens is blinding our eyes more and more, and while social media and modern technology in general have created whole new economies and kept distant loved ones in touch, they are also a major cause of feelings of isolation and loneliness. It doesn’t make sense that what connects us simultaneously divides us. Social media is the perfect environment for feelings of competition, feeling less than and left out. We’ve all had FOMO now and again.

Joining a new gym, trying a free promotional class, inviting a friend to come along with you and keep you accountable for physical activity, may also lead to meeting and getting to know others at the gym, or studio. Being social within that community may simply be sharing a smile and a good morning with someone, but sharing a neutral social interaction can often be better than none at all, and definitely feels better in the heart than a like on a screen.

It is not always easy to put yourself out there, especially if your personality is an introvert, or are feeling vulnerable – an emotion that is evermore common as we put our lives out there for the world to see every day, but by finding or increasing an already existing sense of community, especially through a physical form of activity, you may be able to stave of modern feelings of loneliness. Social media is fun, and can be interactive, but real human interaction is far superior.

 

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Teachers – Create a Community in Your Class

We all know the usual drill of attending a yoga class – walk in with your mat, take off your shoes, roll out your mat, either at the back of the room if you’re shy or a beginner, or at the front of the room if you’ve been practicing a while or show up late. Then sit on your mat, maybe stretch out a bit (before you’re about to stretch out) as you wait for the teacher to begin class. Often times it’s quiet in the studio, no music, and generally students don’t speak to each other unless they already know each other outside of class.

The class commences, sometimes without the teacher getting names, the flow is guided, students follow, it all ends in a relaxing Savasana from which the teacher pulls you back into reality and everybody silently rolls up their mats, exits the studio space to slide their shoes on, and walk out the door.

Although the yoga practice itself is calming and rejuvenating, in an atmosphere of solitude and isolation on individual mats feelings such as loneliness and anxiety can also creep in as a result of slight social anxiety and students comparing their body’s abilities in poses to the rest of the class and the teacher, as teachers we have a responsibility to make everyone as comfortable and at ease as we can, which requires some effort from the teacher.

 

As a yoga teacher there are a few easy things that we can incorporate into our teaching to make students feel a part of a community in class.

Meet & Greet

Get names. Ask names as soon as a new student walks in, shake their hand, and give them your name. It seems a simple and polite thing to do, but I’ve been to plenty of classes as a student in which I never meet the teacher and vice versa. Also, have students introduce themselves to each other, it may feel a little forced as if it’s the first day of school (which it technically is,) but by meeting each other relationships may build over the course of the series or if returning students continue to attend.

Definitely as the teacher you should know your students’ names to greet them as they enter class, inquire about their days, and to then use their names to ask permission to make a physical adjustment. I have even attended a class in which the teacher asked us to write our names on a sticker that was put on the top edge of our mats. It was effective for the teacher to remember our names, but I don’t like to be wasteful, so would not suggest to do this unless you are hosting a large workshop.

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Music

Play music before and after class. Even if as a teacher you choose not to play music during class you should have something on as students enter and leave to break any awkwardness. Like music in a waiting room at a doctor’s office, gentle background music can lighten the mood of the room as people enter. It does not have to be elevator music, it could be yoga music or contemporary, just be sure that it is non-offensive and not too loud.

Share Events

Before class begins and as you are waiting for students who are running late, introduce any upcoming events at your studio to promote and ask students if they have any events coming up. This is a great way to learn about things going on in the community and gives students to share any events that they are a part of or care about.

These are a few basic ideas of how to make your class feel more like a community. At this time of polarization and divisive fear-mongering, your yoga studio should be a safe and welcoming place, create that atmosphere as a teacher and keep spreading the love.

Come On, Get Real – DIY Beauty Products

The beauty industry is ginormous. In the U.S. in 2016 industry sales reached 16.2 billion dollars and globally was 244.8 billion dollars in 2012. We spend a lot of money on products that we powder, smear, rub, and brush on to our faces and bodies every day. We use products literally from head to toe. Men aren’t immune either; in Asia, or at least in Korea, the male beauty industry is one in and of itself, and men worldwide at the very least wash their hands, their hair, and their bodies.

Specific to the U.S., the beauty industry has very little regulation by the government. Manufacturers can put almost whatever they wish into a product to make it shine, lather, or sparkle, and nobody will ask whether the chemicals are safe, chemicals that we apply to our body, on to our skin – our largest living and breathing organ. The skin has pores that absorb what is on and around it, and although only small amounts of product are applied at one time, those applications add up to a large amount, day after day, throughout a lifetime.

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Many chemicals in beauty products (and in the plastic bottles that they come in) are endocrine disruptors, which means that they disrupt the endocrine system, the system of the body that produces hormones. Overtime, exposure to harmful chemicals can cause fertility problems and cancer. As mentioned previously, there is very little regulation over the American beauty industry. The food and drug industries are highly regulated compared to cosmetics and toiletry items, as found on http://www.fda.gov, “cosmetic products and ingredients do not need FDA premarket approval, with the exception of color additives.” When shopping for beauty products it is fair to say that we all assume that companies and the government have our safety as their number one priority, but that is not the case.  Beauty products are primarily made up of harmful chemicals, often times without clear labeling. Up until 2013, there were two dangerous chemicals in Johnson & Johnson’s “No More Tears” baby shampoo. Read that sentence again, harmful, cancer causing chemicals were in products used for the vulnerable and pure. And that massive change of re-figuring the chemical make up of the shampoo came only after years of hard work by activists, all the while they were manufacturing a formaldehyde free version for their other markets around the world. In fact, other governments have been doing a much better job at protecting their citizens against harmful chemicals than the U.S. does, for example, the EU and Canada have out-rightly banned carcinogenic chemicals from being used in beauty products.

Some chemicals are released by preservatives (as was the case with “No More Tears,” so are not technically added to the product, but do occur. Companies when pushed will often state that it’s ok to have chemicals, such as formaldehyde and the like in products because the level is low enough so as not to be harmful. Sure that might technically be true to be said of the small amount used in one wash, but years and years of use add up.

Chemicals to look out for when making purchases are dyes, “fragrances,” parabens, and triclosan, to name a few. Being aware of just these four chemicals, you’re likely to put back every single bottle and tube that you pick up at your local grocery or box store. I recently went in to a big box store thinking that they are so large that they must carry a shampoo without parabens and made with more natural ingredients, but even with a large aisle-full of products, I could not find a single shampoo that met my requirements. I instead had to go to TJ Maxx where I had had previous luck finding organic shampoos and soaps at discounted prices. I eventually went with a shampoo that was made in the U.S. and lacked a lot of the harmful chemicals that I try to avoid. Yes, I paid more than I would have at the big box 20170413_082220.jpgstore, but not all that much more because I bought a large bottle, so it will last months. When opting to pay more for organic food and products over cheap, chemical-laden foods and products I remind myself that paying more now is a lot cheaper than paying for health care treatment down the road.

Another option is to do some research and DIY your beauty products. This is something that I have had interest in, but never made the time to do. Fortunately for me, I have thoughtful and loving friends. One of my friends organized and prepared natural, organic, DIY face wash and toner for my girlfriends and I to make during my Bachelorette party (we did this activity early in the night before getting too wild, more posts about having a DIY, sustainable, waste-free wedding to follow!)

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The face was contained just two ingredients in the recipe – coconut oil and raw honey. We added jajoba oil since it was winter and skin is dry at that time of year, but I think that the recipe would be fine without it since the coconut oil acts as a hydration component. For the face wash you simply melt down the coconut oil and honey, if they are solidified, mix and combine the two together, pour into your glass container (do not use plastic!) and let harden again. While the mixture is melted you can add in essential oils of your liking for scent, but this is not necessary.

If you have never used an oil based wash before then it may feel weird to smear oil on your face – but it works! I suggest not wetting your face before applying the wash. Simply get a small portion on your fingers, rub between your hands to warm it back into a melted consistency, and apply to your face. Massage onto your skin for 20-30 seconds then rinse with water. Oil and water don’t mix, so it will feel as if there is still some residue on your skin, but that’s fine, simply dry your face with a towel and you’ll feel fresh as a daisy.

The toner was a mixture of chamomile tea, honey, and apple cider vinegar. You can find the recipe here, which was a little more complicated being as it has three ingredients instead of two, there’s some friendly sarcasm in there – pick up your face wash and try to count the ingredients, far more than two I’d think! The toner has a strong sent of the apple cider vinegar which is very recognizable, we tried to mask it with essential oils, but it still comes through; I’d much rather smell AVC than spray potentially dangerous chemicals onto my face, though.

The next time you find yourself adding beauty products to your grocery list, I hope that you will note to buy organic and natural alternatives to the cheaper, mainstream options. If you have the time and desire, try making your own. It will feel satisfactory to create something for yourself and you’ll save a lot of money overall, plus waste since most products come in plastic containers. On your path to purifying your home and body, starting with what you apply directly to your skin is a good place to begin.

 

 

 

 

My Experience Standing

Adjusting to a Standing Desk

About four months ago I started my first office job after years of chasing after little Korean babies and singing ABC’s with them while sitting cross-legged on the floor. I led a fairly active life in my previous role as an ESL teacher and yoga teacher. I cycled around 6 km (4 miles) each day to and from work, plus an additional 6 km (4 miles, again) if I went to Kaizen, my yoga studio, which I did 2-3 times a week, totaling about a 12 km (8 miles, I’m sure you got that by now) cycle commute a few times a week and always a 6 km ride five times per week. On top of that I  was chasing the children and practicing yoga, acro-yoga, and teaching yoga. I was active.

Then I moved back to the US. Land of the car. I drive everywhere here. To work, to the grocery store, to see friends, to teach yoga. No more daily cycling. Even if I lived near enough to work to cycle, the winters here are brutal and wouldn’t warrant a cycle ride. That is a huge decrease of activity each day. Add to that the fact that I have been working an office job in which traditionally people sit sedentarily in an office chair for roughly eight hours per day. It has been a depressing transition and I mean that literally as maintaining high daily activity levels boost endorphins, is a way to shed anxiety, and give time to meditate and think through day-to-day problems; I have been in a slump without my cycle commute to work or extremely active yoga community.

Coincidentally, just as I was interviewing and preparing for my office job, I took out a book from the library called Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World By Dr. Kelly Starrett, a physical therapist, movement specialist, and author. I could not have picked this book up at a better point in my life. In fact, I brought it into work during my initial weeks of work as I was working through the pages and read it at my new desk.

I should back up and explain that there is a new common believe that sitting and living a sedentary life through adulthood is deemed bad for us, and you don’t have to have a doctorate in physical therapy to reach that conclusion. Simplified, sitting takes the weight-bearing responsibility from our feet and legs to our hamstrings and glues, which are not engaged when we sit. Also, tightness in the front of the body increases because muscles such as the psoas (that runs from the mid abdominal area to mid-thigh) engages to pull our legs up into a sitting position. Most people find positions such as a low lunge difficult to perform due to this tightness. A primary reason why sitting is so detrimental to health is how difficult it is to sit with good posture in the spine, especially while working on a computer. I can’t tell you how many students I have that complain of low back pain, which may in part be due to aging, but I think we also have to consider the way that most of us age – sitting poorly in a chair most of the waking day and not moving well when we are not in an office chair (and then we sit in the car to go home, and sit at the table to eat dinner, and sit on the couch to veg out… lots and lots of sitting!)

Because of all of this, within my first few days of work at my new job, I decided that I needed to modify my desk situation in order to be able to have a standing desk. I got lucky because my office area has a desktop area for the monitor and keyboard and a counter top at about chest level that is perfect for placing my monitor on. Instant standing desk! Then all I had to do was adjust the keyboard and mouse to be at a correct height for typing. I modified that by using two plastic paper sorters stacked on top of each other, it’s not the most stable thing in the world, but it works with caution.

As Kelly explains in his book, it takes time to adjust to a standing desk. For the first few weeks and months I used my modified desk from 1-2 hours per day. The rest of the day I relocated the monitor and keyboard back into their initial spots and sat in my office chair 20170228_103448.jpgcross-legged, a position that is more comfortable on my back – I’m able to align my spine and ground through my sit bones in the chair (you can find detailed instructions on how to sit and stand safely in the Deskbound book.) Without even noticing it, only three months into the big adjustment, I was standing up the entire 7 hour day, spare a 30 minute break to eat lunch seated and 30 minutes of my lunch break that I use to take a walk outside. I’ll point out again that it took about three months for me to get to the point of standing at my desk for the full day without discomfort, so do not despair if you try a standing desk and find it difficult, give your body time to adjust.

If you’ve heard about the trend of standing desk and would like to learn more, sign out Kelly Starrett’s book from your local library, or buy yourself a copy, and get to reading. You can buy yourself a standing desk or spin the creative side of your brain and DIY a desk from things you have around the office already. Before you set up your desk, know that there are rules outlined to follow on how a standing desk should be set up for the most effective way to stand in order to benefit your anatomy and to not cause any unwanted harm to the joints.

Stand strong, everyone!

 

Yoga Butts

Introducing Mindy Sisco, yoga teacher extraordinaire, this first post, Yoga Butts, is a perfect post to have in mid-January, a time when we’re tempted to body-hate ourselves after weeks of holiday parties and Resolutions that aren’t always fulfilled. In this writing, Mindy gets personal and insightful about yoga and it’s back-end-benefits, that aren’t for show, but for strength and empowerment.

 

Many have lusted after it. Lululemon made millions off of it. It has its own entry in Urban Dictionary. The holy grail. The Quan. The Yoga Butt. Against all my scoffing, it turns out to be just as powerful as all the hype.

But(t) before going further, let’s go back. Practicing outside of a Western context, I’m new to the concept having only heard it uttered by a non-yogi friend last summer in Montreal. A Google search of “where did yoga butt start” led me to a string of articles about struggles with body image. This is particularly topical as of late in Korea as pop star, JYP, just released a song about butts. I’ll let you google that on your own. To even greater disgust (I’m looking at your Bill Maher!), afterwards he was chastised, not for his objectifying message, but that the butts he chose to lust after weren’t big enough.  Korea is first in the world for number of cosmetic procedures, a whopping 1/5 have had some sort of augmentation. In a place of immense competition and commodification, Tina Fey’s sentiment couldn’t ring more true.

 

I’m not immune from the sexualization of yoga here in Korea but I do have the luxury of being sheltered from it. This is based purely on limited passive exposure to media in my native language. I don’t pick up on ads playing in restaurants or images in print the same as I would back in the States. I’m lucky and thankful to be in these circumstances, this bubble. Beyond the bubble, it was yoga that gave me back some ownership of my body. It wasn’t about how it looked, it was about what my body could become capable of. Nobody really looks cool splaying their toes likes a monkey, but mine definitely outstretch most. And I love them. They are hands (feet?) down some of the most dexterous toes in the game.

I decided: I’m reclaiming it. The Yoga Butt is real, and it’s awesome.  When I talk “yoga butt,” I’m going past an ornamental accoutrement made to parade around overpriced pants. Sure, let that be the bait to get you there. I’m talking ass-blasting power that keeps your sacrum stable and you balancing on one leg like King Flamingo. I venture to say that a majority of people don’t walk into a studio seeking enlightenment. What keeps you there is feeling like a badass doing something in the skin you’re in – not 10lbs lighter you, not two inches taller you, not 20 years ago you, not fatter ass you – YOU. Exactly as you are, exactly in that specific moment.

To the undiscerning eye (I’m looking at you, Bill Maher!) my butt is more pancake that apple. If you ever catch me out on a Saturday night, ask me about the time I met Sir Mix-a-Lot doing a radio show. Suffice it to say I was vapor in that studio. Dumps like a truck? No. Yoga butt? Like it’s my job. Honestly, I like it. I feel kind of like a superhero- packing heat undercover.

This is 40 inches -around- of pure balancing power. Photo by Amy Brassington

Insider’s secret: standing balances.

For a big chunk of my time with yoga, both as a teacher and student, I avoided standing balances. I like feeling fire as long as I can move with it. Standing balances were like being forced to stand still in the middle of a furnace while being melted alive. First coming to yoga as a means to work out, I expected to move, not stand still. It took me 12 years to really gain an appreciation for this part of the practice.

The science: body imbalances between the front and back body.

The problem most common across the board is a world full of “lazy butts.” Office life and desk warming leaves us sitting. The gluteal muscles aren’t put to use and if you don’t use it, you lose it.  Without the support of strong glutes, the psoas ends up working overtime to stabilize the pelvis. Hip flexion muscles, the psoas in particular, stay in a shortened position while sitting. This causes tightness over time and can change the default angle of the pelvis. A “neutral” pelvis should tilt slightly forward with the tailbone pointing down. This is why so many people struggle to sit upright on the floor. This imbalance is the start of a world of hurt: knee pain, back pain, eventually spiraling up the length of the spine to affect the shoulders and neck. Time to put that butt to work!


Click here to see the original posting of “Yoga Butts” by Mindy which includes a short sequence that will burn your glutes so good. For more information on the author, go to the About section of the blog to read Mindy’s bio.

Manifest Your Destiny, Set a Meaningful & Successful Resolution for 2017

The new year is approaching quickly. Now is a time to look back at the past twelve months and appreciate all that was good and learn lessons from the bad in order to switch out bad habits for good. Changing habits is extremely difficult, so take advantage of the New Year to motivate you into making some healthy resolutions. Read on for some simple tips to get you started on your resolutions and to come back to when the going gets tough later in the year.

 

Think Hard About Your Resolution

If you’re serious about starting 2017 in a healthier way, then take the setting of your resolutions seriously. Meditate on what your change will be. Sit in silence and bring your mind to focus on what would really serve you best. If you already have a yoga practice, then do this thinking after a strong yoga asana practice when your mind is clear of all of it’s normal, monkey-mind clutter. If meditating is not your thing (yet, maybe a goal for 2017?) then do a simple brain storm on paper to discover what change will be best for you in the coming year.

Share It

Once you have your goal in mind then be brave and share it with someone. It might feel vulnerable to do so, but by sharing your change with a friend or family member you will begin to turn the wheels on your new habit. Having someone else know about your goal will motivate you to put it into action, if you tell someone and it never materializes, then you might feel embarrassed about not pulling through with your commitment. The person who you inform can also act as a motivator by asking about your progress now and again. Plus, you never know, maybe your friend has been wanting to make the same changes in their life and you could be the nudge they needed to take the plunge. Two people tackling a new healthy habit together are much more likely to succeed than just one.

Start Small

Changing habits is tough, to make things easier on yourself start small. Let’s use yoga as an example. If your yoga practice has ebbed and flowed, being strong and nonexistent in 2016 and your goal for the new year is to get a consistent, strong practice back, then start small. The long-term goal might be to practice for an hour, 5x /week, but that is a major change in your schedule to begin on January 1st. Be more realistic by starting small. Instead of trying to do an hour practice every day, start by making the time in your schedule to do 20 or 30 minute practices a few times a week. It will be easier on your body and on your ego, for if you start big and fail, then you may not get the energy to try again later in the year. And by starting small you can gradually build up to your bigger goal.

 

I hope these simple tips can get you excited to make change for the better for your health and yourself in 2016. Whether you want to increase your practice, get your arm balances down, or give up carbs, meditating on your change, sharing it, and starting small will help you achieve your end result. Have a safe, happy, and healthy New Year!


 

Join me for a Flow into the New Year yoga workshop in Jamestown, NY on Saturday, December 31st from 2-4 pm. For more details follow the sidebar link to Kara Bemis Yoga Facebook page.

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Come On, Get Real – Pranic Food

I wrote a few weeks ago about trying to eat as many whole foods in my diet as I can and to try my best (it’s not always easy) to steer clear of processed food. There are definitely nutritional reasons to do this. Food that comes in boxes, cans, jars, and bags may resemble what they’re striving to be, or may very well be a frozen or only semi-processed version of what’s pictured on the label, but some processed foods are far and removed from real food. Take Lucky Charms as an example: the carbohydrate cereal part is an odd, cardboard color and the “marshmallows!” From my memory of being younger, I remember those marshmallows being hard to the bite, much unlike an actual marshmallow, and dying the milk all sorts of shades of pastel. I think we can all agree that Lucky Charms and other such sugary, grainy, processed cereals and food are very much unlike real food and therefore if placed on a scale would rate very low as to how much energy, or prana, that they provide the body.

For those of you who are unaware of prana, it is commonly translated into English as “Life Force Energy,” or more to the point as energy. Primarily prana is used to refer to the energy that is sent throughout the body by use of the breath. You may hear yoga teachers say something along the lines of, “Use your breath to send prana into all areas of your body.” Pranayama is the Sanskrit word meaning “control of the life force” and in yoga class is used to describe an array of various breathing techniques to utilize for a more advanced yoga practice, for as we know, yoga is a heck of a lot more than just asana (physical posture.)

Now, when it comes to diet and prana, then prana is the energy provided to our bodies by means of nutrition, and not all foods are created equally when it comes to nutritional value. And if you’ve studied Ayurveda at all then you’ve heard of the three doshas, (I’m afraid that that’s too deep for me to include in this post and would be better left to a person more versed in Ayurveda than I) and in order to create balance in the body and in life, then each blend of the doshas should eat foods specific to their doshas, but again, that is for another post and I don’t want to lose you, but you can’t very well write a post about Ayurveda and not include a mention of the doshas. I want to be much broader here and think of food in terms of its energy value, and I’m not talking about a caloric number.

Consider when you grocery shop, eat out, or prepare a meal how much prana, or energy that the food you are preparing and eating has within. Now I know what some of you are thinking, “Wow, this is some hippy-woo-woo crazy talk!” but stay with me here. Fresh, organic, whole foods contain a lot more energy, or nutritional energy, or prana than food that comes from an aisle and has a shelf life of many months. I understand that packaged and processed foods hold their value in low-cost and convenience, but I think that we would all agree, that eating whole foods is better for us than eating packaged foods.

I’ll use an example for clarity; think of coffee, and I know – coffee is not very Ayurvedic, but it’s a food item that most people consume daily. Here are two examples of a highly pranic coffee option and some processed, lifeless options.

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Organic, fair trade, whole bean, freshly roasted, freshly ground close to the time of consumption. See photo of green coffee beans in a basket, freshly roasted dark or medium roasted beans (all organic and fair trade,) organic milk and organic raw cane sugar all set up for sampling by my friends at Ironwood Coffee Company of Owen Sound, Ontario. Check them out via the hyperlink. This is coffee that will give you energy!

 

Non-Pranic Coffee

20161210_155823.jpgPre-brewed, cold, highly sugared with high fructose corn syrup, sat in a cooler at a convenience store, packaged in plastic with a long shelf life; or grounds sat in a plastic (non-recyclable might I add!) K-cup; or coffee grounds bought in bulk at the grocery store that has a use by date of one year after roasting. These examples all processed more than the freshly roasted beans above and therefore have lost prana along the way.

Once you begin to think of food in terms of life held within it gets easier and easier to see the difference and make better choices when out shopping. Organic produce and products beat out non-organic, and of course freshly picked, grown in your back yard with organic compost has even more prana. While staying at the Ashram in Zdaric u Skutec, Czech Republic, Jan, my host ground his own flour on site in his kitchen because it contained more prana than flour bought at a store. He then prepared Ayurvedic meals with that flour and other local, fresh ingredients. The featured image of a meal on a tray was taken during my yoga training in India. The food served there was Ayurvedic, freshly prepared, vegetarian and full of zing. The nan shown was prepared fresh, by hand for every meal, the vegetables cooked with spices and love. Not pictured is freshly made yogurt made with milk from the cows that lived in the goshala on the Ashram grounds – now that’s pranic food! Fresh, probiotic, real living food.

Whether or not you think that prana-Life Force Energy is a load of baloney, or you’re delving deeper into your yoga to include healthy choices off the mat and into the kitchen, making wiser choices of eating fresh, whole, and when you can, organic foods is going to feel a lot better for your body than eating processed food. You don’t have to go to the extremes taken in an Ashram, start small and build up as you learn bit by bit about your body, it’s digestion, and which foods fuel it with the most prana. Live well.

Come On, Get Real!

Modern food technology advancements have made eating cheap and easy, but what exactly is it that we are eating?

Living in the modern day means that life has become significantly more convenient for most of us. Technology advancements in the food industry have been making it easier and easier to get a quick bite. It’s so quick that we call it fast food when purchased from a drive-thru window (so quick that we don’t even bother stepping out of our cars.) Another benefit of it is that it’s cheap, with most fast food restaurants offering dollar menus. Who can argue with that? I’ll tell you who – me.

Eating at [fill in your choice of any fast food franchise] can feel pleasing initially because it’s so fast, convenient, and cheap, and hey, the food fills up the hunger-hole that was once there, so job complete. But does it make us feel good?

For the past few years I have been taking better care of my body, not only physically with yoga but also nutritionally. I try my best to stick to the rules of eating mostly whole foods – foods that are purchased in their original shape and form, not processed into a box or plastic bag. I try my best to eat everything that isn’t quick and conveniently bought at a counter and because my body is more conditioned than it used to be, it doesn’t even agree with fast food or highly processed food.

After eating a combo meal my taste buds are happy because food scientists have designed the food to smell and taste good, but digestively my GI tract is not at all happy. I know that this may not seem like proper writing material, but digestion is a major part of health and it is something that we need to keep an eye on, quite literally – daily. That’s my yoga teacher tangent for the post though, back to what I was saying – I believe that my body rejects processed foods because I have been trying my best to take care of it and feed it real, whole foods.

Quick and convenient foods are everywhere, not just at highway rest stops and strip malls. They have made their way into our cupboards and refrigerators. Walk down every aisle and frozen food section in any typical grocery store or big box store and the “food” that you find there  will be distant cousins to the real food that it aims to mimic. Grab one of those “food” items off of the shelf and turn it on it’s side to have a read of the ingredients.  Good luck trying to recognize or pronounce most of the multisyllabic, chemical words. I’ve heard of a rule that I like to apply to my diet and my cleaning cupboards as well as my cosmetics, if I can’t pronounce it, I look for other options. Another good one to live by is if my grandmother wouldn’t know what it was when she was my age, put it back. Or a favorite of my boyfriend’s is, if we wouldn’t let Freddie (our adorable rescue dog) eat it, then we shouldn’t be using it or consuming it either.

It’s not easy to make the switch to eating better. Fast food and processed foods taste good and some have found that they’re as addictive as cocaine. I know personally that I’ve had a hard time keeping my fingers out of the Cool Rancher bag; no matter how many times I think to myself, “Just one more!” there always ends up being two or three more handfuls. That’s why the best thing to do is to keep unhealthy, processed foods out of your house. Switch to healthier options like fruit or veggies to snack on. Or if you have to have that addictive crunch of a chip, try  whole wheat crackers and humus instead.

A lot more could be said about this issue and I intend on writing a couple more posts on this topic and other ways that you can Get Real in your lifestyle, but for now I’ll leave you with encouragement to make some healthy changes in your diet and celebrate the healthy choices that you already make in the kitchen or when out to eat. It is not easy to be a health nut, especially if you already eat processed foods regularly, but I assure you that once you make the switch you will be glad that you did as your body and brain will be feeling and functioning much better.

Thank You for Your Labors

This weekend is a long, holiday weekend in the U.S. Monday marks Labor Day, generally a weekend in which everyone gets together with friends and family to eat, drink, and be merry knowing that they don’t have to go to work on Monday. Labor Day was started in the late 19th century by union workers  and laborers as a way to recognize those that work day by day. It has been an official American holiday since 1894, always falling on the first Monday of September. This year I decided to get back to the roots of the holiday and celebrate some of my favorite activists, commending them for their dedicated work – on top of the typical barbecues and bonfires.


 

Jamie Oliver

You might just think of Jamie Oliver as a chef with a funny accent, but he’s much more than that. Jamie digs into our modern industrialized food system and delivers displeasing knowledge. (Pink slime is a prominent example.) His primary work was with school lunches in both his home U.K. and also here in the U.S. That’s noteworthy, a famous chef who champions for quite literally the little guys.

Food these days has transformed into chemically-laden, pesticide-pumped, GMO, never-rotting, highly processed science of convenience. Now, do I eat processed food now and again? Yes, but I try to keep it out of my kitchen and my body as much as possible and to educate myself on nutrition and health. Do I think that America’s and the world’s children should be protected from being fed it daily in their homes and public school cafeterias? Definitely.

Jamie had a reality show back in 2009 in which he embedded himself in America’s most unhealthy city, Huntington, West Virginia. He investigated what the children were in eating in their schools and it wasn’t appetizing. The rest of the series Jamie worked with schools and the community to educate them about eating fresh and healthy foods as opposed to quick and easy processed food, attempting to alter the way that food was prepared in the schools and homes in the area.

Since then Jamie has spearheaded a Food Revolution, click on the link and read articles about how to be healthy and current write-ups on the food industry.

 

Safia Minney of People Tree

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“slow fashion” fair laobr

Another Brit is my notable hero – Safia Minney, founder & CEO of People TreePeople Tree clothing, a U.K. based, slow fashion company. I first heard of Safia in a great documentary, The True Cost which is about the horrendous industry that is Fast Fashion. In the documentary Safia is not only inspiring because she is a female CEO, but also because she displays her fluent Japanese, which she uses when working with craftsmen and women in Japan who make pieces of art for People Tree’s clothing. Having a second language has always been inspiring to me. If you get a chance to watch the documentary I highly suggest it as it outlines the problems with the fashion industry today while at the same time giving alternatives such as People Tree.

But back to Safia, she is a woman of power who promotes fair trade in an industry that generally treats it’s labor extremely poorly. People Tree not only pays attention to the way that the people creating the clothing is treated, but they also source traditionally made, artisanal materials that help keep traditional crafts alive. The company also uses organic cottons and other sustainable materials that are better for our bodies and the earth.

Leo & Jin of BAPS

BAPS stands for Busan Abandoned Pet Sanctuary and is a dog rescue organization in Busan, South Korea. Although BAPS has grown in the years with many expat and some Korean volunteers helping the organization, donating time and money, and fostering and adopting furry best friends; the vast majority of the work done for the completely privately run dog rescue organization is done by two people alone. They are Leo and Jin and what they do inspires me completely. Leo and Jin are a married couple, one expat one Korean, who started BAPS in 2008 and have saved the lives of hundreds of Korean street dogs and abandoned pets.

They not only run the shelter, but they also have a dog kenneling business, and have recently started an international pet travel company although they have been assisting with international travel of countless dogs to their new forever homes for years (including my very own Freddie.)

The Day We Fostered Fred

We instantly fell in love with that little face with big ears the first time we walked him and he kept looking back to make sure that we were still with him.

The kindest, most from-the-heart work that these two do is run a related organization called Wendy’s Last Meals. This is heartbreaking work that I am certain I would not be strong enough emotionally to do. As the name suggests, the work involved is providing a final meal to dogs at a pound in Busan whom have not been claimed or adopted and therefore face certain euthanasia. You can read more about the process and how you can help by donating by clicking here. Before the meals are given, Jin takes pics of the dogs in a last hope effort of getting them rescued, so if you’re looking to find your new partner in crime, then have a look at the beauties that are waiting for you.


 

There is great work being done around the globe to help fight for those dis-empowered to do so for themselves such as school children, laborers working in developing nations to produce our clothing, and dogs left on mountain sides by families unwilling to continue raising them.  I am so grateful for all that they do and am motivated to do my own positive work to make a difference in my community.

Who are you tipping your hat to on this Labor Day weekend that works hard and inspires you?

Yoga Tips for Swimming

I’m fortunate enough to have a boyfriend who likes to learn and study. When he gets interested in something new he learns as much as he can about it. That is what happened with him and swimming – therefore, in our symbiotic relationship I received his skillful knowledge in the pool. Whether you’re a freestyle swimmer in the lane or just want to increase your swimming technique for the beach, I pass these yoga tips and swimming tips along for you to try out and enjoy.

If you’re not a swimmer already  you may want to consider adding a pool session or two to your weekly schedule. Swimming is great cardio that’s much gentler on major joints suffering from strain or arthritis. At first, like any new hobby or exercise routine, i.e. – yoga; swimming can feel frustrating initially. It may feel more like flailing than swimming, but stick with it and you’ll be gliding down the lane before you know it.


Yoga Tips for Swimming

My pool regime consists of gentle warm ups and then goes straight into a few laps of freestyle. Let’s break down freestyle (you know that style that most everyone uses, arms circling up over head, face in the water, legs kicking behind you) from top to bottom of the body parts utilized in terms of yoga warm ups and swimming techniques.

  • Swim Breath: Typically when swimming freestyle you inhale on the surface of the water by twisting your head to one side, through your mouth. Then you slowly exhale through the nose or mouth (I prefer nose.) While still on land, practice slowing down your breath only through your nose and then workshop the breath specific to Bound angle poseswimming. In a comfortable seated position, turn your head gently to the right and inhale through the mouth, allowing your mouth to open just slightly. Then slowly return the head to center and exhale through the nose or mouth – emphasis on going slowly here – count the exhalations at either a 3 count or 5 count. Turn your head to the left at the end of the empty breath and inhale through the mouth in the same manner as you did the first time. Return the head to center and exhale to your count of 3 or 5. Continue this simple, relaxing breathing technique for a few minutes. Eyes opened or closed.

 

 

  • Shoulder Openers: Of course the arms and shoulders are a major component of freestyle swimming, so be sure to safely warm up your shoulders before getting into the pool, especially if you have any shoulder issues. To warm up your shoulders, place your fingers on the tops of your shoulders, elbows pointing out at your side. On an inhalation roll both elbows in towards each other aiming to almost touch them together in front of your face, continue the roll to point the elbows up towards the ceiling keeping your fingers on your shoulders. On the exhalation, roll the elbows back behind you lifting your chest up. Continue to move with the breath and after 10 sets as described switch the direction of the elbows this time inhaling the elbows behind and exhaling them down in front of you for 10 more rounds, adding to 20 total.

 

  • Twist it Out: After you get in the pool and start your freestyle swim allow yourself to get used to the stroke and breath work attempting to take your inhalations from right and left, which is why counting the breath to a count of 3 or 5 is key. By counting your exhalations to an odd number your inhalations will alter which arm is extending and entering the water, alternating right and left and therefore alternating to which side you turn your head for your inhalation. We all have a dominant side and it’s tempting to breathe in from that dominant side only, but practice inhaling from both sides for balance in your swimming. As your body moves through the swim it will automatically twist to the side that you inhale from, or the side of the back arm that’s exiting the water, elbow up as the other arm is reaching forward and entering the water in front of you. To better understand this movement try it now, seated or standing, begin “swimming” with the arms only and notice how when you reach your right arm forward and pull your left elbow back your body naturally twists at the trunk/core to the left and vice versa when the arms are switched. To increase awareness of twists in the water, warm up outside of the pool with simple yogic seated twists – parivrtta sukhasana. Sit cross legged, spine erect, inhale center and exhale twist to the right placing the left hand on the right knee and right hand behind you to aid the twist. Hold for a few breaths. Return to center on an inhale and exhale to the left. Hold and continue for 10 sets.

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  • Front Body: The front of our hips and lower torso are often pretty tight from sitting, driving, cycling, and other such activities where the knees are bent and thighs parallel to the floor. Swimming counteracts the sitting position because the legs are extended back behind you, but due to our tight muscles in the fronts of the legs, finding correct form in a freestyle swim can take some time and patience. When you get in the pool, try not to overly bend your knees in your kick. Before jumping in, open your front body by standing feet hip distance with a little micro-bend in your knees. Place your hands at your low back and on an inhalation start by pushing your thighs and hip bones forward extending the stretch up your front body to your chest. Lastly, on the same inhale breath, gently, gently release your neck, careful not to mindlessly drop your head as far back as it goes, but instead keep some control and if it is painful on the neck then keep the chin tucked in the entire time. Start by holding the back bend for 2-3 breaths and slowly come up on an inhalation. Increase the hold as comfortable.

 

Have fun reigniting or introducing a new, healthy habit into your week. For better success get yourself a pair of decent goggles and a swim cap to keep pesky hairs out of your eyes, and a sporty one piece as opposed to one with cut outs or a bikini, you don’t want to be adjusting in the water. Save the two piece for sun bathing.