The Humble Tumbler

I’m assuming that tumbler is not just a Konglish word used over here in South Korea, but is also a term used in the wider world, but just in case that that isn’t the case, I’d better clarify. A tumbler is a mobile, reusable, totally sealed thermos for your coffee or tea. I was gifted mine back in 2010 and it still makes the daily rounds with me pretty much wherever I go. I prefer it to a water bottle because it holds both hot and cold, and it insulates. So my ice water on the beach in July is nice and chilly and my green tea in December fogs up my glasses on the subway. Here is some more info on this wonderfully useful device.

The fact that it has a vaccuum seal lid raises it far above it’s cousin the travel mug, and this is because it can be tossed in any bag and carted along without getting your precious belongings splattered or drenched in a sticky chai tea latte. Recently in the past year I have been biking to and from lessons more often than I used to, and I have had absolutely no hesitation throwing my full tumbler in my backpack. I can’t say that this would be the case if I had a lesser quality tumbler, so if you’re looking to purchase maybe read reviews.

It’s also cost efficient. If I compare the cost of a tumbler, which is about $20-$30, to buying a plastic bottle of water at a convenience store at about $1, it would of course take only 20-30 times to equal the cost of the tumbler. That’s only about one month of yoga classes, so in one month my tumbler has earned her keep. That time frame is decreased if I get a to-go coffee at a chain, as they usually give a discount if you ask them to put the coffee in your tumbler.

A minuscule sample (I didn't see anyone else drinking out of a mug or reusable tumbler besides myself in this busy cafe) of single use paper and plastic containers. A drink of choice was purchased and poured in, then said drink was drunk, and then they were tossed.

A minuscule sample (I didn’t see anyone else drinking out of a mug or reusable tumbler besides myself in this busy cafe) of single use paper and plastic containers. A drink of choice was purchased and poured in, then said drink was drunk, and then they were tossed.

Another reason why I prefer using a metal tumbler to using plastic water bottles is of course sustainability. I’m trying more and more to cut back on using single use, disposable items (think plastic forks, water bottles, straws, etc.) with the hopes of one day quitting use totally. Litter is an unfortunate, daily problem here in South Korea. I’m not going to try to explain this problem here, because I don’t want to judge the culture of the country that I have been calling my home for 3+ years, but I will say that I don’t condone the littering. Cafe culture is HUGE here, I live one block from a main tourist beach in Busan and there are innumerable cafes (ok, realistically about 50ish on a 1.4km/.87mi long beach) and the majority of patrons of those cafes get single use to-go cups. Employees don’t even ask preferrence, they just give the to go cup, plastic or paper, regardless of whether you’re about to stroll the beach or sit down and study for an hour. That’s a lot of waste each and every day; waste that is usually just littered on the beach or street since the city doesn’t provide many waste receptacles. There are recycling areas sporadically on the beach, but the cups and other waste items don’t always make it there.

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Fred disapproving of litter outside of our apartment building. There are at least five single use containers for hot liquid here. The coffee would have been drunk in minutes and then littered.

And if the cups do make their way to the recycle bins then all is fine and well, right? Well not totally, ok yes, they can be recycled, but recycling uses a lot of energy, so it’s better to reuse. That plastic bottle has to be taken to a processing plant (shipping fuel,) where it is sorted, cleaned (water/energy waste,) processed into pellets (more energy waste,) and then the pellets start their journey to be turned into more plastic bottles or plastic bags. But imagine if we just stopped using those plastic bottles/bags, then there’d be no demand for them. Instead we could use metal tumblers and cotton reusable bags. In the description I use the word waste purposefully because if we change our perception of plastic use to waste, then maybe we’ll stop using (wasting!!!) so much plastic.

The final reason why I’m antiplastic bottle is the negative effects of leaking chemicals into the food or drink that we consume, especially with a heated food or liquid. The research has been out on BPA (bisphenol A) for a while. I’ve heard and read some pretty scary stuff about the chemical which is used to make plastics more durable. You can read up on the stuff yourself here, and at breastcancer.org, and with this PDF, and lastly if you’re more of an auditory learner then this is a very informative interview with a scientist who wrote a book about testing her own breast milk for toxins.

DIY Yoga Eye Pillow

A yoga prop that I love to utilize in Savasana (corpse pose) is an eye pillow. I started to use one regularly years ago after being introduced to them at a yoga studio. What an eye pillow is, is what it sounds like; a tiny little pillow to rest on top of your eyes. Usually they are made of a soft fabric like silk or cotton that feels comfortable on your face. The filling is made up of flax seeds coated in an essential oil- lavender being my favorite. Not only does the soft scent of the lavender calm you as you inhale in your Savasana, but the flax seeds make it impossible not to close the eyes and also block out any light in the environment.

Unfortunately, I lost my eye pillow months back while travelling and never replaced it. Instead I had a goal to teach myself how to make them and it turned out to be much easier than I might have imagined. I acquired a sewing machine, found a tutorial online, and cut apart an old pillow case to upcycle* into the eye pillow, and while I was at it I created half a dozen for the students of my classes to use. These lovelies were a long time in the making and even include hand-picked, dried lavender kindly sent from England, upon request, from my boyfriends mother.

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The How To

What You’ll Need:

  • Sewing Machine
  • Cotton or silk upcycled fabric
  • Flax Seeds 1-1 ½ C
  • Lavender (to relax) or Mint (to revitalize) essential oil
  • Measuring cup
  • Funnel
  1. Cut your fabric to 25x25cm.
  2. Fold the fabric inside out (print on the inside) in half and sew to close two sides leaving an opening to fill the pillow.
  3. Scent the flax seeds to as strong as you like (careful not too much, I once re-scented mine more than I should have and the lavender oil burned my eyes!)
  4. Turn the pillow right side out. Fill the pillow with about 1 ½ C of the scented flax seeds depending on how dense you want your pillow.
  5. Sew the opening to close the pillow.

Follow this link to a blog where I found these directions as well as easy to follow directions to make the pillow cases.

*A note on upcyclying and why it’s great; this is when you give new life to an old, no longer used, soon to be discarded object. As this is a blog dedicated to both yoga and sustainability, I am glad to write this post about creating (DIY) rather than consuming with the added benefit of keeping some pillow cases out of a landfill.

(expensive!) Yoga Gear

Previously I used to scoff and pity those yogis who bought expensive yoga gear to practice in. It seemed very absurd to me to spend a lot of money on a hobby that can literally be practiced anywhere, at anytime, and in any clothes, ok well maybe not a great idea to float into bakasana in a mini skirt, but you know what I mean.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve always practiced in typical sweats bought at any box store, and I never had any personal complaints. The clothes I practiced in never really had any positive or negative effect on my practice. All was well.

To a degree I still feel that way, with a few exceptions. Primarily, practicing in the heat. Whether you love that odd feeling of “it hurst so much it feels good” that you purposefully attend yoga classes at hot yoga studios and practice in the heat and humidity that is pumped into the room and then increased by the twenty other yogis sweating it up next to you, or if you find yourself practicing in a naturally hot and humid atmosphere, say for example, in Costa Rica (where I first deeply fell in love with my practice,) in those cases technical wear might be the best option for you. Clothing made out of material that won’t retain the heat and in which sweat can “wick away” can really make your practice much more comfortable. And nobody likes to be the girl with the visible sweat soaked T-shirt after class!

However! Let me interject here with another strong belief that I hold: I try my best to be aware of the materials that I wear during practice. Spandex and similar materials are great for stretch and advanced technology has made yoga clothes comfortable, stylish, and breathable, but those synthetic fabrics are chemically made and our skin is a living, breathing organ that absorbs. For that reason, I try to practice in cotton (organic cotton even better!) or merino wool in the winter (a very light weight, movable, breathable wool that wicks away moisture.)

Another product to consider using is a yoga towel that stretches the length of your mat and soaks up the drips that you drop. I’ve been using my towel regularly for years now and it’s made a huge difference in my ability to not slip ‘n slide during asanas. I have no brand preference and microfiber yoga towels with rubbery pads on the bottom that adhere to your mat or the floor can be found online or in a lot of shops that sell yoga accessories. My towel was found and purchased from TJ Maxx actually and it works just fine.

You may have gotten the vibe that by no means am I a loyalist to any brand or label. In fact I have never actually purchased any top names of the yoga clothing industry. I have been fortunate enough to have friends hand their gently used items down to me; I am oh-so-grateful to those thoughtful friends, too, by the way! Reason one why I haven’t purchased on my own is that I don’t see the value in spending over $50 on a tank top. To support a great company that uses sustainable materials and ecofriendly methods maybe, but I haven’t found that perfect company yet to fall in love with. Reason two is that I am making an effort to consume less, but more details on that in a coming post.

When it comes to a milder climate practice or winter practice, then I say wear whatever you feel comfortable in. During my winter practice I wear yoga pants, sweat pants, leggings, whatever. I’m much more conscientious of my outfit when I teach however, for it is important that students are able to see what’s going on with my ankles and knees when I demo poses, so no flowy pants. On top a track style neckline on a hoodie or sweater are most preferable because a hood can become annoying in Downdog or other inversions or forward folds. A simple crew neck sweatshirt is another viable option.

My last recommendation on yoga products is about the surface of practice itself- the practical yoga mat. For years I practiced on a standard Gaiam mat. I never had any complaints, loved the print and color, and it held up after more than three years of practice, albeit with some stains. The reason why I upgraded to a Manduka ekotravel mat is twofold. Primarily, I wanted to practice on a natural material. Throughout the practice we stick our noses right down in our mats from all the chaturungas and work on the belly, and if the mat you practice on is made out of plastics or chemicals, then it straight up stinks. I hate the idea of deeply inhaling those chemicals throughout my practice, so I upgraded. Yes, the mat is made from natural rubber and therefore had a unique stench to it itself, but I quite enjoyed that smell and anyway it dissipated after about two months. Plus, it was designed to travel with so it folds up to a remarkably small size and can be taken with me anywhere.

To conclude, there’s no need to spend a fortune on your yoga practice. I really dislike how commercial yoga has become and how much of an industry rather than a lifestyle it is marketed as in the west. There are times and reasons to require technical yoga gear, and once you buy a quality piece of clothing or mat, then it is more than likely going to last you years. Even better if you do some homework and find companies that produce eco products in a sustainable manner. To be even more sustainable, give a friend’s hand me downs a second home or shop from a consignment shop. Recently I learned of this site where you can buy and sell all sorts of clothing online. And if you like to treat yourself to nice pieces of yoga clothing, then great, there’s nothing wrong with that, just let me know when you tire of them!

Here’s a small gallery of myself in practical, everyday wear.

Reflecting on 2014; Opportunity for Gratitude

Gratitude is a wonderful emotion that doesn’t always happen freely. It’s easy to become comfortable with where you are and forget how truly fortunate you may be; I know that I am guilty of not feeling or expressing gratitude as much as I could or should. As I looked back on my 2014 (which Facebook made so easy to do with those nifty “Look Back on my Year” photo albums) I thought of all of the happy times that I shared with my friends and loved ones. I felt and feel grateful for those relationships and experiences. It’s nice to scroll through all of the beach and dinner party photos, but it would be even nicer to vocalize my gratitude, and I don’t mean by means of posting either, I mean by an old school phone call, or a (recycled and/or homemade) card even! Lucky for us all, gratitude is an attitude as well as an emotion, meaning that we can mindfully practice moving towards feelings of gratitude.

However, what social media doesn’t tend to capture are those times in the last year when we were down and out for whatever reason, because in general we selectively chose what sort of virtual image we want portrayed of us, and leave out the bad bits. But if we go within and pull out some skeletons in the closet and recall some of the negative experiences of 2014, then it can potentially be another opportunity for gratitude. We can be thankful for the obstacles and difficult times overcome. Myself as an example, at this time last year I was out of a job and had been briskly kicked out of my apartment in a foreign country, and I can tell you that I wasn’t feeling too optimistic about the year ahead. But things lined up: I got a job, an apartment near the beach, and I’ve been happy where I am since. I’ll admit that while recalling that negative time in my life it wasn’t an instant feeling of thankfulness. Initially, I felt pretty down remembering just how miserable of a time that was, but I made a mindful, strong effort to pull myself away from the negative thoughts. I realized that because of that experience I had learned many lessons, and now a year later, I can be totally grateful for the difference a year makes and where I am today.

This same principle of turning negatives into positives can be translated to our yoga practice on the mat. It’s a wonderful thing that not too often do people remember their times practicing yoga and come up with negative experiences, or at least I hope that that is the case. But certainly there can be a tendency for our minds to wander into those dark little corners even during a yoga practice. It can be true for all of us at some point or another that we let our eyes wander to the outrageously flexible yogini, kitty corner to us in class, who is unexplainably contorting her body into a tightly bound balancing pose and then it happens, our egos creep in and we feel inferior, embarrassed, and bad at yoga. But harness that ego in! There is no such thing as “being bad” at yoga; it is a practice meaning that no you may not be at the same level as someone next to you, but you will progress with practice, just like any other skill. It doesn’t happen over night. The next time you notice your mind creeping towards self-doubt in a class, mindfully exhale those emotions away and feel grateful for the learning opportunity.

Winter Solstice Event

Winter can be a long and cold time of year. The days are short and chilly and unfortunately, most of us are trapped inside for the short precious hours of daylight by a job or school. It’s not very easy in the winter months to get out there and feel the sun on your face without simultaneously feeling wind chill. More so even if you’re like me, and would rather sweat it out on a hot beach than ride down the side of a mountain on thin pieces of fiber glass, meaning, winter’s not my ideal time of year, so I tend to curl up in blankets with books. I generally enjoy cuddling with my pup, but it can feel antisocial. I wouldn’t say that I get terribly depressed in winter, but seasonal affective disorder can be a very real thing, which is why it’s important to remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You see, onwards from December 21st, the winter solstice, the daylight begins to increase bit by bit until magically we find ourselves in spring.

Winter solstice itself is the shortest day of the year and the beginning of the winter season. The sun sets early leaving a dark evening to explore your inner self. This is something that can be done solo or with a group. I myself am very fortunate to be a member of an active yoga community in which a wonderful winter solstice event was planned and well attended. It was guided by myself and two other yoga teachers and I’d like to lay out the event as inspiration for your next winter solstice and as a reminder of the warmth to come.

After introductions, participants were asked to think of a goal or intention that they’d like to focus on and dedicate their vinyasa yoga practice to. Once they had one in mind, we all sat together in a circle and lit candles one by one to signify our intention. There was a symbolic meaning to lighting the candles in the circle; it represented the growing daylight of the coming months. In a more personal setting, intentions could have been affirmed out loud, but we kept ours silent.

Following the intentions, a heating vinyasa flow was practiced in the gentle glow of the candles. Many vinyasas were cued, but optional, to warm up as much as desired. Throughout the course of the physical practice, reminders to bring focus back to the intention were given, primarily in quieting forward folds which are very personal and often allow us to go within ourselves. Once inner heat was throughly ignited and stoked to battle the frigid air outside, there was a therapeutic partner practice to get even deeper into the muscle tissues. As mentioned before, I’m not one for outdoor winter sports, so my yoga is close to the only physical activity that I perform in winter. For this reason, a more perspiring yoga practice like vinyasa or power yoga is a good answer to my winter blues (and all those Christmas cookies!)

But alas, yoga is much more than physical and the event carried on into the mental realm. Working the body with the breath quiets the mind, so right after a yoga practice is an ideal time to meditate or simply focus thoughts. In the case of our humble event, a guided candle meditation was practiced. To top everything off there was a journal exercise. Currently (and for quite a long while,) I have fallen out of my journaling habit, but I plan to rekindle it in the coming new year. The journaling exercise of our winter solstice event involved considering the future and writing a short positive affirmation about yourself. I took a lot away from the journaling and will use the affirmation as a tool to bring me back to my target whenever I find myself straying. And that was the conclusion of our event, it was a magnificently warming, community gathering.

Solstice and equinox events can seem far off and even pagan to some, I know I used to roll my eyes in the past, but really when you think about it, they are simply calendar days that mark the changing skies and seasons. Winter solstice is the shortest day and summer solstice is the longest; the equinoxes are about equal in length of day and night. It is not easy to pay attention to the changing seasons with so many seemingly pressing matters pestering our minds, which is why making the time to plan an event or find one to attend is a good way to bring nature back into view. And if you’re still not sold on the idea, then a similar event could be planned for New Years Eve, a time when we transition into a new calendar year and look forward to the future.

Setting Your Intention

Setting Your Intention

As a yoga student I have always been drawn to classes and teachers that set intentions. It can seem silly to some people to hear things such as, “Open your heart,” or “Move forward towards your goal,” but in my opinion, having a class designed around an intention enables the yoga asana practice to become more than the physical poses. I respect people who come to yoga for the physical aspect, it certainly will grow your strength and flexibility, but for me it’s just so much more.

The meaning of the word yoga is union. Possibly more than at any other time throughout your day, you are asked to focus on your breath, and then move your body into the asana with that focus. This is one union of yoga; breath and movement. Union then extends to the mind and body. Day to-day life tends to be busy and even chaotic, full of to-do lists, work, family, social life/media, etc. All of the jumping around from thought to thought creates anxiety and stress for most of us. One goal of a yoga class is to calm the mind and one way to do so is to set an intention for your practice.

One example of an intention that I find myself sharing again and again as a teacher, is focusing the mind on a sought after goal. This goal might be as simple as completing one of those pesky tasks on your to-do list instead of pushing it aside for the umpteenth time, or it could be something larger, a long-term goal say, like moving up in your career. I also like to suggest to students that it could be a goal in your yoga practice. Maybe there’s a challenging pose that you saw online and would like to one day achieve. Then the idea is to practice the class and bring your mind back to the intention, which I cue, and hopefully off the mat you will feel inspired to set that goal in motion.

You can try this now, where you are. Here is the text to a short, guided breath work and intention. Click here for the recording of it so that you can do it with full concentration and closed eyes.

“If you are in a chair, then place your feet firmly on the floor with your knees directly in front of your hips. Play around with shifting to the front of the chair until you feel most comfortable. Closing your eyes will help you concentrate, so do so now.Then inhale your shoulders up towards your ears and exhale them down your back. Rest your hands in your lap, palms up or down, whichever feels best. You should feel taller with this posture.With your eyes closed, begin to breathe through your nose. Make your breath as long as you can and try to get the inhalation and exhalation to be the same length. Measure this by counting it silently in your head. First count your inhalation (1,2,3,) pause at the end of the inhalation, and now count the exhalation (1,2,3.) Aim to get the count a little bit higher with each round, it might not happen today, if so then stay with the count of three. Now, with your mind clear and your breath controlled, think of the intention, chose a goal you would like to work towards reaching. Chose just one to really focus on. In your mind, envision yourself with that goal achieved. See yourself in the future as you would be once you succeed at the goal. Hold that vision as you breathe for as little as five seconds up to as long as you like. This vision of you might bring you joy, so maybe you gently smile to yourself. When you are ready, inhale and bring your hands up to your chest, as you do so imagine that you are bringing that goal in towards your heart. Bring the palms together, your thumbs touch your sternum, this is namaskar mudra, or hands in prayer (mudra means hand gesture in Sanskrit, the language of yoga,) hug your elbows into your ribs so that they don’t splay out far away from you. When you are ready, inhale and slowly open your eyes.”

At first doing a practice like this might feel funny or odd because we tend not to practice mindfulness, but as you practice more and more, it will lose that novelty feeling and become a great tool. Now go out there and get those gears in motion towards your goal.