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.

 

 

 

 

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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!

 

Learn How to Love

As Valentine’s Day nears I have had love on my mind and those thoughts have seeped into my recently taught classes. Most prominently, the book 5 Love Languages has influenced my thinking and outlook on love. 5 Love Languages is a well-known, self-help style book on how to save loveless marriages written by Gary Chapman.

Don’t let that description scare you off though, I would recommend this book to anyone in a relationship. It’s an easy read and at just over 200 pages, a quick read youthat could get through in a weekend. The first part of the book describes the five love languages with anecdotes of couples struggling to communicate their love to each other. The second half of the book is more interactive with a quiz to find your love language and deeper advice in a Q & A section on how the languages can apply to you and how you can apply them. And if you’re still not sold, Mr. Chapman has another book called The 5 Love Languages for Singles if you’re unmarried and not in a relationship but would still like to better communicate love with family and friends.

In two recent yoga classes I used the book as an example and compared learning the intricacies of your body through yoga as being similar with learning how to best show love for others. In descriptions of my class I tell prospective students that through yoga they will learn how to read their bodies; in other words, by being mindful in an hour yoga practice and by listening to just how far your body is able to go at that moment, a student will gain knowledge about the abilities of their body one class at a time. As yoga students we build upon that knowledge and can be careful with old injuries or tight muscles all while building strength, balance, and flexibility. Without this acute awareness, an injury could occur as the ego nudges us to go further, to get in the pretzel shape of instagram yoga bodies.

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Tune in and listen to your body.

Likewise, learning how your partner or loved one expresses their love is a practice that requires mindfulness. If you read the book, you’ll learn that the five love languages are: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. As an example, say that your partner learned to express love by receiving, and therefore giving gifts, but your family was never big on gifts or spending money on each other so to you gifts are not important. When you fail to give a thoughtful (or expensive) gift at a holiday, or small little gifts throughout the year, your partner will not feel as loved as he or she could. Once you pay notice and realize that your partner’s love language is gift giving, then it is your responsibility to make strong efforts to change your ways. After expressing your love in a way that is thoroughly understood and felt the idea is that your partner will reciprocate. Make the discovery a dialog, go online and take the quiz and work together to best show your love for each other.

Again, this does not have to be solely for romantic partners. I used the example of 13603703_997196337066286_6480232972816819961_oexpressing love to pets in one of the yoga classes as a relationship that isn’t romantic. Say your dog loves walks but you show love with cuddles, that’s nice for you because you get strong positive emotions from the cuddles, and your dog may too, but that dog just wants to walk! And sniff! Make your dog the happiest dog she can be by making time to walk her. Give her a life full of love and walks. And don’t pull her if she lingers on a scent, let her sniff, because she may love walks mostly for the scents and not for physical activity, but the physical activity is a bonus for you both.

This Valentine’s Day season be inspired to learn how to love. To remember that love is a noun and a verb and to realize that the action of expressing love has to be personal for each relationship. Sure it will be more work, but it will pay off. Just like rolling the mat out is often near an impossible task early in the morning of a cold, dark, winter’s day, but the time and dedication will pay off with each effort you make.

 

Auschwitz – A Remembrance

Today, January 27th, is Auschwitz Remembrance Day/Holocaust Memorial Day. Seventy-two years ago the massive and horrific concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was liberated after five years in 20160428_104418existence as a concentration and death camp, the largest death camp of Nazi Europe. It is recorded that around 1.1 million people lost their lives at Auschwitz, people whom were sent from countries all over Europe, mostly Jews, many Poles.

 

In late April of last year, I visited Poland, spending some time in Krakow. From Krakow, my boyfriend and I got on a bus to Auschwitz. We initially thought that we were too late to book a tour of the concentration camp, so we went extra early  in order to learn on our own before the gate shuts to those without tickets of tours. We arrived around 8:00 am and got in line to buy tickets as soon as we could, reserving tickets for a 10 o’clock tour. All in all we spent around 7 hours learning about the camps.

 

Before the tour we walked Auschwitz on our own and then reconvened inside with our 20160428_083822English tour, we received headphones which is how the tour guide communicated to our group throughout the day, necessary since hundreds of people were touring that day, all in different languages, we then followed our Polish tour guide from harrowing landmark to harrowing landmark.  Our guide stopped us outside the buildings and told us how the S.S. made the prisoners stand outside in freezing winter temperatures while they called roll, at times making them stand and wait for up to 24 hours straight, no food, no rest.

 

We went inside buildings that housed prisoners – prisoners whose main offenses were to defy and disagree with the Nazi Party, political prisoners. One hallway was lined with intake 20160428_090122photographs of prisoners, the last image of many them to ever be preserved in history. There were exhibitions of belongings that had been taken from the prisoners. The volume of the items piled up high on top of each other put into perspective just how many innocent men, women, and children were sent to the camp and perished there. On our tour I learned of unspeakable atrocities, of unthinkable “living” conditions, if you can call the labor-prison-death camp existence “living.” The masses of people who were thought of in by the Nazis as fit enough to work, or too weak to live. The disabled or injured were sent straight to the gas chambers while the young and healthy were put to tiresome, endless work, producing for Germany. The gate at the entrance of reads: “Arbeit Macht Frei – Work Sets You Free.”

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A display of prosthetics and braces collected at the camp before their owners met thier untimely deaths.

Auschwitz-Birkenau is separate from Auschwitz I camp. After touring Auschwitz I, our tour group got on a bus and rode for a few minutes to Auschwitz II-Birkenau. This is where the gassing of tens of thousands of Jews, political prisoners, gypsies, and opposition of the Third Reich took place. The dark scene of crammed-cattle-cars slowly rolling up to the main gate of Birkenau is one that many of us have seen in Holocaust movies. Scenes that usually include smoke stacks emitting dark, thick debris. Direct signs of what was to come of many in the cattle cars. Arriving by bus decades later I was aware of what took place there and I was shocked at how extremely large the camp is. The small brick structures that housed the victims go on and on in a square grid for what seems like miles and miles.

Both camps mostly remain standing, one building that was destroyed by the Nazis before Soviet liberation was one of the larger crematoriums (photo above, next to it are the cyanide-based pesticide-pellets that were dropped into the gas chambers.) Out of fear, the Nazis set the building to fire, but of course their heinous crimes were discovered and are remembered.

While touring in late April it was eerie how beautiful the landscape was, the grass, trees, and birds have continued on after the camp was liberated and the sun was shinning during our tour. The spring beauty was an odd juxtoposition to what went on in the past there.

The natural beuty of the Polish countryside that surrounds the ugly history of the big brick buildings is a metaphor to me of how we tend to live our lives. We are mostly distracted by the simplicities of our lives, our jobs and families, and we often overlook the tragedies happening right in front of our eyes. We put our blinders on and surround ourselves in the comforting safety of ignorance instead of remembering the genocides of the past and present. We look beyond the brick buildings and focus on the trees.

This post is short and lacks all of the detail that I could have included had I written closer to my visit, but I hope that it is an insight into the largest Nazi concentration camp. May we never forget the past; we celebrate victories and advances in society, but we must also remember the dark days of history, lest we repeat them. It is an especially necessary lesson to remember at these times of created division of race and religion. A time when many world leaders leave human rights and peace and justice behind for strict nationalsim and fearmongering of immigrants and outsiders. As one Holocaust survivor wisely stated,

“The Germans were well-advanced, educated, progressive. Maybe civilization is just veneer-thin. We all need to be very careful about any hate-propaganda.This is very important. It starts as a small stream, but then it has the potential to erupt – and when it does, it’s too late to stop it.”

Rise Up! MLK Day Flow @ embrace yoga d.c.

This past weekend was a long holiday weekend here in the U.S.; the holiday was in celebration of the great life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a remarkable man remembered by history as peacefully bringing attention to race inequality in the fight for Civil Rights and to beginning work towards ending segregation. Every January American’s remember his legacy and on the third Monday of the month schools are closed and adults have the day off from their jobs in honor of Dr. King. In many communities there are events that commemorate Dr. King and his life’s work; gratefully, while visiting my sister in Washington D.C. such an event was being held at a downtown yoga studio, embrace yoga d.c., and we were able to attend.

The class was entitled “Rise Up! MLK Day Flow” and was more of a workshop than a class which included a flow, relaxation, meditation, and community building. In the description of the class, which was free, the class was described as being held in honor of Dr. King’s legacy and was meant to empower attending students’ noble work in our changing world. Work that could be professional or personal, but all the same powerful.
The class was collaboratively taught by five different teachers from the embrace studio, which made the event feel as if it really were based in community building and collaboration.  It is enjoyable as a student to receive multiple styles of teaching in one class, because sometimes a teacher doesn’t jive with a student in terms of style of yoga taught, adjustments given, cues spoken, or levels of spirituality. In a collaborative class, students can be happy with the blends of styles and learn more than they would by having just one, solo teacher.
The teacher’s at the MLK class broke up their teachings to cover a warm up, gentle-modified sun salutations, a high-intensity flow of standing poses, calming cool-down poses, a guided Savasana, and a lovely meditation. The transition between teachers was smooth and each one had a strong point of view and confidently led their sections. Before the movement began an introduction was given which included a reading by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as a reflection by head teacher, Faith Hunter.
img_0025The heavy theme of creating community is something longed for by many during this tumultuous time of political transition in the U. S. The studio is located in the center of D.C., a city that is smack-dab in the center of the White House transition, or rather the White House transition is smack-dab in the city. The 2016 American presidential election was an emotional event for many because the country is extremely polarized politically, with Washington D.C. being no exception. An NBC Washington news poll claims that more than 90% of D.C. voters voted for Hillary, so therefore it is safe to say that there is a lot of unrest about the outcome of the vote and a lack of support for the incoming president, mostly due to his hateful rhetoric during the campaign trail, insensitive speech that is still being spouted via twitter and press conferences. Posters, such as the one to the right, were visible throughout most neighborhoods that I traversed while in D.C., there was a strong anti-Trump sentiment.
One idea expressed by Faith Hunter that got me excited was her insight that we are in a time of Siva at the moment. In Hinduism, Siva is the destroyer of the universe, and while destruction is often thought of as something very negative, it is also sometimes necessary. In order to come into a new era, the last one must be come to an end. Phoenix rising, you could say. Yes, it is a difficult and dark time to many in this country, but we must be hopeful and positive that the time of Siva will come to an end and we will reemerge into a bright, new era. As President Obama said after the November 8th election, “The sun will come out tomorrow.”
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The MLK yoga class addressed the darkness felt by many by taking a few moments in the middle of the class to have students voice their fears. The cathartic screaming out of fears, which seemed to be generally fueled by social injustices in the city and the country as well as race based issues, had the entire room of students closing their eyes and yelling out the first things that came to their minds as causing fear in their lives, many specific to the political change in their city. As loudly as they could, students yelled out  whatever it was that has been unsettling them. The small, intimate studio was filled with individual shouts by students. A lot of emotion was felt during this powerful exercise, and while it might be assumed that one of those most strongly felt emotions may have been anger about the issues being aired out, instead an emotion of relief was prevalent over anger. Personally, I felt relief in the fact that there were others, others around my age, whom practice yoga, and who have the same fears as I do in this country. It gave me relief that I wasn’t alone and then I felt hopeful that through building community and discussing uncomfortable topics, that we will be able to overcome hate and celebrate diversity.
Immediately following that exercise Kapalabati was practiced to build a fire, to grow strength to conquer the hate and injustices. Then the flow began to slow into a cooldown and ended in a group meditation. The focus of the meditation was on reaching out to others, to take this experience and go and spread it to those surrounding us outside of the studio and yoga community, to share our ideas of caring and love and to support those who are victims around us.
Yoga is not just a means of toning and stretching, yoga is a tool to better the self and the community. By practicing with others and taking the time to learn their names and their stories, we can better understand the larger community and country. By meeting our neighbors and joining together we can bit by bit get a better grasp of what’s really going on in this divided nation. “Rise Up! MLK Day Flow” was exactly what I needed to refuel my soul, to be filled with the needed energy to live each day from a place of love and kindness and to remember that we will overcome hate and injustices, one day at a time.

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.

The Maloca: Types of Natural Building

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an introductory post about natural building, explaining briefly about what it is. As mentioned in that post, I have been very fortunate to have had multiple opportunities of traveling to multiple countries to learn more about natural building. One trip took me to Re-Green in Greece where I stayed, learned, and laughed with some of the most amazing people who I’ve ever met. While there I also had the marvelous opportunity to teach yoga in the stunning Maloca, which is the magnificent meeting room at Re-Green. The Maloca, is a round structure that was built by hand using multiple natural building techniques and it derives its name from the Amazon where a maloca is a long house used for communal meetings.

Not only is the Maloca a place of beauty and a space used for yoga, but it is also an exhibition of multiple natural building techniques. Each wall is built using a different technique and as is common in natural built structures, each wall has its own truth window. Truth windows are cute little peeks into what’s underneath the plaster. It’s a way for owners and builders to display the technique used to build the space. Generally there are small shutters or doors that you open to find Plexiglas which shows what lies behind and between the interior and exterior walls. The Maloca has exactly this on each unique wall, but without a door or shutter, it’s simply the Plexiglass displaying what’s really there.

One wall shows straw bale, another rammed earth, there’s earthen bags, and straw clay, plus cord wood,  and adobe brick. That is six examples of natural building in one 100 sq meter beauty of a building. The quite literal icing on the cake is the masterfully constructed reciprocal roof, pictured as the feature image and below (it’s so beautiful I had to show it twice.)

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To break down those techniques a little more here is an outline of each of the six techniques displayed in each of the Maloca’s truth windows.

Straw Bails

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Straw bales

Straw Bail houses and buildings are becoming somewhat more known in the U.S. and the rest of the globe. They are as they sound, houses built of straw bales – Three Little Pigs style, I’m sure one of them made a house out of straw! Well these walls won’t be blown down by a nasty wolf nor a nasty north wind. As you may have guessed, the walls are thick, as thick as a straw bail as a matter of fact! Now of course there’s more to it than stacking bails on top of each other into the shape of a house. To finish the walls earthen plaster (mud) is applied to the exterior and interior. This keeps the critters out.

Straw Clay

Straw clay is likewise made from straw, but this time the bails are deconstructed and the straw is blended right into the mud-clay mix, either by hand, taking handfuls of loose straw and drenching it in the mud mix, or by mixing it with machinery. A structure must be built first in order to hold the straw-dipped material inside. The wood is put together so that there is a hollow space in the middle where the straw clay will be packed, and it must be packed tightly or hollow spaces will be left, where those same nasty critters could burrow in through the tiniest of holes in the external wall; trust me, you don’t want squirrel pee soaking in to your living room wall! Pack it tight!

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Straw clay

Rammed Earth

A rammed earth wall is a show piece of a natural home. Rammed earth is layers of soil and clay rammed down hard so that it becomes sturdy and permanent. Did you ever go to a state fair and fill a glass jar or vase with different colors of sand through a funnel to make an elementary master piece? Well, that’s pretty much what rammed earth looks like. Layers of earth-tones on top of each other. These walls take a lot of time and brawny muscles, so an entire house is not likely to have all of its walls made like this, but an island in a kitchen or a wall near a fire-place could be examples of ways to use rammed earth as show pieces. Structural and beautiful all in one.

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Central, under the window, is rammed earth, shame that it’s not a closer shot as you miss the beauty. To the left is clay brick.

Clay Bricks

Clay bricks are commonly known in the U.S. as adobe. These types of buildings are, or were, prevalent in the south-western United States. These are bricks made from clay that are molded or formed and then dried in the sun. they then are mortared together to form walls. Unlike hobbit-house straw bale houses, which are more organic in shape and can look like they’ve come straight out of Middle-Earth; adobe walls tend to be straighter and more uniform. Adobe is also good for building more complicated forms such as arches.

Cord Wood 20160420_090612

Imagine a big tree that’s been timbered and the logger starts to cut the tree like slices of bread creating great big circular remnants of the tree. Now imagine that those pieces of the tree are inserted into a wall, that’s what cord wood looks like, although of course the cord wood isn’t just inserted into the wall, it is inlaid slowly as the wall is built. Cord wood structures are quaint and very reminiscent of the nature from which the wood has been derived. One thing to know about building with pieces of a tree is that wood moves, breathes, and contracts with the weather, so gaps may form if the malleability of the wood is not kept in mind while building. You can see an example of a cord wood wall behind the gang of us after a morning yoga class at Re-Green, a superb backdrop for any photo.

Earth Bags

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Earth bags just behind this gal doing a handstand.

Earth bags are large bags filled with soil then piled on top of each other to build a wall. This is a form of natural building that is quick and relatively easy, although of course, some building knowledge is required. The gags are filled with earth that contains some amount of clay or another substance such as volcanic rock. This is a good technique to use if your build site does not contain much clay, as less is needed. Of course the major elephant in the room is the bag which the earth fills. The bags are as most bags are in our modern world – plastic. Now you know how I detest plastic bags, so I would not choose to build with earth bags if I could build anoterh way, but I understand that using earth bags is the lesser of the two evils when the alternative is to use conventional building supplies that have more chemicals and are likely not produced localy.

 

And there you have it, the techniques used to build the sacred space that is the Maloca at Re-Green, Greece. There is a lot more to say about each and all of these styles of natural building. For now I’ll let you day-dream over your little hobbit house, a great day dream to have as winter surrounds us. Just picture sitting by the wood stove, wrapped in a blanket (or not, these houses are energy efficient, but the blanket helps the vision of coziness I’m going for here,) sipping tea, reading a book with your dog at your feet inside the natural house that you built with your own hands. What a dream, and it’s a dream that becomes more and more realistic the more you learn about natural building. I can almost guarantee that once you get your hands in the dirt, you’ll be back for more, just as I was.

I hope that these photos of the Maloca have directed your day-dream in the right direction. Keep following this blog for more information on natural building and other things natural and yoga.

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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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Long Distance Relationships – How to Deal

Living far away from home means that many relationships will be strained. Not simply romantic relationships either but family and friendships, too. Being a good daughter or friend is hard to do when you live geographically near to a person, it involves a lot of effort to visit, make phone calls, and to truly listen and be involved in the other person’s life. To be present in any relationship is a skill that is often left by the way side for Facebook feeds and other modern-day distractions. When you add distance to the mix it can be a time zone challenge to strongly maintain the relationships you leave behind.

I have been in a long distance relationship since 2010 and I have lived away from my friends and family for years at a time. Fortunately, my romantic relationship is not always long distance. We are an international couple that met while teaching in Korea, so things have always been about visas and passport stamps. In my view, I am extremely lucky for this, for even though we sacrifice not being able to physically live near to one another, we make up for it in adventures to far away locations, and we have mapped out our lives to be able to spend long spans of time together throughout the years. Reversely though while we were happily living and exploring the world together I had to give up being near to my family and he away from his, it has been years of trade-offs.

When we are apart we have had to adapt our relationship by being flexible and understanding. If you find yourself accepting a job far away from those you love, know that it will take exactly that – adaptability and flexibility. After years of living through distance, here are some tips of advice to get you through the miles apart.

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Learn Each Other’s Schedules

It takes time to get used to time zone differences. While living abroad in Korea I had to constantly know what time it was in the U.S. and remind my family of the 14 hour time difference so that we could organize Skype calls. In my first year when I was younger and enjoying Korea’s endless nightlife (quite literally the nightlife is endless because the bars don’t close until the people leave) I would phone my sister in the U.S. after returning from a night out at 4 or 5 am Korean time because I was tipsy and homesick and it made sense being that it was 2 or 3 pm on Saturday there. Drunk dialing my sister became normal.

Be sure to update your loved ones when your schedule changes. If say you get a new job, take on more work, or have any other consistent change in your day-to-day schedule. Especially when working on a romantic, long distance relationship it is vital to update your partner on even minor changes. And therefore you will expect your partner to do the same, but sometimes we forget to inform and if that happens, talk it through and be forgiving.

Work Around Each Other

At this very moment I am doing long distance. Due to my work schedule the best time for us to speak is the last half hour of my lunch break at work. That time works because it’s mid-evening in Europe for him, so every day I tell him what time I’m going to take lunch, I quickly eat, and await his call. Once he rings, I bundle up and go for a walk while we talk for 30 minutes before returning to work. Speaking to your partner for 30 minutes a day is not a lot. We message each other throughout the day to supplement and sometimes he stays up late so I can call him when I finish work. It’s not ideal, but it’s wast we have to do.

Sometimes things don’t work out and a call doesn’t get made or it gets made late, which isn’t a big deal generally, but it is when you only have those precious 30 minutes and I’ll admit that the first emotion that I feel is usually anger. Generally I express my anger, we talk about the perfectly logical reason why the call was late, and then it’s forgotten. I typically apologize for my reaction and things are fine. You have to understand when you’re in a long distance relationship that your partner is living their life, taking care of things that come up, and interacting with people who are physically near to them. While respecting schedules is important, it is just as important to allow your partner personal time and the right to live in the moment.

Live in the Present, Keep Busy

A lot of people have questioned how I can live so far away from someone who I love and I always give them the same answer,which is that I keep busy. I try to pick up my hobbies more strongly; I practice more yoga, read more books, and spend time with friends. The same was true in Korea when I was homesick for my family, it was very difficult the first year, but with time I made Korea my home and tried to live less in the past. I’m not saying of course that my family was my past, but it was absolutely necessary to be present where I was and to form relationships there so that I could thrive and be happy.

If you’re struggling and feeling lonely in a new setting then the best advice I could give you would be to get involved in the local community. Seek out culture, music, meet-up groups, yoga studios, etc. that will keep you busy and help you feel a part of the community. Loneliness and homesickness will dissipate when you feel a part of you new surroundings.

Keep Those Far Away Involved

Once you start doing all these fun new things be sure to include those back home by sending updates. Send messages on social media, blog, or go old school and write some post cards. For romantic relationships I suggest sending loads of updates, even those that are thought of as mundane. My boyfriend and I send pictures of our pets, food, clothes, the weather, anything. I’ll admit he’s much better at updating me than I am him, and I very much appreciate knowing what his day-to-day life is like without me there. Having the constant updates also makes conversations flow more smoothly since the evidence of everyday life has been seen and will more likely be remembered.

When living far away from loved ones try your best to listen well to even all of the details of their daily lives. It might seem boring to hear who your mom saw at the store yesterday, but you would want her to care about the interesting food you ate in your new foreign country, too. Both conversations are the same in that the other person can not personally relate to what is being said by the other, but try as hard as you can to show interest, to ask questions, and to stay informed on what’s going on in each others’ lives.

 

Living far away from home is tough. It’s super hard at the beginning and with time it is less hard, but it’s always difficult. In order to maintain your relationships you must put in the effort, make sacrifices, and communicate often. In all honesty I am so grateful for my long distance relationship because it has filled my life with adventure and travel. I have a family in America and a family in Europe, and not many people can say that. Sure it’s difficult, but the hard work pays off.

 

 

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.