Mindful Minute: Body Scan

This is a type of mindful meditation I like to use with beginners who are just being introduced to mindfulness and/or meditation. It's a fairly simple concept, but can make a large impact on your sense of calm. Body scan meditation is exactly what it sounds like, focusing awareness to scan through your entire body head to toes. If you want to stick to one minute, simply set your timer for one minute and tune your awareness to your body, muscles, and energy starting with your head, moving down the body until you reach your toes. Consciously relax any muscles you notice tension in until your entire body is relaxed. If you've noticed negative thoughts, negative energy during your scan, picture yourself blowing out these thoughts and energy with your out breath. If you want to try the body scan for longer than one minute, I suggest spending 1-2 deep breaths on each part of your body (e.g. head, facial muscles, neck, shoulders, upper back, lower back, etc). With each in breath focus on a part of your body, noticing tension, taking inventory of any pain or tightness. With each out breath, relax that portion of your body, picture yourself blowing out negative thoughts, negative energy, tightness or tension. You can picture that tension and negativity as a black cloud you're blowing out of your body if it helps. This is a great exercise to do during times of stress, or at bedtime to aide with sleep. Fun Fact: body scan was the very first meditation I ever tried back in my early 20's! Try a body scan soon, and happy weekend!

Self-Care Part II

Self-care is non-negotiable and must be part of your daily routine if you desire wellness of mind, body, and spirit, or if you are on the road to any type of mental or emotional healing. Read part I of the self-care series here. Self-care is all about balance. Different types of self-care correlate with the different parts of our Self. For example, hygiene, and grooming practices are all about physical self-care, or self-care of our body. Time spent with friends and/or family would fall into the social/emotional category of self-care. I like to use the aboriginal wellness wheel to break up our Self into 4 main categories: social/emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental/psychological. 

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The point is to strive for balanced self-care. The point is to ensure you're taking care of each part of yourself. Rarely will any of us ever have perfectly balanced self-care, but the point is in the trying. Most people's wheel would look like an unbalanced mess, as we are naturally inclined to practice self-care in certain categories over others based on our history, skills, and lifestyle. Those categories that don't come naturally for us require more practice and effort. Though our self could be broken up into more cattegories, in efforts to keep it simple, I chose only 4. Our physical self refers to our body, our self in physical form. Mental/psychological self refers to our mind, cognitive capacity, and thoughts. Social/emotional self refers to our self in the context of relationship and the emotions. I like to think of our spiritual self as the part of us that feels inspired, connected to a purpose, connected to something greater than ourselves. Some quick examples of self-care activities in each category are as follows:

Physical

  • Exercise
  • Grooming
  • Hygiene
  • Diet
  • Wearing a great outfit

Mental/Psychological

  • Learning something new
  • Reading
  • Deep breathing/meditation practices
  • Therapy/Psychiatry

Social/Emotional

  • Spending time with family/friends
  • Journaling
  • Therapy
  • Having a good cry
  • Art/Creativity

Spiritual

These categories are fluid meaning, that some self-care activities fit into multiple or all categories, and you can utilize one self-care activity to tick all the boxes. For example, a walk in nature is healthy for my physical, mental/psychological, social/emotional, and spiritual self. Self-care is personal, and must be customized to fit each person's needs. Find the things that work for you, make you feel good mind body and spirit, and the self-care series will continue next time with more specific self-care ideas for each category. 

Sunrise Smoothie

This is the green smoothie we make every morning for breakfast. Making smoothies for breakfast was a game-changer. Not only does it save me time in the morning, because I take my smoothie to go and drink it en route to work, or during my morning meeting, but I've also noticed just feeling better, lighter, and having more energy since converting to this routine. We've tweaked the recipe a couple of times to decrease the amount of fat and perfecting our morning smoothie will always be something we strive for. With it being the day after Thanksgiving and all, I thought it a perfect time to share our current recipe to help with your post-turkey detoxing : ) 

This recipe makes approx 2 smoothies.

Ingredients:

  • 1 avocado
  • 2 medium apples
  • approx 1 inch of ginger root peeled 
  • 1 bunch of kale
  • 1.5-2 cups of coconut water (dependent on preferred consistency)
  • 6 ice cubes
  • (optional) 2 tbls coconut oil (we have omitted this, but if you need more fats, you can add this in)

Directions:

In a blender (we use a Vitamix and it's awesome) just blend away and enjoy. The quality of your ginger root really makes a difference in determining how intense it will taste. We have purchased really fresh ginger root and it ended up tasting too strong so just use with caution. The ginger really cuts the bitterness of the kale though, so it is an important ingredient. Hope you love this green smoothie as much as we do.

What Are You Using to Numb Out?

I'm coming off of a month where I had been working a lot, picking up extra shifts. It was too much. Even though I love my job, I didn't have balance. During this time, I felt this sense of dis ease, something wasn't right. I felt unsatisfied. I felt like I was working towards nothing, as though I had been working harder, but it wan't getting me anywhere. I bought more things, justifying my extra work days as time that had gotten me that extra treat, but I was still feeling unsatisfied, and down. Finally, I realized that I had been working for "things" and those things, didn't satisfy my heart or soul. I was using the extra shopping to numb out to the fact that I had lost balance. I felt like I was working for nothing because I was, in a sense. I was working for "things" which had no value as far as the heart is concerned, and using things as a means of feeding the sense of dissatisfaction that arises when one's soul isn't satisfied. It got me thinking....what do I need to feed my soul.  I didn't need more beautiful things in my home to feel happier, or to feel satisfied by life. I needed to get back to living in a way that feels satisfying rather than seeking without for that satisfaction. 

We all numb out with something, thinking that if we could just have (fill in the blank), we would feel happier. We all use something to decrease feelings we don't want to feel. Drugs and alcohol are an obvious, but buying stuff, dieting, staying busy, constant traveling, television, social media and internet, overexercising, eating disorders, self-harm, sex, flirting, can all be ways we humans numb out to the fact that something isn't working in our lives. Most of the aforementioned can also be part of a healthy life as well (with exception of self-harm, eating disorders, and overexercising), it's how we use them that make them either healthy or unhealthy. I can tell you from experience, that if you use them to numb out, these things will only leave you feeling more unsatisfied. They will feed and fuel your dissatisfaction, forcing you to either realize what's going on and grow, or propel you into using these things even more to numb out of the now greater dissatisfaction. Only you can stop and reflect on your behaviors and determine which of them are used to numb out. Only you can determine whether you have balance in your life, whether your life revitalizes your energy or drains you of it. What do you need to feel satisfied with the life you are living? Everyone's balance looks different, but you'll never find it if you don't take the time to inquire.

self-help books that live up to the hype

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I'm not one to get excited about self-help books. I'd prefer to experience something myself and then decide the right path or action to take from there. To me it is similar to walking into a clothing store and the salesperson running up to me asking if they can help me find something. My response is always no. I know myself and my style better than anyone else and enjoy the experience of wandering around a shop until I come across that perfect item all on my own. With that being said, my perception of self-help books has shifted a bit in recent years after stumbling upon some great reads. There is something wonderful about books that cover a very specialized topic that has caught my interest.  I have been really enjoying ones that teach me something that not only improves my health and well-being, but examines a topic I may never know about otherwise. That is the case for these four books below. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all of them. They've given me greater insight and are all "page turners". That is a lot coming from me. I don't finish many books because I'm a very slow reader and so when I do it has to be something that really grabs my attention and keeps me focused. 

  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. With a category-by-category decluttering process and the concept of only having things in your home that "spark joy", this book touched a nerve. It may have to do with my slight OCD, but reading this really did make me excited to clean and organize. I have been moving more towards a minimalist approach in my home and this book is helping me get there. Having only items that bring joy  allows me to feel an increased sense of calm and contentment. 
  • French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guilano. This book is not about dieting, but about living a healthier lifestyle in order to keep the body at an equilibrium and avoid putting on those extra pounds. I have spoken a little bit about it already when discussing my "no-diet" diet. The book also transports you into the French lifestyle, examining the difference between French and American eating habits. Some great tricks and tips were picked up or reintroduced from this read.
  • The Microbiome Diet by Raphael Kellman. I kept hearing about the microbiome and healing your gut. I also kept hearing claims about pre and probiotics. I really wanted to learn more and picked up this book on a recommendation from Ashley. It explores these concepts from the perspective of an internist who specializes in holistic medicine. 
  • Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman. As I enter my 30s I have started to think more about motherhood and planning for a family of my own. I find myself bringing this book up in conversation with friends and family. It opened my eyes to a parenting style that differs from that here in America, without one way being "better" than the other. This is an entertaining and easy read, my favorite in this list I think.

diy hair mask for strong, shiny hair

Back in April I had balayage done to my hair. That is when the hairdresser highlights the lower sections of your hair and leaves the roots untreated. I know there is a lot more to it, but I'll leave that to the professionals to explain. I love the effect of this kind of highlight. It brightens my complexion and gives my hair some dimension. I am a low maintence girl and this is just so easy to maintain. The downside is that to get my hair lighter, bleach has to be applied. With that bleach comes some dryness and perhaps a little bit of damage to my ends. Not anything noticeable to anyone but myself, but I love having soft, shiny hair and that is a little more challenging to achieve with the dye put in. So, to counteract those issues I have developed a simple, once per week treatment that I apply before hot yoga. I put this in before class and allow the oils to penetrate the hair shaft in the hot room. The heat helps the oils bond to the cuticles of the hair. Plus, the coconut oil smells so wonderful it becomes a sensory experience. It's a good pick me up. If you don't practice yoga or have a weekly hot class, you can apply this without heat or take a blow dryer to heat it up. I even got my husband to put this in his hair before class. The vitamins and essential fatty acids in the oils helps strengthen hair to promote growth and prevent dandruff by moisturizing the scalp. Plus, this combination really keeps my hair so soft and manageable. 

This recipe works well for my long hair. If your hair is shoulder length or shorter, I would suggest halving this amount for one treatment. 

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  • If the coconut oil is solid, rub around in your hands until it liquefies.
  • Instead of combining each ingredient in a bowl and mixing, I just apply one and then another to my hair and scalp. I want my entire head of hair to feel drenched and look wet by the time it is all applied.
  • If you have long hair, either braid it or wrap it up into a bun. Anyway to get it up and away from your face and clothing.
  • Leave the treatment on for a minimum of 20 minutes. You can even sleep in this by placing a shower cap on over the hair. 
  • Wash out with your regular shampoo and conditioner. For me that's John Master's Bare.
  • I love how the scented coconut oil smell continues to linger after a wash or two. So nice! 

how to prepare and get the most out of a hot yoga or bikram class

I was at Bikram the other day and couldn't help but notice a guy in the back row struggling. He fell out of every posture, lay down on numerous occasions, and left the room twice (to the dismay of the teacher). He kept trying until the very end though, and I gave him huge props for that. It brought me back to my first Bikram class almost six years ago now. Let me tell you about that experience...I had taken a few beginner level yoga classes before that day, but nothing in the heat. I was not prepared to say the least. I was wearing a cotton tank top (talk about uncomfortable sweaty shirt cling!), a cheap, thick mat, and the worst part of all - I went without water. I was a floppy mess. I was in a daze and had no clue what I was doing. I left the room numerous times but thankfully a fellow yogi had an extra water bottle I could use. I kept coming back after that first class not because I wanted to suffer again and again, but because of the incredible high I felt after the class ended. I felt energized, I had mental clarity like I hadn't experienced before, and i'm not going to lie, my stomach was a bit flatter. I had been searching for an exercise routine that I could stick with for the long term. Something that I looked forward to and gave me the health benefits I needed. I decided after that first class that this was it. I do spin, practice ashtanga, and go for long walks when I can fit it in, but Bikram is my main form of exercise.

I decided to write this post for those of you considering either Bikram or a hot yoga class of any kind, hoping that you can be at least a little more prepared than I was. Falling out of postures and feeling like death is inevitable for the first few classes (at least!), but having the right props and preparing correctly for the class will go a long way. 

Before class:

  • Drink lots of water, stay hydrated throughout the day - not minutes before class! Chugging water right before may cause nausea during class and you will probably have to use the restroom at an inopportune time.
  • Try not to eat at least two hours before class. Just as with too much water right before, eating right before can cause nausea. If you are hungry and can't wait, eat something small that won't cause flatulence (please!!), like a banana. 
  • Try taking electrolytes about an hour before class. Ash calls this one a "game changer". It helps reduce symptoms of nausea or dizziness during class. It can also help your muscles to perform better. This is really only needed if you are going to classes multiple times per week. 
  • Dress in sweat wicking, tightly fitting clothes. It is uncomfortable to have a wet tank moving around and clinging to your body for 90 minutes. Our favorite brands are Teeki, Lululemon, Beyond Yoga, and Onzie
  • Get a thin, dense mat. The thicker the mat, the harder it will be to balance. A dense mat will keep you comfortable when practicing floor postures. We love Manduka and Yoga Design Lab. I use a Yoga Design Lab mat. They are machine washable, which is fabulous for the clean freaks out there (like me!!). I don't have to worry about cleaning it by hand, I just throw it in the wash after every class. Also, because of the material I don't need a towel to go over the mat during class and I don't have to worry about slipping or sweat getting on something I can't thoroughly clean. Manduka mats last a lot longer though (lifelong warranties for some) and are fabulous for all forms of yoga. That's what Ash uses.
  • If you have a non machine washable mat or you find that yours gets slippery when wet, you are going to want a yoga towel to place on top. Ash uses a Yogitoes towel.
  • Bring a regular, full size towel. This will be to dry off with after class and sit on for that drive back home if you can't shower at the studio. 
  • Bring a hand towel too. Use this to dry hands and feet during class for a good grip during some of the postures. 
  • A large water bottle for class is necessary. If you have an insulated bottle you'll be better off. The water will stay at a nice temperature and it won't "sweat" in the hot room. We use Hydro Flasks.

During class:

  • Don't come in late! In fact, come early. This will help your mind and body acclimate to the heat. Plus, coming in late will disrupt the class. I have actually known teachers who will not allow students to join after the class starts at all. 
  • Find a spot in the back of the room if you are new to the class. Usually the teacher is not demonstrating the postures (for all of Bikram this is the case and for most of hot yoga classes). You will know what to do by the explanation the teacher gives and by seeing what other yogis are doing. Sitting in the back gives you a better view of the more experienced students. 
  • In Bikram, only start drinking water during the designated water break, right after Eagle Pose. After that you can drink water whenever you want, as long as it is not during a pose. The same goes for any yoga class, do not drink water during the pose, this can be distracting.
  • Try not to fidget. This means stay calm and try not to move even in between postures unless you have to. These classes can transform you into a calm, meditative like state. If you start fidgeting you will break concentration and won't get the full benefits. It also takes more energy when moving around, something needed during the postures.
  • Stay silent throughout class. This goes along with that calm, meditation like state of the practice. Talking with your neighbor takes you out of that mindset and distracts everyone else in the class.
  • If you feel dizzy, lay down in Savasana for a posture or two. We all do it here and there, don't feel ashamed for having to sit out. It is part of the practice to become self aware and take care of our bodies and minds, which might mean to lay down when not feeling 100%. This does not mean to stop the posture and go outside. That is a big no-no in Bikram. Stay in the room, on your mat. 
  • Do not wipe off sweat unless you have to. You may need to if the sweat drips into your eyes or makes your feet/hands slippery during a posture, but besides that your body knows what it is doing. The body sweats to cool you down and maintain normal body temperature so let that happen. 
  • Stay in Savasana for a full two minutes minimum at the end. This is a posture just like any other. Allowing yourself this time helps your body digest all that it has accomplished, and gives it time to cool down before standing up and leaving the room. 

After class:

  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Replenish your body with water, add in some electrolytes if you want. 
  • Shower as soon as you can! When sweating as much as you have in class, your body has rid itself of toxins that are now sitting on top of your skin. Your pores become open after a hot class and you want to clean those toxins/impurities away before they re-enter through those pores. 
  • Just sit still for a few moments and notice what that class has done to your emotional state. Do you feel lighter? More energized? Happier? Less stressed?
  • Come to a second class! It only gets easier and more enjoyable from here.

simple pleasure of the week: fresh, local berries

With summer in full swing here, the farmer's markets are chockerbock full of fresh, locally grown berries. Strawberries are always a treat, one I cherish during the summer months. They are delicious by themselves, semi-frozen, as dessert, on pancakes, atop ice cream or in pies. I have fond memories of strawberry shortcake before fireworks on the 4th of July, and strawberries atop waffles with whipped cream on lazy weekend mornings. It's always a treat to have berries after lunch at work. Plus, how beautifully iconic are strawberries piled high, as they peak above their green baskets?!  We always buy organic berries, because strawberries are on the dirty dozen. Next time you're at a farmer's market, pick up a basket of fresh berries and enjoy this simple pleasure before the season is over. 

let's talk about spf and sun protection

Since it was Summer Solstice on Monday, I figured it was a good time to talk about sun protection. Not sure about those on the East Coast and abroad, but over here in California, it has been hot! Definitely not complaining, I absolutely love the sun. But it does mean we need to be more aware of exposure to harsh rays. Consumer Reports recently came out  with some in depth statistics on sunscreen and which products live up to the bottle's description. I found the information really eye opening so thought I would share some of it here. If you feel this doesn't apply to you, it's worth noting the following that came straight from the Skin Cancer Foundation:

  • 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime

  • Over the past 3 decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined

  • More people develop skin cancer because of tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking

  • An estimated 90 percent of skin aging is caused by the sun

  • People who use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher daily show 24 percent less skin aging than those who do not use sunscreen daily

  • Regular daily use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen reduces the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by about 40 percent and the risk of developing melanoma by 50 percent

This isn't here to scare, but just to bring an awareness to the issue and hopefully prevent unnecessary illness. I collected what I thought to be the most valuable points from Consumer Reports' article and put them down below. The article can be read in full here.  To see the 69 products tested you do have to subscribe.

  • SPF 30 is the minimum level recommended by the  American Academy of Dermatology

  • 28 of the 69 sunscreens tested failed to meet the SPF claim on the label

  • The mineral-only sunscreens (more natural versions) performed much worse than the chemical formulations with only 26% of the 19 products tested meeting their claims

  • Their suggestion is to purchase a sunscreen with an SPF of 40 or higher, which will allow more of a chance for the product to contain at least the recommended SPF 30

In addition to sunscreen it's important to avoid prolonged sun exposure when possible. Here is what I do to protect myself from the sun and also what I recommend to my students. Besides wearing a high SPF all over, I wear hats quite often. Baseball caps, straw hats, bowlers...whatever works with my outfit and protects my scalp, neck, and face. I also stay shaded whenever possible. My husband and I purchased a beach tent a few years back and it may have been one of the best purchases we've made! We got the Pacific Beach tent from Amazon. (pictured below from this past weekend). It allows us to be outside and enjoy the beach, but be shaded at the same time. Something else we do is check the UV index periodically throughout the day. The number will tell you how strong the rays are wherever you happen to be. We have a fabulous weather app called Dark Sky that is usually right on when predicting weather patterns and it also tells us what the UV index is. If you don't have the app or want to purchase it, weather.com can give that same information.