For Today, I choose me. 

In painful times, I turn into a machine.  I surge on, and distract myself with activities. It’s easier to distract and avoid than to face the pain dead-on. It’s what I did when I learned my mother had cancer, and it’s what I’m doing now when certain aspects of my life seem to be disintegrating,  slipping through my fingertips. 

Realizing this tendency to distract and avoid, I’m making a conscious effort to find a little patience and compassion for these necessary emotions. 

It’s been awhile since I’ve practiced yoga. And to be honest, I think I was subconsciously avoiding yoga because for me, it brings a lot of emotions to the surface. It’s a looking glass into the depths of my heart and mind. For me, it was infinitely easier to go to the gym, hop on a treadmill, blast Pandora, and let myself go blank.  As I write this, I realize the irony in that.  It’s a parallel to the treadmill I’ve been on in my life. The avoidance of the moment. 

Sitting at my desk and contemplating how I’d spend my evening, my immediate thought was to run.  But as I recognized my emotional exhaustion, I realized running isn’t the answer. I’m trying to run away, when I need to get on the mat and face my emotions. Feel them fully. It’s the only way I can release them.  I may cry, I may feel anger and discomfort, but this is the work of my life. 

Isn’t it a Lumineers song that says:

It’s better to feel pain, than nothing at all..

I have to say, i think i agree.

So it Begins

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I did it. I followed my dreams, and now I’m a certified yoga teacher. I learned invaluable tools that stretch beyond teaching yoga…they’re gifts to help me navigate life in a way that helps me squeeze all the delicious juice from it.

Bit by bit, I’d love to share with you readers, some of the most helpful ideas and strategies I took away from my training at the Kripalu School of Yoga. Some of these things will help you, and some won’t. The best I can do is offer thoughts/ideas and invite you to use them in your own life.

One of my favorite lectures was with the brilliant yogi and author Aruni Nan Futuronsky. She said, “reality is relentless, and it always wins.” In other words, there’s only so much that we have control over. Life is going to unfold before us, with or without our permission. Yoga isn’t necessarily about downward dogs and postures, but more so about becoming skillful and mindful in being with what is, so we can struggle less and savor more.

Aruni had a beautiful and eloquent way of explaining how yoga practice helps us heal and get the most out of life. From a young age, cultural norms and ideas about emotions and what is acceptable begins to permeate our awareness. We learn it’s not okay to cry, or be angry, and so it’s common to push these feelings down deep inside ourselves. So what happens? We can be left with a dull ache of suppressed emotions. Aruni said, “the way out of the feelings is through the feelings. Defenses separate us from full living.” Being with feelings, riding the waves of emotions, and witnessing them without judgement, is the way to healing and really being alive.

Allowing ourselves full permission to be where we are is a huge component of Living yoga. It’s not the feelings themselves that hinder us, it’s what we do to try to control the feelings. If we treat ourselves with compassion and kindness, and give gentle reminders that it’s safe to feel, we can befriend the moment and be there for the beauty and the grace of life in each moment.

One of the single most important things I learned from my experience at Kripalu is how to show myself kindness, and be present for every moment, knowing that all will be well and I don’t have to try so hard to control every aspect of my life.

More to come.

Jai Bhagwan
Namaste

Steph xoxo

Mission: YOGA

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Soon I’ll be going off on an adventure. What type of adventure, you may wonder? Well, I’m chasing my dreams. They’ve been beckoning me for some time now. In a mere month, I’ll be living and learning at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. I’ll leave my hometown behind for awhile, as well as my corporate job (hopefully forever), to pursue what my spirit wants and what the world needs. This 200-hr program for my yoga teaching certification will be intense. From 6:30 am to 9:00 pm, 6 days a week, I will be quite literally living and breathing yoga.

Embarking on something like this ignites passion in my heart, and inspires me to draw on all my faculties to soak in all the knowledge and wisdom I can. As I draw more and more inward to prepare for this experience, I continue to consider my personal values and mission.

Completing the application for entrance into Kripalu’s Yoga Teacher Training program required much self-reflection and deep thought into why I want to pursue this path. I wanted to share some of my answers to the questions on the application. These will help me in the future, as I compose my vision and mission statements for a studio one day.

Why do you want to be certified as a yoga teacher at this time in your life?

There is a great deal of suffering in the world, and in our communities. I’ve witnessed the transformative power of yoga, and its ability to create a sense of peace, understanding, compassion, and love in people of all walks of life. If I could offer a small piece of solace through yoga practice, and a safe space for people to gather and feel welcomed and accepted, that would be an invaluable life skill to me. I would be living a life of true purpose and meaning, and helping people on a level where they could empower themselves, and find comfort in the deepest part of themselves that perhaps they didn’t even know existed.

I’d like to help others let go of perfectionism, quiet their inner critic, and feel able to live as they were intended – free of anxiety and discomfort. And when they are feeling anxiety, discomfort, depression, and anger, they should be able to use yoga to validate these feelings and perhaps be able to let them go.

When I walk through the hallway of the insurance office I work for, I’ve observed that many people hang their heads low, struggling to make eye contact, or smile, or say “hello.” These people can benefit from yoga. Almost anyone can. If I can offer the gift of potentially guiding someone to find peace in themselves, easing their tension and anxiety, that is awareness I’d like to create for people. Manifesting the peace that is within us, bringing it to the surface, and sharing it with others contributes to an outpouring of kindness in our communities that I hope to see more of.

How do you plan to apply your yoga skills to your life and work?

I’ve always had the innate desire to reach people in a healing sense. Ever since I was a little girl, I struggled with an anxiety that I didn’t understand. As a result, I was shy, awkward, and just felt different, or somehow separate. I want to help people understand that what makes us different is what makes us beautiful.

I suffered from an eating disorder as a teenager and received outpatient treatment; in the rehabilitation center I attended, I met many wonderful, talented, lovely, spirited young women who unfortunately buckled under the pressure of society’s skewed standards of beauty. It was heart-wrenching to be surrounded by these young ladies (and gentlemen) who to me, were gorgeous inside and out, but weren’t able to see it through their own eyes or hearts. I’m grateful for that experience, because a deeper sense of compassion was born out of it. It became my mission to help people find their beauty and truly accept themselves and be kind to their bodies.

Yoga fosters self-love. Yoga helps us cultivate understanding, patience, poise, and presence (among innumerable other benefits). It is a powerful tool that largely contributes to self-actualization, and gently leads us to becoming the best version of ourselves. Applying yoga skills to life and work comes naturally when we nurture a lifestyle of devotion and dedication to practice. The application of yoga comes through our countenance and in the way we carry ourselves, the way we communicate with family members, coworkers, strangers; it changes our perspective on daily life, allowing us to let go of trivial issues and focus on the bigger picture.

Om Shanti

Namaste.

xo Steph

The Pursuit of Perfect

We all have that fleeting time in our lives where we were (or we now perceive that we were) living optimally. I’ll give you an example. That “perfect” time in my life has a name: my “2007 prime”. In 2007, I was 20 years old. I was training for a half marathon, and was basically unstoppable. Running and constant exercise were my lifeblood. I had energy that rivaled a 5 year-old. When I wasn’t running, I was practicing yoga. When I wasn’t running or practicing yoga, I was hiking. When I wasn’t running, practicing yoga, or hiking, I was meditating…finding myself. I ate mostly vegetarian, had no boys in my life, stayed away from alcohol, and listened to a ton of Jeff Buckley. Whatever that means.

When I think back to that time now, and how I was in the best shape of my life, with hardly an ounce of fat to hinder me…I realize how unfair it is to expect myself to be that way. I was practically a kid then. I’m a woman now, and my body is preparing to have children one day. Not to mention that I wasn’t working at the time, meaning I had all day to focus on myself and exercise. Perfection is a figment of the imagination, and pursuing it relentlessly is exhausting and unhealthy. It sets us up for failure and self-deprecation.

I think the more important thing to remember is to be kind to myself. To celebrate in the small accomplishments, and hunt the good stuff. I could put myself down and dismiss my achievements, letting the critic take over and say, “well, you ran today, but you stopped. You did yoga, but you didn’t balance for very long in pendulum pose, and your chaturanga could really use some work.” OR – (thank goodness there’s an “OR”, right?) I could praise myself, and say: “you know what Steph? You did a great thing for yourself today. Not only did you walk 2 miles on the bike path during your lunch break, but you came home after a long day, practiced yoga diligently, and went for a jog outside, enjoyed nature, and benefited both yourself and your beautiful puppy.”

Which of those statements sounds better? Kind of a silly question when I put it that way…But it’s amazing what we tell ourselves sometimes. I wouldn’t criticize someone else that way, so why should I do it to myself?

The lesson to take away, (and I hope I get better at this) is:

Be where you are right now, and have that be enough.

Namaste.
xo Steph

The Miracle Mushroom: Red Reishi

During my stay in Puerto Rico last week, a relative of my boyfriend’s (who is a holistic health enthusiast and vegetarian) presented me with some organic tea and coffee…all of which were the brand Organo Gold. Upon scrutinizing the packaging and ingredients as I always do, I noticed the ingredient “Ganoderma lucidum” was included in the green and red teas as well as the instant coffee. Being a curious consumer, I naturally had to Google this!

What I found was extremely exciting – Ganoderma lucidum is the name for the Red Reishi mushroom, which in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) is regarded as a herbal supplement yielding extraordinary health benefits.

The Red Reishi mushroom is said to enhance the immune system when consumed regularly, and aid in alleviating anxiety, increasing blood circulation (which is huge for me, as I suffer from Raynaud’s syndrome), easing the symptoms of allergies, reducing high blood pressure, and helping with insomnia in addition to asthma. It is a normalizing substance that supposedly balances the body and returns the organs to proper functioning. Also, the Red Reishi mushroom is said to have anti-tumor properties.

Who knew a mushroom could be so powerful? I plan on purchasing these Organo Gold teas and coffee through Amazon ASAP! If I find they are truly effective, I’ll let you all know!

More information on the Red Reishi mushroom can be found here:

Namaste.

xo Steph

Be You

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There’s a curiousness inside many of us, that seeks the answers to the questions: What is my purpose? What should I do with my life? Will it matter? How can I be successful and also make a difference?

These questions have come to me almost daily, and for years.

Last night as I sat on my mat in yoga class, something wonderful happened. I had a moment of complete clarity. In my witnessing awareness, I received the answer I’ve been searching for. I felt this all-encompassing confidence, that empowering and comforting voice that told me, “this is what you’re supposed to do.” I now know, with conviction and unwavering belief, that I am supposed to share the peace that yoga practice offers with others (in future blog posts, I’ll discuss this in more detail).

It’s funny how the universe has a way of bringing us what we need at exactly the right time…if we choose to be open to it and see it. The message in yoga last night was about being YOU. It’s easy to compare ourselves to others, to forget about the qualities that are uniquely ours and no one else’s, to take those strengths and beautiful traits for granted. Sometimes we can be so hard on ourselves, and push ourselves to the limit.

When we overlook our own blessings and individual uniqueness, we’re doing ourselves a disservice. Don’t forget, other people may be comparing themselves to you, the same way you are to them. In their mind’s eye, maybe it’s your grass that looks greener.

So be kind to yourself today and everyday. Be as kind to you as you are to others; you are just as important. Find beauty in those little eccentricities that make you unlike any other person on this planet. Celebrate them. Be silly, weird, nerdy, shy, bold. Whoever you are, be you.

Namaste.

xo Steph

Cleansing the Soul

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It occurred to me on Day 2 of my cleanse that this isn’t just a cleansing in the physical sense. This process is not just about the food, or my body. It’s about awakening spirit, inviting new opportunity, and letting go of what doesn’t serve me. When we nurture our body by feeding it as many whole, natural, organic foods as possible, we also begin to see how we’ve been mistreating ourselves from a mental/emotional standpoint.

The beautiful thing about a cleanse is that you start to experience food in a different way. Since you’re truly physically hungry, you become more appreciative of the subtle and wonderful flavors of foods in their natural form. Suddenly, kale becomes a salty treat, brown rice is nutty and satisfying, and apples taste like candy. It forces us to slow down and appreciate nature’s bounty.
The challenge for me in going through a cleanse like this is dealing with the emotional stuff that comes up. It’s common for anybody (including me) to reach for a crunchy bag of chips when they’re stressed. When that crutch is gone, we are forced to stop stuffing down our emotions with food and actually feel them. This is what we do in yoga. Sit with our emotions. It can be uncomfortable, but I believe it’s necessary if we want any sort of growth and change to occur.

I’m learning a lot about myself. I’m learning how to let go, and appreciate. I’m learning and remembering how important gratitude is, and how essential it is to extend that gratitude to ourselves and our bodies. It’s important work. And it’s ongoing. So with this cleanse, I’m renewing myself. The journey begins here.

xo Steph

Skincare Haul

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You may know this already about me…but for those of you who don’t, I am OBSESSED with skincare.  This was more of a recent development, as I started noticing fine lines on my forehead, *gasp* and was determined to do something about it, as well as prevent future wrinklage (a technical term that describes aging – just kidding, I made it up).  I’m 26, and am kicking myself for not starting a skincare regimen sooner.  I was more focused on makeup, and covering up flaws.  That approach was all wrong!  A beautiful face starts with your skin, so treat it right!  Today I’m sharing with you some of my favorites, that deliver real results, and how to get them without breaking the bank.  I cannot stress enough how important skincare is – just trust me, it will save on Botox later in life!

As Shown in Photo, Starting from Left:

Josie Maran Argan Oil – The gates of Heaven opened and I heard angels sing when I started using this product.  Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration.  But this stuff saves my skin on a daily basis.  If you have dry skin, please try this.  I can’t speak for anyone with oily skin since I don’t have it, sorry!  First, you don’t need a lot of product for it to be effective.  Just a couple drops warmed between your fingers is perfect.  Second, it makes any dry patches on my face disappear instantly.  I used to get flaky areas, particularly around my nose, but the combination of an intense exfoliator (which I’ll get to next) and the Argan oil has made that problem a non-issue.  Yay!  Third, this is a multi-purpose product.  You can use it on your face, hands, body, cuticles, hair, anywhere really.  Fourth, and perhaps most notably, it softens fine lines and wrinkles like you wouldn’t believe.  When I apply this at night after cleansing and exfoliating, I wake up in the morning with a youthful glow and my forehead lines are noticeably diminished.  So, thank you Josie Maran.  You killed it with this product.

Peter Thomas Roth Firmx Peeling Gel and Exfoliant* – A mouthful of a name, but who cares if it works!  Peter Thomas Roth (or PTR, as I like to call him) is my new best friend.  By the way, he makes the most amazing CC cream, available through Sephora.  If I could afford to buy all his full-size products, I would, just because this product is so incredible.  When I first twisted the cap off and squeezed a bit into my hand, I was a admittedly confused, and thought, “Huh.  No visible specks of things to polish away dead skin.  It’s not gritty at all…how will this exfoliate?”  It just appeared to be a thick, opaque, viscous gel, almost like a cleanser.  Suddenly I felt a bit disappointed.  But I went ahead with the process.  It says to apply to clean, dry skin.  So after cleansing, I dried my face and applied the gel, using gentle, small circular motions.  After a few seconds of this, I started noticing tiny clumps forming.  I rinsed away the gel with warm water and dried my face.  WOW.  I couldn’t believe I was looking at my skin.  This stuff resurfaced my face, and didn’t leave it red or irritated.  My skin looked brand new.  Soft, supple, flawless.  I don’t know how or why this product works so well, as I’m not a scientist.  I just know it DOES, and that’s good enough for me.  I cannot describe the depth of my love and appreciation for this product.  My HG (Holy Grail) exfoliator, for certain.  

*A note on exfoliants – These are immensely important for your skin.  Do yourself a favor and take the time to exfoliate.  If you have a layer of dead skin on your face (and you probably don’t even know about it, like I didn’t), how are all those other lovely creams, serums, and anti-aging products going to penetrate your skin to work their magic?  Think about it.  It makes sense.

 

Ole Henriksen UltimateLift Eye Gel –  I’ve been trying different eye products since I’m starting to see fine lines under my eyes as well – which of course, will not be tolerated!  Ole products have always done right by me, and this product is no exception.  I do feel it tighten and lift my under eye area…and I like the fact that you can also use it all the way around your eye, on your eyelid and extending up to the browbone.  It’s very cooling and soothing, which is a bonus since many anti-aging products tend to sting or tingle a little.  Plus, this little container will last a wicked long time.  (Sorry about the “wicked”, it’s a New England thing).  A dab will do ya 😉

GLAMGLOW Supermud Clearing Treatment –  There’s something really fun and luxurious about masks – especially mud masks.  I love having the feeling of an at-home facial.  Cue the soft candlelight, draw a bubblebath, and enjoy.  Masks make me feel like I’m really taking care of myself and treating myself to something special.  Hah!  Maybe that’s why it’s called a “treatment”.  This product does exactly what it says -it clears your face.  As the mask dries, you can see the outline of your pores, which means the mask is really getting in there to penetrate and deep-clean.  It’s kind of gross, but necessary.  When all is said and done, and you towel the mask away, what’s revealed is truly glorious.  I feel refreshed and gorgeous.  Thumbs up Glamglow!

Origins Checks and Balances Frothy Face Wash – Last, but certainly not least, we arrive at my HG cleanser.  I’ve used many cleansers in my past depending on what I needed.  When I was prone to breaking out, I used cleansers with salicylic acid.  Now that my skin is maturing and I don’t have that same concern, it’s more about just getting the day off my face – meaning makeup and environmental pollutants.  And of course it’s important to prep your skin properly for any treatments and moisturizers you may be following up with.  I adore a good foaming face wash.  That’s what this is.  It dispenses as more of a cream consistency, but mixed with water and some circular motions, it truly becomes a frothy delight.  It smells divine, like eucalyptus and mint, and so I believe that I also get some aromatherapy benefits from it.  I find the scent uplifting and stress-relieving.  It takes off eye makeup expertly, quickly, and without a ton of effort or rubbing, which can irritate the eyes.  Now that I’ve found this cleanser, I can’t live without it.

Available through Sephora:  If you’re on a budget, never fear!  You can try all these products at an affordable price with Sephora’s Skin Bender and Skin Cleanse kits ($45 and $42, respectively).  This is an amazing value, and they come in cute, versatile cosmetic bags. 

Find them here:

http://www.sephora.com/product/productDetail.jsp?keyword=skin%20bender&skuId=1578988&productId=P384803&_requestid=33601

Hope you enjoy!

xo

Steph