living

two-step face: apothecary style

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So you wanna talk beauty?  That’s a little outside my comfort zone.  I’m not a RA RA natural beauty cheerleader, and those mantras about beauty being skin deep and on the inside get really twisted in my dark mind.  I will say: the best way I’ve found to stay glowing is to surround myself with people who love all aspects of me (especially people who think I’m funny, because I will make lots of jokes and do lots of bits and generally be my silly self), and to live in such a way that I feel I’m doing the best I can.  I like to eat well (real food and soul food), hang out by the ocean, belt my favorite songs, snuggle my favorite animals (and humans!).  I also stick to my comfort zone when it’s important for me, like what I wear and where I go.  You won’t find me in a miniskirt in a bar, because I’m probably in a sweater in the backyard with a good book and the dog.  In all this, I may not have the best hair or flawless airbrushed skin, but I can look at myself in the mirror and actually see myself.  I don’t have to avoid myself, and I don’t have to try very hard either (which is key).  

You must know: I have weird aversions.  It’s not that I don’t care about being clean (although sometimes I truly don’t), it’s that I seriously hate showering so much I’ll endure until I want to scratch my head off.  I only shower at night because I hate being cold and wet in the morning.  I only wash my face in the shower because splashing water on my face in any other context makes me cringe.  I literally tense all my muscles and try to curl up in a ball while standing.  So this process was borne out of an extreme desire to avoid doing anything unnecessarily time consuming and uncomfortable, including washing my face.  TMI TMI TMI.

I stopped wearing makeup in college, in true granola fashion. Until recently, I didn’t even own anything that could be smudged onto the facial plane to elicit effect. I bought a mineral powder a couple months ago to hopefully tone down what was a particularly tomato-bright sunburn, and I’ve worn it probably three times since (to job interviews). The point is, I got very comfortable with my naked face. Thought it wasn’t always in the “fall in love with your natural self” way; it was often out of extreme disinterest and an inability to grip why something like that might be of necessity.  (Ask me why it took me 25 years to maintain a hairstyle, and see above for why it’s an awful chore to even wash my hair.) It was one of the easiest old habits to shelve – despite being one that begins incredibly early for women as my peers and I started dabbling in grade school. Whether or not you wear makeup, maintaining healthy skin is important to look and feel our best.

So many of us who take interest in the health and presentation of ourselves (including our face!) are in pursuit of those young features: even skin tone, blemish-free, firm elasticity. I basically don’t want to be thinking about my face all day; I want it to be there, doing it’s job, not causing problems. As I also strive to be a minimal consumer of products, I wasn’t interested in hunting down this or that serum that might do the trick – with unholy chemicals to boot. So I looked where I normally would: the apothecary kitchen.

I’ve been doing step one for about four years now, and recently committed to step two (I had been using a natural lotion sporadically, and started committing to actually moisturizing my face for the past six months). It’s never felt better!

Today, my skin routine is merely two steps. It can be done morning or night, or both, or whenever it’s warranted. I don’t have to worry about over-cleaning my face, or struggling with a dry face all day if I forget to moisturize. It’s so simple and keeps me thinking on the daily, “How is my face this soft?!”

TWO-STEP FACE: APOTHECARY STYLE

What you will need:

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STEP ONE: cleanse

  • Witch Hazel → you can find organic options in your natural foods store. I have also found it in my regular grocery store’s first aid aisle.
  • Apple cider vinegar → you know the drill; it’s in EVERYTHING these days
  • Cotton balls
  • A glass jar

STEP TWO: moisturize

  • Sesame oil → when I open a new jar of tahini, I pour off the oil that gathers on top and jar it specifically for bathroom use. You can also purchase sesame oil in the grocery store; I’ve found it in the ethnic foods aisle, and you can seek out organic options if you like.
  • Bonus: natural sunscreen!

Ingredient Spotlight

WITCH HAZEL – is a natural astringent made from the bark of the witch hazel shrub. It works to tone the skin and calm hives and rashes. I use it primarily as a cleanser instead of the whole soap-and-water routine. It can remove makeup, under-eye bags, and soothe a variety of skin conditions. I also use it on my underarms and anywhere I’m worried about razor burn.

APPLE CIDER VINEGAR – is full of vitamins and minerals that fight bacteria and regulate the body’s pH levels.

SESAME OIL – has long been used in the practice of Ayurveda to promote health and balance VATA dosha (grounding, moisturizing). It can be swished in the mouth to pull out toxins and mucus buildup. In self-massage, it moisturizes and maintains health due to its anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds.

How to prepare

In a small jar, mix 1:1:1 → witch hazel : apple cider vinegar : water.

How to use

  1. Remove all heavy makeup using coconut oil or other makeup remover. Light makeup (such as a light dusting of mineral powder) can be removed with the witch hazel solution.
  2. To cleanse face: dip a cotton ball in the witch hazel solution and squeeze out excess liquid. Apply to face. There will be a noticeable lift in dirt on the cotton ball. You may do this multiple times if desired until cotton ball comes clean. Dispose.
  3. To moisturize: dip a few fingers into sesame oil and rub fingers of both hands together. Distribute evenly to face and neck (if desired). A little goes a long way, but be sure to apply enough to moisturize the skin properly.
  4. Optional: if desired, mix sunscreen and sesame oil together before applying.

Other helpful tips

  • If I run out of witch hazel or ACV, I have simply used one or the other. I like them best together, but I’m also economical and lazy, so I get it. Just know that they both have tonifying effects and do the job on their own.
  • If applying oil to your face sounds counterintuitive, know this: your face (your whole body, in fact) has its own proper process for producing whatever it is your body needs, and in the correct amount. A lifetime of soaping our face and hair and skin can strip our body’s natural sensors and this process must be reestablished. Your body will regulate, and applying a sensible amount of oil to your face will not make you the grease monster. It may take days or weeks to regulate, but when you do, your skin will keep the proper moisture necessary to stay hydrated and elastic.
  • The sesame oil does have a cooking-in-an-Asian-kitchen kind of smell when you first apply it, but it tones down quickly. No one has ever commented that my face smells like food or anything… 😉
  • It’s also important to drink a lot of water to keep your skin hydrated.

 

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herbal tinctures and mental wellness

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Disclaimer: I am not a healthcare professional or medical practitioner.  I speak only of my personal experience and do not attempt to make any recommendations for tincture usage by anyone else.  Please use caution when using herbal tinctures.  Use at your own risk.

I’m no where near being able to talk myself out of the dark place.  It’s not unlike arriving at your destination and having no memory of having driven there, like sleepwalking.  Like the general routine of taking medication, opening windows around the house in the early morning.  Your day – your life – will be affected by these things, but the small actions of doing them are seemingly inconsequential.  Living at a low vibration is cumulative and one day you realize you’re not where you want to be.

I’ve never been known to self-medicate.  I rarely remember self-care.  Something I have returned to again and again, however, is a home remedy using herbal tinctures.  Tinctures, like essential oils, are powerful vehicles in that they squeeze many essential benefits out of a few potent drops.  I don’t have to spend hours grooming or bathing or brewing elixirs or whatever else we’re often encouraged to do to make special time for ourselves.  Too much time to myself is quite likely what has been driving me mad.  I can instantly (and discreetly) imbibe a few drops of tincture onto my tongue or into my water glass and carry on.

I have made a few of my own tinctures and sought out others, and through a bit of personal experimentation have figured out the right dosage for my needs.  I wanted to share with you here the ones I have turned to again and again.

The process for making tinctures is very simple.  It requires about 4-6 weeks of soaking time for potency.  Typically, I fill a mason jar three quarters of the way full with herbs, and pour in soaking alcohol to cover.  It is recommended to use 80 proof or higher.  I then cover with a piece of parchment paper and seal with the outside ring of the lid.  Brew at room temperature in a dark cupboard.  

Dosage: Theoretically, everyone should consult their healthcare practitioner when taking any substances, and a naturopathic doctor can help determine the proper dosage for your needs.  If you are interested in supplementing with herbs and other natural substances, find a knowledgeable healthcare practitioner that will support your quest for holistic health.

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CAYENNE – I made this one myself using whole dried cayenne peppers and organic vodka.  I like this one for a burst of energy or focus.  I’ve also used it after a dehydration hangover or during a tension headache because cayenne can increase blood flow to an area and works as an anti-inflammatory.  Additionally, the rumor mill speaks of capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne and other peppers, as being mood-boosting.  A typical dose is one drop on the tip of my tongue or a few drops in warm lemon water.

PASSION FLOWER – I purchased this from a natural foods market as I was having trouble sourcing the herb and didn’t want to wait an additional month to brew.  Anxiety will do that to you.  This tincture is recommended for social anxiety, and I have been using it a lot recently while starting a new job.  I’ve also taken this right before I go into therapy because I tend to constrict my muscles and get the shakes when I’m emotional.  I generally find that a half of a dropper-full in a glass of water is a decent dose for this store-bought version.

CHAMOMILE – Homemade with organic dried chamomile from an apothecary shoppe, soaked in rum.  I use this in a similar way to passion flower, but mostly I use it to wind down before bed and for a good night’s sleep, especially if the events of the day have been particularly emotional.  Mine is full-strength, so I only need about five drops on the tip of my tongue to feel its effects.

KAVA KAVA – This is a half-strength brew with leaves from an apothecary shoppe mulled with brandy.  Kava is known as the “social” herb, in that it loosens inhibitions similar to alcohol.  When I take a higher dose, I have noticed similar effects to marijuana; particularly a relaxing of the muscles, drowsy eyes and loss of mental focus.  I only use this tincture in the comfort of my own home at the end of the day, typically to prepare for social interaction or to take an “emotional chill pill” (so to speak) before bed.  Because of the weakness of this brew, five drops will just begin to elicit its effects, and I generally take 10 drops on the tongue, though occasionally I will take more.  I do not take this tincture very often as Kava has been implicated in some kidney distress.  However, as I do not regularly tax my kidneys by alcohol consumption or other means, I figure I’m not at high risk.

MARSHMALLOW ROOT – This was gifted to me by a friend in a sort of “hippie trade” (I think I gave her some homemade salve…).  Marshmallow has a soothing effect inside the body (much like ghee, coconut oil, chia, and slippery elm) in that it coats our innards so things pass through more efficiently and resists bacteria growth and infection.  Because of this, it is great for cough and respiratory issues as well as digestive and stomach issues.  I take it when I start to feel pain in my “lady area” to prevent UTI and other infections.  I have found that five drops in a glass of water gives me results by the end of the day.

fluff free: wellness trends that should stay

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It’s no secret that I’m a leeeeetle bit skeptical of the trendy wellness world. Even still, I’m a card-carrying member for a reason: wellness matters to me. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that it looks different for everyone, and that’s how it should be. I do tend to avoid anyone that’s trying to sell me a better life, so a lot of the emerging health craze has me doing a constant eye roll. There are, however, trends that I can get behind whole-heartedly. Want to know what they are?

MINIMALISM

Minimalism is having a moment. For some, minimalism is an inherent part of their nature; like a nervous tick, an inability to function unless everything is just right. For others, it’s more of a learned skill: consciously looking around the room and noticing when something is out of place or in excess. There’s an aesthetic minimalism, often meaning clean lines, muted tones, and just a few perfectly placed pieces of furniture. In that kind of setting, it’s highly noticeable if a pillow falls a little too far to the right, or if the dog left his toys in the middle of the floor again (savage!). Minimalism is also about keeping only what is necessary and serves an immediate purpose, and having a spot for everything – and I mean EVERYTHING. Never fear! That kind of minimalism can most definitely exist in a home with busier décor.

To me, minimalism just makes good sense. When I have clutter of any kind (even Monica Geller and I have junk drawers), I’m exponentially frazzled. It often means being unable to find what you need, especially during higher-stress moments like trying to leave the house on time.

There’s a lot of inspiration out there for how to get better at minimalism, and I’ll do a more in-depth post someday. For today, I’ll leave you with these tips that may not be as obvious:

  1. The best way to fight clutter is to stop it before it ever enters your home. Only buy items you need right away and when you get home, put everything away.
  2. When you leave a room, quick glance around and see if anything is there that doesn’t belong. Pick it up and walk it to its rightful home.
  3. When it comes to things that seem to pile up to no end (like flower vases, shopping totes, markers, notepads, undergarments), have a few high-quality items on hand that you really like and toss or donate anything of low-quality every time it comes into the house. No need to wait until the clutter builds up!
  4. Purge fridge and pantry often (weekly if possible) and get rid of things you don’t use or like. Also use this time to keep it organized (fruit on one shelf, leftovers on another, etc).
  5. Never leave anything in your car that does not have a specific function within your car. Tidy up your car every time you arrive home.

HOLISTIC HEALING

You know what else is having a moment? Alternative medicine. The US is finally embracing ancient medicinal practices like Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda (India’s medical practice), 5000+ years later. This is a very good thing! It means we are stepping away from our typical toolkit of popping acetaminophen every day and racing to urgent care whenever we feel a head cold coming on. Instead, we’re brewing ginger tea, imbibing probiotics, and trying to breathe more deeply. The modern medical world has developed in large part to deal with modern issues, like migraines and obesity. And I must note that US doctors saved my life when I contracted a life-threatening illness at age eleven. However, I cannot deny that humans have lived a looooong time before modern medicine, and they must have developed some pretty rad tools to evolve this far. Seeking nature as my day-to-day healer has helped keep me healthy and asks me to consider my physical relationship to the energetic world whenever I feel dis-ease coming into my body. Whether one is turning to elderberry syrup to soothe a cough or receiving weekly acupuncture treatments or meeting with a psychic healer, there are a number of things people are doing to tackle challenges of having a human body (and mind!) and I hope this awakening can continue to be there for people when they seek it.

HOME COOKING

Two things:

It is so neat to me when people know how to cook. It tells me you are intelligent and ambitious, conscientious and self-reliant. Your stomach rumbles don’t send you straight to the drive-thru. You’ve thought enough in advance to know that you’re going to be hungry later, and you might like an avocado with spinach and chicken. And you can keep your kitchen stocked with whole foods ingredients and make these things for yourself! Don’t get me wrong: I love a fancy dinner out. I’m a foodie first, remember? On a day-to-day basis, however, I like to keep it simple and mega-tasty in the comfort of my own home. And I love that so many people – especially younger folks – are into this, too.

The other thing is that I am proud of womankind for taking back this domestic task and propelling themselves to the forefront of creativity and innovation when it comes to food. It may be true that most restaurant-employed chefs are male, but just look at the internet food scene and you’ll know that women are neck-and-neck with the big boys. If I google a recipe, I want to know how it comes out for home cooks, so I skip over food network websites and the like, and find blogs written by women who have dreamt up and created and artfully shared flavorful and nourishing meals.

And because primates are food-oriented, I believe, for this trend, there’s no end in sight!

world gone wellness

Are we still spending all our money to fill a void?

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Let me begin by saying I am totally of this world; totally of the world of ancient ayurvedic adaptogenic herbs and the food-as-medicine / listen-to-your-body mantra-touting alternative subculture.  I drink the koolaid just to see if it will have a positive effect.  But I’m also totally relieved by articles like this one in Man Repeller, and this one in the New York Times.  They bring the “spiritually transcendent” and “pure” wellness initiatives under the microscope, much like I’ve always done with religious tradition and what I call “old school-ism” (i.e. doing something just because it’s always been done).  I’m in a stage of my life where I am nothing if not searching searching searching; for the right career, for the right city, for the best fuel for my body, for happiness and adventure.  Part of that searching includes health and wellness, and as I’ve always tapped into the new and up-and-coming and trending health scene in the way that some people know what’s coming down the runway before NYFW.  It’s classic VATA nature to always be searching, going where the wind blows, evaluating and re-evaluating and moving on to the next thing.  I like it; it’s fun and ever-new and matches my eternal desire to not be bored.  But it’s totally possible to be unhealthy in it.  Unhealthy in health?  Yes ma’am.

While it’s true that foods / herbs have qualities in their own respects that affect us in some way, the aspiration towards elite foods and lifestyles can be more damaging than not eating organic.

If we’re breaking the bank for seven jars of powdered mushrooms to make a morning herbal latte, there’s less money for spinach and avocados and pastured eggs to really fill us up.  If we’re untouchable because we can’t go out for brunch with friends, does it really matter how pure our systems are?  Summer at SheLivesWholly.com talks about how soul food is more important than actual food, and I totally agree with her.  I mean, I’d rather eat vegetables at brunch than chicken & waffles, but I’d rather eat meat and pastries with friends than eat vegetables at home alone.

The health scene has been blamed for being another eating disorder in disguise.  We are totally capable of using wellness regimes and a desperate search for self to control or numb out, much like we might use partying to escape our woes.  But more than anything, I can’t get beyond the use of healing and powerful plants in pure capitalism schemes.  It’s one thing to deal herbs in a small shop stall, or hawk vegetables at the farmers market.  But paying for your mansion by selling juices and magic potions with daring promises?  Seems a little fish-hooky to me.  But then I’ve always had a particular hostility toward consumerism.

I have fallen in love with wellness and living a lifestyle that suits me best many times over in my life.  And some of those times have been to numb out or try to grasp at any last tempting branches as I tumbled over the edge of the cliff of my life.  Most of all, it fit my budget and priorities: I didn’t want to have to buy and keep buying cleaning products, clothes, body care, and expensive specialty foods to have the life of my dreams.  Freedom meant being able to come up with something entirely homemade at a fraction of the cost, flexing my creative fingers and being able to stand back and be proud of what I accomplished.  I love to support someone else’s craft if it’s entirely evident they’re sharing their love and superpowers in a product (like a handmade card or cutting board at a craft fair).  I’m still drawn into minimalist product labeling and things that offer to change my life, but every time I spot something on the Chalkboard Mag, Well + Good, GOOP or MindBodyGreen, I immediately examine the basis of my infatuation.  Those platforms SELL a lifestyle that costs money I don’t have for rewards I’ll likely only see by squinting through deeply tinted designer glasses and reciting a mantra in an effort to convince myself everything is perfect.  I’m over it.

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EIGHT WAYS TO RESIST:
Fight back against wellness-shaming and lifestyle consumerism,
for your health!

I’ve got some things for you to keep in mind as you navigate this worldly obsession, because a) I think it is entirely okay for the world to want to be well, and I don’t think it should be cast as hippie-dippy, and b) I think it can be really easy for us to shell out all our money to companies claiming to help us do just that, when in fact we’re still just trying to fill a void.
  1. DO YOU and hold fast your non-negotiables: first and foremost, trust your gut.  If you want a matcha latte, by god, have one.  If you don’t want to make space on your supplements shelf for any supplements, totally fine.  Unless you have something in hand that totally works for you and you know it, you’ll likely just find yourself in another battle of will – wondering why you’re trying to be so pure anyway… You also (hopefully) know yourself best; you know if you’re willing to pay for water, if you eat animal products, if you are capable of skipping a workout without getting off track, if you want to suffer through food intolerance.  Babe, it all matters.
  2. Don’t get sucked into fear-based wellness regimes: you are not mentally unwell because you do not meditate.  You are not unhealthy because you do not “hit the gym.”  You are not too poor to be healthy because you cannot afford a juicer.  You do not need Beauty Dust to be radiant.  You do not need visible abdominal muscles to be attractive.  When you learn about what worked for someone else, take it with a grain of salt.  If you want to try it, by all means…give it a go.  But this idea that we have to be all things all the time is impractical at best, and senseless beyond that.  I’m constantly telling myself, Pick one: Go for a walk, play with the dog, have a bowspring session, call a friend, cook an elaborate meal, read a book.  I cannot possibly – nor do I care to try to – fit it all in one day.
  3. Consider your budget, honestly: societies lived for centuries without juicers and Vitamixes.  I could stop there, because you probably get my point.  Basically, my fear is that many of us resign to unhealthy habits because we think we can’t afford to be healthy, because much of the media world is telling us that we can’t be healthy without fancy tools and ingredients.  The honest truth is that in our modern world of e-commerce and having our wants and needs met instantly, we are grossly unhealthy and unhappy.  If you didn’t have it when you were a kid and you got along just fine, you’ll probably be okay without it now.  iPhone included.
  4. Examine your WHY: No, self-care in and of itself is not self-indulgent.  But it’s important to check in on what self-care is really about for you.  If you require a weekly massage or an hour-long soak in an epsom salt bath every night to cope with the stress of your life, maybe you’re still not getting to the root of the issue.  Maybe it’s not that you don’t allow yourself enough personal time; maybe you hate your job or aren’t being honest about toxic relationships in your life.  Personal experience: yoga and nutrition helped sustain me during a particularly hard time, but they didn’t cure me of my woes.  I still had to make huge life changes to find some semblance of happiness and positive cell vibration.
  5. Don’t give up!  We hurt ourselves the most when we believe we are not worthy of true health.  We hurt others when we are not our best selves for them.  And being our best selves does not mean always oozing sunshine and pooping rainbows.  PLEASE.  Our best selves are loving and inspiring and supportive, and we can do all those things even if we have a bad day once in awhile, or if our sense of humor errs on the side of cynical.  We are totally worthy of love, including self-love.
  6. Adapt adapt adapt.  Life is so ungodly messy.  If it’s not you, it’s someone close to you.  Then it’s you again.  Then it’s your pet.  We’re constantly bowled over by forseen and unforseen events and research shows that the key to winning life is RESILIENCE.  This is also something I love about the teachings of Ayurveda – that where we are today is not likely where we’ll be tomorrow, and there’s always an opportunity to come back from that or to move in a different direction.  We’re never too far gone and we won’t always be in the exact right place.  We can use what we know about ourselves and a willingness to break out of any sense of rigidity in order to claw our way back.
  7. Don’t eat the same thing every day: this is a recipe for food intolerances, boredom, settling for mediocrity, OR overindulging.  No need for ice cream every day.  No need for bananas every day.  Your body wants so many things, and personally I find it hard to eat 30 different vegetables in a day, so I spread it out 🙂
  8. Do the thing that gives you warm fuzzies: this is a mental health thing, and it’s totally important.  Many health gurus eschew watching TV, but I grew up watching FRIENDS and it holds more meaning to me than a way to disengage with my current situation.  I also love to talk to my mom.  You know what your thing is.  Call upon it when you need it.

monthly challenge iii: yoga is my boring place

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Twice in my life, yoga has made an outstanding impact.  I’m not a fitness geek; I’m not competitive and sometimes I’m not even sure if I’m goal-oriented.  I just mosey along and do what I like and move on when it satisfies me.  Or, more likely, when it doesn’t.  I first found yoga in college: in the free fitness center that was always under construction.  You had to walk down to the basement and through all the dudes bulking up in front of the mirror walls to get to the back corner, windowless room where you could finally – finally – get away from it all.  The instructors were fellow students, none of whom I was familiar with, so it was accessible and private.  I went to yoga every day.  I would get up in the early mornings before class to make a session that had fewer than five people.  The sequences were almost always the same, so I could simultaneously anticipate and let go.  Sometimes my best friend and roommate would be on the mat next to me.  Sometimes I’d convince a fella or two to try it out.  Mostly I just went there to be anonymous and stretch my body.

It was challenging.  I was constantly trying to contort my limbs into shapes I’d never seen before, use muscles I never felt before, sink my heart like I’d never before been asked to do.  I thought I knew what yoga was.

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My second year in Denver, a sweet coworker invited me to try out her yoga studio.  She warned me it was a little different, but I couldn’t imagine what she was talking about.  That first day in a sunny studio in Golden, CO, I found myself.  I mean, I found my body.  I’d been practicing yoga for maybe five years by then, and the minute I followed the carefully articulated instructions for alignment, it was like the moment you slip on the perfect pair of pants; the moment you taste that sweet potato white bean soup and think you’ve never had something so precisely delicious before.  I parallel parked my hips and pressed my head back into my hand and something clicked within me that had never been sparked before.  It was the Bowspring.

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If you’ve heard me talk about yoga in the last few years, you undoubtedly know about the Bowspring.  I’m obsessed.  It contradicts some of the most widely taught concepts in modern yoga and, for those who have tried the technique around die hard yogis, you know it’s sort of scandalous.  Anyway, it changed my body and my life.  During one of the most grueling times of my adult life (see previous post), it provided a grounding experience and allowed me to focus on something other than the desperate girl inside of me trying to understand her life.  Everything around me was mental and driving me crazy, but Bowspring was something tangible; I could control it, I could invite it in, and it felt damn good.  Leaving my studio, which is the flagship studio for the Bowspring technique (and I do not take it lightly that I was able to study under the founders of the alignment), was one of the hardest things about leaving Denver.  I knew my relationship to Bowspring as I had come to know it was over.

The Bowspring alignment has colored nearly every other physical aspect of my life — from sitting in a chair to riding a bike to playing with the dog.  That’s what it’s meant for; to put us back into our ancient animal shape to promote lightness of being and boundless energy.  But my home practice was lacking, because it is challenging work and my self-discipline is challenged by everything I let myself get distracted by at home.  I never have enough time, I tell myself.  And then, when the postures themselves get tough, I miss having someone encourage me on.  There’s nothing like the Bowspring out West.  In fact, because people out here are so serious about their yoga, alignment is really rather strict and particular.  I found one lovely teacher in San Diego who was familiar with the Bowspring.  I was able to chat with her after taking a class and at her encouragement I decided to try a local studio in town just to get back on the mat.  Thus, the monthly challenge of yoga every damn day (or most days, at least).

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It was going okay at first.  I definitely needed a place to go in the evenings when some things were stirring up personally.  Everyone at the studio was nice and I was able to tell them I do my own thing.  They were interested in hearing more, but the minute I started explaining it their faces would fall; they were an “alignment-based” studio and I quickly felt that there was no place for “doing my own thing.”  Then I thought, Maybe I’ll try their alignment and get back to the yoga I knew before Bowspring.  I was so tight in my hamstrings, because Bowspring doesn’t to forward folds and straight knees in order to keep the desired curve in the lower back.  I didn’t particularly enjoy doing the moves or even my modifications and I didn’t find it very challenging, other than fighting the pain – yes, pain – trying to stretch out my hamstrings.  The physical practice wasn’t shaping up to be something I wanted to spend my time doing.

Then I zeroed in on something else yoga teachers are prone to do: speak very spiritually and very heady.  To push my discomfort into the background, I tried to focus on what they were offering.  During one particularly taxing yin class, I found everything that came out of the instructor’s mouth to be completely … trite.  I think there’s an important truth to be heard when we’re in that bitter space in our own minds.  When Judgmental Bre turns up the volume, I’ve been trying not to stuff her down.  I don’t enjoy being a negative person and if I share these thoughts it’s almost exclusively with my mother, who is like talking to an older, wiser version of myself in the mirror.  But I learn a lot about myself by tuning into those sour thoughts.  Particularly, I have learned some of my triggers (so they can be dealt with) and exposed things that really don’t feed my soul (so that I can move on).  This is incredibly important for me because by now we know I stayed in a job that made me incredibly unhappy for six months too long and for very few reasons that could hardly be interpreted as well-thought-out.

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So, I’m standing on my yoga mat after a sequence of sun salutations instructed entirely by the corresponding sanskrit names for each of the poses and the teacher attempts to connect with each one of us as she says something she hopes we’ll find moving.  My affect is flat, heart sunk, mind blank of all thoughts except one: This is so boring.

In that moment, I knew I didn’t have to do this.  I didn’t have to come to California for sun and fun and waste my time in a mental state like this.  They didn’t deserve that poor energy, either.  I started to wonder when yoga stopped being “my thing,” and I realized it didn’t matter.  We are constantly changing and evolving and we know this, and yet we still try to stuff ourselves into pristine little shapes.  I definitely always thought yoga was in line with my lifestyle, and who is a mindful, fit woman these days if she is not a yogi?

In a spare moment, I googled “yoga is boring” just to see what would come up.  I found tons of click bait articles about how to make yoga not boring, or how to push past the boredom into enlightenment.  Really?  If you don’t like a thing, don’t do it!  Why do we need to convince ourselves it’s worth doing?  The thing that annoys me about the wellness industry these days is that they forget that everyone is an individual collection of energy and cellular activity.  Meditation is not for everyone, although it brings satisfying results to many.  Giant green smoothies, magic elixir dusts, warm lemon water in the morning, raw food, whatever this week’s trend is DOESN’T HAVE TO BE FOR YOU.  I like to try a thing, evaluate it, decide whether or not it’s worth my time, and either explore it some more or ditch it outright.  I don’t love meditation, and I don’t love yoga.  There; I’ve come clean.

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I still love the Bowspring, though, and if I truly desire to have it and all it’s personal benefits in my life, I’ll find a way to make it work.  I also love walking, and riding my bike, and crawling around on the floor with the pup.  I like going upside down and doing back bends and, most of all, eating food that makes me feel good.  Somewhere out there, yoga is someone’s self-care.  It’s okay that I’d rather talk to the dog, or my mom, or myself.

change is my signature scent

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I always seem to forget anniversaries.

A year and a few days ago I quit my soul-sucking job on a whim.  Amazing that it had to be on a whim.  I knew it had hollowed me out and would continue to do so.  But I had a plan: I would stick it out for the two-year mark, which coincided with my lease ending, which coincided with my brother’s lease ending, which, we decided, was the perfect time for a cross-country move.  I’ve never thought about it as my rock-bottom moment, even though I often recount how I’d become the most basic representation of a human: merely breathing and moving my body to remind myself that I was alive, because every day seemed like a failure and nothing – not live-in friends or soulmate coworkers or the juiciest genre-bending yoga – could fill in the gaping hole of my heart.  I have to say I’ve had worse times where hopelessness arrived without coping skills, and Denver was nothing if not a playground for my coping skills.  But coping skills exist for our survival, and just like our cortisol and adrenaline, they’re not meant to sustain us for long periods of time.  So I supposed I did hit rock bottom.  I crashed, and on the other end of the phone were my beautiful parents who scrubbed the person right back into me when they reminded me that my path is my path, and I can change it whenever I want to.  I could change!  Of course; I’d almost forgotten my signature scent.

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Though I’m completely bored of modern yoga (that’s for another post), one of the most poignant concepts that actually means something when I draw upon it in everyday life is the idea that there is nothing I have to be, nowhere I have to go.  It’s different, that kind of perspective.  We don’t like to be nothing.  We millenials and adrenaline junkies and people-out-seeking-joy need to be BIG and INSPIRED and POWERFUL and EVERYWHERE.  But I can’t be those things if I’m not first grounded.  And I’ll probably spend half my life trying to get grounded, because there’s such a weird energy on this planet right now, and I’m just trying not to get knocked sideways every day.  One of the best things I ever did for myself was to quit.  I was trying to avoid failure by not quitting, but then my mom reminded me: “Why do you need to win at this?  You don’t like this.  You don’t want to do this.  Why do you have to make it another year if you never plan to do this again in your life?”  WOW.  Wake up call.  There is nothing I have to be, nowhere I have to go.

Two weeks later I moved into my parent’s home.  Within a week of breathing in the Iowa summer air, I was human again.  In fact, I was bursting.  Feelings were coming to the surface that I hadn’t felt in months.  Days went by without being at the constant helm of irritation.  Finally, I was the light burning on the wick again, rather than the stamper, the smoke.

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By the end of the summer, Jared and I had made the days-long journey to a random, secluded, small town on the West Coast.  It wasn’t our dream town but it was nearby, and it’s served us both in ways we likely didn’t anticipate.  My life looks nothing like I thought it would at age 25.  I mean, I was (and still am) probably over-exposed to FRIENDS, but I always thought my daily life would circle around my closest friends in an urban environment.  I didn’t think most of my acquaintances and confidants would be twice my age.  I often can’t believe that I work in a conservative, old-school office and push paper for people who’ve never heard of environmental conservation.  I never dreamed I’d be living with my brother, or rather successfully sweet talking the rest of the BKK clan into reconvening out West.

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I don’t get to the beach near as much as I would like.  We’re kind of freaking out because this state is not very dog-friendly and the impending apartment hunt will NOT be fun.  Scaling back on high stress work makes it all the more challenging to plan for a move to our dream city.  There are so many what-ifs and unknowns in our future that the planner in me still purses her lips sometimes.  BUT: somehow I’ve convinced myself to let certain things unfold as they may, to not push them too hard lest old wounds be exposed, to open the windows and let the breeze be enough, to cultivate our home so our introversion is not as pitiful, and to enjoy the friendship of those who cherish spending time with me despite our age differences.

A year ago, I was just desperate to leave my old life behind.  I had few expectations for what this California life would be like, and that’s probably allowed the panic to stay at bay for most of these last eight months.  This summer will be most telling of how the future will unfold, and I, in all the uncertainty, seem to have nothing but underlying optimism.  Take that, anxiety.  Take that.

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silence

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I’ve been off lately.  Questioning my gut instincts.  Ignoring my gut health.  Letting the cobwebs build up and my excuse: waiting for the duster to arrive / waiting for the dust to clear out on its own / hiding from the dust.  I’ve been having some prolific thoughts, about peace and battle, control and release.  We know I’m a little Tinker Bell – as I’d argue much of the Bad Kid clan is – and can only hold one bright and burning emotion at a time in this malleable body of mine.  I’m as translucent as a cornea, as confused as a sleepy child, and I will never stop searching / dreaming / hoping.

I went on a silent retreat at the meditation center of which I am a member.  It was explorific.  So refreshing to find large stretches of time to do nothing but stare at the wall, or the wood-burning fireplace.  I took a nap (!) and slept sooooo much.  And finally tackled mindful eating, where I’d make small bowls of porridge or salad last for thirty minutes.  Most of all, it left me craving more.  It begged me to look at my incredibly privileged life full of wonderfully peaceful moments and always having enough, and find spaces I can enjoy that more.

I’m starting with my home.  We’re going to grow things.  We’re going to tend them and put them on display and look upon them with gratitude and look to them for energy and grounding.  We’re going to bring color and design to the walls with more artwork.  We’re going to feng shui and clear out and build up.

I’m refocusing my body.  I’m doing yoga every damn day.  I’ve invested in a local farm (a la community-shared agriculture) and asked them to feed me week-to-week.  I’ve been reinspired by beautiful food-crafters to create more awesome meals at home.  I’m still not big on meal prepping, but I think I can squeeze in some meal plans to make things a bit more evolved than sauteed vegetables.  I’m letting the sunshine into my skin (okay, it finally arrived back to the coast after a record wet winter) and the salt water under my feet.  And let’s all drink more water, okay?

Below is a poem I wrote on the silent retreat crouched next to a hopi medicine wheel on top of a hill surrounded by valleys and hills of the countryside.

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Silence — B. Barak, 2017

I wish I could know
about our ancestors
and what makes the world
a shiny, bright thing of terrible beauty
and a dark, eternal night
of hope and despair.

I don’t want a story
or a bible
or an ancient burial ground.
I want to know
in this soul of mine they say I have.

I want to know the way I know unconditional love.
I want to know the way I know utter exhaustion.
I want to know the way I know music riding on the wind and brushing
the hair across my face like a kiss
of simple and incredible love.

I want to be born into the arms of my heritage
and know where my body resides.