Category Archives: essential oils

may spotlight on: svadhishthana (sacral) chakra

Around here, we’ve been taking a look at the Chakras. Chakras are centers of prana (energy, life force) that align down the spine and correspond to vital points in the physical body. Brush up on the meaning of the seven main chakras here, take this quiz to find out which of your chakras are under/overactive, and catch up from last month’s Muladhara study here

Courtesy of Fit Yoga Magazine.

Courtesy of Fit Yoga Magazine.

Working our way up from the Root Chakra, the earth element of the Root Chakra dissolves into the water element of Svadhishthana (Sacral) Chakra. Dealing with emotions, creativity, family, and sexuality is what Svadhishthana is all about.

In my professional and personal experience, Svadhishthana (even more so than other Chakras) is a particularly sensitive one. So many of my students experience chronic lower back pain and tight hips from years and years of sitting at desks, hunched over computers, for hours on end. In addition to the physical release of the muscles around the lower back and hips (super important!), there’s also an emotional release through the muscles (super important!). In my first years of practice, I couldn’t quite figure out why hanging out in Pigeon Pose for a few minutes, although physically intense (but not painful), was enough to make me start gasping as tears streamed down my cheeks. It was a disarming experience that started to make more sense once I began a Chakra study. Trust, this isn’t a bunch of hooey.

For further reading: “The Psoas: Muscle of the Soul” over at Body Divine Yoga is an awesome post about the mysterious, misunderstood Psoas muscle (a yoganerd’s fave!) and its incredible connection to our Reptilian brain. Especially relevant to the Sacral Chakra. Mind blowing stuff and an important anatomy lesson!

At its best, a balanced Svadhishthana Chakra allows your feelings to flow freely. You express yourself with passion and integrity, but you also have the discernment to not get over-emotional. You’re creative and lively, spontaneous, and enjoy spirited and intimate relationships; you’re the fun one. As a visionary, you have no problem seeing the big picture.

An under-active Svadhishthana might lead you to be too closed off to people, relationships, opportunities. Your “Poker Face” gives the impression that you don’t let emotions out (nor do you let them in). You might come across as cold, detached, and stiff. Your sexuality also suffers.

An overactive Svadhishthana results in emotional attachment and codependency. Without a filter for feelings, you experience the highs and lows of your emotions to the utmost with no sense of balance or harmony; this eventually leads to emotional exhaustion. Creative juices may be abundantly flowing, but without focus or a “reality check,” you’ll have nothing to show for it.

Creating a balanced Svadhishthana through a physical yoga practice is all about stretching and strengthening the hips and pelvis, and stabilizing the sacroiliac joint. Pigeon, Bound Angle, Tree, and Cow’s Face Pose are excellent asana to incorporate into your practice that’s already grounded (thanks to a well-balanced Muladhara Chakra).

When meditating, visualize orange, Svadhishthana’s healing color. Draw your focus to your sacrum, the flat shelf of your lower back above your hips, and intuit that pulsating wheel of vivid orange. Also visualize the element water, and think of flowing waters to stoke your creativity and expressiveness: rivers, waves, and churning, bubbling springs. Think of the very best aspects of water: pure movement, calm and healing energy, freedom, creativity. Manifest these qualities in your yoga practice, and manifest these qualities in your relationships and creative projects.

beauty beat: the only skincare regimen you’ll ever need. ever.

selfie in the WC, with my face cream and Darth.

selfie in the WC, with my face cream and Darth.

I’ve been a big time believer in making my own serums, lotions, and potions for a long long time now (remember this and this and this?). There’s nothing that a chemically, mass-produced beauty product can do for you that Mother Nature can’t do better, and more safely, and as effectively.

And yet. Sometimes a girl craves a little luxury, luxury that she doesn’t have to create herself. Beautiful packaging. A full skincare regimen of scrub, cleanser, mask, mist, serum, and cream. No mixing and stirring like a mad amateur scientist: instant gratification. The American way.

Enter Red Flower.

I was first introduced to Red Flower in Harmony, the most amazing biodegradable bath products that grace the outdoor showers of The Harmony Hotel in Nosara, Costa Rica. Outdoor showering is my favorite pass-time. When the sun shines on your shoulders and you lather shampoo into your hair while birds are a-chirpin’ and breezes are a-blowin’, and your nostrils fill with jasmine and blood orange and Moroccan rose, something magical happens.

I haven’t tried to recreate an outdoor shower on my fire escape (but don’t think I haven’t thought long and hard about it). And it took years of walking by Red Flower’s adorable little storefront on Prince Street to finally go in, seeking out a magical experience once again. The Nature treatment collection is what I walked out with.

How can a face cream be light as a cloud and as moisture-drenching as a serum? Red Flower’s Arctic Berry Cloud Milk Cream is as creamy and dreamy as Cool Whip but absorbs beautifully, silkily into skin. I’m obsessed with its light, fresh scent (rare cloudberries from Finland pack a nutritional punch to combat hormonal imbalances), not to mention that this miracle hydrator is perfectly suited for all skin types, in all seasons.

I could wax poetic about the other amazeballs products in the Nature collection. We’ll save those for other posts. If you invest in just one RF item, get yourself some Arctic Berry Cloud Milk Cream. You won’t look back.

april spotlight on: muladhara (root) chakra

The next seven months will be dedicated to the study of each of the seven chakras. Chakras are centers of prana (energy, life force) that align down the spine and correspond to vital points in the physical body, including nerve endings, arteries, and major organs. Brush up on the meaning of the seven main chakras here, and take this quiz to find out which of your chakras are under-active, overactive, and which are perfectly, beautifully balanced. 

Working with the energetic body can be a highly mysterious, highly rewarding experience. When you integrate an energetic practice with your physical yoga practice, a deeper understanding of Self will come to you. The union of the physical, spiritual, mental and emotional bodies (which, lest we forget, is the true essence of yoga) is our objective; unblocking stuck, stagnant energy is the method.

image courtesy of Fit Yoga Magazine.

image courtesy of Fit Yoga Magazine.

Starting with Muladhara Chakra, or the Root Chakra, makes sense. We’re working from the ground up, instilling a strong, stable foundation, a connection to the earth. Muladhara is all about rooting and is associated with our basic needs for survival: food, water, shelter, family, and the material world. Muladhara governs our relationship to our physical body and its issues, and on a very archaic level, our territorial needs.

At its best, a balanced Muladhara Chakra gives us feelings of being grounded, confident, secure, and able to sufficiently relate to others without feeling threatened. You trust others and yourself, but have a strong sense of realism and discernment. You live in the present and have a wide field of perception. You’re earthy.

An under-active Muladhara might lead to feeling insecure, nervous, full of anxiety. You live in your head and let thoughts, memories and feelings (particularly negative ones) overwhelm you.

An overactive Muladhara creates greed, selfishness, and materialistic tendencies. The mind gets obsessive about possessions and keeping staying secure, particularly financially. Even though you have a strong sense of self and your place in the world, you might not be grounded enough to take responsibility for your actions.

So how do you work with Muladhara to balance it out? On a practical, physical level, focus on standing asanas in your yoga practice, particularly poses like Tree, the Warriors, High Lunge, and Triangle, all of which require a strong foundation in the legs and hips.

When meditating, visualize red, Muladhara’s healing color. Draw your focus to your tailbone, the base of your spine, and see that pulsating wheel of vivid red. Also visualize the element earth, and think of heavy forms of earth: clay, lava, and coarse, nutrient-rich dirt. Think of the very best aspects of earth: grounding, strengthening, focus, dignity, trust, balance. Manifest these qualities in your yoga practice, then take them off your mat and into your life.

september {classic} spotlight on: balance

This post originally appeared as September 2009’s focus of the month. It’s such a classic I decided to revive it, with a few edits. 

via pinterest.

September is a month known for transitions and changes, as we move away from one set of habits and behaviors to another. It often means back to work or back to school.  Complacency, relaxation and reflection transform into times of preparation, industriousness, busyness. At our best, we welcome shorter days and a sun that burns cooler and feel satisfied at how productive we’ve become again! Then again, we also find ourselves mourning the loss of open-toed shoes (our best excuse for weekly pedicures),  the abundance of watermelon margaritas in our lives, and we grow anxious and quiet about the cold, dark winter monster that lurks not far off. Or maybe that’s just me, is anyone else such an eternally, seasonally pessimistic mess?! It takes but one random, semi-chilly September morning to drive me straight to wool socks and cocoa. Most normal people seem to understand that summer will return, eventually. Good for them.

Our ability to remain in the present helps determine how likely we’re able to be balanced, healthy beings. Likewise our ability to stay balanced helps keep us rooted to the present as it unfolds. The greatest challenge at the turn of any season is to maintain a sense of wholeness and evenness, even as the world around us changes. To do this takes equal parts courage and conviction in yourself, and also a sincere willingness to adapt.

Something I’ve noticed about myself (and my students) is that when I come into a balancing pose like Ardha Chandrasana (Half-Moon Pose), my tendency is to inhale sharply and hold my breath as if becoming more statue-like and rigid will allow me to hold the balance. But there is so much learning to be had from freedom of movement, even in this one-legged, one-armed hip-opening challenge. Not only because holding your breath is unsustainable, but also because the gentle sway, gentle contraction and expansion of your body that comes with breathing fully is what true balance really is: a place between stillness and movement, hardness and softness, exertion and comfort.

Yoga offers a myriad of benefits, but arguably the most essential, the most beneficial, is that it confronts your ability to balance – physical, mental, emotional – and stares it down, waiting to see what you’ll do. All balancing postures in yoga, from Tree to Headstand to Crow to Warrior III, demand that you pause and hold and breathe, instead of just flowing into the pose and immediately out of it. These poses require a certain discomfort. Toeing that edge of discomfort is where we start to transform.

(No less important, the CDC reports that the #1 cause of injury in the elderly is from falling from loss of balance. Start practicing balance now and protect thyself later.)

If you’re finding imbalance is taking hold of you in your life, something will suffer: a relationship, your work life, your body, your sanity. We all have different methods for bringing balance back. Try this essential oil blend for a quickie, at-home fix: blend 2 drops Valerian, 4 drops Australian Sandalwood, and 4 drops Laurel Leaf into 4 teaspoons of a carrier oil (like Apricot Kernel), and massage into your shoulders, forearms, and down the shins and calves to the soles of your feet. Valerian is powerful and grounding, and known to ease a troubled mind and restore emotional security.

chill out, yo: 4 ways to beat the summer heat

Yo! (channeling my inner Jesse Pinkman, yo). In case you weren’t already aware, east coasters and midwesterners and others suffered a MAJOR heatwave earlier this week. Not that you would know it today, as it’s almost 40 DEGREES COOLER in NYC, and raining and gray and nasty to boot. Don’t worry, though, we’ll get more heatwaves again, thanks, mid-July! So have you experienced melting? Sweltering? Sweating? And all that? Me too. Over the past six summers in New York I’ve come to appreciate central air, coconut popsicles, and have embraced helpful heat-busting trends like the top knot and short shorts. Need more? Here are four more essential (and all-natural!) ways to chill yo’self.

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Peppermint essential oil. Peppermint has natural cooling properties and revives depleted energy, while enhancing concentration and positivity. So many uses for summertime! Try mixing 3-4 drops in a spray bottle with water, and spray pillows and sheets at bedtime, or spritz lightly on head, face and chest in the morning. Or: mix 2 drops peppermint and 4 drops myrtle in a refreshing bath. Or: mix 4 tsp. sweet almond oil (or other carrier oil) with 2 drops peppermint, 4 drops rosemary, and 4 drops black spruce and massage into fatigued summer muscles.

via Refinery29.

Watermelon cooler. Taste and smell are the senses most closely linked to our memories. Whenever I see the pink of a watermelon slice, I’m instantly taken back to lazy childhood summers on my friends’ pond, floating in our RiverRats, spitting black seeds at each other. Watermelon is not fruit for the sophisticate. But it’s high water content, and light, refreshing taste give it powerful rehydration and cooldown components. Post-workday or post-workout, try this: toss into a blender 1/2 c. ice, 3 c. chopped watermelon (seeds removed and reserved for spittin’), a splash of coconut water and handful of fresh mint leaves. Blend until coarsely incorporated, then pour mixture over a glass of seltzer water; top with a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

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Sitali Pranayama. This breathing exercise physically and mentally cools you off. Sometimes I do this breathing on the train when it’s crowded and sweaty and I’m feeling anxious (yes, people stare, but stay on that train long enough and you’ll see WAY crazier things going on). How to do it: sit tall, with a long spine. Curl your tongue into a tube and let it protrude out beyond the teeth a little. Take in a long inhale through the mouth, dragging breath across the tongue and soft palate, for a count of five or so. Close mouth and exhale through the nose, also slowly. Repeat this for at least five minutes, or longer if you can. This practice is known to aid in digestive and mental detoxification, reduces fever, and when practiced regularly, to extend your lifespan.

Loving my stylish summer skin saver, in breezy, nautically striped silk (with cool hardware details). From Zara.

Long sleeves. Am I last to know that this is one of the best ways to stay cool when you’re out and about? Yes, apparently so. I used to think less clothing equals cooler core temp, but history and culture have proven me dead wrong. Wearing loose, natural fabrics (think: cotton, linen, silk) over bare shoulders shields your skin from UVs. This sun worshipper finally hopped on that boat.

What do you do to cool off in the heat? Happy weekend. xx

happy vernal equinox!

beauty in the city.

March 20, 2012: today marks the first day of spring! We barely had a winter to speak of here in New York (for which I’m very, very grateful), and today hardly feels like early spring (at 70 degrees and bright sunshine, it’s more like summer), which usually involves biting breezes, raindrops, and little blossoms bravely, desperately clinging to their frail branches.

Today’s springtime ritual involved: a happy run in East River Park, a simple lunch of arugula, lentils and apple topped with a hardboiled egg and miso dressing, a long walk with Bella, a New Orleans iced coffee from Lost Weekend. Wonderful.

According to Ayurveda (India’s “life science” system of well-being and balance), Vernal Equinox marks the start of a predominance of kaphaone of the three mind-body types. Kapha types, at their best, are grounded, supportive, compassionate, introspective, forgiving, sweet. When there’s an excessive amount of kapha, as in our current spring season, kapha types are low-energy, stagnant, lazy, withdrawn, slow to change and transform. Water is the predominant element that governs kapha, and during the spring thaw, accumulated kapha runs out of the body (explaining why many of us suffer from those early spring colds, hay fever and allergies).

Here are a few helpful hints to balance your kapha, adapted from Blue Lotus Ayurveda in Asheville, NC.

THINGS TO DO IN SPRING:
– Eat a kapha pacifying diet: lentils and garbanzo beans, apples, apricots, leafy greens, radish, beets, and other red fruits and veggies. If you’re non-veg, chicken, fish, turkey and eggs are okay.
– Eat light, easily digestible meals.
– Eat bitter, pungent and astringent foods.
– Drink warming teas, such as ginger, cinnamon or dandelion.
– Use raw honey as a sweetener.
– Do daily yoga, pranayama and meditation.
– Keep warm and dry.
– Do daily nasya (nasal administration).
– Slowly increase your activity to burn away excessive kapha (hiking, walking, running and light weightlifting).
– Fast one day a week.

THINGS TO AVOID IN SPRING:
Kapha increasing food, such as red meat, wheat, bread, pasta, melons, bananas, squash.
– Fatty, fried foods.
– Heavy breakfasts.
– All heavy foods.
– Cold or iced drinks.
– Snacking between meals.
– Cold drafts and air conditioning.
– Exposure to dirt, dust and pollen.
– Daytime naps, which aggravate kapha and slow digestion.

Pada Abhyanga: the Ayurvedic leg and foot massage.

Here’s an energizing, kapha-pacifying essential oil blend to help invigorate and rejuvenate body and mind. Dab this blend onto your wrists and throat, add a few drops to a warm bath, massage into hands and feet, or add water to a spray bottle and spritz your linens and towels.

Add 4 drops lemon, 4 drops myrtle, and 2 drops manuka into 4 tsp. a carrier oil (like apricot kernel or sweet almond).

(Want to know about your own dosha? Take the Chopra Center’s Dosha Quiz and find out. Online quizzes are fun.)

What are you doing to celebrate Vernal Equinox? 

beachwear, lip balm, and bolaño: the essential costa rica packing list

It’s almost here. The annual YOGA | SURF | RETREAT in Nosara, Costa Rica gets me all worked up. Right around this time of year, I realize that in a few short weeks, I get to teach and practice yoga with the nicest people in the best place on the planet. Then I get to surf on the most lovely stretch of beach while the orange sun sinks into the ocean. It’s really incredible, to call this my job, and I’m reminded of the many blessings of having a career that’s all about helping people feel better about themselves on every level. It’s the greatest gift of being a yoga teacher. I’m so grateful. Our week in Costa Rica serves as a gentle reminder of these blessings.

After contemplating gratitude for a bit, it’s time to pack. (Yes, I start packing a tid bit early). And I make lists, because I find list-making to be strangely satisfying and cathartic. This will be my fourth trip to Nosara, so I’ve got the necessities down pat. Here’s what I’ll be taking with me this year…

ethereal: shipley & holmas.

indian floral by AKA.

SUNDRESSES.
You can’t have too many of these in Nosara. Words that come to mind: breezy, airy, skin-skimming. Yumi Kim makes some bright, floral-y ones. Choose cotton silk blends for coolness; choose bright, bold colors for fun-ness.

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NAIL POLISH.
Oh yes, the requisite mani/pedi will happen prior to vacation, that’s an essential. But yoga (rolling over your toes over and over on a sticky mat during vinyasa) and surfing (getting wax stuck to your nails –and in your belly button) both do a number on your polish. That’s why you bring a little bottle in your matching shade to do a touchup, poolside, whenever necessary. Bright shades are best (and will match your dresses): Butter London’s Cheeky Chops and Underground are current beloveds.

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YOGA CLOTHES.
And not just ANY yoga clothes. Your thick black Lulu Groove Pants have no place in CR. Too hot. You need light and tight. Electric Yoga makes  cool, sweat-wicking clothes in bright colors (can you tell I’m slightly excited about bright colors?). Short shorts, sporty tanks, easy tops. This hot pink seamless tee also doubles as a rash guard for surfing. Recycling!

BOOK.
The current most important book in my household: 2666 by Roberto BolañoFor one reason or another, all reading projects of late have been huge, epic novels that double as doorstops. This is no exception at 912 pages. But it’s masterful and lovely. Recommend.

silk + beads from bhati beads.

cuzco cuff from maryam nassir zadeh.

FRIENDSHIP BRACELETS.
You read that right: friendship bracelets are back in, and my fifth grade self could not be more thrilled. Maryam Nassir Zadeh stocks several in various thicknesses that look awesome stacked on your wrist with reckless abandon.

mesh by minimale animale.

BATHING SUIT.
Surfer girls: wear string bikinis at your own risk. Minimale Animale makes this totally awesome mesh one-piece. A one-piece is safe, but not too safe (I mean, look how libidinous these suits are). All credit goes to L.A. designer Cassandra Kellogg, who also happens to be a classmate of mine from middle school. Hi, Cassie!

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LABELLO LIP BALM.
Discovered while living in Italy, impossible to find stateside, always stocking up whenever I’m in a European airport. Goes on silky, moisturizes for hours. The BEST in lip service if you happen to care about lip service.

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JEAN SHORTS.
What else can be said here?

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FLIPPY FLOPPIES.
Same.

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STRAW HAT.
Protect your face and neck and still look chic.

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BUMBLE & BUMBLE SURF SPRAY.
CR is the place that invented surfer girl beach hair, and somehow mine needs a little extra assistance. B&B always does the trick.

Are you going on vacation this spring? What do you bring with you?
Happy travels! xx, S