Saturday, December 31, 2011

Remaining present in 2012

I typically never make resolutions for New Year's, as they often don't feel authentic. I tend to make resolutions throughout the year and act on them as I go - not all of them stick of course, but creating actionable steps for myself over a period of months feels less overwhelming than trying to cultivate numerous changes on January 1st. 

I also am working hard to spend less mental space on the future or distant past. One of the most important lessons I've learned from yoga is that our life is firmly planted in the present, and we have to work to keep our minds happy in that present state. One of the ways I know to stay happy in the present is to be aware of why I'm currently doing what I'm doing, so as to know that the new year is not about giving up bad habits or feeling guilt for changing directions. Instead, I want to focus on what made me happy and confident in 2011, as a means of increasing that happiness and confidence in 2012.  

Here is why I'm thankful for 2011: 
  1. Plenty of time with my family and Eric's family: these are relationships which are super important to me, and I'm thankful that I have so much family living close by. I'm very aware of how lucky I am to feel so supported and loved by my family. 
  2. Maintaining friendships: we all know how hard it can be to maintain friendships when we're all busy and tired. Sometimes it's just not realistic to see / talk to people as much as I'd like, but I'm thankful that when I do catch up with friends, it always feels like home. Additional benefit: the new friendships I've made!
  3. Love! Opening your heart up to someone can be super scary at first, but Eric has changed my entire life and I'm grateful that I used 2011 to recognize and embrace that. 
  4. Taking risks: I've realized that playing it safe can be so boring and limiting and that the challenge is in taking strategic risks. Do I still get nervous when doing new things? Of course, but my brain now fiercely challenges me to act anyway when I'm feeling scared. This is a great development, which I think came from increased self-awareness (see below). 
  5. Health! I think one of the main reasons I've been able to open up to people and take risks is because I have increased energy and strength. 2011 has been the year of health and rehabilitation and I think it's pretty safe to say that 2012 will be even more so. Another person to change my life in 2011: Shelli! She's helped me fix my chronic pain and regain my confidence in regard to physical activity. I'm at a point now where I feel strange not exercising every day, and that was NOT THE CASE a year ago. 
  6. Becoming self-aware: from changing what goes into my body to recognizing my own behavior and patterns, 2011 has been largely about finding peace, cleansing toxins, and learning how to move forward in all relationships with maturity. I challenge myself daily to pinpoint why I'm feeling a certain way and to discover the root of the problem before acting. 
  7. Remaining flexible: Even with the best of intentions, things don't always turn out the way we want them to. Goals change, time commitments change, roadblocks appear. Having the determination to keep moving even with the roadblocks is a skill, and one I'm working hard on cultivating. 
  8. Slightly less debt: one benefit of living at home is that my private loan is almost completely gone (it will be paid off next month!) I still have other loans, but paying off the first school loan feels like a mini milestone. 
  9. Knowing that perfection is not the answer: I am not perfect and never will be. I make mistakes, feel regret sometimes, and wish I'd handled situations differently. All any of us can do is remain aware and work to switch our responses in the future. 
  10. Acceptance: I've been working to accept myself as I am, to embrace physical imperfections, and to resist judgement (towards myself and towards others). Whenever I feel the urge to judge anyone else, I remember the quote: "be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." 
So, happy 2012! My only resolution is to resist becoming static: if I can keep striving, exercising, researching, and challenging my habits and assumptions, I'll be happy. Slow and steady progress is key, friends. Who's excited to keep moving?!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

New books and too many cookies

As much as I love the holidays, I'm looking forward to a daily routine which doesn't include eating cookies and chocolates! I know it's not benefiting me to eat them, and yet it's super hard to ignore a plateful of cookies. Sigh. As I've been paying increased attention to how my system reacts to food, I've definitely noticed increased congestion and tiredness that seems to correlate with my food choices for the day. To help balance me a bit, I've upped the wheat grass to 3 servings a day (they recommend 1-3 per day) and now have also incorporated in flax seed (no more than 2 tablespoons per day). I'm entering week #3 for the wheat grass, and the taste no longer bothers me at all. Fascinating. I've been getting a little discouraged by what the detoxing is doing to my skin, but I'm trying to be patient.

A little update on the hair, after roughly a month: I've had a breakthrough! Here's the routine:
  • Massage your scalp with your fingers, vigorously
  • Combine 1 tablespoon of baking soda with a cup of water (boiled, if you have hard water in your house). Pour on your head, concentrating on the scalp, then rub in. 
    • I no longer let the mixture sit on my head for any length of time, as that seemed to increase the static in my hair. I rinse it out really well. 
  • Combine 1 teaspoon of white vinegar (I've found it works better for me than the apple cider) with a cup of water (boiled). Pour on your head and run your fingers through until your hair feels easy to manage. Rinse well.
  • Make the water as cold as you can stand, and do a brief cold rinse, which sets your hair and closes the follicles. 
  • Brush with a soft bristle brush, to avoid breakage. 
What's awesome, is that I no longer do this every day - while I still shower every day, I now just wash my hair / massage my scalp with water on a daily basis and then wash with the mixtures every 3 days. The longer I keep this up and the healthier my hair gets, the longer I'll be able to go between washings. There's no dirty hair smell - my hair is clean, I never smell like vinegar as it's such a small amount needed, and I've going to save tons of money. I have to boil a big pot of water every 1.5 weeks or so, and then I just keep a pitcher up in the bathroom. The first few weeks were rough, but now I'm never going back! I'd suggest trying it. :)

For Christmas, I got two new cookbooks from Eric & family: Super Natural Every Day, by Heidi Swanson, and The Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman. I'm excited to try new recipes, such as the AWESOME looking kale salad I flipped to in the salad section of Super Natural Every Day. Also, I finished reading Crazy Sexy Diet by Kris Carr and now need to get ready for the Adventure Cleanse. What I LOVE about her book is all of the recipes for smoothies in the back, so I won't be totally clueless about how to begin. She suggests starting slowly before the cleanse begins, which is what I've been attempting to do with the wheatgrass. A few smoothie attempts in the next 1-2 weeks will be the next step, in addition to the final few stages of product research. If anyone has some good suggestions for natural laundry detergent, I'd love to hear them!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Wheat grass!

Last week I decided there were two things I needed to incorporate into my routine.  The first: wheat grass powder; the second: flax seeds. Neither are particularly ground breaking, as I know plenty of people who eat flax seed regularly and you can get a shot of wheat grass juice at many health-conscious cafes. First, I decided to incorporate wheat grass into my daily routine to see if the claims about its benefits are true. It's the powder not the juice, but going off some recommendations I decided to try this: Amazing Grass wheat grass powder (gluten free, raw, organic). Wheat grass is meant to alkalize and energize your system, detoxify your body and provide servings of leafy greens as a supplement to your diet. The reviews are pretty enthusiastic, many of them pointing to increased energy and improved overall health. As with most products, the claims made about the benefits of wheat grass are grandiose - I generally like to pay attention to how things make me feel. Amazing Grass is sold at Whole Foods so I decided to give it a try - it's been a week, and I take 2 servings a day.

The first few days were a bit rough - the taste takes some getting used to (though it's getting much much better!) and I'm experiencing symptoms I was warned about (aka detoxing) - there's been some fatigue, mood shifts, cold symptoms. My skin reacted the most which is NOT FUN, but it's beginning to calm down again as my body cleans out the toxins. All in all though, it's been a good week and there has been a definite and very positive shift in my energy/focus levels. I feel more alert within minutes of drinking the powder (mixed with water, but you can also mix into smoothies, juices, etc), and the benefits (for me) clearly outweigh the benefits I used to get from black tea. I haven't started eating the flax seeds yet, so I'll have to wait to give my opinion.

Most sources I've read are careful to point out that wheat grass is a supplement to the vegetables in your diet, not a replacement. I have found though that I've been less hungry and I look forward to my two daily servings - persistence is what's going to get me over this detox hump! I'm hoping that a more gradual cleanse over the holidays will make the transition during the Adventure Cleanse less difficult on my system.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Research: slow and steady!

A few things are happening:
  1. OH my goodness, do I love the Bubble & Bee site. If you have questions about any variety of chemicals, look here: The founder of Bubble & Bee created the company based on her own frustrations about chemical-laden products. I trust her research thus far and think it's a great resource. I'm using this as a companion to the Skin Deep database, which is a good starting point for learning more about what you're using but should be used as a guide, not a bible. Checking a variety of sources is always the best route, of course.  
  2. I discovered dry brushing. BEST THING EVER. Pick up a pair of shower gloves from any drug store for $3 and dry brush all over before you get in the shower by moving your hands in circular motions. According to Kris Carr, dry brushing is her secret weapon against toxins, dry skin and cellulite and I'm inclined to agree. Not only does it make my skin feel alive, but it's never felt softer (and this is before moisturizing!) It takes 1 minute tops - give it a try. 
  3. I'm discovering how hard it is to find natural makeup, and also that it's really time consuming to figure out which ingredients are bad, which are fine, and which are okay in very small doses. I've finally decided that I might try 100% Pure Fruit Pigmented Mascara, but eyeliner is harder, as most that I've found include iron oxide and mica. According to the Bubble & Bee post about this, mica is a synthetic ingredient which some attribute as troublesome for people with sensitive skin. Further still, she says that "Micas, iron oxides, and clays can be problematic when in loose powder form because they can be inhaled in to irritate lungs (or with chronic exposure in higher amounts, lead to talcosis, scar lung tissue, or even cause lung cancer)." I'm not here to state that mica will cause lung cancer, but I would ideally like to use benign ingredients where such a statement doesn't need to be made! Being that I'm having trouble finding eyeliners without mica, I might have to settle for the best I can find. Here is one option, and here is another. I no longer wear foundation or powder, but for those of you who do: it seems liquid foundation or pressed powder is much better than loose powder, health wise.
When I was getting my hair cut this evening, I talked to the hair dresser about my baking soda / vinegar adventures. She said she's been wanting to try it and that one of the salon brands sells a vinegar rinse with added essential oils and lemon juices. Yay natural methods! With this cut, my hair has finally returned to its natural color, 100%! I feel refreshed.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Every day is a new experiment

This weekend I met up for tea with Jana, who is following a similar path - it was lovely and inspiring to give and share support, and to discuss everything from makeup and cleaning products to eating meat and office hand soap. It also looks like I have some potential teammates for the 21 Day Adventure Cleanse, which will take place in January after the holidays have ended. The Cleanse is essentially a snapshot of a vegan lifestyle, with emphasis on raw, whole foods and less meat, dairy, caffeine, processed meals, etc. As I'd like to keep with the tiny steps mentality, I'm not trying to decide this moment whether being vegetarian is the right answer for me. Do I want to cut back on dairy and meat? Definitely. Do I think I currently have the knowledge and willpower to get enough nutrients from other foods (or even: could I conceivably give up cheese?!) Probably not. Regardless, I'm currently loving Kris Carr's book Crazy Sexy Diet, as it's really opening my eyes about how the body works. I'm also interested in reading The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone, which Jana recommended. If anyone has any suggestions for good cookbooks which emphasize healthy vegetarian eating, I'd love to hear about them.

Over the past few weeks, I've been fascinated by detoxification. Initially because I didn't know that my body needed it and now because I'm trying to become tuned in to subtle signals. For example, I have cut way back on eating sugar and then twice this month I've had cake for celebrations. Both times my face reacted the same day by breaking out, something which has never happened so immediately before. Is it possible that my system is no longer used to sugar in the same way and now is less tolerant? What else will happen? The word of the month should be experimentation, since that's all I seem to do lately. For example, we have hard water at our house, meaning I've been experimenting with boiled water to have on hand for when I wash my hair.  The boiling process rids the water of minerals which can interfere with the baking soda and make it difficult to stick to the baking soda / vinegar method. Static? People try honey, they try coconut oil. Ineffective deoderant? Cornstarch. Dry scalp? Applesauce might do the trick, jojoba oil, or even egg yolk. Finally, a recommendation I will try soon is using a soft bristle brush, which can distribute the natural oils in your hair and help ease the detox process. I haven't tried all of these methods myself, but let's be honest - I'll probably try many such ideas before I've settled on the best methods.

I had a moment this weekend where I just felt completely overwhelmed by all of the research, potential expenses, time commitments, and changes I want to introduce to my lifestyle. It can be difficult to start something completely new with no established mentors; I've been wary of unintentionally making people feel criticized about their own choices, which is of course not at all what I'm trying to do. Finally, as I tend to put my whole heart into everything, I've invested a lot of thought into why I am ready to change. Once I took a deep breath, I acknowledged that when you decide to change habits which are both ingrained and comfortable, it's not going to be all excitement and good days. That's when I also have to take a step back and remember that I only started down this path a month ago - my habits have already changed so much over a few weeks time, that the rest of me needs some time to catch up! I began November thinking that I wanted to write a blog and think about happiness, and I'm halfway through December recognizing that happiness comes ultimately in the form of health. This year may end up being entirely different than I thought, which makes me feel like I'm doing something right. Along those lines, I took my first yoga class last week since stopping to do PT last spring. Since Shelli and I did a more intensive PT workout as well, it meant I was SORE SORE SORE by Friday. Oh my goodness. Amazingly though, my knee held out with only mild discomfort and reminded me how little steps really can change everything.  That's an encouraging thought for those moments when I start to feel overwhelmed.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Know your hazards!

The product research has continued, friends. Eric and I took a field trip to Whole Foods and Trader Joes over the weekend to check out the shelves. I wanted to take a sample inventory of some of the brands and then look up those brands in the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database. If you haven't checked out this database, please do! They rate thousands of products based on the available research about their ingredients, and then provide a hazard rating. I'm trying to pick products which have a hazard rating of 1 at the most; 0 is ideal (0-2 is considered low hazard). Another site which I recently discovered is, and this has been really helpful too.

The challenge with both stores is that all of their products sound great and good for your body, even though some are better than others. I don't trust my ability to understand the ingredients list - sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between a synthetic ingredient and a plant derivative while standing in the isle, as they can both have names I've never seen. So, we made a sample list and checked the database:
  • One with Nature (1-3)
  • Tom's of Maine (0-4)
  • Nature's Gate (0-8)
  • Organique by Himalaya Herbal Healthcare (one product listed; 3)
  • Dr. Bronner (0-2)
0-8?! Being that 7-10 indicates a high hazard warning, I'm confirming for myself that it's not enough to find a "natural" brand and remain loyal to all of their products. Each product contains different ingredients, and so must be treated differently.  Even though this database is helpful in taking some steps in the right direction, I still have more to learn. For example, Tom's of Maine has a rating of 0 for many of their toothpastes, however Sodium Laurel Sulfate is still listed as an ingredient, and classified as "expected to be toxic or harmful." Should we just be happy that it's a low hazard product free of flouride and artificial sweeteners? There's also no hydrogen peroxide or parabens, all of which are classified as moderate hazards. I also looked into Nature's Gate (Creme de Anise toothpaste). While the data is somewhat limited, by looking at the Less Toxic Guide website I was then also glad to see that they rate the Creme de Anise toothpaste as one of the best options. I think I'm going to try it, even if I'm slightly wary of it tasting of licorice. In the reviews, people seem to like the taste or at least not mind it, if they aren't licorice fans.

An update on the new hair routine. Since my last post, I've stopped using the shampoo entirely, as I realized that I probably don't need it and it's just an extra expense. I was unsure about cleaning my hair with just baking soda and vinegar, but I've read enough accounts now where I've been convinced to try. Rather than re-typing out all of this good advice, instead here are some sample blog entries which describe the process:
As seen in the second link, this method takes some experimenting as people vary the amounts of baking soda and vinegar based on their hair type and if they have soft/hard water. It's been about 1.5 weeks since I started and while my hair is still detoxing, I think it's improving. I use 1 tablespoon of baking soda in 1 cup of water as the shampoo and 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in 1 cup of water as the conditioner. Based on other advice I've read, I make sure to brush my hair first with a clean brush, and then massage my scalp with my fingers (to loosen dirt and improve circulation). I'm optimistic though, and was thrilled to go to the store and spend less than $10 on a stockpile of vinegar and baking soda. I might experiment with adding a little essential oil to the vinegar so that my hair has a lovely scent again, but right now I'm happy to say it does not smell like vinegar once it dries (I made Eric check). If the tips of my hair feel dry from the baking soda, I use a little coconut oil.

Making room for change. Time to pare down my product selection to the bare minimum! I went through my room and pulled out everything which I now deem as unhelpful to my long-term health: old makeup, perfume, nail polish, lotions which have been sitting on my shelf for months (or years?). Gone, gone, gone. I was intrigued with how much I'd been holding on to, and how much space was then left. Goodbye Bath & Body works and Revlon. Hello baking soda, vinegar and coconut oil. Now that I know I want to keep using the virgin unrefined coconut oil, I'll have to do some searching the next time I'm ready to buy. I know there are cheaper options out there!

Further research this week. Next on the list: a new facial cleanser, makeup, floss. I'm trying to take on these products a few at a time, so as to not totally overwhelm myself with information. Also, Kris Carr's book Crazy Sexy Diet came the other day and I've been reading like crazy. So much of her book is based on common sense and science, and I'm so inspired to make some more changes from the inside out. At the end of her book there's a 21 day adventure cleanse which I'd love to try, though I might wait a few weeks until the holidays are over. If anyone feels like kick-starting a new way of approaching health, join me! It would be good to have a cleanse buddy.