Keeping your body healthy is an expression of gratitude.

November Reader’s Challenge of the Month

Posted November 6th, 2012 by Linda with No Comments

I’m sure you’ve noticed that our November Challenge is a bit delayed. I’m one of the thousands who lost their power during Hurricane Sandy. I’m still without power so for now, my kids and I are lucky enough to be staying at Chez Nana and Grandpa. It looks like we might get power back some time this week, as long as the impending Nor’easter doesn’t interfere, but there’s no guarantee. We’ve had the help of power companies from all over the country to try and get lights back on and we couldn’t be more grateful. We also know that it could have been much worse – so much worse.

Since I live in New Jersey, coverage of the aftermath has been on the news constantly. I’m not sure about the rest of the country, but I’m sure most people have seen some of what used to be the Jersey Shore and areas of New York. THAT is how bad it could have been. There are people huddled around fires, outside, wearing whatever they could grab. Kids without coats, or shoes. It’s heart-breaking.

While I don’t usually let my kids watch the news (they’re three and five), it was sort of inevitable that they would see things about the storm and its impact. My five year old is older than his years would have you believe and while sitting in with his Grandpa one night last week, he declared that he was “going to help those people on TV.” And he fully intends to – he’s already told me that when we get back home, he’s going to count out ten dollars to donate and he’s made a list of things he wants to give to the local shelters. He’s not the only one – people in my neighborhood, friends from Facebook, various groups I belong to – they’re all helping out giving whatever they can. That brings me to our Challenge this month.

It’s November – the month of Thanksgiving here in the US. Counting your blessings, helping those less fortunate. This month’s challenge is going to extend through the end of the year, and maybe longer if you let it. We’re asking that you give back in any way that you can. Donate time to a shelter or hospital. Collect food for a soup kitchen. Donate coats and other warm clothing to help those without homes. Give blood or platelets. Donate to a favorite charity or group. Find something you believe in and go for it and include your kids.

Everybody can do something. What can you do?

September Reader’s Challenge of the Month

Posted September 4th, 2012 by Linda with No Comments

Happy September! It’s looking to be an earlier fall up here in northern NJ, and I couldn’t be more happy! We’re settling into our school schedule and looking forward to cooler days, cozy sweaters, and comforting foods. I feel like in the autumn, life moves a little slower and I’m more aware of what’s going on around AND inside me.

This month’s challenge will help us focus on ourselves, which is something I think everyone could use a little more of now and again. We are going to use a food journal all month, not to count calories, but to find the connection between what we eat and how we feel. We want to focus on our mood while we’re eating and then again a little while after – actively being aware of how the food is affecting you.

You can journal your foods and moods with a notebook, a spreadsheet or word document, a group on Facebook, an online program or an app. There are lots of ways to keep track! Here’s a cute printable we found from a nutritionist’s site. We are testing a few different food/emotion journal apps and if you’ve got one you’d like to suggest, please leave a comment below! We’ll be giving our reviews of the apps midway through the month.

Keep us up to date on your progress here in the comments or post a message on our Facebook page!

August Reader’s Challenge of the Month

Posted August 2nd, 2012 by Linda with No Comments

The dog days of summer are here…and so is the August Reader’s Challenge of the Month!

This month we’re making it about the kids. If they haven’t started already, kids are getting ready to head back to school in the next few weeks. Take some quality quiet time with the children in your life and practice yoga together. You could show them a few of the basic postures, have them join you in your home practice, or take them to a class with you.

Let us know what you choose and how everyone does!

Here Comes the Sun

Posted June 25th, 2012 by Linda with No Comments

Twenty years ago, it was cool to bake yourself in the sun until you were a toasty shade of brown. I never made that shade. I went from white to red in a matter of minutes outside without sunscreen. Needless to say, despite my mom’s best efforts to keep me slathered up, I had my fair share of sunburn when I was younger.

These days there’s been almost a complete reversal in how we think about the sun and skin care. Days of baking in the sun without protection, or worse, doused in baby oil, are gone. Tanning salons are getting the hairy eyeball from the media. Even the “safer” alternative to tanning, the “spray tan” is coming under fire for toxicity. So what do we do when we want to enjoy the great outdoors and not end up fried?

Common sense tells us to avoid the sun when it’s highest in the sky, generally between 11am and 4pm. We also know that its best to cover up with sunglasses, light-colored clothing and headgear to reflect the sun’s rays. That’s all well and good, but not necessarily plausible if say, you’ve got a wedding to go to in July at noon outdoors. Good luck finding shade and a full-coverage dress and matching hat that you won’t sweat to death in or have to explain in the wedding photos! The next best option is, of course, sunscreen.

But, what kind of sunscreen should you use? Unfortunately, sunscreen and skin protection is not an exact science and ultimately, its best to take everything with a grain of salt and some common sense. With all the emphasis in the past few years on sun damage and skin cancer prevention, companies have been pumping out “new” and “better” skin care options every season. There are sticks, sprays, lotions, creams, and wipes; SPFs to 100+; “natural” vs. conventional; waterproof, water-resistant, sweat-proof, even some you can apply to wet skin. With so many options, its easy to get overwhelmed.

Here’s the quick and dirty – your best bet of all the options currently available is a lotion or cream mineral sunscreen. Creams and lotions offer you the best coverage (as long as you apply it correctly) – sticks are okay, but really only useful for small areas like your face, lips, ears, and hairline. Wipes haven’t really been lauded for their effectiveness since it’s highly unlikely that a little napkin can cover your whole body. Spray on lotions, while convenient, really (in my opinion) should be avoided and not just because you can catch fire from them. Aerosol sunscreens spray chemical particles into the air that you can inhale and besides potentially causing lung irritation, there hasn’t been enough research on the long term effects.

Chemical sunscreens are the most commercially popular and prevalent (kudos to their marketing departments). The problem with chemical sunscreens is that, well…they’re chemicals and in many cases, toxic ones. One of the biggest offenders is the hormone-disruptor oxybenzone, used in sunscreen to absorb UV rays. It gets absorbed into your skin and enters the bloodstream and is also known to cause skin allergies. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is also alerting people to the potential danger of the addition of Vitamin A to sunscreen. Listed as retinyl palminate, its primary purpose in sunscreen is as a moisturizer to make it creamier, but its been linked to skin cancer!

Given the issues with conventional chemical sun protection, mineral sunscreens are the best sunscreens available in the US. Generally zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, mineral sunscreens are listed as some of the best by the EWG because they sit on top of the skin rather than being absorbed, don’t break down in the sun like conventional sunscreens, and don’t cause disruptions to hormones. In the 80s zinc oxide was that thick, white stuff equated with lifeguards. They tried to make it cooler in the 90s by adding colors like purple and blue…it didn’t help. Today, mineral lotions use nanoparticles rendering them almost clear. They tend to leave a slight whitish-purple sheen on the skin, but nothing like the white goop of yesteryear.

I personally use California Baby and Badger brand sunscreens, both zinc oxide sunscreens. I like them – I’m already pasty white so I barely even notice the slight haze it leaves behind and frankly, I like knowing where I’ve applied so I don’t miss a spot. I also have these brands in stick form for ears, face, hairlines, etc. I have to admit, I prefer the California Baby over the Badger brand in sticks. The California Baby glides on a little easier with less rubbing in, whereas the Badger seems to have little chunks in it.

June Reader’s Challenge of the Month

Posted June 1st, 2012 by Linda with No Comments

Fruits and Veggies

Can you believe it’s June already?! June is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable month and with the weather getting warmer, the farmers markets will be in full swing just about everywhere.

Your challenge this month is to visit your market and try something new. Find a new fruit or veggie to buy and try. Share your choices here and if you find a great recipe, share that as well!

To find your nearest farmers market, check out Local Harvest.

What Do YOU Want to Know?

Posted May 28th, 2012 by Linda with No Comments

We’re curious – what kinds of things are you interested in reading about? Give us the topics and we’ll do all the legwork and research to bring you the info. Yoga pose questions? Healthy food inquiries? Meditation query? Just leave us a comment below with your ideas!

May Reader’s Challenge of the Month

Posted May 3rd, 2012 by Salina with No Comments

So, I’m a little late on the Challenge of the Month this time, but I suppose that’s what I get for trusting myself to write it; that’ll teach me! In my defense, I have not written the challenge yet because I was mostly doing it (that is, avoiding my computer and work).

This month we are challenging you to disconnect, unplug, and take a break from your electronic devices. As someone who is on the computer nearly everyday, with Facebook as my main source of world news, I know that you are thinking “Yeah right”, or something along those lines. Relax! Obviously we cannot all shutoff our computers and cell phones for a week expect our worlds to keep spinning. What we CAN do is choose at least one day (or even a half day) each week to shut off our phones, stay off the computer (games, facebook, work, etc), shut off your TV, iPod, gaming systems, ALL of it!

Tell your friends and family that on Fridays, for example, you will not be checking email or texting on your phone.
If you have a job that has you tied to your electronics all day everyday, thing about where you maybe able to cut back.
If you have to be available on your phone, try not to spend the day texting or reading news.

What can you do without your electronic devices?!
~ Get outside: hiking, biking, walking, chalk the sidewalks, kick a can
~ Spend time making crafts
~ Read a book
~ Write a book (or a poem, whatev!)
~ Take class
~ Go to the gym
~ Bake
~ Cook a fancy meal
~ Organize that closet (or room, or bookshelf) that you “have not had time for”

The possibilities are endless! Disconnect at least one day each week for the month of May; do it more often if you are able. When you plug back in, tell us what you did in your down time. Tell us how it felt for you – was it easy or difficult to be disconnected? What device is the most difficult for you to give up?

Beginning Meditation – My Monkey Brain

Posted April 24th, 2012 by Salina with No Comments

On March 30th, 2012, I began the Subtle Yoga(™) Teacher Training and Personal Transformation Program.

Among other things, one of the requirements of the program is twice daily meditation. Over the course of the first two months we (my fellow program participants and I) are required to meditate for at least ten minutes twice a day. After which time we have agreed to increase the meditation time to 15+ minutes twice daily.

After that first weekend I was nervous, but ready. Or so I thought. I knew that it would be tough making the time to meditate, but I figured this gives me a reason, an excuse, to get away from it all twice a day for at least ten minutes at a time. If life beckoned, I could say, “Hang on life, I HAVE to meditate – it’s for my class”! Yeah…not so much. The truth is, it was not even life keeping me away from it, at least half of the time, it was just me deciding I’d rather sit on the couch and watch Netflix at the end of the day then go meditate.

In the three weeks between our first weekend and this second one that just passed, I meditated only a few times. Mostly on Tuesday and Thursday mornings because I just started teaching a new class that has me up at 4am. It’s perfect. On those days I wake at 4, do my meditation, shower and prepare for work and head out the door. Since I am the only one awake in the house at that hour I am even able to observe one of the components of the Subtle Yoga (™) Program that we practice on our weekends together – Mona Brata, a practice of silence and inward reflection. From the time I wake at 4 until I get into work at 5:35am I don’t have to speak, it’s really quite nice!

We just had our second weekend together and I am feeling a renewed confidence in my ability to do my meditation twice each day. Last night I attempted to go to bed without doing the mediation and when I found myself unable to sleep and needing to because I had to get up at 4am, I dragged my butt out of the bed and did a little meditation.

This morning, 4am came way too soon and I was exhausted, so I switched up my routine a little by showering and getting dressed before sitting for my meditation, because I was sure I would fall asleep if I didn’t.

After I was dressed I set my timer for 12 minutes, found my comfortable, cross-legged position for meditation and began to bring my awareness to my breath. That’s cake, it’s how I start every yoga class. Feel my sit bones in the floor, become aware of my breath, got it.

The next step was to begin to count my breath, if my mind wanders or my thoughts take over I am to “gently corral” my thoughts and come back to counting. After counting for 2-3 mins, I will begin to use my mantra. The mantra is a phrase that has meaning for me that I repeat to myself with my breath to focus my attention during my meditation. That’s what the process looks like on paper, this is what it looks like in my head when the “monkey brain” kicks in:

[Inhaling] One…two…three…four…[sniff] what is that smell? [sniff, sniff] I’m not counting. [Exhaling] one…two…three..four…smells kinda like…ignore it…five…six [inhaling] one…two…three…four…five…is that cat pee? Did that damn cat pee somewhere? Seriously how am I supposed to sit here and meditate if I think I smell cat pee? I should just sniff around and make sure she did not pee on the floor. NO, you are meditating, deal with it later. Corral, corral! One…two…three..four…five…six. I can switch to my mantra soon. One…two…three…four…I should start keeping a meditation journal on the website, people might like to know that meditation can be challenging for everyone in the beginning. If they could only hear what goes on in my head…I seriously smell pee, if I find pee on the floor I may kill that cat! One…two..three…oh I’m on my mantra now…mantra…mantra…mantra…seriously is it ten minutes yet, I don’t know how much longer I can do this. Just breathe Lina and wait for the timer…Ok, mantra…mantra…mantra…no, I need to know…[peek at timer] Ugh! three more minutes…mantra…man, the babysitter is coming today and the house is a mess…

That’s just a fraction of what goes through my head in 10 minutes, but tomorrow’s another day so I will keep trying. No wait, tonight, yes, I AM meditating tonight – really!

So, if you’re interested, stop in and see how I’m doing, I’ll keep you posted. And feel free to share your meditation stories, experiences, and tips with me, I’d like the company.

~ Lina

Spring Cleaning: A More Natural Approach

Posted April 5th, 2012 by Linda with No Comments

Ah, the smell of a clean house. Smells like…nothing? In my house, that’s pretty much the case except maybe a hint of lemon or vinegar. I make most of my own cleaners and the few I don’t make don’t really have much of an odor. With an overly sensitive sense of smell (me) and allergies to just about everything (the kids and hubs), I like to keep the stink down, even if its a “good” stink.

So what do I use to clean up around here? My homemade cleaning arsenal consists of microfiber cloths, vinegar, baking soda, borax, washing soda, lemons, soap, and hydrogen peroxide (and I’m not going to lie – I still use some things that aren’t the best eco option, but I’m getting there).

Here’s what I use around my house:

Microfiber cloths: I use these for all kinds of things – wiping down the counters, dry dusting, soaking up spills, and as reusable floor sweeper pads. You can save some money by finding them in the automotive care aisle in bulk.

Vinegar: This is a very versatile cleaning tool. It’s a natural deodorizer and don’t worry, the smell disappears when it dries!

Undiluted, I use it to clear out hard water that clogs my shower heads and faucets. I just take a baggie, pour in some vinegar, put it over the faucet or shower head and hold it on with a rubber band. I let it sit overnight and then in the morning take off the baggie and run some hot water through. It works well in my dishwasher as a rinse aid and I also use it in my laundry as a natural fabric softener. I pour it into the little softener dispenser in my machine, but you can also just use a cup in the rinse cycle as well.

Mixed with water, its a great all-purpose spray for just about everything in the kitchen and bathroom. I use a 1/3 vinegar to 2/3 water mix in a spray bottle to clean my counters, stove, cabinets, sink, fridge, and floors. In the bathroom I use it as a daily spray to keep the hard water and soap scum to a minimum. I also use it on the mirrors and windows.

Baking soda: This is another multi-tasker in the cleaning arsenal. I’m sure most people know its a great deodorizer for the fridge and freezer, but its also great for gentle scouring, clearing drains, and cleaning the toilet. Clean your oven by making a paste of baking soda and water to use instead of the harsh, smelly oven cleaners. If the oven’s really dirty, leave the paste on overnight and wipe it off in the morning with a sponge.

Remember science class? Ever make an erupting volcano? If not, here’s your chance – pour some baking soda into the toilet, scrub around the bowl with your toilet brush and then pour in some vinegar and watch the fizz! Let it sit for about 5 minutes, do a final swish with the brush, and flush. You can use the same process to clear your drains as well – pour in baking soda, let it sit, follow with a few cups of hot water, then vinegar, and a few more cups of hot water. I will admit it’s not as quick and easy as the chemical-laden stuff – sometimes it takes repeating the process a few times.

Borax and washing soda: I make my own laundry detergent. It’s a whole lot easier than you’d think – really. I use Borax and washing soda (not baking soda), which can both be found in the laundry section of your store, in equal amounts combined with a bar of Fels Naptha or Ivory Soap. I haven’t really seen a difference in the cleaning power between the different soap brands, it was just what I had available at the time. I’ve also haven’t noticed any big differences in the cleanliness of my laundry after switching from the conventional brands. If the laundry needs an extra boost of deodorizing, I also sprinkle in some baking soda.

I’ve also tried using borax and washing soda in to make dishwasher detergent, but I wasn’t thrilled with the results. I may have my ratios off – I did 50/50, but my dishes felt gritty and looked hazy. I still haven’t found an alternative detergent for the dishwasher that cleans my dishes well enough, so I’m using a conventional product at the moment.

Lemons: These little citrus fruits not only make tasty beverages, they also make great cleaning tools! I use a salted lemon to clean the copper items I have in my home. I also use it in my shower to clean the spots that build up on the faucet and knobs. Although I’ve never tried it personally, I know people who have had luck getting stains out of their whites by soaking the stain in lemon juice and putting it out in the sun to dry.

This last one might be a “duh” one, but its something that people often overlook just because there are so many cleaning options out there – how about soap? Just make sure to check the kind that you use to make sure it doesn’t contain any harsh chemicals.

So, now that you know what I use – what do you use? Have any tips or tricks to share? Please leave a comment below!

April Reader’s Challenge of the Month

Posted April 2nd, 2012 by Linda with No Comments

Spring has sprung! Time to throw open the windows, clear out the clutter, and clean house. For this month’s challenge, we want to know: what cleaning methods do you use? Do you make your own or purchase them? What are your favorite brands? Do you have any tips or tricks?

Send us a comment below and fill us in on your spring cleaning routine and the products you use!

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