Finding Your Center

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meditationThere’s nothing like having some quiet time to yourself. Meditation is important in finding your center and maintaining balance in your life. But let’s face it, meditation isn’t something that’s easy to do, especially in our hectic daily routines. Many of us multitask so much that it’s hard to switch off and just focus on the present and the environment directly around you. Even I sometimes find it tough to do, trying my hardest in class to pay complete attention to nothing but the now, when I have plans that evening or a looming deadline approaching. It’s only human to get distracted by things that are exciting or stressful. But the good thing about meditation is that it can lower stress and anxiety while increasing concentration and even help reduce pain, depression, insomnia, and emotional symptoms associated with illness and disease.

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My Yoga Retreat Bucket List

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My Yoga Retreat Bucket List

My friend Patty just got back from a teacher training course at the Coho Shambhala Estate in Bali, Indonesia. She looked radiant, glowing, tan, and happy from her trip and she couldn’t wait to tell me all about how amazing it was over there. We went to Millennium for dinner and she regaled me with stories about practicing for five hours in the quiet beauty of rainforest surroundings. A full spa is there, of course, and the quiet serenity of the resort was unlike anywhere she’d ever been, much less studied.

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My Travel Go Bag

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travel go bagAs everyone knows, I love to travel, but I’m not rich. I travel slowly and cheaply. Doing so allows me to immerse myself more in local culture and really get to know and understand the places I visit. I hate only going to a new place for a couple of days and only getting a superficial feel for it.

Because I’m a budget traveler I often have to leave in a hurry when I find a good deal. Some of the best deals on flights are last minute fares so I’m always ready to leave at a moments notice. Because of this I’ve gotten really good at packing quickly. I thought it would be cool and helpful to share the gear I take with me wherever I go, no matter the weather.

iPad

I used to take a laptop everywhere. It was great for writing emails, blogging, surfing the net, etc. The downside was the size. A full laptop is heavy and takes up a lot of space. Almost three years ago now I bought an iPad to replace my travel laptop. It’s great because it’s saved me a ton of space and weight and I can use it for everything I need while on the road. The screen cover doubles as a keyboard so I can quickly and easily write emails or blogs posts. I also use it for all my reading which means I don’t have to worry about forgetting to bring my books along.

Clothes

I’m somewhat of a minimalist when it comes to packing so I try to only bring what I’ll actually need. No matter how long I’ll be traveling for I pack 4 shirts, one pair of pants, one pair of shorts, and a bathing suit. I’ve gotten good at washing clothes in a sink and bringing a small piece of cord to hang dry them.

Watch

I rarely use a cell phone while traveling because I don’t call people from it and I don’t want to chance losing it. The thing I miss most about not carrying a phone is not knowing the time. This is going to sound crazy, but I’m actually a big fan of tactical watches (like these) because they’re rugged, have multiple alarms, and can keep track of different time zones. Yes, I’m a pacifist, but dang if these watches aren’t cool.

Wind/Rain Jacket

I have a great lightweight wind and rain proof jacket that I bring everywhere. Really, it’s no more than a layer of rubber but it works in any climate. In the tropics it keeps my dry without roasting me and in colder climates I can wear a sweater underneath.

Well that’s the gist of it. I have some other favorites I bring along too but this should get you started on your own travel go-bag.

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So Many Things I Miss About Shanghai

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shanghaiI’m in a pensive mood, thinking about all the wonderful things about home. I watched the movie Looper last night, with Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who looks exactly like a young Bruce Willis, I never realized how much they resemble each other), and there were some scenes that were in Shanghai. Of course, it made me yearn for home as any movie or TV show that takes place there often does. It got me in a headspace that just made me want to list everything I miss about home.

Sometimes I wonder if these lists are more for me than anyone else, because let’s be honest; how many of you are going to read this and think to themselves; “I think I’ll book a trip to Shanghai tomorrow”? Very few of you, I imagine. But I guess those who have been there will be familiar with almost every one of these places or things, and maybe they’ll get you reminiscing right along with me. If you’ve never been there, it’s one of the most amazing, confusing, beautiful, and sometimes infuriating places in all of the world. I love it very much and want to go back as soon as I can. Without further ado:

The Food

If you’ve never had Shanghai Xiaolongbao, they’re simply the best dumplings ever. You can find them filled with pork or pork with crab meat or roe. The taste is absolutely out of this world. But that’s just the dumplings, Shanghai has a rich and diverse flavor palette of spicy, sweet, and hot. Hunan spare ribs, buttery scallion pancakes, crispy lotus root. The freshest fish you’ve ever had too. It’s all so delicious and wonderful and while San Francisco has a few great Chinese restaurants, it’s hard to top the authentic versions in my beloved Shanghai.

The Bund

One of the most famous waterfront views of the Pudong side of Shanghai along the Huangpu River. The skyline is filled with skyscrapers and at night it’s electrifying to see! Even when it gets most crowded with natives and tourists alike, it’s still one of the best views of the city. The bridge changes color at night and sets a dramatic backdrop for the barges and cruise ships that sail past it.

The Culture

Perhaps one of the things I miss the most about Shanghai is the people. Just walk down any street in the city and you’ll get an unvarnished look into the lives of the people that reside there. Conversations in public no matter what the topic, people playing Mahjong, old men asleep in places that don’t look very comfortable, women still hang their laundry outside. There are random dance parties in the plaza, men bring birdcages to the park and hang them as they lounge by the lake. The smells and sounds of the city are inviting and mysterious all at the same time.

Haggling

Frowned upon for the most part here in the U.S., in Shanghai you can haggle over price for just about anything. Clothing, food, even beauty supplies, you can engage vendors by trying to get them to lower the price of something you need to buy. My father was an old pro at it, and almost always walked away a winner. I wasn’t too bad at it myself, but I’m sure my skills have diminished since without practice!

The Pearl Tower

A huge pink skyscraper with a bulbous top, I used to see it on my way to school in the mornings and my fellow students and I used to make up stories about what it really was and who lived there. It’s one of my fondest childhood memories.

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Why Are We Poisoning Ourselves?

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processed foodsThe U.S. Government has very strict guidelines set forth about what we can and cannot eat due to increased health risks. There are quite a few foods from all around the world that have been banned in all or part of our country; items like chocolate Kinder eggs (because of the choking hazard presented by the little toy inside of them), unpasteurized milk, haggis, raw ackee, and fugu (Japanese puffer fish). These have all been deemed illegal or have been heavily restricted due to the health threats they each pose to us. Yet the Government lets us consume some crazy, weird stuff that other countries have deemed entirely unsafe for consumption.

Many of these very same foods can be found on your supermarket shelves and you probably even have some of them in your kitchen pantry. Mac and cheese, yogurt; common everyday items that you likely haven’t given a second thought about as to their safety contain ingredients that just aren’t meant for the human body. Artificial additives, antibiotics,  and other strange items are present in many of the foods we eat and other countries have banned their use in their world markets.

I often wonder how it’s okay for the U.S. to ingest these bizarre ingredients yet many portions of the world find them unsafe for human consumption. Of course, there are different mores and politics in every country; even in Shanghai, there are items that you can eat there that we wouldn’t even think to consume here in the States and vice versa. Every culture is different obviously and we all have foods that are indigenous to our way of life. But looking at some of these things that the FDA deems satisfactory for ingestion in the U.S., it makes me shudder. Check out some of the things that we eat every day, yet are banned overseas:

Ractopamine

I’ve never heard of it either, but it’s a hormone given to livestock to helps increase weight gain and leanness in pigs, cows, and turkeys. But the hormone has been linked to cardiovascular issues in people as well as hyperactivity. That doesn’t sound too appetizing.

Potassium Bromate

When you see the word “enriched” on bread or burger buns, this is what they’re referring to. It’s a bleaching agent put into the dough that also adds elasticity. This too has also been linked to a number of health problems like kidney disease and thyroid issues.

Coloring Agents

That mac and cheese I mentioned has something in it called yellow #5. I don’t know about you, but I’m not all that interested in eating anything that has a number assigned to it. But processed mac and cheese isn’t the only culprit, in fact just about any type of processed food; from candy to crackers has some type of food coloring inside to make it more “appetizing”. Artificial food dyes have been linked to a whole host of health issues and have been banned throughout Europe.

Synthetic Hormones

rBGH and rBST are two growth hormones that are often found in dairy products such as milk and yogurt. Cows are injected with them and they’ve been linked to cancer studies as a possible cause of the disease in humans.

Azodicarbonamide

The fast food sandwich chain Subway was just involved in a controversy over this chemical additive. It was a part of the bread they were using to make their sandwiches and can also be found in frozen dinners, boxed pasta mixes, and processed baked goods. You can also find it in yoga mats. Now that’s kind of gross.

And this is just a portion of what’s out there! Eating healthy is a choice that is up to you to make effectively. Read the ingredients before you buy. There’s no reason we have to poison ourselves with these things, not with so many organic and healthier options available.

 

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Suggested Reading for Yoga Enthusiasts

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yoga booksI love to read and I almost always have a yoga book or two in my yoga bag. Having my Kindle makes it easier to carry my favorites with me at all times but Amazon doesn’t have all of them as e-Books yet and sometimes you just like holding a book in your hands instead of a flat piece of technology. Turning actual paper pages presents a unique sensation that you can’t recreate. There’s nothing like the smell of a book; the older and dustier, the better. Of course, they can get heavy so I try to get paperback versions whenever I can. But it’s not always possible.

Since I’m always lugging these books around with me everywhere I go, I’m often asked by people I meet in yoga classes and seminars which ones I’m reading and what I’ve liked lately. Truth is I’ve read so many that I always forget about one or two that are worth talking about, but I neglect to talk about them. Well, I figure what better place than my own blog to mention the ones that I love the most? These are books that talk about yoga, meditation, attitude, spirituality; all of the things that I’m really into lately. Some of these books are good for helping beginners who are interested in trying out yoga and others are for those who are well along on their journey and already have a solid, fundamental knowledge of what they’re looking for in their own life and from the people around them.

These are among my favorites and I can’t recommend them enough to all of you. I love each one equally and they will all enrich your life in some way or another. You will be very happy you took the time to read them. They are:

The Yoga Bible by Christina Brown

  • Easy to read and follow, with step by step directions to do a variety of poses.

 The Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff

  • Very detailed anatomical drawings. Goes in depth about how certain poses impact your body and provides a deeper understanding behind the basics of every movement.

Yoga for Beginners by Amy Gilchrist

  • As easy as it gets. The title says it all. This is one of the BEST books for beginners.

Light on Yoga by. B.K.S. Iyengar

  • Considered by many one of the most essential books on the practice and philosophy of yoga. Teachers and students alike will find this to be an absolutely invaluable resource.

The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice by T.K.V. Desikachar

  • This book helps develop a comprehensive sequence for a personalized practice.

Yoga Mind, Body, and Spirit: A Return to Wholeness by Donna Farhi

  • Donna is one of the most popular columnists ever in Yoga Journal magazine. She talks about how to integrate the teachings of almost every tradition into your everyday routine and focuses on connecting the mind, body, and the spirit through practice.

These are all great books to read and enjoy for helping develop your practice!

 

 

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