Ethical Gift Ideas That are Sure to Delight Your Partner

Hello Lovelies,  Have I shared about my incredible friends recently?  These amazing women have taken ethical purchasing to the next level.  They use their dollars to support what they believe in.  That is our power ladies!  One of these beauties does not succumb to fast marketing or fast fashion.  She always looks incredible and she can walk through Target and not buy any clothing.  She is my hero.
My friend Amy is gorgeous, pregnant with her second baby, and is helping all of us shop more ethically all the time not just during the holidays in her Noonday Shop.  Amy and I have known each other for over a decade.  We both found our passion for yoga together.
For several years, we had an intimate little studio in my living room that met every Monday night.  Some of my fondest memories of those years is our practice together.  We would follow our ritual each week lighting candles and brewing steamy cups of tea to make the space perfectly hygge.  We were into self-care before it was a trend.  Amy is an incredible woman inside and out.
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Here is a quick interview I did with her about Noonday, an online shop filled with unique jewelery and accessories handmade by Artisans across the globe.  Yay for unique items, but the best part for me is that they are committed to fair trade.
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Bex: How did you find out about Noonday?
AFB: I work in international development. I was at a conference giving a presentation and was distracted by my colleague’s earrings. After the meeting, I confessed that I had been coveting them during the presentation. It turned out that she is a Noonday Ambassador and got me hooked on the organization’s mission to build a better world.

Bex: What made you decide to join the Noonday team?

AFB: Jewelry is such a great entry point for people in the U.S. to learn about other countries and to help on a micro-level. After working in international development for over a decade, I’ve come to believe that helping individuals on a small scale is the most effective way to lift communities. The fact that it also helps families in the U.S. who are in the adoption process is an additional bonus!

Bex: What is your favorite thing about Noonday products?
AFB: I love that everything is a little different and has a story. You can feel connected to the people who made it. Also, I love unique earrings, of which Noonday has a wide selection!
Bex: How can people shop the collection?
AFB: Lots of ways! Shop my website anytime or contact me through the website to host a trunk show. There are so many of benefits to hosting, but mostly its an excuse for a great afternoon with friends playing adult dress up 🙂
Ok friends.  It’s that simple.  Fun, friends, ethical gifts, using your money to support positive business.  This is an awesome chance to source some incredible, unique gifts.  I highly recommend checking Noonday out during your holiday shopping.
I can’t wait to hear what you think of these ideas.  Stay tuned for a few more leading up to the New Year.
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Yoga poses that will make Thanksgiving remarkably blissful

Blissfully Calming Yoga Poses to Kick Holiday Stress to the Curb

Hello beautiful people.  I wanted to share with you a practice to keep you present and grounded throughout this week.  Here are 7 yoga poses to practice if you would like to take control of your joy over Thanksgiving.  They can be done as a short sequence or selected one by one, holding for anywhere between 10 breaths and several minutes.


1. Mountain Pose

Place your feet hips width apart or wider on the ground. Connect the feet to the ground and ensure that the toes are not gripping.   Spend a moment to note whether you can feel each foot connection point on the ground beneath you. Grow taller with your breath, as you feel the chest rising and falling with the breath. Keep the palms facing forward to open yourself up to receiving positive energy and calmness.

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2. Standing Forward Fold

This is an instantly calming pose known to relieve stress and fatigue while energizing the body as the blood flows to the head. Hold this pose with a gentle or generous bend in the knees and shoulders free of tension.

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3. Seated Forward Fold

Stretch your legs long in front of you and fold forward.  Take note of how the hamstrings feel nothing that the stretch should come from the middle of the muscle.  Find length along the spine.  Feel free to generously bend the knees. Even resting the forehead on the knees.  Remember this is a restorative practice.  We aren’t giving out medals for the bendiest person.

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4. Warrior II

Warrior II is an extremely powerful pose.  Stand tall, stand strong, and settle into your pose. Try closing your eyes. Feel the muscles in the body working to hold you steady as you connect to the absolute power that resides within.  Reach both in front and behind with the arms, stretching the body wide.  Remind yourself in this practice that you control you and your responses.  This is your power friends.

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5. Child’s Pose

A restorative pose for instant calm! Keep toes towards each other and knees as wide as your mat.  Gently reach your arms long on the mat resting the forehead.  Try rocking the forehead left to right on the mat for added massage and relaxation.

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6.  Legs-Up-the-Wall

If you only have time for one asana, please work this into your day.  I love to do legs up the wall just before bed.

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 7. Savasana

Savasana is THE relaxation pose. It truly encourages the body to come to a still position and just breathe, bringing us naturally to a more peaceful state.  Lay down on your mat, the floor or your bed.  Splay the feet out to the sides.  Check in that the lower back is connected to the floor.  Adjust the pelvis as needed.  Drop the shoulders away from the ears.  Tuck the chin slightly so that the muscles along the back of the neck length along the mat or floor.  Breath naturally.  Soak up the bliss.

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Bonus: Meditation

Find a comfortable seat.  Take a few long slow breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth.  You can count the breaths as an anchor to keep you focused.  One on the inhale, two on the exhale, three on the inhale, and so on until you get to ten.  Then you can start again.  Start with one minute.  You can build from there, a little more each day.  Remember, this is about your intention.  If you are taking the time to slow down and be intentional, then you are meditating!  Keep up the good work friends.

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Just a few minutes can bring you to a place of absolute calm, preparing you to enjoy this holiday season with an energized body, calm mind, and full heart.  Please send me a message if you have questions about this practice.

Happy Thanksgiving lovelies.

Here are a few items I love to keep my practice comfortable.



Meditation 101: tips and how to’s for beginners

Meditation 101: Techniques, Benefits, and a Beginner’s How-to

by: Inner IDEA

Meditation is an approach to training the mind, similar to the way that fitness is an approach to training the body. But many meditation techniques exist — so how do you learn how to meditate?

“In Buddhist tradition, the word ‘meditation’ is equivalent to a word like ‘sports’ in the U.S. It’s a family of activities, not a single thing,” University of Wisconsin neuroscience lab director Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D., told The New York Times. And different meditation practices require different mental skills.

It’s extremely difficult for a beginner to sit for hours and think of nothing or have an “empty mind.”  In general, the easiest way to begin meditating is by focusing on the breath — an example of one of the most common approaches to meditation: concentration.

CONCENTRATION MEDITATION

Concentration meditation involves focusing on a single point. This could entail following the breath, repeating a single word or mantra, staring at a candle flame, listening to a repetitive gong, or counting beads on a mala. Since focusing the mind is challenging, a beginner might meditate for only a few minutes and then work up to longer durations.

In this form of meditation, you simply refocus your awareness on the chosen object of attention each time you notice your mind wandering. Rather than pursuing random thoughts, you simply let them go. Through this process, your ability to concentrate improves.

MINDFULNESS MEDITATION

Mindfulness meditation encourages the practitioner to observe wandering thoughts as they drift through the mind. The intention is not to get involved with the thoughts or to judge them, but simply to be aware of each mental note as it arises.

Through mindfulness meditation, you can see how your thoughts and feelings tend to move in particular patterns. Over time, you can become more aware of the human tendency to quickly judge an experience as good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant. With practice, an inner balance develops.

In some schools of meditation, students practice a combination of concentration and mindfulness. Many disciplines call for stillness — to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the teacher.

OTHER MEDITATION TECHNIQUES

There are various other meditation techniques. For example, a daily meditation practice among Buddhist monks focuses directly on the cultivation of compassion. This involves envisioning negative events and recasting them in a positive light by transforming them through compassion. There are also moving meditation techniques, such as tai chi, qigong, and walking meditation.

BENEFITS OF MEDITATION

If relaxation is not the goal of meditation, it is often a result. In the 1970s, Herbert Benson, MD, a researcher at Harvard University Medical School, coined the term “relaxation response” after conducting research on people who practiced transcendental meditation. The relaxation response, in Benson’s words, is “an opposite, involuntary response that causes a reduction in the activity of the sympathetic nervous system.”

Since then, studies on the relaxation response have documented the following short-term benefits to the nervous system:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved blood circulation
  • Lower heart rate
  • Less perspiration
  • Slower respiratory rate
  • Less anxiety
  • Lower blood cortisol levels
  • More feelings of well-being
  • Less stress
  • Deeper relaxation

Contemporary researchers are now exploring whether a consistent meditation practice yields long-term benefits, and noting positive effects on brain and immune function among meditators. Yet it’s worth repeating that the purpose of meditation is not to achieve benefits. To put it as an Eastern philosopher may say, the goal of meditation is no goal. It’s simply to be present.

In Buddhist philosophy, the ultimate benefit of meditation is the liberation of the mind from attachment to things it cannot control, such as external circumstances or strong internal emotions. The liberated or “enlightened” practitioner no longer needlessly follows desires or clings to experiences, but instead maintains a calm mind and sense of inner harmony.

Here are some helpful tools I use to support my practice:




Food, Shelter, Safety, and Yoga.

In a world where people experiencing homelessness are ignored and literally pushed to the fringes of society, I am continually amazed by the resilience and kindness of the human spirit in spite of life’s unimaginable circumstances. And I have been honored to witness how these qualities are continually cultivated and grown in a simple yoga practice.

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The reasons why people find themselves homeless are as varied as the trees you find in the forest. Given that people experiencing homelessness are often reduced to focusing on meeting their basic needs: food, shelter and safety, it is a wonder to me that anyone would find their way to a yoga class.

However, one beautiful woman that I met at SOME (So Others Might Eat), a community-based organization that assists the poor and homeless in Washington, DC, exemplified the importance of a yoga practice that is accessible and specifically designed to take place in the jail system.  She shared with me about the impact of a program she took part in offered by Yoga District while she was in a local jail.  While practicing yoga, she learned and clearly now understood how to connect with the present moment, the impact of exercising to reduce stress, and the joy found in simply finding activities and people that we enjoy.  As she shared her experience with me, she was so present and connected with a sparkle in her eye. I was in the moment with her.

While there was nothing particularly special about my conversation with this woman at SOME to set it apart from any other conversation. But for that brief moment I’d like to believe we connected as humans are supposed to, seeing and honoring each other’s light.  Namaste.

Calls to Action:

  1. Do you know anyone at Yoga District in DC who could connect me with an instructor for the jail program? Right now, the woman I met is not connected to a yoga studio and I have been trying to reconnect her with her instructor from Yoga District.
  2. Would you like to support yoga for the underserved? Check out my upcoming class in Gainesville, Georgia at Flip Your Dog Yoga Studio on October 29.  Let me know and I’ll set you up.

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Scientific Research: The Benefits of Meditation for Beginners

When you hear the word meditation, what comes to mind? Peace? Clarity? A particular practice or technique? The image of a yogi in lotus pose? Or perhaps you think, “Sounds great, but I really don’t have the time to meditate.” Maybe you’ve heard about the benefits, how meditation reduces stress levels and produces a calmer state of mind. Maybe you’ve even experienced these benefits yourself.

 

For those who are interested in the healing effects of meditation, there’s been plenty of research over the past several decades that attests to the validity of many a meditator’s anecdotal evidence. Time and again, researchers are finding that people who meditate experience lower levels of anxiety, anger, depression, and tension, and that meditation can also be a supportive practice for those who have experienced trauma. While the causal relationship between meditation and these psychological benefits may be (as of yet) somewhat unknown, evidence does suggest that they may have a lot to do with a restructuring of the brain itself.

People who meditate experience lower levels of anxiety, anger, depression, and tension, and that meditation can also be a supportive practice for those who have experienced trauma.

Recently a team of researchers from the University of Sienna came together to study mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). They described the practice as a “meditation-based program in which participants are invited to connect with their physical sensations, perceptions, emotions, cognitions, and behaviour over a period of eight weeks with a ‘non-judgmental’ attitude.”

The purpose was to measure the possible scope of neuroanatomical changes resulting from meditative practices, specifically at both the cortical and subcortical brain levels. The research was groundbreaking as most studies over the past decade have focused on highly accomplished meditators, while all of the 48 participants in this study were “meditation-naïve subjects.”

Requisites to their participation included a score higher than 27 on the Mini-Mental Status Examination (a 30-point questionnaire often used to measure cognitive impairment), the absence of psychiatric or neurological disorders in their personal medical history, and the ability to participate in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study. Participants were divided into two groups—24 of the subjects underwent MBSR training and were primarily taught methods such as body scanning, sitting meditation, walking meditation, and mindful stretching movements, while the remaining 24 (the control group) were not. Those involved in the training were asked to attend in-class sessions for 2.5 hours every week and encouraged to use the meditative techniques they learned in their developing personal practice for 45 minutes daily. They were also asked to journal about their experience. Between the sixth and seventh class, the participants were invited to a silent retreat.

Meditation enhanced the areas of the brain involved in perception and the regulation of emotion.

Both the trainees and the control group submitted to MRI scans and psychological testing before and after the eight-week training period. Among the MBSR-trained participants, the results indicated “an increase of cortical thickness in the right insular lobe and somatosensory cortex,” as well as “a significant after-training reduction of several psychological indices related to worry, state anxiety, depression, and alexithymia.” (Alexithymia is difficulty in experiencing and describing one’s emotions.) In short, meditation enhanced the areas of the brain involved in perception and the regulation of emotion.

What does this mean for practitioners and soon-to-be practitioners of meditation? According to Rolf Sovik, PsyD, the Spiritual Director of the Himalayan Institute, the findings are not only validating for beginners they also speak to a larger inquiry.

“The findings suggest that even beginning-level meditation training can have potentially powerful neurological effects. And as the researchers involved in this experiment have taken a broad-minded approach in their examination of meditation, it also raises an intriguing question: What is the active ingredient that makes meditation meditation, the ingredient that is responsible for any changes observed in the study?”

According to the researchers themselves, the benefits of meditation may simply have been the result of the practitioners’ increasing non-judgmental awareness of their moment-to-moment bodily sensations. In his 2012 interview with Omega, Jon Kabat Zinn, the founder of MSBR training, came to a similar conclusion, emphasizing the transformative ability of the meditative process. “Science is now documenting that it’s not the objects of meditation that are important; it’s the process of paying attention to them—the attending—that actually influences the organism in a whole range of different ways.”

As to the power of focused attention, author and teacher Sandra Anderson states that it gives us a key to our inner life and offers the potential for mastery over the mind (which is, of course, the goal of yoga). She likens a life lived on autopilot to doors within a mansion that are never opened. “To be able to find a way to see what’s present in those unused rooms, and to be nonjudgmental about it, that’s a huge part of what this gives you. To be able to do that means you’re living [from] a bigger part of your psyche, and that expansiveness gives you a groundedness and a capacity to entertain things that you couldn’t otherwise. Your mind is freer. Your responses are more spontaneous. And the world becomes much bigger because you now have more space, as well as the ability to understand the reality of situations and your responses to them.”

Anderson states that the study is validating and encouraging in a number of ways. For instance, because these practices have such subtle effects, their benefits aren’t always easily recognizable and so practitioners sometimes become discouraged, believing that meditation is a “waste of time.” This study demonstrates that an investment in meditation is indeed a powerful means to reclaiming mental health. “What this study points out to us is that some very simple ways of working with yourself can offer a huge return in terms of quality of life,” says Anderson. “And the fact that [meditation] also changes the way that your brain functions is hugely reassuring to people. It also validates the understanding that we have from the scriptures of the mind being habituated and falling into grooves. When you start practicing, you begin to catch your mind running in certain patterns, emotionally laden patterns perhaps, and you come to realize that they’re not inevitable.”

“What this study points out to us is that some very simple ways of working with yourself can offer a huge return in terms of quality of life.”

According to the Bhagavad Gita, “Yoga is the breaking of contact with pain.” And while this study was not specifically tailored toward yogic meditation techniques, sitting meditation and mindful stretching movements are, without a doubt, central components of the yoga tradition. Yet perhaps what is most exciting about this and other neurological studies is that they suggest that these practices may cause an increase in emotional resilience and brain elasticity. They also indicate that there does seem to be a sort of “active ingredient” that ties practices of meditation and mindfulness together. As to what that is, whether it’s the process of attending or something far more mysterious, the suggestion seems to be that the healing effects of these practices are powerfully real.

Has your practice changed you? Please leave your comments below.