“Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own unguarded thoughts.” Buddha
In recent years, the affects of meditation have been a hot topic in the science world. Researchers are trying to scientifically explain why mindfulness practices have such a profound impact on participants. One scientist, Gaelle Desbordes, began studying the brain via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to determine the physical changes in the brain before and after meditating. Desbordes began practicing meditation in medical school to help her manage the stress of academic life. It made such a big difference for her that she wanted to understand why.
"In 2012, she (Desbordes) demonstrated that changes in brain activity in subjects who have learned to meditate hold steady even when they’re not meditating. " (The Harvard Gazette) The interesting aspect of Desbordes' study is that she studied the brain when people were engaged in everyday tasks, not when they were meditating. She proved that the impacts of a meditation practice are not limited to the practice itself but have far-reaching and lasting impacts.
One form of meditation that I love to practice - especially before bed - is yoga nidra. I recently recorded a yoga nidra practice for my newsletter crew. Every month I send out something special in my newsletter. To sign up, click HERE.
Yoga nidra is often referred to as the "yoga of sleep". It's a very calming practice that helps to transition the nervous system from a sympathetic state of "fight and flight" to a parasympathetic state of "rest and digest". And as Desbordes and other scientists have proven, the affects of these mindfulness practices can transform the brain and change peoples' lives.
Mindfulness practices like yoga nidra are not just about strengthening the mind, they're also about letting go of control and developing a deeper awareness of the mind's chatter. Have you ever sat back and observed your brain bounce from one topic - and one story - to the next? It's a fascinating practice, and with a little sense of humor can be quite enlightening!
Learning to step back from the mind's three-ring-circus allows for perspective and creates a space between the soul and thought. The mind is thinking all day long, but it doesn't mean that we have to believe every single thing we think. One of the greatest results of mindfulness is the space it creates to rework thoughts and to create a new dialogue over time.
There are hundreds of studies that show how our thoughts create real changes in our physiology. A study at UCLA showed that method actors playing various negative emotions showed a lower immune response in just one day.
I know there aren't a lot of hours in the day, but remember that even five minutes a day of mindfulness practices can make a huge difference not only in your brain, but in the way you view yourself and the world.
As someone who LOVES delicious food, summer is a gold mine for to-die-for recipes that are simple and incredibly nutritious. Portland is surrounded by farms, and one of my favorite summer activities is to go berry picking. There's something incredibly rewarding and meditative about picking produce warmed by the sun.
A few weeks back my family and I went berry picked and had a wonderful time except for the bee sting I got right on my arse! Painful as it was, it was worth it, and below you'll find the recipe I made with our berry stash.
I've spent the last five years studying nutrition and the intimate connection between what we eat and how it affects our digestion, hormones and immune system.
Did you know that your gut health in large part determines your immune health? True story! About 70% of your immune system is housed in your gut. Taking care of your gut can dramatically bolster the immune system and improve your overall health.
What often surprises my clients is that one of the most important things you can do to keep your gut and your immune system happy is to keep your diet dynamic and diverse.
It's important to maintain variety in your diet to provide yourself with an abundance of nutrients and to avoid the food intolerances that can develop from leaky gut.
Leaky gut is when the lining of your small intestines becomes permeable thereby "leaking" undigested food into the bloodstream and triggering a response from the immune system.
When we eat the same foods over and over again, the immune system is much more likely to label that food as a foreign invader thereby setting off a cascade of inflammatory reactions.
Sometimes the hardest part of making healthy eating choices is finding recipes that are delicious and feel like a treat rather than deprivation.
In my experience, deprivation fails 100% of the time.
With a few culinary tricks up your sleeve, you can make the transition to a healthy diet seamlessly while simultaneously supporting your gut and immune health for the long-term.
Below are two of my favorite summer recipes that are also a great choice for people struggling with autoimmune diseases and digestive issues.
BERRY, FIG & APRICOT COBBLER
Gluten free, Dairy free, Paleo, Vegan, Autoimmune Protocol
1 1/2C coconut oil, cold
1C coconut flour
1C arrowroot powder
1/2C maple syrup
1/2t sea salt
1/4C dried figs
1/4C dried apricots
1/4C coconut oil
Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Paleo, Vegan
2 lbs heirloom tomatoes
3 cloves garlic
6 inch cucumber
1 red bell pepper
1/2 cup fresh basil
1/2 cup onion
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
1 t sea salt
2 t cumin
1/2 t cayenne pepper
2 t ground pepper
Place all ingredients in a Vitamix and blend thoroughly. You may need to use the plunger.
The most important part of any healing journey is nailing down your "why".
What does this mean?
Wanting to lose 10lbs because you're going to look better in your jeans is not a lasting "why".
Wanting to lose 10lbs because you know you'll have more energy is a lasting "why".
Why is this? What's the difference between these two "why's"?
The first "why" is aesthetic and can at times be motivated by society. Often, this desire to be a certain size infers that you are somehow less than if you don't fit into this mold. Is wanting to look better in your jeans a bad thing? Absolutely not! Go to it! But soften that goal with self-love, grace and a deep understanding that your desire to look better in your jeans comes from a place of healing and not of shame.
The second "why" is about your ability to show up in the world. You know that if you had more energy, you could be more present with your spouse, and have more patience with your children. You know that if you had more energy you could workout a few days a week which is a major stress-reliever for you. This "why" is truly motivated by self-love.
Self-love is hard to come by. And, it always wins.
What is your "why"?
Write down what society tells you, you should be. Write down those nuanced and insidious voices that make you feel badly about yourself, and frankly, make you want to give up. Get that shit down on paper so that you can see it for what it is.
Write down all of the reasons why you want a better life for yourself, and how your self-care is a direct link to getting you what you really want.
Write down why self-love can be hard to come by sometimes, and how negative self-talk is impeding your progress.
Finally, sum all of this up into a few concise sentences. Share it with the people who will support you. Put this up in a conspicuous place so that you don't forget your process, your why and your path forward.
PHYSICAL RESPONSES TO STRESS
Most of us know what stress feels like: overwhelm, frustration...and maybe even a quick temper.
But what does stress physically feel like? How does stress manifest in our bodies?
There are essentially two different mechanisms of the nervous system: parasympathetic and sympathetic.
The parasympathetic nervous system is also known as the "rest and digest" state, which means that if you're chronically stressed your digestive system is going to struggle.
When digestion struggles, there can be malabsorption issues which lead to fatigue, blood sugar handling issues, muscle weakness, lack of sleep and you guessed it - more stress.
STRESS AND THE ADRENALS
“The particular kind of rest you need when you have adrenal fatigue comes not so much from lying down, but from standing up for yourself, and from removing or minimizing the harmful stresses in your life.”
― James L. Wilson, Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome
A big part of healing has to do with drawing lines in the sand, establishing strong boundaries, saying "no" more often and putting yourself first.
Stress comes in a lot of different forms, and each one of these scenarios is intimately managed by the adrenals:
Here are my top 5 ways to manage stress and heal my adrenals:
Most importantly, don't beat yourself up when you find that you discover you've fallen off of the "self-care" wagon. Take a deep breath and jump in. You'll be glad you did.
When COVID-19 hit, our family like so many others were faced with hard choices and financial uncertainty.
Over night I rebooted my little wellness business after having taken time off when my daughter was born.
The last few months have been nothing short of miraculous as I’ve watched my business expand at break-neck speed. I am so grateful.
Wellness business or not, business is business and it takes A LOT of time and effort. And, as one of my heroes, Brene Brown, says “first time stuff sucks”. There have been technology meltdowns, system breakdowns, shattered iPads and my own fear and insecurity.
There have been a lot of 15 hour work days, and baby kisses I was too busy to get.
And, I’m SO privileged to be able to build this business. A LOT of people would never have had the opportunity to do this in the first place.
As I make plans for the future trajectory of my business, I am reflecting on how I can show up better as an individual and also as a business - especially for BIPOC who I’m learning are categorically disenfranchised from wellness communities and resources.
This should have been starkly apparent to me before, but it wasn’t. I was actively oblivious.
There is no end date to this process or a box I can check. I suspect it will be an ever-evolving unlearning, education and building to affect my small corner of influence.
What affects one of us affects us all.
Sitting with other people’s suffering is painful and necessary to gain a deeper understanding of what the path forward is. And while I will never understand another person’s struggles I can strive to listen and to learn and hopefully in time contribute to the solution and not the problem. I hope to be a part of building a world I can be proud to share with my daughter.
Words fall short and don’t mean much without action behind them. While I have a lot to learn and understand, I’m determined to add my voice & action to the choir of people who are searching for, reflecting on and courageously building a more just and loving world.
Have you ever gone to a workout class and done a million ab repetitions and thought to yourself "I'm going to have a 6 pack in one week at this rate!"
...until you wake up the next morning with a sore neck and a pissed off low back, and absolutely zero soreness in your abs.
For most people, this scenario has happened at least once if not multiple times. And it's really discouraging.
Learning the principles of how to engage your core is a game-changer for ensuring your workout is put to good use, and ensures you'll experience both the aesthetic as well as the biomechanical benefits from the time you put into it.
Here's my go-to trick for relaxing the neck while doing ab work:
1) Lay on your back with your legs bent, and your hands behind your head.
2) Relax your hip flexors as much as possible.
4) On your exhale, curly your head and shoulders off of the floor until your shoulder blades are off of the floor. Hold. Can you relax your head into your hands? Ask your abs to carry the weight of your head rather than your neck and shoulders. Use the weight of your upper body as leverage to cue your abs to hold you up.
Here's my go-to trick for relaxing the low back while doing ab work:
1) Repeat the same exercise as above, except this time practice doing this exercise in imprint.
2) "Imprint" is when you scoop your low belly in as if to draw your low back towards the floor. Engaging your pelvic floor muscles will help you to activate your transversus abdominals which help to create a deep, flattening action in the low belly. These transversus abdominals are the missing link in relieving low back pain.
Remember, go slow, move consciously and be patient with yourself.
Learning how to engage the abs is truly a process that takes a lifetime.
For most of us, our lifestyles don't support proper functioning of the abdominals. Whether you spend your days playing golf or sitting at a computer, how you spend your time determines how your fascial system organizes itself to best suit your needs.
Yes, you did indeed hear that correctly. Your fascial system is quite literally continually remodeling itself to meet the demands you're placing upon it.
Sit with me now and take a deep breath.
Take a deep breath.
Notice how your body responds. Did you relax or tense up? Or didn't you notice anything at all? Whatever the response is, don't judge it, just be with it.
Imagine that your lungs function similarly to an umbrella. As you inhale sense that your rib cage is rolling out and up. As you exhale, sense that your ribs are rolling down and in.
Notice how your belly naturally responds to your breath.
Usually, the belly will expand out and relax on the inhale and deflate and gently contract on the exhale. This is natural and good unless you're in the middle of doing an abdominal exercise, and thus taking a big, deep belly breath could equate to straining your back.
Next time you exhale, purse your lips and imagine you're blowing out a bunch of candles on a cake. Notice how your abdominals respond. Can you sense how your waistband gently compresses in? Congratulations! Those are your obliques responding to your exhale! And when you purse your lips, the natural action of the obliques is amplified.
Next time you inhale, continue to imagine your ribs are rolling out and up like an umbrella, and simultaneously maintain a sense of compression around your abs, i.e. as if you have a tight pair of pants on.
Not only will this breathing exercise strengthen your abs, it will actually encourage a stretch throughout your rib cage by way of expanding areas of the rib cage and lungs that don't often receive a big influx of air.
You can practice this anywhere you like! Cue yourself to practice this while washing dishes or even while sitting on the couch watching t.v.
As your body becomes more familiar with this practice, it will be easier to apply it when you do abdominal exercises. Over time, you'll notice a significant shift not only in how you engage your abdominals but how you support your skeleton overall.
Since COVID19, most of us have been working out from home. My live, online classes have been very popular (yay!), and I've absolutely LOVED teaching them.
Many, many thanks to those of you have joined class. Connecting with you every day is one of the highlights of my day.
If you want to see my current schedule CLICK HERE.
You may not even realize it, but when you're joining me for an online class, I'm actually teaching from my garage...and I can't believe I'm saying this, but I've totally fallen IN LOVE with my garage. It's my she-cave of wellness goodness.
Joining a live class is a wonderful way to receive cueing for your specific body and in-the-moment answers to your questions. As an extra bonus, these classes have created a wonderful way to connect with others and to be a part of a community. I encourage my students to ask questions throughout class which allows everyone to learn from each other.
Collecting a couple of tools for your home workouts can make a big difference to the effectiveness of your workouts and to your experience in class. However, a pillow, a towel and two cans of food can also do the trick!
If you are curious about what tools to get, here's a list of my favorites:
Soft Foam Roller
There are SO MANY different foam rollers to choose from. However, most foam rollers are too firm and can create a stressful response in the body and damage the fascia. A firm massage is excellent, but a painful massage is not which is why I prefer the soft foam roller.
Manduka PRO yoga mat thick
Manduka PRO yoga mat lite
Manduka Eko yoga mat
Manduka Organic Spray for yoga mats
You can also visit Manduka's website and bundle several items together like a yoga mat, blocks, yoga mat cleaner & yoga strap. Enter ISHBELWELL at checkout.
Gaiam yoga mat
Gaiam Extra Thick yoga mat
Manduka is absolutely the queen bee in the yoga mat world. If you plan to use your yoga mat often, I would highly recommend springing for a Manduka mat.
Deciding between a thick or a thin mat is really up to your personal preference. If you notice that your bones feel achy when you lay on hard surfaces, you might consider buying the heavy mat to provide you a little extra padding. But, the heavy yoga mat is also...heavy! And if you're planning on carting it around to various locations, it might feel like a lot to lug around!
Yoga mats like Gaiam (which sell for around $20-$30) have a tendency to lose their grip and as time goes on, shed tiny bits of yoga mat onto your hands and in between your toes. When you're trying to enjoy your workout, this is not fun and can tremendously distract from your experience.
If buying a Manduka yoga mat isn't in your budget, Gaiam is a reliable company. You will notice that the mat begins to degrade in about 6 months after regular use. Gaiam also makes a very thick mat which is best for Pilates, but is not ideal for yoga.
Also, cheap yoga mats are horrendous on the environment. I love Manduka's Eko yoga mat because it's recyclable and biodegradable...and it's a long-term mat that you won't have to replace for years.
It might seem silly to buy yoga mat cleaning spray, but yoga mats are quite absorbable and need a special cleaning product to keep them fresh and long-lasting. I love Manduka's Organic yoga mat cleaning spray. It smells delicious and is totally natural which makes a big difference when your up-close-and-personal with your mat.
Manduka yoga bolster
Yoga Accessories bolster
There truly are no words for how much I love yoga...and really, for how much I NEED yoga. Over the last 20 years I've practiced and taught every single type of yoga there is: kundalini, vinyasa, iyengar, anusara, yin, hatha, restorative. Some forms of yoga only require a yoga mat. Other forms of yoga are tremendously improved with a few helpful tools.
Of all the forms of yoga I've practiced over the years, yin and restorative yoga are by far my favorite. They involve deeply-held stretches that are not only amazing for remodeling your fascial system but also heal the nervous system.
A yoga bolster is what makes yin and restorative yoga enjoyable...and possible! Both yin and restorative yoga are most effective when a participant can truly relax into the position. Thus, if you're ready to dive into a deep, restful yoga practice like yin or restorative yoga, you'll need a bolster, a yoga strap and yoga blocks.
On Wednesday's @ 12:30 I teach an online Calming Yoga, Meditation and Self-Massage class. You can experience the stress-relieving benefits of yin/restorative yoga in this class. CLICK HERE for more information.
Gaiam yoga block
Manduka Cork yoga block
Manduka Recycled yoga block
As I've previously stated in this blog post, Manduka is absolutely my favorite yoga tool company, but if you're tight on money, Gaiam is a good second-choice. Yoga tools can be incredibly tough on the environment, which is why I love the many recycled options Manduka sells.
If you're debating between the Manduka cork and recycle blocks, there are pro's and con's for both. The cork yoga block is a little bit sturdier than the recycled block and thus will provide a bit more support. Conversely, the recycled yoga block is ideal for restorative and yin yoga as it as a slightly softer feel and "gives" more.
Yoga blocks are used in all forms of yoga to provide extra support in restorative postures as well as in standing postures. You'll be amazed by how many exercises you can incorporate these blocks into.
Want a workout that will leave your inner thighs and your abs screaming? Yoga blocks are your answer.
Want to open your heart and relax your spine? You'll need a yoga block for the full spa-experience.
EKTOS 100% Wool Yoga Blanket
Aside from yoga mats, I'm the most particular about yoga blankets. When it comes to yoga there's absolutely no comparison between a regular blanket and a wool blanket.
Wool blankets are thick and highly malleable which translates really well to restorative/yin yoga. You can adjust the shape of the wool blanket to accommodate your body, and it's incredibly cozy for savasana.
While it's unlikely your blanket will get dirty enough to require cleaning, here's a word on caring for your wool blanket:
1. You shouldn't wash your wool blanket in a top loading machine with an agitator. It can severely damage the blanket. If you don't have a front loading washing machine, take it to dry cleaner. Wash it in cold water, gentle cycle, with a little soap which is gentle or specifically made for wool.
2. Line/air dry as directed, then put it in the dryer with 3 tennis balls on NO HEAT/FLUFF for 10-20 min cycles. It's normal for the blanket to shed a bit and thus you should clean our your lint screen each time.
3. Sometimes people are freaked out by the smell of wool. The smell comes from lanolin which is a naturally occurring substance in wool. The smell will lessen with time.
Manduka yoga strap 10 feet
5BILLION Yoga Stretching Strap w/ grips
Yoga straps are really helpful for supporting the arms and legs in yoga poses. Sometimes, a yoga strap is the difference between you being able to do a pose with ease and not being able to do it at all.
The 5BILLION Yoga Stretching Strap is a nice option for those of you whose hands get tired holding a traditional yoga strap. I like this option for people who have arthritis in their hands, or who struggle with rotator cuff issues.
STOTT 2lb Toning Balls
When it comes to Pilates-specific equipment, it's hard to beat STOTT Pilates equipment. It's incredibly well-made and designed by Pilates instructors who have decades upon decades of experience.
What's the difference between a toning ball and a hand weight? A lot actually!
There are entire Pilates workouts designed around toning balls. The fact that they roll diversifies the Pilates experience and allows for Pilates exercises normally done on large pieces of Pilates equipment (like the reformer) to be done on the mat.
I promise you - you will be amazed at how much you can do with these little guys!
Thera Band Non-latex medium tension
Thera Band Non-latex heavy tension
The Thera Band company is the gold standard in exercise bands.
I love these bands because they're latex-free, and lot of people have skin reactions to latex.
The medium tension pack is great for beginner to intermediate Pilates students.
The heavy bands are absolutely NOT ideal for most people. I would only recommend these for people who are used to lifting heavy weights. But, if you are a weight-lifter, I can promise you that you will be sweating in no time with these. They can turn a traditional Pilates practice up 10 notches and make your gym workout look like child's play.
7 INCH EXERCISE BALL
J-Fit exercise therapy ball 7inch
This guy may seem small, but it packs a mighty punch.
With the right choreography, your glutes, abs, arms, legs and back will get the workout of their lives.
Jabra Elite 65t Earbuds
Ring Light iPad & iPhone Holder
Logitech C920 Webcam
I am absolutely allergic to technological devices. I see one, and I feel like I break out in hives! Some of my dearest friends have helped me compile this list, and I am forever grateful to them, as understanding how all of these devices work and which one is good, etc. is totally over my head and is of no interest to me!
If you are taking online exercise classes, it can sometimes be hard to hear your instructor when you step far away from your device...which you often need to do so that they can see your form. The Jabra Elite 65t are nice to have in this situation.
The Ring Light iPad & iPhone Holder is a natural light + a device holder in one. This stand makes it super easy to move your ipad/iphone up and down or tilt forward or back to get the perfect angle. One of the biggest challenges doing group classes or private sessions online is figuring out how to get your device in the right position. It can be very frustrating when it's falling off the chair you put it on and falling on its face, etc! In addition, the ring light is adjustable so that you can warm or cool the look of the light to help eliminate shadows and made you easier to see.
Word to the wise: when initially getting your Ring Light set up, do so on a carpeted area. As you figure out how all of the attachments work, it is not uncommon for the frame holding your ipad to bounce around or eject your ipad without warning. This happened to me, and my poor, beautiful ipad was smashed. Miraculously it still works, but nonetheless a whole heck of a lot of stress could have been avoided if I was on carpet.
The Logitech C920 Webcam is a great choice for clarifying your video quality...so I've been told by numerous people, but I haven't tried it myself yet. I'm just ordering mine today, so I will touch back on what I think of it. Right now I'm just nervous about how easy it's going to be to set up, but as with all technological devices, I'm learning it's trial and error.
Remember, you don't need any tools to make your online class experience enjoyable, BUT, if you are able to spend a little on equipping your home studio, you'll find that your workouts can be even more enjoyable and effective than they already are.
The links I've used in this post are called “affiliate links.” Which means, if you click on the link and make a purchase from that vendor, based on my recommendation, I may earn a commission for that sale, future sales or recurring billings.
I only promote things that I truly believe will benefit you. In addition, I only recommend products or services that I’ve personally used and benefitted from myself.
I I haven’t tried it or used it myself and had a positive experience, I’m not going to suggest it to you. So you can rest assure that anything I recommend is going to be the highest quality.
One other thing worth mentioning is that I am not given free products, services or tools in exchange for a review or promotion on my sites or to my subscribers. The only compensation I receive comes by way of an affiliate commission if you purchase it yourself.
Air Fry Carrot Chips
To slice these carrots into thin strips, I break the carrot in half and then put it in the food processor with the slicer attachment on which creates thinly sliced carrot “chips”...okay, maybe “long chips” is a better way to describe this.
Then, I toss the carrot “long chips” in avocado oil and any spices of your choosing. To keep it simple try for garlic powder, salt and pepper.
Air fry on 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Keep an eye on these as they can burn before you’ve had a chance to say “yummy”!
CLICK HERE for the link to the Breville airfryer. Not only does it air fry, but it also slow cooks, baked and dehydrates too!
My daughter gives these cutie pie muffins a "MORE" which is the best compliment there is. Plus, I don't care if these muffins are all she eats for dinner because they're packed with vitamin C, protein and healthy fats.
12 muffin tins
10 cutie oranges (mandarins)
1/2 cup monk fruit/maple syrup
2 1/2 cups almond flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup blueberries
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Place muffin tins in muffin pan.
Place cuties in a saucepan and cover with water. Simmer for 10 minutes.
Remove from water, drain well and let cool.
Remove skins off half of the cuties. Leave the other half with skins intact. Discard removed skins.
Place cuties with skins in blender. Place cuties without skins in blender. Blend well.
Place eggs and vanilla extract in a bowl and beat until fluffy and doubled in size.
Add almond flour, sweetener, baking soda, and blended oranges. Mix well.
Fold in blueberries.
Spoon batter into muffin tins, filling 2/3 of the way up.
Bake for 15-20 minutes.
Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes.