Why Yoga is the Key

Exercising doesn’t necessarily mean running ten miles to feel good about yourself. Why run when you can do yoga to feel just as good physically and mentally? Yoga is one of the greatest forms of exercise because it is both physically and mentally satisfying. The intense focus on mentality is why I love yoga so much. I feel rejuvenated after, not exhausted. I want to go to yoga, I don’t dread this type of exercise. Mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise and yoga is a wonderful outlet to strengthen your brain.

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You may only be at downward dog right now, but pretty soon you could be bending like a pretzel.

Yoga is all about focus. Forgetting about work, relationships and any other responsibilities to focus on your body and mind. Yoga is the only time I am allowed to focus on just myself, how my body is moving and allowing my mind to focus on keeping my breathing deep and steady to relax my mind. It is also a great technique to help sleeping problems because the breathing techniques can be implied if there is trouble falling asleep. Yoga breathing has helped me many,many times with sleep when my mind is too cluttered to think about resting.

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Yoga allows you to relax your body and mind to create a better you. What I love about yoga is how breathing is a centric part of all classes. Deep breathing is an amazing tool to use in times of stress, pain, anger, fear…the list goes on. Once I began practicing yoga regularly, it became easier to apply the breathing techniques and notice a change in how I handled tense situations. You don’t realize how many benefits there are to yoga until you find yourself in public stretching out your shoulders or letting out a deep breath.

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Another great aspect of yoga is stress relief. The breathing paired with stretching will wash all the stress away and allow you to relax your body and mind. Yoga moves tend to focus on relieving tension from the shoulders and back, which is where stress builds up in your body. Stress can build up quickly in your body without you even realizing it. This can lead to pulled muscles and other health complications like chronic stress which is more serious. Yoga allows you to stretch out all of your muscles and replace any pain caused by stress with soothing relief and comfort.

 

More experienced yogis can do intense backbends and splits but don’t feel pressured to match their expertise right away. It takes time to increase flexibility, but it is possible for you to get there! Dancers tend to have impeccable posture because they are stretching and increasing their flexibility constantly. Yoga can have the same results!! Weekly stretches and poses will strengthen the muscles in your back and shoulders, which will lead to better posture. This could take a few weeks, or maybe a couple of months. The benefits of breathing techniques will be present almost immediately, but don’t give up on the physical benefits which will take some more time. Consistency is key! Whether that means five minutes of breathing everyday, or 20 minutes of new poses and stretching, it is all positive for your mind and soul. Letting out stress while increasing flexibility…double benefit!

The BEST part about yoga?? You can be your own teacher! There are dozens of YouTube tutorials and apps you can download that will guide you through stretches and breathing techniques to get you started. Once you get the hang of it, you can start doing it alone! Just 10-15 minutes every day can do a world of difference for your body and mind. I can say all I want about yoga, but you have to try it yourself to experience the benefits.

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Good luck and namaste!

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Sticking to What Works: Why We Find Things We Love, and Then Drop Them

I have recently become comfortable with the practice of yoga. For years, I watched beautiful people in a light sweat bounce casually out the door of the numerous yoga studios around town. As a child, I wondered about them‒what those rolled up mats were for, how they always seemed so calm and serene, why they all looked like hippies. As I grew older, I began to envy them. What was this strange practice that supposedly quieted the mind while simultaneously strengthening the body? I couldn’t understand how meditation could make someone sweat, let alone present a physical challenge.

Curious and interested in Eastern philosophy, I decided to see what all the fuss was about for myself. At first, things seemed hopeless. I was thin and bony, without an ounce of muscle on my body. My grandfather used to hold up my limp little arms and joke with me, saying, “Look at this sack of wet mice.” I couldn’t even lift ten pounds. As I crouched there on my purple yoga mat, praying the teacher wouldn’t come over and fix my position again, I stole glances at the other people in the class. To my surprise, no one else was looking around nervously like I was. They all had their eyes closed, earnestly breathing in rhythm like the good yogis they were.

At the time, I thought they were all masters. It seemed to come so easy to them, like they didn’t even have to try. I started to wonder what I was doing there, feeling like I had disturbed their meditation, distracting the teacher who kept coming over to pull my arms higher up by my ears or bend my knee deeper into a lunge. I thought to myself that I had been wrong to dream about yoga all this time, that it clearly was not for me.

A few years later, I came back to the practice with a fresh outlook. At my new studio, I realized that not one person in the room was a master. They were all struggling too, in their own personal way. I began to feel like for the first time in my life I had found a form of exercise that I could pursue confidently, without having to worry that I wasn’t good enough. Organized sports had always made me feel inferior‒I didn’t understand why I had been born with noodles for arms, lanky legs and flat feet. After trying just about every sports team in my town, I gave up and pursued the arts instead.

This is another interest into which I have dedicated a substantial amount of time. Though creative endeavors come much easier to me than any form of physical exercise, the pattern began to show up once again. This time, I noticed it in my writing. Since elementary school, I have loved poetry. I would collect pretty notebooks and write my most secret thoughts there, weaving them into rhymes as best I could. For years, I remained proud of my work‒I remained humble, but believed that I was writing something worthy of being read. In my junior year of high school, I went to a weekend conference for young writers. I studied poetry there and in that week wrote my best work to date. I met wonderful people who possessed more talent than I had ever seen. I wanted to be like them.

When I got home, I tried writing poetry again as I had for so many years before, but something had changed. I no longer had the confidence in my work to see it through more than one revision, often leaving poems unfinished, never to be looked at again. It was the saddest loss of interest I’ve ever experienced—the passion that had kept me up at night to write poems had gone suddenly, without my notice.

Back to my new found love for yoga. I bought all the necessary accouterments‒the special padded mat, new leggings, headbands, sports bras and tank tops. I was ready to be like those beautiful yoga people I had watched for so long and for a little while, I was. For a few weeks, I scheduled my life around classes, trying to go as often as I could. I looked forward to the rush of energy and bliss that washed over me as I left each session. It was a similar feeling to writing a poem that explains your feelings exactly as they are in your head.

Then, very subtly, something again began to change. I stopped looking forward to classes and started seeing them as I had seen all exercise in the past—something I had to drag myself to, monotonous and unenjoyable. As the weeks continued to roll by, I went to classes less and less, procrastinating with them like I would with school deadlines. After a while, I stopped going altogether.

As time went on, I realized that this was a trend in my life and that, after speaking to others about this phenomenon, I was not alone. Every time I found something constructive, a goal of some kind to work towards, I would pursue it for a while, then slowly lose interest. Yoga was such a healthy force in my life—it was challenging, fun and made me feel good. I had spent so much of my life feeling defeated by organized exercise and here I had finally found something that worked for me. So why did I stop? I’m still trying to figure it out. I could blame it on my generation as a whole and claim that as a millennial my attention span is naturally short. I could even say that those hobbies just weren’t for me. The thing is, I know full well that I loved doing them and wish I hadn’t let them slip out of habit.

If in reading this you’ve realized that you too are resisting things you are good at, things that you love—my advice to you (and myself) is to jump headfirst back into it. Drag yourself if you must, but don’t let yourself slip out of healthy habits. No matter how rational your excuses may sound in your head, I guarantee you’ll feel better knowing that you gave it your best college try. As I write this, I am resolving to go to yoga tomorrow. might even write a poem.

Home Remedies for the Change of Seasons

The change of seasons and the cooling weather can make you sick. Getting a cold in college is never fun. Medicine at the pharmacy is expensive. The cold breeze seems to want to keep you sick.

I want to share with you some of my natural remedies to get over a cold.

  1. Sleep

Sounds obvious, right? Well many a times we are so caught up in our lives that we don’t want to take a break. When you are starting to feel your energy levels are down, allow your body some rest. Take a break that night, go to bed early and use the excuse to catch up on some Netflix.

  1. Honey and Lime

This is your best bet if you have a cough, and can also help you to get over a cold. Lime is a natural expectorant, which helps loosen the mucus in your lungs and sinuses. Honey is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and will soothe a sore throat. You can also add ginger to the mix.

Just go ahead and mix the lime juice with the honey in a small bowl. You can take it with a spoonful. Do this at least twice per day.

Tip: try to get local honey. The darker the honey the more nutrients it has.

Read more here.

  1. Tea

When you’re sick, it’s important to drink liquids to help your body cleanse itself. Hot tea is a great option. It will soothe your throat and detox your system. My personal favorite is green tea, because it is so rich in antioxidants. I like to mix it with mint or ginger tea. Mint tea aids digestion, and ginger soothes the throat.

Try to drink as many cups of tea as you can. Add honey if possible.

Tea is a magical thing. Learn more about tea here. 

  1. Nasal Wash

It sounds gross. I know. I was terrified of nasal washes, but I had a terrible sinusitis a couple of months ago and the nasal wash was what cured me.

My favorite brand is Alkalol. It is made up of only natural ingredients and is not harsh in taste.

If your sinuses are clogged, don’t stuff yourself with medicines that will only block the mucus from being released. A nasal wash will cleanse your nasal passages and sinuses and will get rid of all the stuffiness. This will help you heal from the inside out, and will prevent you from having leftover mucus after you get over the cold.

  1. Yoga

You probably won’t want to go to yoga in the peak of a cold, and you shouldn’t. Even if you have never done yoga and are not interested in it, there are some yoga positions that can help you heal and release.

Yoga is much more than an exercise, it is an ancient practice aimed at helping us heal and relax the nervous system. I believe that yoga is an integral part of healing from any illness, and this is why I include it as such a large part of this article.

Do not be intimidated by the Lulu Lemon’s and the crazy Yoga Instagrams. Yoga can be extremely simple, and you can do it at home.

The following positions will help you relax and restore.

Try to stay in the positions for at least 30 seconds to one minute, repeating them 2 or 3 times. Your body is your best teacher, so hear what it has to say. Don’t overwork yourself. Most importantly, relax and breathe.

Bridge Pose

This position will open your chest in a subtle way and will allow blood to get to your head.

Supported Bridge Pose

If you like bridge pose, but simply want to relax in it, then this is the position you will want to take. Using a bolsters blankets (4) or blocks, slide them under your lower back.. Measure a height that works out for you. If you don’t have these props, pillows and towels also work.

Camel Pose

Camel pose will open up your back and chest. It will also clear your passageways.

This pose can be intense on your low back. Take it easy. Bend back slowly, with your hands on your lower back. If you feel like you can do more, then place your hands on your ankles. Come out of it slowly.

Plow Pose

This pose is considered to be the best to clear your sinuses. It will open your passages and bring blood to your head.

This is a position that can be hard if you are not flexible or have not stretched in a while. Take it easy and go for it slowly, don’t just swing yourself back. If your hamstrings are tight, bend your knees and place them close to your ears. Stay in the position for at least 30 seconds, breathing deeply.

Standing Forward Bend

Stand with your feet hip-width apart and slowly bend forward, trying to place your hands on the floor. If your hands don’t reach easily, bend your knees. This pose will bring energy to your head and respiratory area and help clear the sinuses.

Legs Up The Wall

Relaxes the groin and opens the chest area.

Lay on the floor and simply put your legs up on the wall. Relax and hold for a minimum of 3 to 5 minutes.

Now, remember to take it easy and don’t push your body. When you are sick, the body is asking for rest. Listen to it and feel better!

My Yoga Experience

I have probably struggled with anxiety my whole life. However, I mostly noticed it in high school. Between playing two varsity sports and focusing on my studies, there was so much work to do in so little time.

My average day started at 7:30 a.m. when I would go to school until classes ended at 3 p.m. Then, I would have field hockey or softball practice until 6 p.m. Considering I lived 30 to 45 minutes away from my high school, I wouldn’t get home until right before 7 o’clock at night. This basically meant that I would have to shower, eat dinner and do homework before I went to bed at a reasonable hour.

Yes, I know this schedule could have been a lot worse. I know that I could have gotten home a lot later or could have had longer practices, but for someone with anxiety, having less time can lead to the worst. Having a set timeline stresses me out. Yes, having everything planned out should probably help my anxiety, but I always feel like it’s a checklist, something to quickly get done, like a race. (And does not help that I am also extremely competitive.)

So how does this connect to yoga?

IT may seem like I am writing this solely to rant about my high school life, but I’m not. Yoga was something that meant so little during high school. I did not realize the true impact it could have made so early in my life. I always practiced yoga, but not seriously. I almost took it for granted. It was more for stretching and keeping me in shape. It wasn’t until college that I fully immersed myself into its culture and lifestyle.

With that immersion and new found love, I found a new life. Yoga can mean many different things depending on the person. To some, it is an excuse to wear high fashion workout clothing. To others, a way to get fit. But to many, an escape from the real world.

Photo Credit: Jacob Kleinman Phillips
Photo Credit: Jacob Kleinman Phillips

For me, yoga offers a sanctuary. A place that is forever and fully accepting of me, and that will support me no matter how much I change. It is amazing how having a place that fully accepts you for you, without any judgement, can affect a person. Whenever I feel anxiety creeping up or need to take a pause on life, yoga is there for me with open arms. The best part is that you know that it is always there for you because you have control over your own practice. If you are stressed out in the airport because your flight just got cancelled, all you have to do is find a spot to sit and then focus on yourself.

Photo Credit: Jacob Kleinman Phillips
Photo Credit: Jacob Kleinman Phillips

You only need a place that gives you the ability to center yourself and take a pause from the everyday bustling of life. This pause can be some sun salutations, meditation or just focusing on your breath. Personally, all of these ways have helped me to defend off anxiety, but each person has their own preference.

At the end of every practice at my studio in Philadelphia, my teacher tells us to honor the light within us and within others. When stating this, we bring our hands in the shape of a “v,” with our thumb knuckles pressed against our foreheads, and welcome in all positivity.

Within this saying, there are so many ways for interpretation. Most importantly, it reminds us to stay positive and to stop getting stressed over the little things. To realize what is the most important in our hearts and to honor it fully. Because of this mantra, and so many others that one learns by being a part of the yoga community, I have become a better person by heart. A better person for both myself and for others.

Take it from me, a life without anxiety is a much fuller and beautiful life to live by. With this being said, this article is not meant to convince you to practice yoga, but to find something, like I did, that helps you to reconnect with and love yourself again. We should all have some sort of practice, whether it be yoga or not, to live by that helps us to cut out of routine and focus on ourselves.

I found mine, so what is yours?

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Fair Trade Companies: Buying Ethical Brands

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Today a lot of millennials  are concerned about buying organic and all natural products for health and environmental reasons, however another component to consider when shopping is if products are fair trade certified. Fair trade by definition means that the supplies and goods used to create a product are made in a developing country and the producer of the supply or good is paid fairly. This movement is particularly focused on supporting goods from developing countries that were made in ethical working conditions, support environmental sustainability and bought for a fair price. Here’s five brands that are committed to the global fair trade movement and are either completely fair trade or progressing to becoming a fully fair trade brand.

1. Lush

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Lush is well known for using all natural products that are animal testing free, but they also only use fair trade products when creating their body products. Their buyers personally trace the ingredients back to the suppliers and producers to find out exactly how the product is made. Their commitment to ethical buying is why they cannot offer sales or discounts, because they believe in paying fairly for all supplies used in their products. For detailed information on ethical buying check out their website’s ethical buying statement.

2. Ben and Jerry’s

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While you might feel guilty about eating an entire pint of ice cream by yourself, you can at least feel good about the fact that the ice cream you are eating has been ethically produced. Ben and Jerry’s has been completely fair trade since 2013 and their fair trade products include cocoa and vanilla beans. Their website explains the values behind Ben and Jerry’s fair trade mission here.

3. Starbucks

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Another guilt free splurge is that 3 p.m. pick-me-up from Starbucks. While they are not entirely fair trade yet, 81 percent of Starbucks coffee meets the Coffee and Farmer Equity Practices‘ standards. These means suppliers worked in humane conditions and were paid appropriately through the coffee making process.

4. Dunkin Donuts

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This New England coffee giant is not 100 percent fair trade yet, but they are in the process of becoming fair trade. Dunkin Donuts‘ menu does features a number of fair trade coffee products, including their expresso beans which are 100 percent fair trade. In 2004, they  partnered with Fair Trade USA with the goal of supporting the economic growth of coffee-farming communities. Currently their fair trade menu features espressos and lattes, but they are in the process of making their entire menu fair trade. Check out the progress they are making here.

5. prAna

prana-clothingThis online yoga company was one of the first apparel companies to become fair trade certified. While they may be pricier than their competitors, the clothing has the fair trade certification right on the tag, which can make you feel extra good about what you are wearing. Check out their online store here.

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Whether you are shopping for apparel or splurging on a latte, there are plenty of options to buy fair trade, even beyond this list. With the rise of fast fashion and rock bottom prices on goods, with less than ethical means of production, we can fight back as consumers by consciously making an effort to buy and consume fair trade brands. Sometimes you just have to be willing to spend a little more, but it’s worth it when you know you are getting quality products that were ethically made and support the global fair trade movement.

How to Keep a Very Healthy Summer

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In high school all I did was diet. I restricted myself to a very specific diet until my senior year, despite the fact that I played two varsity sports all four years. I only ate one helping of food per meal. No seconds, no matter how delicious, and by no means whatsoever was I allowed to eat sugar. The fattiest thing that I ever allowed myself to eat was mozzarella sticks at lunch. Anytime that I would slip, I would quickly go to the gym and run for thirty or more minutes on the treadmill and then do twenty minutes of abs. I was obsessed and definitely not healthy. Skinny, yes, but not healthy.

By my senior year, I was pretty much over the whole dieting idea. I wanted to eat whatever I wanted, when I wanted, and without any reason. For the first time in forever, I was actually confident in myself, in my body, and in what I ate. In this confidence, and a sudden need to be healthy for the first time in my life, I did research. And through the research, I found different ways and methods to be healthy and stay my normal weight without excessive dieting.

Because of my past experience, I am not the biggest fan of strict diets. Maybe small ones that focus on eliminating one thing from your diet, but large strict ones that are being done specifically for weight loss I do not believe in. This is not saying that I do not believe that there are ways to lose weight before the summer. Trust me, I’ve been there, done that. It’s just that there are so many more ways to stay healthy than torturing yourself, and your body through routine diets planned out by a corporate company.

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Yoga. PC Jacob Kleinman Phillips


Exercise. 
As an athlete, the first thing that I did to stay healthy was exercise. In high school, exercising was a normal part of my day every fall and spring season. In college, this changed. Sure, I still played softball, but there was a full two months where I had to account for exercising on a regular basis by myself. In this new routine, I decided that as long as I did something everyday, I could remain healthy and happy. Besides lifting for softball, and playing during the regular season, I made sure to run at least a mile a day or go on the elliptical. Of course, you have to mix up your exercise. Sometimes I would run outside to the Charles, while other times I would be in the gym. Even more frequently, I became completely obsessed with yoga. I had always practiced it, but during college it became a part of my regular routine. I loved the way it made me feel and look. To this day, I regularly go to the gym and practice yoga. Occasionally, I add in something new and fun like bike riding or rock climbing.

Hydration. Drinking water does a lot more than just hydrate. According to Top 10 Home Remedies, drinking water can relieve fatigue, treat headaches, help with digestion, aid weight loss and flush out toxins. In other words, staying hydrated can make your day a lot better than it might be now. On average, a person is supposed to drink 8-10 glasses of water a day. Of course, life gets busy, so 8-10 can sometimes seem like a lot. On days that I am busy at work, I make sure to drink water every chance I get, but by no means do I get to 8-10 glasses. Because of this, on days that I have off, I make sure to carry a water bottle with me everywhere so that I can drink the average recommendation, and make up for the days that I do not meet the expectation. When I played field hockey, coaches used to warn us that “the first sign of dehydration is thirst.” Therefore, you should not wait until you are thirsty to drink water. You should just drink it. At first, it is hard to get used to, but after awhile it just becomes a regular part of your day.

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Drinking water throughout your day can help get rid of cravings. If you really want a piece of chocolate, taking a bite and then chugging water actually helps to satisfy the craving. This way, you do not eat the whole chocolate bar and also become happier. I like to think of this as tricking my brain. By drinking the water, I am tricking my brain into thinking that I ate so much more than just a couple of bites. In the long run, more water can equal less candy and less candy equals less fat. Drinking water also helps suppress hunger, which helps you to eat smaller meals. So rather than eating two large helpings at dinner, it might make you only hungry enough to eat one helping. This does not mean that you can’t snack later, but it can help you to stay in your average daily intake for calories and food categories.

Eating what I want, but being aware of it. This leads me to one of my larger points. Making a commitment to stay healthy means that you are also committing to food awareness. You don’t need to keep a food journal unless you feel inclined to, but I usually don’t recommend it because it gets a bit obsessive. Just be conscious of what you are eating. For instance, if I eat a cinnamon roll for breakfast, then I make the conscious note to try and eat healthier throughout the day. I am aware that I need to eat more vegetables, protein, and fruit during the rest of the day rather than stuffing up on carbs and sugars. In other words, I am being conscious and knowledgeable about all food groups and what they do to help my body stay happy and healthy. If you are unaware of the food groups and their responsibilities, sign up for Choose My Plate.  There are different tabs and categories that help you to see what and why these certain foods need to go into your body. There is even a page on your profile that allows you to keep track of what you eat for three days. It is very specific, but is nice for people who are beginning to eat healthier as it measures how much of what food category you eat over the three days. This way you can see what your lacking and what you are over consuming. Like I said, I’m not a huge fan of food journaling, but if you feel off track, this is a good way to see where you are missing nutrients.

Juicing. In 8736255816_713aef3689_omy opinion, juicing is a pretty controversial topic. It can be expensive if bought through a company and also may be prolonged for too much time. Personally, I only do juice cleanses for up to five days. Even then, I do not solely drink the juice, but also consume healthy solids. A lot of companies enforce this idea of only drinking a juice filled with fruits and vegetables, and sometimes protein, for five days and up. This may work for some people, but for me, I prefer to juice cleanse with solid foods. It makes me feel safer, as I am very active and would never be able to just survive on juice while at the gym. For me, it’s unrealistic. For others, it may work. It really depends on what you are the most comfortable with.

I pretty much do juice cleanses everyday since I eat solid foods along with it. I enjoy a fresh, homemade, fruit smoothie in the morning with or for my breakfast, and then sometimes make one at night. I have never bought a juice cleanse from a company. I always make my own. Honestly, you can use a blender, but the NutriBullet and NutriNinja were the best products I ever invested in. Ever. They are super easy to use, and make great, fast smoothies. All you have to do is put the desired fruit and vegetables in the cup and put it on the blade and then blend it. Done. The company home websites even have recipes to try, which are actually pretty good. Juicing will, overall, help you to get more nutrients by providing another way to get in an extra serving of fruits and veggies during your day. As I’ve found through my experience, eating more fruits and vegetables also help to get rid of sugar cravings because of the natural sugars found in the fruits that make your smoothies sweet. In all, a great and easy way to stay healthy during the summer.