one yogis journey on the Camino de Santiago

We are always students on this journey through life. As such, we are not experts on every topic, and are always looking to learn more, experience more, and do more. Because of this, Ash and I decided to start a Q&A segment on the blog. A way to find out more about the extraordinary things this world has to offer from those who have experienced something we have yet to see or do. Hopefully this Q&A post is the first of many to come. I know I got a lot out of reading these answers, and hopefully some of you will too. 

My yoga teacher, Judy Refuerzo, recently completed El Camino de Santiago (also known as The Way of St. James) in Spain. I wanted to find out more about her journey and thought this would be a good opportunity to share what I learn. The 4-8 week trek has been on my bucket list for years and I plan to complete it sometime in the near future. For those of you who do not know of the pilgrimage or haven't seen the movie, The Way, it is a spiritual journey for all faiths that has been traversed for thousands of years by people of all ages and backgrounds. Most walk, while others bike or ride horseback. I could write a whole post just explaining the pilgrimage in detail. To learn more, this is a great site here. For me, just the concept of being out in a beautiful place for over a month, disconnected, with nothing to do but walk to your next destination is enticing to say the least. The things you can discover about yourself and the world around you when in a setting like that while pushing yourself to the limits sounds incredible. Here is what I learned from Judy:

  • What made you decide to walk the Camino?  I wanted to do something memorable for my 60th birthday.  Usually for a big birthday I get a nice piece of jewelry but I’m tired of things and would rather have memories and experiences.  I wanted to prove to myself that I can do anything.  
  • Any tips to prepare for the walk? I don’t think you can prepare.  Of course you can get in your best physical shape but I saw people younger and supposedly fitter people than myself not make it, quit, or bus many of the sections. It’s all in your mind: either you think you can or you think you can’t, either way you’re right.  
  • Items that you have to have? I needed my poles (not good on the down hills).  But really I didn’t meet a single person who didn’t over pack.  Everyone brought too much.  Some people shipped their stuff to the end, some threw or gave it away and some wouldn’t let go and burdened themselves.  Pack light, you’re going to be carrying this stuff for long hours and many days.  If you forgot something or didn’t bring it, you will be able to find it when you need it (even poles).  Honestly the Universe will provide, you will be fine.
  • What motivated you to keep going? I’m not a quitter, I’m stubborn.  Some days it was hard, but you just get up and do it.  And once you get going, the day will surprise you.  You will see beauty, meet interesting people, or have a shitty day, but at the end of each day you will feel a sense of accomplishment and gratitude.
  • Did you learn anything about yourself? That I’m not very good at self care.  I pushed myself at times when I shouldn’t have.  I was afraid of disappointing people and chose them over me.  I need to stop and take care of me.
  • What was a memorable moment?  Cruz de Ferro - the iron cross.  You’re suppose to bring a rock with you on the trip that represents all that you would like to leave behind, as you have a rebirth on the last half of the Camino.  It was a very emotional day for me, leaving my rock and letting go. 
  • Did anything happen that you weren’t prepared for? It was all very emotional for me, even though I didn’t let it show most of the time and held back a lot of tears (that I shouldn’t have). I wanted to cry at the simplest things, like for the slugs or snails getting crushed on the paths.  I had a real feeling of oneness with everything, a deep connection.
  • Did you meet anyone interesting? So many interesting people.  A 75 year old woman whose job (after she retired ) was to be Minnie Mouse for corporate Disney, so they flew her all over to big Disney events.  I think she may have cancer (she was bald and always wore a cap) but didn’t talk about it.  I also met a woman who was in a terrible accident and all through rehab and learning to walk again she knew she would do the Camino.  Young and old, people from all different countries, everyone had an interesting story.
  • What were you looking forward to once you got home? Well, my husband joined me in Spain at the end of the trip, I couldn’t wait to see him.  But I wanted to come home to my dogs, my bed and a veggie burrito with hot sauce and chips.
  • Would you have done anything differently? I would have taken more time, I think 2 months would be perfect.  It would have been nice to slow down, enjoy more, spend a couple nights in one place some times, do some touristy stuff.
  • Would you do it again? YES!!  Maybe a different route and definitely want to walk to the end of the world next time - Finisterre.

 

 

simple pleasure of the week: setting a mood

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I have had a busy few weeks to say the least. With students returning to CSUMB, my husband getting a new job, and putting our house on the market (Yes, we are moving! Up to the Bay Area I think. More to come as this develops!); I can feel stress building up in my body.  I try to create a moment in time to relax and focus my attention inward. It feels like a ritual to me, I use all five senses to alleviate stress in both my mind and body. For smell I light a candle or use my diffuser. For sight I look out my window or get a fire going in the fireplace. For sound I play my favorite calming music. For taste I make myself some tea. And for touch I will put on my comfy bathrobe and socks. We have spoken a bit about how to use your senses to de-stress in the past, but you can use these different senses to change your mood to whatever is needed. If you want to feel energized pick a citrus scent for your candle or diffuser, choose more uplifting music, put on an outfit that makes you feel good, and/or drink some cold water with lemon. To create a mood for focus try a scent with cinnamon or mint, which are known to increase attentiveness. As for sound, songs without lyrics are said to be helpful for concentration. Without words there won't be distraction from the task at hand or from your thoughts. Drink water. Apparently, dehydration leads to a lack of focus and short term memory issues. No matter what mood you want to set, it is best to achieve that without distraction from the internet or social media. Setting a mood is about clearing pathways in the brain and setting aside unnecessary distraction. Try turning off technology, or at least the unecessary open tabs if you need to be productive, and focus on this moment you have created. This whole simple ritual takes less than 15 minutes and is a wonderful way to put me in the right state of mind. 

the importance of savasana on and off the mat

Greetings everyone! Below is a submission rejected by elephant journal. While it wasn't right for their site, we still feel passionately about what has been written and wanted to share it with all of you. Hope it's helpful!

I was practicing yoga the other night, tired, struggling to make my muscles do what I wanted, and wishing our savasanas were longer in between each posture. Savasana is a restorative posture, done lying on your back, arms next to the body, palms up, feet gently pointed away from one another, totally relaxed. I began reflecting on the value of savasana, the balance between rest and exertion, and the importance of placing equal emphasis on both the passive and active forms of asana. I realized rest is equally as important as action, just as notes in a song are equally as important as the spaces between to create a melody. Such is life. The importance we place on rest, on creating open space, should be equal to that placed on producing, achieving, doing. Each feeds the other, in yoga, and in life. The amount of rest we provide ourselves in yoga feeds the energy we have for each posture. In turn, without movement or exertion, we cannot fully enjoy the savasana. Just as food tastes better when you are truly hungry, so does rest after intense effort. Each feeds the other in a mutualistic symbiotic relationship, neither more important than the other. The asana is our request to our bodies to give, and savasana is our opportunity to give back to our bodies. Yoga is the union between mind and body, physical and spiritual. Many postures involve countering of opposing forces, stretching and contracting, pushing and pulling, in an effort to create balance, and defy gravity. Yoga is a time for opposing forces to come together and create balance.

The importance of savasana and/or rest is also equally important in our lives. This concept of relationship between opposing forces to create balance can be taken off the mat to enhance our wellbeing. In my experience, western culture does a poor job at balance. In my previous job, I ate at my desk, spent late hours at the office, thought about work on the weekends, and neglected my need for balance. Even if I scheduled in free-time, often I failed to take advantage of this off the mat "savasana". I failed to be fully present in the practice of giving back to myself.  Just as in yoga, the rest is equally important as the work. We ask our minds and our bodies to perform for us, to give so we can be productive, create, get things done, but often fail to recognize we must equally give back to our minds and bodies. Rest feeds the energy we are able to put into our work. Work allows our rest to feel truly deserved. 

Taking full advantage of, and prioritizing savasana on and off the mat is easier said than done especially in this modern society in which multitasking is a norm, and busyness appears to be ever increasing. In my own journey, this process included two major precepts. The first was a shift in perspective towards equality of importance given to my savasanas as my active asanas in yoga on the mat, and work/productivity off the mat. The second was to focus solely on my savasana while I was engaged in it.

On the mat, this looks like focusing solely on savasana when you are in savasana and avoiding the urge to wipe away sweat, fidget, or think about life stressors. On the mat, focusing on savasana with the same intensity you would focus on an active asana by tuning into your body, striving to allow every muscle to relax as you breathe deeply. It may also look like taking an extra savasana when needed, when you notice your body just doesn't have the energy to perform the active asanas. You can use savasana as a tool to give back to your body in your yoga practice. 

Off the mat, this looks like focusing solely on your meals during lunch breaks, scheduling in time every day to give back to yourself (e.g. through reading an inspiring book, dinner with friends, a walk after work, preparing a healthy meal for yourself, taking a vacation), and trying to focus solely on that activity while engaging in it. Savasana in life should be a verb, one that signifies caring for your mind, body, and/or soul in some way. A daily ritual in which you identify how to give back to yourself at the end of work, or first thing in the morning, can support the shift towards savasana off the mat. 

In yoga, the point of the practice is to recharge us, not to drain us. If we aren't balanced in yoga class, aren't breathing, utilizing our savasana, if we are giving maximum exertion all the time, the yoga becomes draining rather than restorative. The same is true for life if we aren't resting, if we aren't recharging at a balance rate to the amount worked. If we aren't taking time to be fulfilled by our relationship, seeking out inspiration, caring for our mind and body, the life will drain us, burn us out, tax our bodies, minds, and ultimately our health. Balance is a practice, made up of the choices we make every day, and a constant renegotiation of priorities, as our lives change. Balance is also, often achieved by becoming unbalanced, and finding our way back by discovering what wasn't working. Rarely do I have perfect balance, but by placing intention on taking my savasanas on and off the yoga mat, I have a higher likelihood of creating a sustainable, fulfilling life. 

 

simple pleasure of the week: movie night

This may not be the simple pleasure for you if you don't enjoy movies or television but man, how I love a good movie! There's something extra nice about curling up on your couch with a big bowl of popcorn, maybe in some comfy pj's with a nice cozy robe wrapped around you watching a movie with your significant other, family, or friends. Wine is optional : ) Intention and mindfulness are what turn this could be worthless evening into a simple pleasure. Having a movie night with the intention of making it special changes the tone of experience. Movie treats, like our popcorn recipe here, renting a movie you've been dying to see, or some other tradition linked to movie watching, such as special pajamas can make this simple pleasure even more awesome. We recently watched Where To Invade Next and loved it! The next time you have an open uneventful night ahead, remember this simple pleasure!!

diy hair mask for strong, shiny hair

Back in April I had balayage done to my hair. That is when the hairdresser highlights the lower sections of your hair and leaves the roots untreated. I know there is a lot more to it, but I'll leave that to the professionals to explain. I love the effect of this kind of highlight. It brightens my complexion and gives my hair some dimension. I am a low maintence girl and this is just so easy to maintain. The downside is that to get my hair lighter, bleach has to be applied. With that bleach comes some dryness and perhaps a little bit of damage to my ends. Not anything noticeable to anyone but myself, but I love having soft, shiny hair and that is a little more challenging to achieve with the dye put in. So, to counteract those issues I have developed a simple, once per week treatment that I apply before hot yoga. I put this in before class and allow the oils to penetrate the hair shaft in the hot room. The heat helps the oils bond to the cuticles of the hair. Plus, the coconut oil smells so wonderful it becomes a sensory experience. It's a good pick me up. If you don't practice yoga or have a weekly hot class, you can apply this without heat or take a blow dryer to heat it up. I even got my husband to put this in his hair before class. The vitamins and essential fatty acids in the oils helps strengthen hair to promote growth and prevent dandruff by moisturizing the scalp. Plus, this combination really keeps my hair so soft and manageable. 

This recipe works well for my long hair. If your hair is shoulder length or shorter, I would suggest halving this amount for one treatment. 

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  • If the coconut oil is solid, rub around in your hands until it liquefies.
  • Instead of combining each ingredient in a bowl and mixing, I just apply one and then another to my hair and scalp. I want my entire head of hair to feel drenched and look wet by the time it is all applied.
  • If you have long hair, either braid it or wrap it up into a bun. Anyway to get it up and away from your face and clothing.
  • Leave the treatment on for a minimum of 20 minutes. You can even sleep in this by placing a shower cap on over the hair. 
  • Wash out with your regular shampoo and conditioner. For me that's John Master's Bare.
  • I love how the scented coconut oil smell continues to linger after a wash or two. So nice! 

simple pleasure of the week: frozen grapes

I would write this up as a recipe for a Wednesday post but it's a little too simple for that. Wash grapes and freeze...yeah, that easy. It tastes like sorbet. Like a real dessert. My mom would "make" these for me as a kid and I continue to thoroughly enjoy this snack or dessert as the years pass. One of my favorite foods in the summertime when the days are warm and want something healthy and cold to nibble on. So refreshing and satisfying.  

amazingly simple gluten-free pancakes

You'll never guess these pancakes are gluten free. This is an update on our protein packed pancakes recipe. Our friend, Deb, made her version of love+yoga pancakes one morning during the Wanderlust festival, and they were even better than our old recipe thanks to one secret ingredient. Deb added vanilla protein powder to her pancake recipe. Genius! Not only does this addition help everything bind together (an important factor in gluten free recipes), but it also gives the pancakes a wonderful flavor. After the festival, we started playing around in our kitchen, splitting the batter and adding some of this and some of that until we found the new love+yoga pancakes. This recipe is super simple, gluten free, super protein packed, and definitely low carb. 

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/4 cup vanilla protein powder (we use this powder)
  • 1/4 cup buckwheat (yup it's gluten free, and quite healthy, read about it here)
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • A few sprinkles of cinnamon
  • Oil for griddle/pan (we use coconut oil)

Instructions:

  • Preheat griddle or pan over low-med heat
  • Mash bananas
  • Add eggs and scramble/mix with banana simultaneously 
  • Add protein powder, buckwheat, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and incorporate
  • Spread oil over pan and pour 1/4 cup of batter onto griddle/pan 
  • Heat pancakes on both sides until lightly browned
  • Remove from heat and top with all the fixings (our favs are berries, syrup, and nut butter)

once the intention of life becomes love

God I love Rumi. We've spoken before about the power of intention on love+yoga, and how wonderful to think of changing one's intention to become love. It feels amazing to be loved and it also feels wonderful to give love. Doubt, despair, and fear are all dark energies, whereas love is the ultimate light energy. We can only fight dark with light. Life can seem so complicated, especially the one that's been created by society, but aiming to love brings us back to a simpler life and allows our soul to relax. Of course, we still have career goals, life goals, but they become secondary to love, and thus, the icing on top of the cake. Go forth this weekend, love deeply, love passionately, love compassionately, and realize that this is the ultimate intention, the highest achievement, and the only one that will matter after this life is all over.

how to prepare and get the most out of a hot yoga or bikram class

I was at Bikram the other day and couldn't help but notice a guy in the back row struggling. He fell out of every posture, lay down on numerous occasions, and left the room twice (to the dismay of the teacher). He kept trying until the very end though, and I gave him huge props for that. It brought me back to my first Bikram class almost six years ago now. Let me tell you about that experience...I had taken a few beginner level yoga classes before that day, but nothing in the heat. I was not prepared to say the least. I was wearing a cotton tank top (talk about uncomfortable sweaty shirt cling!), a cheap, thick mat, and the worst part of all - I went without water. I was a floppy mess. I was in a daze and had no clue what I was doing. I left the room numerous times but thankfully a fellow yogi had an extra water bottle I could use. I kept coming back after that first class not because I wanted to suffer again and again, but because of the incredible high I felt after the class ended. I felt energized, I had mental clarity like I hadn't experienced before, and i'm not going to lie, my stomach was a bit flatter. I had been searching for an exercise routine that I could stick with for the long term. Something that I looked forward to and gave me the health benefits I needed. I decided after that first class that this was it. I do spin, practice ashtanga, and go for long walks when I can fit it in, but Bikram is my main form of exercise.

I decided to write this post for those of you considering either Bikram or a hot yoga class of any kind, hoping that you can be at least a little more prepared than I was. Falling out of postures and feeling like death is inevitable for the first few classes (at least!), but having the right props and preparing correctly for the class will go a long way. 

Before class:

  • Drink lots of water, stay hydrated throughout the day - not minutes before class! Chugging water right before may cause nausea during class and you will probably have to use the restroom at an inopportune time.
  • Try not to eat at least two hours before class. Just as with too much water right before, eating right before can cause nausea. If you are hungry and can't wait, eat something small that won't cause flatulence (please!!), like a banana. 
  • Try taking electrolytes about an hour before class. Ash calls this one a "game changer". It helps reduce symptoms of nausea or dizziness during class. It can also help your muscles to perform better. This is really only needed if you are going to classes multiple times per week. 
  • Dress in sweat wicking, tightly fitting clothes. It is uncomfortable to have a wet tank moving around and clinging to your body for 90 minutes. Our favorite brands are Teeki, Lululemon, Beyond Yoga, and Onzie
  • Get a thin, dense mat. The thicker the mat, the harder it will be to balance. A dense mat will keep you comfortable when practicing floor postures. We love Manduka and Yoga Design Lab. I use a Yoga Design Lab mat. They are machine washable, which is fabulous for the clean freaks out there (like me!!). I don't have to worry about cleaning it by hand, I just throw it in the wash after every class. Also, because of the material I don't need a towel to go over the mat during class and I don't have to worry about slipping or sweat getting on something I can't thoroughly clean. Manduka mats last a lot longer though (lifelong warranties for some) and are fabulous for all forms of yoga. That's what Ash uses.
  • If you have a non machine washable mat or you find that yours gets slippery when wet, you are going to want a yoga towel to place on top. Ash uses a Yogitoes towel.
  • Bring a regular, full size towel. This will be to dry off with after class and sit on for that drive back home if you can't shower at the studio. 
  • Bring a hand towel too. Use this to dry hands and feet during class for a good grip during some of the postures. 
  • A large water bottle for class is necessary. If you have an insulated bottle you'll be better off. The water will stay at a nice temperature and it won't "sweat" in the hot room. We use Hydro Flasks.

During class:

  • Don't come in late! In fact, come early. This will help your mind and body acclimate to the heat. Plus, coming in late will disrupt the class. I have actually known teachers who will not allow students to join after the class starts at all. 
  • Find a spot in the back of the room if you are new to the class. Usually the teacher is not demonstrating the postures (for all of Bikram this is the case and for most of hot yoga classes). You will know what to do by the explanation the teacher gives and by seeing what other yogis are doing. Sitting in the back gives you a better view of the more experienced students. 
  • In Bikram, only start drinking water during the designated water break, right after Eagle Pose. After that you can drink water whenever you want, as long as it is not during a pose. The same goes for any yoga class, do not drink water during the pose, this can be distracting.
  • Try not to fidget. This means stay calm and try not to move even in between postures unless you have to. These classes can transform you into a calm, meditative like state. If you start fidgeting you will break concentration and won't get the full benefits. It also takes more energy when moving around, something needed during the postures.
  • Stay silent throughout class. This goes along with that calm, meditation like state of the practice. Talking with your neighbor takes you out of that mindset and distracts everyone else in the class.
  • If you feel dizzy, lay down in Savasana for a posture or two. We all do it here and there, don't feel ashamed for having to sit out. It is part of the practice to become self aware and take care of our bodies and minds, which might mean to lay down when not feeling 100%. This does not mean to stop the posture and go outside. That is a big no-no in Bikram. Stay in the room, on your mat. 
  • Do not wipe off sweat unless you have to. You may need to if the sweat drips into your eyes or makes your feet/hands slippery during a posture, but besides that your body knows what it is doing. The body sweats to cool you down and maintain normal body temperature so let that happen. 
  • Stay in Savasana for a full two minutes minimum at the end. This is a posture just like any other. Allowing yourself this time helps your body digest all that it has accomplished, and gives it time to cool down before standing up and leaving the room. 

After class:

  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Replenish your body with water, add in some electrolytes if you want. 
  • Shower as soon as you can! When sweating as much as you have in class, your body has rid itself of toxins that are now sitting on top of your skin. Your pores become open after a hot class and you want to clean those toxins/impurities away before they re-enter through those pores. 
  • Just sit still for a few moments and notice what that class has done to your emotional state. Do you feel lighter? More energized? Happier? Less stressed?
  • Come to a second class! It only gets easier and more enjoyable from here.

simple pleasure of the week: long, meaningful conversations

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When was the last time you sat down with someone and had a real, face to face conversation? One without the distraction of a computer screen, cell phone, or other wandering thoughts. In this day and age of social media and the glorification of busy, those genuine conversations seem to be harder to come by. I was reminded of this this past week. I get so caught up in text messaging that I forget sometimes the impact a deep conversation can have. Texting or communication through social media can be such an easy way to connect with someone else, but not on a deeper level. I love communicating in those forms so I can be able to quickly move on to the next task or activity, but I find myself sometimes wanting more. Those conversations tend to be more on the surface or superficial. I sat down with a close friend this past week and just chatted about life, love, work, everything and anything. It made me feel cleansed, renewed if you will. It reminded me of the importance of these moments. It clarified some unanswered questions I was having about my path and deepened my connection with this other person. It is such a simple thing to do, to stop what we are doing and really engage in conversation with another human being, and yet it seems to be more and more challenging to find the time and energy. Try putting away the cell phone and being fully present with another human being this weekend and then notice how you feel after the conversation. I have seen at parties or at the dinner table baskets where everyone has to leave their phones while at that house/event. I love that concept, free from distraction to focus on those around us. A definite simple pleasure of mine.