Saturday, January 26, 2013

Wind-Down Time

Something happened in the time between now and my last blog post. I had a baby. And in the short time she has been with us she has already taught me so many important lessons, such as:

Life is amazing.

Always wake up laughing.

Stop checking emails / texting / tweeting / posting on Facebook. The person in front of you deserves your undivided attention.

When you’re feeling sad, slow dance with someone you love. 

But perhaps the biggest gift she’s given me is our "Wind-Down Time". This is when we get into our coziest jammies, turn off the lights, turn on Renee and Jeremy’s It’s a Big World, Baby and silently stare at the neon yellow stars on the ceiling until our eyes get really droopy.

As I inhale the intoxicating scent of freshly bathed baby and run my fingers through her super soft hair, it doesn’t matter what craziness the day may have brought. She sighs her sleepy sigh and my heart rate slows down. The stress knots in my muscles begin to melt away. My breath becomes even. And in that precious moment, I am completely present.

In a world where everything seems to glow, beep or ring, demanding to be answered now, that kind of peace and is hard to come by. I’m so glad I get to enjoy it—even if it’s only for a little while. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Can Green Tea Prevent Holiday Weight Gain?

A cup of green tea a day may keep extra pounds away.
Photo © istockphoto/Silberkorn

Maybe. Results from a study conducted by food scientists at Penn State suggest that green tea slows down weight gain and may help prevent obesity on a larger scale. For the study, the scientists fed two groups of mice the same high-fat diet; one group was also fed Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) a compound found in most green teas. This group of mice gained weight 45 percent more slowly compared to the other group that was not given EGCG. Further tests showed that EGCG appeared to reduce the body’s ability to absorb fat as well as enhance its ability to use it.

What’s the takeaway for people? According to the scientists, a person would need to drink ten cups of green tea each day to match the amount of EGCG used in the study. However, related studies show that drinking one or more cups of green tea a day can have a similar effect, especially when combined with a balanced diet and exercise. So counteract the holiday revelry with a cup of green tea—and get a head start on your New Year’s weight loss resolution.

Read more about the study here

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Free Spa Vacation at Kamalaya Koh Samui

Isn’t it ironic how the people who need healing and rejuvenation the most often don’t have the time or money to get it? This unfortunate truth was the inspiration behind one destination spa’s most luxurious giveaway yet. From now until October 31st, Kamalaya Koh Samui in Thailand is offering you a chance to nominate a deserving person to win an all-expenses paid week-long stay as part of its Feel Life’s Potential Reward. Watch the video to find out how to nominate someone special and cast your votes on

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Wanderlust Highlights: Pranayama with Rod Stryker

Rod Stryker explaining the Pranayama breathing practice at Wanderlust California.
Photo © Matthew Wakem

Inhale. Exhale. We breathe 24 hours a day, and we rarely think much about it. But at Rod Stryker’s Pranayama class at Wanderlust California last weekend, students learned that there’s so much more to breathing than oxygen intake. In fact, your breathing pattern—rapid, uneven, audible, silent, shallow, deep, or all of the above—can tell you a lot about your physical and emotional well-being.

During the 1 hour and 30 minute class, Stryker gave festivalgoers a crash course pranavayus—the 10 expressions of prana in the body, or in simpler terms, the fundamental energizing force inside of us. Stryker focused on 5 vayus in particular, each of which has a physical and related emotional function:

 Apana, located between the pubis and the pelvic floor, has the physical function of elimination and the emotional function of letting go (i.e. forgiveness).

Samana, located between the pubic bone and solar plexus, has the physical function of assimilation—converting substance into energy, and the emotional function of being able to derive wisdom from experience.

Pran, located between the solar plexus and the collar bone, governs vital physical functions like inhalation and heart rate as well as their more emotional counterparts—regeneration and revitalization (i.e. when you lack energy and motivation, your pran vayu is likely compromised).

Udana, located between the collar bones and the throat, rules the physical function of exhalation and the emotional function of psychological growth (i.e. your willingness to expand).

Diyana, which isn’t located in any one particular place, governs circulation and, on an emotional level, your ability to move freely from one vayu to another, which also signifies your ability to move freely through various areas of your life.

Rod Stryker teaching students about the vayus.
Photo © Matthew Wakem

After explaining the vayus, Stryker asked students put them into action by mindfully and evenly breathing through each, starting from the pelvic floor (apana). The lesson? Breathing through the vayus isn’t as simple as it seems. Most people, myself included, encountered some blocks, realized that they were unconsciously skipping a vayu or two, or had difficulty breathing into certain vayus no matter how hard they tried. Perhaps the most interesting part of all was that the vayus that people had trouble with were typically a reflection of their current emotional state. Apparently, I have some work to do.

Students take time to breathe through their vayus.
Photo © Matthew Wakem

For more information on Rod Stryker and his workshops, visit or buy his new book, The Four Desires: Creating a Life of Purpose, Happiness, Prosperity, and Freedom.

For a taste of the Wanderlust festival experience, go to Wanderlust at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, from September 10 to 11. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Wanderlust Highlights: Yoga Fashion Under $100

Much of the buzz around the Wanderlust Festival in California has been about the yoga and the music. But one thing I also love about Wanderlust is the shopping. What’s the connection between shopping and well-being? Any woman will tell you retail therapy is one surefire way to soothe the soul. Besides, yoga fashion is fashion you can truly feel good about—whether that means socially responsible manufacturing practices, organic fabrics you can move in, or simply inspirational pieces that resonate with your inner spirit. There was a lot to choose from at this year’s Wanderlust. Below are a few affordable finds I fell in love with.

b by donna m is 100% made in California. The Shirred Wrap, $95, shown above on the lovely Jillian can be worn in so many different ways and it’s super soft. Jillian paired her black wrap with the Rollover Legging in garnet, $82.

When the weather hits a near 90 degrees like it did today in Tahoe, a figure-flattering dress made of light, breathable fabric is the perfect summer ensemble. This halter Tulip Dress, $50, by Nectar Creations  caught my eye. Love the hat, $35, too.

This Mirage Racerback top in Lemongrass was in the sale bin at the Dude Girl tent. A shimmery sleeveless top for $10? I’m all over it. Find more sale items online.

Of course, a yoga outfit isn’t complete without some yoga-inspired jewelry. Now, when it comes to yoga-inspired jewelry, there’s a fine line between lovely and just plain cheesy. But I thought these Lotus Flower necklaces, handmade in Tahoe by Lala Jewelry were on the lovely side, $50 to $70. You can find Lala Jewelry on Etsy starting in August.

For live Wanderlust updates, follow @mariawakem on Twitter.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Traditional vs. Alternative Approach to Hives

A "textbook impressive" case of hives.
(Photo © Maria Wakem)

Yes, that’s a picture of my arm. And yes, the rest of my body looked just as bad. When I arrived at the ER last Friday, I was hooked up to a steroid IV while a group of doctors and nurses called my case “textbook impressive.” That’s not something you really want to hear from your doctor. Thankfully, the inflammation has subsided since the picture was taken. But it’s my search for a cause (as well as a cure) for the continuous itching that has inspired this Allergy Diary series of blog posts.

A couple of things before I begin: I’m a pretty healthy human being. I’ve only been to the ER once before. (I was 2 years old and needed a few stitches.) I’m not violently allergic to any particular food. I didn’t eat anything new or different that day that could have triggered the hives. And none of the doctors who have examined me so far have been able to figure out what set off such a severe reaction.

When I was released from the hospital, I immediately made an appointment with an allergy specialist. I prepared a list of everything I ate that particular day, along with a list of everything I eat on a daily basis. I also typed up a sheet of “potential triggers” that included everything from recent changes in my life (i.e. a new office) to the ingredients of the eco-friendly cleaning agents used to clean my sofa and carpet a few days before the hives broke out.

My allergist spent 5 minutes looking over the info I brought with me. He teased me about my attempt at self-diagnosis, commented on how I eat a serious amount of vegetables, and said that the likelihood of him actually being able to pinpoint what triggered the hives was “not very high.” (Again, not something you want to hear from your doctor.) He then showed me some gory pictures of skin conditions on the internet, sent me to the lab for an allergy test, and wrote me a prescription for Zantac. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for medical professionals. I come from a family of them. But 9 times out of 10 I leave a doctor’s office feeling like a product on an assembly line. This was one of those times. So I turned to a different set of health experts for some answers.

Unlike my doctor, both my nutritionist (Sid) and acupuncturist (Robert) spent more than 20 minutes each talking to me about my diet, exercise habits, stress levels, menstrual cycles, bowel movements, sleep patterns, and even the current state of my tongue. According to Sid, the problem wasn’t the allergy trigger, it was the fact that my body was ill-prepared to handle that trigger. In order to boost my immune system and my body’s ability to process food, he now has me on a daily regimen of shakes made with superfoods like goji berries and natural adaptogens like maitake and reishi mushroom blends.

Robert, who seemed pleased to see all the good stuff on my nutritionist’s list, diagnosed me with “spleen qi deficiency” and prescribed weekly acupuncture sessions along with sweat-inducing activities like sitting in a sauna and practicing yoga. While I can already hear my father-in-law—a Western-trained doctor—grumbling in his New Zealand accent that my alternative health efforts are “rubbish,” I can honestly say that I had my first good night’s sleep after my first acupuncture session. And at least Sid and Robert have said they can help me. When it comes to my well-being, that is something I want to hear.

Monday, May 30, 2011

How to Avoid Yoga Injuries

Yoga injuries are pretty common, even among seasoned practitioners. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were more than 5,500 yoga-related injuries treated in doctors' offices, clinics, and emergency rooms in 2007 (the most recent stat I could find).

I remember when I first started practicing yoga, my lower back would ache and I often felt soreness in my knees and wrists. Even now the pain still occurs when I rush through my poses or push myself a little too hard. This idea was the inspiration behind my first video blog, which focuses on how to properly execute three common yoga poses with the help of my beloved yoga instructor Ashley West Roberts.

While I realize there are many yoga resources out there showing highly trained (and super toned) experts demonstrating perfectly aligned poses, I'm pretty sure I don't look like that during a yoga class. Some days, I'm lazy, and I speed through my chatarungas. Other days, I space out and forget to use my leg strength during a Downward-Facing Dog putting unnecessary strain on my wrists. Ultimately, I wanted to show a real person (curves and all) demonstrating poses, and perhaps needing a bit of adjustment along the way. 

Ashley has helped me be kinder to my body by being more mindful on the mat. Hopefully, by heeding her advice in this video, she can help you do the same.