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Day 4.

Beauty and Perfection

Mountains tops are illuminated like folded velvet. Breakfast is served and the taxi driver is on his way.

I’m leaving today. Jean-Paul is wearing his favourite combination of bright blue sweater with a bright red scarf, he’s brisk and industrious as he starts his day by going through the papers in his office with a view.


It’s time to say good bye for now, so I grab a quick breakfast out on the terrace where the pancake lady is already anticipating the yogis and where by the side of the veranda, the shepherd’s son is playfully fighting sleepy sheep.

I said my goodbyes and Amir the taxi driver has just arrived as if he knew that I’ll be ready early this time. As we drive off, I observe the locals: plain long dark dusty robes that protect them both from freezing Winter winds and blazing sun. Eyes of tough Arab people fixed on eternity, expressing a lifetime of struggle and humility, eyes that have seen both beauty and hardship. And then there’s an occasional smile they send to me, deep lines are like rays of sun radiating from their eyes are suddenly erasing 20 years of age off these wrinkly faces, making them look youthful again.


This brings me back to the observation I made in the last few years: beauty does not equal perfection. Beauty can be rustic, rugged, stained, unexpected, impractical, plain, unpretentious, overwhelming, beauty can break your heart, beauty can stitch you back to wholeness again. I recall those times when I used to find myself caught in a moment staring at pattern of a hand woven rug or intricate line work on artisan pottery, when you marvel at that heartwarming smile of a stranger from a dramatically different culture yet so close and authentic that it melts those virtual barriers we have created in our heads to distinguish ‘us’ from ‘others’ and remind us that in our chests we have the same beating, living hearts that have never been affected by the illusion of separation.

But I’ve arrived now. Just caught myself saying à bientôt to the taxi driver. That’s probably just how soon I’m hoping to be back.

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Day 3

Strange Words and the Spontaneous Moments of Grace

I woke up almost against my will… The fireplace turned out to be more distracting than I thought. Halfway through my meditation, I ended up crawling out of my bed and moving the sofa so I could see the fire better. It kept igniting something deep within, kept connecting me to a strange kind of energy lives in the core of my being and excited, my mind refused to fall asleep.

The alarm clock was a surprise and struggling with an urge to stay tucked in, I slowly slowly began to make my way out of this delightfully heavy warm bed. My feet were the first body part to awaken, freezing cold floor didn’t leave much choice. I barely opened my eyes while quickly brushing my teeth and in one minute I was dressed up and still looking like a mess, ready to go. 

I got out through the gate like a scared kid. There were vast plains sprinkled with scattered houses here and there, but predominantly what unravelled in front of me, was just a vast open space, rocky fields in terra-cotta and brown with barely a plant, barely a bird, barely a sound. I was there before sunrise, heading towards the majestic mountains as my fingertips continued to remind me that they needed better gear to enjoy the desert morning in February. 

There is probably no equipment to capture the grandeur of the snowy mountain peaks at sunrise, no means to transmit the quality of changing pre-sunrise colours adequately, no words to communicate it across. There is a special feeling that floods your whole being, canceling out the thoughts, synchronizing the external silence with the internal as the whole world holds its breath witnessing this miracle of another day being born. As I kept walking on, I knew that there is nothing on this planet that can ever erase this ravishing moment from my memory.

Peaceful morning in our yoga room where I couldn’t stop staring at the star shaped ceiling windows again. I creeped closer to the fire place as we made our way into savasana. Oranges and orange cakes and orange juice and orange blossom tea for breakfast and there’s no more doubt which part of the world I am in! The rest of the day I spent exploring the labyrinth of this place, all the little gems that only reveal themselves only to the patient and the curious.

I am not ready to leave tomorrow, not ready to say goodbye to riads, souks, hammams, tagines.. This little chance to taste this completely new culture was so not enough. Practicing yoga solo on the rooftop in the evening and then sitting down on those colourful pillows for meditation, I had difficulty surrendering to the fact that it’s time to go, time to move on to the next adventure that promises to be very different and in its Nordic beauty, quite lightless.. I am soaking in all the sun I can to make it through as I am anticipating our next rendez-vous. I am listening to the sounds of the mosques, the strangely comforting sounds of escalating prayers reaching me from all over the desert, accompanied by the subtle noises of sheep flocks returning home for the night. 

I’ll ease into my big leather chair by the fireplace tonight, cuddle up with a book, and wait for my couscous to arrive.. I’ll savour and save every little detail, every feeling, every fragrance, every vibration that this place triggers in my heart and will look forward to the next time me and Africa get to meet again. For now, I’m holding my breath as the last rays of sunshine caress the snowy Atlas tips beautifully distracting me from my evening meditation on the rooftop..

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Day 2

The Wonder

The pain is now gone and I hope it never returns in this form again.

It’s late at night and once again I’ve broken my resolution to go to bed early.. I am mesmerized by the fireplace in my room, all the lights are now switched off and I’m enjoying a little moment of contemplation and solitude, a sharp contrast from today’s symphony and sometimes cacophony of intense colours, smells, sounds, tastes that you can only find in Marrakech. Just like turning up the sound of a stereo, here it seems like an invisible force has just decided to intensify every single bit of stimulation that tickles your senses. This place is a new unexplored continent for me in every way, it is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It is not reserved, nor is it shy to show off it’s colorful exuberance: orange trees are lacing the main roads in the city centre, the life is bustling and Medina mosques frozen in time, are constantly inviting for a prayer; meals are cooking, carpets are being woven and enthusiastic street vendors are ever on a lookout for a naive looking customer.

As we return to the silence of our desert oasis, yoga room is already waiting for us, the fireplace is on and the sounds of the burning wood will be our music for the session. There is a window in the ceiling and it is shaped like the stars. So as we do our slow evening practice with Jen, we are watching the clear blue Winter sky change colours, transforming so gradually that it makes you wonder how come it’s suddenly twilight and by the end of meditation, the sky is in its full glory, with stars like gemstones and sparkling jewels, beautifying it to the fullest of its radiance, embellishing it beyond comprehension.

There is a grounding power that this place possesses: clay houses with eucalyptus ceilings and heavy wooden furniture bring about a sense of deep rest, the air is silent and the starlit sky is delicately overpowering every sound, every impression of the day.. And here in the vicinity of the Atlas mountains and Sahara desert, I promise both the sky and the desert are exactly the way Saint-Exupéry described in his Little Prince. Or at least, the way I always imagined it to be.

I love the sound of fire and fragrant eucalyptus wood picking up, trickling in my fireplace. There is something primal, primordial about the depth of the experience that is taking over me as I’m watching the fire, about being out here in the desert on a starry night, on a continent that probably gave birth to humankind. I feel a strange kind of transience of life and a yet a continuity of generations, a strong connection to all our ancestors who lived in these clay houses and have been watching the fire and the stars and the celestial bodies for thousands of years.

My body and mind are gradually surrendering to this moment of effortless beauty, preparing to fall into deep deep sleep. Here up in the mountains, the air is so fresh at night this time of year and the lights that the fireplace is casting onto the dark walls, make me feel like I’m being tucked in by some force of the universe, something ineffable that makes me feel safe and protected in this strange land of Berbers.

 

Day 1. The Intensity

I have arrived. I have finally finally arrived.. And I am almost crying and shivering sitting on this gigantic bed that was probably designed for another species. Or maybe I just got used to sleeping on the tiniest bed in the world and now a king size bed seems like utmost luxury. 

I am surrounded by a palette that flaunts a multitude of colours in this beautiful little clay house. A strange and unexpected collision of cultures and eclectic mix of styles, a shockingly harmonious cocktail of contrasting flavours and fragrances and tastes and colours, a truly unexpected surprise for my Western tastebuds. Here the Muslim traditions meet the Berber ones and the French aftertaste is still lingering on; everything seems in its right place. Here in this clay and stone oasis at an altitude of 700 meters, February night is greeting me with a chilly yet welcoming breeze, the handmade lanterns are drawing intricate shadows on the walls, creating a story that only comes alive at nighttime, and the wood in the fireplace is ready to be lit up to heat up the clay walls of my little palace. 

I see all of this beauty with completely new eyes. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been to the African continent before, maybe because just a few hours ago I didn’t know whether I’m going to make it. 

A mere few hours ago, as our pilot announced that we are starting our descent, a strange piercing pain sharply announced its presence just behind my eye and in a matter of seconds, grew in intensity to the point that I was losing my consciousness.. I got myself together and what was left of my strength, urged me to ask the flight attendant to assist me should I lose it before we land.. 

The noises, the passengers, the announcements and the air pressure all mixed up in a strange haze. I remember a concerned look of a man sitting across the aisle and then my new companion leading me to the emergency room. And then the bright lights blinding the sensitised eyes and doctor on duty taking tests and still unable to explain what just happened inside my head. 

The driver was still waiting for me when I eventually made it to the meeting point. After briefly greeting me in French and mentioning that he was worried, he quickly picked up my small bag and we left. In an hour or so, the intensity of my pain started to subside, it was gradually letting go of its grip and my mind was finally re-claiming the clarity, yet there was still a soft pulsation behind the eye socket as a reminder of something intense. And now, after what could have been a stroke, just sitting on this bed and still being able to perceive and discern the physical reality again seems like a precious gift, like a second chance I’ve been given to walk this earth in a human form. A transient, temporary body is still mine to rent for a while and I have shivers on my back as I realize over and over again how amazing this journey is.

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Celebrate Spring with Yoga and Meditation in Iceland. 31 March - 3 April, 2014

Imagine starting your day rolling out of bed and into stunning  yoga room with warm floors and a gigantic window overlooking the water. Beginning to awaken with yoga while the sky is lighting up and by the time you’re finishing the practice with a meditation, the sun has risen over the lagoon colouring the horizon with shades of apricot and pink and it’s time to get some breakfast and head outside to enjoy the crispy fresh air, the volcanoes all around and your morning dip in the hot springs. That’s exactly why I can’t get enough of this beautiful part of the world

This retreat will leave you feeling renewed, rejuvenated and glowing. One of the most otherworldly locations imaginable featuring healing hot springs and a stunning yoga space couldn’t be a better setting for a practice of yoga and deep meditation. For the third time, I am offering delicious yoga and meditation classes at the Lagoon to purify, strengthen and balance your mind, body and spirit. 

Activites

Typical day starts with morning yoga class from 8-9.30am, continues with breakfast, morning dipping in the lagoon, yoga nidra deep relaxation on some of the days, delicious lunch at the restaurant, free time to hike, enjoy the big lagoon, all the saunas and the waterfall or just relax, afternoon yoga/meditation practice and open evening. 

Food + Dining

Delicious vegetarian meals complement yoga and meditation programme perfectly. Our group is catered for by some of the best chefs in Iceland

What to Expect

  • 3 nights accommodation in a double room at the lagoon depending on your preference
  • Daily yoga classes, meditation and yoga nidra 
  • Myofascial release sessions to increase the range of motion, help release deep muscular tensions and improve posture
  • Stunning yoga space overlooking the lagoon
  • Delicious vegetarian meals 
  • Unlimited access to the hot springs, access to private lagoon at the clinic, bath robes, towels

Getting There

Arrival: at Keflavik Airport (KEF) on the 31.03.2014 Departure: from Keflavik airport (KEF) on the 03.04.2014

Register: elena@sparklingyoga.com

A cosy pre-Christmas workshop for beginners and experienced yogis. This practice will deeply restore and rejuvenate your nervous system and nourish your body, mind and spirit by combining breathing techniques, mindfulness meditation as well as Yoga Nidra guided relaxation. The practice strengthens the immunity, relieves stress and promotes healing, leaving you refreshed and energized.


Relax Completely I has focus on hips and hamstrings

Relax Completely II has focus on back and shoulders
Yoga Nidra means Yogic Sleep, a state of deep sleep while you remain conscious. It brings an amazing clarity of mind, calmness and stillness. It is one of the deepest forms of meditation leading to supreme quietness and insight. The depth of Yoga Nidra is far beyond just relaxation. During a Yoga Nidra session, you leave your waking state, go through the dreaming state and into deep sleep state, yet remain fully awake.

Winter time is an introspective, grounding, peaceful time of year when nature withdraws its energy back to itself to rest, restore and prepare. The weather tends to be humid, cloudy, cold and heavy, with predominance of water element. In Ayurvedic terminology, all these attributes are characteristic of Kapha (which literally means “that which flourishes in water”). According to Ayurveda, ‘like increases like’, so the qualities of this time of year can aggravate the same qualities in our bodies and minds making us more susceptible to feeling heavy, lethargic, congested and un-motivated. There are however many ways to prevent that by understanding the principles of Ayurveda and using some simple strategies to work with imbalances before they manifest as disease.

It’s important to note however that Vata constitution is also aggravated by the quality of cold which means that Winter can present this dosha (constitutional type) with certain health challenges, so we’ll take a look at how we can work with both constitutions at once.

Winter from the Ayurvedic perspective

Winter attributes/qualities: humid, wet, cold, cohesive, heavy, fluid

Water physiology: bodily functions that involve water energy to a great degree like reproductive function, lactation, saliva, urination, menses.

Water anatomy: organs and systems in focus are kidneys, lungs, mucus membranes, pancreas, bladder, synovial fluid, bodily secretions, lipids (fats), ova and testes. 

Common imbalances: swelling, mucus accumulation. 

Energetic focus: 2nd energy center/chakra - swadisthana (located at the base of the spine). This energetic/psychic centre is associated with the feeling of satisfaction, gratification, sensuality, desire and creativity.

Water asana: to keep kapha in check/decrease it, it’s a good idea to include more vigorous postures. This will also improve the metabolic rate and prevent sluggishness of digestion. Back bends and forward bends are both beneficial during this time of year as they activate the kidneys to prevent water retention and open the thoracic region (chest region) to clear phlegm.

Diet

To balance Kapha constitutions, it would be a great idea to eliminate foods that are heavy and/or difficult to digest - try eliminating wheat and dairy and pay attention to how it reduces the experience of sluggishness in the body and mind. 

Winter diet should consist of warm foods that are slightly salty, mildly spicy and nourishing. It is important to note that Winter diet is supposed to balance Kapha but not aggravate Vata.

Generally limiting the consumption of meals that are naturally heavy, oily and sweet could be helpful. 

A good choice of spices for the Winter season would be warming ones like cumin, fennel, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, cayenne, cardamom. Using these spices will prevent Kapha accumulation and keep you more vibrant and energized.

Ginger tea and other spicy teas are some of the best choices of drink this season while cold drinks and ice-cream are best  avoided altogether since the digestive fire is slow this time of year and the cold sweet quality will slow it down even more.

Winter Routine

If your constitution has a predominance of Kapha, it would be good to follow most of the suggestions below. Vata types would also benefit from the routine outlined below. As for Pittas, it’s important to continue to balance the internal and the external heat - so use the advice provided more intuitively than other constitutions.

  • Have a glass of warm water upon waking up. In the Winter time you can also add some freshly squeezed lemon juice to stimulate agni - the digestive fire
  • One of the most transformational additions to your routine is early morning self massage before shower - you can use a dry brush and stimulate the circulation and lymph system by applying long strokes moving from the periphery towards the heart (from hands and feet towards the heart). It usually takes between 5-15 minutes to cover the entire body and you know you’re done when the skin feels alive and the whole body is warm with improved circulation. It really wakes you up in the morning and keeps you warm all day.
  • Apply warm sesame oil to your skin to lock in the warmth and prevent the dryness and discomfort as you go out into the cold. Sesame is warming and can be beneficial to every constitution this time of year. The practice of oiling the skin also creates a protective barrier that strengthens your immune system and protects you from colds and flu. If you would like to delve deeper into Ayurvedic oiling practices, research abhyanga - it’s an ancient tradition in Ayurvedic practices and a great way to detox, nourish yourself and maintain vibrant health.
  • Take a warm (not hot as it dries out the skin) shower once you’re done with self-massage and oiling. Let warm water wash off excess oil, using no shower gel or soap so that even as you leave the shower, there is a fine oil layer left on the surface of the skin. Lightly pat the skin dry.
  • To protect your teeth and gums from excess sensitivity to cold, hold some warm sesame oil in your mouth for 3 minutes after brushing your teeth. This simple practice has an extremely nourishing effect on teeth and gums and prevents the occurrence of  bleeding or overly sensitive gums.
  • It’s important to keep your mind clear and digestion healthy by practicing breathing techniques/pranayama, The best choices for Winter are vigorous practices like bhastrika (bellows breath) and kapalabhati. These pranayama techniques cultivate the clarity of the thinking process and help the body expel excess mucus and sluggishness while invigorating cells and tissues with life giving prana.
  • There is a practice in the Ayurvedic tradition called Nasya. It’s therapeutic oiling of the nasal membranes that can be done right upon waking up or after completing pranayama. This practice is particularly appropriate for Kapha season as it brings about a wonderful lightness and clarity of mind as well as dissolve mucus and excessive water that can accumulate in the head and sinuses.
  • The practice of yoga asana can be more vigorous and energizing than Autumn routine. It can be beneficial to include Surya Namaskar - Sun Salutations (up to 12 rounds) as well as a multitude of backbends and forward bends. Some recommendable asanas are matsyasana (fish pose), chakrasana (wheel), ustrasana (camel). These poses stimulate both lungs and kidneys that usually need an extra boost during Kapha season.                                                                                                                                

Thank you Maria Garre and Sebastian Pole 

This yoga and meditation retreat will be hosted in a retreat centre in the North of Bali that belongs to a a non-profit foundation supporting a multitude of local initiatives like coral restoration and enabling access to education for kids from refugee families. This also happens to be a stunning location in a non-touristy part of Northern Bali. Retreat is situated on a mountain overlooking the ocean and the beautiful lush simplicity is a wonderful setting for a yoga and meditation practice. So it’s both a great holiday and good karma.

In Bali, mountains symbolize humanity’s relationship with Creation. Here, the earth elements of nature combine with the vitality of rural Bali, to create an environment where you can reconnect and rejuvenate.

This yoga retreat is an invitation to deepen your understanding of yoga and meditation, whether you are new to yoga or an experienced practitioner. Yoga retreat is a holiday that nourishes you on many different levels - physical, mental and emotional and one of the best way to celebrate the beginning of a new year by recharging yourself and attuning to the vibration of radiant health amidst the stunning nature of the island. Daily yoga and meditation classes during the retreat create a great foundation for consistent and joyful practice for the rest of year and what a better place to start the year than warm and sunny Bali.

Bali an island in Indonesia, an exceptional place on Earth that is full of prana, vitality, abundant with sun soaked fresh fruits and vegetables, abundant with joy and rich in spiritual tradition. You will be amazed how many shades of green exist on the island.

We will be staying in a beautiful centre on a mountain surrounded by a huge organic garden which provides most of the ingredients for our meals and for a little spa at the centre. The mountain is close to the ocean and it will be possible for you to either stay at the centre or enjoy the ocean or spa during the day.

Daily Schedule

The programme will include daily yoga classes every morning (a delicious long session before breakfast) and an evening hour of breathing practices and meditation

  • 7:30-9:30 Morning yoga and meditation practice
  • 9:30 Breakfast
  • 10:00-13:00 Free time to enjoy spa treatments, swim in the ocean… enjoy life :)
  • 13:00 Lunch
  • 14:00-19:00 Visit of the temple or cooking course or free time depending on the day of the week
  • 19:00 Dinner
  • 20:30 - 21:30 Evening meditation and breathing practice

Temple visit

One of the days, we will be taken to a local temple and will have a chance to enjoy a cleansing ceremony.

Cooking course

One of the afternoons we are invited to a cooking course which will take place at our centre. We will prepare dinner all together as a group as we are taught about the traditional Balinese ingredients and cooking ritual

Spa

Every day you have a chance to book a treatment from the spa menu of the Rainforest Spa that is located at the centre. The treatments are inspired by the local environment and living herbal traditions of Bali. Using touch, healing herbs and plants gathered from their 4-hectare organic garden, the body therapists hope to share Bali’s timeless wisdom and natural healing power with their guests.

Food

Most of the ingredients are from the centre’s organic gardens, the freshest sun ripened fruits and vegetables rich in prana. We will be served a delicious vegetarian menu and on the last evening we will have a festive dinner together.

Teacher

The classes are taught by Elena Mironov, a Copenhagen-based international yoga and meditation teacher and author.

With international yoga teaching experience and Yoga Alliance certification as well as a degree in Psychology and background in music and arts, Elena Mironov uses the full spectrum of her creativity in her yoga classes and workshops. She has been practicing, studying and teaching for over 12 years in Europe, North America and Australia and done over 700 hours of training with some of the world’s most renowned teachers including Shiva Rea, Paul Muller Ortega, Max Strom, Christopher Tompkins, Annie Carpenter, Yogrishi Vishvketu, Chetana Panwar as well as Jivamukti legends Sharon Gannon and David Life.She has a unique ability to create a sacred space celebrating the special sparkle in every individual she works with with love, knowledge and presence.

Centre

The centre where we’re staying is a non-profit foundation and here are a few highlights they are proud of:

Rooms and Bungalows

Dotted throughout the retreat centre are 4 large and 2 smaller Balinese-style bungalows. The larger bungalows have two double rooms each, and the smaller ones are perfect for a couple. All homes are located at a discreet distance from their neighbours and come with fully-equipped kitchens and open-air bathrooms. Each home is unique, lovingly furnished by their owners, and situated in beautiful private gardens.

Dining Terrace

Guests can spend many hours on our dining terrace reading, relaxing or having their meals. The terrace is an open construction shaded by trees and bamboo that looks out on a verdant valley. If you look carefully, you will also catch glimpses of the blue sea yonder.

The daily buffets and à la carte menu comprise a variety of delicious balanced vegetarian dishes from Indonesian and western-influenced kitchen. At the terrace, guests can freely help themselves to mineral water, green and herbal teas, Balinese coffee and cocoa throughout the day. Friendly staff are on hand should you wish to order fresh pressed fruit- and vegetable juices, lassies, and specialist coffees.

Salt Water Pool

Salt water pool is built on a mountain terrace, with uninterrupted views across the verdant orchards to where the distant ocean meets the sky. Play… exercise overlooking the resplendent valley… or simply relax on the wide stone terrace. The pool is large enough for doing laps and there is a stone terrace alongside that is suitable for bodywork and yoga.

Walking Trails

The centre is criss-crossed with walking trails that range from gentle strolls to more strenuous full-day treks. Explore the four hectare estate, hike along the ridge dropping down to the river, or journey through traditional villages, temples, orchards and jungle gorges. Serious mountain bikers can bash down muddy tracks and rough village byways, or follow the road up to the hill villages for stunning views.

Our Yoga Space - Mountain Lotus Room

Feel the early morning sun rays on your skin and find stillness even as the local community and animals stir quickly to the cacophony of life. Located directly below the dining terrace, one side of the room is totally open, looking out on a lotus-filled rainwater collection pool and lush green surroundings. In this beautiful setting, you can relax, meditate deeply and reconnect with Creation.

Sustainability

The water at the centre is untreated, and comes from a natural spring. The the use of chemicals is minimized; the swimming pool is a saltwater pool and they have built a wastewater garden to filter grey water. The organic gardens produce delicious vegetables, following principles of reuse and recycle. The electricity use is mindful - the centre uses low-consumption bulbs and natural ventilation instead of air-conditioning. In line with this holistic approach, food is vegetarian.

Practical things

Travel

Guests are responsible for organizing their own transport to Bali. It’s recommended to book the flights to Denpasar airport Ngurah Rai (DPS) as early as possible since the prices for travel around New Year’s tend to go up the closer you get to the date. It could also be a good idea to travel together with a friend or partner and arrive a little earlier or leave a little later to have a bit of private time to explore this beautiful part of the world.

Airport transfer

The location of the retreat is a 3-hour drive from the airport and transfers can be organised beforehand. You will receive all the information and contact details when you register.

Visa

You will need a visa for Bali. You can either apply for a visa on arrival or organize yourself beforehand (recommended). It may involve some waiting if you decide to go for visa on arrival, so it’s best to apply for one before you travel. More information onthe embassy website.

Weather

During the day, the temperatures are pleasant, usually between 20-33°C year round. January is the beginning of the rainy season in Bali, but days are still often sunny with the rains starting in the late afternoon or evening and passing quickly. The nature during this time of year is beautiful, lush and very green. Read more about Balinese weather on The Lonely Planet

To enquire about prices and availability, please email elena@sparklingyoga.com

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I’ve been thinking about this post for months now. It’s going to be a very practical post that is meant to  CLEAR SPACE around you and eventually, within you. It’s based on my own experiments that I felt I shouldn’t be discussing until I had enough time to let it germinate and see how and whether it works for me before I share my research with you. It’s been nearly half a year now and I think it’s time.
The idea emerged in my head when I was sitting in a room with a group of nutrition enthusiasts and listening to a talk by one exceptional, extraordinary woman. She kept on presenting her unprepared, improvised, spontaneously beautiful speech, clueless of how it was affecting me…And even though she’s a nutritionist, she somehow managed to plant a seed of deeper realization that was going to change a lot about my everyday life in the months to come.
I returned home from that forest retreat and saw my apartment through a different lens. It dawned upon me that despite my intrinsic effort to leave a lighter imprint on the environment by using less and using natural products where possible, the effort wasn’t always informed and therefore not intelligent enough. There is so much that has undergone transformation in the past months that I decided to write about my journey and my deepest hope is that it inspires you to re-think your consumption of certain things that are toxic - both for you, your family, your home and the world - and as a result, create a clear open space, free from what’s unnecessary.
Plastic
Take a closer look at the amount of plastic in your immediate surroundings. Isn’t it astonishing how this blessing and this curse of the 20th century has now taken over our living spaces and packaging replacing materials that could have been so much more sustainable and way less toxic. But how exactly is it toxic? Well, certain types of plastic release chemical breakdown products called phtalates (as well as a bunch of others depending on the type of plastic: styrene, polyvinyl chloride, dioxin, bisphenol A etc) that can disturb human hormonal system that pretty much regulates all vital processes in the body. This can in turn predispose us for an array of illnesses and as much as I would like to avoid writing about it - cancer. Another thing is that it takes up to 400 years for plastic to decompose and think about it - US alone produces 416,666 plastic bottles every HOUR and so far, since plastic was invented a few decades ago, there hasn’t been a SINGLE plastic item fully decomposed in the world..
What to do?
Switch to glass containers for your lunch of snack and carry a metal flask or glass bottle for your water instead of plastic bottles that are both unnecessary expenses in your budget, toxic for you and the oceans and just make no sense as our tap water in the West is perfectly drinkable. When shopping, stick with products with minimal, non-plastic or no packaging. In Denmark there is a company called Årstiderne (http://www.aarstiderne.com/) that delivers fruit and veggie boxes using minimal packaging and I am sure there is a farmers market or a local supplier close to you where you can shop packaging-free.
Beauty Products/Toiletries
Again, we are mainly talking plastic here. Shampoo bottles, toothbrushes, shower gels etc mainly come in plastic packaging. And interestingly, we normally don’t even question neither the necessity of all those items in our lives nor possible alternatives.
Let’s talk about shampoo first. After months of experimentation and trusting health experts that it would be better for me to use shampoo less frequently and instead wash hair with warm water, I can say that the health of my hair did improve significantly. And besides, it turns out neither shampoo nor conditioner have to come in plastic packaging. Here are some alternatives that are way more delicious then the conventional products: http://www.chagrinvalleysoapandsalve.com/ you’ll find both shampoo and conditioner in a bar which is simple, practical, easy to travel with and non-toxic plus will leave your hair looking and feeling lovely) and http://www.suryabrasil.com/en/linha.php?id=12 (great organic conditioners in metal tubes instead of plastic).
Shower gel is a mystery product to me - why is washing ourselves with warm water not enough? I must admit, I was sceptical at first, but now 5 months into my new shower gel free existence I must say that my skin is no longer dry and so much healthier. If your feet or armpits feel dirty, you can always use a bar of soap, all other body parts will appreciate just warm water a lot more.
Deodorant. As my Ayurveda teacher once said: “If you feel you really need a deodorant, you’ve got some serious detoxing to do”. Not only will you save another chunk of plastic but also let the body release what is designed to be released (as opposed to trapping waste products inside the body - this is essentially what deodorants/antiperspirants do), you’ll also remain more aware of when your insides are in need of some cleansing - there are many possibilities out there if you find you need to detox like juicing, green smoothies, massage therapy, lymph drainage. In my experience, these healing modalities are some of the best ways to stay consistently healthy and radiant plus with no deodorant, you can notice the potential problem at its onset. While in transition from a conventional deodorant, you can apply baking soda mixed with a little water to your armpits to keep them odour free without harmful chemicals. If you work out and sweat a lot, this could be a great solution also after you quit deodorant altogether.
Toothpaste. There are brands like Voegel, Dr Haushka, Weleda etc that offer organic toothpaste in a metal tube. I find the kinds I’ve tried also really gentle on the gums and sensitive enamel, more delicious and more efficient in keeping teeth clean. 
Facial cleanser/make-up remover. Raw Gaia has some super yummy ones in a glass bottle that also remove water resistant eye make up and will not irritate neither your eyes not your skin. You can also learn to make your own!
Facial exfoliators, masks, moisturisers - try Raw Gaia for plastic free, non-toxic and just delightful skin care.
Cotton swabs. They are also make them from wood - inexpensive, nice and non-toxic.
Nail polish and polish removers. I love the idea of colourful nails but man, this stuff is packed with things like formaldehydes, DBP and their ‘friends’ that contribute to reproductive health issues, disrupt hormonal and nervous systems and irritate lungs to name just a few. So my choice is to use up my favourite and not buy this stuff again. And drink more green smoothies that make nails naturally strong and beautiful (by the way, who said that the real unpainted nails are not pretty?).
Hair Colour. In May 2013 I finally discovered just how toxic hair dyes are and I promised myself: never again. Even the most innocent looking hair colours from health food store still contain a bunch of cancerogenes and hormone disrupters + seriously damage your hair and cause breakage and irritating the scalp. They also poison and pollute animals’ habitats when the breakdown products sip into the ecosystem. while seriously damaging your hair  and causing breakage and irritating the scalp. 
After extensive research and experimenting I concluded that there are way better options out there then commercial hair dyes: something my granny used back in the day: herbs like organic henna, indigo and cassia which will give you healthier shinier fuller hair as well as desired colour whether you’re willing to go red, brunette or blond. If you use these herbs properly, they will cover greys perfectly - my mum’s hair will happily prove it :) The process is messier and takes more time, but the way your hair, your scalp and your karma will feel and look is well worth it. This is one company that I think is great: http://www.suvarna.co.uk/pure-henna-indigo.html
Feminine Hygiene Products. As most conventional products, they are packed with plastic and rayon that are far from being safe to keep your lady parts healthy plus they are leave behind so much waste. Here are some alternatives: http://www.mooncup.co.uk/
http://www.organicup.dk/. It’s a bit of a personal revolution for most women I know and though it takes a few months to do the switch, you’ll be happy you did.
But at the end of the day, it’s really not just about plastic. Minimizing the plastic consumption is barely a reflection of how in tune we are with the world that we’re a part of and contributes to simplicity of life that for me is one of the objectives. And this way the argument of “I am not enough to make a change” becomes inconsequential since you’re creating a pretty significant shift in your own life and in your own thinking, and the benefit for your own life is subtle but immediate. So my hope is that these ideas will inspire you to maintain a mindful approach to how you take care of yourself and what you consume and eventually create more space, more openness and more clarity in your life, in your mind and in your practice.
 
Namaste,
Elena