A blessing and a curse

Keep feeling fascination … and you end up with a blog.

How self-tanner made me a better person June 25, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — tiffanyfox @ 1:09 am
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I always knew that becoming a mother would create a sea change in my life, but until I actually took the plunge, I tended to think of it in rather grandiose terms. “Having a child will make me more aware, more compassionate, a better person.” And right about then my eyes would get misty and I would start having hallucinations about cherubim and golden light.

Of course, the ‘how?’ behind it all always seemed vague and abstract. How could a toothless, incontinent being that cannot speak or even gesture meaningfully make me a ‘better person?’ How will changing diapers and making bottles make me more aware and compassionate?

Slowly, ever so slowly, I’ve come to understand how it all works. It is precisely the practicalities of raising a child — all the daily decisions we make in keeping the little beastie happy and healthy — that begin to change us over time, and hopefully, for the better.

Take the issue of my baby’s eczema. Before he was born, I didn’t spend a hot minute thinking about the cosmetics I used, what they contained or how they might affect my body or all my little feathered and froggy friends living downstream. All I cared about was finding a lip gloss that didn’t melt off my face, finding a perfume that lingered longer than five seconds, and finding a self-tanner that wouldn’t make me look like a poltergeist with a bad case of jaundice.

Parabens? Never heard of ’em. Phthalates? Gesundheit. SLS? WTF? I might have had a low-level awareness of the fact that slathering something I couldn’t pronounce all over my body might not be such a great idea, but I wanted a tan, and I wanted it NOW.

And then came baby and baby’s sensitive skin. At about 3 months of age, H. broke out with an itchy rash that made him miserable and drove me batty. Diagnosing it as eczema was easy enough (thanks to my degree from the University of Google) but pinpointing exactly what was causing it was like trying to pick up a stuffed animal with a toy crane. Just when I thought I had it (formula! cat fur! peanuts in my breastmilk!) the latest theory would slip from my grasp and my spirits would sink. Since the eczema came on intermittently it probably wasn’t caused by H.’s daily allotment of formula, and my pediatrician told me that infants don’t develop allergies to cats until later in life (and infants with cats in the household are actually less likely to develop allergies). A food diary helped rule out peanuts in my breastmilk. There was only one culprit left: Skincare products. A little research convinced me that all those sulfates and phthalates and whatnot couldn’t be good for a developing immune system. Was my sweet babyface rebelling against those cute pink bottles of Johnsons & Johnsons?

I don’t have the scientific background or lab space to carry out true research and rule out correlation or causation, but I will tell you that when I switched to allergen-free California Baby products (which are so pure, say the product labels, that you need not worry if your baby literally eats them), H.’s skin went from looking less like the rear end of a baboon to more like the rear end of, well, a baby. This development created a firestorm of cupboard-opening and cosmetic-tossing chez moi. Anything with ingredients I couldn’t pronounce was gone. Anything with artificial fragrance or preservatives was gone. Parabens, phthalates, SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate)? Gone, gone, gone.

And because baby often has skin-to-skin contact with mama, that includes my own cosmetics, even my beloved self-tanner. I won’t say I’ve managed  a complete purge yet — I can’t bear to part with my Ellnett hairspray, for example (so sue me! It’s comb-through!) — but every purchase I now make is preceded by a visit to the Skin Deep Web site to find out what nastiness it might contain.

And that means Yes to Tomatoes and Boots products for my facial skin care and make-up, Alba for my haircare and a local, San Diego-based all-natural skincare boutique for my scented fragrance (which, on these summer days, is green tea and lemongrass). I even managed to find an all-natural self-tanner that gives me a golden glow, doesn’t streak and smells like oranges and oatmeal cookies. I’m considering making the baking soda switch for my toothpaste and deodorant, but I’m not sure I’m ready to go that hard-core hippie yet. We’ll see.

One thing is clear, though: I’m more aware. And more compassionate. And does that make me a better person? Well, I smell like lemongrass, oranges, green tea and oatmeal cookies now, so you tell me.

  • Ooo, and in my downtime I can smell like papaya, yogurt and honey (which are the only three ingredients you need to make this face mask).
  • Watch out Ellnet … you might have competition. The secret ingredient? Vodka. Yes. Vodka hairspray.
  • Read about Not Martha’s extensive adventures in lip balm — and then make your own.
  • Pioneerthinking has TONS of great recipes and ideas for natural cosmetics, none of which require you to skin a moose or wear a petticoat, I promise.
  • You know you want to make your own scented grapeseed body oil. Heck, I even love saying “scented grapeseed body oil.”

And for more tried-and-true wholesome goodness:

Oatmeal Lavender Face Scrub

1 cup ground oatmeal
1/2 cup dry lavender flowers, stripped of stalks
1/2 cup powdered milk (either whole or nonfat)
2 tsp. cornmeal

Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl, massage into damp skin, and rinse with warm water. (Scrub will keep for six months.)

Pineapple Face Scrub

2/3 cup fresh pineapple chunks (room temperature)
1/4 cup cold-pressed olive oil
1/4 cup parsley, chopped

Pulse pineapple in a blender, then add oil until almost smooth. Add parsley, and blend carefully so mask doesn’t liquefy. Apply to skin and leave on for 15 minutes.

Spicy Sugar Body Scrub

3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. ground cloves
1 Tbsp. dried rose petals
2 tsp. grated orange zest
1 1/2 cups sesame oil

Combine ingredients in a large bowl, making sure that everything is well mixed. Use on damp skin twice a week, scrubbing with your hands or a washcloth in small, circular motions. The mix will last up to six months when stored in a cool, dark cupboard.

Coffee Body Scrub

1/2 cup used coffee grounds
1/2 cup honey
1 Tbsp. fresh orange zest

Mix ingredients together in a container and rub mixture into skin with your hands or a washcloth, using upward strokes, for one to three minutes. Apply up to three times a week.


All yoga, all the time June 20, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — tiffanyfox @ 4:39 am
Tags: ,

I like to think of the “om” symbol as the tattoo that got away. I’m inkless and don’t mind being so (giving birth was enough pain for me, thank you very much), but if I were to get a tattoo it would be the mighty aum — that illustrious symbol of  the one pursuit I keep coming back to, that steadfast friend that welcomes me to the mat when I am ready and able,  or waits with a patient heart while I flail around in confusion, gather my wits about me, and return anew.

There aren’t many other things in my life that can lay the same claim. Sure, I’ve loved french fries since the moment I first laid eyes on one, but I’m not about to get a tattoo of a crinkle-cut Ore Ida. And now even the aum tattoo has become a little too trendy and ubiquitous for my taste (but then again, when you think about it, that’s pretty much the point of a symbol that represents the entire universe).

I started practicing yoga in 1995 at the ripe old age of 19 when my hippie university dance teacher taught the class a vinyasa sequence as part of our daily warm up. I didn’t even know I was doing yoga at the time, but I still remember the unique series of postures, which started with vrksasana (tree) and moved in a graceful symphony through Virabhadrasana (Warrior)  I, II and III. I used to practice the same sequence in the blistering heat of my sandy compound in Cameroon while a Peace Corps volunteer, and to this day I believe it single-handedly kept me fit, thin and sane (even if the local villagers took me for a complete lunatic).

My practice gained intensity when I joined the Yoga Teacher Training Program at UC San Diego, which led to a few gigs substituting for teachers in my hometown of Encinitas, Calif. — a world mecca for yoga practice with a studio on just about every block. One particularly memorable class I taught took place during high tide at Swami’s beach (at the base of Yogananda’s Self-Realization Fellowship) and ended with the entire class backed up against the cliff during savasana, the sand flies messing with our meditation and the waves threatening to overtake us all.

My practice lurched off its tracks in dramatic fashion when I experienced three miscarriages in the span of one year. I had been taking rigorous ashtanga-based classes up to four times a week, and even though I knew it was completely irrational and contrary to all scientific evidence, I became convinced that yoga had killed my babies. So I stopped. And then I got pregnant again. And in my second trimester, after I had seen the baby’s heart miraculously beating and his lungs miraculously inflating on an ultrasound, I took my own heart and lungs back to the mat and once again, stayed fit, (relatively) thin and sane throughout my full-term pregnancy. Savasana became far less relaxing with a human being kicking at me from inside the womb, but it was during those nine months that I finally began to understand love, and God, and the true meaning of aum.

Now, four months after the birth of my baby, I can only manage to practice in fits and starts (take your pick of about a dozen different excuses — I’ve got them all covered). My yoga of late has primarily been the practice of focusing my attention on my child, experiencing the present moment in the splash of bath water, an unexpected giggle, the sigh of my sleeping babe. But  I will begin a twice weekly class again at the end of June, and  I plan to finish the last requirements for my teaching certificate next spring. I’m not sure if teaching is truly my passion, but I like to finish what I start, even if I stop once, twice, three times over. As long as my feet make their way back to tadasana at some point, as long as my hands come together in anjali mudra … well,  the stuff in between is yoga, too.

And now, in honor of my renewed vows, a little renewed focus and study:

  • New to meditation? Need a refresher? Try a short guided meditation from Mohonk Mountain House and then check out some more substantial tips from Deepak Chopra. For even more in-depth study, visit How to Meditate.
  • Once you’ve achieved stillness, bring some movement into your meditation. A Slow Hands practice is a great way to tune into prana, and a walking meditation can sync the breath with each step, making your next walk to the bus stop a transcendent experience.
  • Most yoga classes touch on meditation and pranayama (breath work) at least briefly, usually in the form of savasana. But pratyahara, or sense withdrawal — the fifth limb of Patanjali’s eightfold path —  is a less common though equally important element of the complete yoga practice, especially in these over-caffeinated times. Yoga Journal has a good introduction to the practice of pratyhara, with an exercise to get you started.
  • What’s the opposite of pratyahara? A little quality time with Call of the Valley and this yantra spike mat.
  • For some more iPod inspiration, download this fascinatng NPR story about Pierre Bernard, “the Omnipotent Oom, Loving Guru of the Tantriks,” who helped introduce yoga to America.
  • This frame-worthy yoga poster (pictured at right) is yours for the taking, provided you have enlargement capabilities and the appropriate printer. And who knows … it might even make for a very lovely tattoo.