Yoga Journal Blog: Green Life



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Take your practice of the mat with these easy green pointers and products.

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10 Ways To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

February 24, 2011

by Stephanie Bernstein

Inevitably, in going about our daily lives--commuting, sheltering our families, eating--each of us contributes to the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change. Yet, there are many things each of us, as individuals, can do to reduce our carbon emissions. The choices we make for our homes, travel, the food we eat, and what we buy and throw away all influence our carbon footprint and, chosen wisely, can help ensure a stable climate for future generations.

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Pay attention to packaging.

When out shopping, try to go to stores or co-ops that keep packaging to a minimum. For example, buy loose tomatoes rather than boxed or plastic-wrapped tomatoes. Also, avoid items, like cereals and crackers, that include a non-recyclable bag inside of a box, and you'll also avoid more heavily processed food. Take reusable bags to the grocery store, including reusable produce bags, which can save a countless amount of plastic!  

Stop buying bottled water.
This is likely no news flash for you, but let's review: Bottled water has a huge carbon footprint--it's bottled at one location in small plastic bottles that were made at another location and shipped long distances. Many plastic water bottles are recycled, but most are not, making the footprint even bigger. Get yourself a reusable water bottle like Klean Kanteen. Also, a lot of restaurants have made the switch from offering fancy bottled water, usually imported from an exotic source, to using in-house filtration systems that make tap water a good choice. Ask about it next time you dine out.

Sign up for Green Power
Here is probably the quickest and most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon emissions: Enroll in a green power program with your utility company. While the exact electricity mix varies from state to state, based on the average mix in the United States, by choosing green power from your utility you can reduce you carbon emission by some 7 tons per year. And at the same time send a message to your utility that it better start investing in some more wind farms, because more and more people are committed to greening the national power supply. Yes, a few minutes and one phone call can reduce your personal carbon emissions seven times as much as recycling.

Skip the flight.
Simply skipping one mid-range flight (say from New York City to St. Louis, Missouri) reduces your emissions as much as one full year of recycling, by about 1970 pounds per flight on that route. If you travel frequently for work, investigate other options such as Amtrak or even video conferencing, and if you have family that live halfway across the country, try to combine smaller trips into one longer one or simply go less frequently.

Unplug it!

Unplug appliances that you don't use frequently. Most electronics have a standby mode that siphons energy even when not in use. Cell phone chargers, laptops, televisions, stereos--there's a whole list of items that should be unplugged when not in use. Try using a power strip for groups of electronic items. One flick of the switch and it's all off.

Buy organic and local.

Local food cuts down on miles and miles of traveling to get to your plate. And it's fresher than what's transported across the globe to your mega mart. Supermarket produce is often picked a week before it's ripe, and has to do its final ripening in transport. This also goes for that cup of joe--coffee beans have to travel long distances and go through a complicated production process before they even make it to your local coffee shop.  Also, try eating at restaurants that serve locally produced or seasonal foods.

Go Vegetarian (or Vegan)
Cutting meat out of your diet has a large impact on your lifestyle carbon emissions. And can lower your food bill by 20 percent to boot! The emissions and resources needed to raise animals for food are so much higher than for raising vegetables that by eating a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet you can save about one ton of carbon emissions each year compared to your carnivorous friends. Cut out eggs and cheese and save two tons per year.  I've written previously about becoming a Weekday Vegetarian, which is a nice way to start if you don't want to abandon meat altogether.

Keep your car.
What? How can keeping your car reduce carbon?  With gas prices seemingly always on the rise, it's tempting to buy a hybrid or electric vehicle. But if your older-model car is in good condition, you're better off keeping it in good running condition. Even hybrids create a big footprint when they're built, so consider driving that old clunker for a little while longer. Also, try more eco-friendly modes of transport when possible, like buses, trains, a bicycle, telecommuting, or even walking.

Use cold water.

No, not in the shower... but maybe in the washer. I spoke of this in my last post about green laundry, but it's important to repeat as it relates to carbon impact! Try using cold water to launder things that don't need to be cleaned in hot or warm water.It takes a lot of energy to heat up water -- multiply that by the number of loads, and that's a big footprint. Most major detergent makers sell detergents designed to have the same cleaning power as with regular soap. Try washing mixed loads in cold water, too.

Make time for errands.

A lot of us try to run errands in-between work and other commitments. Try bundling errands together to reduce how far you need to travel. Going back-and-forth to the same part of town on different days to run errands uses more gas than if you planned and did everything in the same area all at once. And if you really want to make it a "carbon freebie," try carpooling and running errands with a buddy.

Learn how to offset your personal and home carbon here at Terra Pass or Renewable Choice.

Stephanie Bernstein is the Founder and CEO of To-Go Ware. She has been practicing and teaching yoga for 12 years and currently resides in Oakland, CA.

Top Tips To Green Your Laundry Regimen

February 10, 2011

by Stephanie Bernstein

There are lots of things that we can do to reduce our impact on the environment, and we tend to do the obvious things like recycling and perhaps buying organic food. But what about your laundry routine? There are some very simple things you can do when washing your whites and colors that can help you go green. Here's a short list to get you started!

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Wear it one more time

It doesn't go for everything (unmentionables and socks come to mind), but the simplest way to cut back on your laundry's impact is ... (drumroll, please) just do less of it! Wearing your clothes more than once before tossing them in the dirty pile is the first step in greening your laundry habits. The United Nations Environment Programme did its homework and discovered that you can consume up to five times less energy by wearing your jeans at least three times, washing them in cold water, and skipping the dryer or the iron.

Use green laundry detergent

Conventional detergents can contain ingredients that aren't good for you, your clothes, or aquatic ecosystems where the dirty water we wash down the drain can end up. Phosphates in conventional laundry soaps can cause algal blooms that negatively effect ecosystems and marine life. To shop for more eco-friendly detergents, look for labels that indicate a product is readily biodegradable and phosphate-free, and made from plant- and vegetable-based ingredients (instead of petroleum-based), which means they're healthier for the planet, from production to rinse cycle. These are often gentler on skin, too. Other alternatives include soap nuts, which are made from certain tree seeds, produce a soapy substance when they come in contact with water, and can be composted after being used up. (A liquid version is available, too.) Fabric softeners, by the way, can be replaced by a cup of white vinegar added to the washer during the rinse cycle. Vinegar naturally balances the pH of soap, leaving your clothes soft and free of chemical residue.

Make your own laundry detergent

Do-it-yourself laundry soap is perhaps the greenest way to go. You'll need just a handful of ingredients that can all be found at most grocery stores, and you don't need a master's degree in chemical engineering to put them together. Best of all, you'll know exactly what's going in (and what you're keeping out) of your formula, and, after some practice, you can customize your mix with essential oils for a fresh fragrance. Ready to get started? Check out some recipes for liquid and powder detergents.

Wash it in cold water

A whopping 90 percent of energy used for washing clothes goes to heating the water, costing you $100 or more every year. With more and more detergents specialized for cold-water washing, your whites will still get white without the hot (or warm) water. Next, be sure to wash only full loads of laundry, which ensures that your machine is operating at peak efficiency. If you can't manage to fill 'er up, the "load size selector option" (if you have one) ensures that smaller loads use less water. The same rule applies to the dryer, by the way.

Hang it out to dry

There are upward of 88 million dryers in the U.S., each emitting more than a ton of carbon dioxide per year. Because dryers uses so much energy, skipping it altogether can make a real difference. Added bonus? Clothes last longer when you line dry because there's less wear and tear than when you use the dryer.

Maximize your dryer

Line-drying doesn't have to be an all or nothing choice. If you're sticking with the dryer for part (or all) of the time, cleaning the lint filter frequently will increase efficiency and shorten drying time. If your dryer has a moisture sensor, use it. This will automatically reduce the amount of drying time or shut off the machine when it senses that clothes are dry, which reduces wear and tear on your threads and saves lots of energy. Though Energy Star doesn't rate dryers, a good moisture sensor is the best thing to look for if you're shopping for a new clothes dryer.

Stephanie Bernstein is the Founder and CEO of To-Go Ware. She has been practicing and teaching yoga for 12 years and currently resides in Oakland, CA. 

Eco Mat Review

January 27, 2011

by Stephanie Bernstein

new manduka mat.jpgAre you on the search for the perfect, eco-friendly yoga mat? Years ago, there were only one or two options, but now, almost every mat company seems to be promoting green-friendly mats. So I thought I'd see what's out there. I decided I'd get a new mat for my trip to South Africa--I require a yoga mat on long travels, and need something lightweight and good quality.

I'm partial to Manduka's eco mats, as they are made of natural rubber (no PVC), and the company claims that they are fully biodegradable. Manduka's mats have always had a little extra girth and are much heavier than other mats on the market. But I love practicing on them and if I am at home or going to a local studio, it generally doesn't cause an issue. So I Googled to see if the company sold a travel mat and found the eKo Lite, which, according to Manduka's website, "marries performance and durability with a lightweight, travel-friendly design. The eKO Lite will leave no footprint in landfills, and is perfect for people who want to make a commitment to our planet and take their yoga practice on the road." The eKO Lite Mat is made from sustainably harvested tree rubber. Unlike other rubber mats available today, the foaming agents used to create the eKO Lite are non-toxic. What this means is that no toxic chemicals have gone into the manufacturing process to soften rubber; when the eKO Lite mat is disposed of and biodegrades, it will not leave behind a toxic residue. Additionally, instead of using synthetic polyester for reinforcement, the company has chosen to use recycled silk and natural cotton.

I was excited to find out that the mats cost less than $40 (so I bought 2 off Amazon.com, so I could encourage my boyfriend to practice with me on our travels), and the day before we left, the mats arrived. I will say that they are much lighter than the typical Manduka mats (3.5 lbs instead of the 7 lbs that the Manduka PRO weighs), but are still quite heavy for travel.  But if you are not backpacking, they are compact and light enough for checked baggage and I happily stowed it in my suitcase. Upon further investigation, it seems I should have ordered the eKO Superlite Travel Mat, which weighs about 2 lbs and folds to fit easily in small travel spaces.

I arrived in Cape Town and got ready to practice. I unrolled my shiny new mat in the sunshine. It still has the great feel and quality that I've always liked in Manduka's mats. It did seem slightly narrower than a normal mat, which is fine for my 5'4" frame, but may be a bit tight for folks who are larger. The other issue that I've noticed with natural rubber mats is that they can have a really strong odor. Nothing dangerous or toxic (it's not an off-gassing), but a potent rubber smell that can even remain on your hands after a couple of Down Dogs. I thought this new mat actually was pretty good, at least compared to previous rubber mats I've owned. My boyfriend felt otherwise, as he was unaccustomed to such smell. I am willing to put up with it, because I'd rather have the eco-friendly option, but it is good to note if you are looking for a mat to gift to a beginner--it may be slightly off-putting.

So all in all, I give the Manduka eKO Lite a thumbs up for being green and being a good travel companion. As long as you don't mind the extra weight and light rubber aroma, I'd happily recommend.


Eco Mat Review

January 27, 2011

by Kelle Walsh

manduka mat.jpgAre you on the search for the perfect, eco-friendly yoga mat? Years ago, there were only one or two options, but now, almost every mat company seems to be promoting green-friendly mats. So I thought I'd see what's out there. I decided I'd get a new mat for my trip to South Africa--I require a yoga mat on long travels, and need something lightweight and good quality.

I'm partial to Manduka's eco mats, as they are made of natural rubber (no PVC), and the company claims that they are fully biodegradable. Manduka's mats have always had a little extra girth and are much heavier than other mats on the market. But I love practicing on them and if I am at home or going to a local studio, it generally doesn't cause an issue. So I Googled to see if the company sold a travel mat and found the eKo Lite, which, according to Manduka's website, "marries performance and durability with a lightweight, travel-friendly design. The eKO Lite will leave no footprint in landfills, and is perfect for people who want to make a commitment to our planet and take their yoga practice on the road." The eKO Lite Mat is made from sustainably harvested tree rubber. Unlike other rubber mats available today, the foaming agents used to create the eKO Lite are non-toxic. What this means is that no toxic chemicals have gone into the manufacturing process to soften rubber; when the eKO Lite mat is disposed of and biodegrades, it will not leave behind a toxic residue. Additionally, instead of using synthetic polyester for reinforcement, the company has chosen to use recycled silk and natural cotton.

I was excited to find out that the mats cost less than $40 (so I bought 2 off Amazon.com, so I could encourage my boyfriend to practice with me on our travels), and the day before we left, the mats arrived.  I will say that they are much lighter than the typical Manduka mats (3.5 lbs instead of the 7 lbs that the Manduka PRO weighs), but are still quite heavy for travel.  But if you are not backpacking, they are compact and light enough for checked baggage and I happily stowed it in my suitcase. Upon further investigation, it seems I should have ordered the eKO Superlite Travel Mat, which weighs about 2 lbs and folds to fit easily in small travel spaces.

I arrived in Cape Town and got ready to practice. I unrolled my shiny new mat in the sunshine. It still has the great feel and quality that I've always liked in Manduka's mats. It did seem slightly narrower than a normal mat, which is fine for my 5'4" frame, but may be a bit tight for folks who are larger. The other issue that I've noticed with natural rubber mats is that they can have a really strong odor. Nothing dangerous or toxic (it's not an off-gassing), but a potent rubber smell that can even remain on your hands after a couple of Down Dogs. I thought this new mat actually was pretty good, at least compared to previous rubber mats I've owned. My boyfriend felt otherwise, as he was unaccustomed to such smell. I am willing to put up with it, because I'd rather have the eco-friendly option, but it is good to note if you are looking for a mat to gift to a beginner--it may be slightly off-putting.

So all in all, I give the Manduka eKO Lite a thumbs up for being green and being a good travel companion. As long as you don't mind the extra weight and light rubber aroma, I'd happily recommend.


Eco Mat Review

January 27, 2011

by Kelle Walsh

manduka mat.jpgAre you on the search for the perfect, eco-friendly yoga mat? Years ago, there were only one or two options, but now, almost every mat company seems to be promoting green-friendly mats. So I thought I'd see what's out there. I decided I'd get a new mat for my trip to South Africa--I require a yoga mat on long travels, and need something lightweight and good quality.

I'm partial to Manduka's eco mats, as they are made of natural rubber (no PVC), and the company claims that they are fully biodegradable. Manduka's mats have always had a little extra girth and are much heavier than other mats on the market. But I love practicing on them and if I am at home or going to a local studio, it generally doesn't cause an issue. So I Googled to see if the company sold a travel mat and found the eKo Lite, which, according to Manduka's website, "marries performance and durability with a lightweight, travel-friendly design. The eKO Lite will leave no footprint in landfills, and is perfect for people who want to make a commitment to our planet and take their yoga practice on the road." The eKO Lite Mat is made from sustainably harvested tree rubber. Unlike other rubber mats available today, the foaming agents used to create the eKO Lite are non-toxic. What this means is that no toxic chemicals have gone into the manufacturing process to soften rubber; when the eKO Lite mat is disposed of and biodegrades, it will not leave behind a toxic residue. Additionally, instead of using synthetic polyester for reinforcement, the company has chosen to use recycled silk and natural cotton.

I was excited to find out that the mats cost less than $40 (so I bought 2 off Amazon.com, so I could encourage my boyfriend to practice with me on our travels), and the day before we left, the mats arrived.  I will say that they are much lighter than the typical Manduka mats (3.5 lbs instead of the 7 lbs that the Manduka PRO weighs), but are still quite heavy for travel.  But if you are not backpacking, they are compact and light enough for checked baggage and I happily stowed it in my suitcase. Upon further investigation, it seems I should have ordered the eKO Superlite Travel Mat, which weighs about 2 lbs and folds to fit easily in small travel spaces.

I arrived in Cape Town and got ready to practice. I unrolled my shiny new mat in the sunshine. It still has the great feel and quality that I've always liked in Manduka's mats. It did seem slightly narrower than a normal mat, which is fine for my 5'4" frame, but may be a bit tight for folks who are larger. The other issue that I've noticed with natural rubber mats is that they can have a really strong odor. Nothing dangerous or toxic (it's not an off-gassing), but a potent rubber smell that can even remain on your hands after a couple of Down Dogs. I thought this new mat actually was pretty good, at least compared to previous rubber mats I've owned. My boyfriend felt otherwise, as he was unaccustomed to such smell. I am willing to put up with it, because I'd rather have the eco-friendly option, but it is good to note if you are looking for a mat to gift to a beginner--it may be slightly off-putting.

So all in all, I give the Manduka eKO Lite a thumbs up for being green and being a good travel companion. As long as you don't mind the extra weight and light rubber aroma, I'd happily recommend.

DIY Sinus Oil

January 20, 2011

by Stephanie Bernstein

stuffy nose.jpegLast week I posted a recipe for Elderberry Syrup to try and help folks stave off some of the cold and flu stuff going around. I thought I'd ask my good friend Trinity Ava, an incredible herbalist and teacher, for another recipe good for this time of year. She couldn't wait to share her sinus oil recipe. "Keeping the sinuses well lubricated with a simple sinus oil is the front line of your immune system function as well as keeping your nervous system/mental focus in check," she said. "This is also an ideal practice to use while traveling on long flights when the sinuses get very dry and we are more susceptible to infections."

Trinity suggests that daily lubrication of the sinus cavity can become a lifelong practice because of  its clearing and strengthening benefits. Use a little dab of a simple oil, such as non-roasted organic sesame oil, ghee (clarified butter), or organic olive oil to lubricate the sinus pathway.
 
But should you find yourself dealing with a sinus infection or head-cold congestion, you may need something more powerful. Essential oils are extremely concentrated and are potent antimicrobials, and are useful if you have a sinus infection. (They must be diluted into a carrier oil prior to use.) A nice side effect of oils used for fighting an infection is their uplifting and mood-enhancing benefits at a time when you may feel pretty low.

Sinus Oil Recipe
Needed materials:

•  1 clean 5ml bottle

•  Carrier oil: organic olive or sesame oil

•  Essential oils: lavender, tea tree, eucalyptus radiata, peppermint, rosemary verbenon



Directions

•  Fill empty bottle halfway with carrier oil

•  Add to that 3 drops of each oil (if using all 5), or a total of 15 drops of essential oils per 5ml carrier oil 

•  Top off your bottle with additional carrier oil, close the top, and shake

•  Label your bottle with a creative name, like: Love My Nose or Sinus Clarity

 

 

Application
•  Drop a quarter-size dollop of the oil blend onto a tissue. Insert the tissue into your nose and keep it there for 3-5 minutes. Do this 2-3 times per day or as needed. (Not intended for use longer than 1 week.)

Contraindications: Children under 12, pregnancy, lactation, asthma, epilepsy, hypertension.
It is suggested to not use diluted essential oils in the sinus cavity on a daily basis. Essential oils are potent and are better suited to use on a need-basis for sinus oils. Pure carrier oils such as sesame or olive oil are better suited to daily sinus oil applications. Use caution if you use essential oils in a neti pot or steam. These practices are too intense for many individuals.



Natural DIY Remedy For Colds & Flus: Elderberry Syrup

January 13, 2011

by Stephanie Bernstein

So lately, I've been watching some of my friends contract some nasty form of cold or flu that seems to be going around. When I see that some impending illness is making its way close to my own immune system, I reach for things that will keep it strong and healthy. One of my favorites is elderberry syrup, not only because it is effective, but it is fun to make and delicious!

dip_syrup2.jpg
This remedy has been used for countless centuries to help bolster the immune system as well as to break fevers. A few years ago, research studies supported these traditional uses, concluding that an extract from black elderberry is an effective treatment for influenza, shortening the virus' lifespan and dramatically lessening symptoms.

While elderberry extract is available at health-food stores, it is a great activity to make it yourself. Fresh berries can be difficult to find, but this recipe also works great with dried elderberries (found easily at your local herb shop). A spoonful or two a day is all you need during a season where you are feeling particularly vulnerable to infection, or, as I like to do, use it as a syrup on your toast, oatmeal, or waffles. Yum!  For this reason, it is great for kids and they just think it tastes great.

Recipe
1 cup fresh or 1/2 cup dried elderberries
3 cups water
1 cup raw honey

1.  Place the berries in a saucepan and cover with water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer over low heat for 30 to 45 minutes.

2.  Smash the berries.  Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer and add 1 cup of honey, or adjust to taste.

3.  Bottle the syrup and store in the refrigerator, where it will keep for 2 to 3 months.

Caution:  Use only Sambucus nigra, which are black/blue elderberries; the red ones are potentially toxic if eaten in large quantities. Never eat elderberries that haven't been cooked first.

Stephanie Bernstein is the Founder and CEO of To-Go Ware. She has been practicing and teaching yoga for 12 years and currently resides in Oakland, CA. 


Find Your Way, Taking Your Own Advice In The New Year

January 6, 2011

by Stephanie Bernstein

A couple of months ago, I had a long phone call with an editor from Yoga Journal, asking me to share some of my thoughts about setting some intentions for the New Year. What were some of the ways I navigate through running my business? How do I find balance and clarity when I've lost my center? It was a really enlightening call, as although I employ certain tenets to move me through the harder times and moments of lesser clarity, I'd never really put them all into one place or shared them in such a way. 
meditation-leaf.jpg
This week, the February issue of Yoga Journal came out, in which the piece ran. It was amazing to read my own advice, as it was one of those weeks where I was needing some guiding principles. Reading those words was exactly what I needed to hear, and I laughed at the fact that I seemed to be giving myself my own advice. And what it affirmed was the fact that we always have the answers within us--losing our way doesn't mean that we are lost for good.  It just means using our own inner guidance and our practice to gently steer ourselves toward our best selves.

So if you haven't picked up your copy of Yoga Journal yet (with the radiant Amy Ippoliti on the cover), here is my offering to you:

Get Unstuck. Break out of your rut with an out-of-the-ordinary activity--a weekend trip, a new sport, a creative pursuit. This can get you out of your rational brain, detach you from the usual scripts in your head, and create space for answers and insights.

Listen. Underneath your mental chatter, you may have a clear instinct for how you want to act in your life. But you may be quashing or deflecting that instinct. To get in touch with your inner wisdom, practice letting go of the way you think things are supposed to be. Be willing to be surprised.

Have Faith. Trust that circumstances in your life will align to support you on your path. When you make a commitment, life will make a commitment back.

Notice. There are many gifts in your life. As you work to clarify your intentions, be aware of the people who support you and the resources that are all around you--and be open to what they have to offer.
 
Stephanie Bernstein is the Founder and CEO of To-Go Ware. She has been practicing and teaching yoga for 12 years and currently resides in Oakland, CA.  


Take The Plastic Challenge

December 30, 2010

by Stephanie Bernstein

So it's the end of the year and you may be setting your New Year's resolutions for 2011. You may be cutting out sweets, maybe reducing your caffeine, perhaps even quitting smoking.  But one bad habit you may need to stop may be going unnoticed in your everyday life, and it may even be the most detrimental: plastic.

albatross_plastic.jpgHave you ever noticed how much plastic you consume on a daily basis? It's the lid on that coffee you are getting to-go in the morning, it's part of almost any packaged item your purchase in the grocery store, and it even is what your chewing gum is made of (I'm not even kidding). In good circumstances, some plastics will take more than 20 years to break down. In less ideal circumstances (land fills or as general refuse), plastic refuse will take more than 1,000 years to degrade. And it's important to note that when plastics break down, they don't biodegrade, they photodegrade.This means the materials break down to smaller toxic fragments which contaminate soil, waterways, and animals upon digestion.
 
Enter Beth Terry, founder of the blog Fake Plastic Fish, and one of my personal heroes.  Three years ago, a photo of an albatross chick changed Beth Terry's life. The bird's stomach had exploded from eating disposable plastic waste it foraged on land and sea. It was our everyday items -- toothbrushes, lighters, and bottlecaps are commonly found -- that were not only contaminating our environment, but destroying the life that depends on it. Beth decided to see if she could live a life without plastic. Her blog, Fake Plastic Fish, started as a diary of her attempts to find plastic alternatives, and has now become a resource for people trying to live a plastic-free life.

I know a lot of great environmental activists, and it is rare and special to find someone as dedicated to the cause as Beth. She goes to great lengths to educate people about the dangers of plastics, as well as where they are often hidden unbeknownst to most of us (cans of food are usually lined with plastic, as our shopping receipts). Now, she wants YOU to join her.

TAKE THE CHALLENGE! Collect your plastic waste (both recyclable and non) for one week or more. Then photograph, tally, and post it here. What can we learn about our habits and lifestyles by examining our waste? And what changes can each of us make to leave the planet a little less trashy?  Find lots of other people's successes in cutting out plastic, as well as their trials and tribulations. Perhaps it will inspire you to change some habits in the coming year.

Stephanie Bernstein is the Founder and CEO of To-Go Ware. She has been practicing and teaching yoga for 12 years and currently resides in Oakland, CA.  






Loving Your Family Through The Holidays (Even If They Don't Recycle)

December 23, 2010

by Stephanie Bernstein

91023118_02adccc3d4.jpg

Ah, the holidays. Another year where you travel great distances to be with your family. Another year where, after arriving there, you may wonder if you come from a different planet than them. How can you be so different, one asks oneself? Many living a life full of yoga find themselves living an entirely different lifestyle than the clan from which they belong, replete with local organic food and energy efficient light bulbs. For me, I'm almost spoiled in my green lifestyle opportunities--I have curbside compost, live within a mile of two huge organic grocery stores, have five farmer's markets a week at my disposal, and the local biodiesel station is conveniently located in my neighborhood where I can fuel up with ease.

Don't all families live this way?

So you can imagine the challenge of then leaving my little bubble and traveling across country and getting together with family who don't do yoga and barely know what composting is. Oh sure, my family has come a long way over the years and my mother is willing to drive to another state ensure the fridge is stocked with organic food and the tea I like (she's the best).  Society in general has come a long way as well, and hopefully it has trickled down into your family, so that you understand how you may be related.

So if you are someone who struggles at the lack of green in your extended family, turning your holiday get-together into an anxiety attack, perhaps remembering a few yogic lessons can help you practice compassion and, dare I say, enjoy yourself:

Breathe. Take a moment to center and remember that ultimately, you love these people. And they love you back.

Gratitude. Remember first and foremost, if you are with family, that you are lucky to have such a thing. Many folks don't have the luxury of relatives to gather with, so take a minute to acknowledge that gift. Then, be grateful for the choices and opportunities you have had that have allowed you to learn about your conscious lifestyle, and that you have a community of people that have help you cultivate it. Even be grateful for any flagrant unconscious acts (OMG, styrofoam cups at dinner??), for it is a great reminder of why the mindful steps you labor to take in your life are so important.

Practice Non-Judgment. Take a moment to consider that your family may not have had the same experiences or opportunities. They may be busy practicing what their belief of living a good and righteous life is, even if it isn't what you think it should be. And many folks don't have access to certain things like organic food or even recycling. As I said, I have curbside compost --I simply put a green bin out with my food scraps and each week it's whisked away for me.  My family's jaw drops when hearing about such a thing, and composting without this luxury does require not only work, but a bit of a learning curve.

Teach by Example (and keep it positive). Let's face it, no one likes to be preached to, or told they are wrong. If there's something you'd like to see your family practicing, encourage them by practicing it yourself. Perhaps help them set up a system of recycling, or bring a reusable option to the dinner table if they like disposables. Maybe bring something delicious and organic (dispelling the myth that organic and healthy foods are not tasty), or help them start a compost pile in their yard. Ultimately, show them that living this way is a life enhancement--many believe that making green choices requires sacrifice. If they are shown that it contributes to quality of life, who knows what choices they'll begin to make.

Stephanie Bernstein is the Founder and CEO of To-Go Ware. She has been practicing and teaching yoga for 12 years and currently resides in Oakland, CA.  
 

Where Your Money Can Find Meaning This Holiday Season

December 15, 2010

by Stephanie Bernstein

At this time of year, we all tend to spend a little bit more money. And most of this is well-intentioned--perhaps we are giving a gift to a loved one or co-worker, or we inspired by the season of giving to do something for someone in need. Our money has great power to do good if spent wisely. Whether you are buying a sweater or choosing a charity to support, there are lots of questions to ask about where to put your dollars. I thought I'd share some of my favorite websites and organizations that are incredibly compelling in the way that they ensure that your dollars spent have a lasting impact. These sites directly change the lives of individuals.
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Kiva
One of my absolute favorites that I often gift year round. Kiva is an organization that allows individuals to lend to an entrepreneur across the globe. So rather than giving a handout, you can help someone start a business and provide ongoing income for themselves and their community.  By combining microfinance with the internet, Kiva is creating a global community of people connected through lending. You can give a gift card, or browse loans that you yourself would like to finance.  www.kiva.org. Other great options that work with microfinance are Grameen Foundation and Microplace.


womenforwomen.jpgWomen For Women International
I could write 20 blogs about this organization, I'm completely in love with the mission and how it operates. Women for Women International provides women survivors of war, civil strife and other conflicts with the tools and resources to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency, thereby promoting viable civil societies. It provides financial aid, job training, rights awareness and leadership education. There are several ways to get involved, including sponsoring a woman, or give a gift that donates a product or service that empowers a woman to support herself. Learn more at www.womenforwomen.org. Other great organizations that empower women are Women's Earth Alliance and The Global Fund for Women.
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World of Good
World of Good by eBay is the world's first online marketplace to convene thousands of People Positive and Eco Positive sellers and products all in one place, empowering you to shop in ways that align with your personal values. Respected, independent organizations verify the positive impact every product has on people and the planet. It ensures that every choice you make here is a good one. From Fair Trade to Green products, you can feel confident that you are buying from responsible businesses and often, direct from the producer. Learn more at www.worldofgood.com. Other great fair trade sites include Ten Thousand Villages and Global Girlfriend.


big_etsy_logo2.jpgEtsy
If you've never heard of Etsy, get ready for a wonderland of homemade, vintage and hand-crafted items. This site is wonderful because it supports the little guy, allowing independent artists and individuals to generate income by selling their wares online.  Items range from jewelry to clothing to plants and quilts. Virtually anything can be found with a unique and independent twist.  Why is this a good place to put your money? Well, you put those dollars directly in the pocket of the artisan, and allow them to earn a living doing what they love, without lining the pockets of a middle man. Plus, it's great to give smaller businesses a consideration--it's good to branch out from chain stores and mass-produced merchandise. More at www.etsy.com. Other great sites are hard to find--go out into your neighborhood gift stores and ask for local and handmade!

Stephanie Bernstein is the Founder and CEO of To-Go Ware. She has been practicing and teaching yoga for 12 years and currently resides in Oakland, CA.  


Give The Gift of Homemade Salt Scrubs

December 8, 2010

by Stephanie Bernstein

Often at this time of year, I drive an hour north to one of my favorite places. In a little town called Forestville lies the California School for Herbal Studies, a bastion of knowledge and with one of the most beautiful gardens you'll ever have the pleasure to stroll through. I head up to take a class with my dear friend Trinity Ava, a gifted herbalist and teacher (and yogini), who often has a class in holiday gift making.

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The day is a wondrous delight of the senses, filled with the aroma of essential oils and hands on goodness. You learn so much about the skin, about plants, and how we can be so bamboozled about what the beauty industry is pushing for us to buy. What's better than a homemade gift that makes someone feel wonderful (and is really inexpensive, to boot)?  I asked Trinity to share an simple recipe that would be great for yogis to make this holiday season. She suggested her Nourishing & Invigorating Body Scrub, which I have made myself and it is pure heaven.

Why use a body scrub? Daily oiling of the body helps to support beautiful skin, and gives it great nourishment. It feeds our body from the outside in, increases circulation, reduces the signs of aging and helps our body to be more "lubricated." Trinity likes to use the image of oiling the tin man -- the more you add oil, the better your joints, muscles, and tendons respond to staying flexible. Nourishing scrubs also assist to tonifying the nervous system (helping to calm you down and focus the mind/body) and the gentle exfoliating feels so good!

Nourishing & Invigorating Body Scrub
What you'll need:
-  Any size clean glass jar, preferably glass. 
-  Fine sea salt
-  Organic almond oil or sunflower seed oil
-  Essential oils of grapefruit, rose geranium, and rosemary (Tri-Doshic blend)-  this blend of oils will generally be good for all constitutions.
 
Directions:
-  Fill jar halfway with sea salt
-  Slowly fill jar with your oil; it takes a little time for the salt to absorb the oil. Poke and stir the oil into the salt with a wooden spoon or chopstick. Once the oil is nicely absorbed into the salt, add a little more salt, and a little more oil (small amounts at a time) until your jar is full. You want a small layer of oil floating above the salt.
-  Add total of 12 drops essential oil per ounce of scrub.  
-  Wipe down the jar, label it with a happy name such as, "I Am Radiant Scrub" and VOILA! 

Use daily or as desired to nourish your skin. Use gentle flowing strokes towards the heart as you scrub. Be careful getting in and out of your bathing environment as it will get a little slippery with the oil.
 
Optional nourishing oils: Sesame, Gotu Kola infused oil, St. John's Wort infused oil, Calendula infused oil. (If using infused oils;  you can use 10% infused oil added to your primary oil).

Optional Essential Oil Favorites: You should like how this smells!  Find the aromas that make your heart and mind sing. Some of Trinity's favorites are: Vetiver, Red Mandarin, Ginger or Roman Chamomile, Ylang Ylang, and Grapefruit. Use caution with skin irritating oils such as Peppermint, Clove, Cinnamon and Thyme.

Stephanie Bernstein is the Founder and CEO of To-Go Ware. She has been practicing and teaching yoga for 12 years and currently resides in Oakland, CA.  

A Black Friday Meditation

December 2, 2010

by Stephanie Bernstein

Last week, you may have been part of the stampede at your local shopping mall and gotten some great deals due to the annual "Black Friday" sale. It has become something of a tradition, dare I say, a new American pastime, where we expect deep discounts on all the stuff we have been wanting to buy for ourselves and our loved ones.

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I, too, participated in this much anticipated event, with my company, To-Go Ware, when we offered our own 4-day Black Friday sale (a whopping 30% off all of our merchandise on our website). It was a tremendous success, bringing in a few hundred orders, just as we had anticipated. But as we geared up for the big day and sent out a giant email blast with the blessed coupon code, I received the following email from a customer:

Hi there,
I love your products and do give them as gifts. I usually enjoy hearing from you, and this time I was a little concerned. I am a fellow environmentalist of many years in Santa Barbara, California, and I remember when the environmental movement itself created Black Friday as a protest to the biggest consumer holiday of the year. The fact that it has, in turn, become an even bigger shopping holiday than before, is certainly ironic, and possibly insulting to any serious environmentalist over 40. As I am sure you can conclude, this is of no consequence to most businesses, but your business, given it's otherwise positive environmental contributions, is more likely to be directly impacted so you may choose to be a little more selective in your celebrations and advertisements. I won't be shopping the day after Thanksgiving, and I encourage you to lovingly examine your business practices on that day as well, and as you are already doing, work toward a more sustainable, just, and fulfilling future for all.

With respect and in peace,
Rachel
Citizen

Now, we get tons of emails on a consistent basis from people who like to give feedback about everything from product ideas to complaints. But this one really struck me. Had I strayed from my core values? Had my intentions been too opportunistic and taken me out of alignment with what I know and believe in? Was I promoting the very thing I started the company to alleviate?  Perhaps too, it was the compassionate tone of the email, that allowed me to really take it to heart. I was impressed with this woman and the way she chose to share her opinion, as opposed to it being an emotionally charged and angry rant (which is the more frequent manner in which customers tend to share their opinions). 

I thought about this email for a full week before I could respond. I thought about it all through Thanksgiving dinner and as I watched each sale attributed to our Black Friday sale roll in.  What an opportunity this woman had given me. As I had a moment with the holiday to pause and step out of the office and the day to day frenzy, I was able to take stock and understand my position. Like a good yogi, I watched my mind experience a whole gamut of emotions ranging from guilt to defensiveness to pride. I finally found the voice and the words to reply that seemed to articulate the challenge I felt, as well as my gratitude for her sharing.

I thought I would share my response:

Hi Rachel,
My name is Stephanie Bernstein, and I am the founder and CEO of To-Go Ware.  I wanted to thank you for your email--it struck a chord with me on many levels.

First and foremost, I want to thank you for sharing your opinions in such a compassionate way--we so often receive feedback from customers who seem to enjoy attacking us when we misstep or make a choice they disagree with. Your email expressed your sentiments in a way that I appreciated and consequently, I was able to hear your feedback in a subjective way.

My initial response is to convey the conundrum one can encounter when running a consumer product company in this day and age. It can often become a catch 22 when you are trying to simultaneously encourage people to reduce their consumption and waste while you are selling them a product. I share your feeling about what has become of our holidays and that making Black Friday a national pastime where the more you buy the better, does, indeed, make me cringe.

However, our company has a mission to try and reach a broader swath of the population than the early adopters (such as yourself), and our products are designed to make it easy and enjoyable for someone to make a difference in the world. By participating in Black Friday, it is one of the best opportunities we have to reach consumers who may otherwise buy a less mindful product, or who may be on the fence about choosing reusables and this gives them a reason to say yes. In addition, due to the current state of the economy, running a sale such as this helps our customers who need to stretch their dollars further this year, and who want to purchase gifts that matter.

All this being said, I still hear your email. I've thought about it everyday since you've sent it (apologies for my delay in reply, I have been traveling). And I thank you for sharing it, it has been a great mirror for me to look in as I evaluate our messaging and our core mission. I always appreciate feedback from those who are working alongside of us to help the planet, and am appreciative of your taking the time to help me reflect on where we are after 7 years in business.

I hope you enjoy the holiday season and all the best,
Stephanie

I believe my work in this world is to remain mindful while participating in the world around me.  It is a constant dance, a balance I am always trying to strike more carefully. So this year I am thankful that there is a forum where someone can share their thoughts with me on how my actions may be perceived and that I can take the time to take those thoughts to heart. Perhaps consider your own participation with consumption and holiday shopping, and do a little check-in for yourself on how it sits with who you believe you are. Allow yourself to see truly what it is that you find. And give thanks.

Stephanie Bernstein is the Founder and CEO of To-Go Ware. She has been practicing and teaching yoga for 12 years and currently resides in Oakland, CA.



Eat Local, Eat Seasonal

November 18, 2010

by Stephanie Bernstein

A couple of years ago, I picked up a wondrous item at my local farmer's market.  No, it wasn't a scrumptious fig or a heirloom tomato that we are so blessed with here in Northern California, but rather something called The Local Foods Wheel.

sf_local_foods_wheel.jpgI LOVE this product.  It graces my fridge, as well as countless others throughout the Bay Area, as year-round reminder of what to eat now. There is a huge movement to eat local these days, for reasons ranging from reducing the carbon footprint of our food, to helping local economies.  But one of the most important aspects that often gets overlooked is not just eating what grows locally, but what is in season.

Why is eating seasonally important? Well, for starters, it's one of the best ways to be connected to nature and the region around you. As you begin to pay attention to what grows at certain times of year, you may notice that the earth provides fruits and veggies that support your needs for the season. For instance, as fall and winter set in, we have squashes and heartier foods that help give you substance and keep you grounded and warm. Whereas in the spring and warmer months, you'll see brighter, lighter and more astringent foods that support your constitution in hotter times.

Eating seasonally can foster an appreciation for the cycle of things. So often, we feel an entitlement to our blueberries or avocados--we expect them to be available year-round at affordable prices at our local grocer. By paying attention to what grows at what time of year in your neck of the woods, perhaps you will understand why something may not be at the grocery store when you go to purchase it. Or, why it may be very expensive (having been flown in from another continent, etc.). Working with "what is" is a very humbling lesson and deepens our connection to the places we life and to nature's plan. It can be a lot of fun to develop recipes that are appropriate to the seasons, and really get to know your times of year. 

Local food is better for you. It's fresher than what's transported across the globe to your mega mart. Supermarket produce is often picked a week before it's ripe, and has to do its final ripening in transport. Local produce is often picked the day you take it home. Nutrients are preserved, and the flavor is often more prominent.

Now, I live in an area that is extremely abundant all year-round, with farmer's markets almost every day of the week. Even without The Local Foods Wheel on my fridge, I can see what's local and seasonal. But I know that majority of folks don't always have this luxury, and the supermarkets don't necessarily highlight these items. So I highly recommend either getting one of these (only available for Northern California, New York and Upper Mid-West right now), or do a bit of research online. Better yet, talk to you neighbor who has a green thumb, or find a local gardener. Ask them, "What's in season right now?"

Stephanie Bernstein is the Founder and CEO of To-Go Ware. She has been practicing and teaching yoga for 12 years and currently resides in Oakland, CA.




Eat Your Veggies, Hold the Plastic

November 10, 2010

by Stephanie Bernstein

In early 2004 (before the term "Reusable Bag" was a household phrase), Andy Keller took a trip to his local landfill after spending the day landscaping his backyard. He was horrified by how many single-use bags filled the scene. The bags blanketed the landscape in a thin mix of white and beige plastic. On his way home, Andy continued to notice plastic bags everywhere; caught in trees and on fence posts, half drowned in gutter puddles and blowing in the streets like urban tumbleweeds. Andy vowed to stop using single-use bags for good. Inspired, he then dropped a few bucks on a secondhand sewing machine and began sewing what would ultimately become the first ChicoBag.

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Of the vast array of bags out on the market these days, ChicoBags have definitely been the long-standing favorite of mine.  They are one of the few to use recycled materials to make their bags and stow away nicely into cute little pouches. But I was completely thrilled when the company launched its Produce Stand line of reusable produce bags! It's hard to find a replacement for those ubiquitous plastic bags that stores provide to tote your fruits and veggies. Even in trying to wash and reuse plastic bags, I still found I was tossing too many away.  And I wanted something that kept my produce fresh they way that plastic does.  But after taking my new bags to the farmer's market, I was hooked!  I love these bags -- they work great for reuse, but they also really help keep my greens happy.  Finally, another option!

bagmonster.jpg"We are continuously looking for ways to help humanity kick the single-use bag habit," Keller says, adding that the new product helps keep produce fresh. Andy is so motivated about sharing his mission with others that he recently went on tour as the Bag Monster (a character born of 500 plastic bags stitched together--the amount an average person uses each year), traveling around the country to raise awareness about single-use plastic bag pollution and encourage cities to pass legislation banning plastic bags.

Single-use plastic waste is one of the largest environmental problems we face today, and any step you can take to address it is a mindful step in the right direction.  So while you are making that trip to the health food store for your local, organic, nutritious fruits and vegetables, perhaps start taking some reusable produce bags with you (in addition to your reusable shopping bag). You have the chance to make that shopping trip good for both you and the planet.

Where and what to buy:
I recommend the Complete Starter Kit available at ChicoBag.com.

Stephanie Bernstein is the Founder and CEO of To-Go Ware. She has been practicing and teaching yoga for 12 years and currently resides in Oakland, CA.


The Coffee Grinder: Your New Secret To Natural Beauty

November 4, 2010

by Stephanie Bernstein

If you have an electric coffee grinder, odds are you love it for the wonderful cup of fresh morning radiance it provides you. But this little appliance can be used to give you another healthy glow when used in a different capacity.

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A coffee grinder can unlock the beauty power of your pantry, used to grind grains, beans, herbs and flowers to create an endless array of fun (and affordable!) homemade skincare. However, as coffee is very overpowering, I do recommend you invest in a second grinder for skin care recipes so your scrubs don't take on coffee aroma or debris (I actually own three).
 
A little bean called adzuki has been the secret of Japanese women for over 1,000 years. Touted as the secret to their porcelain-like skin, a powder made from these beans proves to be a wonderful exfoliant as well as being highly rejuvenative due to the beans' enzyme content. Adzuki beans can generally be found in bulk at a natural foods store, and usually cost less then $2 a pound. Simply fill the coffee grinder about three-quarters full with whole beans, and grind into a fine consistency. To use, mix 1-2 teaspoons of the bean powder with water, stir into a paste, and gently massage onto your face. Rinse off with warm water. Keep the powder in a jar by your bathroom sink and use up to 3-4 times a week.
 
rolledoats.jpgOats are another great choice for all skin types. They are extremely moisturizing and are especially good for eczema. Their calming, soothing quality may take you back to childhood chicken pox, and your mom placing you in an oatmeal bath.
 
A wonderful daily cleanser can be made from oats and honey. Using your trusty grinder, grind oats to a fine powder. Combine 4 tablespoons of the oat powder with 2 1/2 tablespoons raw honey. (It's important that the honey is raw, as heating the honey destroys its healing enzymes.) Combine ingredients in a bowl and stir until well mixed. Apply to your face and neck using gentle circular motions.
 
You can leave the mix on for several minutes or simply rinse it off with warm water. This mixture keeps in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks.

Stephanie Bernstein is the Founder and CEO of To-Go Ware. She has been practicing and teaching yoga for 12 years and currently resides in Oakland, CA.

 

The Story of Stuff

October 28, 2010

by Kelle Walsh

10_28_greenlife.jpgDon't you love it when a yoga instructor can take a really challenging pose and break it down for you in an accessible way (not unlike my esteemed, fellow blogger, Kathryn Budig)? Often when we face something complicated, it can be difficult to fully grasp. But when someone comes along and breaks it down into pieces that makes sense, all of a sudden the understanding is there and new insight is gained.

Last week I posted about a group of yogis who are trying to bring attention to the issues of consumerism and commoditization of yoga. It's an important topic for any of us to be thinking about, regardless of how it infiltrates the yoga community specifically. If we are really seeking to be fully awake, to participate with full attention in this world, it is crucial that we become educated about the stuff we fill our lives with. This is actually an incredibly complex topic, if you trace it all from supply to production to shipping--there's a lot to learn about how things are made, the systems in place to keep it all going, and the pockets greased along the way. It can be an almost overwhelming subject to delve into.

Hence my great love for Annie Leonard and "The Story of Stuff." "The Story of Stuff" is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled video about the underside of our production and consumption patterns, and was created by Annie Leonard and Free Range Graphics in December 2007.  Annie has spent nearly two decades investigating and organizing on environmental health and justice issues. She has traveled to 40 countries, visiting literally hundreds of factories where our stuff is made and dumps where our stuff is dumped, witnessing first hand the horrendous impacts of both over- and under-consumption around the world, Annie is an advocate of  reclaiming and transforming our industrial and economic systems so they serve, rather than undermine, ecological sustainability and social equity.

The best part is that Annie breaks down this intricate topic into a animated film that says it all clearly. Now, it's likely you may have seen "The Story of Stuff," as it's had over 12 million views since its release, and has been shown in thousands of schools, houses of worship, community events, and businesses around the world. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend taking 20 minutes to watch--and maybe take one more minute to share it with a few folks who might benefit from it.

The "Story of Stuff" has now evolved into The Story of Stuff Project, and several other films have been made, including "The Story of Cosmetics" (divulging the ugly truth of toxins in these products), "The Story of Bottled Water" (how "manufactured demand" pushes what we don't need), "The Story of Cap & Trade" (why you can't solve a problem with the thinking that created it), and coming soon: "The Story of Electronics."

It's important that we take the time to think about the "stuff" we use in our everyday lives, in order to make mindful choices that are good for us and for the planet. So it's great when someone like Annie Leonard comes along and give us the information in a manner that is just as consumable as the stuff she educates us about. Perhaps then we can share it with others.

Stephanie Bernstein is the Founder and CEO of To-Go Ware. She has been practicing and teaching yoga for 12 years and currently resides in Oakland, California.

Are We Commoditizing Yoga?

October 20, 2010

by Stephanie Bernstein


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Allow me to begin with a quote featured in this week's Boston Globe, citing Justine Wiltshire Cohen's approach to sharing the practice of yoga. "We believe that yoga studios should act in ways that are consistent with the teachings of yoga,'' it says. "We will never sell plastic water bottles that go into landfills [because ahimsa means 'do no harm']. We will never sell $150 yoga pants [because aparigraha means 'identifying greed']. We will never accept offers from companies to promote their gear in exchange for free publicity or products (because satya means "truthfulness''). We will never brand, trademark, or pretend we've made up a new style of yoga.''

Wiltshire garnered the attention of the newspaper with a panel discussion that took place October 17th at Down Under Yoga titled "Balancing Acts: Poses, Products, and the Future of Yoga in America," which was led by her and yoga mavens such as Barbara Benagh, Patricia Walden, and Peentz Dubble. It was to address the issues coinciding with the growing popularity of yoga: How do we appreciate the fact that so many people are interested and practicing in mainstream culture, while remaining focused one the sacred, authentic core of its teachings, without the corruption of commodity and consumerism?

I was impressed to learn about the panel and the urgency the teachers involved seemed to bring to the issue. And I was even more intrigued by the flurry of press around it, the opinions that began to emerge in blogs and posts, and that it seemed to strike a nerve across the yoga community in an interesting way. Cohen described the topic as "the elephant in the room."  I believe her to mean that it is addressing a topic of glaring concern to many within the yoga community, and that it is simply not talked about enough in an open forum.

This issue is something I think about constantly. I've been watching the "business" of yoga explode and evolve over more than a decade, having taught at a host of studios in different cities and enjoyed the sanghas following many teachers. "Yoga has become a way of life," a friend remarked to me the other day. It has become part of our culture and products have come to market for this segment and opportunities to capitalize on it abound. Some of it I absolutely love. And some of it literally hurts to look it, when I see a product or teacher espousing its yogic wonders, when it has so many inconsistencies with the tenets of yoga that I find it damaging and diluting to the practice.

Yes, I am a yoga teacher and yes, I am the owner of a consumer products company. So, yes indeed, this issue is close to my heart. I myself sell To-Go Ware to studios and yogis all over the country. And, quite frankly, they are some of my favorite customers. Not merely because I enjoy the engagement of my own community, but because yoga practitioners are incredible ambassadors. Our products are meant to help people wake up to consumption, to walk their yoga practice off the mat and into their lives, and to give them a tool to do so. Yogis get it, help spread the message and it feels almost and honor to have this awakened segment of the population to work with. So, biased or not, I can see great merits to using conscious consumerism mindfully amongst the yoga world. 

This begs the question, where do we draw the line in a today's day and age of what is yoga and what is not? Here's where I see a mindful discernment needing to enter the picture. There is of course the renunciate path, where a student can abandon worldly possessions and experiences and retreat from our consumer society. That's an easy way to solve the problem. But for the majority of us, we are still living in the world with stuff and services all around us.  We need to be thinking about how we engage, how we consume, and how it aligns with yoga (if at all).

This is why I love what Justine Wiltshire Cohen and Down Under Yoga have done to bring this topic into greater awareness and start a lively conversation about it. I hope that it continues to proliferate and encourage people to start asking questions about the things they consume and the things they offer in the name of yoga. May it lead us all to better answers.

*image above courtesy of Yogadork

Stephanie Bernstein is the Founder and CEO of To-Go Ware. She has been practicing and teaching yoga for 12 years and currently resides in Oakland, CA.

Beyond The Pink Ribbon

October 14, 2010

by Stephanie Bernstein

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and it got me thinking:  how many women do I know that have or had the disease?  I stopped counting when I reached 15, and was somewhat shocked when I realized how high the number was.  

Statistics say 1 in 8 women today are expected to develop breast cancer. The rise in the rate of the epidemic has been eclipsed by a rise in awareness and campaigns advocating research and treatment. No doubt, you've seen those ubiquitous pink ribbons that have become the iconic symbol for breast cancer. The Susan B Komen Foundation had a large hand in the proliferation of the their use in their annual Race For The Cure, one of the most successful charity events held. Now pink ribbons appear on everything from consumer products at the grocery store to celebrity lapels as they walk the red carpet.

Is the pink ribbon helping or hurting the cause? 

I recently came across a term (and a great blog) called Pinkwashing, which is a word used to describe the activities of companies and groups that position themselves as leaders in the struggle to eradicate breast cancer while engaging in practices that may be contributing to rising rates of the disease. It affirmed a sentiment I often have when I see the pink ribbon appear on a product that is known to have carcinogens and other proven cancer causing agents. I find it deceptive and, quite frankly, dangerous that this type of messaging can encourage a woman to purchase something they feel will help with the fight against breast cancer, when it actually is putting them at risk. To advocate only for the cure and treatment of the disease is short-sighted and a disservice to women. It treats the symptom, not the cause. What we must place the focus on is prevention, and arming women with facts about how to reduce their risks of exposure the harmful chemicals we can encounter in everyday life.

This is why I love the Breast Cancer Fund. While the Breast Cancer Fund supports finding a cure and recognizes genetic disposition to the disease, they work to connect the dots between breast cancer and exposures to chemicals and radiation in our everyday environments. Their primary focus is prevention and giving women proactive steps to take to protect themselves (and it is no accident that no pink ribbons appear on their site). This month, they have launched their State Of The Evidence report, which summarizes and evaluates the scientific evidence linking exposures to chemicals and radiation in our everyday environments to increased breast cancer risk. It also links the science to actions we can take to reduce the risk. Help them in sharing this incredibly comprehensive report by downloading it or sharing it with other women. Or even make a donation, to help them continue to do this powerful work. 

All the actions you can take to prevent breast cancer add up. Your yoga practice is a great place to start (even MD Anderson Cancer Center recognizes it as a positive way to reduce your risk), but it important to keep yourself informed, as we live in a world full of opportunities to expose ourselves to harmful substances.

Stephanie Bernstein is the Founder and CEO of To-Go Ware. She has been practicing and teaching yoga for 12 years and currently resides in Berkeley, CA

Teacher Spotlight: Elena Brower on Green Life

October 7, 2010

by Stephanie Bernstein

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I distinctly remember my first foray into environmental activism, and it was an action led by renowned yoga teacher, Elena Brower. But it was far from a yoga studio, and almost a decade before I even began to practice. Believe it or not, it was at summer camp, and Elena Brower was my camp counselor.

It was a 4th of July celebration, and to mark the occasion, instead of fireworks, the entire camp was to gather together and simultaneously release balloons into the air with a postcard attached (so some lucky camper would have theirs found and returned from miles away).  Now mind you, this was circa 1990, long before there was the present day battle cry for the environment. But just as the moment was about to arrive for the all the balloons to go free, Elena organized our group of 50 or so 14 year-olds to yell out in unison, "SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT!" and promptly pop our balloons. Needless to say, we thought it was the coolest thing we'd ever done and overjoyed to have a leader that encouraged such renegade acts. And despite the great spot of trouble she got herself into with the camp administration, Elena did not stop at that.

Elena now owns and runs Virayoga yoga studio in New York City. She is the Global Yoga Ambassador for Adidas. She is also a senior Anusara Yoga instructor. And if you've ever had the opportunity to study with her, you know that she is one of the most unique and prolific yoga teachers currently in our midst, with a magnetism so strong that she was able to get 10,000 yogis to practice on the Great Lawn in Central Park this year. So I've had the good fortune to witness Elena evolve through the years into the dynamic voice she is now, and share many teachers with her. I thought I'd ask her about her own take on the connection between yoga and green living. 

"Being conscious about decisions of energy usage, and our attention to energy is part and parcel to the practice of yoga," Elena says, "If I'm attentive and present I can't waste your attention, nor can I ignore my own actions if they are in fact wasteful and imbalanced."  She's put that into practice at her studio, Virayoga, from using non-toxic cleaning products to making the move from selling bottled water to offering filtered water to students and promoting the use of reusable bottles (she sells them on site).

But for her, the practice is about more than simply recycling and green products, more than just the "doing." How does environmental mindfulness meet with our practice? Elena suggests to start with observation of one's self first, as so many people get overwhelmed with how they can address the grand scope of environmental issues we are currently facing. "People tend to first jump to action when they become conscious of an aspect of their life they want to address," she says. "The teachings implore us to observe clearly how we are RELATING to an issue in our lives, rather than trying to change the issue out of reactivity." She suggests to start with your attention. "Whatever confines you, verify your relationship with it. You don't need to change it right away. Prior to any shift, what is required is GRATITUDE; be grateful for that challenge, because that's what's brought you to where you are right now. I'm not asking you to change it completely; I only ask you to look at your RELATIONSHIP to the difficult matter, to the contraction, to the perceived confinement."

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As you may notice, Elena has a way with words. To fully grasp her take on all things yoga and life, I highly recommend following her writings and getting into a classroom with her if you can. 

For more of Elena's words & teaching:
artofattention.com 
virayoga.com 
huffingtonpost.com
crazysexylife.com

In a nutshell, Elena asks that you know how you are using your attention and energy, to place consciousness around it and stay "Open To Grace," (as the Anusara Universal Principles suggest).  From this, alignment in action will follow. "And," she says in closing, "remember to have a sense of humor about all of this observing. We are funny animals trying our best."

Stephanie Bernstein is the founder and CEO of To-Go Ware.  She has been practicing and teaching yoga for 12 years and currently resides in Berkeley, CA.

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