Wednesday, January 27, 2016

My Biggest Lesson Learned in 2015

The twelve months tucked neatly inside of 2015 changed me -- on every level. 

This past year taught me how to transition from a girl into a woman and how do it in my own way, on my own terms. I learned how to create boundaries with my time and energy. I learned how to say NO more often and YES only when my heart truly meant it. I learned how to be home and be happy with what's right in front of me. I learned how to identify that exact moment when a relationship has run its course; and how to let go with love and grace and non-attachment. I learned that being stung in the foot by a stingray was the best thing that could ever happen for my health. And above all, I learned how to b r e a t h e again. 

Let me backtrack a bit to 2014, the year that taught me 14 life-changing lessons. That year, I was an adventurous little seeker and followed my heart wherever it told me to go. Or so I thought I was following my heart. Looking back, I realize that I was actually following my youth and clinging to adventure and seeking answers anywhere I could possibly find them. 2014 was the year of the seeker. On every dusty Mexican dirt road, down every European cobblestone street, in the eyes of strangers, in every airport terminal, and deep in the hidden crevices of my suitcase that I never actually unpacked, I was seeking. I was thirsty for knowledge and hungry for answers to life's biggest questions -- why are we here? what is my particular purpose on this planet? what is my contribution supposed to be? By the end of 2014, I had exhausted the search and felt like I had finally found some of the truths I was so desperately looking for. I was ready to settle down into my home, my life, and for once, into myself. If 2014 was the desperate, excited, wide-eyed inhale . . . 2015 became the exhale I so naturally needed.  

One of the first things that shifted for me at the beginning of the New Year was my relationship with TRAVEL. In the past (I can now honestly admit) that my travels generally came from a place of escaping. I found one thing I wasn't happy with at home and I booked a ticket. I became a little bored with our sleepy California beach town life and all of a sudden, I was craving the fast pace of New York City or London or Paris. Blame it on moving to a different country every 3 years growing up, but still, by the end of 2014, something inside me knew that this wasn't healthy. I didn't feel cool or adventurous or wanderlusty anymore. It felt desperate and from the wrong place. So in doing a lot of reflecting, journaling, and stumbling upon these realizations about myself, I arrived at a deeply personal conclusion. I was already committed (and excited!) to lead 3 yoga retreats in Mexico in the first 5 months of 2015, so at that point, re-shaping my relationship with my wanderlust was non-negotiable. Knowing that travel would always be a part of my life, I decided to come at it from a more grounded place. A more grateful and sincere place. Instead of trying to "hoard" experiences or check lots of things off a bucket list, I decided to remove the greed and only travel when it felt 100% genuine, authentic, and necessary to me. 

Low and behold, on my first trip of 2015, when I wasn't seeking or searching anything in particular, some of the best wisdom of my life thus far was plopped right in my lap. I swear it's always when you're not looking that it comes to you! In January, I was back in Sayulita teaching yoga and my girlfriend Jenny and I went into town to grab lunch in between classes. We were just sitting there, minding our own business when this beautiful older woman walked right up to me and asked what I was doing down there. I explained that I was there to facilitate yoga and healing retreats for groups of American women. She then looked me straight in the eyes and asked, "Are you breathing?" This single question, asked by a complete stranger, launched a thousand questions in my heart made me re-evaluate absolutely everything. 

While I had dedicated the last 5 years of my life to healing others, my own personal practice had become a shadow of itself. I noticed that when I held onto stress and the personal pain that came up from my students in class, I would clench up and hold my breath. Long, luxurious inhales and exaggerated Ujjayi exhales were a thing of the past. My breath had become shallow, faint, surface-level. And one of the things I say in almost every yoga class I teach is -- let your breath be an indication of how you want to be living. Wouldn't you rather be living from a profound, expansive, bold, vibrant place? And here I was, NOT practicing what I preach. This conversation in Mexico back in January of 2015 became the catalyst into making 2015 "My Year of Self-Love"

Upon returning from that trip, I had a new-found dedication to my personal yoga and pranayama (breath) practice and began to treat my self-care like a full-time job. I spent the next 11 months researching, experimenting, and exploring all options, with a wide open mind. My "adventures into self-care" included the following: 

  • committing to receiving a massage once a month
  • acupuncture, cupping and colon hydrotherapy when needed
  • sound healing sessions
  • starting to practice Kundalini yoga 
  • trying out BUTI yoga (a tribal dance inspired yoga flow that brings out your inner goddess -- so fun!)
  • eating healthier, more plant-based meals
  • green smoothie every morning (with at least one superfood: maca, moringa, chia, spirulina) 
  • teaching myself how to heal my gut

The last one on the list is probably the most important and root cause of it all. Throughout the year, I started to realize that a lot of my recurring health issues (like fatigue and being easily overwhelmed/stressed) traced back to my digestive health, so my mission became healing myself from the inside out. As a frequent traveler, I was exposed to stomach bugs and parasites quite often so carrying around powerful antibiotics was no big deal to me. That, coupled with being stung by a stingray and put on 2 rounds of CIPRO completed wiped out any good bacteria in my gut and sent my digestive issues through the roof. Sluggishness and fatigue were at an all-time high and nothing seemed it sit well with me for weeks. This started to affect my emotions and finally I started to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Meeting with a Chinese medicine doctor connected the rest of the dots for me and I was finally ready to heal this once and for all. 

The more I would open up to friends and yoga students about this, the more I realized what a HUGE problem digestion/gut health problems were for women of all ages, yet NOBODY wants to really talk about it. So, here goes.... :) From my research, it comes down to this: a combination of our overly-processed, highly-inflammatory Western diet, overuse of antibiotics, and lack of movement and deep breath practice. My personal solution to my gut problems became this magic formula: a few rounds of colon hydrotherapy sessions (yes, COLONICS!) to get everything moving again; high quality probiotics (my favorite are Garden of Life Primal Defense); more easily digestible, alkalizing foods in my diet; and my favorite -- a yoga practice focused on twists, folds, and inversions mixed with deeeeeeep pranayama breath practices like Kapalbhati. Think: anything that stimulates and creates fire in the belly. 

For me, this breakthrough connection between my internal health and the rest of my life was like unveiling a secret code about myself and unraveling my truth. Once I began to heal myself, I was able to show up for my friends, my family, my husband, and my yoga students from a much more grounded place. I was able to feel empowered and strong once again. As my mental fog lifted, so did my fears, doubts and insecurities I had been holding onto since my teenage years. I was able to make decisions from a clearer place and put down necessary boundaries on my time and energy from a much more loving (and less fearful) place. When we take really good care of ourselves and we start to function at our highest potential, we no longer feel the need to cling to external indicators of happiness. We can locate and tap into an internal happiness that is unshakable, regardless of what is swirling outside of us. But none of this would have been possible if I was afraid to go deep inside myself and look for answers. If I was afraid of the darkness or old stories or negative energy I would find once I was in there. 

My biggest lesson learned was this: Have the courage to confront your shadows, for it is there that you will find your deepest truths and begin to reveal your brightest light. Thank you 2015, I'm grateful to infinity for you!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Dear Cancer...

Dear Cancer,

Please leave me alone. Please leave my family alone. Please leave ALL families alone. 
But since you won't, I need to understand something -- Why are you here? What are you here to teach us? To take better care of our bodies and our planet? Or that no matter what, our genetic destiny is already written so we need to learn non-attachment, impermanence and surrender to what is? Or a combination of both??? 

So many unanswered questions swirling around in my mind, but above all, I'm asking this -- how can you take the dignity of my handsome, strong Grandfather and make him fight for his life? The first man that showed me what it was to be a man. To take care of your family and honor your wife like a Queen. 

How can the strength, beauty, and dignity of so many of our friends, women, children, even babies -- without discrimination -- be poisoned and tortured by this awful disease???? I know you're here to teach us something, but still . . . that doesn't make it any easier to watch our generation suffer.

To anyone else out there in the depths of this: I feel you. I send you love and strength and hope. We are all in this together! If you've noticed I've been a little absent from my blog, this is one of the reasons why. My sweet Grandpa has been diagnosed once again with an aggressive cancer that hospitalized him a few days before Christmas until just a few days ago. Almost 4 weeks of my Grandmother, his dedicated wife of 62 years, at his hospital bedside every single day and my mom coming to the rescue to help them both heal. 

It just amazes me what cancer does to a family. In one way, it so devastatingly rips our hearts apart, yet in another, it brings people closer and puts all of life's little problems into perspective immediately. One thing I know for sure about myself is that I don't do well when I bottle up my emotions and try to play the "always strong, always happy one" so here is my attempt at sharing something really raw. I know my life here online generally looks like rainbows, mermaids, and sunshine (which thankfully it is most of the time) but this right here, to me, is one of the most important things I can ever share with you. Real, raw, unfiltered sadness. Because every up needs a down. The Universe operates in perfect balance so it can't be all sunshine all the time. 

Suffering is real and cancer is a huge part of our generation's pain, so it would be a disservice to not share this other flip-side of my life with you all. At this point, every person on this planet can name one other person (or animal) in their life that is battling cancer, so it's relevant to all of us. "We are all connected" has been my mantra over the last two years and it's more true than ever now. While love is oftentimes the common universal thread, in this case, cancer is what can (and should) unite us, if we allow it to. Thank you for reading and following my journey all these years. I wish you and your families an abundance of health, happiness, and many more days together. 



Tuesday, December 1, 2015

My Yoga, Off the Mat

There are a few things in life that spark a fire in my heart and get me excited to wake up in the morning. One of them is being both a student and teacher of yoga -- connecting with something so deeply and personally, and then being able to make a career out of it. Next on the list is: the ocean, love, kisses from my dog, and delicious food that just so happens to be healthy. The final piece of the puzzle that completes my life and brings me so much joy is philanthropy and giving back to those in need. While there are many, many charities out there that tug at my heart strings, I've set an intention to focus all of my free time and resources on one organization in particular -- Corazon de Vida -- and make as big of an impact as possible.

Corazon de Vida is an umbrella organization that oversees 12 orphanages in Baja Norte, Mexico. This area spans from the urban border town of Tijuana to the rural wine country region of Valle de Guadalupe, near Ensenada. I first got involved with CDV in 2007 while attending San Diego State University. My major, International Security and Conflict Resolution, required a study-abroad component, and since I grew up in Italy and finished High School in London, the typical Florence and Oxford exchange programs that everyone else was doing just didn't resonate with me. I thought . . . I live 20 minutes from an international border; if I'm going to learn something meaningful about international relations, why not do so in my own backyard? So, I contacted CDV Headquarters and they arranged a special program for me to visit their orphanages, form relationships with the staff and report back. This experience was one of the biggest highlights of my college career and brought me so much joy, perspective, and purpose amongst all the midterms and sororities parties. It solidified my desire to work in the non-profit sector, which I did for 3 years after graduation. Then, of course, life happened and I took a hiatus from my volunteer work with CDV until 2013 when a friend announced on Facebook that he was starting the San Diego Chapter of Corazon de Vida. At this point, I was now married, had an established career as a yoga teacher, and had a deep longing to be a part of something meaningful again. It was the perfect timing for me to get back involved!

Since 2013, our San Diego Chapter has been on fire! We decided to adopt Casa de Paz orphanage in Valle de Guadalupe and focus our efforts specifically on that house. With 56 children and being the furthest from San Diego, this house was pretty neglected, yet had so much potential. Casa de Paz sits on a few acres of fertile wine country soil, which sparked our interest in creating farming projects there. We partnered with Suzie's Farm and in the past two years have built a functioning greenhouse, planted tons of fruit-bearing trees, created a composting system, maintain the pigs, sheep and horse that live on site, and have many more plans in the works. 

Today, I get to combine two of my greatest loves: yoga and spending time at the orphanage. I organize yoga retreats in Baja, Mexico that always include a visit to Casa de Paz. Every time I take a group of people there, they instantly fall in love with the kids and come up with ideas for how to help. 

I love watching the kids grow up! Even though life gets busy, I make a point to visit at least once a month. Dedicating myself to this one orphanage has allowed me to form deeper connections with the kids and watch them evolve. On our last visit over Thanksgiving weekend, one of the girls that I really bond with, Blanca, was so excited to show me that she lost her first tooth! It's moments like this that make my life so much richer. I truly believe in the famous saying -- we make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give. 

If you are inspired to get involved with Corazon de Vida, here are a few ways to help: donate here to support the hundreds of children and staff at the 12 orphanages; share with friends on social media; and join us on an upcoming bus trip to visit the kids in person! The last trip of the year will be this Saturday, December 5th, which is the annual Holiday Trip to celebrate Christmas with the kids.

“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was naked and you clothed me, I was homeless and you took me in.’ - Mother Teresa

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

February 2016: Yoga Retreat in Sayulita, Mexico

My next yoga retreat will be February 4th - 8th in beautiful Sayulita, Mexico. Join me, Heather Grisco, and Kelli Martin for the FREE YOURSELF FEBRUARY 2016 RETREAT! This unique experience will encourage you to take your yoga off-the-mat and into the real world as we journey through the jungle to our favorite bohemian beach paradise of Sayulita, Mexico.

For the 5th winter in a row, we're packing our bags and leading a group of open-hearted yogis on an adventurous getaway. Every year keeps getting better, and we can guarantee, this one will be the best yet! In addition to twice-daily yoga, we will also be including some fun excursions like paddleboarding and jungle hikes that will open your soul in new ways. 

Mandy and Heather have been taking their yoga students to Sayulita, Mexico since 2011. On their retreats, they offer a blend of powerful, invigorating vinyasa flow in the morning, as well as gentle, restorative yoga classes as the sun goes down to emphasize balance. This year, they are welcoming inspiring yoga teacher Kelli Martin into the mix to provide Reiki energy healing and aromatherapy to the retreat participants. Kelli is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about essential oils and tapping into what's below the surface -- the energy body -- to heal and empower you from the inside out.

Be prepared for 5 days of pampering on all levels: mind, body, and spirit.

- shared room: $1175
- private room: $1350

* flights from San Diego included in this pricing!
* if you will be arranging your own flight from somewhere other than San Diego, subtract $300 from your package. [shared room without flight = $875. private room without flight = $1050] 

Your retreat package includes: 

         - all ground transportation
         - 4 nights stay at beautiful Hotelito Los SueƱos
         - green smoothies and breakfast every morning
         - 2 group dinners, prepared by excellent local chefs
         - 8 inspiring morning and evening yoga classes
         - 1 specialized Stand Up Paddle (SUP) yoga workshop
         - 1 jungle hike
         - and your airfare, if leaving from San Diego

Optional Excursions: Boat trips to the surf Punta Mita and San Pancho. Additional stand-up paddle board and surf lessons, Snorkeling, Sailing, Kayaking, Jungle Excursions, Zip lines, horseback riding or just plain relaxing and soaking up the beach. 

Ready to take the leap? Click here to leave your $275 non-refundable deposit and reserve your spot on this unforgettable experience!

Space is limited. This retreat fills up fast every year. As of today (11/24/15) there are only 8 spots available.

*PLEASE NOTE:  all are welcome! the majority of the participants will be from our local San Diego (Bird Rock Yoga) community, but if you have an open heart and a sense of adventure, we'd love for you to join us on this retreat!

*FINAL PAYMENTS: your remaining balance after the deposit must be paid in full by January 8, 2016.

#designalifeyouLOVE #yogafiesta #freeyourself2016

Here are some of my favorite photos from my past few years of hosting yoga retreats in Sayulita Mexico . . .


fun facts about this retreat: 

-  average daily air temps in january = 85*
-  average daily ocean temps in january = 82*
-  winter is baby turtle rescue & release season! It's the most adorable thing, ever.
-  friday is sayulita's famous "mercado del pueblo" farmers market. we'll take you there on february 5th where you'll have the opportunity to browse the handmade bohemian and tribal art this town is famous for. I love doing some grocery shopping here and stocking up on fresh fruit and organic snacks for my stay. 

questions? ready to sign up?

  • leave a $275 deposit to reserve your spot here
  • feel free to email me with any questions!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Bucket List It -- The Integratron

Over the weekend, my girlfriends and I took trip out to the desert to relax, unwind, reconnect with nature, and visit the highly-acclaimed Integratron. Never heard of it? Well, if you live in southern California, you are only a two to three hour drive from this super special (and scientifically proven!) energy vortex, so put this on your bucket list immediately! 

After two days of hiking, glamping, singing karaoke country music with the locals, and soaking up the incredibly peaceful energy of Joshua Tree, we drove even further East through no-mans land to reach this sacred site. When I took my first girls trip out to Joshua Tree back in February, some hippie local friends clued us in to the magic of the Integratron, but it books out 5 or more weeks in advance, so we couldn't get a reservation. This time around, we planned the entire girls getaway around a visit to the Integratron, so we made sure to reserve online in advance, We were bursting with anticipation, curiosity, and excitement as we cruised down the old dirt road known as Highway 247 leading up to the site. For a car full of San Diego mermaids who rarely stray far from the beach, the sight of actual desert tumbleweeds was all it took to send us into a fit of roaring laughter! Finally, we arrived at the Integratron, checked in for our visit, and got the low-down on what's so special about this place. 

The Integratron was built in the 1950's by the famous aeronautical engineer George Van Tassel. In the 1930's and 40's, he worked as an aircraft mechanic and in 1947, he left that life and moved his family to the Mohave Desert. According to George, in 1953 during frequent meditations, aliens from Venus started communicating with him and teaching him techniques for "rejuvenating the human body." In 1954, with extraterrestrial guidance, he began constructing the Integratron as a "time machine for basic research on rejuvenation, anti-gravity, and time travel." George believed that humans curate so much knowledge over a lifetime and become so wise and enlightened over the course 6 or 7 decades, then their physical bodies die without having the opportunity to realize all this potential, saying "Our life span is just too short." He believed if he could find a way to extend our time on Earth, so much more good could be done for humanity. His wacky ideas caught the attention of some serious businessmen, like billionaire Howard Hughes, who believed in his logic and financed the construction. 

In an ironic twist of fate, George died suddenly at the age of 67 just a few weeks shy of the completion of the Integratron. From there, the site passed from owner to owner for 20 years until a group of 3 sisters purchased it in 2000. The sisters recognized it as an acoustically-perfect structure with incredibly healing properties. For the last 15 years, they've been running group Sound Bath experiences in which participants lie down in Savasana (resting pose) and get serenaded by quartz crystal singing bowls and guided into a deep meditation. 

The sessions last one hour and my girlfriends and I were all thoroughly blissed out after our Sound Bath. There are 7 giant quartz crystal bowls, each one tuned with a different musical note aligning with each of the 7 chakras (energy centers in your body). For the entire hour, I tried to stay really focused on my breath and stay open to the process, and I definitely felt a subtle spiritual awakening. The sound bath is said to realign the right and left sides of your brain and (on a yogic level), harmonize the dualities of you -- balancing out your masculine and feminine energies; fine tuning the chakra system; and providing medicine for your soul via sound. All in all, it was a truly beautiful experience and I would highly recommend you take a trip out to the desert to experience it for yourself!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

How To Choose the Right Yoga Retreat for You

With the explosion in popularity of yoga in the United States and Canada over the last decade, the opportunities to combine your yoga practice with travel and leisure are in absolute abundance. Flip to the last few pages of any yoga magazine and you’re inundated with an overwhelming amount of options on where, when and how to participate in a yoga retreat.

I've been leading Yoga Retreats abroad for the past 4 years and have had the honor of personally guiding more than 130 people on life-altering adventures. On each and every retreat, I witness incredible joy, growth, and transformation - along with a renewed sense of connection after just a few days of tuning into the natural vibrations. Magical stuff happens when we step away from technology, breathe with nature, and laugh out loud with new-found soul friends. 

So maybe you’re open to the idea of taking your first yoga retreat but not sure where to start? After designing and leading 10 yoga retreats (my 11th one coming up next month!), I've seen it all and want to help make the process as smooth as possible for you! Here are some important things to consider in selecting the right yoga travel experience for you:

1) Duration: Maybe your soul needs a month in Indonesia but your life currently only allows for a weekend getaway. No worries! A person with an open mind and open heart will get more out of 3 days than a distracted, closed-off person traveling abroad for a year. Don’t get hung up on the length of time, work with what you’ve got in front of you. If a week away is what kids, work and life will allow, then start by narrowing your search to retreats fitting that parameter. This very first step is your initial opportunity to practice non-attachment. Try not to focus on what you can’t do, be content with what you can do in your life right now.

2) Location: This one builds in harmony with the previous variable. If your heart is set on Bali, but you live in New York and can only get away for one week, Bali just isn't in the cards this year. Maybe next year! A good rule of thumb is the less time you have, the closer to home you go. Yoga, adventure, and health lifestyle retreats are intended to be a relatively stress-free way of traveling and experiencing new things. If you spend most of your time in the car or on long stress-inducing layovers, it sort of defeats the purpose. If you’re going away for 3 days, pick a location no further than 3 to 5 hours driving distance. Look for hidden gems in your own state or the next state over. If you’ve got a week, it’s reasonable to consider overseas travel. Insider tip: Be sure to tack on an extra day on each end to account for adjusting to time zone changes. 

Coming from the US or Canada, great one-week options are: Costa Rica, Aruba, and Mexico. If you can swing 8-15 days, consider jumping continents and heading further around the world. Greece, Morocco, Italy, Thailand and the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador are definitely doable! Two weeks to a month? India, Bali and Peru are looking pretty good. Keep in mind that those 3 countries have quite a bit of arduous land and sea travel once you arrive. Make sure your mind, your body, (and stomach!) are prepared for true off-the-beaten path explorations.

3) Cost: Again, this variable goes hand-in-hand with the previous two. I am of the belief that everybody – regardless of budget – deserves to experience a health retreat. True -- a week at the Four Seasons in Maui can run you upwards of $4,000, but don’t be intimidated by that fact. For every fancy five-star retreat, there are a dozen low-maintenance, down-to-earth experiences out there. If you have a smaller budget this year, you will go on a shorter, closer to home adventure. There are lots of options for under $1000, most without the need to fly anywhere. Also, keep in mind that occasionally some retreats offer scholarships or work-trade opportunities. It never hurts to ask. If it doesn’t work out this year, maybe they’ll keep you in mind for next year!

4) Theme: Stand-Up Paddle Board (SUP) Yoga in Sayulita; Goal-setting in the Galapagos; Yoga and Cooking Classes in Chang Mai; Unleashing your Inner Goddess in Kauai; Yoga and Freediving in the Bahamas – these days, there is truly something for everyone! If, in addition to yoga, you’ve been hoping to hone your skills in another area as well, seek out a retreat that nurtures both. One of the most fun and empowering retreats I ever coordinated didn’t involve any yoga in an actual studio. We went on ocean adventures and practiced yoga on paddleboards for 5 hours a day for 6 days straight in Mexico, breathing and flowing with the elements. Keep an open mind and let your passions beyond yoga also help guide your decision-making process.

5) Teacher: I saved the most important factor for last -- who will be guiding you on this journey? When I started leading retreats in 2011 (only four short years ago), there were only a handful of retreat offerings each month. Now, there's a yoga retreat starting somewhere in the world every day of the year! With the increased amount of options, more people have access to these healing experiences, which is a GREAT thing, but there's also a huge lack of quality control. I've seen retreats offered by yoga teachers who just graduated a few days ago. I've seen retreats offered by teachers who have never even been to the place they are supposed to be guiding people to. Here's a quick check-list of things to consider when choosing your retreat leader -- 

  • Make sure you resonate with this teacher. 
  • Do you like the style of yoga they teach and their overall message? 
  • Take their classes if you live nearby, or do extensive research on them online.
  • Double check their credentials and look for testimonials from past retreat participants
  • Make sure they have a connection to the destination. Their desire to lead this experience should come from a pure love for the place, not them wanting a free trip to experience it for the first time themselves.
  •  If you are still unsure, ask for a quick Skype meeting. Most teachers would be more than happy to chat with you and answer all your question. Skype or Facetime (versus email) allows you to look in their eyes, feel their energy, and decide it they are the right teacher for you.

With all this information to consider, take a pause (and a big exhale!) and come back to your initial intention. What motivated you to seek out a yoga retreat in the first place? What do you hope to get out of this experience? In what ways does your mind, body and spirit need to be healed?
Now that you've considered all the variables, it's time to get out there and take part in the yoga retreat of your dreams!

To all the seasoned yoga retreat participants, I ask: What's your favorite retreat experience of all time? And why? 
Please share any tips below that can help others in the planning process!

Want to travel with me? 

Visit here to stay up-to-date on my upcoming yoga retreat offerings!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

15K Giveaway!

I love nothing more than hooking my people up with some awesome product from companies I believe in! I promised myself from the beginning to use my social media platforms to spread health and happiness, so from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU so much for joining me on this journey! In celebration of hitting 15,000 followers on my instagram account @zengirlmandy, I'm partnering with Reebok to hook one of you up with a free outfit! They've got a cute new line of yoga activewear with creative designs that I know you all will love!

Here are a few shots from a women's empowerment event I did with Reebok two weeks ago. I gathered 15 of my favorite San Diego yoga girls and guided them through an oceanfront vinyasa flow class with the theme of releasing the fears and darkness that holds us back in life. After savasana, we tapped into our strength and played with some partner yoga while enjoying a mellow Sunday morning by the beach in La Jolla. It was a truly special experience that I'm grateful to have led. 

Need some fresh workout gear in your wardrobe? Scroll down and enter yourself in the giveaway!

Much love and namaste,


// photography by the talented @jason_neitzke //

To enter the Reebok giveaway, leave a comment on this blog post (say hi!) and be sure to include your instagram name. Winner announced on Monday morning!

11/09/15 UPDATE: the winner is -- @giraffemilyoga -- congrats girl! 

stay tuned for more Zen Girl giveaways to come! xoxo

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Yogi Confessionals: The Secret Magic to Sadness

Confession: I get sad. More often than I would like to admit. More often than you would think if you only knew me online. Social media has a funny way of only showing the highlight reel. On one hand, I love it because, let's be honest -- who would wants a newsfeed filled with Debbie Downers?! On the other hand though, all the rainbows and unicorns and mermaids fail to capture the entire other HALF of life.

In yoga, we strive for balance. The yin AND the yang. The light AND the darkness. Embracing the ups and the down, for they all have something important to teach us. I'm a big believer in surrounding yourself with high-vibrational energy at all times, but it begs the question:

By putting only our highest moments out there on social media, as a culture, do we inadvertently push those low feeling even lower? 

So, here's my attempt at sharing some really raw, honest, real-life stuff with you all. One realization I've come to recently is that I'm highly susceptible to sadness. Scratch that -- I'm highly susceptible to feeling sadness, in all its many forms. I'm a sensitive soul, an empath, deeply affected by the energy around me. As a yoga teacher, I have learned how to channel this into my classes and create some really beautiful, raw moments for my students. It breaths life into my creative work, my passions, my philanthropic work with orphanages, and it pushes me into new break-through places on my spiritual journey. I've come to terms with my ability to feel deep sadness and  have even become grateful for it. But -- lingering in it for too long can be dangerous.

Here's a new agreement I've made with myself: a 12 hour free pass to Sadville. One way ticket to Mope-town. 

Instead of trying to fight the sadness, or pretend that it doesn't exist, I've made a conscious effort to embrace it when it comes and let myself dive as deep into it as needed. For half of one day, only. 12 hours to mope around, cry if I need to, eat comfort foods, vent, and watch ridiculously sad movies... The Fault in our Stars, Selena, and Titanic top on my list for temporary travels to gloomsville. Need more inspiration? Here's a list of the 50 Most Heart-Wrenching Movies of all Time

So, here's where the magic happens. Here's what separates the spiritual growth from my childhood days of getting caught up in a spiral of emotions for way too long. 

The next morning, it's OVER. It's done. Allowing myself to linger in the sadness for a bit and really FEEL it creates the space for releasing it and transforming it into something productive. 

Last week, my father-in-law came out to San Diego for a visit and dropped some serious wisdom on us. He's a 40 year-long student of yoga and eastern religions like Buddhism and Taoism and left us with this little gem -- Feel the pain, but do not add suffering through resistance. 

BOOM. There was my big breakthrough I wanted to share with you all. Feel it, embrace it, don't add any extra guilt on top, and suddenly, the light begins to shine again. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

How to Make Chia Pudding

I wanted to share with you all my current obsession, something I literally cannot live without! Every Sunday night, I make a batch of Chia Pudding for the week and it's completely changed my mornings. Naturally, I'm not a big breakfast eater. I love to move my body first thing in the morning, then get on with my day, so typically I'll go until 12 or 1pm without eating. I'll have a glass of warm water with lemon, followed by a green smoothie or green juice, then get caught up in my day and forget to eat until the afternoon. I felt pretty good, but never great, and intuitively knew that my body needed something different to function at a higher level. Yoga has taught me so much about listening to my body and being present and aware of its changes. Over the last few years (and especially in the last few months since turning 29), I noticed that my digestion had been getting worse and worse. I experienced frequent stomach aches, food sensitivities and just an overall feeling of being bloated and weighed down. I started asking my girlfriends and yoga students what their morning food routine looked like. To my surprise, I found that most women I talked to had similar digestion issues and often went until 1 or 2pm in the day, subsisting solely on coffee.

Then, as luck would have it, my assistant Rozy and I were prepping to lead a 3 day bachelorette party yoga retreat in Mexico for 10 women and brainstorming healthy breakfast options. I picked custom Acai Bowls for the first morning and Rozy suggested Chia Pudding for the second morning. She explained to me that they are super simple to make, easy to prepare in bulk and packed full of FIBER, which women can never get enough of. It would be the perfect Sunday morning breakfast to help them digest all the delicious food, wine, and tequila from the weekend!

source: a million miless

After trying Chia Pudding for the first time on our yoga retreat in Baja Mexico, I was ready to start incorporating it into my life at home. The Sunday night that we got home, I made my first batch and ate it throughout the week. Almost immediately, I started feeling better in my body, like everything was moving around again, as it should. My favorite part is that it's portable and easy to take on the road, which I need for my lifestyle. Now, every Sunday night, it's become my ritual to take 5 mason jars, make my Chia Pudding for the week, then grab and go when I head out on Monday morning.

Here's my super simple recipe for a single serving -- 

  • 1 mason jar
  • Fill up 1/2 way with milk of your choice
    (I use unsweetened Hemp Milk, but can also use: Almond milk, Coconut, milk, etc.)
  • Pour in 1/3 cup of chia seeds, stir vigorously for 30 seconds 
  • Put mason jar lid on, seal up, leave in refrigerator overnight
  • Take out in the morning, then add toppings of your choice.

My favorite toppings this month are: a spoonful of local honey, then add banana or blueberries, then sprinkle local bee pollen and cinnamon on top.

source: yummy-healthy-easy

source: sweet sugar bean

From chocolate to walnuts to passion fruit to figs, the options are limitless, and can be modified to utilize ingredients honoring every season of the year. Need more inspiration? Click here to learn 22 Easy and Delicious Chia Pudding Recipes.

Do you have your own special recipe or favorite toppings? Comment below and share your secret sauce with us!
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