Rekindling inspiration during challenging times


New inspiration - Rekindling inspiration during challenging times

This post comes after a long absence. I suppose I could blame the layoff on balancing freelance work projects that have diverted me.  There’s truth in that statement, but when I get really honest with myself, I know the real culprit behind the furlough is flagging inspiration.

The new world disorder

As for the cause of my dulled inspiration?  It’s hard to ignore the tuned-up turbulence in our world over the past several months.

I won’t reiterate all the recent events, human and environmental crises and personalities we can be upset about. But the recent chemical attacks in Syria on people (including babies and kids) who have already suffered so much is perhaps the most grotesque evidence of our world’s “dis-ease.”

Of course, human history is littered with horrible things people have done to one another and to the planet. (I know, this post is very uplifting so far…). But do you agree the pace and volume of bad news seems unrelenting in the past year?

If you’re a sensitive person, it’s very tempting to want to go hide under a pile of pillows until it’s safe to come out.

Midlife sentence

So in this climate, writing about wellness and caring for oneself inside and out has felt trivial to me at times. I mean how important is hyperpigmentation or a slowed-down metabolism when there are people in parts of the world living under daily assault?

But then I thought about the women I know in their 40s and beyond, and the challenges of this life stage. Almost every woman “of a certain age” I’m acquainted with is going through some major life stuff now.

Whether it’s coping with a struggling child, aging parents, a challenging health diagnosis, financial problems, a career crisis or a troubled marriage, my friends are shouldering a full load.

While those trials may not seem on the same scale as the pain reported in the media’s rawest headlines, they’re not insignificant. Especially since women tend to sacrifice their own self-care in favour of supporting the needs of their loved ones.

The fact that these challenges often come at the very same time that our hormones decide to switch things up on us further adds to the fun.

Tracking new inspiration

Back in the day, I remember my mom talking about going through “the Change” and that it would be a challenging time. (We had the impeccable timing of my mother reaching menopause at the same point I hit puberty.) But beyond witnessing my mother’s hot flashes and seesawing moods, I didn’t get how much she was going through.

This is my long-winded way of saying that women and their experiences at midlife are important. And it’s sad that I have to write this down, but our society won’t affirm that.

So we have to do it for ourselves.

I believe when women of all ages are more valued and supported, we’ll be better equipped to temper the off-the-charts testosterone currently fuelling world events.

Not that there aren’t loads of wonderful, wise men out there. It’s just that I think we need to right the balance of influence by championing ourselves and other women.

I think that’s a pretty good way to find renewed inspiration.

 

When you’re feeling weighed down by life what do you do to find inspiration? I’d love it if you shared your thoughts below. 

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A wake-up week at the Chopra Center


Chopra Center - A wake-up week at the Chopra Center

In mid July I took a kind of trip I’ve never done before: a week of meditation, yoga and lectures at the Chopra Center in Carlsbad, California. My intention was to tune up my admittedly haphazard meditation practice. But the week at the Chopra Center ended up offering other benefits I hadn’t anticipated. I thought I’d share my take on the week chez Chopra in case you’ve ever wondered about going on a retreat.

The motivation

Whenever I meditate consistently, I feel more grounded and positive. I’ve even contemplated learning to teach meditation because I think it’s a practice that can bring some peace to everyone who does it regularly.

But as much as I believe in meditation, I’ve often let life (okay, excuses) interfere with actually doing it. So, although I’d heard about the Chopra Center’s Seduction of Spirit course for years, in May I finally got the intuition that I should take it.

A retreat makes for a wonderful trip, but it’s not a vacation

Founded in 1996 by Deepak Chopra and the late neurologist and mind-body-medicine pioneer David Simon, the Chopra Center is located at the Omni La Costa, an elegant golf and fitness resort about 35 miles north of San Diego.

In addition to its learning programs, the Chopra Center features a medical center focused on the ancient Indian mind-body health system, Ayurveda, and a spa (also offering Ayurveda treatments).

La Costa pool - A wake-up week at the Chopra Center

One of the eight pools at the Omni La Costa, the luxe resort where the Chopra Center is located.

I arrived a day before the course started and lounged by one of the resort’s eight pools, surrounded by golfers, tennis players, kids careening down waterslides and people on chaises enjoying adult beverages.

But that would be the only day that mirrored a conventional resort vacay. The next one brought a four hour-plus intro to Primordial Sound Meditation, a practice developed by Deepak Chopra, and culminated with each participant receiving a mantra based on her time and place of birth.

After that, the next five and a half days followed a similar routine. Mornings began with an optional 6 a.m. meditation and then yoga at 6:40, followed by a full schedule of meditation and lectures running from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The wake-up call

Chopra Center Yoga - A wake-up week at the Chopra Center

Early-morning yoga on the Terrace Lawn.

As someone who finds it much easier to catch Jimmy Fallon than the opening of the Today Show, waking at 5:45 a.m. was an adjustment. (Yes, I skipped the 6 a.m. meditation sessions.) But, surprisingly, I found the early-morning yoga sessions energizing. (Although the fact that some of the classes took place on a scenic lawn at a gorgeous resort probably helped.)

After yoga, I would usually do a mad dash to grab a coffee at the resort’s marketplace. Alas, with 320 Chopra attendees plus other resort guests looking for breakfast at the same time, the result was often a 20-minute wait for morning java. Not the most Zen-moments of the trip.

The experience

After early yoga, each day would begin with a group meditation in the large ballroom that would serve as our home base for the week.

Meditating with hundreds of other people was definitely a different vibe from practicing at home or in a yoga class. On the challenging side, there were more distractions (coughing, fidgeting, occasionally cell phones ringing and beeping – yes, even at the Chopra Center).

But there were also times when being surrounded by so many other people sitting in silence felt very powerful.

The program presenters, whether teaching a spiritual law of the day, answering questions or leading meditations were, to a person, engaging and polished. And I can say the same about the rest of the Chopra Center’s staff.

Deepak Chopra - A wake-up week at the Chopra Center

The man himself: Deepak Chopra speaking at Seduction of Spirit in July.

And then there was Deepak Chopra, who’s on a level of his own (probably hovering somewhere above the Earth’s atmosphere). He’s simultaneously down-to-earth (T-shirts and jeans made up his wardrobe for the week) and esoteric, with a wealth of knowledge spanning medicine, quantum physics, Ayurveda, religion, astronomy, and who knows what else.

He can also be abrupt. During his first presentation, he asked the crowd why we were there. One woman answered: “I just turned 40 and I’m ready for a reset.”

Chopra responded along the lines that he was looking for deeper answers, and he then answered for her: “You’re here to know who you are.” I initially felt that he was being a little hard on the woman, but, in retrospect, I get his desire to have people focus on what’s important.

Writer and über life-coach Martha Beck also made a vivid impression. She’s a very wise woman but also a little goofy (think of a spiritual master mixed with Carol Burnett), which brought some comic relief amidst the heady discussions.

Food for thought

Fueling our meditations and yoga were the lunches and dinners included in the course fee. The meals were vegetarian and reflected the teachings of Ayurveda, such as dinner being on the light side to help with digestion before going to sleep.

I’m not a vegetarian, but found the buffet-style meals very satisfying, with the lunches often themed around a specific cuisine, including Indian, Greek, Mexican and Thai.

While I eat healthy most of the time and find it pretty easy to skip meat, I had a minor headache during the first couple of days of the course. I initially thought it was due to jet lag and also taking in new concepts. But after hearing several other people also talking about headaches, I realized we were probably all detoxing. This made me wonder about the array of toxic elements in our diets beyond the usual suspects of caffeine, alcohol and food additives.

Gains from the week at the Chopra Center

Meditation on lawn - A wake-up week at the Chopra Center

On the last full day of the course we meditated under the sunny Southern California skies.

Daily yoga and meditating at least twice a day showed me how powerful meditation can be when practiced consistently. But what really astounded me was how great I felt at the end of the week.

Plus, I realized by the last day of the course that throughout the week I had felt almost no worry. Alas, a rare thing for me!

I also met some wonderful people and have never been in a friendlier group.

Is a retreat for you?

Vacation time is precious, so I understand devoting part of it to sitting on a meditation mat rather than lounging by a pool or touring Europe is a big decision.  But if you’re looking to change up your lifestyle in some way or wanting to clear your mind, the “pause” button a retreat offers can be very helpful.

As for the Chopra Center, it’s definitely a luxe environment compared to the often rustic accommodations associated with retreats. While I loved that aspect, it may not work for someone looking for a simpler environment in which to disconnect.

The course was also pricey: about $2000 US for five and a half days. But when I consider the quality of the speakers, yoga instructors and daily exposure to Deepak, I think the week at the Chopra Center was a wise investment.

At the beginning of the course several people who had attended previous Chopra programs told me that it would change my life. Being a bit of a skeptic, I questioned if it would. But as I write this, a month post course, and consider that I’m meditating daily (the longest uninterrupted stretch I’ve ever gone), I think they may have been right.

 

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Budget-friendly beauty buys


There’s no shortage of high-quality beauty products on the market. But when it comes to effective and affordable cosmetics, skin- and hair care…? Well there the pickings at the beauty counter get a little slim. With that in mind, I thought I’d share four finds to make both your mirror and bank account happy. Check out these test-driven budget-friendly beauty buys.

1. Alpha Skin Care Enhanced Revitalizing Cream 12% AHA 

Alpha Skin Care - Budget-friendly beauty buys

AHAs, like Alpha Skin Care Enhanced Revitalizing Cream, help reduce the look of lines and hyperpigmentation, and also promote collagen production.

When it comes to gold standards for anti-aging, it’s still hard to top the efficacy of retinol or alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). So, on a recent visit to NYC, upon spotting Alpha Skin Care Enhanced Revitalizing Cream 12% AHA  priced at $14.99 US, I quickly snapped it up. (This price was found at Harmon Face Values, my fave drugstore chain for beauty bargains, but even at the manufactured suggested retail price of $16.99, it’s a great value). Note that if you’re new to AHAs, the company advises starting with one of its 10% glycolic formulas.

Formerly called Alpha Hydrox, the line has retained the same formulas, but has been repackaged to look a little more premium. Its product names have also changed. (If you’re looking for a product you used under the Alpha Hydrox label, check this link to find the current Alpha Skin Care name).

So what’s so great about AHAs? These fruit-sugar derivatives exfoliate skin to help reduce the look of lines, wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. Additionally, AHAs assist in collagen production, which diminishes with age.

Alpha Skin Care’s AHA cream gets extra marks because it’s fragrance- and paraben-free and not tested on animals.

As AHAs increase sun sensitivity, use in tandem with sunscreen if applying during the day.

2. Maybelline New York The Rock Nudes

Maybelline The Rock Nudes - Budget-friendly beauty buys

Maybelline New York’s new evening-friendly take on neutrals: The Rock Nudes eye shadow palette.

When Urban Decay released its first NAKED Eyeshadow Palette in 2010, featuring 12 predominately neutral shades, it quickly became a best seller. With a generous range of nudes for every day, plus a few flashier complementary colours for more oomph, this palette made you wonder why nobody had produced one before.

Due to the success of the first nudie kit, Urban Decay subsequently released multiple variations. Of course, with every success comes imitators (the beauty industry is especially prone to this form of flattery…) and legions of other cosmetics companies now have their own neutral eye shadow palettes,  offered at multiple price points.

Although I had long been tempted by Urban Decay’s palettes, at $66 Cdn ($54 US), I had so far resisted. Then on a whim, or, more accurately, an impulse buy, I decided to try Maybelline New York The Nudes Palette. At $17.99 Cdn (priced from $9.99 to $12.99 US), the kit offers 12 shades of beige, bronze and brown. While this mass-market eye shadow doesn’t have the deep pigmentation found in prestige brands, it’s become my go-to for everyday wear.

I’ve also become a fan of a new addition to the line, The Rock Nudes. True to its name, in addition to nudes, this kit includes flashier hues of blue, gold and purple. A few even have some glitter (but fret not: when applied and blended, the effect reads evening-friendly rather than Lady Gaga).

3. NYX Matte Lipstick in Pale Pink

NYX lipstick - Budget-friendly beauty buys

With its wallet-friendly price and cruelty-free testing policy, you can feel pretty Zen about NYX Lipstick.

I’ve avoided matte lipsticks for many years. Memories from my clubbing era of wearing M.A.C.’s uber-matte Russian Red, which rates an A-plus for intensity but left my lips begging for balm, had made me a gloss girl. But when I read another writer rave about NYX Matte Lipstick in Pale Pink, I decided to give matte another go. And since NYX is a wallet-friendly brand (this lipstick is priced at $9 Cdn/$6 US), it wasn’t much of a financial risk.

Upon seeing the shade in-store, I was initially a little dubious about its bubble-gum hue. But on the lips it becomes a subtle beige-pink, perfect for spring or summer. And its non-drying finish has (almost) got me over my matte phobia.

4. Not Your Mother’s Clean Freak Cleansing Conditioner

Clean Freak Cleansing Conditioner - Budget-friendly beauty buys

Cleansing conditioners, such as Not Your Mother’s Clean Freak, wash your hair without stripping its natural oils.

Cleansing conditioners, also called co-washes, have become the darlings of the hair-care world. For the uninitiated, they’re conditioners that feature non-shampoo cleansing agents. Since they clean hair without detergents or sulfates, they provide a gentler wash.

A few years ago I tried the pioneering product in this category, WEN by Chaz Dean Cleansing Conditioner, which if you’re an insomniac you may know from late-night infomercials. While I liked it, at $40 Cdn ($32 US) for 480 ml, the price was a little rich, even for a cleanser/conditioner in one.

So, when I saw Not Your Mother’s Clean Freak Cleansing Conditioner in NYC priced at $6.99 US for 236 ml (available online in Canada for $10 Cdn), it was a no-brainer to try it.

While the directions suggest using two to four pumps of the product, I need at least six (and my hair is barely shoulder length). So far, Clean Freak has been a good supplement to my conventional shampoo routine. I think of it as a complementary product because, like other co-washes, it doesn’t clean as thoroughly as traditional shampoo. The lack of sulfates also means it doesn’t lather, which can take some getting used to.

But on days when I want a one-step cleanser/conditioner without parabens or other chemicals, Clean Freak cleans up.

Do you have any fave budget-friendly beauty buys? Please share them below.

 

 

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Bearing the blues


depressed person - Bearing the blues

What do you say to yourself when you feel down? Recently I’ve realized that when in a funk, beyond the pain of feeling bad, I feel weighed down by the extra burden I coat it with. That would be thoughts like: Oh, no, not this again! I don’t want to feel depressed! With what other people have to deal with, what do I have to complain about!  All of which, of course, makes me feel even worse. If you suffer the blahs from time to time (and let’s be real, who doesn’t), consider these thoughts on bearing the blues:

Where are your blues coming from?

First, a big caveat, if you think you may be clinically depressed, with thoughts of suicide, lack of interest in daily life or other extreme symptoms like these , contact a mental-health professional or your family physician ASAP. Also seek professional help if you’ve been down for a long time, even if you feel like you’re managing okay. It could be a chronic low-grade depression (dysthymia). This form of sadness feels less dramatic than clinical depression but can still seriously impact your quality of life.

As for the garden-variety blues, they can be caused by any number of reasons.  Your cat died. You feel like life is passing you by. Your relationship is on the outs. You’re sun-deprived (hasta la vista, February!).

Blues in the middle

Perimenopause and menopause itself can also cause mood swings, thought to be caused by declining estrogen levels. If your low mood feels extreme, you may want to ask your doctor about the pros and cons of hormone-replacement therapy. But considering that this life stage often comes with stressors like career pressure, raising kids, caring for or losing aging parents; there may be more than hormones behind your blues.

Bearing the blues: what to do?

It’s likely you can recite the standard advice on getting out of a funk: Take extra-good care of yourself with sufficient sleep, healthy eating and exercise. Spend time with positive people. Do activities that you enjoy. Get out in the sun (that is if you live in a part of the world that gets it this time of year).

But what I’ve found more helpful is looking at what I say to myself when I’m down. (While this practice is used in cognitive therapy, as I’m not a therapist, the approach I’m writing about here is based on my personal experience.) For example, instead of automatically doing an internal freak-out that I’m bearing the blues; I try to investigate the feeling a bit. While it’s often easy to ID an external factor that’s causing the mood, I usually find it’s layered like an onion. The first layer is my reaction to what’s making me feel bad and the second is usually my resistance to feeling bad.

Buh-bye, blues?

Smiling black woman - Bearing the blues

Uncovering how you judge yourself when you feel sad may help you feel a little lighter.

All of this isn’t to say the depressed feelings then disappear immediately. But it seems that acknowledging them (don’t worry, you don’t have to do so while talking in the mirror Stuart Smalley-style) and then examining if I’m berating myself for having them, helps me feel a little lighter.

So the next time you’re having an off day or month, maybe ask yourself if you’re adding to your misery by bullying yourself for feeling bad. If so, perhaps it’s time to kick that inner mean girl to the curb.

Do you have any techniques that have worked for you in bearing the blues? I’d love if you shared them below.

 

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Posted in Spirit | Leave a comment

My three new fave wellness findings


wellness image - My three fave wellness findings

It’s hard to get through a day without hearing about a new health or wellness finding. Whether it’s news about another “healthy” food that’s actually bad for us or the latest study on how sitting is killing us, we’re basically inundated with health noise. But despite the often impressive credentials behind the health headlines, I’m more likely to get excited about a health hack that comes from a real person. If you’re the same way, read on for my latest fave wellness findings:

A surprising way to get glowing skin

cork and bottle - My three fave wellness findings

As alcohol can dehydrate skin, skipping the vino from time to time may help bring back your complexion’s glow.

Due to facial bruising and other complications from minor surgery on my jaw, I recently went a week without any makeup or alcohol. While I’m not a heavy drinker, I do like my wine, so it had been a while since I’d gone seven days without raising a glass of chardonnay. (The fact that it was over Christmas, added to the fun.)

While I wasn’t so happy with the bruises on my face, about five days into the week I started to notice something else. My complexion (the part that wasn’t black and blue, that is) was glowing. And this was without doing anything special to my face beyond washing it and applying my normal moisturizer with SPF. The only difference in my routine was the tee-totaling and going bare-faced.

I attribute most of the glow to skipping the vino, since alcohol is known to dehydrate skin. But I think my actual no-makeup look (as opposed to the “no-makeup” makeup look that’s been in vogue) had something to do with it as well. After all, some skin-care experts believe cosmetics slow down skin-cell turnover. And no matter how well we clean our faces, some traces of makeup stay behind.

With that in mind, if your complexion’s a little lackluster, laying off cosmetics for a few days may help skin regenerate. (And skipping the hard stuff likely won’t hurt either.)

That stuff around the middle isn’t always about being “in the middle”

My weight stayed constant for decades until a couple of years ago when I gradually started gaining weight. It was only about five pounds, but the fact that I’m short with a small build made it seem more like 10. And it was different than weight I’d gained previously, in that it seemed to be around my belly: a.k.a. the dreaded muffin top. I was still exercising regularly, so I thought it was, alas, middle-aged spread.

Women often gain belly fat at midlife because as estrogen levels decrease, body fat is redistributed from the hips, thighs and buttocks to the abdomen. This is known as visceral fat and it’s dangerous because it’s metabolically active and linked to heart disease, type-2 diabetes and breast cancer.

I’d almost come to accept a little bit of belly padding as part of this life stage. But then a month ago when I had surgery and didn’t eat much for a few days, I found myself suddenly down a few pounds. The surprising part was my belly was almost flat again.

I had to cop to the fact that the past few years, which had definitely delivered some hormonal changes, had also seen my portion sizes creep up.

I’m absolutely not advocating drastically cutting calories. But if you’re fighting the belly battle it may be worth asking yourself if you’re super-sizing it too often.

Hit the yoga mat for creativity

yoga forward bend - My three fave wellness findings

Mindful yoga poses can be as therapeutic for your brain as they are for your body.

There’s a Friday hatha yoga class at YYoga in Toronto I try to do whenever I can. Sure, it’s great for exercise, stretching and stress release, but, lately, I’ve noticed another benefit. While doing a leisurely downward dog or forward bend, I’ll often get a story idea. While it could be coincidental, research suggests that the mindful breathing involved in most yoga styles helps calm brain chatter, which in turn creates a welcoming atmosphere for creative thinking.

If you’re looking for a solution to a problem or need help making a decision, rather than wracking your brain, try striking a (yoga) pose while focusing on your breath.

That’s the scoop on my latest fave wellness findings. If you have any go-to health hacks, I’d love it if you shared them below.

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Look and feel better | Leave a comment

Major lessons from minor surgery


Operation - Major lessons from minor surgery

Christmas 2015 was memorable for me, but, alas, not for its merriment. On December 22, I had elective “minor” surgery to remove a lipoma near my right jaw. (A lipoma is a fatty deposit, basically a benign tumour, usually located between the skin and the underlying muscle.) While the lipoma wasn’t painful and not even really visible, it had grown to a diameter of two centimeters. So after monitoring it for several years with multiple ultrasounds and a biopsy, I decided to finally have it removed. Below is my experience: a.k.a. major lessons from “minor” surgery.

 A li- what?

I discovered the lipoma about 10 years ago, when I felt a doughy spot near my right jaw. My family doctor sent me for an ultrasound, with the initial suspicion it was a swollen lymph node. Numerous ultrasounds and a couple of specialists later, and the diagnosis changed to a lipoma.

I’ve since learned that these growths usually show up in middle age and can run in families. Lipomas aren’t usually cancerous, and only cause problems if they grow too large, become painful or contain multiple blood vessels. (If a new lump appears and you’re unsure of the cause, don’t self-diagnose, go to the doctor.)

Lesson 1: “Minor” surgery can have major complications

The initial surgery went off without a hitch. As the lipoma was located in a delicate area, my ear, nose and throat specialist removed it in hospital under general anesthesia. The procedure involved cutting a small flap around my right ear in order to extract the deposit.

Unfortunately, about an hour into recovery, the right side of my face started to swell. Concerned, my doctor decided to admit me and applied a very tight pressure bandage around my head. The look was a cross between a cartoon mummy and the old-school bandage treatment for toothaches. I was disheartened to be hospitalized two nights before Christmas, but my doc was confident I’d be released the next day.

Lesson 2: Beware of mixing meds even when dispensed by hospital staff

While I wasn’t in severe pain, I was nervous about that changing when the anesthesia completely wore off. So I accepted a dose of morphine offered by a nurse. And a couple of hours later when a pounding headache set in, I asked for a pain reliever and received a Tylenol 3 with codeine. Shortly after, I began vomiting severely. I don’t know if that was caused by anesthesia or being unaccustomed to taking strong meds. What I do know is the results sure weren’t pretty.

The next morning I had the beginning of a black eye, bruising along my right chin and on my neck. Plus, my right cheek had started to swell and form a small bump, which my doctor had warned earlier could mean a blood clot. I asked the day nurse about it, but she didn’t think it was a concern, and I was released.

My husband then drove me to my specialist’s office for a post-surgery checkup. Walking into the clinic with gauze encircling my head, a black eye and accelerating bruising and swelling, I wanted to be invisible. The doctor had no absolute answer why I looked the way I did. (We both now think the vomiting had torn the stitches, causing the bleeding).

He also said the bruising would continue to increase as the blood travelled around my face and down my neck. The doctor then sent me home and told me to come back at end of day when he would decide if I needed another surgery to stop the swelling.

Lesson 3: A small insight into what people who look “different” experience

As I walked out of the office, a little girl heading in had to be comforted by her mom as she stared at my bandaged and swollen face. I can now check off “scaring children” from my bucket list.

Later that day, I started to bleed through the bandage around my right ear. So it was no surprise that when I returned to the doctor’s office, he advised I’d be having emergency surgery that night.

When we got to the ER, I felt a lot of eyes on me. I can’t blame the people in the waiting room. I looked rough. But I wasn’t prepared for the looks of suspicion from some of the hospital staff. Instead of empathy, the nurse who did my initial intake asked in a confrontational tone: “What happened?!” I’m sure she thought I’d either been mugged or was a victim of domestic abuse. Although her attitude changed as soon as I advised I’d had surgery there the previous day, I wonder how many crime and abuse victims receive judgment instead of caring.

Lesson 4: I’m both stronger and more vulnerable than I thought

At 11:30 p.m. I was finally rolled into the operating room. Due to the bad reaction I’d had after the first surgery, this second operation was done under a local. (I was numb but completely awake, and let’s just say it wasn’t pleasant.)

Thankfully, that surgery went well, and was finished about 1 a.m. on Christmas Eve. I had my stitches removed the week before last, and now have only a still-healing scar around my ear, a small bruise under my right eye and the last remnants of a large bruise on my lower chest.

The fact I didn’t do very well after the first surgery left me feeling vulnerable. I’m accustomed to being fit and active. And I was also used to being a caregiver for my late mother, so it was odd to be dependent for several days on my husband. On the other hand, having his support, as well as concern from family and friends, gave me a profound feeling of gratitude and strength. I’m also convinced that my healthy lifestyle and fitness helped me heal quickly. The experience also magnified my empathy for people going through really serious health issues, considering how traumatic this “minor” procedure turned out to be.

We had to postpone the family dinner we had planned for the 25th. But I guess these major lessons from minor surgery were memorable Christmas “gifts.” Although next year I think I’d prefer jewellery.

 

 

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Is this dark-spot corrector spot-on?


 

Speckled Pear - Is this dark-spot corrector spot-on?

Like many women in the middle, and as detailed here, I’m well-acquainted with the beauty bane of hyperpigmentation.  While definitely filed under “first-world problem,” it still annoys. Whether showing up as dark spots (either from sun damage, acne or simple aging) or the patchiness of melasma (often related to hormonal changes from pregnancy or birth control), this skin condition resists treatment and frequently returns.  But since my stubbornness almost matches hyperpigmentation’s, I’ve tried numerous brightening products in pursuit of one that will permanently evict this unwanted complexion guest. The latest one is SkinCeuticals Advanced Pigment Corrector. Read on to see whether this dark-spot corrector is “spot” on:

Out, damned spot!

After hearing for years about the efficacy of the skin-care line SkinCeuticals, I decided to try its Advanced Pigment Corrector. In truth, I was about to buy the line’s cult antioxidant, CE Ferulic (acclaimed as a gold-standard UV defence), but after telling a sales associate at a Bluemercury skin-care boutique in Manhattan that my main skin concern was hyperpigmentation, she pointed me toward this corrector. (Note: If you’re unsure what’s causing pigmentation changes in your skin, check with a doctor.)

The formula

SkinCeuticals Advanced Pigment Corrector - Is this dark-spot corrector spot-on?

SkinCeuticals Advanced Pigment Corrector is formulated to exfoliate dark spots and prevent their recurrence.

The dark-spot corrector battles hyperpigmentation on a few fronts. Salicylic acid exfoliates dark spots and hydroxyphenoxy propionic acid inhibits melanin. Ellagic acid fights free radicals. But what sets SkinCeuticals Advanced Pigment Corrector apart from other dark-spot correctors is yeast extract, which strengthens dermal layers to prevent the recurrence of discolouration.

Pros

There’s little ick factor. It’s a lightweight lotion with minimal fragrance that absorbs quickly. Plus, it’s paraben- and hydroquinine-free, and suitable for all skin tones. And it’s easy to use, requiring only a small application morning and night. After 12 weeks, my skin seems slightly pinker and more radiant. And one noticeably dark spot on my cheek has lightened.

Cons

At $90 US for 30 ml, the price is a little rich. And while my skin appears a little more luminous and sun spots somewhat lighter, it’s a subtle improvement so far. But in fairness, SkinCeuticals’ literature cites improvements after 12 weeks. And while I’ve been using the corrector that long, my regimen has been interrupted by travel and a short hospital stay.

Additionally, this dark-spot corrector contains alcohol, which may be irritating to some skin types.

Should you buy this dark-spot corrector?

The most effective approach I’ve tried so far for hyperpigmention was a series of seven IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) sessions, plus a couple of peels and microdermabrasion facials done in a medical spa. While it worked great, some discolouration returned along with new sun spots, even with vigilant daily sunscreen.

Compared to those results, the effect of SkinCeuticals Advanced Pigment Corrector is less dramatic. However, if you’re looking for a non-irritating product to provide a slight brightening effect, and the price isn’t a deterrent, this may be for you.

Whatever treatment route you take, remember, sunscreen is the most essential dark-spot corrector (and preventer). But keep in mind that skin produces more pigment as we age, even without sun exposure. Until the beauty industry figures out how to stop that, I guess, like the leopard, we should accept it’s hard to change our spots.

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A yoga pose for what ails you


Legs-up-the-wall - A yoga pose for what ails you

To say I’m not a big fan of winter is a bit of an understatement. First, there’s, well, the frigid air. Need I say more? But to me, the hardest part of this time of year is that it marks the beginning of fighting off colds for the next six months. So, I was more than intrigued when Mark, my Hatha instructor at YYoga Harbourfront, recently touted the immune-boosting powers of legs-up-the-wall pose. Check out this yoga pose for what ails you:

The pose

Legs-up-the-wall (Sanskrit name: Viparita Karani) is a yoga pose that doesn’t feel like a pose at all. Just as it is described, this asana involves lying on the floor with your legs up a wall.

The easiest way to get into the posture is to sit sideways to a wall, placing your bum as close to the wall as possible. Then move your legs straight up the wall and lie down. You can lie on either a yoga mat or a blanket. Stretch your arms out to the side, with palms up. Breathe deeply and slowly from your belly. Start with a few minutes in the pose and work up to 15 minutes.

A variation is to do it away from the wall with your hips and buttocks supported on a bolster while your legs are in the air. (Check out these other options from Yoga Journal.)

The benefits

In addition to fighting colds, the attributed benefits include helping with anxiety, menopause symptoms, digestive problems, arthritis, headaches, insomnia, varicose veins, high and low blood pressure, and the list goes on. (While it’s likely not all of these gains have been scientifically proven, my thinking is if it’s not dangerous, why not try it?)

How does this yoga pose for what ails you work?

Inverting your legs allows the blood to drain out of them, helping with circulation, swelling and tiredness. Inversions also stimulate lymphatic drainage, which improves the efficiency of the immune system, and opening your chest facilitates breathing to help with colds. And the deep breathing helps induce a relaxed state.

Caveats

As with any exercise, check with your doctor before doing legs-up-the-wall pose. And, a big caution: this posture is not advised for those with glaucoma or other eye issues, head or neck problems, hernias or during menstruation.

So the next time you have a few moments at home to spare, consider putting your legs up the wall. While it’s best to do it meditatively, if the only time you can carve out is while watching The Blacklist, go for it. And who knows, it may just be the yoga pose for what ails you. (At the least, it will give you an excuse to lie down.)

Have you tried legs-up-the-wall pose? If so, I’d love to hear how it’s worked for you.

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4 morning musts after a rough night


Despite leading a generally healthy lifestyle, you may still have those mornings where you feel a little worse for wear. I know I do. Whether it’s due to fitful sleep, or over-indulging in pasta or pinot grigio, the results often aren’t pretty. (I remember Oprah on her show talking about being tired after a trip, saying something to the effect that she woke up in Chicago but her face was still in Cleveland…) And, alas, as decades accumulate, the toll of a rough night gets etched deeper on our faces and well-being. Luckily, there are easy remedies that can help you get through the day after the night before. Here are four morning musts I turn to when I should have turned in a little earlier:

Morning must #1: Drink warm water and lemon

lemon - 4 morning musts after a rough night

When life gives you lemons, drink lemon water! The tonic gives you a dose of vitamin C, supports the liver and can also help with regularity.

When you wake up tired, the first thing you may want to reach for is a cup of joe. Which you can do. But first try a glass of room-temperature water with half a fresh lemon squeezed into it. Why? Besides being soothing, this citrus cocktail is full of other benefits. It hydrates, offers a dose of vitamin C, and helps detox your liver and stimulate digestion. In other words, it’s a great tonic against that morning-after feeling.

Morning must #2: Soothe bleary eyes with lubricating drops

eye drops - 4 morning musts after a rough night

When your eyes are tired, reach for lubricating drops, rather than ones that address redness, which can damage your eyes if used frequently.

Eyes may be the windows to the soul, but my peepers usually betray how well (or not) I’ve been treating myself. So, on the morning after a bad sleep, I can count on red, irritated eyes. The fact that I have dry eyes and allergies (two main causes of redness) doesn’t help.

But I’ve been warned by both optometrists and ophthalmologists against using redness-relieving eye drops.  While these products work by temporarily constricting blood vessels, after several hours the eyes dilate again. This results in rebound redness when drops are used too frequently. These products can also damage blood vessels in the eye.

The alternative? I’ve been using Blink Tears Lubricating Eye Drops for several years, after an optometrist recommended them. While it doesn’t whiten eyes, Blink works by replenishing tear film when you blink and has been clinically proven to improve tear-film stability. Also, by lubricating dry eyes, Blink helps them feel and look better. In addition, I find them great at refreshing my eyes after hours on the computer.

While Blink is available over-the-counter, first check with your eye doctor to see if it’s suitable for you.

Morning must #3: Apply an illuminating product or highlighter under eyes

Clinique Up-lighting - 4 morning musts after a rough night

Waking up to dark circles? Give the under-eye area a lift by applying an illuminating or highlighting product over concealer.

Eye cream and concealer are essential beauty tools every day. But on rough mornings, they are elevated to miracle workers.

To give the area under your eye even more help when you look less than refreshed, try an illuminating product. Illuminators and highlighters help add a fresh glow to the skin. Some cosmetics experts define illuminators as products that add a subtle shine, while highlighters, which contain more mica particles to reflect light, are for brightening and sculpting features you want to stand out. But I’ve found both can brighten the under-eye area.

In addition to that shared trait, both can come in liquid, cream and powder form. For the delicate under-eye area, I recommend a liquid or cream. After you’ve applied concealer, dab on a small amount of illuminator or highlighter in an upside triangle shape under the eyes. Make sure to blend well to avoid looking too shiny.

As for product reco’s, I loved Jemma Kid Makeup School Dewy Glow All Over Radiance Creme, but the line has, alas, gone bankrupt. I’ve also tried, and liked, Benefit Watt’s Up! Highlighter and Clinique Up-lighting Liquid Illuminator. Before purchasing, do the beauty-counter rounds or visit Sephora to get the right product and shade for you.

Morning must #4: Lift your mood with a calming app

Keep Calm - 4 morning musts after a rough night

Feeling a little frazzled after a bad night’s sleep? Try one of the free relaxation apps available, with meditations as short as two minutes.

Perhaps the worst part of a rough morning is the dreary mood it can set for the rest of the day. To nip it in the bud, you have to be proactive about adjusting your mindset. How? While meditation is ideal, who has time to sit for 15 to 20 minutes in the a.m.?

Luckily, there’s an app for that. In fact, there are many, offering relaxation techniques from meditation to breathing exercises to acupressure and more.

Calm, an app available on iPhone and Android, with a free introductory program, offers guided meditations as short as two minutes. Take a Break!, another free app, features a seven-minute meditation with a choice of music or nature sounds.

I hope these four morning musts will help you the next time you get out of the wrong side of the bed. Do you have a reliable remedy for rough mornings? If so, please share below.

 

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Rounded-shoulder remedy


woman back - Rounded-shoulder remedyI’ve had bad posture as long as I can remember. My first memory of it being an issue was during a doctor’s appointment when I was 11 or 12. As I sat on the exam table, my family doc told me to be proud and sit up straight. I realized he thought I was slouching to conceal my (mostly nonexistent) budding chest. Beyond the ewww factor, it only made me want to slouch more. Fast forward more years than I care to acknowledge and I’m still fighting the slouch. Decades of quality time over the computer haven’t helped my slightly rounded shoulders. Fortunately, I’ve been doing yoga for more than a decade, which has helped me be more conscious of posture. And while good posture is still a work in progress for me, this rounded-shoulder remedy has been a huge help. If you also feel like you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, read on:

Roots of the rounding

I’m not sure what caused my slouch. The ridiculously heavy backpack I wore to and from school for years? The trauma to my spine from falling off monkey bars flat on my back? The countless hours huddled over a desk at work? Yes, yes, yes and probably a combo of many other spinal sins.

Whatever the main culprit, I want to stop the slouch before it gets worse. Beyond being unflattering, rounded shoulders can also lead to neck and shoulder pain. Plus, I worry about developing the bent-over posture that can afflict people with osteoporosis. (The thinning-bone disorder that’s estimated to cause osteoporotic fractures in one in three women over age 50 worldwide runs in my family: My mom and her mother both had it, as do an aunt and one of my older sisters.) Also called dowager’s hump, stooped posture is caused by compression fractures in weakened vertebrae.

Rounded-shoulder remedy: supported heart opener

Heart opener on blocks - Rounded-shoulder remedy

In addition to being a rounded-shoulder remedy, the supported heart opener helps release the back and boosts mood.

While getting sufficient calcium and vitamin D along with weight-bearing exercise are key to preventing osteoporosis, yoga can be very helpful for rounded shoulders. Over the years, I’ve tried several poses focused on opening the shoulders. One yoga teacher even advised me to roll my back on a couple of tennis balls daily. She told me that it would feel like a massage. Sure, if the massage was being done by a torture specialist…

Which brings me to the rounded-shoulder remedy that’s worked best for me. Called supported heart opener, it requires two yoga blocks and an optional bolster. (If you have neck or back issues, consult with your doctor before trying.) Place one block at its medium height near the top of your mat, and parallel to the mat width. Place the second block about a foot below the first one in the centre of mat, at its lowest height and parallel to the mat length. The two blocks should form a “T.”  Lie down and adjust so the second block is under your shoulder blades.  Your legs can be straight out in front of you, bent at the knee with feet flat on the mat or spread so they form a diamond shape with soles touching. It may take a few attempts to get the perfect spot. Stay in the position for two to three minutes. If you feel any pain, adjust immediately.

For an even more restorative position, place a bolster lengthwise over the two blocks. As you progress, you may want to switch the block under your head to its top height and the one under your shoulder blades to its medium height.

I love the way the pose opens my shoulders while I’m on the mat. But, perhaps even more beneficial, is that it makes me more conscious of where my shoulders are when I’m out of yoga class.

My hope is that this rounded-shoulder remedy works for you, too.

Do you have any favourite exercises that have improved your posture? I’d love to hear about them below.

 

 

 

 

 

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