Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Yoga: Good for the Soul AND the Skin?

Recently, while I was at a wedding, a random dude from India came up and told me I had nice skin...and from this, he could tell I did yoga. Naturally, I assumed this was a bad pickup line/he was a creepy stalker/this was yet another brush with crazy. Although the fact that he was from India, and India being the birthplace of yoga and all, did make me pause to wonder if maybe he had some inside track of knowledge.

Turns out, he did. According to an article in Marie Claire by Sarah Z. Wexler, in addition to all the bad stuff that we know stress is linked to, like lower immunity and higher blood pressure yadda, yadda, yadda, stress might also be causing you skin woes.

The article recommends some different products for various problem, as well as dietary adjustments guessed Check it out! And if the link isn't working, find it pasted below.

Is Your Skin Stressing You Out?

The bad news: Your anxiety over aging could be causing wrinkles, zits, and blotchy spots. The good news: You can - and must - relax.

By Sarah Z. Wexler
The yoga class I'd signed up for to unwind was doing just the trick--that is, until the instructor stopped in front of me during corpse pose and told me to relax. "Try to cut the imaginary string that's furrowing your brows together," she whispered. "You're getting a stress wrinkle." Stress wrinkle? I wanted to tell this guru to namaste out of my business, but I had a hunch she was right. It doesn't take a genius to realize that the kind of stress that drives us to yoga class--or a third Diet Coke or checking our e-mail from bed--isn't good for our skin, but it may be more serious than we realize. "There are very few skin conditions that stress doesn't exacerbate: among them dryness, acne, rosacea, eczema, sensitivity, redness, and wrinkles," says Boston dermatologist Dr. Ranella Hirsch. It may even play a role in the development of skin cancer, as suggested by a 2005 National Cancer Institute study in which stressed-out mice (who moved my cheese?!) were less immune to the effects of UV light and so developed skin cancer more rapidly than their nonstressed peers. If that isn't stressful enough to consider, know that "in extreme cases, stress can even mess with your hormones enough to cause villous hair growth," aka a layer of facial peach fuzz, according to New York City dermatologist Dr. Patricia Wexler.


The way stress affects your skin is that when you're tense, your brain releases cortisol, a stress hormone, into your bloodstream. That tells oil glands to ramp up production, leading to breakouts. Stress also dilates blood vessels, which causes redness and aggravates rosacea. Another side effect is skin becomes dehydrated, sensitive, and more susceptible to damage. Besides causing lines from furrowing your brow, stress also makes you look markedly older. We already lose 1 percent of our skin's collagen supply every year after we hit age 20, but stress can accelerate that. "Younger women are coming into my office with wrinkles and older ones are still fighting acne. These issues are caused in large part because patients are more stressed out than they were even five years ago," says California dermatologist Dr. Howard Murad. Some triggers are relationships, money, work, and family, according to Hirsch, but Murad also sees a rise in "cultural stress--the feeling that women expect perfection from themselves in all areas at all times. We all know that stress is unhealthy for your heart and brain, but it's just as bad for your skin." Repairing it works best with a dual-pronged approach that incorporates internal and external fixes.


Since stress marks everyone's skin differently, the first step is to take note of how your face reacts during the two weeks surrounding a high-stakes work presentation or a fight with your sister.
For those whose skin reacts with greasiness and breakouts, the key is exfoliating to unclog pores that can harbor bacteria. "Instead of a gritty scrub exfoliant, which can cause further redness, use a product with lactic acid, which hydrates as it removes dead skin cells," says Baltimore dermatologist Dr. Noëlle Sherber. "Then follow with an oil-absorbing kaolin clay mask." (The Kinara Red Carpet Facial Kit includes both steps.) Spot treat blemishes with a salicylic acid gel. But if your acne comes with sensitivity and patches of dryness, the standard over-the-counter routine won't benefit you as much as a trip to the derm's office. In those cases, Wexler recommends Isolaz, an acne-fighting light therapy, with a salicylic acid infusion to brighten skin and clear acne. Another in-office treatment is an antioxidant-rich glycolic acid peel, such as Vivité, paired with blue-light treatment. "The light waves kill acne-promoting bacteria underneath the skin without causing dryness or irritation," says Sherber.
If your skin goes to the other extreme with dryness, flaking, peeling, redness, sensitivity, rosacea, or eczema, you're not alone: A study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that when women experience psychological stress, their skin becomes more easily dehydrated, even leading to eczema. Try products with ceramides and hyaluronic acid. "They absorb water and surround each dead skin cell with lipids, making the cell more able to hang on to water," says Murad. For daytime, use SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Gel with hyaluronic acid or Clinique Redness Solution Daily Relief Cream, which contains caffeine and glycine to reduce redness and inflammation. For evening, treat with CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM, since it has both hydrat-ing acid and ceramides. Another temporary skin soother is "a nightly 20-minute bath--that's not superhot!--before you apply a moisturizer," says Sherber. "For patients with stress-related dryness, it hydrates the skin and also builds in time to unwind." For your body, swap your traditional cream for one of Darphin's Aromatic Care Oils; they moisturize just as well, plus offer relaxing aromatherapy benefits.
For lines, sallow skin, and other visible signs of aging, you want to help skin fight back against free radicals and environmental damage with antioxidants. Murad's favorites are products that contain pomegranate extract and vitamin C, like his Essential-C Daily Renewal Complex. The next step up is a chemical peel to reveal your newer, younger skin below. Or check in with your doctor to bring in the big guns: fractionated laser treatment to brighten dull, wrinkled skin and up collagen production. Sunscreen is even more important than usual, since when you're stressed, "the dead cell layer on the skin's surface becomes thin, with microscopic holes in it," which can't protect as well against aging UV rays, says Murad.

Marcus Ohlsson/


Sure, topical treatments can offer temporary benefits, but you can slather on as much retinol as you want and still create a forehead crevasse if tension keeps your heart rate on par with that of a neurotic hummingbird. Experts agree that some of the most effective long-term ways to improve your skin are to chill out and to drink more water, though they offer a variety of methods for finding your Zen place.
"It's very easy for me to tell a patient to reduce her stress, but it's not so easy for her to go home and do that," says Hirsch. "The most critical step is realizing what your stress triggers are and then creating a plan for dealing with them. That could mean setting specific times twice a day to check your e-mail inbox, taking a weeklong Twitter holiday, or outsourcing what projects you can. It is really helpful to set limited, achievable goals so you don't always feel like you're falling behind. You may not clean all the closets in your house, but maybe you can organize your sweaters for winter."
Crazy-high expectations for yourself and being obsessed with perfection are a recipe for stress that many people handle with a bag of chips or a brownie. No, chocolate doesn't cause acne, but "processed foods can worsen skin by causing inflammation," says Murad. Instead, reach for snacks that can actually improve your complexion, like raw fruits and vegetables, thanks to their antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits. (The fact that they'll keep you in your current jeans size is a double bonus.) "If you have redness, stay away from spicy food and shellfish, since they can cause blood vessels to flare," says Wexler. A good bet is whole-grain crackers or pasta. "To encourage collagen production, I eat whole grains plus foods rich in amino acids, like eggs, beans, and seeds. Eating cold-water fish and almonds, which contain omega-3's, will help dry skin," says Murad.
Murad also recommends ways to reduce stressed-out skin that are more touchy-feely--literally. "Hands-on therapies like Reiki, craniosacral bodywork, and even hugging a friend help. I actually refer my patients to get massages," he says. Other experts recommend visual imagery of your "happy place," behavioral modifications like tensing and then relaxing each area of your body one by one, and doing yoga--so long as you get a teacher who doesn't point out your wrinkles.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

American Anxiety and How Yoga Can Help

There is a great article, American Anxiety: Why we're such a nervous nation on Today. com this week. And by "great," I mean important and yes, somewhat anxiety-inducing in and of itself.

As the article detailed how anxiety has become a problem for many of us, how our thoughts race, our hearts pound, blood pressure sky rockets, and we lay awake plagued by insomnia and worries, I felt my own pulse pick up and thoughts start to race--ironically getting anxious about my anxiety.

Anxiety about anxiety? Surely, that is a level-two problem. And by "level two," I obviously mean, "crazy person problem."

Oh well, according to the article, I'd be in good company.

Here's the thing though: when I'm not reading anxiety-inducing articles about anxiety, I'm actually fairly calm. Or at least calmer than I used to be, which was a high blood-pressure insomniac with a racing heart. But over the years, I've used wine, more wine, gallons of wine yoga as a tool to lower my anxiety and its many unpleasant side effects.

Here's how you can too.

  1. Got an extra hour a day (and no injuries)? (If injured, proceed directly to #3)
    Take a yoga class. One with lots of core work will help burn off that agida.
  2. Are you LOL at the idea of having an extra hour? No problem. Got 15 minutes?
    Do five rounds of sun salutations as follows:
    • Stand with your big toes together (or hip-width apart) and heels slightly wider. Take a deep, slow inhale and sweep your arms up slowly. Exhale slowly, drawing your palms to your heart. Set an intention for yourself. Maybe it's "Ground myself." Take a deep breath in. On the exhale, engage your core and slooooowly fold at the hips, bringing the hands toward the floor. Bend your knees to get there. Inhale half-way up to a long spine, pressing the palms against the shins. Sloooooowly exhale out, bending the knees and bringing the palms back down to the floor.
    • Inhale and step the right foot back to a low lunge. Exhale slooooowly. stay here.
    • On the next inhale, lift the left foot and then hold here in a "knee hanging" high plank for 3 cycles of breath. Lift the navel to the spine for extra core work. Breathe slooooowly and deeply, extending the exhale.
    • After three cycles, step back to high plank on your exhale. Keep the elbows slightly bent.
    • Next inhale draw the right knee to the right elbow, exhale slowly return to high plank. Inhale and draw the left knee to the left elbow, exhale and step back. SLOWLY repeat on both sides.
    • Are your arms shaking? Oh good--it's working.
    • Inhale and draw the knees down to the floor (or stay on your toes in your name is Clark Kent or you're freakishly strong). Inhale and drop the chest only to elbow-height. Stay here, with the hips high, for 3 cycles of slow, steady breath. Keep extending the exhale.
    • On your next inhale, breathe through to an upward-facing dog. Take a cycle of breath here. Release the shoulders down, away from the ears. Release any tension they're holding.
    • Tuck the toes under and with strong core engagement, lift the hips first up and then back to downward facing dog or child's pose. Stay here for 5 breaths.
    • Inhale, walk the palms back to the toes. Stay here for a breath. Then roll slowly back up to standing.
    Repeat this 4 times.

    Next, sit down (on the floor, on your desk chair, anywhere). Close your eyes and breathe 5 cycles of extended exhale breathing. Return to your intention. Open the eyes. You're done!
  3. Got 1-5 minutes?
    1. Do one sun salutation (above) OR
    2. Sit. Think of what's stressing you out and take a deep breath. Exhale (extending it longer than your inhale) and flick your hands as though you're trying to get something off of them (you are--the stress!). Also know as the "there's no paper towels in the restroom flick." Repeat 3-5 times. Now, settle into extended exhale breathing with the eyes closed, concentrating on your new-found wellness.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Punctuationasana: A Guest Post by Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares

Confession time: Guys, I'm super excited today. No, not about tomatoes (although they ARE exciting), or gardening, or my latest brush with crazy. No, today I'm excited because I'm featuring my very first guest post! Yay! {confetti}

Self-proclaimed grammar nerd, yogini, author, blogster, and all-around hilarious gal about town Jenny Baranick is sharing her thoughts on Punctuationasana. Read on to learn how yoga and punctuation intersect in ways you've never even imagined, then check out her blog, laugh your asana off, and then waste absolutely no time in logging onto amazon and ordering her book

I've already ordered my copy because Krishna knows I don't want any unplanned or unwanted grammar mistakes (and neither should you, so get ordering!). And full disclosure, I've never actually met Jenny and no, she's not slipping me commissions (she has to save every penny towards her dream pad, the 50 Shades of Grey Apartment, after all). I stumbled across Jenny's blog a while back and am genuinely excited for her book and the chance to support a fellow up and coming author.


I tend to subscribe to the “live and let live” philosophy—except when it comes to yoga. I am super annoying because I try to push yoga on everyone. However cliché this sounds, yoga has enhanced my life in every imaginable way—physically, mentally, and spiritually—so, sue me:  I think the world would be a better place if everyone had healthy lower backs, a calm mind, and a generous spirit. 

For a while there, I thought yoga teaching was my calling. I took a teacher training course, and I did even teach it for a while. But around the same time I began teaching, I fell in love with writing, and I felt that I had to choose because both yoga and writing would be full-time disciplines. So I chose to pursue writing as a career and take yoga classes instead of teaching it.

My first writing endeavor is the recently released grammar book Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares.  (I’m also an English teacher.) And here’s what I realized: grammar and yoga actually have a lot in common—ending punctuation in particular.

For example, Child’s Pose (Balasana) looks kind of like a period, doesn’t it? 

And like a period provides a nice long pause between sentences, we often come into Balasana when we need a nice long break between poses. 

If you use your imagination a bit, Chair Pose (Utkatasana) looks kind of like a question mark: 

And perhaps it’s no coincidence that when I am in Utkatasana I find myself asking this question: Why am I in this pose that is burning my thighs when I could be home on the couch?

And Head Stand (Sirsasana) looks like an exclamation point:            

And when I am in Sirsasana, I often feel like exclaiming, “Hey, Mom! Look at me! I’m upside down!”

Who knew yoga could be so nerdy! Or that punctuation could be so spiritual!

About the Author

Jenny Baranick teaches English composition, critical thinking, and a remedial English class called Writing Skills at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. Consistently shocked at the poor grammar of her students, in January 2010, Jenny started her popular Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares blog.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Caprese Salad: Simple, Classic, Delightful...and Fresh from the Garden!

The garden bounty continues and this week the featured delights are tomatoes and basil...which means it's time for homemade Caprese Salad.

Simple, easy, classic and utterly delicious. Chop some tomatoes and fresh mozzerella, slice some basil, and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, a dash of vinegar (I'm into white balsamic right now), sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. #amazing!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Love in the Time of Yoga

OK so ever since Super-Fit Dude showed up in my class for the first time a few months ago, I've thought he might be a good match for Super Cute Girl (SCG). SCG had mentioned at one point that she was single and would be thrilled to be matched to a great guy. Naturally, I called her over under the guise of introducing a regular student, "should he have any questions about the class or me as a teacher," (like, for instance, exactly how awesome I am?)

I saw sparks in that way that you know for sure two people have a connection and fanned them whenever I got a chance in overt, embarrassing, annoying subtle, secret ways handed down from the ancient yoga sages.

Cut to last night, I noticed Super-Fit Dude reaching over and drinking out of Super Cute Girl's eco-friendly water bottle.

Hmmm. Now, I know I'm a germ-phobe, but I'm pretty sure that that is not standard fellow-student behavior. (If someone ever drank out of my bottle, it would yoga ass-kicking time.)

Well, today I got an (unsolicited) confession: they're totally dating! Yoga love is in bloom in one of my classes. Yay!

Most importantly, they've already worked out a dating pre-nup. If things don't work out, she gets custody of me/my class. Love it!