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Winter solstice is a good time to look inward and reflect on the past year as well as prepare for the seasons to come. It is the shortest day of the year and the longest night allowing one to enter a powerful dream/wake state.

I grew up with the Persian New Year (Nou Ruz) as the first day of spring which made a lot of sense to me, but I’m learning to appreciate the mystical power of the winter new year rooted in ancient traditions that span different cultures including that of the Zoroastrians who celebrated Shab-e-Yalda, the longest night of the year. Marking the dialectical forces of good and evil, light and dark, it was important to remain vigilant all night so that sunrise could be greeted with the triumph of optimism.

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Shab-e-Yalda table courtesy of Isabel’s Beauty Authority Blog

The modern tradition of Shab-e-Yalda includes gathering around the “korsi”, a low table covered with blankets where a charcoal brazier underneath provides warmth. Dried fruits and nuts are served along with pomegranates and watermelon, a summer fruit that has been kept in cold storage, (“sard khooneh”, literally cold house or root cellar), until this night. Candles remain lit and poetry is recited all night until sunrise.

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Persians have a close cultural connection to poetry. Children memorize poems at a young age. My father can carry on whole conversations with his friends by quoting poems embedded in deep mysticism that transcends religion. It’s more like a meditation than anything else.

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Jan Davidsz de Heem 1662

I recently rekindled my meditation practice which began when I was 14 years old. My art teacher, Jeanne Morris, a young painter who lived on campus with her husband, a graduate student, recommended I learn how to meditate to help me focus. I attended the lectures at the Tehran American Cultural center which culminated in a private audience with a Guru who very well may have been the Maharishi of Beetles fame. I remember sitting with him in a quiet dark room after having offered a gift of fruit and flowers. He sat for a while and then transmitted a mantra to me. He explained this was a sound unique to my vibration that should not be shared with anyone else. He then explained the mechanics of how to use the mantra and we meditated together for 16 minutes.

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Entrance to The Community School, Tehran, Iran courtesy csreunion.com

After I received my mantra I would sit with Jeanne during free period and we would meditate. She was unique and unconventional in that way. She also had long black hair, wore long black dresses and rimmed her green eyes with “sormeh”, Persian kohl. I never considered myself a particularly talented art student, but I think she recognized the importance creativity would have in my life. It did not matter how it would manifest itself, just that it would be nurtured.

In the many years that have followed, I have turned to meditation to calm myself (when flying in airplanes) or during yoga or while walking, but I’ve always had trouble practicing regularly…until recently. To say I had a breakthrough would be an understatement. It’s more like a revolution causing all the pieces to fall into place. It probably would not have happened without the evolution that took place over the years. The tipping point was actually quite simple, having to do with transition.

All this time I thought I just had to sit still, focus on my third eye and repeat my mantra with my breath. What I never realized was that a deep meditative stage could not be reached without some form of conscious transition. It actually makes a lot of sense because any type of meditation removes one from the outside world to to an inner state of being. I could never get there because I didn’t know how to make the transition.

The following are a series of notes I wrote after my breakthrough. They are various breathing exercises that can help one transition into a meditative state. They have not been edited in an effort to retain their immediacy. I hope they help others achieve similar breakthroughs with their inner journey.

Transition from outside world to inner state of being.

Place the body.

Still the body.

Draw energy from the outside into body through extremities/astral body to the inner core of being, the breath/heart area.

Breathing exercises as a way to transition into a meditative state:

1. The World is a Part of Me/I Am a Part of the World

-Breathe in and say inwardly “the world is a part of me”, as one is indeed drawing the world into the body with each breath.

-Breathe out and say inwardly “I am a part of the world”, as with every exhalation the body is being put forth into the world.

2.  Recognize the shifting point of each breath from in/out as a conscious pause.

-Breathe in steadily and hold the breath for the same number of counts/heartbeats.

-Breathe out steadily and hold the breath for the same number of counts/heartbeats.

3.  Belly Breathing UP/DOWN

-Up by pulling breath in/up to crown chakra. Pause.

-Down by pushing breath out/down to base of seat chakra. Pause.

-Down by pulling breath in/down to base of seat chakra. Pause.

-Up by pushing breath out/up to crown chakra. Pause.

4.  Belly Breathing IN/OUT

-In by pulling navel into spine. Pause.

-Out by pushing navel out. Pause.

-Out by pushing navel into spine. Pause.

-In by pushing navel out. Pause.

5.  Breath as HORIZONTAL WAVE

-Imagine breathing to be the waves of the ocean and a continuous rhythm.

6. Belly Breath as CIRCULAR WAVE

-Using belly to push and pull breath in a circular wave alternating outward/inward rotations. Continuous in/out breath focusing on there being no pause between in and out.

7.  STILL Breath

-Breathe as still as possible so that there is no perception between in breath and out breath.

Meditative state is when all senses are suspended and one is pure spirit. Allow body to remain in suspension of time. Without will or resistance. Just being. The body will tell you when it is ready to return to conscious space.

Return back to conscious space and re-occupy the body. Bring consciousness back to the breath. Radiate consciousness back out from inner core of being, breath/heart to extremities. Radiate body energy back out into space.

Awareness of what it is like to re-occupy the body and the difference in feeling of one’s astral container. Body is a container of energy that can simultaneously draw in and radiate out. Meditation helps achieve balance of energy exchange.

Winter Solstice is an in breath, the breath of anxiety and holding in. Summer Solstice is the outbreath, the breath of release and joy. Midpoints between the in breath and out breath are the Equinoxes.

Advent is the period of preparation for the darkest day of the year where we celebrate to off set our collective anxiety regarding the return of light in our lives.

Please share thoughts. It would be great to learn what others have experienced. Happy Winter Solstice!

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Reposting the short article I wrote for MindBodyGreen:

http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-26509/3-unusual-natural-perfume-ingredients-youve-never-heard-of.html

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Event Report: NY IBE

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Reposting the event report for the New York Indie Beauty Expo I covered for Cafleurebon with Michelyn Camen. Fun!

Event Report: New York Indie Beauty Expo August 25, 2016 + Best of Show Beauty & Perfume #weareindie Draw

img_2210My garden has been my productive ally for almost 12 years, nourishing my family and providing many of the plants needed to create extractions for my Lalun products.img_1037 In addition, I have wildcrafted for many years because I believe wild plants are inherently stronger due to natural selection. They tend to be natives of a particular region or climate and define the context within which we live. It makes sense to partake of something just within reach. We reduce our carbon footprint when we incorporate locally grown plants into our lives and wild plants are uniquely connected to the seasons. Unlike their cultivated counterparts, they cannot be harvested unless they are in season. This encourages us to be more in touch with the cycles of the year.

img_0550My garden has always been organic. I learned about biodynamics after my daughter attended a Waldorf school, participating in stirs and applying the preps. I turned my garden into a closed system where composting was key. Since I had also been working with wild plants, it occurred to me that I could combine the two. So I stopped pruning, removing leaf detritus, fertilizing, weeding and watered only minimally. I called my gardening method “wildgrowing” and proceeded to welcome volunteers, propagate native wild plants from seed or cuttings, allowing leaf detritus to mulch and fertilize, img_1455watering intermittently and not pruning. The idea was to simulate how plants would grow in the wild while maintaining the closed system of a biodynamic garden.

By not pruning, my plants would go through their entire growth cycle. Blossoming rosemary suddenly attracted bees by the dozen.img_1032 Winter rose hips were harvested to make healing oxymels and skincare extracts.img_0601 Plants would reseed. By not sweeping away dead leaves and detritus, mulch resulted that would help retain moisture in the soil and provide nutrients once the leaves had broken down. If you got down and peered under those dead leaves, you would find the earth teeming with life. Allowing the weeds to grow meant I could welcome new plants into the mix. It was fun guessing what would sprout up next.

Once I began wildgrowing my garden, many of the non-native plants died, so I replaced them with propagated cuttings of plants I encountered on hiking trails in the nearby hills.img_0293 I had been wildcrafting many of those plants, but as the summers got hotter and more intense, I began to question the soundness of wildcrafting in such a sensitive environment. The first wild plant to inhabit my garden was Artemisia californica or cowboy cologneimg_1536 and it grew well for a while. Next I added mugwortimg_3076 followed by rose geranium, horehound,img_1735 wild mint,img_1542 white sage,img_1537 black sageimg_1538 and wild fennel.img_2443 I have also had volunteers like winter jasmine,

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cilantro,img_0166 chamomileimg_0508 and wild carrot.img_1540 Of course there’s plantain and dandelion which grow all over the world. Everyone’s a bit scruffy as I work out my method, but my garden has become a slice of nature in the city.

Wildgrowing means I can harvest plants without disrupting the cycle of growth in the wild. This is especially important in a sensitive ecosystem like the LA basin. Sustainable wildcrafting works if the environment can support it, like the Hudson Valley where I spend a month each summer. But if everybody decides to wildcraft in a sensitive ecosystem, havoc will eventually be wreaked. Instead of harvesting plants in the wild, only seeds or cuttings can be taken. These are also living mementos that connect us to our landscape. When I rub a black sage leaf between my fingers I am reminded of the steep trail overlooking Altadena where I obtained the cutting that eventually grew into the plant in my garden.img_0297

The most beautiful and complex gardens are the ones found in nature. It sounds trite but true. The way plants arrange themselves, their spacing, canopy height, location within the terrain and seasonal variation are contingent upon complex factors that elude our ability to design in the same manner. The only explanation for this kind of sublime arrangement is plant intelligence. If we wish to understand this order, perhaps we’d need to think like wild plants.IMG_1136.JPG

Cultivation, on the other hand, has been in existence for about 10,000 years. Prior to that, humans lived amongst wild plants, adhering to their rules. We probably had a very good understanding of how the plant world functioned as it nurtured us through millions of years of evolution. It’s impossible to quantify how much knowledge was lost when we developed agriculture. But there are clues in our spiritual rituals where notions of a single creator was overlaid onto a complex tapestry of “pagan” existence. We don’t need to excavate very far to arrive at those early beliefs. Perhaps there is some vestigial knowledge of how to live within a wild order. It seems natural to want to coexist with plants in a wild garden. But how can we arrange it? I think it’s safe to say that when we “play god” and lay down a lawn atop a field of weeds, we screw things up (monoculture, sterility, etc.) What if we responded to the subtle energy of the plant world and tried to figure out what was needed instead?

I have been picking wild plants, working with them and marveling at them for 25 years. Each new species has revealed itself to me, often at the exact time when I have needed it most. Plant intelligence. I’ve been grateful for these gifts, but I’ve also understood the price. Harvesting could mean the plant would have fewer chances to procreate and return the following year. So I am prudent, stingy and vigilant.img_1041

As a wild gardener I’ve learned to accept and embrace change. Nature is constantly in flux, so I expect shifts to take place. My garden isn’t always picture perfect, especially during the summer months when many of my plants either die or lie dormant. Life and death are very much a presence. I’m already propagating the third generation of rose geraniumimg_1535 from the initial cutting I planted ten years ago. Along the way I’ve learned a lot about my plants and their life cycles from birth to death and how to give them a fighting chance. While some plants thrive and persist, others fail and die. I’ve learned to work with this reality. The eventual success of a wild garden depends not only on the plants that thrive, but also on the ones that fail. That’s how it is in nature and that’s how it unfolds in my perfectly imperfect, wild garden.img_1891

Guest post on MindBodyGreen

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fantastic voyage

A recent post by Sarita Coren called for an open discussion about sun protection. Concerns were voiced and questions were raised; vital because our relationship to the sun is still an open book despite seemingly conclusive evidence supporting widespread sunscreen use. Questions persist that may reveal research gaps that could bring us closer to an understanding of how we can benefit from the sun without compromising our health.

The principle behind sunscreen is simple: cover the surface of the skin with a substance that prevents UVA/UVB radiation from damaging the skin. Analogous to clothing, sunscreen functions like a second skin shielding it from the sun while allowing it to breath. However, unlike clothing, this type of dermal covering has problemmatic issues that are still unresolved. The benefit of clothing, especially loose fitting cotton is that it does not disrupt the micro environment of the skin, allowing the body to function normally. It is a mechanical approach to suncare that does not impact the body as a system.

Chemical sunscreens, however, work through the use of carbon based compounds, such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and avobenzone that create a chemical reaction changing UV rays into heat and then releasing that heat from the skin. These compounds may not be altogether stable and can degrade when exposed to UV radiation, causing them to oxidize and fall apart, release free radicals which, in turn, attack healthy skin cells. A double whammy. Avobenzone is one such compound that has to be photo-stabilized through the addition of Oxybenzone or delivered through liposomal encapsulation (a bubble that delivers an ingredient to a specific surface area of the skin or subcutaneous level). This process is so problemmatic that I won’t even delve into the myriad questions I have about how the body is affected. Instead, I will focus on mineral sunscreens.

Mineral sunscreens such as Zinc oxide and Titanium dioxide work by physically deflecting, scattering or even absorbing (in the case of nano particles) the sun’s rays. Due to their flat molecular structure, these minerals can be spread thin enough to cover large areas of the skin at concentrations between 15-25% for Zinc oxide and 5-15% for Titanium dioxide. However, the physical characteristics of these molecules, particularly Zinc oxide, causes them to clump together resulting in holes and/or uneven coverage. The medium used to suspend these minerals must allow for minimal clumping (viscosity, polarity, surface tension are all factors) which makes homemade sunscreens a poor DIY option. Sunscreens really need to be manufactured in a controlled environment and tested for efficacy which is why they are considered an over-the-counter drug. Even then, one cannot rely on the stated SPF for a variety of reasons:  not applying enough product (to avoid the white skin effect), failing to reapply, perspiration causing product to run, product being rubbed off, etc.

The use of nano particles reduces the white tone imparted to the skin but is less protective since the particles are so small. The smaller diameter, the thinner the shield. They are also occlusive (blocking pore openings). This can prevent perspiration and the release of toxins, a function of the skin as an excreting organ. Research is still inconclusive about nano particles that are absorbed transdermally. Once these particles enter the bloodstream, they obviously have to be metabolized. Zinc oxide is a mineral that can help boost the immune system, but not Titanium Dioxide. How would it be metabolized? Would it be excreted? What would be the rate of excretion? Would it bio-accumulate? If so, where would it be stored; in major organs, bones or fatty tissue? Would it be reactive to other elements in the body? Would it bind with other elements? Could it be chelated?

Our bodies have evolved over millions of years to be hairless and exposed to the sun. This allows for efficient perspiration, cooler basal temperatures and better use of calories with greater physical output. Our bodies are designed to function consistently throughout the day, which means we are meant to be exposed to sunlight, especially at midday. In addition, Homo Sapiens, regardless of geographic location or climate conditions have the same hairless bodies. This might be a clue that sunlight is desirable for our well-being. The difference in skin tone is due to melanin production, a reaction that evolved into a genetic trait. Melanin production is the way our skin prevents UV damage. Conversely, burning is our bodies way of telling us it is being damaged by the sun. UVB rays are the ones that burn, but UVA rays are the ones that damage.

The main benefit from exposure to sunlight is the production of vitamin D which promotes healthy immune function and protects the body from osteoporosis, heart disease, cancers of the breast, prostate, and colon. Sunlight has other benefits; protecting against depression and insomnia by promoting melatonin production which regulates our sleep/wake cycles. Sleep is key to remaining healthy as it allows resting metabolic states and elimination (mostly through the skin) to take place. If we do not get quality sleep each night our bodies experience systemic stress through unbalanced hormones which can lead to chronic illness.

Light skinned people are most receptive to sunlight, their skin thirsty for every last ray in a sun starved climate. They can get their daily Vitamin D dose through 15 minutes of total body exposure at midday when the sun is high in the sky (that’s when UVB rays penetrate the atmosphere). Conversely, darker skin needs longer exposure in order to receive the same benefits. As the skin tans it needs longer exposure to generate enough vitamin D3 for the body, so tanning is not necessarily beneficial.

Supplementation is the only other alternative to getting enough of this vital hormone (yes, Vitamin D is a hormone). However, most commercial supplements are synthetically derived, which could be a factor to consider. In addition, supplements can also tax the body’s metabolism. Knowing that every body is different (age, size, sex) it’s hard to gauge exactly what the body needs at any given time. A one size fits all approach may not be the best approach.

It turns out we know very little about the skin’s surface and the microbiome that covers approximately 2 square meters of our body. While our skin acts as a shell to simultaneously contain and protect the body, it’s also a membrane that allows the release of toxins and vapor (perspiration). It also produces sebum which protects the skin.

Our skin is home to trillions of bacterial (probiotic) colonies like Staphylococcus epidermidis and fungi that vary from region to region, from moist armpit to larges surfaces like the back. These bacterial strains offer protection by secreting antimicrobial peptides (small proteins that kill harmful invaders) to protect themselves. In protecting themselves, they also protect us. The bacterial strains residing on the skin are unique to EACH individual and are acquired at birth (1/10 of the cells in our body are human, 9/10 are bacterial). The only sterile environment is the womb but once a baby passes through the birth canal, it acquires its first bacterial strains. That is why it’s important to not wash the vernix off a baby, especially since washing not only removes bacteria, it changes the pH of the skin which can allow hostile bacteria (like Staphylococcus aureus) to flourish. The total number of bacteria is constantly in flux depending on age, immune function, sex, sun exposure, diet, hygiene and environment. In general, the more diverse these bacterial colonies are, the more protection they offer. Over zealous hygiene and antibacterial products wreak havoc and can lead to potentially dangerous situations (resistant, hostile strains, etc.).

With this in mind, the basic problem with sunscreen as a second skin is that it does not recognize the epidermis as a protective/excreting organ. Some further questions come to mind.

Zinc oxide is a potent antimicrobial that can be used as a stand alone preservative in emulsions. In fact, sunscreen products containing zinc oxide are often self preserving. How does the use of Zinc oxide affect healthy skin flora, especially when it is formulated in a waterproof base? Do probiotic bacteria need sunlight in order to function properly? My guess is “yes”. In which case, covering large expanses of the body with a mineral that impacts friendly bacteria and prevents sunlight from reaching them, potentially changing the skin’s pH could have an adverse effect (the way antibiotics wipe out intestinal bacteria).

When sunlight hits the skin a chemical reaction takes place. Could friendly bacteria help our body protect itself from the deleterious effects of UV radiation? Sebum lubricates and waterproofs the skin, maintaining its acid mantle. More importantly, it has anti-oxidative properties that play an integral role in photoprotection by preventing UV-induced free radical damage to skin and offering anti-inflammatory attributes. This is probably one of the most exciting aspects that could point to a useful area of research. There are several potent anti-inflammatories like raspberry seed oil, carrot seed oil, avocado oil that could offer a simple solution to a complex problem of how to help our skin benefit from the sun with minimal damage.

The other proactive option is to cleanse with oils and bathe less frequently or wash “petty” parts between weekly hammam style baths (deep cleansing, full body exfoliating, relaxing, nourishing). With all of the healthy attributes provided by sebum and our own probiotic colonies, why would we want to wash them away? Sunburns are more accute after swimming or bathing due to Sapienic acids (naturally occurring in sebum) being removed when sebum is washed away. More proof to preserve what the body works so hard to produce.

There is still much we need to learn about the skin’s micro environment and how the body has evolved to exist in a complex world. A major part of this equation has always been the sun. After millions of years of evolution we owe it to our bodies to understand how it works before prescribing solutions that can compound the problem.

Take a fantastic voyage across the surface of your body and don’t forget to ask questions. Lots of them.

Trish from ScentHive reviews Lalun in her first ever Vlog!

SCENT HIVE

Hello! Please check out my very first YouTube video. The February Beauty Box by Boxwalla was out of this world. I am loving everything in it! It includes: Lalun Naturals Winter Rose Toner and Moon Butter, CocoaPink Amber Orange Body Lotion, and RMS Lip2Cheek in Smile as well as their blush brush. It is a fabulous box!

They are sold out, but please do check out the review as you can purchase the items individually and sign up for the April Box! I hope you enjoy and please leave me feedback. Thanks!

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