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Self Care = Self Love

valentines

Now that Valentines Day is over we can explore other ways to incorporate love into our daily lives. Valentines Day should be every day, right?! It’s great to have a collective celebration where we recognize the ones we love, but do we love ourselves as well? Not the kind of narcissistic love born out of vanity, but one that is the result of self awareness, compassion and understanding.

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Mary Cassatt

Loving oneself is enjoying the process of self discovery, having faith in oneself, accepting imperfection, acknowledging boundaries and appreciating the opportunity to experience the world. It’s basically enjoying the ride called “LIFE” and remaining steady through its ups and downs. Self love is essential because it allows us to love others. If we love ourselves, we are able to grow, develop, nurture wisdom and extend it to others. The journey from infancy to adulthood is the process of learning how to care for ourselves independently so that we can procreate, tend to offspring and care for others.

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Aphrodite

Love is viewed as a sentiment reserved others. But the ancient Greeks had a more complex understanding that did not exclude the self. They had four different words for love, the primary being “philia”, or virtuous love. The others included agape (divine love/charity), eros (sexual love) and storge (affection/empathy). For the ancient Greeks, love was tied to an ideal of beauty that infused all areas of life, including the self.  

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Persian hammam

An immediate way to love oneself is to care for one’s body and help it maintain optimum health. In this sense, self love is intrinsic to survival. It’s important to nourish the body internally and externally. Lalun began as a way for me to care for myself while I was working for a corporate architecture firm in New York City, clocking 80 hour weeks, pulling all-nighters, binge eating junk food at my desk. My lifestyle was a disaster and certainly not sustainable. To counteract the effects on my body (especially my skin), I began researching holistic practices and remedies. I was especially drawn to traditional skincare preparations as they reminded me of my childhood in Iran where beauty was homespun.

 

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I was also learning how to nourish myself and discovered the macrobiotic diet. The emphasis on whole foods as opposed to isolated, processed food made sense to me. The human body, having evolved over millions of years to extract nutrients from whole sources, would be thrown off balance with the consumption of refined, processed or isolated foods. When taking vitamin C, for example, the body recognizes the missing components such as fiber, water, complex sugars that make up the whole orange and creates a deficiency. This places a metabolic burden on the body. In addition, most nutritional supplements are derived from synthetic sources. I realized early on that it was better to focus on a healthy diet that gave my body what it needed.

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Collection of rare attars and rose ottos

Caring for myself quickly became a passion, something I dreamt about while drafting or building models hunched over a desk. Whatever spare time I had was spent purchasing gorgeous materials (rose ottos, attars and exquisite sandalwoods), experimenting with formulas, whipping up products and enjoying the fruits of my labors. It took years for me to recognize and acknowledge the importance of this vital work. Some people considered my passion misplaced while others thought I was wasting my Harvard architecture degree and years of training. But I persisted and when I decided to stop practicing architecture in 2008, I knew where to turn for emotional, spiritual and physical support. My new path became my salvation and Lalun evolved into a way for me to extend my self care knowledge to others.

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Image courtesy of Sarita Rosenhaus Coren

The first self care lesson I learned was the importance of oils for the skin. In the mid 1990’s nobody dreamt of cleansing with oils, let alone using them as moisturizers. The common preconception was that oils would clog pores and cause break outs. After all, this was the era of “fat-free”. But I went with my intuition and observations of how the body worked to come up with treatment solutions that supported our natural mechanics. Contrary to popular belief, cleansing with oils would not cause break outs, but would have the opposite effect, easing inflammation and normalizing the skin. Any deviation (dryness, oiliness, patches, rashes, etc.) would be an indication the skin was working overtime to normalize itself. Understanding how our skin works would help us care for it.

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The second lesson was seeing how profoundly the seasons affected the skin. I was raised to eat seasonally because there were no other options, so it was natural for me to view skincare as a way to help the body adjust to seasonal variability. You wouldn’t wear an overcoat in summer or a bikini in the snow. The same logic applied to skincare. Cleansing with oils “normalized” the skin so products could be effective when used seasonally. As a result, the richest formulas would be used in winter, the lightest in summer. Similarly, autumn products would help with sensitivities while spring would be balanced.

The third lesson was that self care is incremental. There are no quick fixes and anti-aging is a marketing myth. Any product claiming to make changes on a cellular level should be viewed with skepticism. After all, radiation does just that . . . better to consider what the body needs to maintain health.

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Adam Brown/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Taking time to care for oneself is a ritual that enriches the senses and a gift of love. I turn my self care ritual into a mini meditation that includes a modified sun salutation, deep breathing, self massage (especially breast area) and a check-in with my body. When you do the same routine on a daily basis you can tell when issues crop up. Yesterday I could do that forward bend, but my left hip feels tender as I sweep down . . . what could be the reason . . . oh yes, I tripped on the sidewalk while I was checking my emails . . . Now I know the logic behind the rhyme “don’t step on the cracks, you’ll break your momma’s back”!

Dreams Road Sign

Humor helps me remember not to be too hard on myself. I could have, would have, should have. . . there’s always another chance, another direction, another point of view. Better to sleep on it. Really! Getting enough sleep can help the subconscious mind take on problem solving burdens. It also allows the body to complete its circadian rhythms. Our bodies undergo different metabolic states during sleep, excreting through the skin. Best to allow that process to take place with minimal interference.

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Healthy self care habits contribute to a holistic approach to self love. The body demands continual management, why not infuse it with deeper meaning, beauty and joy? Becoming aware of the necessity to love oneself is the first step.

 

 

Source: Lalun Naturals, Autumn Gold Cleanser, Toner and Moisturizer

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Before the drought

After the drought

After the drought (grass is territory of DH)

Here in West Hollywood, where Lalun is based, we have been experiencing a worsening drought over the past 6 years. A few key plants in my garden have been lost during the brutal summers that seem endless, including my gardenias, lavenders and calendulas. This is probably due to less rainfall as well as intense heat which places a burden on plants that are no longer suited to an increasingly desert-like climate.

My gardenias were the first to go.

My gardenias were the first to go.

I practice a type of gardening I call “wild-growing” where I interfere as little as possible with the life cycle of the plants. Basically, I plant things in the ground and welcome volunteers (some call them weeds) but I don’t prune or cut back growth. I allow fallen leaves to mulch, I don’t apply fertilizer other than what I have composted and I water minimally. It’s survival of the fittest, but it also means the plants that thrive are doing so of their own accord and are inherently stronger and more vital.

Bottle washing. Greywater is used to supplement irrigation.

Greywater from bottle washing is used to supplement irrigation.

Since I use many of the plants I grow in my garden for my products, I’d like to find a way to keep them alive without compromising my gardening method. One thought is to supplement my current irrigation schedule by capturing the greywater I use for bottle washing to help the plants that really need it. My bottle washing method involves filling a large stainless steel bowl with warm soapy water for the wash cycle. I use a biodegradable soap that breaks down in the soil without harming my plants. I also use less soap so I don’t have to rinse more than once. All of this water can then be re-used and rotated in my garden.

It’s the perfect Zero Waste solution!

Sarita Coren’s thoughtful, thorough post on the subject of waterless cleansing includes an insight I’ve never considered in all my years of using oils, that hard water can leaved behind soap and dirt residue which can build up on the skin. This is HUGE!

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IMG_20150423_091921Judging by Maggie Mahboubian’s skin, you’d think she were 10 to 15 years younger than she is. Seriously, the Lalun Naturals founder has retained that coveted youthful glow with nary a wrinkle in sight. And she knows one big reason why: she does not cleanse her face with water.

Intrigued, I had to dig further.

“Water-free oil cleansing is a skin saver for all ages and types because it follows the logic of how our skin functions,” she explained to me over an email and in person when we met at the Healthy Brand Showcase in NYC in March.
“Our skin produces oil (sebum) to help condition our skin, retain moisture, prevent too much moisture loss, protect us from the sun (sebum has a certain spf) and form a barrier against hostile bacteria. This slightly acidic environment (around pH 5) allows probiotic colonies to flourish which help protect us as…

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A Slo-Tech Methodology

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Amaranth harvested from the 3rd grade garden at PWS.

Last summer I hunkered down and had a heart-to-heart with my work. What was I doing? Where was I going? What was my passion?

After much soul searching I realized what mattered most were the plants. Everything I did involved a plant that was either wild or wild grown in my garden back in LA. Whether extracting for medicine, nourishment or beauty, whatever I did always started with a plant. I realized I loved being the conduit between a living entity and the end result, where everything would pass through my hands. No mechanisms or special equipment needed, no computers or complex infrastructure, just a willingness to observe, explore, research and experiment.

It didn’t always work out. For years I experimented with making paper. Taking the discarded portions of the plants I had harvested and converting them to pulp. What ended up was often a moldy mess, but I never despaired, knowing in my heart that when the time was right, the correct methodology would emerge. I recognized a pattern emerging that involved a slow, laborious and intentionally low tech approach that I coined “Slo-Tech”. It informed all of my work, from the smallest detail to the big picture.

The computer era missed me by a hair. My formative years as an architecture student involved learning how to draw by hand and build models. But when I entered the work force, the tables were turned and I found myself scrambling to learn how to produce on a machine. I slogged away for years in a profession that increasingly distanced makers from their work, all the while yearning for a hands on approach. When I first started gathering plants, I didn’t know it would lead to such a massive change, but it did. I swapped that mouse track for a plant and have not looked back since!

How are YOU reaping what you sow?

Foraged Facials

Foraged Plants

Wild plants have so much to offer; drawing energy from the sun and nutrients from the soil they harness it mysteriously to provide us with complete nourishment. These are gifts that we can gather free of charge. All we need to know is how identify, when to harvest and how to use, while never forgetting to offer thanks.

In all the years that I have worked with wild botanicals for food, medicine, beauty and art, one of my constants has been foraging plants for facials. You pick, you prepare it, you benefit from its immediate freshness.

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It’s late summer in the Hudson Valley and the fields are bursting with plants that have already gone to seed as well as those that are just beginning to bloom. From this crowded jumble one can pick out several beauties for a steam including wild raspberry leaf, wild strawberry leaf (both astringent), mint (stimulating), red clover (soothing), wild carrot flower (cleansing), wild evening primrose flower (hydrating). It’s always a good idea to include an aromatic plant in the mix since the volatile oils stimulate the skin and clear the lungs. It’s also important to select plants that are safe (i.e. no poison ivy or oak!). Just a couple of handfuls of plant material is enough. Fill the pot with water, secure a lid and bring it to boil slowly, allowing it to simmer a few minutes.

Steamed Plants

When the plants have wilted, place your pot on a low table (on a trivet), drape a large towel over your head to make a tent. Slowly open the lid releasing the steam gradually so it fills your tent. You don’t want to scorch your face so just hang out over the pot for about 10 minutes, turning your face and neck so all of your pores open up. I generally stop when I feel like my face is “sweaty”.

Raspberry Mush

Quickly pat off the moisture with your towel and proceed to apply your mask, in this case a simple wild raspberry, raw honey and ground oatmeal mush (very tasty) whipped up in a food processor. The fruit has enzymes that gently soften and break down dead skin cells, the honey is a humectant and the oatmeal soothes. Leave your mask on for at least 15 minutes. I like to scrape off the blobs with a blunt palette knife. I then gently rub to release the gummy leftovers. This is what the French call a “gommage doux”.

Raspberry Mask

Finally, I strain out the steam water and use that to rinse my face. Pat dry and apply a moisturizer and you’re good to go!

Some other safe botanicals you can use include: plantain (soothing), self heal (healing), blackberry leaf (astringent), dandelion leaf or flower.

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I was invited by PAM (Pregnancy Awareness Month) to participate in a Twitter party centered on the theme of “nesting” for moms-to-be. It got me thinking about the issue and how important it is for us to not only prepare for the arrival of another being but to prepare ourselves for the larger transition, those first 40 days after baby is born.

Pregnancy itself is a form of nesting. Baby is nourished in the womb as it grows, preparing it to survive the outside world. Childbirth is the first transition from the inner world to the outer with exchanges of hormones, mother’s immune protection, probiotic bacteria and a full blood supply to help baby thrive in the first few days. Allowing cord blood to continue pumping for up to 20 minutes is important, but parents who wish to bank cord blood can ask doctor to divide that time between baby and deposit.

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Once baby is born, it’s best not to wash off vernix, just wipe excess and put baby skin to skin on momma’s tummy before tying off the chord. Baby will root out breast through scent. There are so many valuable pheromones that can be disrupted through bathing and the vernix maintains proper pH levels so healthy probiotic colonies can be maintained. This is babies first defense.

 

I followed the traditional path of remaining home, cuddled in bed, skin-to-skin, breastfeeding on demand for the first 40 days. Except for doctor’s visits we did not leave the house together. I didn’t bathe either of my babies during this time, opting instead to allow their skin to make the transition from womb to outer world as nature intended armed with the knowledge that skin regenerates every 30 days.

Their first bath was more of a celebratory ablution than a true bath, using a diluted, unscented pure castille soap and warm water. I followed with a gentle baby massage using pure, unscented organic jojoba oil. Jojoba is actually a liquid wax and not subject to rancidity. It’s also very emollient and gentle. I used the same unscented products for myself when I bathed and moisturized so I wouldn’t mask my body odor. I also wore loose, comfortable organic cotton loungewear.

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For diaper changes I used only pure orange blossom water sprayed onto their bottoms and wiped with homemade organic flannel towelettes, cut to size using pinking shears (no need to sew). They were very sweet smelling babies! As newborns I used homemade diapers made with the same flannel cloth as the wipes. My mother showed me how to sew them. Poopy diapers were soaked in a bucket before laundering with homemade soapnut detergent. See my post on “Single Ingredient Products” for easy directions on how to make soapnut detergent (https://lalunnaturals.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/single-ingredient-products).

 

I was lucky to have my mother cooking for me and my friend Heng Ou of Motherbees provide me with the most delicious and nourishing soups and nut milks I could imagine. I also drank plenty of raspberry leaf tea to help tone my uterus and fenugreek to promote lactation. The best way to prepare these infusions is in a large jar, 1/4 herb covered with boiling water up to the brim, capped and allowed to sit for a few hours.

When baby was sleeping and not nursing skin-to-skin, she was swaddled. This helped provide the boundary she needed to remain comforted. Swaddling simulates the womb and helps maintain even body temperature since babies cannot adequately regulate their own body temperatures.

After those first 40 days, my babies were worn in a sling until they were large enough to be in an Ergo carrier. My babies were always on me, even while they were napping. I would do light housework while “wearing” them. If I took them off, they were placed on a sheepskin fleece nearby or handed to dad.

At night, both babies co-slept in our bed until they were ready for their own toddler cot around 3 years old. All animals sleep with their young, and we were no exception. It was especially handy for nighttime feedings. No crying jags, getting up, staggering about, fumbling, just rolling onto my side and latching baby on. I often fell asleep while baby nursed. Our bed was our first nest!

I really loved those first 40 days with my both of my babies. I rested a lot, focused on their presence in our lives, watching them quietly, meditatively. I also focused on nourishing and rebuilding my own strength and making the transition from pregnant mom to lactating mother. There are a lot of physiological changes that take place in those first 40 days post partum that we often ignore or fail to honor. Taking the time to consciously rest and rebuild really helps set the stage for the next step.

Trust me, it goes by quickly!