How to reinvent the wheel, huh, the shoulder jacket

If you’ve been doing Iyengar yoga for some time, at some point or another you will have encountered the infamous shoulder jacket. Whether you’ve had shoulder / neck issues in the past, or you simply went to a workshop where the teacher was working on that region, the shoulder jacket is an easy way to help your posture by relaxing your neck muscles and bringing the shoulder blades close by each other.

A shoulder jacket can easily be made by using a long belt. You can find the description (and many more options for using belts and ropes to help your shoulders) in Lois Steinberg’s Iyengar Yoga Asana Alternatives: the Neck and Shoulders. A short description so that you can try it at home even if you don’t have the book:

  • take one handle of the belt in each hand.
  • bring the belt to your back, with the center of the belt on your spine, and one side of the belt going through between your arms and the sides of your chest. Repeat the other side.
  • the belt should be just under the armpits, with the belt’s extremities in front of your body.
  •  now bring (well, I “throw over” but that’s not very yogic) the belt’s extremities over your shoulders so that they are in your back.
  • cross the handles so that your right hand holds the originally left handle, and the left hand holds the originally right handle
  • make sure that the belt is not cutting through your skin, especially under the armpit, and that the part over your shoulders is on the bulky part of the trapezius muscle, not the bone.
  • pull the belt handles down. You should feel the shoulder blades going towards each other and the chest lifting. The downward pressure on the the trapezius should help relax them.

Strangely, I could find very few pictures of the shoulder jacket online. Intellectual property rights? Or is this gem an unknown secret shared by the Iyengar community? If so, I’m sorry, I didn’t get the memo. Please don’t remove my certification!!!! Joke aside, you can bring the crossed belts in between the belt and the shirt, or over – if you’re not helped by someone like in this picture it can be a tad tricky. Also, I would bring the belts on the top of the shoulders closer to her neck.  

While I was looking for the source of that picture, I found out it actually comes from this video where a shoulder jacket is used in down dog. It doesn’t need to be used with a partner, you can simply stand in tadasana with the shoulder jacket and pull the ropes down yourself.

Also, I don’t know if it’s me, but I’ve seen this “buckling” of the belt forward on multiple pictures, and while I understand why people do that, I feel it defeats a bit the purpose imo. I think it confuses the direction of the action. But maybe that’s just me – at this point sometimes I feel things and have been working on feeling the skin direction and such subtle aspects, but I’m a bit uncertain of whether what I’m feeling is correct or not.

Anyhow if you want to do standing poses (or other) with a shoulder jacket on, by all means do so, but I would advise to use a slightly shorter belt that can just hang, or a different version of the shoulder jacket. In that version, you make a large loop in the belt, step in the loop, position the belt on the back / under the armpits as in the previously described version, and bring the part of the belt in front of you over your shoulders. You now have a loop hanging in your back. Bring it in between the belt that it perpendicular to your spine and your shirt, adjust, and pull down. This should keep the belt in place as well as the imprint, without having a tripping hazard.

So. Did you try it at home? Is this your favorite thing ever? Do you talk about it to everyone you meet and their neighbor? Well, I’ve just saved you $30. Yep, I couldn’t believe it when I saw an advertisement for this product online today. A shoulder jacket is a better version (though admittedly probably less comfy) of this product, and a belt, if you’re not hang up on getting an Iyengar belt, can be as low as $5 (on Amazon, not sponsored) – and you can use it in so many other ways! True, you probably won’t go hiking with your yoga belt (even though…) but if you use the shoulder jacket everyday, even for 15 minutes, I guarantee you will see improvement in your posture.

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Recycling & composting woes

If you’ve ever cared a little bit about the planet, you’re likely recycling part of what you buy. And if you’re like me a couple of years ago, you’ve probably wondered why people would go zero-waste when you can easily recycle! Easily? Not really. Notwithstanding only 9% of all plastic is actually recycled (and the reason why Asia is responsible for most of it ending up in the ocean is because we send it there in the first place), I’m sure you’ve stood, like me, in front of the recycling bins with an item in your hand, which you’re pretty unsure whether it can be recycled or not, and if so, in which bin it should go.

Furthermore, plastic isn’t actually recycled but downcycled, unlike glass and metals which can truly be recycled. What about paper / cardboard? While they are also downcycled since at each recycling round the fibers giving it its structure shorten, the final product can at least be composted, unlike plastic which decomposes very, very, VERY slowly, except in some conditions, like in oceans, where it leaches microplastics (like BPA) which are detrimental to the health of marine life and ultimately ours.

There are many reasons why Recycle is at the bottom of the list, not the top

You get it, it’s better to get metal or glass containers, or even better not to purchase something. But let’s be realistic here, while I would hope for everyone to adopt a zero-waste, low-impact lifestyle, it’s not gonna happen any time soon. Meanwhile, people like my parents, who do not really want to change their lifestyle, will recycle if presented with the opportunity (but not compost, arghh).

So, what can you do with minimum effort?

  • avoid single-use plastics. There are more than you think. We’ve heard about the straws, but also single-serving wrappers, coffee cups, etc.
  • buy in bulk. And I don’t really mean at the bulk shop, though you can do that too if it’s convenient for you. In my current situation, it’s really not, so I buy large quantities. For exemple, I buy rice in 10kg bags, it lasts for a while. I buy nuts by 3kg bags (they do go rancid after a while). And so forth and so on. While technically not “zero-waste” in the sense that there is packaging involved, there would also be packaging involved at the bulk store but you just don’t see it nor bring it home.
  • recycle and compost using your city’s recycling / composting bins (or at home, if you have the space – it’s not that hard). Even in college you can compost! Pro-tip: if you don’t want it to smell while waiting for the collection time, you can freeze your food scraps: no odor guaranteed!

While it seems obvious why you should recycle, I have to admit it wasn’t obvious why I should compost. I genuinely thought organic matter would simply “compost” in the landfill. In fact, in landfill conditions, organic matter does not compost. If you don’t want to go through the article, basically, the way that organic matter decomposes in the landfill produces a huge amount of methane, one of the worst global warming gasses.

Ok, so now about the practical details of recycling and composting. Depending on where you live, there are likely different rules for recycling, so please check with your own city what the rules are. For exemple, in France we had some advertisements about not wasting water by washing the recycling – I tried to find it back but didn’t manage. Here (NYC) on the contrary, it is recommended to rince recyclables very well before putting them in the recycling bins. RECYCLING IS CONFUSING.

Let’s play a game. I give you an item, you tell me where it should go. Ready?

  • Paper towels

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.

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Compost! Yep, this is the end of life of paper products. Putting them in the recycling will lower the quality of the recycled end-product, even if they are not soiled (which if they aren’t, why are you throwing them out anyways???).

 

  • Envelopes / cardboard boxes with plastic window

.

.

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Here, paper recycling. And no need to remove the window.

 

  • Supermarket receipt

.

.

.

Landfill. Receipts are BPA-lined and should not be recycled as they will contaminate the rest of the paper stream 😦

 

  • Ice-cream containers like Haagen-Dasz

.

.

.

As anything which is mixed materials, this cannot be recycled and should go to the landfill. 😦 😦 😦 (I love those).

 

  • Plastic bags

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Here, they can be recycled but not mixed in the comingled (curbside) recycling. Only hard plastics are recycled in the curbside recycling in NYC. National grocery retailers (such as Kroger, Safeway, Target and Walmart) and many smaller retailers offer bag recycling collections in their stores. I collect them and then bring them to Rite Aid when I have accumulated a few.

 

  • Coffee cups

Coffee - To Go Cup

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Landfill! Yes, this is once again a case of mixed materials (the paper is lined with plastic on the inside of the cup) and so they cannot be recycled.

 

Alright, I still want to link this how to recycle in NYC guide in case you have more questions. It should be possible to find a similar guide relative to where you live at your respective sanitation department. If you’re curious about how bad it is to put the wrong item in a recycling bin, well here are your answers. Now, have you ever pondered where an item should go? What was it and did you find out the answer? Leave a comment and let me (and others) know! Only now, after six months of living in NYC, do I feel at ease with the recycling system. Composting might also be an issue very soon, as we used to bring it to a weekly collection point at a nearby subway station, which is now closed for renovation, so they moved the collection point too far for us to bring. We are currently bringing it to Brooklyn Grange, but I’m not sure what we’ll do when they close for the winter.

 

 

Serendipity

Have you ever wondered if your yoga teachers talk to each other at the beginning of the week and decide to work on a specific topic? That’s what I thought for a while as it regularly happened that my teachers had the same focus in class in the same week.

Once I become a teacher myself, and taught at the same studio, I realized this was very obviously not the case. So how did it happen that the teachers were somehow still focusing on the same teaching point at the same moment?

I still don’t really have an explanation for this, apart from it just happens. Of course, in Iyengar yoga there is a four week cycle, with the first week for standing poses, second for forward extensions, third for backbends and last week restorative. However there are so many poses, ways to link them, and possible teaching points, that this barely limits the teaching options. If you’re wondering why this rotation exists by the way, it is to ensure that students coming only once a week work on all types of poses evenly.

Yesterday was an amazing exemple of this serendipity at work. Last Wednesday I was practicing at home, working on some ways to introduce shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana) to a student with a shoulder issue. I ended up in a Halasana with my shoulders high up on a bolster, and the pose kind of screamed for me to try and do Chakrasana.

If you don’t know what Chakrasana looks like, it’s a backwards roll from Halasana to downward facing dog. The only time I had previously been taught this at length (and somewhat managed to do it) was during a workshop with Garth McLean. But I hadn’t worked on this in months, and in the meantime had some neck issues any time I was holding long shoulderstands, so I was also unwilling to practice anything that looks like you’re possibly gonna break your neck.

Anyhow, I managed and was pretty happy about it, but this was highly propped up, and I was really wondering how I would transition from that to the floor (or at least much closer to the floor).

Well, yesterday, as I went to Lara Warren’s level 4 class, she announced that the focus of the class would be… you guessed it, Chakrasana! I don’t want to get into the details of the class, but by the end of it I had understood something in the lifting of the trapezius muscle in Halasana, and I didn’t feel stuck in that transition anymore. I need to work on this a bit more, but I managed to do Chakrasana on the floor for the first time, without feeling my neck at all.

Really interesting how it just happened to be that class’s topic, when I had just started working in it, and had not done so in a very long time. Maybe it’s an untold benefit of being an Iyengar yoga teacher noone tells you about, a manifestation of “when the student is ready, the guru will appear”!

Yoga citta vritti nirodha

Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind.

I’ve been thinking about what yoga truly is recently, and I guess especially the state of samadhi (which I will translate here as meditative consciousness or one-pointedness of mind).

Now, when we refer to yoga or what most people think of as yoga nowadays is actually only one of the eight petals of yoga, asana, aka the postures. The eight-fold path or ashtanga yoga (not to be confused with the hatha yoga style developed by Pattabhi Jois) is often represented as a tree like below:

Credits to shaktianandayoga

But I have seen other representations such as this one:

Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga Study Chart | Daily Cup of Yoga

I am personally not a fan of this second representation because it seems like it is an order in which you do things, so if you have achieved yamas and niyamas you can start asana*, once you achieve that, you start pranayama, and so on until dharana, at which point if you practice enough dhyana will happen, and if you get to dhyana often enough, then samadhi will be bestowed upon you.

Guruji BKS Iyengar has “debunked” this linear progression many times. The limbs are intertwined and you can practice every single aspect during your asana practice, for exemple during asana practice your breath should be soft and controlled like in pranayama, your awareness should be spread all throughout your body, you should not harm yourself, etc etc. I remember he also wrote about Gandhi being a prime exemple of what can be achieved with a strong ahimsa practice**, though I do not think Gandhi ever called himself a yogi. The tree imagery represent much better how the different limbs are interconnected, and it’s not like once you have roots, a tree stops growing roots to grow its trunk; on the other hand a tree keeps on growing in all directions, roots, trunk, branches, leaves, flowers and fruits, all at the same time (at least if it’s the right season ;).

Anyhow back to the topic of what I actually wanted to write about. Samadhi. I sometimes have glimpses of what I believe Samadhi must be like. This only happens to me during headstand practice, and not always, sadly. Some days I am just struggling to stay back up for 5 minutes. But some days, I manage to settle in the pose and stay there in a state of what I can only describe of effortless effort. I am lucky if this happens for a full minute. However this made me wonder about senior teachers. Though I have never met Guruji, based on what I read, I do believe that especially in his later years, he was in a constant state of samadhi, whether he was practicing asana or not. So I wonder about the senior teachers: are they in a constant state of samadhi? Do they only attain it during practice? Is what I think of as being samadhi actually samadhi? It does certainly feel like yoga in terms of cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. But then again, if I practice in a class setting I am likely to get corrected on my headstand, so is it possible to attain samadhi in a somewhat imperfect headstand? If by any chance a senior teacher (or anyone else, really, but if a senior teacher comes by, please please please comment) reads this, I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic.

Meanwhile, I finally invested on the Astadala Yogamala anthology, so I’m sure many more questions about yoga will pop up as I go through the material.

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* Though I sometimes wish that yoga practitioners would “practice” yama and niyama before starting an asana practice… or at least have an idea of what it entails. So many people thinking yoga is just stretching :\ /rantover

**I believe this was in Light on life, but might be in Tree of Yoga.

 

 

Bonus tip: I finally made it to class, and I learned this amazing tip for backbends on the chair, the one where you curve over the lean of the chair towards the wall, with your feet on the legs of the chair. While you are reaching your hands down on the wall, stop for a moment where you are, and try to sit back on the chair (without moving your hands from where they are on the wall).  Then go back to walking your hands down on the wall, rinse and repeat, so that you’re basically oscillating in your backbend from more weight on your feet to more weight on your hands. Boy if that’s not a deep back opener, I don’t know what is!

Weekly Update: What's Been Going On At The Blue Osa Eco Resort

I’m talking about that one, whose name I’m not sure about. I’d say Chair Urdhva Dhanurasana, but usually that refers to coming up to Urdhva Dhanurasana from having your back on the seat of the chair like for the Introductory syllabus, so if anyone knows the “proper” name please let me know below. Image courtesy of blue osa

 

 

How I manage my period

Warning: graphic content / TMI. 

So, periods. Not my favorite time of the month, and probably not the favorite time of the month for about 50% of the adult population. Today, I’m sharing with you tips and tricks I’ve been using to make period-cruising a breeze.

Let me preface by saying I generally do not have a very painful period. I have, however, had very painful periods before. I displaced my pelvis after falling down stairs, and while I thought I got out of it with only a bad bruise, it took I think about two years until it got put back in place by an osteopath and my period pain became way less, which is when I realized it had started being way worse after that fall. Hindsight is 20/20. So first things first: it is absolutely not normal to have periods so painful that even taking painkillers does not soothe it. If you have horrible, horrible cramps, by all means please consult a medical professional and don’t play down your pain. Same thing if you have very heavy or irregular periods: anything could be happening, from PCOS, to a displaced pelvis, to a contraception method that does not fit you.

Talking about contraception. Diverse types of hormonal contraception can be prescribed for different types of issues, from acne to period pain, etc. I personally stopped hormonal contraception after I noticed that it did not fare well with me (it had a negative impact on my libido – I tried many different and all had this effect). A bit more than six months ago, I decided to get a copper IUD, and so far I’ve been loving it. I have not experienced any issues so far, neither with the placement (I was at work 20 minutes after having it placed and took part in a yoga workshop the same evening) nor with the period themselves. Apparently some women can experience larger blood loss and bad cramping, but I haven’t noticed any difference so far.  I also know a friend who has an hormonal IUD, and who is very happy with it (Contrarily to copper IUDs, they often make periods become lighter or even disappear – which I didn’t want). So advice number 1: make sure you have explored different types of contraception and get the one that fits you best.

WCD - Campus

I think everyone knows that heat helps relieving cramps, so I definitely advise getting a hot shower and using a hot water bottle 🙂

One of the earliest changes I made about how I deal with my period was actually getting a menstrual cup. I’ve had mine since 2010, when it wasn’t cool at all, and the people I was hanging out with were immature enough to find it disgusting and shame-worthy. But I tried it anyways and immediately loved it. I cannot imagine going back to tampons and pads. I know it’s not for everyone, as some people have issues placing it properly or get cramps with it, but if you have never tried it I would advise you to give it a chance. There are many different brands and sizes, so you might need to try a couple to find the right one for you, but I was lucky enough to get the right one on the first try. And I appreciate not having to change it SO much! Place it in the morning, go around with your day, change it* when you get home, done deal. No leaks, no risk of not having a change – I just put it back in my bag after sanitizing** it for the next period. Oh, and another advantage of the menstrual cup and IUD is that they are zero-waste 😀

* I simply rinse it with water and pop it back in

** I boil it with baking soda for 5′ to sanitize in between periods

File:Menstrual cups small sizes.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Different types of “small” cups (I have the Fleurcup)…

File:Menstrual cups large sizes.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

and larger sizes.

As expected, I “use” my yoga practice to help out with my period. Having a regular yoga practice has helped immensely with relieving period pain. When not on my period, I have a strong inversion practice, and I have found this helps regulate my hormones. My period is regular, comes every 27 or 28 days, and lasts 3-4 days. When I am on my period, I avoid inversions (I’ve talked about this here), but I still have a relatively intense practice. I often do standing poses, especially Trikonasana and Ardha Chandrasana, as they help release cramps and make me feel lighter. I find that keeping active, especially on my second (heaviest) day, helps get the blood flowing and release cramps. One of my favorites is supported downward dog with a rope around the hips. Love love love it. If I can’t do anything else, I always do that. I find it more efficient at releasing cramps than any of the forward bends or supine poses. So if I can only do 3 poses I’ll do:

  • Supported Downdog (with rope, and if possible forehead on block or bolster)
  • Ardha Chandrasana (support if needed, if you have ropes I get my foot supported in a top rope – but I often do it unsupported cause I love the freedom of it)
  • Supta badakonasana (classic, also supported with bolsters and/or belt(s))

Supported Downward Dog using a door knob and a belt

Bonus poses: I usually also enjoy Malasana-type squats and supported child’s pose.

OK, now I’m getting to the seriously disgusting part. Period poops, or the female best kept secret. Yes, period poops are a thing, and not a good one. See, prostaglandins are released causing intestines and uterus to contract (hello cramps!) and it leads to more/different poop. Now, I’m vegan, so I already poop a lot. So when I’m on my period, I feel like I’m pooping every two hours. I also feel like I cannot keep it in, which leads to me rushing to the toilet pretty often, or even feeling like it isn’t really safe to leave the toilet’s side. Not nice. The positive point though, is that once they’re out, the cramps usually recede. I find that drinking tea helps both with releasing cramps and avoiding diarrhea, and I do so as much as I can. I also drink some water in parallel to help with hydration.

Last thing I will mention is eating, or rather not eating. I often practice intermittent fasting, aka “I don’t eat breakfast”. I am rarely hungry in the morning, and I used to force myself to eat anyways, thinking that otherwise I would faint or something bad would happen. I’ve stopped doing that, and I feel much better for it. I’m not very strict with it, I simply eat when I’m hungry. Revolutionary concept, I know. Funnily, not forcing myself to eat in the morning has also helped with cravings. I used to have very intense sugary craving, especially before my period but also during. I still have a little of it before my period, but not so much during, I believe because I have found that eating less (smaller, lighter meals), and healthier, actually helps in relieving bloating and cramps. Then again, revolutionary concept: who knew eating healthy was good for you? Finally, one thing I have not tried yet but want to, is eating more ginger. There has been many studies showing that ginger might help reduce cramping and general PMS pain, and I feel like that’s an easy-enough solution. So I’ll definitely give it a try next time before I get a painkiller. Cause yes, if the pain doesn’t go away with all my tips and tricks, I’ll use a painkiller. Sometimes it’s necessary, don’t stay in pain for the badge of honor…

What are your tips and tricks to manage your period? Did you change anything and thought it was revolutionary?

 

A balancing act

With a title like that, you probably thought this article was going to be on balancing poses. Sorry to disappoint, but this is actually going to be on balancing life. Hopefully you’re still interested!

How life feels right now, except I wish I could get into Mayurasana 😉

So, it’s been a few months since I moved to NYC, and I am now relatively settled into a routine. Work is going well, teaching at the shelter and living with the boyfriend too, and I am enjoying what the city has to offer in terms of art and events.

Yet I find it difficult to practice as much as I would like. Or rather, the way that I would like? Kind of both. It’s not like I stopped practicing, I still do – but less than before, and always self-practice. While I did probably not do enough of it while living in Utrecht, I feel like doing solely self-practice is making me stagnate a bit. While I rarely have the issue of “what should I do now?” which I often think of as the “entry barrier” to self-practice, I feel like I’m not exploring as far as I did in a class / teacher training setting. I guess I miss the teacher’s push to go deeper. I wish I were already at a stage where self-practice is sufficient to “unlock” new aspects of poses, but it simply doesn’t seem to be the case. So self-practice sort of “maintains” my level of yoga, but I’m not managing to go further. And I’m not talking physically, as I can feel that my handstands for exemple have progressed – I can more easily balance now than six months ago, but more at an understanding-of-the-pose level.

This is an issue as I fully intend to keep on deepening my yoga practice as well as my teaching. I initially planned to take my intermediate Junior I exam next year, but this feels premature at this point. For one, the style of teaching in the US is actually quite different from the Netherlands, which I find quite weird considering of all the rules we have to follow. Not that it is better or worse, simply a different way to present things, use props, or talk about certain movements. This might also be due to the fact that English is first language here versus in the Netherlands and even for myself (though teaching in French is always a bit weird for me as I very rarely do it!).

Turning the Mind Upside-Down | Through the Peacock's Eyes

Pincha Mayurasana, one of the balancing poses on the Junior I syllabus

Anyhow, I already mentioned that it is difficult for me to get to the Institute here in New York, because of very unpractical class times for working people added to a very impractical commute from work. It is quite frustrating to know that great teaching is happening so close, yet I cannot benefit from it.

Added to this is the difficulty to take holidays or days off as a scientist. Officially, I am not entitled to any days off this year. Unofficially, my supervisor is nice enough to have let me take a day here and there, and even a week in October. But clearly, I cannot take a day off every other week to go to a yoga workshop, or half a week to go to the IYNAUS convention. Let’s not even think about taking a month off to go to Pune… when I already have issues planning a trip to Europe to see my family.

Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute - India - Pune

So  finding a life-work balance is proving difficult. I’m not ready to become a full-time yoga teacher yet, if ever. As much as I like teaching, I also genuinely enjoy my research and I hope it will result in a drug which will save lives within a few years. And even if I did quit my job (which, reasonably, I anyways cannot do for visa reasons, but assuming I could get a different visa), I would like to spend more time doing animal rights activism and possibly finding a job in science policy. I could see how this would fit more easily with a yoga schedule though. Then again, in a few years I will likely want to raise a child, which will also take time. So is it possible to have it all? Am I too involved with my “day job”? If you truly want to teach yoga and walk forward on the yogic path, is there no other way but to become a full-time yoga teacher?

I think of Mr. Iyengar and the path he took away from the “traditional” yogis, as a house owner (grihasthin) and not a renunciate (sannyasin). At the time, being a yoga teacher was most certainly weird, and a very risky career choice… Yet it enabled him to spend hours and hours mastering the craft, and he not only mastered it, but spread it all around the world so far that nowadays everyone knows about yoga. He knew it was his calling, and he answered to it, leading him to create an amazing community and recording an incredible depth of knowledge. While I feel truly grateful for my situation as well as everything I have achieved so far, I can’t help but wonder: what do you do when you have more than one calling? Is it a case of “jack of all trades, master of none”? Or is it simply one of our time’s illness, and my inability to truly get to the essence of yoga, “stilling of the waves of the mind” (Yoga Sutras of Patanjali I-2)?

Internet Marketing Jack of All Trades and Master of ...

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. How do you manage your practice / teaching and your regular job + family life? Were there times when it was more difficult? What tips and tricks helped you to find your balance? What made you want to teach full-time?

 

A zero waste adventure: the bathroom

So if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might have noticed that I’ve been trying to limit the waste I produce, and generally how much of an impact on the earth my actions lead to. I’ve touched upon this topic here. I thought it’s time I show what practical measures I have taken and how it changes the look of my bathroom!

This post is not sponsored (I mean, my blog is far from dragging the readership that is required for sponsorship :’D) so I’m only “advertising” the products that I use, because I use them, and in case you’d like to know why I use them and where you can find them.

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From left to right: homemade conditioner / cleaning agent (50% lemon juice or vinegar, 50% water – the label is a wink to my old organic chemistry days and simply indicate it is diluted acid), “Soak and Float” Lush shampoo bar, “Sexy Peel” Lush soap, and Pura Naturals compostable sponge. 

  • I’ve switched from buying liquid soap and shampoo in plastic bottles to soap & shampoo bars. I also switched my deodorant to a solid one you can see on the picture below (pro-tip: I find that wetting it makes the application much easier). All of those right now are from Lush, they are vegan and cruelty-free aka not tested on animals *. I like that they don’t use palm oil, and are generally a pretty conscious company, both in terms of animal testing and eco-friendliness. For more info on their practices I recommend reading this blog post.
    Why getting rid of plastic when you can recycle it, you ask? Well, first, a lot of it just isn’t recycled. Second, plastic can only be recycled a couple of times as it is downgraded each time it is recycled – so it’s truly downcycled rather than recycled. Third, the plastic itself requires a LOT of energy to be made (link is for water bottles). Finally, liquid products weight more and take more space, increasing the transportation energetic cost compared to solid. For exemple, I’ve switched to solid shampoo since last October, and I’m not even through my second shampoo bar ( I shampoo every 2-3 days)!
    However, I have found that with the shampoo bar, I do need a conditioner, else my hair looks greasy. I didn’t use to use a conditioner beforehand, but now I am simply rinsing my hair with a mixture of vinegar or lemon juice and water, which works like a charm.

    * I still don’t understand how you can label a non-vegan product “cruelty-free” and vice-versa – you’d think those would be synonymous but you can have “accidentally” vegan products tested on animals and products non-tested on animals which contain milk, honey or carmine (crushed insects).

  • I am actually using this same “conditioner” mixture to dust most of the apartment off. Any glass, mirror, or wood surface is easily cleaned by this slightly acidic mix and a cloth. And possibly some elbow grease.
  • Sponges. For some reason, it didn’t hit me until I started looking into buying an eco-friendly sponge, but most sponges are made out of plastic, which cannot be recycled, and ends up in a landfill where it will take hundreds of years to decompose, if it ever does. So I switched to a compostable sponge. It’d still packaged in plastic, but at least I can just put it in my compost bin once I’m done with it, and recycle the plastic film (which other sponges would have too).

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Top: face cream from Persistent vegan on Etsy. Middle: Solid deodorant ‘T’eo” from Lush in its tin box. Bottom: Adjustable safety razor from Merkur & bamboo comb bought at a fair.

 

  • One of the easiest switches I made was to get an adjustable safety razor. I actually got it as a present for christmas, and I love it. It shaves so close to the skin, and I don’t get razor bumps anymore! There is a bit of a learning curve as it barely requires any pressure to shave, and it takes a bit more time as I am more careful not to cut myself, but even without the environmental concerns, I cannot imagine going back to disposables.
    I also stopped using shaving cream, I just lather my skin with the soap bar and voila!
  • My comb is not really a “switch” as it is not an item that you replace so often. But my old comb (which was made out of plastic) broke down, so I replaced it with this more eco-friendly alternative – I also like the simple look of it. I would not have replaced it if it didn’t break down as it is better to use up what you have rather than buying something new, even if the new item is eco-friendly.
  • Face products! That was a tough one. As you might know, I have had bad skin issues in the past, and my skin is still pretty reactive and unhappy with most creams – so much that it is often better without putting anything on it. The one exception I have to mention is Matricium. This sh*t is absolutely magical and amazing, and saved my *ss many, many, many times. However, it’s also very wasteful… individual doses, plastic-wrapped 😦 and not vegan. So I had been trying to find a replacement solution for a while, and so far I seem to have settled down for Persistent vegan face cream.
    As for washing, I either use only water, or a bar face soap from Lush, once again.
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Very simple ingredients, yet it seems that my skin has taken a liking to it. Tin packaging is easily reusable (you can send it back to her to get a refill) or recyclable. 

  • Alongside the safety razor, I got reusable pads for my christmas present. I’m not linking any of those, as I realized later that it would have been better to sew my own out of an old T-shirt. Furthermore, I got some made out of bamboo fiber, before I learned that bamboo textile was actually not eco-friendly. Oh well, you live, you learn.
    As you can see below, I store them into glass containers labeled “clean” and “used”. When I go to the laundromat (yes, welcome to NYC, nobody owns a washing machine here!) I put them in my underwear net and wash them with the rest of my clothes. I use Dr. Bronner’s  soap to wash my clothes, which is hypoallergenic.
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My bamboo toothbrush rests into a repurposed liquid deodorant container from which I removed the roller. I repurposed glass jars from bean dips after carefully washing them, removing their labels and relabeling them as face wash pads containers.

  • One of the first things I did was to switch my toothbrush for a bamboo one. Plastic toothbrushes are one of the worst things for the environment, as they cannot be recycled, have very long decomposition times, and are changed pretty often. Bamboo toothbrushes can be composted, however I recently found out that you need to either break the head off or pluck the bristles out, as even the toothbrushes labeled as biodegradable are not truly so, unless they’re not vegan. So to be honest, I’m not sure a bamboo toothbrush is truly better than a toothbrush with replaceable heads, especially since I’m pretty sure most people don’t have the patience to remove bristles or break the head of their toothbrush off.

Finally, some things I’m still working on / trying to find better alternatives to. Both have to do with oral care.

I haven’t managed to find a packaging-free toothpaste that contains fluoride. I have teeth which are very sensitive to tooth decay, so I really want fluoride in my toothpaste. There is a lot of fear-mongering about fluoride in toothpaste, but after looking through the scientific literature, I could not find evidence of fluoride being bad for you unless you actually eat a large quantity of toothpaste, which might be an issue for young children, but definitely not for adults. I could find, however, lots of evidence showing that fluoride prevents tooth decay. So even though I tried Lamazuna‘s solid toothpaste, I reverted to regular toothpaste (I also really didn’t find it practical, as it broke down into pieces about halfway through use). Please leave a comment if you know of an eco-friendly toothpaste with fluoride.

I’m also struggling with finding an alternative to floss. The biodegradable floss I’ve seen is made of silk, so not vegan. I’m thinking of switching to toothpicks instead. Once more, if you have suggestions please please please leave them below.

I hope this was useful! Did it inspire you to change some of your bathroom items for a more eco-friendly option? What is your next swap gonna be?