Self-improvement

It’s this time of the year again, when everyone takes new resolutions to better themselves in the coming year. It’s been many years since I have taken new year’s resolutions, and this year is no different. I see self-improvement as something I do continuously, so I don’t generally have something specific on my resolutions list.

It’s funny that these good resolutions are so ingrained in our culture, yet most people do not think about self-improvement on a daily basis. Worse, most people are resistant to change, not only for themselves, but also for others. “Oh, you changed” is rarely a compliment (unless you’re back from the hairdresser… and sometimes not even). I personally get a lot of resistance to my changing of certain things, even from family members or friends (though I do feel quite lucky to have a generally very open-minded support group, which I attribute to having met most of them in an academic setting). One obvious point of contention is my veganism, but I’ve also experienced it with my journey of reducing waste, weightlifting, or even my yoga practice.

I think part of it comes from the fact that I’m trying something new, which often doesn’t fit with the idea they have of who I am. And they might be right sometimes, and I won’t stick with what I’m doing (looking at you, pole dancing – I have way too slippery hands). Other times it does stick, and funnily sometimes people who met me later in life cannot imagine me without it: for instance people who met me during my PhD have always known me as “the yoga girl with the allergies”. People who will meet me during my postdoc will likely have a hard time imagining me eating meat.

Conflict also comes when I do (or start doing) something others feel like they should be doing but don’t. I also have this, for exemple when it comes to zero-waste lifestyles, but I try to see it as inspiration instead of judgement. Because I cannot commit to a fully zero-waste lifestyle now does not mean that I cannot do anything. I can do research, I can change some things, I can limit my waste, I can talk to other people about the simple changes I am doing and how they can implement them too. And maybe one day I’ll be able to be fully zero-waste, but meanwhile I’ll be reducing-waste.

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I try to keep in mind that even though every little thing helps, in the grand scheme of things most people are not gonna become fully vegan or zero-waste. However, most people might become flexitarians or reducetarians. By striving in a lifestyle that is more compassionate and better for the environment, while still being relatable as fully part of society rather than an outcast (and hopefully a useful contributor to society as both a researcher and a yoga teacher), I hope and aim to inspire people to make small changes in their own lives. Even in France, I do see that things are changing, even for veganism, as usual slower than anywhere else (how dare you touch upon French Cuisine!), but at least in Paris, and in supermarkets, vegan products are becoming more broadly available.

I’ll still be taking the plane to move to NYC. I am convinced that we can live a modern lifestyle while being more respectful of our surroundings, and I don’t see flying stopping any time soon. However, I will not take the plane when it isn’t necessary: for exemple I went to Berlin by train a few weeks ago. The inconvenience+price VS ecological impact wasn’t enough to convince me to get a plane ticket. I would also like to see more initiatives limiting flying for science conferences for exemple, with all the options that new technologies such as Skype (and who knows, soon holograms?) offer.

’tis a complicated time to be alive, that’s for sure. Even when you want to make the right choice, and you do some research, there is so much conflicting information on ze internet that I cannot blame people who do not take the time to go through dozens of article, without any scientific training, and synthesize the information to make an educated choice. This is why I believe that we have to push for more certifications -even though there are already so many. I realize that more labeling might confuse consumers even more, but I am rarely as annoyed as when I am looking for information on a product and cannot find it. At least if it is there, you might or might not look at it, or spend much time comparing products, but you can do it. And there are often great people on the internet who will take upon themselves of making comparisons and come up with the best choice depending on both your budget and your values.

Anyways, are you readers taking new resolutions? Why / why not? And if so, what are they?

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What’s the best way to promote a lifestyle (aka: to instagram or not to instagram)

I’ve been considering starting an Instagram account. I keep on toying with the idea, yet not actually doing it.

On the one hand, Instagram clearly is an easy way to promote a healthy lifestyle, and inspire people. I believe that I am somewhat out of the regular yoga-crew, even though I am white, female, and relatively slim, since I also happen to be an Iyengar practitioner, who are relatively unknown on the interwebs, and I did my training while getting a PhD in structural chemistry, which I will defend and receive in November. I’m also a French vegan, which is still a rarity (though that is changing).

I genuinely would like to make Iyengar yoga more known and attract younger practitioners (I talked about age issues in the Iyengar community here). Few teachers are known outside of the Iyengar community, I would say Patrica Walden for sure but still mainly by older practitioners, and Carrie Owerko who is doing hell of a job at spreading the Iyengar world while making it seem fun and attainable.

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Interestingly, when I saw this cover of Yoga Journal, I did not notice it was Carrie Owerko initially, but my first thought was “wow she’s got her front foot really activated, really nice to see that in a yoga pic’ for once!”

Anyhow, the Instagram world, while full of yogis, is pretty void from Iyengar yogis, with the exception of yogi Zain who makes beautifully edited videos, and Fanny from Iyengar yoga notes. If you know of other follow-worthy Iyengar yoga instagrammers, by all means please leave a message in the comments.

So why am I not doing it? Well, I’m still wondering if having an Instagram wouldn’t make me addicted to a) taking pictures all the time and b) external validation. While I started this blog with the only intention to write down my thoughts, I would start my Instagram account with the idea of spreading my idea of yoga, veganism and generally my lifestyle to as many people as possible. First, I’m still not convinced I’m that worthy of an inspiration. Second, well, this blog is not getting many viewers, which I’m fine with, but what if my Instagram doesn’t either? Third, if it does get some traction, is it really promoting what I want to promote? Instagram posts are very short and centered around a picture. While it is easier to communicate and attract people through images, is an image-only medium really the best? Finally, the Iyengar community itself is quite critical about form. And I am too. If I would want to post picture of poses, they’d have to be pretty-near perfect… which might take a lot of time and fun out of my practice.

So overall, I’m thinking of changing the blog a bit, with maybe more short, Instagram-style posts. Maybe some “progress pics”. Maybe advertise my blog a bit more. But not a complete switch to Instagram.

What’s your opinion? Do you use Instagram? Do you wish there were more Iyengar yogis on Instagram? And what’s the best way to promote Iyengar yoga or simply a healthy lifestyle on the internet? Where should I promote my blog?  Looking forward to reading your comments and suggestions.

 

 

2 years!

I can’t believe it’s already been two years since the experiment. I don’t think when I started, I ever imagined it would turn out into a permanent thing. Now I can’t imagine going back to eating meat!

So, what changed during the past two years?

I read. A lot. I informed myself about the different reasons to be vegan, and I realized that I was lying to myself. Even though I care a lot about the environment (see below), I am an ethical vegan. I recently came to this conclusion, partly after watching many of Unnatural Vegan videos, but also reflecting on my feelings towards animals (even though there is evidence that it can be healthy and in some cases environmentally neutral to incorporate some animal products into one’s diet, I would not do it) and reading this interesting piece on vegetarianism and the yoga sutras of Patanjali (please let me know if you cannot access the article).

People started to ask me questions about veganism, and I am slowly openning up to the idea of being an “activist”. At least with friends, I am ok explaining why I am vegan, and also not having all the answers. Planting a seed and sometimes admitting I’m not perfect has its role in promoting veganism, if only for making it more accessible and not-all-vegans-are-assholes. #leadbyexample? Interestingly, I’m the only vegan I know. And I used to think vegans were crazy, so I can relate to non-vegans. Arguing is getting easier as I get more informed, and I have to give a shoutout to r/vegan for its very well maintained wiki. I once too thought that animals were mistreated only in the US, that no harm was done to dairy cows and free-range chickens. And back in 2011 when I watched Earthlings (don’t you love that it’s classified as horror/documentary?!) for the first time, I got easily convinced to eat animals again “because you can’t survive without animals products”. Worst is, I totally believed it. But I know better now,  and I also know to do my research on pretty much any claim before taking a decision.

Which leads me to: making better decisions as a consumer. To reduce the harm I create, both to animals and to the environment. What am I doing about that?

I started looking into the zero waste movement. I replaced my plastic toothbrush with a bamboo humblebrush. I was already using a menstrual cup, but I’m trying to switch most of my other beauty products to plastic-free ones (think soap bars and homemade deodorant – I used to use coconut oil only, but it’s not strong enough for me). I’m planning to buy a safety razor when I’m done using the plastic ones I have. I stopped using plastic bags or plastic-wrapped fruits and veggies, am planning to start bulk-shopping, and near-stopped buying organic products once I realized that:

1) they’re not pesticide-free

2) they’re not vegan

3) they’re often not better for the environment

4) organic produce is almost always wrapped in plastic!

Ideally, I would grow my own veggies in my garden, but yeah, this is not gonna happen before a while. Even though I moved to a place which has a small garden with a compost bin, and I’m very happy to finally be able to compost most of my waste since I eat mainly whole foods!

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Illustration by Maddie Bright

Generally I’m trying to be more conscious of anything I’m buying and limit what I do buy. Do I really need it? Can I buy it second-hand? What about fairtrade / slave-free / etc? (I got a Fairphone 2). Food-wise, I sometimes have to make “hard” choices. I’m already very limited between allergies and veganism, so sometimes I will by a gluten-free vegan good that contains palm oil. Because my mental health is also important 😉

Alright I think that’s all for now, if you have advice and/or questions please leave them in the comments below, I’d be happy to hear what you do to limit your impact on this planet 🙂

The V-word

I’m a vegan. Here it goes, I said it. It’s hard for me to say, for fear of the reactions people around me have when I say it.

Recently, someone I know posted on FB that they were anti-vegan. It hurts. And there is no good response. If I intervene and say “Hey, so you… want to see more suffering? that’s what you mean by “you’re anti-vegan”?” I’ll be seen as preachy, just because I identify as vegan. But that’s all it means, being vegan, is consciously making better decisions to reduce suffering.

“Veganism is a way of living that seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing and any other purpose.” – The Vegan Society

NB: Humans are animals too, so this includes slave labor etc.

Everyday, you make hundreds of choices. In an ideal world, for all of these choices you make you would have all the information you need and all the necessary time so that you can make the best choice. Obviously, this not the case, and we make most choices out of habit and convenience. If you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, nobody will judge you because you choose either option. But most days, you have the power to make a better choice and reduce suffering, and if you consistently make take choice, in my book you’re a vegan.

So with this definition, you can be a vegan and eat meat, as long as you’re trying to reduce your consumption. Yes, this will be a controversial point of view, and I’m certainly not saying that the poor cow or chicken did not suffer during its life and death being “raised” for food. In my opinion it’s better not to eat meat than to eat meat, because it’s a direct way you, as a consumer, have power to reduce your impact on Earth.

But I was born and raised in France. Culturally, eating meat is an entire part of the French cuisine and by extension, lifestyle. I was raised, like most people, with the idea that animal products were healthy and even necessary for survival, and only crazy people would be vegan (since it is unnatural and you would have to be unhealthy). So I ate meat, and let’s be honest, for most people, meat tastes good. It’s convenient to eat. But is convenience and taste a good enough reason for the environmental havoc it is creating, the suffering it brings to farm animals, notwithstanding your arteries and your waist?

It took a long time for me to stop eating meat. Information about factory farm, like Earthlings, the impact of meat eating on the environment, like Cowspiracy, and other documentaries about the health aspects like Fork over knives and many others, slowly changed my mind. Information is power. However, it took me a while. I got diagnosed with  gluten and dairy allergy, so I had to eliminate those first. When that was done, I slowly started reducing my meat and fish intake, not buying any for home but eating it if there were no other options at a restaurant or a friend’s place. I had to learn how to plan and propose to bring food when I travel or am invited. I am still viewed as an extremist, when all I want is literally to do no harm, or at least as little as possible.

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Being vegan in the US is so easy. Lots of convenience food, options in restaurants everywhere… Definitely not as easy in Europe. But getting there. I try to lead by example, showing that I am not craving any foods because I can always make a vegan version of it, being very active and healthy so that nobody contests the fact that being vegan is healthy. Of course, you should pay attention to your B12 levels, but then again I believe vegans are asked about their health so often that they have to be healthier than meat-eaters, who often do not care about their diets and think they eat healthy without actually ever checking (beware, this is a generalization!).

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It’s not always easy to know what is the best option for all of these choices we have to do everyday. For example, I sent some shoes I had (from before I went vegan, so leather) to get repaired. I love these shoes, and I thought this was the best option – repairing rather than buying new ones would be both cheaper and better for the environment. However, what I did not realize until I got the shoes back, is that since the lining of the shoe was in leather, the shoemaker used leather to repair them. It was too late when I got them back to change anything, but I don’t know what I would have done if I had realized this before.

Other of my difficult choices include products which use palm oil (extremely bad for the environment), gluten-free breads that contain eggs (I usually don’t buy them anymore but it’s hard…), clothing (what about sweatshops and human exploitation?), and so many. Still, I try to inform myself to make better choices each time. I’m not perfect. I will never be. But I can strive for self-improvement and make a better choice than the previous one. That’s what veganism is all about for me.

Conclusion? Inform yourself (especially if you claim to be a scientist!), and maybe you’ll end up becoming a vegan too!

In the same spirit:

So, I’m just gonna leave this link here in case you decided you want to learn more; you’ll see links to some of the movies I referenced (and some more here in case you think it’s different in your own country, I know it is an argument I used to have), Vegan Sidekick in case you have very logic arguments against veganism (don’t think they’re original, we’ve heard it all before ;)). I highly recommend Happy Cow to find out nice restaurants (also linked). And of course, you can always reach out to me or any other vegan friend you might have, I’m sure they will be more than happy to help you transition to veganism or answer any questions you might have!

Brand sustainibility check: https://rankabrand.org/home/what-we-do

Some cool vegan youtube channels and blogs if you’re looking for ideas:

https://www.youtube.com/user/hotforfoodblog ❤

https://www.youtube.com/user/rawvegannotgross/videos ❤

http://veganheaven.org/

http://accidentallycrunchy.com/

http://www.twocityvegans.com/

http://cookieandkate.com/

http://minimalistbaker.com/ ❤

http://www.unconventionalbaker.com/