Thursday, June 24, 2010

When You Smile :)

Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it's breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you'll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You'll see the sun come shining through for you 

When I was a grade school one of the bulletin boards outside in the hallway had some facts that my teacher liked to collect and exhibit. One of the facts struck me and till this day I remember it well. It was about smiling. It basically related that it takes 43 muscles to frown and 13 to smile. Little did I know that this fact was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to smiling. 

Fast forward a few decades as I read Elizabeth Gilbert's spiritual memoir "Eat, Pray, Love" which was such an inspirational book for me as it helped guide and prepare me for my start on my own spiritual path and remind me how important meditation is for our general well being. In the "Love" section of the book, Elizabeth learns a special meditation from her Balinese spiritual teacher; it is "The Inner Smile Meditation Technique".

I was immediately intrigued as the technique was very simple and I feel is a good introduction to those who are a little intimidated about meditating. I decided to try it out and it is such an effective meditation that I would like to pass it on.

You first start in a relaxed state of mind seated comfortably and take a few breaths to feel calm and centered. Close your eyes. Then start to bring your awareness to the center of your head. Visualize looking out from the center of your head to your "inner face mask" or what you think the inside of your face looks like. Look at your forehead from the inside and notice the blank area of your forehead and how it can be used to display thoughts similar to a movie screen. Right now the movie playing in your forehead is over and your thoughts are blank.

Then continue to go down to the eye sockets and notice how your eyes look when they are closed from the inside. Right now with your closed eyes there is nothing to see out there so "Shop is closed!"  This is your time to yourself. See how your eyes look when they are relaxed, then go down to your nostrils and notice your breath coming in and out, the ebb and flow of life. Such a simple movement is highly taken for granted by us yet we can't live without it.

Next we go down to the mouth, it is in a relaxed state. No gnawing, no gashing, tongue is relaxed, the teeth are slightly separated, lips slightly touching each other in a neutral state. Then we go down to the jaw and chin and we see no pent up tension, as all is calm and relaxed. Now we go back to the center of our head again and view our inner mask and focus on the lips. This time we slightly turn up the corners of our lips in a smile. We start to witness our smile from the inside and eventually we notice a shift in energy and a warm sense of being. Then we go back to the eyes and we see that they too are starting to smile and are in tandem with the lips. This is the Inner Smile. Try to stay in this state for as long as you can and you will notice what the Taoists in ancient China taught, that a constant inner smile, a smile to oneself, insures health, happiness and longevity. Why? Smiling to yourself is like basking in love: you become your own best friend. Living with an inner smile is to live in harmony with yourself.

If you are having a particularly hard day you just have to visualize your neutral inner face and then reset it with an inner smile. 
April, Franz and I love to smile.

Besides the spiritual benefits of smiling there are also many physical reasons to smile, they are:
  • Smiling makes us attractive. People are naturally drawn to people who smile. When was the last time you just had to meet the person across the room that was grimacing?
  • Smiling helps change our mood. Smiling can actually trick the body into thinking that everything is going to be alright (and it usually is).
  • Smiling is contagious. This is true, I like to smile to strangers (not in a stalking way) and I feel joyous when I get a smile back (although I have to admit living in New York City it can go either way as we can be pretty jaded living here).
  • Smiling relieves stress. Smiling is my number one solution to not looking tired and stressed out. Whenever I am in a crowded subway car and I see my little, sad reflection in the window I automatically smile and then I no longer look like a subway zombie (aka, pained commuter).
  • Smiling lifts the face. It's an instant facelift and make you look years younger. Who needs cheek implants? Just smile. Remember frowning is using 43 muscles so you are aging yourself prematurely when you frown.
  • Smiling makes you look successful. Go into a crowded room with a smile and you look like someone that knows what they are doing in their life. You convey confidence.
  • Smiling lowers blood pressure; boost your immune systems and releases Endorphins, Natural Pain Killers and Serotonin. Next time you have bad cramps or are in intense pain, try smiling through the pain and the pain is likely to lessen (of course I also advise a smile AND an Advil in these matters).
  • Smiling helps you stay positive. Whenever life gives you lemons just smile, it will probably domino into a chuckle or laugh and help you see the bright side of a situation. Smiling through a problem will most likely take the fear away and the illusion of fear and how we react to it is really the problem of our lives.
 Even dogs (like my beloved Q-Ball) love to smile!

Lately I have noticed that there are certain people whose company make me smile permanently by just being around them. I have made a conscious choice to try and have them more in my life. The other flip side of the coin is that I am now more aware of people who never bring a smile to my face. I intend to see less of these acquaintances or hope my smile will rub off on them. I am still a work in progress so hopefully in the future I can inspire myself and others and a smile seems like a good place to start. Who knew such a little muscle action in our face could make such a big difference in the world?

Thank you!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

An Eye Makeover

Sometimes the thought of a much needed makeover can be a little daunting. Between the time and expense it's natural to put off a makeover and next thing you know the checkout girl is cheekily calling you "Mam".

Well I am suggesting that if a head to toe makeover sounds too ambitious at this point in your life how about a small makeover that will really make a difference? How about an eye makeover?

Now I am not talking about plastic surgery (although that would be the first plastic surgery I would get for myself) but simple changes you can make with your eyes to make them look more youthful, less tire and more alluring.

Over the years I have had friends and makeup artist give me some great tips that really make a difference in how I look and feel especially when it comes to my eyes. You don't need to spend thousands of dollars to feel like a movie star when it comes to improving how your eyes look. Growing up I was convinced there was nothing special about my peepers. They were just plain old brown eyes (with one more almond shape than the other which happens when the gene pool gets mixed around a little bit). Unfortunately it wasn't until my early thirties when I took some advice and changed my opinion of a very important part of my face forever.

First Step: Eyebrows
I grew up with thick shapeless eyebrows that I almost could braid on my brow. A friend of mine suggested one day I go to her brow guy to get my brow shaped and sculpted. I didn't even know "brow" people existed back then and it all sounded just too...painful. I made an appointment at the ridiculously expensive salon Garrens located on one of the floors of Henri Bendel back in the day (now located at the Sherri-Netherland Hotel) and was introduced to Robert the "Brow Guru". As I sat on a chair very similar to a dentist chair he looked me up and down and asked if I ever had my brows professional done. I said no and he replied, "That's what I thought. But we have a lot to work with here and that's good". Ten minutes later of being pulled, yanked, trimmed and me sneezing like mad (the nasals for some reason unbeknowst to me are attached to the eyebrow nerves) I looked into the mirror and once I looked past the redness and swelling I saw a very sexy woman staring back! I rushed to my boyfriend's apartment which was near by with my large black sunglasses on and when I arrived I flung them off and said. "Look at me! I have movie star eyes!" He pretended to notice the difference (because that is what good boyfriends do) and that is when the second, much better half of my beauty life started. I am still convinced it was the best $25 I ever spent.

 Feeling like a movie star with the right eye makeover!
(Umm, warning this picture is a few years old)

Now Robert I believe is at the salon at Barney's on Fifth Avenue and his price has gone up to over $100 for a brow shaping! Too rich for me. So I still go to either Garren's and ask for their brow lady when things are great (approximately $30) or I go to the Indian thread shaping girls when times are tough (hey, it's $6 dollars and it stops me from looking like a Wooky).

Second Step: Eyelashes
Due to one of my ancestors being Japanese I have longish but very straight eyelashes. No curl at all! When I was young my mother would try to curl my lashes but the eyelash curler would either pinch my lids or yank out half my eyelashes because I flinched too quickly. In my late twenties the buzz starting going around town about Shue Uemura ( a great Japanese cosmetic brand) and their cleverly revamped design of the eyelash curler. They reconfigured the arm and the eye piece to be angled differently than a conventional eyelash curler and their pad is made of silicone which gives a softer curl and no pinching at all!

At the time I bought my first Shue Uemura eyelash curler it was only available at their SoHo store (now it's available at all Sephoras and online) and after spending $16 dollars (in which you also get a replacement silicone pad) I was amazed at the transformation of having all my eyelashes curled out and how it brought attention to my eyes. I then used some Maybelline Great Lash (all my makeup artist friends still recommend Maybelline Great Lash and it cost less than half of what higher end mascaras do). I now really have movie star eyes and I feel like Sophia Loren (minus the heaving breasts, that's another makeover). Who would have known you just needed a cleverly designed eyelash curler to make such a difference?

Sometimes I put fake eyelashes on the ends of my eyes on special occasions but I try not to go too tranny on myself as I do not like the tarantula look and I am always paranoid of the lashes falling off right in the middle of dinner in my soup as I go on talking, clueless to my cosmetic mishap and my dining partners pretending that this look is normal for me. I'm afraid I speak from experience.

Third and Last Step: Eyelids
We gals (and some boys) all like to don eyeshadow on from time to time but one tip I learned on an Oprah show a few years ago was to put a light blue powder on my eyelid (not upper part) especially if you have brown eyes. It works as an optical illusion to give your eye color some extra pop. Now I am not talking about the Brady Bunch blue your mother or grandmother wore in the sixties and seventies, I mean a lightly brushed on (not caked on) ice blue. Then instead of lining the inner eyelids with black (which can make your eyes look small and beady) line them instead with white eyeliner (lightly, again we do not want the 60's Mod look here). This helps give eyes a youthful look. Finish with some under eye concealer for dark circles and wha-la! A mini eye makeover that makes you feel alluring, attractive and hides how tire you may feel after a long day at work or chasing the kiddies. It's funny hearing compliments about my eyes late in life after never receiving any compliments about them before I made these slight changes. I gladly take them.

Now with my mini eye makeover I am wondering if I can go back and Photoshop all my pictures before I learned of these tips and update the appearance of my eyes. I'm afraid my vain ego may demand it!


Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Benefits of Yoga

I know I am most likely preaching to the converted here but since it is a blog on the wisdom of beauty I could not avoid the very important topic of exercise and most importantly the one practice I consider most relevant for mind, body and spirit and that is the practice of Yoga.

The tradition of Yoga was developed over five thousand years ago in India and has been evolving ever since with many different schools and philosophies. Yoga was primarily developed to help those who sought meditation for long periods of time without discomfort (I'm talking days, weeks, months). The longer you meditate the longer you are capable of reaching enlightenment and this inner focus as a means to enhance the sensory and human condition is the root of all Yoga.

I started taking Yoga classes in my last semester of college for a Physical Education credit. I must have fallen asleep in just about every Yoga class as I laid out on the floor exhausted from all the schoolwork I had crammed in my last semester. My Yoga instructor was okay with me falling asleep in the classes as she said it is common to feel sleepy when you start practicing Yoga. I noticed after a while it didn't take long to be able to master the poses and was pleasantly surprised from the "Yoga High" I felt after my classes were done.

Over the years I continued my practice and have tried all different varieties of yoga: Hatha (great for the beginner as it is slow paced), Vinyasa (breath-synchronized movement which tends to be a more vigorous style), Ashtanga (very physically demanding because of the constant movement from one pose to the next), Kundalini (based on the breath in conjunction with physical movement), Bikram (a set series of 26 poses practiced in a 95 to 100 degree room - not for the faint hearted), Anusara (combines a strong emphasis on physical alignment to open the heart - good for all levels), Jivamukti (takes inspiration from Ashtanga yoga and emphasizes chanting, meditation, and spiritual teachings) and my all time favorite Restorative (focuses on relaxing the body in restful postures). These are to just mention some of the most popular types of Yoga practices available to us today.

What are the physical benefits of yoga? They are:
  • Increased flexibility (which helps all other exercises).
  • Increased lubrication of the joints, ligaments and tendon.
  • Massaging of all organs of the body (stimulation and massage of the organs in turn benefits us by keeping away disease and providing a forewarning of disease).
  • Complete detoxification (helps in the flushing out of toxins from every nook and cranny).
  • Toning of the muscles (weak muscles are stimulated to shed excess flab and flaccidity).
In my practice over the years my favorite benefit of Yoga is what it does to harmonize the mind with the body. How often do we find that we are unable to perform our activities properly because of the confusions and conflicts in our mind weigh us down? Moreover, stress which in reality is the #1 killer affecting all parts of our physical, endocrinal and emotional systems can be corrected through a Yoga practice of meditation. 

Yoga has helped me through many stressful times as it creates a remarkable calmness and a positive outlook, which also has tremendous benefits on the physical health of the body. 

Yoga is open to all people regardless of your age or what kind of shape you are in. It is one of the nicest activities I can do for myself and for me illustrates the concept of "self-love" which all spiritual practices are based on. The nicer I am going to be to myself, the more I can take of myself, the nicer I can be to others and take care of them.

So if your life is centered around taking care of others and feeling drained? I highly recommend you take the time to recharge your batteries and practice yoga a few times a week whether at home or a studio. Self-love and peace of mind is one of the best examples and gifts you can give your loved ones and just makes for a better life.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Not If But WHEN Do You Go Gray?

When I was twelve years old my grandmother beckoned me, squinted her eyes and proceeded to pull a hair out of my eyebrow. "Ouch!" I yelled. "You had a gray hair in your eyebrow," she calmly stated. She then proceeded to go through my head like she was looking for lice and found a single gray hair growing from my head. Since it was at my crown she didn't pull it out adhering to that 'Old Wives Tale' of "When you pull out a gray hair, seven more grow in its place" (not true by the way).

That was the beginning of my battle with the gray, one which I fight once every two weeks with the help of L'Oreal, Medium Brown. At age 43, my hair is 60 to 70% gray. Whenever I let my hair go over two weeks without coloring I see nothing but silver threads coming out of my hair when I look into the mirror. My friends claim to not see anything but I do and that is what matters. My question then becomes, not IF to go gray (much like trying to fight the tides from coming in) but WHEN to go gray. One of my best friends Sandy has been an inspiration when it comes to this particular dilemma in life and this is her story.

Sandy started graying in her teens. A natural brunette (medium brown to be exact), she only had one small patch on the front crown of her head that showed gray which was easily camouflaged with Sun-In as she lived by the beach in South Carolina. Her highlights from Sun-In distracted onlookers from any gray hair.  In her early twenties Sandy started dyeing her hair at home and as years went by her hair color progressively darkened as she became prematurely gray (much like her father who sported beautiful snowy, white hair by the time he was in his early thirties). Her hair was dyed so dark that someone once commented on her "Elvis hair", a remark which she did not take kindly to. Sandy's hair color maintenance had become an unwelcome priority around which she coordinated her social calender, scheduling hair coloring around parties and avoiding them if her hair had not been colored.

In her early thirties during a New York City visit, I suggested to Sandy that she get her hair cut and colored similar to Jennifer Aniston's (long, honey blonde locks Jen, not "Rachel"). I felt Sandy's color was too dark to go with her skin tone. She took my advice and after five hours in an expensive salon with much stripping and foiling, Sandy began her slow evolution into a blonde.  I loved the change as it suited her skin tone and I thought she looked fantastic. With every visit to the salon she went lighter and lighter until she was a full-fledged blond. This disturbed Sandy as she also found her personality morphing into a blonde, high maintenance woman. She didn't feel like herself anymore.

The men in her life had not exactly been happy with all the time, money and effort Sandy placed on her hair.  She even tried to keep the maintenance details and its cost a secret. By age 37, at a family reunion, she noticed that many of her relatives had thick, beautiful white hair that she found very attractive. She decided that having hair that could look like theirs was worth looking into.

At first she experimented by dyeing her hair dark again and letting a stripe of gray hair grow at the front crown of her head. Sandy thought this looked cool but reactions from her friends and family were so strongly opposed that it hurt her feelings.  She and her colorist decided to go blonde again but go naturally gray on its own as dyeing hair a true gray is one of the hardest colors to achieve and often looks fake or "dusty". Sandy got several short hair cuts and eventually the cut and the natural gray hair color met. From afar it looked like a blonde/silver and didn't shock people around her. I noticed her new color was shiny and her cut was modern and relevant. I was amazed that it didn't age her at all and she looked great and very at ease with herself.

With her new look,  Sandy said her confidence level changed substantially. As a brunette, she never received compliments on her hair. When she was a blonde she only received two compliments. And as a silver haired woman, she received compliments all the time. She finds that men pay more attention to her now than during the brunette or blonde days. She even says that the men who pay attention to her now are a different type of man, a more evolved type of man. Sandy feels the gray hair has contributed to making her seem much more approachable and low maintenance. Her partner in life Frank says of Sandy's hair becoming gray, "It's the greatest thing in the world! It's natural and beautiful. My question is. Why do you want to dump a bunch of chemicals on top of your head?'"

Good question! Using permanent and semi-permanent hair coloring regularly is strongly associated with an increased risk of cancer, including Hodgkin's, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, multiple myeloma and perhaps leukemia and breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute suggests that 20 percent of all cases of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in women is due to regularly using permanent hair coloring. It is noteworthy that the lovely Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who regularly dyed her hair black, died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Prolonged use of dark, especially black hair coloring may increase the risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and multiple myeloma. In response to these risks, more salons are using chemical free, organic dyes as a healthier alternative.

Sandy is very happy with her evolution into a gray world. "I always wanted to be a natural person, I couldn't even swim with so many chemicals in my hair. Now I can swim again, which I love".  She also likes that her mate seems to prefer a more mature look.  She notes that as a writer, her clients have much more trust in her talents as her look connotes wisdom and makes them more comfortable with her work.

Sandy says that women confide to her all the time when they comment on her hair and of how they think constantly of just going gray and embracing their natural hair color. Ironically Sandy's mother still dyes her hair brown. She feels her face disappears when the gray comes in so obviously going gray is not for everyone. Sandy's opinion is that as long as her haircut is up-to-date, gray is not about getting older but is about being happy with who you really are. 

She thinks I should not go gray just yet as she likes my L'Oreal Medium Brown hue and I must admit I love how my hair looks after I just dye it. I am sure I will be revisiting this question many times in my life. Perhaps I will be ready when I turn 60. Or 70. Or 80...

For a great segment on the question of deciding to go gray at all click here on this link as the Today Show recently discussed this very compelling topic.