Sunday, August 9, 2015

Finding Zen in Your Daily Commute

Everyone seems to notice that Metro Manila traffic has gotten worse lately. Those who drive or take UV Express, Uber or the cab claim that getting to work takes them an extra 30 minutes as there are more cars traversing EDSA even after rush hour and as old shortcut routes courtesy of Waze are getting jammed by cars even on early mornings. The MRT is everyone's last option but it remains the fastest way to get from north to south and south to north if only it isn't unpredictable and overcrowded all the time.

You would not want to lose your cool in any of these situations. It's harmful to your energy and focus, which you wish to direct towards your priorities. So I'd like to share with you some of the things that I do (or have heard other people do) that work to bring some zen back to your daily commute:

1. Rise early

Waking up early allows you to have a few moments to spend quietly and complete your usual routine. It also gives you a good chance of getting to work or your appointment on time.

2. Listen to inspirational talks, audiobooks or daily reflections

Diffuse the noise outside and tune out of your cab driver's loud music by listening to talks or audiobooks that add to your knowledge and enrich your spirituality. I suggest loading podcasts such as the Zen Commuter by Thom Walters and audiobooks to your player over the weekend so you can set your good mood for the week.

2. Meditate

Still with your earphones on (and if you're not driving), you can take tuning out to a whole new level by listening to guided meditation exercises such as those of Bob Proctor's or with the help of mobile apps like Calm and One Touch (available on iTunes and Google Play).

3. Listen to feel-good music

As some of you might not be the meditative types, listening to the kind of music that calms you and helps you find your rhythm may be the best option.

4. Read

Reading a good book has become a luxury to most working folks like you and me. Those who take trains are in a better position to take this luxury as moving trains are more stable than moving cars. Remember, a good book can take your mind to places.

5. Breathe

Heavy traffic can cause your anxiety to build up. When we are constantly in a state of stress, our breathing becomes rapid and shallow, which may cause our heart rate to increase and eventually, lead to higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Taking in deep breaths through your nose and diaphragm can help decrease your heart rate and stress level, as well as  resume your body's processes. (Here's an interesting link: The Science of Stress, Heart Rate and Breathing.)

6. Pray

They say that calm and peace are not caused by the external environment but by one's internal reality. Praying helps us find stillness in urban chaos and hence, more attuned to the voice of the Supreme Being.

7. Practice mindfulness and compassion

In Thrive, Arianna Huffington quoted Tessa Watt in her forthcoming book entitled, Mindful London:

"Use the famous British queue---at the bus stop, post office, or shop---as a chance to slow down and practice mindfulness. Instead of letting the frequent wailing of sirens irritate us, we could use the sound to remind us to take a pause and notice the moment. At the traffic crossing, instead of being impatient for the green man, appreciate how the red man gives us a chance to stop, breathe and look around."

By being present in the moment, you can take a look at your fellow commuter not as that annoying smelly person who pokes your side with his bag but as another human being who has his own story to tell. You can choose to appreciate and bless them quietly or show some form of kindness to make them smile and think that the world is a better place.

Photo Credit:

Friday, July 31, 2015

FLOW Mystery Tour

Pretty Artwork at L!FE Yoga Center

Joining the FLOW's first Mystery Tour was a plan made on the spur of the moment. I wanted to do something different on a free Saturday that capped a 9-day novena, seeking "to begin a new life that will last forever." I wanted to be surprised.

Surprising the Spirit

The tour kicked off with a yoga class at the newly-opened L!FE Yoga Center at Eight Forbestown Road in BGC. Our tour guide and yoga teacher, Monica, glowed and radiated positivity. Her voice was calming and encouraging; she helped me find my core as I have not practiced yoga in the past few months. (I miss yoga!)

After doing a few poses, Monica taught our group a relaxing massage technique that we practiced on a partner. It was a good opportunity to pass on good intentions, unconditionally, to another person and receive the same in return. We concluded the session with a short ritual, forming a mandala, which represented our connectedness and collective ability to bless each other. Mandala, by the way, was the theme of the day's tour.

Surprising the Body

Healthy with a Kick!
Xavier has natural and organic pines, apple, banana,
ginger, and other greens

The Vegetarian Kitchen's Korean Bibimbap

After that quieting activity, we went on to a 3-stop organic food trip across the metropolis. From BGC, we headed to Kapitolyo in Pasig where we got our free Rawlicious smoothies, which had all that natural and organic goodness in a bottle.

After Rawlicious, we went to the Forest Food Fair at the Quezon City Circle where we had our "working" lunch. Our meals were prepared by one of the longest-running vegetarian restaurants in town, The Vegetarian Kitchen (est. 1990), and desserts were from Raw Yogini Sonia. I had a beautifully-presented and equally delish veggie Korean bibimbap and some yummy chocolate pudding that rolled and melted smoothly in my mouth.

Surprising the Mind

As we were having lunch, Monica asked us to draw our own mandalas. I am not an artist but I just drew what my mind told me to, choosing colors that resonated at the moment. (Monica did not ask us to interpret our work... I'm glad!)

Our take-home organic veggie bouquet
from Holy Carabao
The tour was an experience of the mind not only as we let our unconscious out into paper through our mandalas, but also because of the conversations that I had with the other ladies in our trip. Monica facilitated conversations that allowed me to discover others and re-discover myself. As there were several mothers in the tour, I learned much about natural birthing and mindful motherhood. How I wished that I had this knowledge when I had Krissy 10 years ago... and how I wished to have another child.

Our final stop was at the Holy Carabao Farmers' Market near Rockwell where we were entertained by Hindy Weber who introduced us to biodynamic farming. Considered a notch up from organic farming, the biodynamic method of farming integrates spiritual, ethical and ecological approaches to agriculture and food production.

I guess I would have to take my journey and advocacy for a healthy lifestyle up to a whole new level after the FLOW Mystery Tour.

Glowing Ladies at the FLOW
Join the next FLOW Mystery Tour by visiting

Friday, August 29, 2014

Project Skin Deep: Healing from Rosacea and Dermatitis

Here's a recent sweaty selfie after a run. This
is a no make up and no filter look.
They say that a woman's skin cannot hide her secrets. Had she been sleeping late, bingeing on chocolates or stressing over an issue, a pimple breakout would tell her story. Had she taken a little too much margarita on a Friday night out, her lackluster skin on the following day would give it away.

When I had the first signs of dermatitis late in 2010, I was quick to attribute it to a skin allergy and its medication without any sound basis. Scaling near the hairline was a skin problem that popped up from time to time yet, it did not bother me as much as when the scaling worsened and appeared on other parts of my face. Adding to the problem was what later on appeared as mild rosacea, which caused some itching and stinging sensation on my cheeks and between my brows.

Out of worry, I went on a product trial spree---changing my 10-year daily skin regimen to other drug store products and organic finds known to be effective on sensitive skin. None of them solved the scaling and flare ups.

It was only in February this year when I finally saw a skin expert in the name of Dr. Vermen Verallo-Rowell, Makati Medical Center's Chair of Dermatopathology and Founder of VMV Hypoallergenics. She diagnosed my skin problems as mild rosacea, and seborrheic and photocontact dermatitis. Dr. Verallo's approach to managing my skin problems was holistic. She inquired about my activities and sources of stress as a way to internally address the cause of my woes. Externally, her prescription included washing my face with Oil So Well Virgin Coconut Oil in the morning and at night time; rubbing Red Better Daily Moisturizer on areas affected with rosacea; and putting on Skintangible, a BB cream with SPF 30, every morning.

After six months of consistent use, coupled with healthy lifestyle activities that she advised me to sustain, I am already reaping the benefits of a clearer and healthier skin.

Sharing how I did it with what worked and what did not through the following tips:

1. Get an expert's advice - Here's something that you should not do: Google your skin woes.

At the onset of my rosacea, I relied on Google to take me to popular medical websites that offered descriptions of common skin problems and their corresponding medications. Despite insistent reminders to see a dermatologist, I still chose a DIY approach to solving my skin problems only to realize much, much later that none of my solutions ever seemed to work.

2. Opt for sustainable skin care - I have always lived by the philosophy that skin care should be affordable (within one's budget), accessible (can be easily bought) and always available (self-explanatory). When Dr. Verallo recommended VMV Hypoallergenics, I had no reservations because they were well within my personal skin care budget---not to mention that VMV stores offer occasional 10-15% discounts, and their well-stocked stores are present in malls that are near my home and workplace. I should also say that VMV allows product reservations by phone so if a shop happens to have run out of a preferred item, you can always reserve from another store and agree on a reasonable date or time for pick up.

3. Observe good hygiene - Even the best products in the market can be ineffective when used inconsistently and when good hygiene is not practiced. I would have been cleared from dermatitis earlier had there been no times - rare ones - that I fell asleep with my make up on.

4. Practice healthy lifestyle - The introduction to this post best explains why one should eat healthy and exercise. To eat healthy does not require depriving one's self with the foods we love; all it takes is a conscious effort to eat clean at least 80% of the time. Eating clean means choosing fresh and organic fruits and vegetables - especially those that nourish the skin - over processed food or it can simply be choosing healthy home-cooked meals over some oily fastfood.

Getting enough exercise also helps keep many skin problems (and other diseases) at bay. A good cardio like running, brisk walking, biking and zumba can help improve blood circulation and cleanse pores.

5. Drink lots of water - Water cleanses our body from toxins and other impurities. A well-hydrated body reveals better complexion and helps us feel revitalized after a stressful day at work.

6. Catch the zzzs before they bite - Without enough sleep, our body releases more cortisol -- the stress hormone that can break down skin collagen. Lack of sleep can result in dull skin, fine lines and those hard to rid dark circles under the eyes. Lastly, sleep facilitates cell regeneration, which is essential to curing both skin and emotional problems.

7. Center in your core - Common skin infections with external causes can be easily cured with topical medications; however, persistent problems such as rosacea and dermatitis are said to be more complex than what they seem to be. Studies suggest that stress is a strong factor as such, treatment should be administered more than skin deep.

A lot of this inner work can be addressed by regular meditation, mindfulness and yoga. Being aware of the sources of stress and taking steps to abate them with a calm and focused mind can make wonders not only on our skin but on our whole well-being.