Women in Wellness: Erica Velasquez

Women in Wellness: Erica Velasquez

I have the privilege of calling this wellness leader my friend. Erica Velasquez is the creator of Yoga in the Vines- my favorite summer tradition, and founder of Evolve East– a wellness based business in the Hamptons, specializing in yoga, meditation, and Thai massage. We met when she was working at Wolffer Estate Vineyard (home to my favorite rosé of all time) and we quickly realized we both had a passion for wellness. So there is something good that can come out of hanging out at the winery all the time!!

 

I interviewed Erica for Bloom & Spark because I felt that her mission and work are incredibly aligned with the values of this blog. I’m also super excited about sharing the inspiring work that women in the wellness field are doing. I feel very lucky to know so many phenomenal women and want to support and honor their beautiful work.

 

How did you get started in yoga and wellness?

I’ve always loved to dance and move. I remember looking into a yoga studio window as a teenager and seeing students all in headstand. I remember thinking what in the world are those people doing?!!! I have to learn more.

Tell me about the business you run and how you are helping women with their wellness?

My business is Yoga in the Vines which is an outdoor yoga studio based at Wolffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack. I also own Evolveast which offers services such as retreats, private yoga and health related investments. I am on a mission to provide women (and men) the opportunity to reap the health benefits of spending time in nature. I believe time spent outdoors can heal, cure and rejuvenate a person. Taking a time out from technology, cellphones and computers is a must for wellness.

What are your favorite resources (books, industry leaders, podcasts) for living a healthy and happy lifestyle?

My favorite resources for living a healthy and happy lifestyle are the yoga teachers and leaders of the Hamptons.  I am so thankful we are surrounded by a community full of the very best instructors.

What are your favorite types of yoga/movement and why?

Favorite type of yoga is a strong vinyasa class with restorative poses towards the end of class. It allows me to get my heart to beat, release stress and enjoy the art of relaxation.

What are the biggest rewards in the work you do?

The thank you’s from the students and teachers at Yoga in the Vines at Wolffer. I feel like I am serving my community. I enjoy seeing everyone smile after class. I enjoy seeing people gaze at the Vineyard my cousin Richie and his crew work so hard on. I’m so proud of this program and all the supporters.

What do you tell people who want to feel better in mind and body but don’t know where to start?

The hardest part is getting started. Just start. Try something new. Have fun with it. Try a guided meditation. Try a gentle or beginner yoga class and work your way up to something more challenging. Visit a local studio or travel to a studio you have never been to before. Experience a live class in person with a group and have fun! Explore new teachers.

Take me through your perfect Hamptons day!

Truth Training East Hampton with Natalia Poggi. Enjoy making breakfast for my boyfriend and I; smoothie and eggs please! Then Yoga in the Vines at Wolffer, followed by a boat ride out of waterfront marina around Sag Harbor. Enjoy some lunch at home on my porch sitting in the sunshine. A big yummy salad please! Take walk around Sag Harbor Village then have dinner at Sen sushi in Sag Harbor. Finally watch sunset at Long Beach with my wonderful boyfriend Chris and go to sleep! I’ll admit it. I love early bedtime !!!!
What do you think are the keys to living a balanced lifestyle?

A good night sleep! Turn off the lights, the computers, the phones, everything at least 1 hour before bed. Use lavender room spray from the Lavender Farm on the North Fork. Put on cozy pajamas. Read an inspirational book before bed. Say what your thankful for and enjoy a good night sleep. Wake up early and smile.

The Best Yoga Mats: A Yoga Teacher’s Guide

The Best Yoga Mats: A Yoga Teacher’s Guide

The yoga mats in my house seem to be reproducing. I don’t have an out-of-control yoga mat buying habit or anything, but  being in the yoga community, I’ve started to acquire them from various events or receive them as gifts.

This is great news for me because not only do I feel super official and legit having a ton of rolled up yoga mats in the corner of my living room, but I also get to pick and choose which mat to use based on the type of practice I want to have that day.

I realize this is not a convenience had by most, and I did spend a good number of years with a mat that was too thin for my bony joints. So I was constantly seeking out different types of mats to see what would be best for me. I needed one that wasn’t slippery in case I was sweating (yes we ladies do sweat!), I also needed it to have enough padding and thickness but not too much.

So I decided to find out once and for all from people in the yoga industry what the best mats were. I don’t believe there’s only one because obviously there are different needs and different types of practices. That would be like asking people what their favorite food is (…just kidding the answer is always pizza).

I asked yoga teachers across all practices and almost everyone names these four brands.

Manduka: Manduka mats are sturdy, thick, and durable. People are raving about how they last forever and get better with age. They also come with a lifetime warranty and are eco friendly! Some teachers have expressed that they are a bit slippery when wet. So maybe not the best choice if you prefer a hot yoga practice. Someone expressed that they love Manduka mats because it helpes them “glide through vinyasas better.” They are heavy and dense, so depending on your practice that might be a good thing, or a bad thing. I find that Manduka mats are one of the higher quality mats out there. You’ll feel like a serious yogi when practicing on Manduka.

Jade: Jade was another name that kept popping up over and over again when polling teachers about their favorite yoga mats. People love the grip! You know that moment in downward facing dog when your hands and feet start to slide away from eachother? Well, this mat helps keep everything in place. The material can be somewhat rough if you do a practice with a lot of movements. One person told me it chafed their feet because the texture is so “grippy.” Overall the grip is everyone’s favorite feature. So this is the mat to use during your sweaty practices. Other bonuses, they are eco friendly, and come in varying thickness to suit your needs.

Liforme: I had actually not heard about Liforme before doing this research, but I’m glad I found it. Liforme does things a little differently. On every Liforme mat you will see markings designed to guide you into your best alignment. How brilliant! I think this is great for at home practices when you don’t have a teacher giving you alignment cues. It’s also got a great grip and is “impossible to slip on” one teacher told me. Another teacher said that it “literally absorbs sweat.” One downside someone else expressed to me is that they are not that thick, so if you have bony knees and ankles you may need some extra padding. One thing that turned me off is the price, they can go for a lot, but it may be a worthwhile investment.

PrAna: What people love about PrAna yoga mats are their size and stickiness. I’ve also found that PrAna has a lot of choices for thickness and design, so you can really pick out works best for your practice. The biggest downside for me is that PrAna mats are very think and don’t have enough padding for my joints, but I love the grip!

So now I want to hear from you! What is your favorite yoga mat? Share in the comments below.

*This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. I make a small commission on the items you purchase through the links I have provided, in order to sustain Bloom & Spark. 

3 Simple Ways To Spice Up Your Yoga Practice

3 Simple Ways To Spice Up Your Yoga Practice

I know how it feels to get stagnant in your practice. I’m a yoga instructor for goodness sake and I still only find that I get my best practice in when I go take a class with someone else. There’s just something about someone else telling you what to do that makes me push myself harder. When I take my practice home with me, I’m so gentle with myself and do mostly stretching and slow asana flows.

A regular yoga practice can easily feel stagnant. 

I was teaching a client today and I started to realize that if we do the same practice day after day our muscles get bored and we stop growing. We also start to lose connection with our body because it becomes second nature and we can go through the motions without giving it much thought. So, I started to give cues for more fine tuned alignment, and all of a sudden the same poses felt so different.

There are small tweaks you can make in your regular poses to get more out of your practice. 

So I wanted to share some really easy ways to kick up your yoga practice a notch, without adding any more challenging poses. Maybe you’re not ready for headstands, or inversions freak you out. Well this is for you! Do these three things next time you take a yoga class or do your home practice, and you’ll be amazed how different a familiar practice becomes.

Here are 3 simple ways to spice up your yoga practice

  1. Hug Midline– This means that when you are in a standing pose you squeeze your legs in toward one another. Now this won’t mean that they touch. Keep your feet firmly planted directly below your hips, but engage in the muscles of the inner thighs by pulling the legs toward the midline. This simple action will transform seemingly simple or passive poses like mountain pose, forward fold, warrior 1/2, and downward dog. Hold these poses even longer while hugging midline, and you’ll feel so sore the next day! This can also be done in poses where you have weight on your arms such as table top, downward dog, and forearm stand.
  2. Lift Your Toes- This will challenge your balance. First start small my trying it in non balance poses like mountain pose, lunge, or warrior. Not only will it improve your balance, but it will also require you to use more muscles to stabilize, eating you get more bang for your buck in a simple practice. You’re feet and ankles don’t always get strengthened so this is a great way to give some attention to your foundation. Once you are more comfortable try it in balance poses like tree pose!
  3. Close your eyes– Not only will this bring your awareness inside and limit the external distractions, but it will also force you to rely on your own body awareness for balance and movement. We often know how we are moving only because we can see ourselves, but try moving from a place of feeling. This will challenge your balance and also force you to use more muscles and really explore your body in a new way.

I challenge you! The next time you do your practice try out these three actions. Suddenly forward fold and downward dog feel like a whole new experience.

Namaste,

What Can Yin Yoga Do For You?

What Can Yin Yoga Do For You?

What is Yin Yoga?

Yin Yoga refers to gentle and slow movements, poses held for longer periods of time, and a general sense of turning inward. Since it doesn’t take much energy, yin yoga is perfect for when you are feeling sick, run down, or over stimulated. It encourages circulation and energy flow to the joints and internal organs through passive poses that require little muscle engagement. When held for several minutes the poses place pressure on energetic pathways called meridians (think acupressure points) activating energy flow along these pathways. This helps to bring us into balance energetically. Since yin yoga is a quiet practice, it’s best done with soft music or complete silence.

How is Yin Yoga different from regular yoga?

While most modern yoga practices incorporate movements that flow from one pose to the next, yin yoga is slow and still. Rather than engaging in muscles to build strength (like in plank) yin yoga focuses on relaxing muscles in poses that are held for longer duration. Some forms of yoga are very stimulating, enhancing muscles, and building strength. There are tremendous benefits of this, however, if this is all you do, something is missing. Yin yoga targets more deeper connective tissues like ligaments, joints, and bones, to increase mobility and flexibility. This is why Yin Yoga is great for the aging population. It’s a quiet and simple practice, though simple doesn’t mean easy!

Why do Yin Yoga?

Though you won’t expect to build up a sweat in a yin yoga class, what you will gain is increased flexibility, relaxation, and inner peace.Yin yoga can help improve energy flow to internal organs, as well as joints and deeper connective tissue that often gets tight as we age if not taken care of. Yin yoga also helps us live in the present moment, and deeply explore what’s happening right now. This is essential considering the hectic, stressed out world we live in. I feel like I need a yin yoga class every time I turn on the news.

Some general guidelines to remember when trying Yin Yoga for the first time:

  • Come to each pose with sensitivity to the limitations of your body. Go to your appropriate edge- that place between it being too easy and too painful.
  • Relax your muscles in each pose. Tensing up will stop the flow of energy, so feel your skin soften up a bit and maybe back off a little if you find yourself tensing up in a pose.
  • While it may look easy, most people find it challenging to be still for long periods of time, so I recommend starting by holding each pose for 1-2 minutes and gradually working your way up to 5 minutes per pose.
  • Deep emotions can surface when you become more reflective and aware of your thoughts. This is a good thing. Whatever thoughts and emotions come up during these poses, let it come up. We can’t eliminate our thoughts but we can make peace with them.

10 Gifts for the Hip Yogi

10 Gifts for the Hip Yogi

This hip yogi holiday gift guide is perfect for anyone who loves to look super cute while showing the world her love for the yoga lifestyle. Or they can just be a gift to yourself cuz it’s just too freakin’ cute! In the spirit of transparency, the links I have provided are affiliate links, which means I make a small commission on stuff you buy through my links. However, I wouldn’t recommend anything I didn’t either use myself or completely love!

This Manduka Women’s Adorn Crop Top is so on trend because tie-dye is making a huuuuge comeback! Rather than the rainbow tie-dye of the 90’s, it’s back with a more refined attitude (like it went away to college, lived on it’s own for a while and got some life experience). PLUS everyone’s wearing crop tops at the moment. This one comes in some pretty cute colors too. I’ll take all of them!

Ok, so I’m a little bit crushing on Manuka right now but these Leggings are too stinking cute! You can’t really see it from the front in this picture but if you click in the link you can see it from the back and they look like ballet slippers how they wrap around and tie in the back with a cute bow. I personally love them in black because it has this whole black swan ballerina thing going on.

I get comments all the time on my namastay in bed shirt. It says “I’m a serious yogi, but I can laugh at myself too.”

Yoga Clothing For You Ladies Hamsa Tanktop. I’ve been seeing this type of flowy high neck tank everywhere lately. They are so comfy, and great for showing off your toned chatarunga shoulders!

YES! We have arrived at my favorite thing ever! Loud and crazy Printed Yoga Leggings!!! Seriously, the more ridiculous my leggings are the better. These ones are great because they come in a ton of different colors and patterns to suit everybody’s taste in off the wall yoga apparel.

And for those yogis who are not into tight leggings, there is an amazing and trendy alternative. Harem pants are getting really big, but honestly for some reason they just don’t suit me, so I found these which are a nice alternative because they aren’t as much of a tent that could sleep a family of four. These Tori Wear Elephant Pants look more like pajama pants but since they have the elastic at the ankles you can practice yoga in them and they won’t go anywhere.

What I love about this bracelet is that you can  choose from dozens of affirmations and mantras to suit your style. I find that these really look great when you get a bunch stacked. Now your wrist can look like the motivational speaker it always dreamed of being!

I love anything by Dogeared which is a small company, handcrafting everything locally, and focusing on using business as a source for good in the world. This is just one of many beautiful necklaces, each with a distinct charm and message.

Every hip yogi needs a Mala Necklace. Even though they are mostly just worn for aesthetic purposes, mala beads are actually prayer beads. They contain 108 beads and each bead is used to mark the chanting of your mantra during prayer or meditation. I’ve come across many mala beads, and honestly Amazon really does have the most affordable ones with the widest selection. I love this one with the blue/green earth tones.

 

Because you can’t have enough teeshirts with inspirational sayings on them right yogis?!

Holiday Gift Guide for the Hip Yogi

Holiday Gift Guide for the Hip Yogi

The Essential Yoga Gift Gide

The Essential Yoga Gift Gide

Here is holiday gift guide with all the goodies that the yogi in your life will ever need! Whether you are a beginner or well into your practice, there are somethings that are just essential! This yoga gift guide contains what I think are the most essential tools to have in your yoga practice.

Anyway, if you’re anything like me, you do a lot of your holiday shopping online. I’ve actually made a point to not go into any stores this holiday season, with the exception of a few local business in my town I like to support. I’m doing my best to get everything online.

Funny story, I accidentally signed up for a years worth of Amazon prime- long story. I felt really stupid at the time, but it turned out to be the best thing ever because now when I need something I just order it and it’s at my house in 2 days. No more trips to the big box stores, and such a time saver. AMAZON FOR THE WIN. In the spirit of transparency, the links I have provided are affiliate links, which means I make a small commission on stuff you buy through my links. However, I wouldn’t recommend anything I didn’t either use myself or completely love!

Holiday self care for me includes not driving myself crazy with crowded malls, parking spot wars, and over spending. Hence my love for online shopping. I hope this yoga gift guide helps you simplify your holiday shopping!


Sivan 6-Piece Yoga Set

This is great because if you’re a total beginner and have no yoga gear whatsoever this have everything for super cheap. The mat is extra thick which I love for my bony knees (ouch). It includes blocks, towels and a strap. If you never buy another yoga related item after this you’ll still have everything you need.

Peace Yoga Yoga Mat Tote Bag – Tree Design

This yoga mat bag is so adorable and I love the different designs it comes with (the elephant one is my favorite). Since I’m constantly running around, I always keep a mat in my car ready to go if I decide to go take a class on a whim. It’s essential, in my opinion to have a portable yoga mat ready to go at any moment. Keep your mat in this bag by the door or in your car and you’re always ready for whatever yoga adventure you take that day!

Gaiam Premium Print Yoga Mat

I personally have this mat, mainly because I love the designs, but I find it great for standing and balancing poses because it’s on the thinner side so balancing feels a lot sturdier. Since it’s thin too it rolls up quite small and is my “stay in the car” yoga mat for when I feel like hitting a class after work.

 

The Combo Yoga Mat 1 mm. TRAVEL VERSION. 

If you’re serious about yoga then get yourself a travel mat, girl! The design on this one is great (obvi) but I also like that it is machine washable and foldable. When you travel a lot and take your mat all over the place it’s crucial that you are able to wash the heck out of it (because hotels…ew).

Aurorae Non Slip Hot Microfiber Yoga Mat Towel, 72″ x 24″, AQUA TIE DYE

I’ll be honest, I absolutely hate hot yoga. I tried it once and thought I was going to die. I’ve never been good dealing with temperature extremes. I have a very sensitive internal thermostat, so it’s just not for me. But for those of you who are, you definitely need a towel because it can get like viagra falls in those classes, ya know what I mean? Just do yourself a favor and get a towel if you are ever considering a hot yoga class.

SukhaMat Yoga Knee Pad – NEW! 15mm Thick – The best yoga knee pad for a pain free practice. Cushions pressure points. Complements your full-size yoga mat. Practice in Comfort! (Black)

So this is new to me and I’m pretty glad I found it! I have extremely bony knees and have such a hard time on regular mats when it comes to poses that put weight on the knees like a low lunge. I constantly have to put a blanket under my knee or fold up the mat. I don’t know why it tool me this long to realize that these things existed, but I’m so glad they do!

Mandala The Yoga Massage Ball 

These little guys are so great for releasing tight muscles and can eliminate muscle knots and tension through gentle massage using your own body weight. They are ideal for deepening your yoga practice, self-soothing massage,and recovery from injury. I know a lit of people who swear by these things!

Yoga Wheel 

Every time I see one of these things I’m like “Oh I want to try that!” Not only does it look like a lot of fun but it can really add to your yoga practice by helping you deepen more into poses and improve flexibility, balance and core strength. For one small tool it has a lot of uses, like more than you can imagine. I think it’s definitely worth checking out.

Stick-e Knee and Wrist Saver (Blue)

For those of you who experience pain in the wrists or knees during weight bearing poses this simple little tool is a life saver! It takes the right off the knee caps and reduces the weight and pressure on wrists when in poses like plank or downward dog. Now, I have to say as a yoga instructor often the cause of wrist pain in these poses is the result of misalignment and incorrect weight distribution in the hands. SO I usually instruct my students into correct alignment if they have pain. But if you still experience pain or have an injury this is a great next option.

Perfectly Imperfect: The Art and Soul of Yoga Practice

It’s hard for beginners to understand the deep changes that happen as a result of a regular yoga practice. Often people are discouraged because they don’t feel any different after one class. This book takes readers beyond the foundations of the practice and talks about everything that happens in their bodies and minds after they get into a yoga pose. That is where the true transformation occurs, and where deep spiritual and emotional growth happens.

The Essential Yoga Gift Guide

The Essential Yoga Gift Guide