Sugar Cleanse 21 day workshop starts July 11th!

IMG_0068Are your sugar cravings sabotaging your health and wellness goals?

Join me in a FREE 21 day Sugar Cleanse workshop that will start on July 11th.

You’ll learn:

  • The top ways sugar is negatively affecting your health and happiness
  • How your lifestyle affects your sugar cravings
  • Tips on how to treat yourself without sugar without feeling deprived

You can participate in this free Sugar Cleanse in 2 ways:

  1. Subscribe to my e-mail list to receive your tips via e-mail (you’ll get an e-mail every 5 days with 5 tips). If you are not already subscribed, a sign up form is below.
  2. Visit my blog daily during the 21 days for your daily lesson, tip and homework


beetroot-1383699_640Looking for a way to cut sugar without going cold turkey?
There are plenty of healthy sugar alternatives that are sugar to satisfy your sweet tooth. Roasted sweet vegetables such as beets, winter squashes and sweet potatoes make a warm, hearty and sweet dish. Or try using a natural sweetener, such as honey or maple syrup. We’ll cover this in a lot more depth during the sugar cleanse.

sugar-1514247_640Artificial Sweeteners
Don’t be fooled by sugar-free alternatives, artificial sweeteners can be addictive and detrimental to your health. Numerous studies performed on laboratory rats link artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and saccharin to cancer.

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GLOW detox starts this Saturday!

Are you wanting to do a detox or cleanse, but not sure where to start?  Starting Saturday, June 23, I’ll be guiding you on a 7 day plant-based whole foods detox.

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Your body naturally detoxes on a regular basis through the liver, skin, bowels and lungs. But, our bodies may be overwhelmed by the amount of toxins we are exposed to in our modern lifestyle. Doing a detox or cleanse protocol cleanses the blood of toxins and eliminates toxins in a safe way. A good detox protocol flushes impurities from our bodies, boosts our bodily functions, clarifies the mind and frees up energy.

We’ll be giving our digestive system and our bodies a rest for seven days. Foods that are hard on the digestive system will be eliminated from our diets for 7 days. Juices, smoothies and plant-powered meals & snacks will be added into our diets for added nutrients and cleansing properties.

Having a juicer is helpful, a blender is necessary.

This detox program includes access to a private Facebook group where I will be posting daily encouragement, recipes, advice and more. This is also a forum for Glow detoxer’s to share and connect about their detox experiences. Total cost for the program is $25 (the cost of the e-book).

To join the guided detox, purchase the GLOW healthy detox e-book here.

timthumb.phpThe e-book includes:

  • Structured daily meal plan & schedule
  • Calendar with daily detox tasks
  • Recipes
  • Strategies to ease into the detox effectively
  • Self care tips

 

After purchasing the e-book, request access to the Glow detox facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/314645392237352/

The next 7 day detox starts on Saturday, June 23rd – are you ready?


GLOW detox starts this Saturday!

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The next GLOW guided detox starts soon! You can find more details on the detox here. This detox program includes access to a private Facebook group where I will be posting daily encouragement, recipes, advice and more. This is also a forum for Glow detoxer’s to share and connect about their detox experiences. Total cost for the program is $25 (the cost of the e-book).

To join the guided detox, purchase the GLOW healthy detox e-book here.

timthumb.phpThe e-book includes:

  • Structured daily meal plan & schedule
  • Calendar with daily detox tasks
  • Recipes
  • Strategies to ease into the detox effectively
  • Self care tips

 

After purchasing the e-book, request access to the Glow detox facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/314645392237352/


GLOW detox FAQ

The next GLOW guided detox starts Saturday, June 23rd! See details on how to join here.

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This is not a convenient week for me to detox, can I do it another time? 
Yes, you can purchase the GLOW healthy detox e-book and do the detox self-paced. The bonus of doing it during the given week is that you can join the Facebook group and get daily encouragement and tips from me.

I tried to join the GLOW detox Facebook group, but was denied. Why?
The GLOW detox group is a private Facebook group for people that have purchased the GLOW healthy detox e-book, an investment of $25. I need to make a living and $25 is more than reasonable as you get lifetime access to the detox FB group. You can purchase the GLOW detox ebook here then request to join the Facebook group again. Most likely the next time I do the detox in September the price will be increasing.

What kitchen equipment will I need?
You will definitely want to have a blender, ideally a high speed blender. A juicer would be great to have, but not required. In fact, most people that have completed the detox haven’t owned a juicer. If you looking to purchase a blender, I would recommend a Vitamix.

So, how will I make juice if I don’t have a juicer?
There are a few things you can do. One is you can blender the items from the juice recipe with some water. You can also substitute a smoothie instead of having a juice. Or, you could purchase cold-pressed juices. Cold-pressed juices can be purchased at most grocery stores in the continental US pretty easily these days. Costco even sells cold-pressed green juice.

This is a lot less food then I usually eat, will I be tired?
Honestly, you may feel tired for the first few days. The calorie intake is lower, your body is starting to detox, and you may be used to drinking caffeine. Usually by the 4th or 5th day you will actually feel more energetic then ever.

Wait, did you say no coffee?!
Yes. I addressed this in a prior blog post last week.

Will I lose weight?
Probably. But as with all diets if you go back to eating the way you did before the detox, you will gain it back.

Can I do the detox for longer than 7 days?
For more people that will be ok, I’ve done it as long as 10 days.

Should I be using organic produce?
Ideally. But, if organic produce is not financially possible or not available where you live, do the best you can. I would recommend investing in organic for items that are on the Dirty Dozen list.

Any questions I didn’t answer here? Contact me!

 

Have more questions? Send them my way!


How to stop drinking coffee

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Or, how to quit drinking coffee without making yourself miserable!

I have actually quit drinking coffee a few times, and this method is the one where I didn’t feel completely miserable. In the past, I would decide I was going to quit drinking coffee, and immediately go cold turkey. That resulted in either failure – I felt so crappy I just gave in and drank a cup – or complete misery for about 3 days. Think fatigue, brain fog, headaches.

What I highly recommend is weaning yourself off very slowly using the 33% per week method. Let’s say you drink 3 cups of coffee a day. On week one you go down to 2 cups. Week 2, 1 cup. Then from one cup, the next week you would drink 2/3 a cup of coffee, then 1/3 a cup the next week, then you quit completely. This process is very slow, but is a lot gentler on your body. I just quit this way and I maybe noticed I felt a little tired the first week. Easy enough, right?

As you wean off coffee, there are a few other tips that will make you feel comfortable:

  • Replace your morning cup of coffee with a large glass of hot or lukewarm lemon water.
  • Incorporate some maca root powder – which will give you energy naturally – into a smoothie or try this maca latte
  • Consider taking Ashwagandha – an adaptogen. Adaptogens help your body respond to stress and “normalizes” your bodies processes (if you’re tired, they will provide energy, if you are anxious, they are calming). I take it as a supplement daily.
  • Get as much sleep as possible – you might notice you are sleeping more – this is normal.
  • Make hydration a priority. Drink a lot of water, infused water, herbal teas and coconut water.
  • If you do feel headachy, applying peppermint essential oil to your temples can help.
  • Add some Magnesium to your routine in the form of an Epsom salt bath, or using a Magnesium oil spray.

Ok, hopefully you will find this helpful in your journey to be caffeine free. Good luck!


Is coffee healthy?

IMG_0061I recently quit drinking coffee. I’ve always loved the taste and smell of coffee, along with the energy boost it gave me in the morning. It was my favorite morning ritual. I got a lot of joy out of making and drinking a single pour cup of dark roast, organic coffee topped off with my homemade vanilla cashew creamer each day.

So why did I give it up if I love it so much? Here are some things I started to notice… I was wanting to take a nap every afternoon. I had problems getting up and out of bed in the morning. I would feel intestinal pain either right after I drank my daily cup, or sometimes later in the evening. My PMS symptoms and menstrual cramps were getting worse. I had bad breath after my morning cup. And most of all, I hated how addicted I was to having my morning cup of coffee. Until I had my “hit” of coffee I would be tired and have serious brain fog.

Did quitting coffee solve these issues? Surprisingly, yes, and pretty quickly at that.

When people ask my about drinking coffee / caffeine it’s complicated because 1) we all metabolise caffeine differently; and 2), there are a few health benefits to drinking coffee.

Let’s talk benefits of drinking coffee first, coffee & caffeine:

    • Has been shown to stimulate alertness and improve mental performance.
    • Can improve your sense of well-being, happiness, energy, alertness and sociability.
    • Allows athletes to exercise for longer duration without hitting exhaustion. Caffeine decreases the use of glycogen stores during workouts up to 50 percent – allowing for longer workouts.
    • Contains minerals and antioxidants which help prevent diabetes. It has been theorized that is may be because caffeine stimulates muscles to burn fat and sugar more efficiently.
    • Is high in antioxidants. Antioxidants in caffeine help to stabilize free radicals and stop them from doing damage.
    • Keeps dopamine molecules active, preventing diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
    • Can be therapeutic for people with asthma.

 

 

Ok, you knew this was coming, let’s list out some of the negative elements of coffee & caffeine:

 

  • Can raise blood pressure for many hour, which can result in an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Consumption in the early morning affects the body until bedtime, amplifying stress levels throughout the day. Caffeine increases stress hormones and elevates one’s perception of stress.
  • Can cause increased contractions of stomach muscles – possibly causing abdominal pain, diarrhea, and increased bowel movements.
  • Inhibits the absorption of some nutrients and causes the urinary excretion of calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, and trace minerals.
  • Can create female health problems – Fibrocystic breast disease, PMS, osteoporosis, infertility problems, miscarriage, low birth weight and menopausal problems such as hot flashes are all exacerbated by caffeine consumption.
  • Speeds up the aging process in the body. Caffeine tolerance may decrease with age. Production of DHEA, melatonin and other vital hormones decline with age. Caffeine helps to speed up this process. Caffeine also dehydrates the body, contributes to aging of the skin and kidneys, inhibits DNA repair and slows the ability of the liver to detoxify foreign toxins.
  • Can affect adrenal fatigue. Caffeine is a stimulant which binds to adenosine receptors in the brain. This leads to a range of complex reactions which causes an increase of stimulation at the adrenal glands. This can increase vulnerability to a variety of health disorders related to inflammation and fatigue.

 

Ok, so what’s the verdict? Honestly it really depends on how your body handles caffeine – and all of our bodies are different. If you are a woman, you will want to proceed with caution when it comes to coffee. There is a growing body of thought that coffee affects women a lot more negatively than men – and a lot of the research that came up with those awesome benefits of coffee was studied with men. There is a great blog post explaining this on one of my favorite women’s health websites, floliving.

After reading this, are you considering giving up your daily cup? If so, I’ll be posting tomorrow about my strategies to quit drinking coffee. Until tomorrow!


GLOW Guided 7 Day Detox

Are you wanting to do a detox or cleanse, but not sure where to start?  Starting Saturday, June 23, I’ll be guiding you on a 7 day plant-based whole foods detox.

IMG_0058

Your body naturally detoxes on a regular basis through the liver, skin, bowels and lungs. But, our bodies may be overwhelmed by the amount of toxins we are exposed to in our modern lifestyle. Doing a detox or cleanse protocol cleanses the blood of toxins and eliminates toxins in a safe way. A good detox protocol flushes impurities from our bodies, boosts our bodily functions, clarifies the mind and frees up energy.

We’ll be giving our digestive system and our bodies a rest for seven days. Foods that are hard on the digestive system will be eliminated from our diets for 7 days. Juices, smoothies and plant-powered meals & snacks will be added into our diets for added nutrients and cleansing properties.

Having a juicer is helpful, a blender is necessary.

This detox program includes access to a private Facebook group where I will be posting daily encouragement, recipes, advice and more. This is also a forum for Glow detoxer’s to share and connect about their detox experiences. Total cost for the program is $25 (the cost of the e-book).

To join the guided detox, purchase the GLOW healthy detox e-book here.

timthumb.phpThe e-book includes:

  • Structured daily meal plan & schedule
  • Calendar with daily detox tasks
  • Recipes
  • Strategies to ease into the detox effectively
  • Self care tips

 

After purchasing the e-book, request access to the Glow detox facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/314645392237352/

The next 7 day detox starts on Saturday, June 23rd – are you ready?


Eat your way to glowing skin

Note: this is a repost from March of 2015, and is still one of my favorite blog articles. In Colorado, we are still having wintry weather every few days during the spring. Enjoy!

designSo, I hope you are all finding a way to thrive even with the cold, ice and snow! I have been well, except for one nagging problem that haunts me every winter season – dry, chapped skin on my hands and face.

Recently while I was getting a haircut, I eavesdropped on the conversation next to me. The woman and her hairstylist were talking about their issues with dry winter skin, and all about the dermatologists they’ve seen and the skin creams they had tried. I knew where they were coming from. In the past, I have used a prescribed steroid cream to deal with my chapped hands.

These days, I take a more holistic and natural approach to dealing with winter skin issues. You don’t need to spend money on expensive medications or creams in most situations. Instead, nurture your skin from the inside out by choosing to eat foods that will nourish and calm your skin. And, in addition to having great skin, by eating whole foods you’ll have more energy, better immunity, feel better, sleep better and protect yourself from chronic disease.

Before we check out this little list of foods that are amazing for glowing skin, let’s talk about hydration. It’s super important to keep yourself properly hydrated, and it’s something a lot of us slack off on when its cold outside. During the winter your best best bets are filtered or spring water, herbal teas and coconut water. I like to sip warm lemon water throughout the day.

Ok, now onto the list!

Pumpkin
Why it gives you a glow: Loaded with vitamins A,B, and C – all essential for skin health. It’s also high in carotenoids (protective antioxidants that gives pumpkins it’s bright color), which help reverse UV damage and improve skin texture.
How to eat it: Add pumpkin puree to a smoothie or oatmeal, pumpkin soup

Avocado
Why it gives you a glow: High in healthy fats, supports cellular repair and keeps skin from drying out.
How to eat it: Guacamole (is there anything better?), in a green salad, avocado toast, smoothies

Cucumber
Why it gives you a glow: Rich in silica which improves skin hydration (making your skin glow) & calming to the skin
How to eat it: Salads, green juice, green smoothies

Dark Leafy Greens
Why it gives you a glow: The most nutrient dense food you can eat for a healthy body and healthy skin. And, the antioxidants found in leafy greens help prevent inflammation, which can cause eczema and acne.
How to eat it: green smoothie (see recipe below), kale salad, sauteed with garlic and coconut oil

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Glowing Smoothie
1/2 head Romaine lettuce
Large handful of spinach
1/2 avocado
1/2 cucumber (peeled if not organic)
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 Granny Smith Apple
10 almonds (best if soaked overnight)
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1 tablespoon hemp seeds
Optional add-ins: 1/2 frozen banana, 1 teaspoon spirulina, handful of parsley

Blend the lettuce and spinach with 2 cups of water. Add additional ingredients and blend! Expect comments on the beautiful green color of your smoothie:)


Recipe: Instant Pot Apple Pie Oats

IMG_1139Lately, I’ve been all about eating oatmeal for breakfast. It’s the perfect easy, healthy and warming food on cold spring mornings. My favorite way to make oatmeal is to use my favorite kitchen gadget – the Instant Pot. I like to use the Instant Pot because 1) I can add my ingredients, set the time and walk away, and 2) it makes the oatmeal super creamy and delicious. In this recipe, the apple cooks and dissolves into the creamy oatmeal.

1 serving

Gather (I never measure, so these are approximate):
1/2 cup oats
1 apple, chopped
1 TBSP almond butter
Cinnamon and cardamom to taste
1 tsp ground flax seeds
Optional: top with more cinnamon, hemp seeds, almond milk, fresh fruit and/or nuts

Make:
Add the oats, apple, spices and almond butter to Instant Pot, and cover with water (approx 1 cup). Set the Instant Pot on manual for 3 minutes. After the oatmeal is done, stir in the ground flax seeds and top with whatever you like and eat!


Where have I been :: India recap

Hello there, it’s been awhile! Where the heck have I been in 2018?

Let’s start with January. During January I led 2 amazing groups of women through my Wholistic Balance Nutrition and Yoga workshops. They were truly awesome women who all experienced their own transformations during the 3 week duration of those workshops. I also led my seasonal guided 7 day detox online and offered a completely new detox e-book – with new recipes – called GLOW Winter Detox.

February was all about nurturing a part of myself that I really hadn’t in a long time – my love of travel. I went on a 4 week yoga cultural immersion tour of India with friend and fellow yogi Blair, our yoga teacher Seane Corn, and am amazing group of men and women. Below is my trip recap. If you don’t want to read the entire thing – know that it was the most amazing and intense travel experience of my life!

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Blair also lives in Denver, so she was my travel buddy and roomie for the entire trip. To get to India from Denver, we first flew to Munich, then from Munich to Delhi. It was 24 hours of travel, and we were confused about time as we lost a day in travel. We arrived at Delhi in the early hours of the morning – and it felt really surreal. There was smoke in the air, the air smelled like burnt rubber, we were tired and delirious, street dogs were wandering around, the car ride was scary, we had to go through security when we got to our hotel. We made it there fine and recovered  at our hotel in Delhi for a day to help deal with our exhaustion and  jet lag. Oh, and I got the stomach flu.

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Haridwar, India

On the first official day of our tour, we  traveled by bus for a few hours to get to Haridwar. Haridwar is an ancient city that sits on the River Ganga (aka Ganges) and an important Hindu pilgrimage site. Haridwar means “Gateway to the Gods.” We also happened to be there during a festival. The streets are so old, tiny and crowded that the bus dropped us off then we had a short walk to our hotel. I was super tired and weak (see “stomach flu”). My first impressions getting off the bus… sensory overload… horns honking, Bollywood music blaring, tons of people staring at us, people camped out everywhere for the festival, smell of smoke, my first site of the Ganga.

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Tuck tuck stand, Haridwar

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Ganga Aarti, Haridwar

That night in Haridwar we experienced our first Ganga Aarti ceremony. During this ceremony, people gather at the river ghats (steps) for a nightly prayer. The Ganga river is considered sacred and life-giving – and this ritual is meant to give thanks to the Ganga. Offerings are made in the form of fire and flowers (lamps and candles) and hymns are chanted, music is played. We went to several Aarti ceremonies, but this was my favorite as I had no idea what to expect! Also, I should add, it had rained that day, you are not allowed to wear shows on the ghat, so we were walking and standing on slimy marble. I was also left with an impression of how welcoming people in India were – we clearly were foreigners, yet they welcomed and included us in their rituals and ceremonies.

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Statue of Shiva, Haridwar

That night, the festival went on ALL NIGHT. I got very little sleep as there were party trucks (literally) blaring Bollywood music all night long. The next morning, even though I was pretty bleary eyed, we had an amazing morning yoga practice led by Seane right on a balcony overlooking the Ganga. We then headed by bus to Rishikesh – a small town in the foothills of the Himalayas that also sits on the Ganga. This is the area I was most excited to visit, and it didn’t disappoint.

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Rishikesh, India

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Rishikesh

Rishikesh is basically the center of yoga. It was made famous by the Beatles when they visited Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram. There are several ashrams there as well as many yoga centers offering yoga retreats and teacher trainings. The air was cleaner, and it was much quieter. There were lots of little bazaars to buy pashimina scarves and beads. Also, I believe Rishikesh may have been the first place we encountered cows wandering the streets. And, monkeys!

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Rishikesh

We spent a few days in Rishikesh. Our time was spent practicing yoga with amazing classes led by Seane, visiting temples and walking the bazaars. One day we did an excursion to the Neelgadu waterfall for a swim, another we visited Vashistha meditation caves along the Ganga. We also went to a few Ganga Aarti ceremonies at sunset, the first at the Parmarth Niketan ashram, the second at the Triveni Ghat. During the Aarti at Parmarth Niketain, we offered little packets of flowers, incense and candles to the Ganga.

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Aarti offering, Rishikesh

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Aarti ceremony Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh

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Meditation caves, Rishikesh

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Dipping my toes in the Ganga – the water was so clear and clean here!

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Aarti Ceremony, Triveni ghat, Rishikesh

After a few days in the town of Rishikesh, we headed about an hour into the Himalayas to the Sattva Retreat center. This retreat center was so quiet and peaceful – just what we needed after an intense week of travel and jet lag! At the retreat center we practiced yoga with local teacher Anand Mehrotra, had classes on Ayurveda and the history of yoga and had time to relax, meditate and get Ayurvedic spa treatments. I had my first Ayurvedic spa treatment here called Abhyanga – a massage with warm, scented oils. This place was peaceful.

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Sattva Retreat Center

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Sattva retreat center

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Sattva Retreat center

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Sattva Retreat center – loved the use of flowers everywhere!

After our stay at the retreat center, we headed back to the town of Rishikesh. Our group had been invited to stay the night at the Parmarth Niketan Ahsram and attend their Aarti ceremony again. First, we stopped for breakfast at the farm of the ashram – where we were greeted by singing school boys and girls of the ashram. After a short tour of the farm, we were serviced breakfast on the roof of one of their buildings – right on the Ganga. We also learned the art of using a scarf to keep dust out of your eyes and hair on the ride!

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Keeping it real on the drive to Rishikesh – the dust was no joke!

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Mustard field

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Morning on the Ganga

After almost a week in Rishikesh, we spent an entire day traveling to Vrindavan – first a flight to Delhi, then a 3 hour drive to the town, then a short walk to our guest house. It is thought that the Hindi deity Krishna spent his childhood days in Vrindavan, and there are many temples devoted to Krishna worship there. Pilgrims flock here from all over India – and in Hare Krishna community – all over the world.

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Sandipani Muni School, Vrindavan

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Learning embroidery at Sandipani Muni school

On our first morning in Vrindavan, after an early morning yoga practice with Seane we visited the Sandipani Muni Charity school. This school provides education for 1,500 needy children from kindergarten through elementary school. The school children are girls only (boys are allowed in kindergarten), they’ve selected girls because in the local culture boys are favored and girls get less food, schooling and opportunities in general. These girls really shined. We attended their opening day ceremony – joining them in singing and dancing. We also toured the school, and one of the yoga classes performed for us. You can get more information on donating to the school or sponsoring a student here. After visiting the school, we took one of the school buses to visit a cow shelter that houses abandoned cows, bulls, retired oxen and orphaned calves. I’m so happy this place exists. More information, and donating here.

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Cow sanctuary, Vrindavan

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I loved this gentle giant!

Later that afternoon, we went temple hopping around Vrindavan. (Honestly, looking back, I can’t believe we did all of this in one day – no wonder I was exhausted!) Like bar hopping, but temples with our enthusiastic guide Mike, a Hare Krishna devotee. This was one of the most surreal and unforgettable experiences I had on this trip. The first thing I should explain is that there are monkeys everywhere. Monkeys that apparently will grab the sunglasses off your face and steal them. And, maybe steal your shoes when you enter a temple (shoes are always taken off). Anyhow, I won’t write every detail but the afternoon went like this, walking from temple to temple, receiving flower garlands only to have monkeys rip them off you to eat the flowers, singing, chanting, dancing, walking in bare feet in kind of gross areas, walking around a temple 4 times for a reason I didn’t understand or don’t remember, having marigold flowers dabbed on my forehead. No photos of any of this – too scared a monkey would grab my phone out of my hand!

Ok, I just realized I got pretty far into this post without mentioning the food! A lot of our food was hotel food. Breakfast was usually a spread of tropical fruits (papaya, watermelon, banana, pineapple), toast, granola, and maybe oatmeal. Tea, chai or my favorite hot ginger tea. Lunch and dinner were the same for the most part – chapati or roti flatbreads (so good!), dahl, rice and usually an assortment of other vegetable dishes. In the north, all of the food was vegetarian, but I had to be careful of ghee, yogurt or cheese in some of the dishes. After dinner it was common to eat fennel seeds as a digestive.

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Typical meal in Northern India – I miss the flatbreads!

From Vrindavan, we bused back to Delhi, and hopped on another airplane to Varanasi. From the airport in Varanasi, we took another bus ride, then a boat ride to our hotel in Varanasi. Varanasi also sits along the bank of the Ganga River. The evening boat ride along the ghats in Varanasi under a clear sky was magical! Varanasi is thought to be one of the oldest living cities in the world. It is a very holy city for Hindus as many come to bath in and perform funeral rites on the Ganga. Oh, and we literally stayed in a palace here.

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Magical boat ride to our palace in Varanasi

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Sunrise on the Ganga, Varanasi

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I found Varanasi magical, but also really intense. On our first morning, we took a sunrise boat ride along the ghats that line the Ganga. We again offered little boats of flowers and candles to Mother Ganga. We also saw for the first time the Manikarnika ghat where public cremations are performed – like I said this place is intense. We then parked the boat there and got our first up close view of the fires (we would later get another full tour too)… then walked into the city. Streets were tiny – no cars – but plenty of people, cows, dogs, and honking motorbikes. There were alters everywhere. After wandering along the streets, I broke from the group and wandered home along the various ghats. We also attended our last Aarti ceremony of the trip. This one was huge, like hundreds of people, like being at a concert!

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Varanasi

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Snake Charmers, Varanasi

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Varanasi

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Varanasi

After Varanasi, we said goodbye to Seane and 20 people on the trip, and a group of 10 of us continued on to more adventures in Southern India. But before our group headed south, we had one major tourist attraction to visit – the Taj Mahal. We flew into Agra, and on our first afternoon visited the Agra Red Fort. This huge red sandstone complex was where the Mughals ruled and controlled their empire for centuries.

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Red Fort, Agra

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Gold and jewel stone detail, Red Fort, Agra

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Red Fort, Agra

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Holding the Taj Mahal in my hand at the Red Fort, Agra

The next morning, at sunrise, we headed to the Taj Mahal. I’m sure the Taj doesn’t need any explanation – but if you didn’t know – it was commissioned by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1632 to house the tomb of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. I’m not big on visiting tourist traps, but this was really a must see. I’ll never forget the awe I felt after passing under the archway to view the immense white monument at sunrise.

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Enjoying some mint coolers (mint, lime, sugar) after a long day traveling to Kerala

After spending about an hour wandering around the grounds of the Taj Mahal, as well as the interior, we boarded a bus, drove back to Delhi, and got on an evening flight to Cochin, in the state of Kerala. Kerala was like being in a different country… different climate (tropical), different language and script (Malayalam). Cochin has a post-colonial look to it as it was an important trading post in the spice trade – at various times inhabited by the Portuguese, Dutch and British.

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Jewish Synagogue in Cochin

On our first day there, we biked to another hotel and had a memorable yoga class taught by their instructor, Jon Jon. We then wandered around old Cochin… We visited a Jewish Synagogue that dates to the 13th century, saw an amazing South Indian style murals at the Dutch Palace, and then wandered to a beach lined with a bazaar and Chinese fishing nets. As excited I was to get to a beach, I was super disappointed by the amount of trash here on the coast of the Arabian sea. The feel was a lot more relaxed in Southern India – less people, less noise (honking mostly), slower pace and much hotter!

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Cochin

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Spice store, Cochin

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Incense store, Cochin

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Malayalam movie poster

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Fishing boats on the beach, Cochin

While in Cochin, we also saw a performance of the Kathakali dancers. This is Kerala’s classical form of dance and performance that dates back 400 years. The performer’s wear over the top costumes, and paint their faces with pigments derived from local minerals. The performance is accompanied by live drumming and singing. It is hard to describe what the performance is like – it is less like dancing in the Western sense – but the store is told more in the eyes, facial expressions and Mudras (hand movements). One of the weirdest and coolest things I’ve ever seen!

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Kathakali dancer

From Cochin, we drove to Alleppey, then boarded our own house boat. That afternoon and evening was spend along the backwaters were we passed small villages and farms along the way. We made a quick stop at the village of Champakulam where we visited a church that was first established around 500 AD (though rebuilt throughout the years) and purchased wood carvings at a local studio. Back on the boat, dinner was cooked and serviced to us and was so delicious! South Indian food uses more rice, coconut/coconut milk and fresh vegetables. I don’t eat meat, but meat dishes were available at every restaurant we ate at in Kerala.

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Alleppey houseboat

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Sunset on the boat

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Breakfast on the boat (banana leaves with a rice cake inside)

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Kerala village

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Southern India Vibes

After spending a night on the boat, we headed to an Ayurvedic Spa and Resort in Kerala to spend our last two nights. When you get to the spa, you consult with an Ayurvedic doctor – who then makes recommendations for your diet, spa treatments and herbs.   Typically you do 2 spa treatments per day – while I was there I did the Abhyanga oil massage, and Shibodara oil treatment (warm oil poured onto forehead for a set peroiod of time) and an Ayurvedic facial treatment. These 2 days of rest and relaxation were the perfect way to end this amazing trip! Then, it was time to head home. Blair and I had an epic 30 plus hour trip to get from Kerala to Denver.

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Ready for 30 hours of travel to get home!