31 May 2018

Coming back to my WHY

I’m sitting in bed scrolling through my various social media feeds — something I promised myself I would stop doing when we moved *eye roll*. I can’t help but notice that my entire feed has become other Beautycounter consultants. It’s definitely a cool feeling that something that was meant to be a side gig has become such a big part of me.

But I also notice that their WHYS all seem to be different than mine. Almost all of the other consultants will say that as MOMS they became so aware of the ingredients in products (especially babycare products). And, that they were searching for cleaner brands to use on their children when Beautycounter fell in their lap.

My story is much different. For what feels like as long as I can remember I have struggled with acne. All of my acne is hormonal, and mostly fluctuates based on diet, stress and time of the month. The stress of my job over the past year and a half has caused my adrenals to burn out, my acne to flare up, my body to retain water (especially in the mid-section) and my mood to fluctuate - RAWR!

About 6 months ago I tried my first Beautycounter product. I contemplated trying the brand for about a year before finlly giving in. I was scared away by the price tag, which is silly because I was spending HUNDREDS on Kiehl’s and other brands from Sephora which contained SO many harsh chemicals. When I finally tried the first product I was hooked. I noticed a complete change in my skin after a few days of using the #3 Balancing Oil. Okay, my acne wasn't clear in a week, but I could see life and radiance again in my overall skin tone. I knew I just had to share these products with others.

I wouldn't say that "clean" living is new to my life. I have been teaching yoga for 6 years, eating clean for as long as I can remember (thanks Mom!), and have always been aware of the chemicals in products. But, I think that because I was struggling so bad with my skin I just didn't CARE about the toxins in my skincare products, I actually thought they might help clear my acne.

Fast forward 6 months now and our entire house is CLEAN, and I don't mean scrubbed clean, because that I can assure you that it is not! From soap, to detergent, even weed killer, we have completely adjusted our way of living. We are even trying to waste less!

I guess what I am trying to say today is that conscious consumerism is the best kind of consumerism. I'm not asking you to stop using products, I'm just saying that when you are finished with a product that may have questionable ingredients, replace it with one that you know is safe. You vote with your dollars and by choosing cleaner products you can be sure that companies will become more aware of their ingredients, production waste and even the packaging they use.

Your voice matters!
This year the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) is undergoing review for the first time since 1999. This law governs chemicals and toxins in consumer products including personal care products. Please help by signing this petition asking Parliament to pass legislation and modernize the CEPA as soon as possible!

26 May 2018

Glamping Survival Kit

By now you probably know all about our annual family camping trip. For me it started out as a weekend getaway. But, as our relationship grew and I began to realize how important this tradition is to Tyler, I've spent more and more time there each year--even though camping is NOT my thing!

This year we are going for NINE days. Nine days in a tent? Sure, no problem.

You know, over the years I have become quite the expert at "glamping". I refuse to call it camping because we have electricity, showers and a tent large enough to sleep two families. I'm so excited this year because I spent the winter hunting down the best necessities to make our camping trip even more enjoyable for me.

Much like last year, everything in my survival kit is meant to make camping easier and more enjoyable for someone who isn't used to "roughing it". This year I took it a step further to make sure all of the products on my list are clean, safe and good for the environment. I am so excited to share this with you. Here it is ... my Glamping Survival Kit!
Biodegradable Wipes
Beautycounter Founder, Gregg Renfrew, refused to make a wipe unless she knew it was biodegradable. Months and months of research went into perfecting this wipe and the result is amazing. You don't require any water to remove all (and I mean ALL) of your makeup, and in a pinch I'd say you could even go without moisturizer after using these since they are nondrying.
Biodegradable Shampoo and Conditioner
These were the first two products I fell in love with from Rocky Mountain Soap Co. and I am so so excited that this company is now opening storefronts in TORONTO! No more meeting shipping minimums for this gal! (Although it was never hard for me to reach the $75 mark for free shipping). Anyways, as much as I am a love of clean products for MY OWN health, I am also extremely worried about the earth's ecosystems and wildlife, so if you're going to shower in the lake, or in facilities that likely drain into the lake, please please please use biodegradable shampoo and save our fishies!
Clean Deodorant
Have I raved enough about Native Deodorant yet? I keep ordering new scents just to smell them, they all smell SO good! If you are questioning the price tag, know that I have been using the same bar since January and am not even close to being done yet. Less is more with these essential oil-infused deodorant bars. And if you're a skeptic in natural deodorant, think again. These babies WORK and they work well. Trust me, I've tested them in 90-minute hot yoga classes, during weekends without hot water AND in high stress situations at work. Buy one--you won't be disappointed.
Healthy Sunscreen
So many popular sunscreens are so jam packed with toxins, I'd almost rather you go into the sun without sunscreen. When shopping for sun protection, it's in your best interest to look for SAFE ingredients like zinc oxide. I have tried so many brands of clean sunscreen and my top 3 are Beautycounter, ThinkSport/ThinkBaby and Green Beaver. I found Green Beaver to be slightly greasy so I wouldn't put it on my face, but the ThinkBaby stick was perfect for the sensitive skin on my face. The new Beautycounter Countersun collection is selling like crazy right now. Before they repackaged and released the new mist, it was already one of my best sellers. It is jam packed with minerals, healthy oils, aloe, and smells amazing. It isn't the slightest bit greasy and the same bottle is safe enough for the entire family AND my face. I love a good all-in-one, especially when camping!
Tinted Moisturizer with SPF
I know the feeling of wanting to feel human even when you are camping, and human for me is not shedding light on my horrible acne scars. So I like to incorporate a little coverage into my morning camp routine. The Beautycounter Dew Skin tinted moisturizer is so amazing. It has enough coverage that it hides my scars but also tricks the world into thinking I am makeup-free! It is light, moisturizing and provides SPF 20 sun protection!
If you're like me and refuse to tan your face--wrinkles are not something I want to face - then you'll love the Beautycounter Matte Bronzer. It's natural and leaves your face matching the rest of your body... and makes you feel alive when you didn't get a great sleep due to stormy nights (or midnight bike rides!).
I know many many women who prefer waterproof mascara for camping, or get lash extension to skip this step. But I prefer a mascara that rinses easily since I wash my face in a basin (yup!). It's not cheap, but it's worth the splurge for the Beautycounter Volumizing Mascara. A little goes a long way and the tube has lasted me 4 months already! And when it starts to feel a little dry, I prolong it's life by adding a drop of Lavender Essential Oil to the tube--this brings life back to your mascara AND kills any bacteria trapped in the tube.
Lip Balm
You are outside almost 24-hours per day and even though you don't think so, your lips are braving the elements. Sun, damp morning air, muggy tents, your lips need to stay hydrated. Dr. Bronner's Organic Lip Balm has been my favourite since I discovered it on a trip to LA 4 years ago. I go through about 1 every month. I am currently using the "Naked" scent (aka scent-free) as my lips transition to warmer weather.

16 May 2018

Calling All Dance Moms: Clean Lipstick Choices

I so remember dance recital days. Prancing around in my tutu, an excuse to go without glasses and get dolled up. I remember the tight bun my mom would wrap my hair into, which always gave me a headache. And I remember the brightest red lipstick and blush being smeared onto my cheeks and lips. I also remember melting under the lights of the Markham Theatre throughout my entire performance. Of course I wasn't nervous, I didn't have my glasses and couldn't even see the crowd! The best part of course was the flowers at the end of my performance!

I guess the worst part of my childhood as a dance-daughter, was the fact that I didn't know it then that those lipsticks I was using (and inevitably licking off my lips!) were likely ridden with chemicals. And today I sit scrolling through my Instagram feed seeing photos from dance recitals of my friends' children and I can't help but wonder, "what kind of lipstick are they using?"
I know it sounds crazy but 25 years ago we had no idea the harm we were doing to our bodies using cosmetics that came from an unregulated industry. My Mom always bought high-end cosmetics, from the beauty counter at The Bay. It wasn't like she was using dollar store lipstick on her daughter. But even high-end brands can contain really scary ingredients.

Today we so lucky to know about the dangerous ingredients that are still allowed to be used in chemicals. Thanks to companies like Beautycounter, we are granted so much knowledge and research, which proves there are toxins in our cosmetics and personal care items and the long-term effects of them. And yet so many people choose to ignore these warnings and continue to use these "dirty" products.
As a former ballerina, and [hopefully] a future mother, I want to urge all my Momma followers to really read the labels before using products on your children. You can refer to the Never List for a list of ingredients to avoid and, if you need some suggestions for cleaner lipstick choices for your children's recitals you can view my favourite product here. (Warning: The colours really are INTENSE and PERFECT for dance recitals. My favourite red is "Girls' Night")


09 May 2018

Our New Home!

A new home, a fresh start. And I can't wait to share it with all of you!
We really purged when we left Toronto but we kept a few items we weren't sure about. I have been MIA since last week because of the move, but we settled in quite quickly and spent the last two nights arranging the sales of our extra furniture on various buy and sell groups. We are now left with only the essentials and our home feels so spacious and inviting. This morning we both talked about how we never want to leave because this space makes us so happy! Finally!

There are of course the negative aspects of our new home--the commute to work. It has taken me over an hour and a half to drive in and 2 hours to get home so far! Yuck. But I am working on a solution to my every day commute.

Another "thing" I am working on is a really exciting project in my spare room. Tyler got the basement for his pool table, poker, shuffleboard and darts! So, I am using our third bedroom as a YOGA SPACE. It has already come a long way in just 5 days, but there is more work to be done before I share it with you. I hope when it finally comes together it inspires you to create a personal space for your yoga practice! Until then - Namaste! xo

02 May 2018

Spotlight: Meet Sam of Samyoga

When I met Sam a few months ago at The Yoga Show in Toronto I knew I had to feature her on Simply Sera. She is such a wicked #girlboss, and I am so inspired by her. I first fell in love with Samyoga when I spotted a green and floral lavender eye pillow at my local yoga studio, Country Zen. I didn't even look at the price, I just purchased it and proudly took it home. Now every night before bed I lay for 10 minutes with this lavender pillow over my eyes reflecting on my day and resting my eyes!

You've also probably seen it in many of my Instagram posts, since it is so beautiful and easy to photograph. I am trying to curate more yoga content for my following, because many of you are my own yoga clients so I want to share some amazing products with you. If you've been with me since the beginning, you know I love anything local, and beautifully curated "stuff" always catches my eye. 

When I spotted Sam at her booth at the Yoga Show in April, I fell completely in love with her brand. She has a knack for finding the most amazing  fabrics and creating really personal, functional products for yoga practice. It's safe to say that in a few short weeks I will likely own her entire collection because it is all so beautiful. It's hard to choose just one favourite, but I think the Zafu is my go-to item! 

Since meeting Samantha, I have gotten to know a lot about her -- like how shy she is! (Which I never would have guessed, because she greeted me with so much warmth when I approached her at The Yoga Show). I thought an amazing way for you to get to know the Sam behind Samyoga, was if her and I had a Q+A session and shared it with you! So here it is :)

Photo credit: Jocelyn Reynolds

Sera: When did you start designing yoga props?
Samantha: I've been sewing since I was 8 years old, and I studied Fashion at Ryerson. I've always been designing and making. I started sewing yoga props when I was working at YogaSpace on Ossington a few years ago. I was asked by a fellow teacher for some lavender eye pillows for a restorative class she was starting up. The studio loved them and wanted to sell some. They loved my fabrics and the quality and encouraged me to make more yoga props; sandbags, straps, yoga mat bags... Before I knew it I had a small business on my hands. All of the growth has been organic. It makes me glow when I reflect on where passion and hard work can lead!

Sera: Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
Sam: A lot of the designs are inspired by a sense of necessity. When I first started practicing, I could not find a beautiful yoga mat bag that was large enough to carry everything I needed to bring to class. So I designed the Yoga Mat Bag and the Everyday Tote, which are both super roomy and loved by so many of our customers. I am absolutely inspired by textiles - the textures and patterns of surface design are so central to my design process. If I'm not using my own hand-dyed fabrics, I am curating durable, bold and classic patterns for my pieces. I subscribe to the ethos that we all need to own less but that is only going to happen if we truly love the pieces that we own and we do our part to take care of them. One of the most common things I hear from my customers is "I LOVE your fabrics!"

Sera: As a yogi, yoga instructor and business owner, how do you find balance?
Sam: *Laughs* That's the magic question and if you have the answer, I'd love to know! It's really challenging. I've been practicing yoga for over a decade and my practice has ebbed and flowed in its intensity and consistency. In the past year, Samyoga has been growing so quickly and I'm still a one-woman show, so it's been more challenging than ever to keep my practice front and centre. When I am not on my mat, I cherish every moment there and I try to be really honest with myself about what I need to find my way back to a sense of grounding, rather than aiming for balance these days. My restorative practice is a strong source of calm and creativity that truly nourishes me and provides the best counterbalance to all the multitasking that running a business requires. I do make space for a short restorative practice everyday and often in the middle of the day. It's not uncommon to find me with my legs up the wall in the middle of my studio in the middle of the day.

Sera: Can you describe your own personal interior design style?
Sam: My home is small and bright, with lots of windows and lots of plants. I'm drawn to pretty neutral spaces but I have to have some luscious patterns and textile accents for character. Every fabric I choose for Samyoga is something I can imagine in my home and a lot of Samyoga fabrics ARE in my home! Between bolsters, zafus and pillows, my space is brimming with colourful accents. It feels calm, inviting and restful.

Sera: When practicing yoga, what's the most important aspect of the space you are in? (i.e. sound, light, scent, etc...)
Sam: I used to practice with music all the time, but these days I want to move in silence. I have a space at the edge of my (usually unmade) bed, where I roll out my mat. It faces an old gutted out fireplace that serves as an alter for me. There is an ever-changing burn, some palo-santo or incense (I'm in love with the Province Apothecary Black Spruce & Fir Balsam Essential Oil Incense!). These tiny rituals are so powerful and really help me to enter my practice. I live on the ground floor of an old home and the space is such a part of my practice. I love the familiar creaking of the floor as I move, and the sounds of passersby outside my window.

Sera: Which piece from your collection is your favourite and why?
Sam: I use every product I made. Some days I leave the house and realize I am wearing and carrying everything Samyoga. That always makes me smile. My newest item, the Sama Shift Dress is such a dream. I designed it to be an effortless shift dress from the yoga studio to your next adventure. I often just throw it on over my yoga clothes. I am all about effortless dressing and this piece feels so easy and comfortable and elegant. I get compliments every time I wear it.

You can shop all of the Samyoga collection here
Follow Samyoga on Instagram here.

Stay tuned to Simply Sera for more of Samyoga to be featured in May! (You won't want to miss this post!)

And a special thanks to Sam for letting me pick her brain!

Photo credit: J La Rose

About Sam!
Samantha Stephens is the owner and designer of the Samyoga brand. She brings a decade of yoga practice and two decades of fashion design to her work at Samyoga, with strong focus on craftsmanship, textiles and sustainability. She's passionate about yoga, wellness, travel and coffee.
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