The Benefits of Meditation

By Natalie, Sustainable Materials Manager and Toad’s resident meditation expert.

In its simplest form, meditation is the process of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts. A meditation practice depends on the individual and can take many forms. Anything done with complete mindfulness and intention can become a form of meditation.

I’ve found that the swath of meditation benefits are all interconnected. For example, if I’m less stressed, I sleep better and wake up happier and more focused. Here are some other benefits of meditation, according to the experts (and corroborated by me!):

1. It can reduce stress and all of the negative side effects of stress. No more “Sunday Scaries.”

2. It improves your sleep by helping you control your ability to relax and turn off the racing thoughts in your brain.

3. It helps control anxiety, which helps keep your stress down (Seeing a pattern yet?).

4. It promotes emotional health and decreases symptoms of depression.

5. It enhances self-awareness and grows a stronger sense of self and confidence.

6. It can lengthen your attention span, increase your ability to focus, and may even reduce effects of age-related memory loss.

7. It can increase your compassion toward others and yourself by helping you focus on the ability to be kind and forgive (Like forgiving your mother for gifting your dog a squeaky toy…).

8. It can help fight addictions. Trying to give up sugar this year? Meditation might be your secret weapon.

9. It helps control pain and can even raise pain tolerance levels (Time to get that tattoo!).

10. It can lower blood pressure and boost your immune system.


The Physical Benefits of Meditation

Your body loves meditation. Study after study has found that the benefits of the mind/body connection have a lasting impact on your overall physical health. The benefits of meditation and yoga, for instance, is that they help send breath to your muscles which increases your flexibility, which decreases your chance for injury.

Meditation and running and meditation and swimming have a similar effect. When you exercise at a low-impact, consistent pace with intention, your body and mind can align to enter a state of flow – or being “in the zone.” So think of meditating like a runner’s high that you can tap into at any time.

Meditation also benefits the brain by strengthening your neural connections. When you practice the skill of mindfulness, you’re also sharpening your willpower. You can increase your attention span, manage your stress better, and master self-control.

Meditation can actually alter your brain structure – in a good way. Studies have found that meditation adds wrinkles to your cortex – the outer layer of your brain that helps us think critically and introspectively (more wrinkles = better problem solving). It can also increase the volume and density of the hippocampus – the area in the brain that helps us with our memory. Here’s a great Harvard Gazette article on the brain science behind mindfulness.


How to Meditate

This is a complex question, but luckily there are many types of meditation and many ways to incorporate a meditation practice into your life. We’ll cover some of the most basic types of meditation.

Mindfulness meditation – Keeping your attentions fixed on your thoughts and physical sensations in the present moment.  This is great for meditation before bed – or in bed!  

Guided meditation – Exercises guided by an instructor (or an app) to walk you through various techniques and breath work.

Body scan meditation – a guided meditation meant to sync body and mind by observing the state of your body from the crown of your head to the tips of your toes.

Transcendental meditation – this is the champagne of meditations. It’s a complex practice that involves multiple sessions per day using various mindfulness and mystical techniques – and it’s technically only taught by specialized instructors and comes with a price tag.

Loving kindness meditation – directing positive energy, compassion and goodwill toward ourselves and then toward others.

Yoga meditation – not high-intensity work-out yoga, more slow and intentional yoga designed to strengthen the nervous system. Yoga Nidra and Kundalini yoga are common forms. Extended savasana (“corpse pose”) is a founding principle of Yoga meditation.

Moving meditation – just like it sounds: keep it moving! Tai Chi, walking or gentle hiking are all forms of moving meditations.

Mantra meditation – focusing your mind through repetition. It’s not an affirmation, more of a repetition of sounds to deepen breathing and sense of peace. “Om” is just the beginning!

There are so many types of mediations, so try a few versions and find the one that feels right for you. And remember: what’s right might vary from day to day. I integrate all kinds of meditation into my life, depending on what I need or what my schedule allows.


Start Your Practice 

The most important part of meditation is that you aren’t forcing it. You don’t need to practice meditation 3 times a day – even meditating for 20 minutes a day might be too much at this point. So start with a small goal – 5-minutes of mindfulness or a quick morning breathing exercise – and work your way up.

Check out my blog on meditation techniques for beginners for some quick pointers for getting started! 

5 Ways You Can Help Save The Ocean

Our oceans are indisputably incredible. Not only home to over 700,000 species, and an epic playground for surfers, swimmers, and beach-goers alike, but they also generate half the oxygen we breathe (we love you too, trees, but today it’s all about the sea). As the largest ecosystem on Earth, the ocean is our planet’s life support. But we all know this super blue giant is in trouble and it’s up to every single one of us to help save it. So just in time for World Oceans Day, here are 5 ways to defend our ocean.

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No more plastics.

Plastic is so 1900s. If there’s one thing we’ll risk sounding like a broken record about, this is it. It’s estimated that up to 12 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans each year. That’s the equivalent of a truckload of trash every. single. minute. If we don’t take serious action, there will be MORE plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050. Now for the good part: Single-use plastic alternatives are easier to find than ever, plus we like to think they cause an amazing ripple effect (see what we did there?). When someone sees you bringing your reusable coffee mug to your local coffee shop, or busting out your reusable produce bags at the grocery store, they’ll take notice and think about their own plastic choices. Plus, it’s always smart to have a spork on hand for whatever life throws at you (and we just love saying “spork”). So bye, Felicia (forever) to water bottles, grocery bags, plastic straws, Saran Wrap, and forks. The fish will thank you.

Clean up your beaches. 

If you see a piece of trash on the beach, pick it up before it makes its way into the waves (and endangers the fish, the reef, and the mermaids). And if you’re looking for something a little more organized, look for local beach cleanups through organizations like Surfrider—or better yet, grab some friends or coworkers and organize your own. And whether you live near the coast or thousands of miles away, remember that all waterways lead to the ocean so every cleanup counts.

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Support ocean-friendly organizations.

Surfrider, Greenpeace, the Environmental Defense Fund, Ocean Conservancy—the list goes on, but all these orgs are working hard to make big waves environmentally and a small donation can go a long way. You can also shop brands that are members of 1% for the Planet and feel good knowing that 1% of the proceeds went straight to environmental nonprofits.

And when it comes to buying clothes, look for things like bluesign® approval (which ensures the efficient use of resources like water, energy, and chemicals during dyeing and finishing processes), and companies that use closed-loop processes, which reduce waste and use natural resources to their full potential before they’re discarded. Take Tencel® for example: It’s made from certified sustainable eucalyptus wood pulp, which is processed with nontoxic solvents wherein 99% of the solvents are recovered and recycled to make yarn. The great news is more and more companies are catching onto this idea of circular fashion. Zero waste for the win (and more info on the sustainable materials we use here)!

Check that carbon footprint. 

Warmer waters are a real bummer for marine species and coral reefs. Bike to work, take the stairs, bundle up rather than cranking the heater, unplug your devices when they’re not in use, shop locally. All kinds of small changes in your day-to-day life can add up to make a big difference and help prevent the ocean from turning into one giant jacuzzi. Bonus: Lots of states offer credits for making energy efficient improvements to your home (energy-efficient light bulb moment, right?).

Enjoy seafood sustainably. 

Overfishing has become commonplace and is hugely disruptive to the balance of marine ecosystems globally. But the U.S. is the third largest seafood consumer in the world, giving us serious power to influence global fisheries. If you’re buying seafood, do it purposefully and don’t hesitate to ask questions about how it was caught. You can also look for Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) labels, which ensure your fish can be traced back to sustainably-managed farms and fisheries. At Toad, we’re big fans of Seafood Watch for shopping guides and even super delicious sustainable recipes. And same goes for meat—if you choose to eat it, do your research to make sure you’re supporting responsible producers and distributors.

Our waters are troubled, but saving them is within our reach!

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Summer To-Do: Shakespeare in the Park

A warm summer breeze, an open bottle of wine, men in tights… it’s a midsummer night’s dream, or, Shakespeare in the Park. Whether you’re a longtime fan of The Bard or have fuzzy memories of that one high school English class, get thee to this summer tradition. The tradition goes back to 1954 (well, 1599 if you want to get technical), when a few New York visionaries wanted to make Shakespeare theater as free and accessible as library books. Well, turns out people love free stuff and outdoor drinking, so the idea was a hit and has since caught on with communities all over the world. So without further ado, here’s our list of the best FREE 2019 Shakespeare in the Park festivals in the US. Pack a picnic and bring your kin.

New York, NY – The grand dame of Shakespeare in the park and the one that started it all. Since 1962, over five million people have enjoyed more than 150 free productions of Shakespeare at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. The New York Shakespeare Festival runs May through August and offers two shows: May/June catch Much Ado About Nothing staged with an incredible all black cast! and July/August is Coriolanus, a riveting political epic of democracy and demagoguery. Ah, art imitating life.

Asheville, NC – On a campy-but-lovable Olde English stage,The Montford Park Players put on North Carolina’s longest running free Shakespeare Festival. Prepare with bug spray or our new Debug clothes.

Kansas City, MO – Does it get better than sonnets and BBQ? Kansas’ City’s Heart of America Shakespeare Festival knows how to party. This season’s show is Shakespeare in Love (we’re sensing a pattern…) and you can reserve your seating online beforehand.

Boston, MA –  The 24th season of Boston’s Commonwealth Shakespeare Company goes off at the Parkman Bandstand 6 days a week. This year’s show is the little known mystical dramedy, Cymbeline, about the fates of King Cymbeline’s family. Expect mistaken identities, twists and turns, and the all-consuming quest for true love.

Louisville, KY – Coming in at the most ambitious company, The Kentucky Shakespeare Festival is putting on no less that 7 different productions. No tickets required, and dogs are welcome. All of Louisville’s a stage…

Buffalo, NY – Mark your cal for June 20th  when the 44th summer season of Shakespeare in Delaware Park kicks off. The first half of the summer will bring The Tempest and late July switches to Love’s Labour’s Lost (the story of a king and his comrades who swear off women for three years… hilarity ensues.)

Dallas, TX – Park your lawn chairs at Shakespeare Dallas’s series at Samuell Grand Park, now in its 48th season. Catch Shakespeare in Love (not technically by Shakespeare but hey, it’s on theme) and As You Like It, a classic rom com where “Love is merely a madness…”

San Francisco, CA – A little different than the traditional set-up, San Francisco Shakespeare Festival actually travels to 5 different venues throughout the Bay Area. This year they’re toting a musical version of As You Like It from June – September.

Los Angeles area, CA – From San Pedro to Hermosa Beach to Torrance to Venice (and many stops in between), Shakespeare by the Sea makes the rounds. This season catch The Comedy of Errors (two young visitors arrive in the city unaware that their long-lost twins already live there), and Henry V (Shakespeare’s most patriotic and inspiring play tells of a young King Henry V who seeks to unite his beloved England). Gird your loins and your flip flops.

Seattle, WA – In the mood for some hormone-induced teen romance? Romeo & Juliet is calling your name. Love the idea of love triangle in Elizabethan drag? Twelfth Night is for you. Get your fill as the Seattle Shakespeare Company tours the Puget Sound region all summer.

But what will you wear?! 

New Year’s Resolutions: 5 Easy Ways to Save the Planet

Start the year off right. Here are our 2019 sustainability resolutions:

01 wear sustainable

The apparel industry is the 4th largest polluter of air and water on Earth. Wearing eco-friendly or second-hand clothing can make a world of difference. We’ve got you covered: 100% of our products are made with eco materials.

02 recycle

Everything from food scraps to lightbulbs to shower water, start by cutting back on your consumption and reuse as much as you can.

03 no plastic

12 billion plastic bottles end up in landfills every year. Same for 6 out of 7 plastic bags. BYOB from here on out.

04 keep it local

Eating food sourced within 30 miles of your home cuts back on land, water and emissions pollution. Support local, support the planet.

05 ride your bike

By riding your bike instead of driving, you save 1 lb of carbon emissions for every mile you opt for 2 wheels. Bonus: it’s good for your health.

Want more? Join our movement to save the planet and download our Eco Cheat Sheet.

 

Romania: The Next Frontier

Romania is a rugged, complicated, beautiful place. Its ancient traditions rally in defiant opposition of a blossoming global economy, while the natural landscapes sit steadfast and majestically in peaceful protest of modernization. Here, at the crossroads of globalism and frontier, is where change is taking place.

We arrived in Romania to document the work being done by Foundation Conservation Carpathia (FCC), a local organization dedicated to conserving a vulnerable section of Romania’s vast Carpathian Mountain Range. Created by German-Austrian couple Christoph and Barbara Promberger, their short term goal is to create Europe’s first Wilderness Reserve for the protection of large carnivores in the Fagaras area. Their long term goal: A brand new national park, Fagaras National Park, Europe’s largest forested national park.

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The author, FCC Ranger Liviu Bulgaru, and Dan Dinu, photographer, overlooking the valley of the Iezer Lake. Andreea is wearing the Jetlite Crop Pant.

For over a decade they have been buying up forested lands, restoring 1,500 acres of completely destroyed forest, protecting wildlife, and creating an infrastructure for ecotourism. They work closely with local communities to ensure that conservation is mutually beneficial. Like the vast network of trails crisscrossing the Carpathians, the path to protection has been steep, winding and complex. But with each victory FCC establishes a new precedent that inspires more people to get involved and see the immense benefits of protected public land.

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Inside one of the bear hides built by the FCC as part of their ecotourism infrastructure in nearby Piatra Craiului National Park. Justin is wearing the Mission Ridge Lean Pant.

In early June we wandered into one of the FCC’s recent acquisitions accompanied by Liviu Bulgaru, a charismatic FCC ranger who knows every twist and turn of the steep, rugged Iezer Mountainside. Patches of snow dotted a pristine valley where the only trace of humans were the worn trails and a sturdy refuge. We were there to witness an early bloom of rhododendron which, due to changes in climate, have started to appear earlier every year. This year, the flowers peeked through snow. Surrounding us were trees, meadows, ridge lines, and an eerily quiet atmosphere. Nothing but wilderness, and a few witnesses to bear it.

After sunset we descended to a local village to deliver a fallen sheep to its shepherds. (Nothing goes to waste in this rugged heartland – even after the wolves have eaten, the shepherds will salvage the rest for pastrami.) The shepherds were young, soft spoken, and unfazed. Surrounded by twelve large, barking dogs, they took the sheep and casually mentioned they’d seen the wolf pack attack. Live and let live.

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This type of rhododendron comes out in late June or July, coloring the high meadows of the Southern Carpathians.

 

Up in the mountains, surrounded by clouds, a refreshingly uncomplicated world still exists. The line between human and wild, home and wilderness, continues to blur. It relies on an innate respect that each member shows to one another – human and beast alike. We’ll continue to monitor the work of Foundation Conservation Carpathian and the status of this incredible place.

Conservation Atlas is a 501(c)(3), US-based nonprofit started in 2017 by Andreea & Justin Lotak. Conservation Atlas aims to raise awareness of global conservation causes by appealing to intrepid travelers. Through leading online resources and annual international festivals, CA inspires people to visit unique places and support the mission of grassroots organizations. Through 2018, The Lotaks are touring 14 countries to document successful conservation projects, meet the people who are making these positive changes, and photograph beautiful landscapes and biodiversity. 

An Ancient Bond

Bending through the center of the country like a backbone, Romania’s Carpathian Mountains are home to a plethora of gentle beasts. Misty, dense forests of conifers, beech and oak trees. Limestone and granite rocks that soar above the clouds. Dozens of glacial lakes that dot the open spaces. Biodiverse meadows that host hundreds of species of insects. Some of Europe’s largest populations of apex predators (wolves, brown bears, lynx). And an ancient human culture that’s lived alongside for centuries. These are the wild lands of Romania’s Carpathian Mountains.

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Piatra Craiului National Park was officially formed in 1990 and covers approximately 37,000 acres. The 15 mile limestone mountain ridge can be hiked from one end to the other.

 

In Romania’s folk culture, the shepherd is as much of a mythical figure as the wolf or the bear – he or she is a part of the brotherhood of wild “beasts.” For centuries the shepherds have traveled the same paths taken by the wolves, bears and lynx, coexisting and respecting the unwritten laws of a shared space. While basking in the quiet glory of a Carpathian sunset, the sound of the shepherd’s flute is a reminder of a time when nature was home, not wilderness

Mircea Eliade, one of Romania’s most famous historians, called the shepherd way “cosmic christianity”: a vision of the world in which humans are not the guardians or the masters of all other beings, but equal and part of the whole. Bears and wolves are kindred spirits, to be revered, celebrated and feared. The strongest kinship to the shepherd is with the dog –  the keeper of the balance, a companion, a gift, and the protector of God’s sacred animal, the sheep. And if a wolf took a sheep, the shepherd is forbidden from retaliation, as the sheep was predestined to be taken by God. For centuries the shepherds and peasants of the Carpathian mountains have been guided by the sacred balance between the natural world and human activity. The paramount tenet: Do no harm.

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The beautiful Iezer Lake looking toward Piatra Craiului National Park, some of the conservation lands protected by the FCC. 

 

But the balance is hard to hold. The old village culture has changed, shepherding has submitted to federal laws, agriculture is big business, and Romania has been racing to catch up to economic development by exploiting its resources. That land itself has changed. Thousands of acres of old forests have disappeared, many from illegal logging and foreign developers. When business is good, it’s hard to go back to a simpler way of life.

But many Romanian, especially the younger generations, are calling for the protection of these wild lands and animals. Living peacefully with predators (animal or economic) has not been erased by modernization, and shepherds and villagers continue to embrace the ancient wisdom of tolerance and good practices. It’s what makes Romania unique amongst its European neighbors.

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The shepherds surrounded by some of their dogs after sunset, unloading the sheep that had been attacked by the wolves so that we could take them down to the village.

 

Conservation Atlas is a 501(c)(3), US-based nonprofit started in 2017 by Andreea & Justin Lotak. Conservation Atlas aims to raise awareness of global conservation causes by appealing to intrepid travelers. Through leading online resources and annual international festivals, CA inspires people to visit unique places and support the mission of grassroots organizations. Through 2018, The Lotaks are touring 14 countries to document successful conservation projects, meet the people who are making these positive changes, and photograph beautiful landscapes and biodiversity. 

International Dreamweaver: Kevin Leffler

When it comes to manifesting your dreams, you need to dream big and trust that the world’s your oyster. We could all take some pointers from Kevin Leffler. After busting his hump apprenticing everywhere from Pennsylvania to Oregon and stops in between, he decided to firmly plant himself in the mountain town of Lake Tahoe, CA. One doesn’t usually associate ski-towns with exquisite, luxury footwear brands, but when that’s where you “feel most alive, most creative and most inspired,” that is precisely where you hang your hat. Check out Kevin’s artistry at kevinleffler.com.

Featuring Leffler Bespoke Shoes & Leather Goods

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This is More Than a Bag

We’re big proponents of recycling. That’s why our shipping bags and boxes are 100% reusable. Sure, use them as bags and boxes, but why not put them to the creative test? Make someone a gift, decorate your house, add some pizzazz to your wardrobe – just don’t throw them away.

This is a practical portfolio.

It’s a clever clutch.

It’s a savvy sun visor.

It’s a wicked wildlife stencil.

It’s a gaggle of groovy glasses.

It’s a mounted moose for a mantle.

It’s a humorous hat.

Tag us in your creations @ToadandCoClothing and check out what else we’re doing on the sustainability front.

Of Mountains and Beer

 

What is it about hoppy beer that makes us feel a certain type of mountainous way? Maybe it’s the similar aroma of hops and pine trees, or maybe it’s the parallels between a good buzz and altitude sickness. Whatever it is, a plethora of breweries are named after mountains. Whether it’s nationwide Sierra Nevada, or Santa Barbara favorite Topa Topa, lots of our favorite suds are branded under the name of a mountain or mountain range. We’re going to start a list of our favorite breweries having to do with mountains, but were going to need your help to make this list complete. Please leave names of breweries we have missed in the comments and we will update the blog as comments come in.

Adirondack Brewery
Altamont Beer Works
Appalachian Mountain Brewery
Big Bear Mountain Brewery
Bitter Root Brewing
Blue Ridge Brewery
Cascade Brewing
Catskill Brewery  
Colorado Mountain Brewery
Denali Brewing Company
Figueroa Mountain Brewery
Grand Teton Brewing Co
Green Mountain Beer Co

Lassen Ale Works
Mount St. Helena Brewing Company
Mt. Hood Brewing Co
Mt. Rushmore Brewing Co
Rainier Beer
Rocky Mountain Brewery
Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery
Sawtooth Brewery
Sierra Nevada Brewery
Siskiyou Brew Works
Smoky Mountain Brewery
St. Elias Brewing Co
Tioga Sequoia Brewery
Topa Topa Brewery
Uinta Brewing
Wind River Brewing 

Featured Image courtesy of Waterline SB.