Individual Aesthetic

Interiors

(This post was originally written in February 2015 for Heidi Pribell Interiors, heidipribell.com.)

Welcome to The Inspired Eye, the official blog of Heidi Pribell Interiors!

Each week we will discuss topics related to design––ranging from patterns and color to beauty and style. The posts will cover a broad range of subjects, both practical and philosophical, and include images that reflect Heidi’s fun and vibrant energy.

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Let’s start with the concept of ‘aesthetic,’ something that we can all agree is essential to interior design, and life in general.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of ‘aesthetic’ is “a particular theory or conception of beauty or art; a particular taste for or approach to what is pleasing to the senses and especially sight.”

However, in Heidi’s words, “aesthetic is truly a style that resonates with the individual.”

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Every person has his or her own style, preferences, sense of beauty…that is, aesthetic. Here at Heidi Pribell Interiors we want to help you find, fine tune and express your own.

Our goal is to help you come closer to identifying what you think beauty is, and, conversely, what it isn’t. What is beautiful to you and how do you transform this choice into an action?

These ideas, inherent is children, fade as we grow into adulthood and start doubting our instincts.

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Heidi says: “As an adult, we are more paralyzed with our decisions than we used to be as children. Children are more in touch with their inclinations––they know what they like, they know what they hate. We tend to step back and second guess ourselves as we take on more responsibility. This makes us out of touch with ourselves.”

How can we help make the decision-making process run more smoothly? Let’s simplify. Get back to basics, relax, have fun, feel inspired, and follow your instincts!

That’s a good start.

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Yoga Hurts So Good (Or Does It Just Hurt?)

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The word “yoga” invokes visions of incense, gongs and meditation––not torn hamstrings, cracked ribs and hospital visits. Yet, the number of yoga-related trips to the emergency room is on the rise.

Enthusiasts tout the discipline’s positive results, which include stress reduction, boosted energy levels, improved sex life and greater flexibility. But a growing dialogue about the risky nature and potential harm of yoga has emerged, particularly as the number of students––and subsequent number of injuries––increases.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) indicates an upward trend of yoga-relate injuries. It reported 7,369 yoga-related injuries treated in doctors’ offices, clinics and emergency rooms in 2010, an increase from roughly 5500 in 2007. Since these statistics do not include injuries treated by chiropractors, massage therapists and other non-traditional healers, the overall number is likely higher.

Many experts––including instructors, sports therapists and chiropractors––argue that the risks and issues stem not from the practice itself, but from other sources. The most frequently cited culprits include inexperienced instructors, a commodity-driven yoga business, personal ego, preexisting medical conditions and overemphasis on the physical components of a yoga routine.

e2436a739044a9bf6a7eb2c660a4f288Dr. Sunit Jolly, D.C., is a Boston-based chiropractor who has treated many patients with yoga-related injures. She attributes the pain to a misalignment resulting from a series of movements and a gradual breakdown.

“I don’t think it was yoga that actually hurt them,” Jolly says. “Most people assume [they feel pain] because of one specific injury, but the truth is that unless you have trauma, it happens slowly over time.”

As a result, when students start a yoga practice and injure themselves, they directly link the pain to specific postures and activity.  The most common injuries Jolly address relate to the lower back, which is usually affected by lumbar flexion activities common to yoga.

“If people are coming from prolonged sitting, their ligament restraints are relaxed,” she says. “With lumbar flexion, the restraints aren’t working, and the spine will go beyond its natural limit. Yoga can be the straw that breaks the camels back, so to speak.”

Jolly believes that yoga injuries fall into two major categories: people who push their bodies into painful positions without paying attention to the discomfort; and those whose spines slowly slip out of alignment and result in pain when shifted into certain postures, often those with lumbar flexion.

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According to the independent yoga organization North American Studio Alliance (NAMASTA), between 2008 and 2013, the number of people practicing yoga increased by 20 percent. Also, the amount spent on yoga-related products increased 87 percent, totaling approximately $27 billion in 2013. With more people practicing yoga, a higher number of injuries naturally follows.

However, yoga teachers like Justine Cohen, owner of Down Under Yoga in Newton and Brookline, rarely encounter students injuring themselves. Cohen attributes the low rate of injury in her studio to proper instruction and uniformity in teacher training. She believes that yoga classes, in general, lack these two qualities, which has resulted in preventable physical injury.
“You can get hurt from any activity done badly or incorrectly,” she says. “Well-instructed yoga doesn’t tend to result in injuries.”

Cohen claims that Down Under Yoga employs managers with extensive training to greet students and counsel them on appropriate class levels. All of the teachers learn about their students’ respective backgrounds before allowing them to join advanced classes. Cohen says that she has a strict policy of directing inexperienced students to introductory levels.

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Joetta Maue, who specializes in Ashtanga yoga––a modern-day form of classical Indian yoga popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois––agrees that proper instruction is essential to preventing injury. Maue has taught yoga around the United States, including Ohio and Massachusetts, for 14 years, and learned firsthand the consequences of faulty practice as a student. While in triangle pose, she required assistance in adjusting her hips, which the instructor pulled forward, resulting in injury.

“I love deep adjustments, but that was the one time I got injured doing yoga,” Maue says. “The teacher didn’t need to hold my hips. She could have just reminded me.”

She also believes that as yoga grows in popularity, the market has become over-saturated and filled with insufficiently trained instructors. As a money-making industry, yoga has expanded into a numbers game, which can compromise the quality of teaching, Maue claims.

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“There is a lot of pressure for teachers to please the masses,” she says. “Now the practice is more commodity-based.”

Whereas yogis used to study for years before teaching their craft, the Western market has now made teacher training a fast-paced, convenient process for aspiring instructors. Maue studied for nearly a year before teaching, but that has changed since her training nearly two decades ago.

“I don’t buy that you can learn to be a teacher in a month,” she says. “There is now little difference between yoga and exercise classes. Both need to make money.”

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Steve Weiss, an instructor specializing in the Iyengar practice––a detail-oriented form of hatha yoga developed in the 1970s by B.K.S. Iyengar––also stresses the pitfalls of modern teaching credentials. Rather than an emphasis on knowledge, wisdom and specific experience, the basic teaching qualifications require a minimum number of practice hours, Weiss claims.

“Teachers come from a variety of backgrounds that do not have a sign-off from anything other than an organization that merely recognizes hours,” he says. “That seems to invite some serious problems of an illusion of some certified training guaranteeing knowledge, but what’s the basis of that knowledge?”

Weiss also believes that an overemphasis on the physical aspect of yoga, rather than the mental or spiritual, often results in physical pain. He claims that Iyengar himself stresses that yoga is not  solely a physical practice.

“Discussions on yoga in the 19th century in America, primarily by Swami Vivekananda, renounced the physical practice,” Weiss says. “Vivekananda was worried people would be too infatuated with their own physical improvement and miss the point of yoga entirely.”

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He agrees with Vivekananda and believes that modern practitioners in the Western world trade spiritual development for a physically strenuous practice, often leading to imbalance and subsequent injury.

Colleen Carney, owner of Back in Motion in Boston, has noticed a greater focus on yoga’s physical component. During her 23 years as massage therapist, specializing in athletic training and recovery, she has seen a range of injuries, many resulting from yogic postures.

“Yoga has increased in popularity over the last five to 10 years and has become a go-to exercise,” she says. “People gravitate toward it because they have an impression that it’s extremely beneficial, and they subconsciously believe that they can’t get hurt.”

image-full;max$248,0(Colleen Carney, Boston-based massage therapist and owner of Back in Motion.)

Carney encourages yoga practice, particularly for individuals who want to increase their range of motion. However, her concern is that individuals who use yoga as a sole exercise practice do little else physically and, therefore, increase their risk of injury.

“People who do a lot of yoga can do splits when they’re 50, but they often lack strength and stability,” she says. “They need to do something to hold up over time.”

She also warns that flexibility alone, a primary reason people practice yoga, does little to benefit the body. It constitutes but one element of many that help with overall physical wellness.

“Anything we do has wear and tear on our bodies,” she says. “I don’t want to bash yoga.”

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The best solution, according to Carney, includes a mixture of dynamic strength-training exercises and more passive, flexibility-oriented activities. She says that relying solely on the latter increases the chance of discomfort and injury.

“It’s overrated to be stretching so much,” Carney says. “Mobility and flexibility come from joints, and [over-stretching] can dislocate joints or pull ligaments.”

She believes that the increasingly popular heated yoga adds to the practice’s overall appeal. The hotter the class is, the more intense the workout feels, even if artificially. It makes students feel that their flexibility is greater than it would be in normal circumstances.

“There is an idea that sweat equals a workout,” she says. “I can sweat, too, if I’m in a 150-degree room.”

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Carney emphasizes the importance of balance in exercise for optimal health and minimal risk of injury. she encourages variety to mix up routine and work on an equilibrium of strength, flexibility, endurance and agility.

“When anything hurts, you have to pay attention,” she says.

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Downward Snoop Dogg: The Unlikely Duo of Hip Hop Music and Yoga

My gaze settled on the ceiling’s nucleus: a sparkly silver disco ball surrounded by ceiling fans. Contrasted by dark purple walls and accompanied by scantily clad, sinewy torsos, the space began to resemble a dance club more than a yoga studio.

Steadying myself in tree position, I wedged my right foot into my left thigh and pressed my sweaty palms together in prayer position against my chest. I sought an eye focus (drishti) to maintain concentration, settling on the Nike swoosh adorning the neon pink tank top in front of me. As long as the blonde woman wearing it refrained from erratic movement, I could use the logo as my Polaris.

Even with complete silence the tree position challenges my balance. With Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” playing in the background, it proved even more difficult; my mind wanted to dance, not seek inner peace through stillness.

This was a typical Friday afternoon hip hop yoga class at Back Bay Yoga (BBY). The unconventional nature of the modern, music-oriented yoga class hasn’t deterred students from attending. In fact, the yoga hybrid’s upbeat, unorthodox tactics themselves may provide the mass appeal it has garnered.

While yoga purists may balk, these rigorous hybrids have generated a loyal following. Hip hop yoga is one of BBY’s most popular class, evident in the maximum-capacity turnout. I arrived 20 minutes early and still added my name to a waiting list. Americans want to sweat, and they’re willing to pay a lot to do it.

BBY owner Lynne Begier has branded the class, making it her studio’s signature offering. She registered the trademark Hip Hop Yoga in 2012. One of her employees, who prefers anonymity as she is not speaking in an official capacity, says that hip hop yoga is one of the studio’s most popular classes. Offered nearly every day, it often attracts an abundance of students willing to take their chances on a waiting list. She claims that most classes can accommodate even those on the wait list, but recommends advance registration, which is available on the BBY website.

Indeed, on this Friday, all 30 of the students, including the wait-listed stragglers like me, made the cut and squeezed into one room. With accompanying mats, blankets, foam booster blocks, towels and water bottles, we compromised personal boundaries with strangers for some booty-shaking yoga.

The studio’s website describes the hip hop class as “FUN yoga accompanied by a rockin’ playlist of hip hop, pop and dance music––class will be vinyasa flow with a good stretch and cool down at the end.” It includes a disclaimer about the music: “Please note that true to hip hop music, there may be some explicit lyrics and content.”

Those expecting gongs and a round of “aauuuuummm” run the risk of leaving disappointed.

Instead this class attracted a cabal of Lululemon-clad veterans who blaze trails to enlightenment with rap music. In the front row, a man and woman who could both pass as body builders used the wall to display their headstand abilities. To my left, a teenager flaunted her flexible hamstrings and sense of rhythm like one of J-Lo’s back-up dancers. A trio of 20-something blondes claimed the back corner, chatting over their iPhones before class started.

The instructor, Kimberly Rajotte, introduced the session in a traditional way: relaxed and quiet, with a focus on the breath. After a few mindful inhalations through the nostrils, she asked the students to look inward and offer appreciation for ourselves.

This was familiar territory, and I settled into my comfortable yoga routine. The lingo resembled that of many yoga classes. The music, however, did not. Sounds that accompany yoga instruction usually include chanting, sitar music or silence. This one opened with a remix of the 1992 dance hit “Rhythm is a Dancer.” While in downward dog position, my hips swayed as though acting on their own.

Rajotte did not crank the heat, but students began to perspire from rigorous movement and close proximity to one another. Beads of sweat dripped to my chin as old school beats elided into more recent pop music.

Only rarely do I listen to hip hop music on my own, but somehow all of these songs sounded familiar. I started singing along in my head, lagging behind in the postures.

“Drop it like it’s hot, drop it like it’s hot…” Snoop Dogg seemed to mock me through the speakers as my right leg lifted with effort.

Lyrics about pimps, pigs and cribs dominated the room while sweaty, white Bostonians stretched their arms into warrior pose, and remained still for several seconds. My focus darted from the disco ball to various drishtis of company logos to this ironic image. I couldn’t help but smirk, and noticed that no one else cracked a smile.

The following 60 minutes included sun salutations peppered with f-bombs and ‘hos, cobra pose set to explicit lyrics, and gems of yogic wisdom proffered by Rajotte. She turned off the music and ended the class in a welcomed way––with corpse pose (shavasana), a posture of stillness and relaxation. We all completed the session seated cross-legged, bowed our heads, and said in unison, “namaste.”

Feeling both groggy and upbeat, in equal and unsettling parts, I stumbled into the lobby. Chilled beverages and merchandise summoned me. A mini cooler displayed $5 bottles of coconut water and kombucha tea. Colorful yoga pants and tank tops with aums and cartoon Buddhas lined the back wall. Shelves above them showcased best-sellers by Benjamin Lorr and Pema Chödrön, and colorful water bottles advertising the BBY logo.

Over the last two decades, I have attended various yoga classes––ashtanga, vinyasa, Bikram, yin, kundalini, Iyengar––but never an unorthodox fusion like the one I experienced in hip hop yoga. It was a distracting, mind-boggling, counterintuitive experience that subverted my expectations.

When I slipped into my boots and wandered toward the exit, the front desk woman asked, with that trademark smile, “See you next time?”

“Yup,” I said, nodding. “I’ll be back.” I slung my mat over my shoulder and realized that I meant it.

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Kill Your Darlings

Since my last post (11 days ago?), I have composed another lengthy piece about my favorite recent distraction.

(As an aside, it’s a game called Two Dots, which I downloaded onto my smartphone. Although if my phone were really smart, it would have told me not to add another form of procrastination to my growing list.)

I have also let the post sit for about nine days in an open window on my laptop, saved but not published. I have stressed about its quality, lack of completion, relevance, reception, and the number of Photobucket images I commandeered to accompany the text.

Like far more writing pieces than I feel comfortable admitting, this one sat, neglected and unfinished, and virtually rot like the bag of peaches left on my kitchen shelf awaiting a bite. Except those peaches have literally begun to rot, emanate a sweet and pungent scent to remind me of their existence, and will soon end up in the compost or a batch of cobbler.

The Two Dots piece faced a similar fate––not cobbler, but a transformation into something different, more palatable––namely, this post about killing your darlings.

That term “kill your darlings” emerged in many a journalism class during my academic career, and for good reason. It is essential. And it proffers Zen-like wisdom about ego and attachment. Yet I still grapple with that one. I also carry around a 34-year-old security blanket, which I use as a sleep aid. Obviously I struggle with some form of attachment disorder. Go figure.

As serendipity would have it, I read the very chapter in Steven Pressfield’s Turning Pro (my new favorite book, writing guide, life lessons, new-age bible) about that topic over the weekend.

Pressfield writes a vignette about Pablo Picasso entitled “The Professional is Ruthless With Himself.” He describes the interaction between the artist and a gallery owner:

“Suddenly Picasso seized a palette knife and strode to the first painting. To the gallery owner’s horror, Picasso slashed the painting from end to end.

‘Pablo! Arret, Pablito!’

But Picasso didn’t stop. Blade in hand, he marched down the line of paintings, reducing each one to ribbons.

The professional knows when he has fallen short of his own standards. He will murder his darlings without hesitation, if that’s what it takes to stay true to the goddess and to his own expectations of excellence.”

There have many casualties in my writing process. The Two Dots post added to the body count, and many more will follow. If even one reader can relate to this process, though, the death has not been in vain.

Next week, perhaps Two Dots will enjoy a resurrection. In the meantime, it will remain merely a favorite distraction from writing.

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Thursday’s Child

According to “Monday’s Child,” that 19th-century nursery rhyme, those unfortunate enough to have been born on Thursday “have far to go” (if they had waited just one day, they could boast the virtues of “loving and giving”).

That aptly sums up today’s progress, which is still Thursday in the Eastern Standard Time zone.

Don’t misunderstand me, I have accomplished plenty, even though I woke up battling early stages of a September cold. Adding insult to injury, it’s 72 degrees and sunny outside. ‘Tis crueler than April

For instance, I have plowed through five more chapters of Tina Fey’s quasi-autobiography Bossypants. My reaction vacillates between inspired optimism (that inner voice says, “Astrid, YOU could write this book! You share some of Tina’s wit and humorous pop culture references!”) and devastated cynicism (that same voice turns on me with this dagger: “Astrid, Tina Fey started working for Saturday Night Live while still in her 20s; she wrote Mean Girls when she was your age; and she eked out this book while co-producing and starring in 30 Rock and raising kids. What makes this book interesting is her success and Sarah Palin fame. What would possibly make YOUR book a New York Times bestseller?”)

I’m a Gemini, such duplicity is common in my world––and one of those twins can be such a bitch. For what it’s worth, my book cover would be far less creepy.

Besides the reading, I have replayed level 68 of Two Dots, my new favorite distraction cerebral smartphone game with a free app, at least 14 times. Those pesky fireball dots foil my success every time. But I will prevail and move on to level 69, as soon as my five lives are restored (20 minutes or $.99 per life; I’ll take the wait).

I’m sure there’s a separate blog post hidden in there someplace. I’ll use it for inspiration during next Thursday’s “far-to-go” slump.

This morning I also completed Rosetta Stone‘s French level 1, lesson 4. This involves sophisticated phrases such as “les fleurs sont grosses” (“the flowers are big”) and “le chat est noir” (“the cat is black”), both of which will come in handy while trying to order a Nutella crêpe and a glass of Chablis during my next visit to Paris.

I even went outdoors. Twice. Ok, both times I marched 20 paces from the patio to the compost pile by the garage, but I did it with conviction.

(*not my actual compost container, but this one is way cooler than the one in my back yard)

So, there’s that, but in terms of writing…well, it’s after 3pm 4pm 5pm and I have tried nearly a dozen times to sit down and give WordPress an honest shot today. In the last half hour alone, I have exchanged 17 texts with my sister while attempting to write a publishable post about writing and Resistance.

I broke Rule #2 for slaying dragons: Leave your phone at home (or in the goodie drawer, the dishwasher, anywhere it cannot be mistaken for a distraction).

What better starting point than that which still has a vast distance to cover?

This is where parables, adages, factoids from fifth grade emerge and occasionally prove useful:

  • Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching wisdom––”A journey of one thousand miles begins with one step.”
  • Most car accidents occur within a mile of home.
  • Those last few pounds, not the first 150, are always the most stubborn to lose.

Wait, does that mean, with this much further to go, it’s only going to get harder, and with an increased chance of a fatal collision??

I’ll take my chances. This Thursday’s Child may have far to go––with the sniffles, text messages, and beckoning sunshine working against her––but she has slayed another dragon. Let’s see what Friday brings…

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The 3 Rs

I love that informative and catchy jingle, perfected by Jack Johnson, but I’m not referring to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (and does that apostrophe make the statement look grammatically incorrect?).

And forget anything that involves aRithmetic––this wRRRiter has two English degrees. Yet I can rarely sit down and eke out a coherent sentence without falling prey to myriad temptations.

My favorites include:

  • The latest Instagram shot of my cousin’s zucchini harvest
  • The first season of The Blacklist now streaming on Netflix (in which my longtime celebrity crush James Spader bears a striking resemblance to my Gonzo journalism crush Hunter S. Thompson)
  • Sudden urges to organize my sock drawer or scrub the bathroom toilet

ANYTHING to avoid that still, quiet voice, whispering, “Sit your arse down and WRITE, goddammit!”

Mere distractions, but mighty powerful ones, they be.

Indeed, the three Rs in my life these days include Reading, wRiting, and Resistance.

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That last one has enveloped the first two of late. So many books discuss this phenomenon and occasional curse. Ironically, some of it is the best writing I’ve encountered in years. Even my own work, or lack thereof, is infused with it.

The difference is that resistance fuels theirs while it debilitates mine.

Steven Pressfield dedicates at least two entire books to the topic: The War of Art and Turning Pro. I read both over the summer, while procrastinating (read: resisting) and delaying to return to writing on a regular basis.

This process prompted a rare chain of events. The procrastination actually inspired me to stop doing what I was doing while reading the books, and instead break through the resistance, and start writing!

Rule #1: Writers write, they don’t talk about writing. Duh.

It is kind of like when my mother buys books about clutter to help her clean up the clutter, but then uses them to add to the existing pile of clutter…

(Funny that about 20 minutes after I wrote that last sentence, during yet another bout of unwarranted Resistance, I stumbled upon a YouTube video of Joe Rogan interviewing Steven Pressfield discussing this very topic. It looks like Resistance can also double as serendipity.)

Both processes can devolve into vicious cycles.

But when the pupil is ready, gurus appear. They can manifest in various forms:

  • Dreams (or nightmares, when your subconscious is particularly desperate)
  • Muses, appearing as an idea, a mentor, inspiration, clarity. Call it what you will.
  • Steven Pressfield and other inspiring artists (some of the most notable ones in my life include Tom Robbins, Anne Lamott, David Sedaris, Elizabeth Gilbert, Stephen King, and Ruth Reichl, to name a few)

The number of ways Resistance––this adversary deserves a capital ‘R’––tried to foil my plans to write even this brief piece on the very topic is at once devastating, pathetic, and all too familiar.

It is also hilarious because I, Astrid the Dragon Slayer, can recognize its trickery just a wee bit faster now.

This call to action––to write––must be pretty fucking important. I had to slay some seriously persistent dragons this week:

  • Disable Words With Friends
  • Bury my phone
  • Mute James Spader
  • Cork an open bottle of Malbec (which had a screw cap)
  • Enforce Draconian Facebook parameters on myself: 20 minutes and three comments max.
  • Get out of bed
  • Put the pint of Half Baked froyo back in the freezer…with at least two servings left

But here I am, still alive, slightly less restless, slightly less likely to gauge out my eye with an icepick to rival the pain of not writing.

And ready to face more dragons and Resistance’s henchmen tomorrow.

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The Evolution of Steve Darwin

Patrons sip on mugs of herbal tea, nibble scones and line up to order specialty sandwiches at Darwin’s Ltd. on Mount Auburn Street in Cambridge. A light murmur of coffee-fueled socializing circulates the café and sandwich shop at lunchtime.

“People come here not just for the food, but for something else,” says owner Steven Darwin. “You can ask them what that is, and a lot of them don’t know.”

Darwin thinks he knows what it is, though. He attributes the business’s popularity to life changes made 15 years ago, when he faced major personal and professional crises. Darwin overhauled his diet, attitude and beliefs, and started a regular yoga practice. The results helped improve his work life and his marriage.

“I don’t think that Darwin’s would have survived as a business if I did not discover yoga,” the 49-year-old business owner says.

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In 1993, Darwin and his wife, Isabel, opened the sandwich shop, and eventually expanded the space to accommodate a café. Another Darwin’s Ltd. thrives on Cambridge Street on the opposite side of Harvard Square, and a third will open on Massachusetts Avenue near MIT later this year.

After opening the first store, where Isabel initially worked as the head chef, the couple struggled to share a tiny work space. Tensions mounted and Darwin’s physical and mental health declined. In 1998, while on a camping trip with his wife and college friends, Darwin suffered a nervous breakdown, causing him to consider ending both his marriage and his business.

“I wasn’t healing because nothing was congruent,” Darwin says. “Everything was a reflection of what I was, which sucked at the time.”

He explains that ‘namaste,’ a common term used in yoga, is like a mirror image. It can reflect the positive aspects or the darkness and negativity, depending on whatever emanates from the individual at the time.

“Namaste means ‘the light in me reflects the light in you,’” Darwin says. “Or it could be the asshole in me reflects the asshole in you. It could be anything. [It’s] my energetic person that dictates my business.”

Darwin decided to change his approach to business and life, and he sought help from friends, conventional doctors and alternative healers. One acquaintance introduced him to rolfing, a type of forceful massage therapy that repositions tissue under the skin.  The rolfer encouraged Darwin to take regular yoga classes between sessions to maintain a level of openness.

Shortly after his daughter, Chelsea, was born in 1998, Darwin took that advice and worked yoga into his daily routine. He explored different yoga types and found the classes at Baptiste Yoga in Porter Square––when owner Baron Baptiste charged only $10 per class and taught them himself––the most helpful.

Baptiste told students that one or two classes per week would make them feel better, but that practicing yoga five times per week would change their lives, Darwin recalls. Three months into his own practice, Darwin felt that his life began to transform in positive ways, but he still struggled with health problems. His medical doctor referred him to Ron Cruickshank, a Cambridge-based homeopathic healer and acupuncturist.

Cruickshank, a fan of Darwin’s Ltd. and its menu, nonetheless placed Darwin on an austere dietary regimen––restricting for one year all forms of caffeine, dairy products, refined sugar, processed foods, drugs and alcohol––claiming that the plan was to crash Darwin’s system and, ultimately, shake up his life. Cruickshank predicted that the internal changes would affect his patient’s external environment, notably with a massive turnover of employees.

Darwin, skeptical of the restrictions, asked Cruickshank incredulously, “Do you know what I do for a living?” Most items at Darwin’s Ltd. contain at least one of those ingredients.

Cruickshank emphasized the importance of trusting in universal principles, regardless of how unlikely his predictions seemed at the time. Darwin reluctantly acquiesced, but noticed almost immediate results. He says that within one month of this drastic shift, 15 to 20 of his employees left voluntarily, and new, more qualified workers replaced them.

“My energetic level changed, resulting in a new dynamic,” Darwin says. “There was a crescendoing effect. It was no longer the environment it once was, and people were dropping like flies.”

Shortly thereafter, he expanded his business on Mount Auburn Street. The growth felt easier and more natural after the internal cleansing process. Everything, Darwin says, ran more smoothly, and the concrete results encouraged him to take yoga more seriously. He upgraded from a casual practitioner to a yoga teacher, and underwent a four-year teacher study project while running his business. Eventually, Darwin worked as an instructor at Karma and be. in Union yoga studios.

He admits to approaching the discipline with a more ego-driven attitude than he does now. Practicing alongside younger, less athletic students and instructors, Darwin felt tempted to push himself beyond reasonable physical limits.

“I thought, ‘If this scrawny 21-year-old can do it, so can I,’” he says. “It was self-induced and required a a trip to the chiropractor.”

He has less to prove now, but that process has occurred over several years. Isabel believes that her husband’s ego initially prompted him to teach yoga, and it provided a humbling experience. After receiving honest feedback from his yoga peers, she says, Darwin began to see himself differently.

“Steve’s motivation to become a teacher was about ego, about receiving the attention and admiration that a teacher receives from his students,” she says.

Isabel thinks that he grew less controlling and more accepting as a result of teaching yoga. According to Darwin, his wife and his staff, he now delegates more responsibility to his managers, trusting their abilities and judgment in a way he didn’t before.

In the basement office of the Mount Auburn shop, Darwin describes some of the more recent challenges––plumbing, grease traps, coffee machines––plaguing his business. The phone rings, as it often does. Employees swoop in and out of the office. Pandemonium ensues, yet Darwin smiles and sits calmly at the center of the chaos.

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His general manager, Joetta Maue, a former yoga instructor and longtime practitioner herself, says that she has seen changes in both the store and her boss since meeting him 11 years ago. In 2003 she started working for Darwin, when he had a regular yoga practice but hadn’t yet begun teaching it. After more than two years at Darwin’s Ltd., Maue left Boston. She returned to the city and her job at the store in 2012, and observed a newfound calmness in her boss.

“I notice a difference when he’s attending more yoga classes,” she says.

Maue notes that Darwin is now more aware of the need to let go and trust the people he has trained. During her first stint at the store, she sensed that he had was more anxious and controlling.

The two remind each other when they need to attend more yoga, she says. Such prompts encourage Darwin to continue his practice, but he attends fewer classes now than he has in the past. Fearing that absorbing any more might make him dogmatic and obnoxious, he has scaled back on the physical routine. Too much of anything, he says, is just too much.

Still with Isabel, who has been his partner for 29 years, Darwin now manages his marriage, work and life with less stress. He stopped teaching yoga last summer and spends more time rock climbing, mountain biking and skiing with his wife. Darwin focuses more on the expansion of his stores, which has become a full-time venture. He still applies yoga to every facet of his life, though.

“I had to really trust that these principles do work, and then reposition myself as believing this,” he says. “Even though in Scientific American terminology there’s no proof of any of this shit.”

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Valentine’s Day Massage

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Aloha and happy February!
Winter is halfway over, the days are getting longer, and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.
Aloha Boston Massage wants to help you make this a memorable holiday for yourself and that special someone.

What better way to heat up the season and honor Cupid than with a relaxing massage?
It’s a gift that your sweetheart will never forget.

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Here are seven great reasons to say “I love you” with a massage this Valentine’s Day:

1) It’s low-carb and easier on your blood sugar (and hips) than a Russell Stover chocolate sampler.

2) Shoveling snow is hard work after a Nor’easter. Thank your loved one for all of that hard work with the promise of having those knots kneaded out.

3) It is cheaper and easier to book than dinner for two (or even one) at O-Ya.

4) Natural and healthy, it is non-GMO and appeals to every taste: no dairy, gluten, peanuts, pesticides, additives, preservatives, artificial colors or sweeteners added!

5) A massage is a much grander gesture than a last-minute Hallmark card or stuffed puppy holding a heart.

6) Of course she loves you, but this is a way to guarantee that she leaves fully satisfied. (Uh, relaxed, that is…haha!)

7) For all of the single folks, show your appreciation to the greatest loved one of all: yourself!

So, what are you waiting for? Buy a gift certificate or book your Valentine’s Day massage today!

http://www.alohabostonmassage.com

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FoMu: An Alternative Ice Cream Experience

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(Astrid Lium photos)

Vegan ice cream sounds like an oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp. But this ostensible contradiction bears a striking resemblance to the original milky treat. With the help of FoMu (as in “faux moo”), the non-dairy alternative is quickly scooping out a niche in Boston’s ice cream market.

FoMu is a specialty shop offering vegan-friendly alternatives to the usual ice cream options. According to co-owner Deena Jalal, “it is like ice cream for foodies.” At the two store locations, customers of all dietary backgrounds can choose from unconventional flavors like avocado, Thai chili peanut, and rice honey lavender alongside the more traditional vanilla bean or chocolate.

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Jalal and her husband, Hin Tang, opened the first FoMu alternative ice cream shop and café in Allston on May 30, 2012, but the idea was a decade in the making. Jalal believes that the business move was a fateful one.

“The universe just aligned us right,” she says. “And it flowed.”

Jalal and Tang initially embarked on more conventional career paths––in marketing and finance, respectively. But the entrepreneurial couple had dreams that transcended life in corporate America.

“For years we said, ‘we’ll open an ice cream place someday,’ ” Jalal recalls. “We always had the dream in the back of our heads.”

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The duo created their local, vegan, non-dairy, gluten-free product with widespread dietary restrictions in mind. They have a growing number of friends and family members with allergies and lactose intolerance, whom they wanted to accommodate while also creating a healthy treat with broader appeal.

Jalal and Tang started with coconut milk because of the health benefits, flavor, and low rate of coconut allergies. Containing omega fatty acids, vitamins B and C, potassium, manganese, phosphorous, and zinc, coconut provided a natural, healthy alternative to cow’s milk.

“It’s a cure for everything,” Jalal says.

They added almond and cashew-based blends for some frozen creams, and a soy base for the soft serve options. Agave and unrefined organic cane sugar provide the sweetness. Gluten-free cones and toppings are available for the wheat-free customers. FoMu’s kitchen is located in Watertown, where small batches of ice cream are made daily and delivered. Local partners include Taza chocolate, George Howell coffee, MEM Tea, and Bonnieville cookies.

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The couple started by selling their product to local cafés, including Veggie Planet and Life Alive. The demand grew quickly, prompting Jalal and Tang to open their own shop. They found a space in a predominantly vegetarian corner of Allston, near other vegan-friendly restaurants like Grasshopper and Deep Ellum.

The name, which is self-explanatory, also has a sense of humor. “More effort went into that name than our own son’s name!” Jalal says with a laugh. “We wanted to embody what we were putting out with something abstract and obvious.”

They applied the same thoughtfulness and fun to the dynamic menu, which expands and changes slightly with the seasons. The inspirations generally come from foods and beverages that Jalal, Tang, and their loved ones enjoy. Paying homage to a friend who frequently ordered dark n’ stormy cocktails, they transformed the rum-based drink into an ice cream flavor. Thai peanut stemmed from Jalal’s love of Thai food. Salted caramel, the shop’s biggest seller, seemed like an obvious choice.

But not all of the experiments translated so well. “Unfortunately, sriracha didn’t work out,” Jalal says. “It was too garlicky, and that’s gross.”

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FoMu immediately attracted a loyal following of vegans, lactose intolerant customers, alternative foodies with a sweet tooth, and health-conscious parents treating their kids. Regulars began to encourage a second location in the funky, vegetarian-friendly neighborhood of Jamaica Plain. Taking their advice, the co-owners found a vacant space on Centre Street. They opened the second shop in the former shoe store, Got Sole, on April 16, 2013.

Jalal attributes FoMu’s popularity to the alternative options it provides, as well as the overall quality of their product. She notes that many of the patrons are animal-free for varying reasons, both personal and political. Many first-time patrons don’t realize that the ice cream is non-dairy.

“Across the board, people come in, they try it, and they like it,” Jalal says. “We use good ingredients. There’s not a lot of crap in it.”

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The friendly atmosphere and unconventional flavors attract employees along with customers. FoMu’s staff currently includes about 30 workers. Some of them, like Vanessa Saravia, started as patrons.

She discovered the shop while doing laundry in the neighborhood and started working there in June. Saravia moved from her home in California to attend Boston College, and began to miss the robust food culture that she believes Boston lacks. FoMu helped assuage the homesickness with its tight-knit community and unique flavors.

“It’s like ice cream with personality,” she says. “I’m not even vegan, but I still come in here on my days off.”

Her favorite parts of her job include the mandatory ice cream tasting and the connections she makes with customers, particularly the weekend regulars. When she started, Saravia recalls the patience and reassurance of the patrons, who recognized her as the new girl in the shop. They offered encouragement rather than frustration when she was learning the ropes.

Her weeklong training included an education of the shop’s health-conscious philosophy; a crash course in the ingredients and health benefits; a hands-on apprenticeship of the specialty coffees; and, of course, taste testing the goods.

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(FoMu co-workers Vanessa Saravia [left] and Megan Ramette take a break at the Allston shop.)

Saravia’s co-worker, Megan Ramette, offers samples to an eclectic crowd of customers on a Sunday afternoon. A six-person, three-generation family stands in line, trying bites of cardamom pistachio and cherry amaretto before placing their final orders. Tattooed men in black tee shirts with skulls and eagles sample the smaller variety of nut blends. Bespectacled hipsters in skinny jeans test out the chunky chocolate flavors.

Ramette offers each one with a smile and asks every patron if they would like to try another.

“I get tons of questions and requests for lots of samples,” she says. “You can try as many as you’d like. You want to know what you’re gonna get, right?”

Roxbury resident Jacquinn Williams frequents Jamaica Plain’s restaurant-strewn Centre Street, where she first discovered FoMu. Both lactose and soy-intolerant, Williams embraces the vegan ice cream option, and returns to the shop regularly. Her favorite flavors include saffron rosewater, honey lavender, maple walnut, and mango habanero.

“Life for me is all about reading [food] labels and avoiding most fast food and semi-slow food eateries,” she says. “If I could eat [at FoMu] every day and not be fat, I would.”

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(A small cup serving of bourbon maple walnut ice cream)

Jalal acknowledges that FoMu doesn’t appeal to everyone, but that doesn’t shake her confidence in the product. She doesn’t deem J.P. Licks, located just blocks away in Jamaica Plain, a competitor. There is enough room in the neighborhood for the traditional and alternative non-dairy counterparts.

“We really are such a specialty product,” says Jalal. “We’re supplementing, not competing, with a healthier, more conscious product.”

With two retail shops established and a growing fan base, Jalal and Tang remain open to expanding their retail and wholesale sales. The goals include more Boston locations as well as business at high-end grocers like Whole Foods.

The couple take the same laid-back and open-minded approach to the future in the same way they have every other step of the process. Again, Jalal emphasizes the importance of not forcing circumstances and simply letting them flow. In the meantime, she spends every day between the two shops, doing what she loves.

“I have an awesome job,” Jalal says. “It’s ice cream!”

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Amorino: Angelic Gelato

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I had just bitten into my street-vendor Nutella crêpe near Notre Dame Cathedral when I met Walid. His first impression was that of a grown woman licking chocolate hazelnut goop from her fingertips.

Walid was the brother of a friend of an artist I had met wandering along the Seine; a multilingual architect from Damascus; and a divorced father with, according to him, fourteen girlfriends. On this particular afternoon he was also my volunteer tour guide.

Our extended promenade through the 5th Arondissement burned through my tank of Nutella. Instead of a proper lunch––salade niçoise, steak tartare, anything with a baguette––at Walid’s favorite brasserie, I opted for a Côte d’Or chocolate bar from Monoprix.

“You eat too much chocolate,” he said. “I think you need to have more sex.”

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Determined not to be unlucky number fifteen, I rolled my eyes and lunged for the French chocolate. Walid grabbed my arm and led me through throngs of tourists in the Latin Quarter to a gelaterie called Amorino. The line extended out the door and to the end of the block. I started counting heads, but lost interest after twenty. I refused to queue up for ice cream, even gelato in Paris.

My guide persisted. See their faces, he pointed. The customers looked elated when they exited the shop, licking their plastic spoons and cones, and smiling at the heavens. Also, he added, they form the ice cream into flower petals atop the cone.

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My curiosity justified the 30-minute wait.

Inside the shop, images of Amorino’s signature cherub adorned the walls, the cups, the napkins. The smell of waffle cones wafted out the door with smitten patrons. Vats of colorful frozen waves with names like amaretto, stracciatella, and frutto del passione inspired awe and salivation from behind a glass barrier.

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Screw the fruity sorbetto, I thought. Òu est le chocolat? Walid pointed to a creamy mocha option called “L’inimitable,” which seemed untranslatable. Nutella flavor, he clarified.

I understood the necessity of the glass partition. Little else prevented me from hurdling the goods and burying my face in a bin of this magical frozen discovery. But, why not just call it ‘Nutella’? It’s Italian, after all.

“Je voudrais l’inimitable!” I shouted.

The woman behind the counter wielding an ice cream spatula scolded me in French for leaping ahead of myself. Walid explained: choose a cone or cup, then choose a size, then pay up, then choose the flavors. Mere formalities, I assured him; I wanted my frozen Nutella.

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Amorino allows up to three flavors per order, but why mix it up and risk disappointment when I could have a triple serving of l’inimitable?

I left the shop clutching a melting Amorino flower, which seemed too beautiful to eat for a moment, until it began to drip onto my fingers. Like the many customers ahead, I stopped outside to slurp up the sweetness. I was another elated cherub with an expression that encouraged the hungry queue to wait just a bit longer for their turn.

Walid was wrong––I didn’t need more sex, just another serving of l’inimitable. I suggested we return for dinner.

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