Holiday Presence

Holiday Presence

A Letter from Brenda Strong

I have a confession to make.  I have been stressed out lately.  Yes, even yoga teachers can let life circumstances get the best of them.

The Holidays can be a challenging time for most of us.  We all long for closeness of family, warmth and an intimacy that may resemble our favorite memories from childhood.  If our childhood memories of family don't fill us with warmth, we may seek out a fantasy of what we think family could be that it wasn't. Either way, the holidays can fill us with a mixture of feelings that may be difficult to navigate; and unfulfilled expectations can leave us feeling lonely, especially if the family we long for isn't created yet. 

For many of us going through reproductive difficulties, it may be a time filled with sadness, longing isolation and stress.  How can we navigate through this time without having a nervous breakdown or going into a depression?  The key is found in a word that is tossed around the holidays a lot.  Presents. But instead of the kind tied up neatly in a bow with beautiful paper, the kind I'm talking about is free and available to us at all times. Presence.  It is learning to be present, that allows us to receive the greatest gifts in life, the ones that touch our hearts, give us hope and connect us to ourselves, our bodies and each other.

How does one become present? It's simple. The quickest way to become present is through our breath.  Simply observing the breath as it passes through us, and watching it, brings us fully into this moment.  When we watch the breath and are present, the body does a miraculous thing.  It opens.  And when our bodies open, our monkey mind slows down and so does our heart rate, and we become aware.  When we become present to what we are feeling, we give these sensations an opportunity to release their power over us.  When we are in the presence of pure awareness, there is an opportunity to release the baggage of the past and the fearful projections of the unknown future.  There is just NOW.  And inside now, there is nothing to resist or grasp at, there is just what is.  There is a simplicity of BEING.  From this short time of connecting to our breathing, we are able to de-stress the body, release anxiety and receive the gift of this moment.  As we do this, we can start to string those moments together, and before we know it, we are on the other side of our feelings peacefully.

So this holiday season, as you gather your presents for others, don't forget to give yourself the gift of the PRESENT moment.

Someone once said, "The past is history, the future a mystery, and the present moment is all we have...that is why it is called a 'gift'."

Just remember, to receive the gift of life all you have to do is take it one breath at a time... :-)

Na  "mama" ste


Mind Body Disconnect and Infertility

Mind Body Disconnect and Infertility

By Brenda Strong

Part of healing the relationship with our bodies during a fertility crisis is to stop and listen to what our body is saying on the simplest of levels- that of sensation. When we are inundated with information from the outside- FSH levels, egg quality, how many follicles we have, basal body temperature, timed sex, invasive injections, doctors appointments and BMI scores- we are so focused on “fixing a problem”- that of unexplained infertility- that we often leave our bodies behind. The stress of trying to get it “right” can often be what is “wrong”.

Ever heard the phrase “running around like a chicken with its head cut off”? I know that conjures up an extreme image, but often times, that is exactly what happens to my students when they are trying to do everything they can to conceive. Their bodies are running to and from doctors offices, blood work labs, acupuncture clinics and pharmacies, and then rushing off to yoga class to try to relax- while their heads are spinning out of control with worry about everything from finances to FSH scores. They become “disconnected” where mind and body are going in two different directions, and their stress levels sky rocket. This is not to say that they shouldn’t be doing all of these things to achieve their goal, but the key is to question the “how” they are doing it, that could be counter productive to their success.

Understanding the Nature of Disconnect

Why is there a “disconnect” in the first place? The truth is that many of us are walking through life disconnected from our bodies. We either abuse our bodies verbally or physically because we aren’t thin or fit enough for our liking and so behaviors of over exercise or over eating become chronic habitual patterns. (I myself have been at either end of this pendulum swing more than once in my life- the hyper focus on the physical form in the entertainment industry can be overwhelming at times.) Or our bodies are too uncomfortable to be in so we “check out”. Oftentimes we override the messages we do get by reaching for a cup of coffee or a candy bar when what our body really needs is to rest for 5 minutes with our feet up and quiet our physical environment. Many of us are unaware of how our bodies feel at all unless it is sending us a message of pain or disease that gets our attention, and then we go running to our doctors to ask them to “fix it” as if it has nothing to do with us. With the ultra high rates of obesity in our country it is clear that we have become disconnected from our bodies as a nation. (Unfortunately, people who have higher body mass index scores can experience compromised fertility function and so the two are not unrelated topics.) Being disconnected is a by-product of the multitasking, overscheduled society that we have become.

However, for couples experiencing fertility struggles, oftentimes being disconnected from their bodies is simply out of protection from the emotional disappointment of not getting pregnant, recurrent miscarriages, or the imposition of repeated shots, tests and medical procedures they have to endure to achieve pregnancy. What can these couples do to move forward with what’s necessary without abandoning themselves? Shift their attention. From what is happening outside to what is happening inside. Learning to connect with themselves and their bodies will help them make a better connection with their partners and with their care professionals. I recently had a student come to me beaming because she became aware of anxiety building before a certain test, because her preferred doctor was out of the office and instead of panicking and going through the test against her own internal guidance, she simply rescheduled her appointment to another day to honor herself and felt extremely empowered. She learned to listen to the whispers in her body first, by feeling the tightness in her belly and following the sensation to the source of her anxiety, she was able to make a difference in her experience and manage her stress.

Reconnection and Reduction of Stress

The word yoga means “yoke” or union, the practice of breath and movement reconnects the mind to the body with ultimate awareness of the present moment. The science of Yoga has helped to heal countless health conditions from the inside out, eliciting the bodies natural healing capacity through the central nervous system, balancing hormones, increasing endorphins, while lowering stress levels. What if yoga isn’t something that feels right for you? No worries. Reconnecting to your body is as simple as being present with what is currently in your physical field.

Simple Connecting Exercise:

Close your eyes and simply scan your body. Sit evenly on a chair, feet flat on the floor, hands on your thighs, sitting tall with your chest open. Notice your feet on the floor, your sit bones on the chair, the weight of your body. Pay attention to the warmth or coolness of your skin mingling with the air around your body. Observe any currents of movement in your body. Scanning your body, notice any tension or sensation and simply breathe into it and be curious. This observation without judgment can sometimes give you insight into what is present and can begin to open up a relationship to your body that is cooperative instead of angry or resentful. When we take time out of the crazy making ‘monkey mind’-that is spinning out into the fear of the future or regrets and judgments from the past- we give ourselves a moment to actually have a relationship with our bodies that may begin the healing process we so desperately seek. Figure out where you need to take responsibility in order to make positive changes and where you need to simply let go and grieve with your body so you can move forward together.

A colleague of mine, Anna Stookey, MA, MFT, MFC, has worked with many couples experiencing infertility issues, has a program called the Body Reunion Solution. One of her exercises below is helpful in the process of opening a communication line between you and your body.

“An exercise I find incredibly useful in many stages of healing the body relationship is simply to write a letter to your body. Try asking its forgiveness or offering yours. Express the things you may have been blaming it for and be honest about how you'd like to do things differently in the future. Share with it the qualities you'd like to bring to the relationship instead of blame. Then listen and see if your body responds. It almost always does--maybe not with words, but often with a quiet, grateful pulse of gratitude and connection.”

Learning to reconnect to our bodies fosters a healthy relationship, and requires what most relationships do; a willingness to listen and respond without judgment, accountability, quality time, compassion, date nights, and a willingness to show up. The best way out of any difficult situation is to go into more deeply. Good luck!

If you would like further ways to connect to yourself through awareness and positive intention, check out the AM/PM meditations on my website.

BIOGRAPHY: Brenda Strong is a 500hour ERYT Registered Yoga Teacher and certified Pre Natal Yoga teacher who has practiced and taught Yoga for over 23 years. As a pioneer in the specialty field of yoga for fertility, she created Strong Yoga4Women, which includes Strong Yoga4Fertility™, Yoga4Partners and Yoga4Pregnancy. She also developed the Fertility Ball (pat. Pending) in 2009, and the Strong Fertility Ball Yoga Method. She has been featured in Alternative Medicine Magazine, Yoga Journal, Conceive, PLUM, Shape Magazine for Pregnancy, Yoga Journal, and writes a blog for Project Baby. She has taught at The Mind Body Institute at UCLA and Newport Beach and she serves on the Board of The American Fertility Association and has been their National Spokesperson since 2005. In 2007 she was the recipient of The Beacon of Light Award for her service to The American Fertility Association. This year she received an honorary doctorate from Yo San University for her groundbreaking work in the science of Yoga for Fertility. Her day job is playing Mary Alice Young on Desperate Housewives and she has been an award-winning actress in television and film for over 25 years.

Summer Conundrum- Sun Screens and Fertility

Summer Conundrum- Sun Screens and Fertility

By Brenda Strong

Last night my husband and I were up late packing for our annual family summer trip before I return to my seventh season on Desperate Housewives. My TV schedule is such that this vacation is usually falls in June, when my son’s school summer vacation coincides with my time off. Luckily, we are able to travel as a family, and debated long and hard about where to go this year. Hawaii? Greece? South America? Each destination had pluses and minuses and eventually we ended up deciding on the south of France. Since my son has been studying French in school, we wanted to give him a chance to try his accent out in person and have him be exposed to the culture as well. So, we did the typical checklist: Passport? Check. Bathing suit? Check. Good book? Check. Sunscreen? Oops, not so easy. Why? Sunscreen is becoming quite a problem for me ethically as I’m torn between protecting my skin from sunburn, and the UVA exposure for cancer vs. risking the loss of Vitamin D; the loss of which is now known to be causing all sorts of health issues. Not to mention the possible side effects from the chemicals and endocrine disruptors like oxybenzone that seem to be in so many sunscreen products these days.

The Dilemma

I care about my skin; after all being an actress makes you more aware of sun damage (haven’t you noticed the flawless complexions of Cate Blanchett and Meryl Streep?). I want to know what kind of sunscreen they use! My friend and cast mate Marcia Cross (another flawless complexion) turned me on to a French sunscreen called La Roche-Posay years ago that I still use, but it’s expensive and not that easy to get. Except of course in France where we are going. Lucky me, mais oui!

But these days, more than how my skin looks, I’m now concerned of what goes on my body since I am aware of the endocrine disruptors that our skin absorbs that may mess with my hormones. Since teaching my Strong Yoga4Fertility classes, I’ve recommend to my students that they don’t put anything on their skin they couldn’t put in their mouth (in other words organic coconut oil is a great natural moisturizer with no side effect for fertility and it’s edible).

When it comes to my own skin care, I’ve been using a facial line of products called the ‘green apple collection’ by Juice Beauty because the base is organic apple juice and I feel confident in their USDA approvals for my skin.

But back to sunscreens and putting products on your skin that you can eat. Have you ever tasted some of the sunscreens out there? Or gotten them in your eyes? My guess is if I can’t see, and it leaves a chemical taste in my mouth for hours, chances are its not good for me.

Well, I had to find out about sunscreens, because I want to know what to put on the rest of my family’s skin for our summer vacation as well. So I did a little research. Thankfully, there is a wonderful organization out there called the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and they have published a full report on Sunscreen for 2010 that will help us all when we have to make the sunscreen choice for our families and ourselves.

In addition, reporter Lori Bongiomo was able to distill the information and highlight the things to look for and avoid when purchasing your sunscreen:

-“Higher SPF (sun protection factor) products are not necessarily best. In fact, the FDA says these numbers can be misleading. It is important to remember that the SPF is based solely on UVB protection so that indicates protection against sunburn-causing rays, but has nothing to do with skin-damaging (UVA) rays. There's concern that high SPF products may give people a false sense of security and encourage people to stay out in the sun for too long without reapplying sunscreen. EWG recommends sticking to SPF 15 to 50-plus.

-Look for sunscreens with zinc, titanium dioxide, avobenzene, or Mexoryl SX for the best UVA protection available in the U.S.

-EWG recommends avoiding oxybenzone and vitamin A (retinyl palmitate) because of potential health concerns.

-Choose lotions over sprays and powders, which fill the air with tiny chemicals that may not be safe to breathe in.

-Avoid sunscreens that have added insect repellants. You're supposed to apply sunscreen liberally and often because chemicals wash off and break down in the sun. In fact, many people do not use enough sunscreen to get adequate protection. Use one ounce (enough to fill a shot glass) and reapply at least every two hours. Insect repellants, on the other hand, should be used sparingly.

Do not rely solely on sunscreen for sun protection. EWG points out that there is "no consensus that sunscreen use alone prevents skin cancer." It should be used as one part of your strategy.

What else should you do? Limit your time outside in the middle of the day when the sun's rays are most intense and spend as much time in the shade as you can. Cover up with tightly woven clothing (you can even buy sun-protective apparel), a hat, and sunglasses.

It's also important to remember that getting some sun has health benefits. Sunshine is your body's main source of vitamin D, an essential nutrient that many of us don't get enough of. Sunscreen can inhibit your body's ability to produce vitamin D. Talk to your doctor about testing your levels and about how to get more if you need it.

The easiest way to find sunscreens that are safe and effective is to use EWG's database, which has ratings on over 1,400 products from lotions and sprays to lip balms, moisturizers, and makeup with sun protection.”

In a nutshell the EWG findings:

-1. There’s no consensus on whether sunscreens prevent skin cancer.
The Food and Drug Administration’s 2007 draft sunscreen safety regulations say: “FDA is not aware of data demonstrating that sunscreen use alone helps prevent skin cancer” (FDA 2007). The International Agency for Research on Cancer agrees. IARC recommends clothing, hats and shade as primary barriers to UV radiation and writes, “sunscreens should not be the first choice for skin cancer prevention and should not be used as the sole agent for protection against the sun” (IARC 2001a).

-2. There’s some evidence that sunscreens might increase the risk of the deadliest form of skin cancer for some people.
Some researchers have detected an increased risk of melanoma among sunscreen users. No one knows the cause, but scientists speculate that sunscreen users stay out in the sun longer and absorb more radiation overall, or that free radicals released as sunscreen chemicals break down in sunlight may play a role. One other hunch: Inferior sunscreens with poor UVA protection that have dominated the market for 30 years may have led to this surprising outcome. All major public health agencies still advise using sunscreens, but they also stress the importance of shade, clothing and timing.

-3. There are more high SPF products than ever before, but no proof that they’re better.
In 2007 the FDA published draft regulations that would prohibit companies from labeling sunscreens with an SPF (sun protection factor) higher than “SPF 50+.” The agency wrote that higher values were “inherently misleading,” given that “there is no assurance that the specific values themselves are in fact truthful…” (FDA 2007). Scientists are also worried that high-SPF products may tempt people to stay in the sun too long, suppressing sunburns (a late, key warning of overexposure) while upping the risks of other kinds of skin damage. Flaunting FDA’s proposed regulation, companies substantially increased their high-SPF offerings in 2010. Nearly one in six products now lists SPF values higher than 50, compared to only one in eight the year before, according to EWG’s analysis of nearly 500 beach and sport sunscreens. Neutrogena, with six products labeled "SPF 100," and Banana Boat, with four, stand out among the offenders.

-4. Too little sun might be harmful, reducing the body’s vitamin D levels.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that sunshine serves a critical function in the body that sunscreen appears to inhibit — production of vitamin D. The main source of vitamin D in the body is sunshine, and the compound is enormously important to health – it strengthens bones and the immune system, reduces the risk of various cancers (including breast, colon, kidney, and ovarian cancers) and regulates at least 1,000 different genes governing virtually every tissue in the body. (Mead 2008) Over the last two decades, vitamin D levels in the U.S. population have been decreasing steadily, creating a “growing epidemic of vitamin D insufficiency” (Ginde 2009a). Experts disagree on the solution. The American Medical Association has recommended 10 minutes of direct sun (without sunscreen) several times a week (AMA 2008), while the American Academy of Dermatology holds that “there is no scientifically validated, safe threshold level of UV exposure from the sun that allows for maximal vitamin D synthesis without increasing skin cancer risk” (AAD 2009). Vitamin D supplements are the alternative, but there is debate over the proper amount. The Institute of Medicine has launched new research to reassess the current guidelines. In the meantime, your doctor can test your vitamin D levels and give advice on sunshine versus supplements.

-5. The common sunscreen ingredient vitamin A may speed the development of cancer.
Recently available data from an FDA study indicate that a form of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight, may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions (NTP 2009). This evidence is troubling because the sunscreen industry adds vitamin A to 41 percent of all sunscreens.
The industry puts vitamin A in its formulations because it is an anti-oxidant that slows skin aging. That may be true for lotions and night creams used indoors, but FDA recently conducted a study of vitamin A’s photocarcinogenic properties, the possibility that it results in cancerous tumors when used on skin exposed to sunlight. Scientists have known for some time that vitamin A can spur excess skin growth (hyperplasia), and that in sunlight it can form free radicals that damage DNA (NTP 2000).
In FDA’s one-year study, tumors and lesions developed up to 21 percent sooner in lab animals coated in a vitamin A-laced cream (at a concentration of 0.5%) than animals treated with a vitamin-free cream. Both groups were exposed to the equivalent of just nine minutes of maximum intensity sunlight each day.
It’s an ironic twist for an industry already battling studies on whether their products protect against skin cancer. The FDA data are preliminary, but if they hold up in the final assessment, the sunscreen industry has a big problem. In the meantime, EWG recommends that consumers avoid sunscreens with vitamin A (look for “retinyl palmitate” or “retinol” on the label). Read more.

-6. Free radicals and other skin-damaging byproducts of sunscreen.
Both UV radiation and many common sunscreen ingredients generate free radicals that damage DNA and skin cells, accelerate skin aging and cause skin cancer. An effective sunscreen prevents more damage than it causes, but sunscreens are far better at preventing sunburn than at limiting free radical damage. While typical SPF ratings for sunburn protection range from 15 to 50, equivalent “free radical protection factors” fall at only about 2. When consumers apply too little sunscreen or reapply it infrequently, behaviors that are more common than not, sunscreens can cause more free radical damage than UV rays on bare skin.

-7. Pick your sunscreen: nanomaterials or potential hormone disruptors.
The ideal sunscreen would completely block the UV rays that cause sunburn, immune suppression and damaging free radicals. It would remain effective on the skin for several hours and not form harmful ingredients when degraded by UV light. It would smell and feel pleasant so that people use it in the right amount and frequency.
Unsurprisingly, there is currently no sunscreen that meets all of these criteria. The major choice in the U.S. is between “chemical” sunscreens, which have inferior stability, penetrate the skin and may disrupt the body’s hormone systems, and “mineral” sunscreens (zinc and titanium), which often contain micronized- or nano-scale particles of those minerals.
After reviewing the evidence, EWG determined that mineral sunscreens have the best safety profile of today’s choices. They are stable in sunlight and do not appear to penetrate the skin. They offer UVA protection, which is sorely lacking in most of today’s sunscreen products. Mexoryl SX (ecamsule) is another good option, but it’s sold in very few formulations. Tinosorb S and M could be great solutions but are not yet available in the U.S. For consumers who don’t like mineral products, we recommend sunscreens with avobenzone (3 percent for the best UVA protection) and without the notorious hormone disruptors oxybenzone or 4-MBC. Scientists have called for parents to avoid using oxybenzone on children due to penetration and toxicity concerns.

-8. Europe’s better sunscreens.
Sunscreen makers and users in Europe have more options than in the United States. In Europe, sunscreen makers can select from among 27 chemicals for their formulations, compared to 17 in the U.S. Companies selling in Europe can add any of seven UVA filters to their products, but have a choice of only three when they market in the U.S. European sunscreens could earn FDA’s proposed four-star top rating for UVA protection, while the best U.S. products would earn only three stars. Sunscreen chemicals approved in Europe but not by the FDA provide up to five times more UVA protection; U.S. companies have been waiting five years for FDA approval to use the same compounds. Last but not least, Europeans will find many sunscreens with strong (mandatory) UVA protection if proposed regulations in Europe are finalized. Under FDA’s current proposal, Americans will not.

-9. The 33rd summer in a row without final U.S. sunscreen safety regulations.
In the United States, consumer protection has stalled because of the FDA’s 32-year effort to set enforceable guidelines for consumer protection. EWG has found a number of serious problems with existing products, including overstated claims about their perfomance and inadequate UVA protection. Many of these will be remedied when the FDA’s proposed sunscreen rule takes effect. But even after the rule is enacted, gaps will remain. FDA does not consider serious toxicity concerns such as hormone disruption when approving new sun filters, and the new rules would fail to measure sunscreen stability despite ample evidence that many products break down quickly in sunlight.

The Solution:

According to Lori Bongiomo, an environmental reporter for the conscious consumer, below are the most affordable products that earned the EWG stamp of approval (calculated based on price per ounce):

-Purple Prairie Botanicals, SunStuff, SPF 30 or SPF 15
-All Terrain, Aquasport Performance Sunscreen, SPF 30
-All Terrain, KidSport Performance Sunscreen, SPF 30
-All Terrain, TerraSport Performance Sunscreen, SPF 30
-Carribean Solutions, Kid Kare, SPF 25, Caribbean Solutions, Biodegradable Sunscreen, SPF 25
-Desert Essence, Age Reversal Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30
-Episencial, Sunny Sunscreen, SPF 35
-Estion, Sunscreen with Zinc, SPF 38
-Jason Natural Cosmetics, Earth's Best: Sunblock Mineral Based, SPF 30+
-Jason Natural Cosmetics, Sunbrellas: Chemical-Free Sunblock, SPF 30+
-Jason Natural Cosmetics, Sunbrellas: Mineral-Based Physical Sunblock, SPF 30+
-Vanicream, Sunscreen Sport, SPF 35

After going onto the EWG site and looking at the list of sunscreens, (I shockingly found out that the one I am using currently has the endocrine disruptor oxybenzone in it) so I decided I was better off buying my sunscreen in Europe where they have stronger restrictions, taking a large sunhat and staying in the shade during the hottest times of the day. Not the most ideal of situations, but it will do until the FDA decides to do a better job at protecting us here in the US.

BIOGRAPHY:Brenda Strong in addition to being a professional actress, is the National Spokesperson for The American Fertility Association ( and has produced a line of Yoga for Fertility related products ( She is the creator of The Fertility Ball ( patent pending product that helps women through acupressure and yoga enhance fertility function through the Strong Fertility Ball Yoga Method. You can also find Brenda on Facebook or follow her on Twitter

Yoga Day, USA

Entry #7

Yoga Day, USA

Yoga means “yoke” or “union” in Sanskrit

The practice of yoga is designed to remind us of our essential nature, which is joy. When we are out of “alignment” physically, we suffer discomfort and dis-ease. The health of the spine is crucial to our sense of vitality and longevity and the practice of hatha yoga is a wonderful way to maintain the flexibility and strength of the spine, while engaging the nervous system housed there in. The practice of yoga helps us to keep the body supple, the heart open and the mind quiet. Quiet enough to tune inward to the real union in the word yoga, the union of self with the Source of life itself.

But what happens for those couples that are experiencing infertility?

Awakening the Divine Feminine

Entry #6

Awakening the Divine Feminine

We as women do it all.  We support, we give, we generate, we work, we clean, we organize, and we love.  If reading this leaves you feeling like a deflated balloon after the party, it should. We give so much of ourselves, there isn’t much left for us.  And we generally beat ourselves up for not doing more! In truth, it isn’t about doing less it’s r eframing HOW we are doing it.  Is how we are living our lives generating joy, fulfillment and serving us?  If not, then it’s not working.

Cultivating Compassion

Entry #5

Cultivating Compassion

How do we cultivate compassion for ourselves? The secret lies in forgiveness.

Life isn’t perfect.  Or perhaps it is, but we don’t see it that way.  Let’s say that life doesn’t always go the way we want it to, and when it doesn’t, that’s when the critical mind jumps in and says, “It shouldn’t be this way!”  Then we get upset because it’s “not going right”, it’s not matching the picture in our mind of how life “should” be.  In these times when there is a fundamental gap between our idea of how life should go and how life IS going, we judge it as wrong.  We resist it.  And in our resistance there is suffering.  Or we are attached to an idea of how it should be and miss hidden opportunities because they don’t fit our picture of the HOW it’s SUPPOSED be happening.  Inside of both of these scenarios there is suffering.

Feelings and Stress

Entry #4

Feelings and Stress

Last month’s blog was about learning to breathe.  By allowing some space between you and your stress, you are beginning to learn that stress isn’t what happens to you, it’s your reaction to what happens to you! This can be a profound distinction for most of us.  Especially when dealing with reproductive difficulties. So if you are feeling stressed, you are not alone, this is difficult to deal with, but not insurmountable.