Shenandoah National Park

Stony Man Mountain

When my mom learned that I had off over the Fourth of July holiday, she suggested that she, my brother, and I get away for a few days. We ultimately decided to go to Shenandoah National Park since it’s one of few national parks within driving distance of Philadelphia. It’s also somewhere that none of us had been prior to this trip. The drive from Philadelphia to Shenandoah took roughly four hours, but it flew by as traffic was minimal and the route was scenic. We opted to stay at Skyland, which is conveniently located inside the park.

Shenandoah National Park is situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. It is largely forested, with many of its hikes leading to either cascading waterfalls or breathtaking vistas. The foliage is said to be particularly beautiful come autumn. I must say that I was blown away by how large the park is! It spans 105 miles from top to bottom and encompasses over 500 miles of trails. Skyline Drive runs the length of the park, making all of its trailheads accessible by vehicle. A portion of the 2,000 mile Appalachian Trail also runs the length of the park.

Wildlife sightings were plentiful, including a variety of birds and butterflies, as well as deer and black bears. Yup, you read correctly: bears. Prior to our visit, I had no idea that Shenandoah is home to hundreds of bears and, as such, sightings are anything but a rarity. I lost count of the number of sightings I had – some while driving along Skyline Drive and others while hiking. Hot tip! Don’t make the rookie mistake that I did and neglect to bring bear spray along with you.

Due to some physical limitations with my mom and brother, I mostly hiked solo. Because I wasn’t prepared to hike strenuous, 7+ mile trails on my own, I opted out of two hikes on my wish list. With that being said, both the Old Rag Mountain Loop Trail and the White Oak Canyon and Cedar Run Trails come highly recommended if longer, more rigorous trails are your thing. I hope to check them out for myself when I return one day!

All in all, I’m extremely grateful for the the short, but sweet time that I spent in Shenandoah. It wasn’t until I was there that I realized how badly I was in need of a city escape. As much as I consider myself a city gal, immersing myself in nature every once in a while keeps me level-headed. In regards to hiking solo – something that I had never done prior to this trip – I freaking loved it! To my own surprise, I welcomed the solitude with open arms and learned that it deeply nourished my soul.

Stony Man Mountain

Stony Man Mountain

Stony Man Mountain

Day 1

Stony Man via the Appalachian Trail: Being that we arrived to the park in the late afternoon, this easy, 1.5-mile trail was the perfect way to kickoff our getaway. It’s a short loop that offers stunning views. When I reached the summit of Stony Man, I was shocked to find that there wasn’t a soul up there. I embraced the opportunity to meditate as the sun set and the gentle breeze washed over me. The sense of tranquility that I felt in that moment is indescribable.

Rose River Trail

Rose River Falls

Rose River Trail

Lower Dark Hallow Falls

Upper Dark Hallow Falls

Day 2

Rose River Trail: I absolutely loved this trail! To access the trailhead, head to the Fisherman’s Gap Overlook parking lot and cross the street. It’s a moderately challenging, 3.5-mile loop that is strewn with streams and waterfalls. The most impressive waterfalls that you’ll see on this trail are Rose River Falls and Dark Hallow Falls. Although Dark Hallow Falls is arguably the more popular of the two, I was actually more drawn to Rose River Falls. I worked my way down to the rocks below them and meditated to the sound of cascading, pristine water. No one was around and it was extremely peaceful.

Bearfence Mountain Trail

Bearfence Mountain

Day 3

Bearfence Mountain Trail: Despite this trail being short, it was incredible. It’s a moderately difficult, 1-mile loop that leads to a 360º view of the park. In fact, the summit of Bearfence Mountain is one of only three summits in the park to offer such a view. The climb up is steep and ultimately turns into a scramble climb. I found this portion of the hike incredibly fun and wished it had lasted longer! Yet again, I was the only person in sight once I reached the summit and thoroughly enjoyed the solitude as I took in the beauty surrounding me. Out of all the trails that I experienced while in Shenandoah, I found this one to have the most impressive variety of wildflowers.

Hawksbill Gap Loop

Hawksbill Mountain

Hawksbill Gap Loop

Hawksbill Gap Loop via the Appalachian Trail: This moderately difficult, 2.6-mile climb is well worth the effort. Sitting at 4,050 ft. elevation, the summit of Hawksbill Mountain is the highest peak in Shenandoah. Despite hitting this trail during a period of extreme fog, the views at the top were lovely. I can’t imagine how gorgeous they would have been if I’d experienced them on a clear day! My favorite memory from this trail was being greeted by a group of bucks a mere 100 or so yards into hiking. They were about 10 feet away from me and were completely unfazed by my presence.

May Flowers Playlist

Hey, friends!

It’s been a hot second since I shared one of my Spotify playlists with y’all. However, because spring is finally in full force and because I’m totally digging this playlist, I figured now’s a good a time as any. It’s full of (mostly) alternative goodness and is ideal for evenings spent on the patio, sippin’ on sauvignon blanc (or whatever your warm-weather beverage of choice happens to be). I may or may not be doing so right now. ;)

I hope you enjoy it!

xoxo,

Lauren

DIY Conditioning Detangler

Sadly, most household and personal care products are laden with chemicals that are known carcinogens and endocrine disrupters. Um, no thanks. If this topic is of interest to you whatsoever, I encourage you to check out EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. When I plugged my commonly used household and personal care products into these resources, I was appalled by what I found. That, my friends, is when I embarked on my journey of knowing better and doing better.

As part of that process, I’ve slowly phased out toxic products and have instead embraced products made with plant-based ingredients. Hair care products will be the last category of products to go, and I’m starting with detangler. Yep, I’m a 29 year-old chick who still uses the stuff. I’ve got lots of extremely fine hair, making for an easily tangled mess. My ends also tend to get extremely dry and frizzy, making a high-quality, conditioning detangler a must in my beauty routine.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I ended up creating my own. There’s something incredibly empowering about knowing exactly which ingredients go into something that I use almost daily. Of course, I included a variety of essential oils in my DIY concoction. After engaging in some research, I decided on the following: Sandalwood to lock in moisture, Ylang Ylang to combat static and frizz, and Clary Sage to add shine. Aside from serving as effective ingredients for a conditioning detangler, these essential oils smell fan-freaking-tastic together. Possibly the best part about this project is that I was able to throw it together in less than five minutes.

What you’ll need:

  • 8 oz spray bottle
  • 3/4 cup filtered water
  • 2 tbsp. fractionated coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp. alcohol-free witch hazel
  • 15 drops Ylang Ylang essential oil
  • 10 drops Sandalwood essential oil
  • 10 drops Clary Sage essential oil

What you’ll do:

  • Add all ingredients to the spray bottle and shake well to combine
  • Spirtz over ends of hair just after a shower and comb through

Winter R&R Retreat at Kripalu

My grad school spring break was in the beginning of March, and I was determined to embark on a new adventure during my time off. Because I felt in need of a getaway, yet wanted to keep the cost down, my mom and I sought out drivable escapes. She brought up the idea of Kripalu, and I was immediately sold. My mom experienced Kripalu about 10 years ago and has always raved about her time there. However, because I’ve more recently gotten into yoga and the mind-body-soul wellness that comes along with it, this was my first time. And, certainly not my last.

If I could use only one word to describe my short, but sweet time at Kripalu, it would be “magical.” However, for the sake of this blog post, I’m happy to dive much deeper. For starters, the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health is located in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. The main building is surrounded by over 100 acres of land and is situated on a hilltop that overlooks Lake Mahkeenac.

Leaving from Philadelphia, it took us about four hours to get there. Being that Kripalu is located in Massachusetts, I was expecting a much longer journey. However, it turns out that it is located just above the New York border. The latter portion of our drive was exquisite, as this region was still experiencing the Nor’easter that had hit Philadelphia earlier that week. It was both scenic and serene, as the backcountry roads that led us to Kripalu were surrounded by bountiful, fluffy snow. In fact, the snow continued through Saturday, making us feel like we were inside one of the most magnificent snow globes to ever exist. ;)

Before we arrived, we agreed to leave our phones in the car. At that point, I’d recognized that the last time I was without a phone for an extended period of time was during a life-changing trip to Costa Rica in 2012 – almost five years prior! Yikes. Well, can I tell you how liberating it was to ditch my phone for a weekend?! Instead of mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, or loading up my Amazon shopping cart with “necessities,” I engaged in soul-nourishing activities. I definitely plan on incorporating technology detoxes into my life more often.

Once we checked in, we began our weekend in the best way possible! We headed to Kripalu’s Healing Arts Center to indulge in the following services: Deep Pressure Meditative Massage, Dr. Hauschka Classic Facial, and Energy Balancing. Because Kripalu incorporates Ayurvedic principles into everything that it does, the services were arguably the best and most unique spa services that I have ever received. Each treatment was better than the next, and we left feeling like we were floating in the clouds.

Although I was unsure about what to expect from the Energy Balancing portion of our afternoon, I’m so happy I gave it a try. The energy therapist that I worked with had an incredible vitality to her, and it was truly contagious! The session involved both chakra work and affirmations, which are right up my alley. I engaged in a pretty intense journaling session after my experience, as I was blown away by the blocks that were uncovered and the auras that were visualized in just one session. Because I understand that these topics are a little too “woo-woo” for most, I won’t go into too much detail here. However, if you are interested in hearing more about my experience, I’m happy to share it with you!

After our time at the Healing Arts Center, we dove headfirst into the weekend. However, before I explain our weekend in detail, I’d like to shed light on the three different ways that Kripalu can be experienced: 1) participate in a program, 2) engage in an R&R retreat, or 3) attend a teacher training. Although Kripalu is known to host presenters that are world-renowned in the wellness world, the programs taking place during the weekend that we visited simply didn’t speak to us. And, because programs and healing arts services are add-ons, we opted for the latter. Further, while I’d love to participate in one of Kripalu’s teacher trainings in the future, my journey hasn’t led me there just yet.

With all of that being said, I’m sure it comes to no surprise that we decided to engage in an R&R retreat. Accommodations, meals, use of amenities, and participation in a variety of workshops, yoga classes, and outdoor activities are included. The beauty of the R&R experience is that you are encouraged to participate in as little or as much as you’d like; it is all about customizing it to be an experience that is uniquely yours. Want a sneak peak into what my weekend looked like? See below for a brief synopsis.

Friday, March 9th, 2018

  • Deep Pressure Meditative Massage with Paul
  • Dr. Hauschka Classic Facial with Joanna
  • Energy Balancing with Jane
  • Dinner
  • Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra with Jennifer Reis

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

  • Breakfast
  • Clearing the Clutter with Izzy Lenihan
  • Origami and Mindfulness with Mary Hannah Parkman
  • Vinyasa Yoga with Sherrie Howard
  • Lunch
  • Yoga and Art with Ali Cramer
  • Dinner

Sunday, March 11th, 2018

  • Breakfast
  • The Yoga of Dylan with Lara Tupper
  • Vinyasa Yoga with Michael Petersen
  • Lunch

Say no unless it’s a resounding HELL YES! That was my motto for the weekend. As such, I skipped workshops, yoga classes, and outdoor activities that didn’t excite me. During those time periods, I journaled, read, took photos, walked around the property, cat-napped, and moseyed around The Kripalu Shop. Although I’m so grateful for everything that I experienced during my weekend at Kripalu, there are three experiences that I cannot recommend enough: 1) Journaling, 2) Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra with Jennifer Reis, and 3) Vinyasa Yoga with Michael Peterson.

  • Journaling // I use the notepad app on my phone almost daily. Whether it’s to create a to-do list or record a random musing, I’m constantly jotting things down. That’s why, knowing I’d be without my phone, I brought a journal along with me. Having it allowed me to track my journey in a meaningful way and prompted me to engage in stream of consciousness writing for the first time in a long time. Doing the latter was very unexpected, yet extremely cathartic.
  • Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra with Jennifer Reis // My first experience with yoga nidra was a fantastic one. Essentially, yoga nidra is a systematic approach to sleep meditation. The idea is to travel through the panacha maya kosha (five layers of self) while lying in savasana (corpse pose). No joke, I was knocked the eff out in under two minutes. After coming out of the meditation, I zombie-walked my way up to our room and fell into nine blissful hours of sleep.
  • Vinyasa Yoga with Michael Peterson // I was blown away by every instructor at Kripalu, but this dude takes the cake. While most of the weekend was profound in nature, Michael’s class was lighthearted and fun. As such, it was a welcome break from the deep reflection that I’d engaged in for most of the weekend. He’s both talented and hilarious, offering a one-of-a-kind, entertaining, and vigorous flow.

As a side note, I’d like to mention that, while snapping photos was an enjoyable part of my experience, every photo taken was of the scenery surrounding the property. And, because the walkways were limited due to the snow, I have few photos to share with you guys. Taking photos inside the main building didn’t feel right, as everyone at the retreat does a tremendous job of respecting each others’ desire to just… be. Fun fact: Luann and Sonja from the Real Housewives of New York were at the retreat with us, and even they were left alone so that they could unwind.

Of course, being the food-obsessed gal that I am, I would be doing everyone who reads this post a disservice by not mentioning The Kripalu Kitchen‘s unbelievable food! With an emphasis on local, seasonal, and primarily plant-based ingredients, it was nourishing, yet so flavorful. I particularly loved that breakfast was eaten in silence, as it allowed for mindful eating and time to reflect before we took on each day. Notably, it was here that I first began to wrap my head around Ayurvedic principles regarding how one should eat according to his or her dosha. In fact, I was so taken by this concept that I have since taken a crash course on Ayurveda at a local yoga studio.

Want to give their incredible house dressing a whirl? The recipe can be found here.

Admittedly, I’m already itching for my next Kripalu visit. Because we experienced it in all of its winter glory, I’d absolutely love to see what it’s like during the summer months. Hiking its beautiful trails, especially the Meditation Garden, and participating in outdoor yoga are what I look forward to the most! Oh, and remember those world-renowned presenters that I mentioned? There are some pretty badass babes presenting at Kripalu this summer! Ruby Warrington (author of Material Girl, Mystical World) and Gabrielle Bernstein (author of The Universe Has Your Back) are two of them. Decisions, decisions…

Lastly, if you’re thinking of heading to Kripalu in the near future, here’s a packing guide comprised of items that I consider must-haves:

  • Yoga Mat // Kripalu provides yoga mats if you prefer to travel light, but I’m partial to using my own.
  • Reusable Water Bottle // Love your Mother! Water-filling stations can be found throughout the main building.
  • Comfortable Sandals // Although it was the dead of winter, I was wearing my sandals the entire time, minus our outdoor walk.
  • Slippers // Despite the above comment, I wish I’d had my slippers when we were relaxing in our room.
  • Sneakers // Although these will be neglected most of the time, they’re necessary for an outdoor walk or hike.
  • Tote Bag // Between carrying around my water bottle, yoga towel, room key, and journal, I wish that I’d had something larger than my purse with me.
  • Watch // It’s relatively difficult to keep track of time when you leave your cell phone in the car. I learned the hard way. ;)
  • Sound Machine // Although the environment at Kripalu is overwhelmingly serene, the walls are thin and I much prefer my sound machine to the ear plugs provided at the front desk.
  • Essential Oils + Diffuser // We diffused grounding oils throughout the weekend, and it most definitely enhanced our experience.
  • Journal + Pen // I think you’ve caught my drift with journaling by now, but I’ll leave you with one last reminder. ;)
  • Reading Material // This weekend is all about going where the wind takes you. Bring a variety of books that you’ve been meaning to read so that you have something for every mood.
  • Camera // It’s crazy how reliant we are on our phones, huh?! Plus, if you own a fancy camera that tends to collect dust (ahem – me), this is the perfect opportunity to give it some love.
  • Clothing // Athletic yoga wear by day. Casual yoga wear (read: a sweater and a pair of joggers) by night. Swimwear if you plan on utilizing the hot tub or sauna.

Have you ever visited Kripalu or participated in a similar retreat? If so, please leave a comment and share about your experience!

Forgotten Longwood Garden Photos and a Lesson in Extreme Gratitude

Today, I took on the daunting task of sorting through thousands of photos and videos. Deciding which to keep and which to toss was arguably the most time-consuming, emotionally-draining aspect of the whole endeavor, but the mere act of backing everything up takes time as well. Although I had been dreading this task for months, it swiftly morphed into a lesson of extreme gratitude. The highlight reel of my life quickly reminded why we collect memorabilia in the first place.

On a day-to-day basis, I find it so incredibly easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Most of the time, I can’t help but feel like I’m simply going though the motions. However, after sifting through what felt like an endless collection of photo and video footage, an overwhelming sense of gratitude washed over me. My heart felt like it was about burst. I mean, seriously, how lucky am I to have lived so much life in my short 29 years? Better yet, how lucky am I to have done so with such incredible people by my side? The best part of all is that I’m just getting started.

In the midst of re-living so many precious memories, I came across a group of photos that I had intended on sharing but ended up completely forgetting about. They were taken at Longwood Gardens on Mother’s Day of last year. I figured, better late than never, I’d share them with you guys. If Longwood Gardens is accessible to you and you have never been, do yourself a favor and visit its beautiful grounds this spring. If not, please enjoy some of my favorites from the day.

img_2417

img_2430

img_2421

img_2428

img_2435

img_2456-1

img_2443

img_2460-1

img_2450

img_2459