Camping Zen – aka One Yogi’s Guide to Spending a Weekend in the Woods

Camping Zen – aka One Yogi’s Guide to Spending a Weekend in the Woods

By Gayle Picken

Have you ever wondered why your food tastes so much better when you’re camping?

Or how sleeping on a hard, bumpy, damp surface outside for a couple of nights can actually leave you rejuvenated and refreshed?

It’s not logical, is it?

With the amount of effort required to plan, pack, shop, load, travel, unload, unpack and set up and for a camping trip, you think you’d come home a lot more stressed out than you were before you left.

Yet, as millions of people across the globe can attest, the experience of camping outdoors, whether in a tent, trailer or “glamper”, somehow serves to reset our soul and revitalize our spirit.

For me, camping has become the ultimate experiment in mindfulness…

Removing the Layers of Distraction

It can take some time to settle in. Often when we arrive at our camping destination, I’m still thinking about all of the things I forgot to do before I left… making a mental list of items to check off as soon as we get home. Setting up camp is often hurried or stressful as we are still in our “must get it done” energy. Even preparing the first meal feels like a chore to simply stave off hunger.

But then we move to lighting the fire–that time-honored tradition and iconic symbol of everything “camping”–and that is when we flip the switch. The fire, big or small, smoky or roaring, no matter how long it takes us to light, is ours and signifies that we have arrived. We are camping! Outside in nature. In a spot we’ve made our own. And that is when this practice begins.

Loud pops and crackles draw my attention and then the mesmerizing flames take over, pulling me in even further. I take a deep breath and start noticing my surroundings. I notice the sounds of the wind rustling through the trees. I notice the entertaining shenanigans of a resident chipmunk or jay. I notice temperature starting to cool my skin and I move a couple of inches closer to the fire. My body starts to relax and the layers of “to do’s” in my mind starts to slowly fade. My senses open and this begins the practice of “just being”–watching the canvas in the sky unfold as the stars appear one by one.

Bringing Our Awareness to the Space Around Us

In the morning, the sounds of the birds and the glow of the morning light wake us up. No alarms. No schedule. No need to even look at a clock. I pull on a sweatshirt and move to the picnic table. I fire up the camp stove and put the percolator on the grate. No hurry … the percolator takes its time and slowly starts to rattle as the water begins to heat up.

I notice a caterpillar on the picnic table. I become fascinated at watching it move, the tiny legs, the articulation of the long fuzzy body, the surprising progress of this tiny creature inching closer and closer to the stove. Breathing in the fresh air feels exhilarating .. how lucky we are to be in this spot right now, outside, with birds darting in and out of the bushes and butterflies dancing their way through our camp.

I hear a “bloop” and see the first bubble appear in the percolator’s glass top. This brings a smile to my face. How exciting to see that the water is boiling and our coffee is starting to brew. I realize how special it is to be present here in this moment, making coffee outside at the picnic table at our camp spot. Life is good.

I grab the box of pancake mix and add some water from my water bottle into bowl, stirring it with a fork as the frying pan heats up on the stove. The wind picks up and a couple of pine needles land in the bowl of batter. No worries, I think to myself as I pull them out, we’re camping, a little dirt won’t hurt us …

The smell of the sizzling melted butter in the pan signals that its time to cook the first pancake. Cooking outside in the open, with the trees waving and light clouds moving across the sky, it’s glorious!

Drizzling syrup over the stack of pancakes, I notice the steam coming from the pancakes and then I gaze at the piping hot cup of coffee I’ve poured in my favorite camping mug. Scrumptious! My mouth is watering before I even pick up my fork. After my first bite I have an epiphany — this has got be the best pancake I have ever tasted! The flavor is amazing and the texture so perfect … I am feeling the soft wind on my face, and I relish the moment and sink even deeper into this state of “un-doing.”

Pausing and Absorbing Our Practice

At the end of the weekend, I resist packing up. Can’t we enjoy one more cup of coffee by the river or savor another stroll through the woods? The important list of “to do’s” for the upcoming week has long been forgotten and I briefly consider the possibility of staying another night.

Camping, out in nature, where we’re forced to simplify, slow down, and return our focus to our most basic needs of shelter, food, water and fire, becomes a meditation. In our busy modern technology-driven life, it reminds us of what it is to be human.

As I slowly pack up the tent and sleeping bags and bring my attention to my life back at home, I feel energized and renewed, and I begin planning our next trip …

Art Lovers Rejoice – Festival Season is Here

Art Lovers Rejoice – Festival Season is Here

By Monika Star

Summer in the Pacific Northwest means that the outdoor art festival season is in bloom! By attending art festivals and sharing the experience with others, our lives are enhanced and uplifted on so many levels–mind, body, and spirit. Not only does looking at art stimulate creativity in the brain, but getting out and experiencing these events with others gets the body moving and brings the joy of gathering as a community. Art can also provide deep healing work when you find that piece that stirs something in one’s soul. I believe especially in today’s stressful times, it is necessary to get away from our pushing and pressing lifestyles and have some unapologetic and non-guilty pleasures and fun.

Here’s a list of 7 local art festivals I’ll be attending this summer. Hope you can join me!

  1. Sorticulture Garden Arts Festival
    June 8 – 10, 2018 in Everett, WA
    My gorgeous Rock & Roll grandiflora rose bloomed this past week and I was reminded of what a great festival Sorticulture is… I purchased my rose bush there last year from Antique Rose Farm out of Snohomish. With over 140 artists and specialty nurseries, you’ll find a huge variety of art, landscaping and plants to create your very own nature’s show stopper in your garden. There’s also a food fair, wine garden, live music and new activities for the kiddos, including a scavenger hunt that will get them exploring Legion Memorial Park. Don’t miss this year’s special guest appearance Ciscoe. Here’s a link to this year’s Entertainment Schedule.

  2. Woodinville Artists Studio Tour
    June 8th, June 9th & 10th, and June 16th 2018
    It’s a 3-part celebration at Woodinville’s first Artists Studio Tour. First, there is a kick-off event on June 8th, 7-9:30pm, called “A Brush of Pink” at Novelty Hill Januik Winery, where you can meet the artists and see their work. Tickets available at at

    The free, self-guided Studio Tour runs June 9th & 10th, 10 am – 6 pm. I reached out to Jyl Blackwell, digital fine art painter & marketing and communications chair, to ask about the art tour and this what she had to say-“what makes us unique is that we have such a diverse studio participation-watercolor, oil, and acrylic painting, jewelry, digital painting, fine art furniture, photography, illustration, and pottery. Some studios will have live demonstrations. The studio tour and post-party at the Grange are free events. If you have your “palette” stamped by all 9 studios, you will be entered into a drawing for a night’s stay at Willows Lodge.” She also invites us to her shared studio with Chelle Caldwell since it is among the tasting rooms in the Warehouse District. Art and Wine – what a great combo!

    The tour wraps up on June 16th, 5-8pm at the Grange with a free post party with live music, a silent auction and announcement of “Best of Show” and “palette” prize winner. More info on all of this at:

  3. EGGS-plore Lynnwood
    June 14th 2018, 6:30-8:30pm, Lynnwood City Hall
    While this one is not an outdoor festival, I’m particularly excited to share this art event because I met one of the artists in a class I took this year. The EGGS-plore project started off as a city-wide egg hunt with 28 eggs decorated by different artists. Now the eggs are on display at City Hall and will be auctioned off at the reception on June 14th. Why eggs, you may ask? Well, it is inspired by local history. In the 1920s, the many small farms in Lynnwood made up the nation’s second largest egg producing region. EGGS-plore Lynnwood is a collaboration between the Lynnwood Arts Commission and the Lynnwood Parks and Recreation Foundation, with help from the Human Services Commission, and the History and Heritage Board. More info at
  4. Edmonds Arts Festival
    June 15 – 17, 2018

    One of the oldest arts events (since 1957) in the Pacific Northwest, the Edmonds Arts Festival is an annual community favorite happening on Father’s Day weekend. The free 3-day event features diverse art vendors, live entertainment, a juried art gallery exhibition and sale by more than 240 artists, a nationally-recognized juried student art exhibit and a hands-on children’s art activity area.

    Angela Bandurka will be at the Artist in Action on the Plaza demonstrating her techniques and process on Friday evening from 6 to 8pm at The Edmonds Arts Festival. (artwork featured above: “Be The Change”). You can see other artists showing their techniques at this link: When there, let’s wish her a happy 10th year anniversary working as a professional artist. She is hoping to have a calendar made soon of her work, in the meantime check her work at

  5. Shoreline Arts Festival
    June 23 – 24, 2018
    The Shoreline Arts Festival is held the last weekend in June and this year is celebrating its 28th year. There is something creative and fun for everyone at this FREE two-day community event: juried art exhibits, music and theater performances, youth art, artist marketplace, cultural rooms, hands-on art, food court, and various activities of all kinds. The Cultural Rooms offer an opportunity to immerse yourself and experience different cultures with hands-on activities such as interactive art displays, food samples, listening to music and learning to dance. They put it best, in a nutshell, about supporters of the arts: “Enrich your home with hand-made art, support local artists, and show the world where you stand as a curator of great taste”. More info:
  6. Sandblast Festival of the Arts
    July 21 & 22, 2018
    This fun, family friendly, free art festival is proudly put on by Duvall Foundation for the Arts. Master Sand Sculptress, Kali Bradford, returns to transform the beach on the historic shores of Snoqualmie River at McCormick Park into a piece of sand art. This pic was in 2016 and was inspired by indigenous Māori art from New Zealand. There is also local art vendors, live music on two stages, food trucks, wine & beer garden, children’s activities and play, treasures, and more. More info:
  7. Bellevue Art Museum ARTSfair
    July 27-29, 2018
    Celebrating 72 years this year! Along with the BAM fair, the 6th Street Fair and Bellevue Festival of the Arts takes place on the same weekend making it an art lovers paradise triple trifecta win.
    Check out following links to find all details for these art festivals.,, and
  8. Enjoy!

    Monika Star is an avid wellness advocate, beach watcher, arts promoter and a natural connector. She is the community outreach director for the NW Mind Body Spirit Connection events and enjoys spending time meeting folks who are doing good things for our community.

The Summer Events Guide Is In!

The Summer Events Guide Is In!

Introducing the first annual Summer Wellness Events Guide featuring classes, workshops, retreats and special events happening around Puget Sound. Download your copy today!

Or read it online here:

If you enjoy living a healthy lifestyle, learning about fitness, nutrition, personal and spiritual growth, well-being and stress management, and getting out in nature, this events guide is for you!

There are so many ways to keep exploring your path and we hope to see you at some of the featured events this summer. Download the Guide and mark your calendars for events happening throughout June, July and August 2018.


What’s in our Sunscreen that caused it to be Banned in Hawaii?

What’s in our Sunscreen that caused it to be Banned in Hawaii?

by Gayle Picken

Hawaii recently made headlines as the first state set to ban sunscreens containing chemicals harmful to coral reefs. According to this BBC article, the offending chemicals, oxybenzone and octinoxate, are found in over 3,500 of the most popular sunscreen products on the market today (that’s 70% of all sunscreen products!) Wow! For an island paradise that attracts over 8 million beach-going tourists each year, this decision could not have been made lightly!

If these chemicals are harmful to coral reefs, what are they doing to our human bodies? And what are the alternatives for all of us who’ve been conditioned to lathering up with sunscreen to protect ourselves from the harmful UV rays that are linked to skin cancer?

Intrigued to learn more, I began doing some research and was surprised to find out how many complexities there are when it comes to sunscreen. The good news is that we have many options available to help us prevent damage to our skin from the sun. (Spoiler alert: even the types of foods you eat can make a difference!)

Here’s what I found out ..

How does sunscreen work?

Erin Keyes is a representative of EVER skin care products and she gave me a basic overview about how sunscreen works. It turns out there are two main types of active ingredients that protect against UV rays .. one type is mineral-based like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide which physically block the harmful rays and reflect them away from the skin. And the other type is an organic chemical such as oxybenzone or octinoxate that absorbs the UV radiation through its chemical bond and then releases it as heat.

At first, the mineral-based sunscreens had a white pasty look and tacky feel so manufacturers started using smaller mineral particles to create a clearer application. In some cases, the particles are so small (called nanoparticles) there is concern about potential health risks if they were to enter the human body, especially when in spray or powder form. This is why you’ll find many natural sunscreens made with “non-nano” zinc oxide.

In the chemical-based sunscreens, some ingredients, such as oxybenzone, are increasingly looked at as being potentially harmful to humans as well as the environment.

With all of these variables, how do we make sense of it all when it comes to choosing which sunscreen to buy?

Marcia Sears, a representative of Monat Global and a proponent for toxin-free hair products, recommended that I take a look at the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Annual Guide to Sunscreens.

Not only does this great resource give you a handy list of specific brands that meet its criteria, it also provides a wealth of information for those who want to do more research.

Can the foods you eat help prevent sunburns?

On my quest to learn more about sunscreen, my assistant Monika Star, who has been trained as a licensed nutritionist, suggested that I look into the foods you can eat that can actually help prevent sunburn. Who knew?

This fascinating article 5 Foods that Protect Your Skin from Sun Damage explains how keeping your skin healthy from the inside out can help prevent sun damage as well. It explains how antioxidants are good for healthy skin protection because they help to scavenge the free radicals produced when our skin is exposed to UV radiation. Top foods include tomatoes, carrots, green tea, fish and high-quality dark chocolate…I’m in!

Are reef-friendly sunscreens available?

In Hawaii, some local natural sunscreens include Kokua Sun Care Hawaiian Natural Zinc Sunscreen made with a combination of non-nano zinc oxide and Hawaiian ingredients exceptionally rich in antioxidants to neutralize the free radicals that can cause DNA damage to our skin.

And Mama KULEANA offers hand-made “reef and skin” care products with ingredients including: organic shea butter, organic coconut oil, beeswax, organic safflower oil, non-nano zinc powder, raspberry oil, rose hip seed oil and vitamin E oil. They also use packaging that is biodegradable–even the label!

Many sunscreen brands are now jumping on board with formulas that are safe for the coral reefs. Check the ingredients before you buy!

What else can we do to protect ourselves and prevent skin cancer?

One thing is for sure, sunscreen is a must when it comes to protecting your skin from harmful UV rays. But every source I checked with agrees that you must do more than just rely on sunscreen. It’s best to take a multi-level approach: Wear broad-rimmed hats, clothing and sunglasses, eat foods rich in antioxidants, find or make shade, and use toxin free sunscreens.

It’s estimated that 14 tons of sunscreen end up in the coral reefs off Hawaii each year. The more we become conscious about the chemicals in our sunscreens and other skin products, the better for our bodies and our oceans!

If you are interested in learning more about how oxybenzone affects the coral reefs, fish and marine ecosystems, check out this article from Forbes and this one from The Guardian.

And for an easy-to-read explanation of how suncreen works and definitions of SPF ratings, UVA and UVB, see this LiveScience article.

Happy swimming!

ps – If you have a special sunscreen tip you’d like to share, please post it it our facebook group, the NW Mind Body Spirit Lounge.

Gayle Picken is an event producer, healthy living advocate, travel blogger, dreamer and the director of the NW Mind Body Spirit Connection. She loves yoga, hiking, kayaking, connecting with people and exploring the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest.