Asanas & Sun Salutations

Surya Namaskār

Surya Namaskar, or Sun Salutation, is a series of postures that warms, strengthens, and aligns the entire body. Read this post to learn how to make the postures!

Benefits of Yoga

Movement is a crucial part of our daily life. Our lives have become more and more sedentary, so planned and purposed exercise has become a necessity. Life used to be much more active, and incidental exercise was sufficient, as people worked on farms and walked long distances to work.

Our bodies are designed for movement and movement is a crucial element to our vitality. Listen to your body and honor how you feel. Regular movement can increase your strength, stamina and resistance to disease. The more you move, the more energy you will generate!

Nowadays the mysticism of yoga has been removed and the stigma that was attached to it as some cult-like practice has disappeared, every third person walking down the street has a yoga mat, and there are yoga studios popping up in cities everywhere. It’s a phenomenon!

However, as a yogi (male) or yogini (female), you should know that the practice of yoga extends far beyond the practice of asanas. When your mind, body and spirit are truly in union, you are really practicing yoga.

In the ‘Yoga Sutras‘, Patanjali focuses on ashtanga yoga – literally meaning ‘eight limbs’ – to reach enlightenment. Starting with ethical living and self-discipline (yama and niyama), then performing asanas to connect with yourself, creating freedom through your breath (pranayama), freedom from sensory engagement (pratyahara), practice of focused concentration on one point (dharana), uninterrupted contemplative meditation (dhyana) and finally a pure blissful state (samadhi).

This post will be focussed on asanas. Your practice should be to move with mindfulness and bring focus to your breath in each pose, this is the essence of yoga. Yoga directs and channels prana, your life force energy, as you engage your body.

Yoga postures are designed to help stretch, massage and tone the body muscles and organs. With regular practice, you can build strength, stamina, flexibility and awareness. Yoga is now widely recognized for its health benefits, such as bringing down high blood pressure and high blood sugar, reducing the risk of heart disease alleviating depression and anxiety. My simple yoga practice really enables me to connect with my body and keeps me grounded and stable so that I can face challenges that come my way.

So maybe it’s time to get in on the action!


Popular Yoga Asanas (Poses)

Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward-facing dog pose)

Downward Facing Dog

Vrksasana (tree pose)

tree pose

Malasana (garland pose)

Garland

Dandasana (staff pose)

Dandasana

Uttanasana (standing forward bend pose)

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Virabhadrasana I (warrior I pose)

warrior I

Virabhadrasana II (warrior II pose)

warrior II

Marjaryasana (cat pose)

Cat Pose--Marjaryasana-Bitilasana-Yoga-Exercise-KS2-Black-and-White

Bitilasana (cow pose)

Cow Pose

Balasana (child pose)

child pose

Bhujangasana (cobra pose)

cobra pose

Dhanurasana (bow pose)

bow pose

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (bridge pose)

bridge pose

Parivrtta Utkatasana (revolved chair pose)

revolved chair pose

Ustrasana (camel pose)

ustrasana

Viparita Virabhadrasana (reverse warrior pose)

reverse warrior

Utkatasana (chair pose)

chair pose

Savasana (corpse pose)

savasana


Sun Salutation – Surya Namaskar

Surya Namaskar

This ingenious twelve-posture yoga sequence know as Surya Namaskar can be tailored to suit your constitution by adapting the pace. It is a fluid warm-up sequence that is performed at the beginning of the day. Unlike aerobic exercise, this sequence is done slowly, purposefully and gently with a focus on your breath. This sequence helps stimulate blood circulation, regulate the nervous system, clear the brain and bring shine to the eyes. You will simply glow!

Tantra Yoga

Tantra Yoga


 

In October I decided to start doing yoga. My friend Delite recommended me this place called Ananda Marga Yoga & Meditation Malta. He said that the teacher was very nice and that the classes were not ‘gym yoga’ style, they were more spiritual and mixed with meditation, which is what I was looking for.

Ananda Marga Yoga Center is located in Gzira. The classes take place in a house with a super cozy room. It makes us feel at home right away. The energy in this place is magical and you always leave yoga a big smile on your face.

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I like the fact that the schedule is super flexible and we can just stop by whenever we want – Dada, the teacher, is always there. Sometimes I go at 5.30pm after work, other times I go later. The classes usually last about 1h, but if you get there in the middle, Dada always lets you in anyway.

Dada Shubhacetanananda, our teacher, is truly an amazing human being. Learning meditation and yoga from someone who truly believes and lives by what he says was truly the best experience. Dada not only teaches yoga… he takes care of people and gives a lot of teachings, advice, and suggestions about life and helps us to have a good lifestyle.

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Dada comes from India. He has a calm and good-tempered personality and through his yoga and meditation makes you see life in a really different and positive way. He cares about each person individually and shares experiences and guides you in a healthier way of living. Sometimes I go to his classes and he gives me vegetables for free, to make sure I’m eating healthy, and he always asks about how I feel and offers me water to make sure I keep hydrated. He is a very kind human being.

Tantra Yoga

Tantra Yoga, as interpreted by Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, is the practical philosophy that serves as the foundation of Ananda Marga. Tantra controls the mind through mental exercises (meditation) with the help of the body (postures and massage). This type of yoga is focused on stress relief and health (physical and mental) with relaxation sessions, guided visualization (short meditation) and good advice for your health mostly based on naturopathy.

Tantra Yoga is less physical than Hatha yoga. It is very suitable for aged persons. It is good to learn how to control our emotions and rediscover oneself. However, this type of yoga is not different from Astaunga yoga. We technically practice Astaunga yoga, but only a part of it is presented in these classes.

Yoga Asanas

In the West, we have come to equate the term “yoga” with yoga postures, but in fact, they form only a small part of the whole system. The term “yoga” in fact implies a whole way of life which includes yoga postures as one of its many facets.

In Sanskrit, yoga postures are called ‘asanas’. Asana means ‘a posture giving physical comfort and mental composure’. Asanas affect the glands, nerves, muscles and all the organs of the body. Yoga asanas were developed over a period of thousands of years. At first, yogis watched the postures of different animals and then imitated them – hence the existence of several asanas with animal names.

Doing asanas brings many physical benefits, but the most important effect is on the mind. The practice of asanas places pressure on the endocrine glands, and this results in the regulation of hormones secreted from those glands. The hormones affect the emotions, and the resultant emotional balance facilitates concentration and meditation. So asanas help prepare the mind for meditation.

Benefits of Asanas

  • Balance the hormone secretions from the glands;
  • Give flexibility to the body;
  • Improve respiration, as well as blood and lymph circulation;
  • Massage the internal organs;
  • Detoxify the joints;
  • Relax the nerves and muscles;
  • Cure diseases.

While practicing asanas the body should be cool and calm. The stomach should not be full. The room should be clean and warm, and there should be no smoke in the air. Except for the meditation postures, asanas should not be practiced during menstruation or pregnancy.

Different Asanas & Benefits

Shoulder stand: regulates the thyroid gland, as it puts pressure on it. When the posture is released, the flow of blood rushing into the throat ‘massages’ the gland and helps it to achieve the right amount of secretion.

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Yogamudra: Sit cross-legged. Hold your left wrist with your right hand behind your back. Slowly lower your chin, then your neck, bend down as far as you can go, breathing out as you go down. Stay there for 8 seconds with your breath held out, then rise up breathing in. Practice eight times.

sa

Cobra: Lie on your stomach. Place your hands facing down on the floor beside your ears. Supporting your weight on your palms, push up and raise the chest, looking up towards the ceiling. Breathe in while rising, and hold your breath in that position for 8 seconds. Come down to the original position while breathing out. Practice eight times.

saa

Long Salutation: Kneel down with your buttocks resting on your heels and your toes pointing forward. With your palms together, extend your arms up vertically next to your ears. Slowly bring your arms and head down as one, first bending your neck, then the whole upper body, until your fingers hit the floor, keeping your buttocks as close to your heels as possible. Now stretch out with your forehead and nose resting on the floor. Breathe out as you go down, and stay there with your breath held out for 8 seconds. Then rise up breathing in. Practice eight times.

long-salutation.jpg

Other asanas include:

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Kaoshikii Dance: at the end of our asana routine, we do this dance while we sing ‘Babanam Kevalam’, which means ‘I am surrounded by the infinite consciousness and I merge into it thus experiencing infinite bliss and happiness’. The kaos’ikii dance is a psycho-physical exercise that benefits the mind by developing mental stamina and strength. The name Kaoshikii comes from the Sanskrit word kosha, meaning “layer of mind”. Kaoshikii develops the subtler layers of mind, cultivating the feeling of mysticism – the endeavor to establish a link between the finite and the infinite – in one’s consciousness.

Skin Massage

After the asanas, we always do a skin massage and then lie down in deep relaxation for at least two minutes. The skin massage helps in the absorption of sebaceous oils which are naturally secreted onto the skin surface. Deep relaxation gives the body a chance to assimilate the positive energy gained from the asanas.

Benefits of the Skin Massage

  • Increases the luster and suppleness of the skin;
  • Relaxes and revitalizes the nerves;
  • Increases the blood and lymph circulation;
  • Harmonizes the vital energy (prana) of the body.

First, rub your palms together a few times to warm them up. Start at the head and face and work down, rubbing the entire surface area of the skin. Pay particular attention to the throat, under the chin, the armpits, groin, and behind the knees. In these regions, there are collections of lymph glands that also benefit from the massage.

Deep Relaxation

After the skin massage, we lie on our back with the arms by your side, making sure that your breathing is calm and relaxed. Now go through your whole body, starting at your feet, consciously making sure that each part is completely relaxed – with no muscular tension at all.

Go from the feet up the legs, consciously checking each part, into the groin area, into the abdomen (also feeling that your internal organs are relaxed), into the chest and shoulders, from the fingers and hands up the arms, then into the neck and up into the face, relaxing the facial muscles, including the eyes, and finally to the top of the head, feeling that your brain is also relaxed. Check once more that you are breathing calmly, and stay like that – fully relaxed – for a few more minutes.

Benefits of Deep Relaxation

  • Induces the “relaxation response,” similar to hibernation;
  • Relieves stress;
  • It lowers the blood pressure;
  • Strengthens the heart;
  • Relaxes the nerves and muscles;
  • It decreases the need for sleep.

Meditation

After the self-massage, we do some more meditation, where we connect with ‘supreme consciousness’. At the end Dada always repeats ‘you are happy, you are peaceful…bring your mind back… open your eyes… Namaskar!’.

Namaskar’ is a traditional Indian greeting or gesture of respect, made by bringing the palms together before the face or chest and bowing. The difference between ‘Namaste’ and ‘Namaskar’ is that the first one means ‘I bow to you’ while ‘Namaskar means ‘I bow towards your existence’. The word ‘Namaskar’ is used to show more love and respect towards a person.

My Experience with Tantra Yoga

Tantra Yoga and meditation have been helping me a lot lately to calm down my busy mind and to appreciate life the way it is. Doing it correctly is very important, that’s why I definitely recommend this place. Dada through meditation and yoga helped me to understand what is important in my life. Thank you!

 

Breathing Exercises

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When we are born, our life starts with a breath, and when we die, our life ends with it – prana (our life force energy). Our breath influences mental faculties and physiological health. If our breath is able to sustain our very existence, why would we choose not to nurture it? Learn some breathing exercises techniques also known as pranayama here.

What is Pranayama

In today’s sedentary and stressful lifestyle, most of us live on a shallow and quick breath, using only a fraction of our total lung capacity and living on just enough energy supply for the body to function. This way of breathing limits our vitality and our resistance to diseases, and potentially starves our brain of essential oxygen, creating tiredness, irritability, and disturbed sleep.

Pranayama is not only a deep set of breathing exercises but one of the 8 branches of yoga:

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Prana is the subtle energy form that governs all functions of your body and mind, taking responsibility for the coordination of breathing, the senses, and the mind.  This profound knowledge of careful direction and circulation of prana through pranayama exercises aims to manipulate the respiration rate, deepen and elongate the breath, and therefore sustain life. Try it for yourself – you’ll see that you will feel the calm, peace and physical benefits, even after just a few minutes!

Deep inhalation and exhalation of breath increases the level of oxygen being supplied to the blood and as a result, it improves the quality of your bodily tissues. Many studies highlight the positive effects of breathwork on medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, migraines, obesity, asthma, and high blood pressure, as well as many stress-related conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

Preparation for Pranayama

Setting up the right environment will enhance the clarity and focus of your mind during the practice of pranayama and meditation. Set up your space so that it is clean, clutter-free, noise-free, with plenty of ventilation so that fresh air is able to enter the room. Keep some comfort provisions, such as cushions and blankets, nearby in case you need extra support, padding, and warmth.

When you practice pranayama, you should sit in a comfortable position, ideally seated on the floor or on a chair, with the spine erect, chest open and the focus on your breath.

For all breathing exercises listed here, start by sitting comfortably on the floor with legs crossed (siddhasana / padmasana) or sitting on your knees (vajrasana), or on a chair with your back straight and feet firmly flat on the floor. 5-6 minutes each morning is sufficient as a starting point. Ideally breathing exercises should be done on an empty stomach.


Pranayama Breathing Exercises

Bhramari Pranayama (Bumblebee Breath)

Bhramari-1

Benefits

A technique that helps promote restful sleep and helps overcome insomnia. It is great at silencing the mind. The vibration of this breath does not allow any thoughts to enter your mind.

Technique

Take a normal breath in, then let go and relax. Then cover your ears with your thumbs and your eyes with your fingers to block out external disturbances and enable you to go inward. Take a deep inhalation to your natural full lung capacity, then, as you slowly exhale, make a low humming sound in your throat until your breath is complete. Repeat at your own pace for 2-3 minutes. This is a great exercise pre-bedtime.

Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (Alternate Nostril Breath)

Alternate_Nostril_Breathing-1

Benefits

This breath is designed to cleanse the channels of the physical and subtle body. Alternate nostril breathing will help you to balance the left and right side of the brain, the sympathetic and parasympathetic activity, helping you to bring your awareness to the breath and stimulating a grounding sensation.

Technique

Using your right hand (reverse, if you prefer left), place your right thumb beside your right nostril and your ring and little finger beside the left nostril. Gently close the right nostril with your thumb and exhale out of your left nostril. Inhale with the left nostril while you count to four. Then close the left nostril and breathe out through the right. Inhale with the right nostril, close the right nostril and exhale from the left. This completes one full circle, but you can continue for 4-5 minutes. Ensure that you take a moment to pause between each inhalation and exhalation – this will help you to keep your breath slow, steady and just slightly deeper than normal.

Ujjaya Pranayama (Victorious Breath)

Benefits

This breath helps remove the heat from the head, as it cools the back of the throat. It is a great way to draw oxygen into the lungs, helping you to expand, deepen and lengthen your breath. It helps remove phlegm in the throat and relieves the symptoms of asthma and other pulmonary diseases. Ujjaya increases resistance to diseases of nerves, dysentery, dyspepsia, enlarged spleen, coughs and fever.

Technique

Sitting comfortably, inhale a slow breath through the nose that travels down the back of the throat and into the lungs, to a full but comfortable lung capacity (sounds like a Darth Vader-like breathing noise), then slowly release it in the same manner as inhalation.

 

Shitali Pranayama (Cooling Breath)

Cooling_Breath-1

Benefits

This breath is a cooling breath, so if you are feeling agitated, angry and overheated, this one is for you. It helps quench thirst and appeases hunger. Shitali pranayama cools the physical body, especially the back of the mouth and throat. It reduces the inflammation of chronic diseases, fever, and indigestion.

Technique

Protrude your tongue and make it like a tube/ straw. Draw air in through your tongue to your natural lung capacity with a hissing sound, and exhale slowly through both nostrils – 2-3 minutes is sufficient for this exercise.

Sheetkari Pranayama (Hissing Breath)

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Benefits

Sheetkari pranayama has similar benefits to shitali pranayama. It is known as the hissing breath.

Technique

Touch the tongue to the roof of the palate and gently clench your teeth. Open your lips widely so the teeth are exposed and breathe in through the mouth to your natural full lung capacity from the abdomen through to the chest, and then slowly release through the nose. Repeat for 2-3 minutes.

Kapala Bhati Pranayama (Skull Shining Breath)

Shining_Skull_Breath-1

Benefits

This vigorous, energizing breath helps to stimulate and strengthen your abdominal muscles and diaphragm. It also massages and improves the function of your digestive organs, purifies the channels of the body and clears the lungs, bringing clarity to the mind and warmth to the body.

Technique

Since this is an energizing breath, it is best to do this in the morning only. You can do this when you are cold or when you are feeling sluggish. Start by exhaling your breath and then, in quick motions, take a passive breath in through the lower abdomen, then forcefully exhale the breath while pulling the navel towards the spine. The emphasis is on the exhalation while you contract your abdomen. Take a cycle of 15 breaths and repeat 3-4 times, with a short gap to rest between each cycle.

Bhastrika Pranayama (Bellow Breath)

Bellows_Breath

Benefits

Another energizing breath that will increase your prana and purify the subtle channels. This exercise will help stimulate your digestive power, giving you improved appetite and metabolism. The below breath brings clarity to the mind and warmth to the body. The stimulating nature of this breath helps to combat phlegm and reduce diseases of the nose and chest, including asthma.

Technique

Sitting comfortably with your eyes closed and body relaxed, inhale deeply and exhale deeply using the belly. This is similar to kapala bhati, but with an emphasis on both inhalation and exhalation from the abdomen. Go to a steady pace. You can do 3 rounds of 20 breaths, with a short break in between.


 

After your Practice

Take some time to rest after each breathing exercise to observe the sensations that you are feeling in your mind and body. You are not trying to orchestrate any experience, you are simply allowing the body to be free in the moment. Use this time to let go of your awareness and be present in the body. You might like to direct your attention to different parts of the body. Just observe what you are experiencing in that part of the body for a while. You’ll see your awareness expanding. This is a perfect opportunity to lead into your meditation practice.

 

Benefits of Pranayama

  • It increases the lungs capacity to energize the body with a fresh supply of oxygen
  • It reduces your breathing rate, which can reduce hypertension
  • It expels toxic waste from the respiratory system
  • It improves the health of your heart
  • It strengthens the respiratory and nervous systems
  • It helps increase metabolic activity and digestion
  • It reduces stress, and calms the mind and nervous activity
  • It increases awareness and concentration
  • It increases energy and vitality by providing stimulation for the internal organs
  • It reduces negative emotions, such as anger, irritability, depression, greed, arrogance, and jealousy

 

Koala Character in Adobe Illustrator

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Let’s create this cute koala character climbing on a tree. It’s an easy, fun tutorial for those who’ve just started to learn Adobe Illustrator. Follow the steps below.

 

Create a Koala Character in Adobe Illustrator

Step 1

First, let’s open your Adobe Illustrator and create a new document. For this, go to File > New. Let’s create a New document with 600 x 600 px Width and Height. Then click OK.

Now we are going to create the koala’s head. Look at the left panel on your workspace—the Tools panel (to open it go to Window > Tools). There, you can find the Ellipse Tool (L), which you will use to create the head.

So, let’s take the Ellipse Tool (L) and draw an ellipse. Set the color to R=171 G=175 B=166. Take the Direct Selection Tool (A) from the Tools panel and select the left and right anchor points. Move them down using the arrows on your keyboard.

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Step 2

Now we want to give the koala’s head a slightly fluffy effect. Take a look at the top panel of your workspace and find Effect on the tool bar. Go to Effect > Distort and Transform > Roughen. In the new dialogue window, enter the following options:

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Step 3

Let’s create the ear. Keep the fill color, and use the Ellipse Tool (L) to create a circle. To create a nice, even circle, hold the Shift key while drawing. You can see that your circle is already becoming rougher.

Then add a smaller circle with the fill color R=221 G=223 B=218. This smaller circle is already roughened, but we don’t need the roughening effect. To delete the rough effect, on the Appearance panel (Window > Appearance), grab the word “Roughen” and move to the trash icon. In the second image you can see how to remove this effect. Look at the circle now!

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Here is how to move the word “Roughen” to the trash.

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Step 4

Keep the whole ear selected and right-click your mouse. In the pop-up window, select Transform > Reflect. Select Vertical axis of reflection and press Copy.

Move the second ear and place it on the upper right side of the head. To make the ears align correctly, you can select both ears, right-click the mouse and select Group. While holding down the Shift key, select the head and the ears together. Go to the Align panel (Window > Align) and press Horizontal Align Center.

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Step 5

Now on to the eyes. Choose a dark gray fill color, which you can see in the image below, and draw an oval using the Ellipse Tool (L). Draw a small white circle to give a sparkle to the eye. Then create another eye—keep the existing eye selected and while holding the Alt key, move it to the right. You can see that you just created a copy of the eye by holding the Alt key.

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Step 6

Using the Ellipse Tool (L), create an ellipse. Move down the left and right anchor points, just as you did for the koala’s head. You will get an egg shape. Then create a copy of it (Control-C, Control-V) and make it smaller. Change the fill color to R=75 G=76 B=72. Place it as shown in the image below:

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Step 7

Place the whole nose on the koala’s face. Try to put the nose right between the eyes. Look how cute it is!

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Step 1

Now, we need create the tree trunk. Take the Rectangle Tool (M) and create a rectangle. You can see the fill color on the image below, or feel free to choose any color of your choice.

Look closely at the Tools panel and try to find the Warp Tool (Shift-R). Do you see a hand with a finger holding some strange thread? That’s it. But before using it, let’s adjust the options on this tool. Double-click on it and in the new dialogue window, enter:

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Step 2

Once you have created the tree trunk and adjusted the options on the Warp Tool (Shift-R), draw the branch using this tool. In the image below, you can see the directions of the movement.

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Step 3

Make the fill color darker (R=86 G=52 B=29) and draw a few long rectangles around the trunk. Use the Warp Tool (Shift-R) over them again.

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Step 4

Place the koala’s head behind the trunk. To place it behind, select the whole head, group it together (right-click > Group) and press Control-XControl-B. Rotate the head a little bit to the right.

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Step 1

To draw the paws, start with an oval. Set the fill color to R=189 G=191 B=183. Add a rough effect for the paw as you did for the head and ears (go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Roughen). Enter the options you see below.

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Step 2

Copy-paste the paw to have four of them, and place them as shown:

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Step 1

We’re almost there! Once you have an ellipse, with fill color R=163 G=165 B=16, pick the Convert Anchor Point Tool (Shift-C), and make sharp anchor points by clicking on the top and bottom anchor points. You’ll get a simple leaf shape.

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Step 2

Copy-paste to create as many leaves as you want, and put them on the tree.

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Step 3

Let’s create a background for this illustration. Set the fill color to  R=237 G=234 B=239 and click on your art board. In the new dialogue window, enter Width 600 pxHeight 600 px and click OK. Place the square behind everything (keep it selected and press Control-XControl-B). And… we are done!

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Raccoon Character in Adobe Illustrator

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Lets create an adorable raccoon. We’ll use basic shapes and warp effects. You will learn how to create part of the raccoon’s body by moving the handles of the anchor points and then combining them into a final creation. Follow the steps below.

 

Create a Raccoon Character in Adobe Illustrator

Step 1

I hope you’ve already opened Adobe Illustrator and created a New document. Let’s start by creating the head of our raccoon. Hit the Ellipse Tool (L) and make an ellipse. Using the Convert Anchor Point Tool (Shift-C), make sharp corners on the ellipse; while keeping the ellipse selected, click on the left and right anchor points—these two points should be sharp now. Keep the sharp anchor points selected and press the down arrow button on your keyboard a few times.

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Step 2

We’re not quite done yet. Select this shape and go to Effect > Warp > Bulge. Enter the following settings in the new dialogue window. Then expand the shape (Object > Expand Appearance).

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Step 3

Let’s add some depth to the head. Create a copy of this shape, in front of the original one (Control-C, Control-F), shift it down a little bit, and then make this copy slightly bigger. Select the original shape again and make another copy in the front (Control-C, Control-F). Keeping these two upper copies selected, go to the Pathfinder panel and press the Minus Front button. You will get a moon-like shape. Change the fill color as you see in the image below.

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Step 1

For the eyes, create an ellipse and slightly tilt it to the left. Add a dark circle, followed by a small white circle as a highlight. Keep the whole eye selected and take the Reflect Tool (O). Holding down the Alt key, click on the right side of the eye. In the new dialogue window, enter Vertical and press Copy. You should have two eyes now.

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Step 2

Position them as you wish, on the previous head shape. The lower you position the eyes, the more the raccoon will have a baby-animal look.

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Step 1

Now that you know how to create a sharp anchor point (remember how you created the head?), let’s create a dark ellipse and make the bottom point sharp. Add a tiny white ellipse as a highlight.

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Step 2

Now for the mouth. Draw two ellipses using the Ellipse Tool (L) with no fill and with the stroke color noted below. On the Stroke panel, check Round Cap. After that, grab the Scissors Tool (C) and click on the left and right anchor points of the first and then the second ellipse. Delete the upper parts of the two ellipses. Take the Line Segment Tool (\) and add a tiny line in the middle—we just created a cute mouth for our raccoon!

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Step 3

Combine the nose and mouth together. Add a small ellipse behind them (Control-X, Control-B).

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Step 4

Place everything from the previous steps on the head of our raccoon.

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Step 1

Let’s add some details which are usual for raccoons. Draw an ellipse on the left side of the head, behind the left eye. Take the Direct Selection Tool (A) and move the handles of the anchor points to achieve the result which you see in the second image.

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Step 2

Make a new copy of the head in front (Control-C, Control-F), and select the dark shape from the previous step together. Press the Intersect button in Pathfinder.

Keep the resulting shape selected. Take the Reflect Tool (O) and press the Enter button. Check Vertical in the new dialogue window and press Copy. You’ve just made the reflection of this dark shape. Keep this shape still selected, and now select the head too. Go to the Align panel and press the Horizontal Align Right button. Be careful—it’s very important that you have checked Align To: Align to Selection (see image below).

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Step 3

Let’s add some details. Select the two dark shapes behind the eyes and make a copy in the front. The copies are marked with yellow strokes in the image below, but you don’t need to change the fill color. Move them down a little bit.

Create two copies again in front of the dark shapes. In total, you should have six dark shapes: two under the left eye, two under the right eye, one under the left eye, marked with a yellow stroke, and one under the right eye, also marked in the image with a yellow stroke.

Let’s first concentrate on the left eye. Select the two upper dark gray shapes and press Minus Front in Pathfinder. Change the fill color of the resulting shape (as noted below). Now concentrate on the right eye. Select the two upper shapes and press Minus Front in Pathfinder. Again, change the fill color of the resulting shape.

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Step 1

Using the Eye Dropper Tool (I), take the fill color from the head of the raccoon. We will create an ear from an ellipse—using warp will help us get what we need. Go to Effect > Warp > Arc. In the new window, adjust the options as shown in the image below; expand the resulting shape (Object > Expand Appearance). Create another copy in the front, making it darker and smaller.

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Step 2

Let’s add some depth to the ear. Create two copies of the ear in the front. Shift down the upper copy diagonally. Select the two upper copies and press Minus Front in Pathfinder. Change the fill color.

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Step 3

Using the Reflect Tool (O), create another ear.

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Step 4

Place them on the top of the head, but behind it.

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Step 1

For the body, create an ellipse (the same fill color as the head) and place it behind the whole head. Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), select the left and right anchor points and then move them down. Create a new copy in front of the body, and make it lighter and smaller.

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Step 2

Lets create the hands. Shift down the left and right anchor points of a newly created ellipse.

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Step 3

Create a copy in the front, and make it darker and narrower. Shift the new copy down, just slightly. Create a copy of this darker shape in the front and using the Eye Dropper Tool (I), take the color from the first shape you created at the beginning of this step. Make this smallest shape narrower and shift it up a little.

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Step 4

Place the hand on the left side of the body. Slightly tilt the hand to the left. Using the Reflect Tool (O) make a reflection of the hand, so you will get the right hand. Create another ellipse behind the whole body—this will finish off the arms. Don’t forget to shift down the left and right anchor points of this ellipse.

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Step 5

Now on to the legs. We won’t create the whole leg, just the visible parts, the feet. Create an ellipse and move the left and right anchor points upwards.

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Step 6

As you did for the head and the ear, use the same method to add some depth to the foot. One smaller and lighter copy of the foot along with the three tiny copies will finish the foot.

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Step 7

Put the foot under the left hand. Slightly tilt the foot to the left. Then make a reflection of this, which creates the right foot. Don’t forget to put the right foot under the right hand.

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Step 1

We’re almost there! Let’s move along to the tail. Draw an ellipse and make its left and right anchor points sharp.

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Step 2

During this step, we will add stripes to the tail. Draw a rectangle using the Rectangle Tool (M). While keeping it selected, hold down the Alt key and move the rectangle to the right. You will see that you just created a copy of the rectangle. Then press Control-D a few times to repeat your last action.

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Step 3

Group all the stripes together (right-click > Group) and go to Effect > Warp > Arc. Enter the options you see in the image below.

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Step 4

Expand the stripes (Object > Expand Appearance). Create a copy of the tail in the front (the light gray ellipse with sharp edges) and select the stripes together with it. Press Crop in Pathfinder.

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Step 5

Warp it.

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Step 6

Expand the tail (Object > Expand Appearance) and place it behind the whole body.

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Step 7

Let’s wrap up our illustration. Create a light pink (R 249, G 221, B 210) square behind the raccoon, 600 px width and height, by using the Rectangle Tool (M). And there you go! You have created a cute raccoon!

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Little Red Riding Hood in Adobe Illustrator

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Let’s create this cute character in vector.  You will use the Pen Tool (P) and basic shapes such as the Rectangle Tool (M), the Ellipse Tool (L) and the Polygon Tool. This is a great tutorial for those who are getting the hang of Adobe Illustrator’s basic tools. Follow the steps below.

 

Create a Little Red Riding Hood Character in Adobe Illustrator

1. Create the face

Step 1

Let’s start by creating a New document. Then we will draw a circle (color R=223, G=178, B=139), using the Ellipse Tool (L). You want nice even circle, so you need to press and hold the Shift key for this. This will be the face of a little girl.

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2. Create the eyes

Step 1

Next – the eyes. Take the Ellipse Tool (L) (color R=242, G=242, B=242) and draw another circle for an eye. If you put an eye in the lower part of the face, the Little Red Riding Hood will look more child like.

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Step 2

Create another two circles as shown on the image below. Those are pupil of the eye (color R=84, G=49, B=36,) and a highlight (color R=255, G=255, B=255).

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Step 3

Now we draw the eyelashes, using the Pen Tool (P). Use the same brown color as a pupil of the eye. Change the direction of the Pen Tool to finish the first eyelash.

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Step 4

Continue to draw second eyelash, than the third. Also don’t forget to close the path.

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Step 5

Now you have the eyelashes, however they are above the eye. Just drag them closer to eye and then drag it below the eye circles in the Layers panel.

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Step 6

Now we will simply create another eye. Select whole eye with eyelashes (but not a face) and right-click on the mouse. Select Transform > Reflect. A dialogue window will appear, asking you to enter the axis of your reflection. You need to check Vertical and press Copy. Keep the selection of the second eye and drag it on the right side of the face.

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Step 7

Align eyes. Select two eyes, right-click on your mouse and select Group (Ctrl + G). Keep those selecting and holding Shift key select also a face. Go to Align panel (Window > Align) and press Horizontal Align Center.

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3. Create the mouth

Step 1

Draw a pink circle (color R=235, G=122, B=121).

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Step 2

Holding together Shift + Alt, move this circle a little up. The button Shift is for moving straight, and the button Alt – for duplicating the object. In Pathfinder panel, select Minus Front. Now you have a mouth.

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Step 3

Place her mouth on her face.

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4. Create the cheeks

 

Step 1

Let’s add some rosy cheeks, they are a great characteristic of youth and being in the fresh air. So, let’s draw the pink cheeks! Use the Ellipse Tool (L) to create an ellipse (color R=223, G=160, B=133).

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Step 2

Rotate the ellipse to the left.

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Step 3

Create the second cheek by selecting the first one and right-click your mouse and select Transform > Reflect. Select Vertical and click the Copy button in the Reflect Panel. Now you have two cheeks. Put them on the face.

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5. Create the hair

 

Step 1

You will need the Pen Tool (P) and the fill color R=135, G=83, B=65. Try to draw as shown on image below.

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Step 2

Continue drawing. Of course, you can draw another haircut, if you would like.

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Step 3

Lets add some highlights to the hair. Again use the Pen Tool (P) and the fill color R=144, G=96, B=77.

00000000000000

Step 4

Make a few more. For more convenience you should draw the highlights directly over the hair.

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6. Create the hood and cape

 

Step 1

The hood. Select the face and press Ctrl + C and after that Ctrl + B to duplicate the face behind. Keep the new circle selected, choose the fill color R=204, G=72, B=69 for it and make a little bit bigger than the face.

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Step 2

Take the Direct Selection Tool (A) and select the highest anchor on the hood. Then press few times the key up on your keyboard.

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Step 3

For the cape, choose red color as a hood (you can use for it the Eyedropper Tool (I). Then select the Pen Tool (P) and draw a shape as shown on the image below.

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Step 4

Select this shape by the Selection Tool (V) and right-click your mouse. Select Transform > Reflect. On dialogue window what will appear select Vertical reflection and press Copy. You will have the same picture.

000000000000000000000000

Step 5

Place the cape. under the head of Little Red Riding Hood.

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Step 6

Choose the fill color R=242, G=118, B=140 and using the Pen Tool (P) draw the same shape as on the image below. Also you could create this shape from the Ellipse Tool (L) by adding or removing anchors. It’s a dress. Put a dress on its place and put it under the cape, using Ctrl + X and Ctrl + B.

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Et voilà! If you want you can create a light pink square and place it behind your character to create a nice background. I hope you liked it!

Cactus Character in Adobe Illustrator

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Let’s create this little character in vector. We will use basic shapes, the Line Segment Tool and a Warp Effect to create this cute cartoon character. Follow the steps below.

 

Create a Cactus Character in Adobe Illustrator

Step 1

To create a New Document in your Adobe Illustrator, go to File > New and enter the following options:

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Step 2

On the Tools panel, you can find the Rectangle Tool (M), which you will use to create the flower pot.

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Step 3

Take the Rectangle Tool (M), and on the middle of your art board, draw a rectangle. Then delete the stroke color and set the fill color to the one you see in the image below:

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Step 4

While keeping it selected, go to Effect > Warp > Arc. In the new dialogue window, adjust the options as you see in the image below:

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Step 5

Draw one more rectangle pretty close to this one:

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Step 6

While keeping it selected, go to Effect > Warp > Arc. In the new dialogue window, adjust the options:

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Step 7

Combine the two warped rectangles together. Just grab one rectangle and move to another while holding the left mouse button.

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Step 1

Using the Ellipse Tool (L), draw an ellipse.

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Step 2

Now, go to Effect > Warp > Arc and in the new window, adjust the options as you see in the image below:

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Step 3

Take your cactus shape & place it in the flower pot. For this press Control-X, Control-B.

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3. Create the Eyes

Step 1

We’re going to use the Ellipse Tool (L) again to draw an ellipse.

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Step 2

Add a small white circle. That’s the eye.

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Step 3

Create another copy of the eye by copying and pasting (Control-C, Control-V).

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Step 4

Now, let’s position the eyes where they belong.

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4. Create the Mouth

Step 1

Create a black ellipse. Then go to Effect > Warp > Arc and adjust the options:

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Step 2

Place the mouth between the eyes.

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Step 1

Delete the fill color and set the stroke color.

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Step 2

On the Stroke panel, adjust the settings:

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Step 3

Using the Line Segment Tool (/), draw in the prickles.

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6. Create the Flowers

Step 1

Take the Polygon Tool and click on your workspace. A new dialogue window will ask you how many sides and what radius you want. Make 6 Sides, and for the Radius, it doesn’t really matter—just not too big. Once you’re done, press OK.

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Step 2

Delete the stroke color and set the fill color, which you see in the image below:

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Step 3

To make the flower from it, go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Pucker & Bloat.

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Step 4

Using the Ellipse Tool (L) add a yellow circle in the middle of the flower.

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Make another copy of this flower (Control-C, Control-V) and place it on the cactus.

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7. Create the Background

Step 1

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create a square that is 600 px in width and height.

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Step 2

Place this square behind everything (Control-X, Control-B). Voila! That’s it!

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Dreamcatcher

Cópia de Cópia de Blog Post Template (2)

Dreamcatchers originated with the Native Americans, but are loved by just about everyone nowadays. Here’s a step-by-step tutorial on how to make one!

 

History of the dreamcatchers

Dreamcatchers originated with the Native Americans, became popular with the hippies of the 1960s and 1970s, and are now loved by just about everyone everywhere.

According to Ojibwe legend, there was a spider woman known as Asibikaashi, who took care of all the children on the land. But as the Ojibwe nation expanded, Asibikaashi wasn’t able to reach all of the children every night. So the mothers and grandmothers crafted dreamcatchers for the children, using willow hoops, natural twine, and feathers. They would then hang the dreamcatchers above the beds of babies and children. These dreamcatchers were thought to filter out the bad dreams, only allowing the good dreams to pass through and reach the minds of the children. When the sun rises in the morning, the bad dreams disappear. Cute, right?


Materials you need to create a dreamcatcher

Making a dreamcatcher is a fun project you can do by yourself. This is the list of materials that I used (however, you can use different ones):

  • A hoop (it can be a cross-stitch hoop or a metal hoop)

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  • Macrame cotton strings (a thicker one and a thinner one – 3mm and 2mm)

 

  • Decorative materials (beads, feathers)

 


How to create a dreamcatcher

 

1. Start by wrapping the hoop with the thick macrame cotton string

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Tie a knot at the top of the hoop and then just wrap the macrame cord around the hoop, covering all the wood and trying to keep it as tight and close together as possible. Tie another knot once you have finished.

2. Create the web by weaving the string along the frame of the hoop

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Start by tying a knot at the top of the hoop. Tie a double or triple knot to ensure that the string is secure. Then loop the string around the hoop and back over itself to create a hitch. Make sure to pull the string tight to secure it before moving on to the next loop. Be careful – by pulling too hard on the string, you may warp the shape of the dreamcatcher.

Loop the string around the entire frame until you reach the top of the hoop where you started. As you do this, go slowly to make sure the loops are evenly spaced. Once you reach the top, loop the string around the hoop next to the starting knot. Pay attention: There should be an odd number of loops.

Then, create the second layer of web. Loop the string around the midpoint of the first line of thread. Using the same technique, loop it around the string and over itself to create a hitch. Continue weaving the thread this way until you reach the top of the hoop.

3. Finish the dreamcatcher by decorating it with your favorite accessories

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You can also loop beads into the web. You will need to do this as you make the web. Place a bead on the string before you loop and hitch it to the next string. You can either space them out randomly or create a pattern by placing a bead on every other string.

Continue the weaving until a small circle forms in the middle. As you weave the web, the circle in the middle will get smaller and smaller. Weave the string until only a small circle is left in the middle of the dreamcatcher. Make sure to pull the string tight to secure the web.

Once the circle is small, about the size of a penny or dime, tie a knot around the next string instead of hitching it. Tie a double or triple knot to make sure the string is secure and will not come undone. Then trim off any extra string with scissors.

Cut a piece of suede lace. Tie the loose ends into a knot to make a circle. Secure the lace around the top of the hoop by pushing the knot through the loop. Then pull tight to create the hanging loop.

Finally, you can hang some feathers. Group four to five feathers together. Use a small binder clip to hold them together while you tie and knot a string around the tops of the feathers to secure them. Then tie and knot the string along the bottom of the dream catcher.


My first dreamcatcher

I didn’t have any feathers, unfortunately, so I had to improvise a bit. Even though it is not perfect, I was still very pleased with the final result and proud of myself. It was definitely a fun project that I intend to repeat again soon!

Image from iOS (1)

Superfoods

Superfoods

Discover the famous superfoods, that are assumed to confer health benefits resulting from their exceptional nutrient density.

 

So-called superfoods are foods that are rich in nutrients. Superfoods are foods — mostly plant-based but also some fish and dairy — that are thought to be nutritionally dense and thus good for one’s health.

If you don’t know how to incorporate these powders in your diet, here are some ideas:

  • Add it to smoothies, which gives the drink a green color;
  • Sprinkle spirulina powder on salads or in soups;
  • Mix it into energy balls, along with other healthful ingredients;
  • Stir a tablespoon into fruit or vegetable juices.

 


Spirulina

Spirulina is a simple, one-celled, spiral-shaped microalgae that grow naturally in warm, freshwater lakes, natural springs, and saltwater. Spirulina isn’t just one of the world’s healthiest foods – it’s also one of the oldest. In fact, the Aztecs reportedly used it as a food source in the 16th century. With its abundance of vitamins, minerals, and protein, it’s easy to understand why.

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Spirulina became popular again recently when NASA proposed that it could be grown in space for use by astronauts. A standard daily dose of spirulina is 1–3 grams, but doses of up to 10 grams per day have been used effectively.

This tiny alga is packed with nutrients. A single tablespoon (7 grams) of dried spirulina powder contains:

  • Protein: 4 grams
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine): 11% of the RDA
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 15% of the RDA
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin): 4% of the RDA
  • Copper: 21% of the RDA
  • Iron: 11% of the RDA
  • It also contains decent amounts of magnesium, potassium, and manganese and small amounts of almost every other nutrient that you need.

Thanks to these nutrients, Spirulina has been shown to help your body fight infection and allergic reactions like rhinitis, reducing various symptoms. Phycocyanin, which is the main active compound in spirulina, has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Spirulina may provide multiple exercise benefits, including enhanced endurance and increased muscle strength. Some evidence suggests that spirulina may benefit people with type 2 diabetes, significantly reducing fasting blood sugar levels.

It may also help protect against cancer and lower bad cholesterol, all while raising good cholesterol and possibly aiding in weight loss.

In addition, the same amount holds only 20 calories and 1.7 grams of digestible carbs. Gram for gram, spirulina may be the single most nutritious food on the planet.

The quality of the protein in spirulina is considered excellent — comparable to eggs. It gives all the essential amino acids that you need.


 

Chlorella

Chlorella emerged over 2 billion years ago and was the first form of a plant with a well-defined nucleus. Unlike Spirulina, Chlorella is a spherical shaped, single-celled microorganism. Chlorella grows in freshwater and is extremely small, with each chlorella cell being a mere two to eight microns wide. But, much like Spirulina, this tiny superfood packs a nutritional punch.

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Chlorella may not be as ancient as spirulina, but it boasts just as many nutritional accolades. In fact, this green algae contains the highest amount of chlorophyll of any known plant. Chlorella is rich in the carotenoids beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and lutein. It’s also an abundant source of vitamins (B, C, D, E, and K), and minerals (phosphorous, calcium, zinc, magnesium and iron).

Like spirulina, chlorella is rich in protein and contains more protein per ounce than a serving of steak (chlorella is 50-60% of protein). This superfood is also a rich source of healthy fats, including oleic acid.

Chlorella has gotten some buzz for its ability to help the body “detox”. In fact, animal studies indicate that it’s effective at helping remove heavy metals and other harmful compounds from the body.

Chlorella has been shown to help support healthy hormonal function and good cardiovascular health, fight against the effects of chemotherapy and radiation, help lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol.

The antioxidants in chlorella may have anti-inflammatory effects, which can possibly improve asthma and other respiratory diseases. One more claim associated with Chlorella is that it promotes eye health, as it contains lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that protect the eye and lower the risk of macular degeneration.

Differences between Spirulina and Chlorella

Clearly, these superfoods are similar, but they do have marked differences, starting with their looks. Chlorella is a green algae, whereas spirulina is blue-green in color. Chlorella’s green hue demonstrates that it’s richer in chlorophyll than spirulina.

Chlorella also contains a unique complex called chlorella growth factor. This growth factor is caused by its rapid reproduction rate. With the ability to quadruple in numbers every 20-24 hours, chlorella has been shown to possibly repair damage to nerve tissues and aid in cell production.

Spirulina is thousands of years older than chlorella and can be up to 100 times larger. Spirulina is also richer in protein and healthy fats, including gamma-linoleic acid, which is essential for maintaining a sharp mind and a healthy heart. Spirulina also offers higher concentrations of phytochemicals that help prevent cancer. Just as chlorella is known for detoxifying, spirulina is especially effective at fighting symptoms of allergies and boosting the immune system.


 

Black Maca

Black Maca eliminates the effects of aging such as memory loss, brain fog, arthritis, chronic fatigue, menopause, decreases in testosterone, immune system function, muscle and joint pain, sagging skin, decreased libido, and more.

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It’s actually a plant native to Peru and it has traditionally been used to enhance fertility and sex drive. It’s also claimed to improve energy and stamina.

Maca root powder is very nutritious and is a great source of several important vitamins and minerals. 28 grams of maca root powder contains:

  • Calories: 91
  • Carbs: 20 grams
  • Protein: 4 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams
  • Fat: 1 gram
  • Vitamin C: 133% of the RDI
  • Copper: 85% of the RDI
  • Iron: 23% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 16% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B6: 15% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 10% of the RDI

Maca root is a good source of carbs, is low in fat and contains a fair amount of fiber. It’s also high in some essential vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, copper, and iron.

Maca has been heavily marketed as being effective at improving sexual desire, and this claim is backed by research. There is some evidence that maca root increases men’s fertility as well, by improving sperm production and quality.

One review of four studies in menopausal women found that maca helped alleviate menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and interrupted sleep. Several studies have shown that maca can enhance your mood. It’s been associated with reduced anxiety and symptoms of depression, particularly in menopausal women.

Supplementing with maca may improve exercise performance, particularly during endurance events. However, its effects on muscle mass and strength have yet to be studied.

Some evidence indicates that maca, in particular the black variety, can improve learning and memory.

A large prostate is common among older men and can cause issues with urination. Animal studies suggest that red maca can reduce prostate size. Maca is considered safe for most people, although those with thyroid issues need to be careful.

 


 

Camu-Camu

Camu-camu is a sour berry, similar to cherry in color. It’s native to the Amazon rainforest but has gained popularity worldwide due to its many purported health benefits — mainly due to a high content of certain nutrients and powerful plant compounds, including vitamin C.

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Camu-camu is rich in vitamin C, which helps strengthen your immune system and is needed for the formation of collagen, a protein that supports your skin, bones, and muscles.

Camu-camu contains a combination of antioxidants that combat free radicals, which may particularly benefit the health of those who smoke. Excess free radicals in your body can lead to chronic conditions like heart disease and cancer over time.

Camu-camu has been shown to reduce inflammation, but further research is needed to clarify these findings. Camu-camu may have antibacterial properties and help reduce blood pressure, weight, and blood sugar levels. However, more research is needed as well to support these findings.


 

Lucuma

Nicknamed the “gold of the Incas,” lucuma has been used as a traditional remedy in South America for centuries. Due to its sweet taste, it’s used as a healthier alternative to table sugar and other popular sweeteners.

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Lucuma is often used as a natural sweetener because it contains less sugar but more nutrients than table sugar. More specifically, it has about half the carbs and 75% less sugar than the same amount of table sugar. 7.5 grams of lucuma powder provides:

  • Calories: 30
  • Protein: 0 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbs: 6 grams
  • Sugars: 1.5 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams

Lucuma powder also offers a relatively rich in fiber, which adds bulk to your stool and prevents constipation by helping food move smoothly through your gut. It also contains smaller amounts of other nutrients, including calcium and iron.

Research shows that lucuma is particularly rich in polyphenols and carotenoids, two groups of antioxidants known for their anti-inflammatory, cancer-fighting, and heart-health-promoting properties.

Lucuma is especially high in xanthophylls, a group of carotenoids responsible for lucuma’s yellow color that’s thought to promote eye health and good vision. It is also packed with vitamin C, a nutrient with antioxidant properties that play many important roles in your body.

Lucuma is rich in complex carbs and fiber and may reduce your body’s ability to absorb simple sugars. This may help prevent blood sugar spikes and regulate blood sugar levels, though research in this area is limited.

Lucuma contains heart-healthy polyphenols. Its ability to act as an ACE-inhibitor may further promote heart health by lowering your blood pressure. Still, more research is needed.

Lucuma powder can be used as an alternative to brown sugar to prepare pies, cakes, and other baked goods. It can also add flavor to other foods, such as ice cream, oatmeal, and yogurt. You can use a 1:2 ratio by volume to substitute brown sugar for lucuma. For instance, use 1 cup (120 grams) of lucuma for each 1/2 cup (200 grams) of brown sugar.


 

Raw cocoa

Cocoa is thought to have first been used by the Maya civilization of Central America. It was introduced to Europe by Spanish conquerors in the 16th century and quickly became popular as a health-promoting medicine. Cocoa powder is made by crushing cocoa beans and removing the fat or cocoa butter.

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Cocoa is rich in polyphenols, which have significant health benefits, including reduced inflammation and improved cholesterol levels. However, processing cocoa into chocolate or other products can substantially decrease the polyphenol content (by 60%).

Studies reveal that cocoa (both in its powdered form and in the form of dark chocolate) is rich in flavanols, which lower blood pressure by improving nitric oxide levels and blood vessel function. Cocoa containing between 30–1,218 mg of flavanols can reduce blood pressure by an average of 2 mmHg.

In addition to lowering blood pressure, it appears that cocoa has other properties that may reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. Flavanol-rich cocoa improves the level of nitric oxide in your blood, which relaxes and dilates your arteries and blood vessels and improves blood flow. Eating up to one serving of chocolate per day may reduce your risk of heart attack, heart failure, and stroke.

Flavanols in cocoa can support neuron production, brain function and improve blood flow and supply to brain tissue. They may have a role in preventing age-related brain degeneration, such as in Alzheimer’s disease, but more research is needed.

Cocoa may improve your mood and symptoms of depression by reducing stress levels and improving calmness, contentment, and overall psychological well-being. The positive effects on mood may be due to cocoa’s flavanols, the conversion of tryptophan to the natural mood stabilizer serotonin, its caffeine content or simply the sensory pleasure of eating chocolate. However, more research is needed.


 

Wheatgrass

Popping up everywhere from juice bars to health food stores, wheatgrass is the latest ingredient to enter the limelight in the world of natural health. Some claim it can do everything from detoxifying the liver to improving immune function. However, many of its purported benefits have not yet been proven or studied.

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Wheatgrass is high in chlorophyll and many vitamins (A, C and E), minerals (iron, magnesium, and calcium) and amino acids. Of its 17 amino acids, eight are considered essential, meaning your body cannot produce them and you must obtain them from food sources. Test-tube and animal studies have found that its antioxidant content may prevent oxidative stress and cell damage.

Some animal studies have found that wheatgrass may help lower blood cholesterol levels, but human studies are needed. Test-tube studies show that wheatgrass may help kill cancer cells and reduce cancer development. Also, one human study found that it may reduce complications of chemotherapy.

Some animal studies have found that wheatgrass may help decrease blood sugar levels, though more human studies are needed. One study found that wheatgrass may help treat ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease. Additionally, test-tube studies have found that chlorophyll, a compound found in wheatgrass, may also decrease inflammation.

Human and animal studies have found that the thylakoids in wheatgrass and other green vegetables may increase satiety and help with weight loss. Wheatgrass is considered gluten-free, but special precautions should be taken if you have a gluten sensitivity. It’s also susceptible to mold growth and may cause negative symptoms in some people.


 

Baobab

Baobab is a tree native to certain regions of Africa, Arabia, Australia, and Madagascar. Baobab trees can grow up to 30 meters tall and produce a large fruit that is commonly consumed and appreciated for its delicious citrus-like flavor. The pulp, leaves, and seeds of the baobab fruit have been associated with many health benefits and are a staple in various recipes and cuisines.

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Powdered baobab contains many important nutrients but is especially high in vitamin C, vitamin B6, niacin, iron, and potassium. Two tablespoons (20 grams) of powdered baobab provides approximately:

  • Calories: 50
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Carbs: 16 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 9 grams
  • Vitamin C: 58% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
  • Vitamin B6: 24% of the RDI
  • Niacin: 20% of the RDI
  • Iron: 9% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 9% of the RDI
  • Magnesium: 8% of the RDI
  • Calcium: 7% of the RDI

Baobab is high in fiber and has been shown to reduce feelings of hunger which could promote weight loss. Baobab may also help slow the increase of blood sugar levels and decrease the amount of insulin needed to keep your blood sugar under control.

Animal studies show that baobab may help reduce inflammation and prevent oxidative damage to cells, but more research in humans is needed. Baobab is high in fiber, which may improve digestive health and prevent conditions like constipation, intestinal ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease, and hemorrhoids.


 

Acai

Acai berries are a Brazilian “superfruit.” They’re native to the Amazon region where they’re a staple food. However, they’ve recently gained popularity globally and are praised for being particularly beneficial to health and well-being.

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Acai berries are round fruits that grow on acai palm trees in the rainforests of Central and South America. They have a dark purple skin and yellow flesh surrounding a large seed. To make them edible, they are soaked to soften the tough outer skin and then mashed to form a dark purple paste.

They have an earthy taste that’s often described as a cross between blackberries and unsweetened chocolate. Fresh acai berries have a short shelf life and aren’t available outside of where they are grown. As an export, they are sold as a frozen fruit purée, dried powder or pressed juice.

Acai berries have a unique nutritional profile for a fruit, as they’re somewhat high in fat and low in sugar. 100g of frozen fruit pulp has the following nutritional breakdown:

  • Calories: 70
  • Fat: 5 grams
  • Saturated fat: 1.5 grams
  • Carbs: 4 grams
  • Sugar: 2 grams
  • Fiber 2 grams
  • Vitamin A: 15% of the RDI
  • Calcium: 2% of the RDI

But some of the acai’s most powerful health benefits come from plant compounds. The most notable one among these is anthocyanins, which give acai berries their deep purple color and act as antioxidants in the body. You can also find anthocyanins in other blue, black and purple foods, such as black beans and blueberries.

Acai is incredibly rich in antioxidants, boasting three times the amount found in blueberries. Antioxidants are important because they neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals throughout the body. If free radicals are not neutralized by antioxidants, they can damage cells and lead to a number of diseases, including diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

Many animal studies and at least one human study have suggested that acai may help lower blood cholesterol levels. In animal and test-tube studies, acai has also shown potential as an anti-cancer agent. More studies are needed to determine its effect on humans.

Lastly, the many plant compounds in acai could also protect your brain from damage as you age and counteract the damaging effects of inflammation and oxidation in the brain,  stimulating its “housekeeping” response.


 

Moringa

Moringa oleifera is a plant that has been praised for its health benefits for thousands of years. Moringa is a fairly large tree native to North India. Almost all parts of the tree are eaten or used as ingredients in traditional herbal medicines. It is very rich in healthy antioxidants and bioactive plant compounds.

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Moringa leaves are an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals, including protein, vitamin B6, vitamin C, riboflavin and iron. One cup of fresh, chopped leaves (21 grams) contains:

  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Vitamin B6: 19% of the RDA
  • Vitamin C: 12% of the RDA
  • Iron: 11% of the RDA
  • Riboflavin (B2): 11% of the RDA
  • Vitamin A (from beta-carotene): 9% of the RDA
  • Magnesium: 8% of the RDA

In Western countries, the dried leaves are sold as dietary supplements, either in powder or capsule form. Compared to the leaves, the pods are generally lower in vitamins and minerals. However, they are exceptionally rich in vitamin C. One cup of fresh, sliced pods (100 grams) contains 157% of your daily requirement.

However, there is one downside: Moringa leaves may also contain high levels of antinutrients, which can reduce the absorption of minerals and protein. Another thing to keep in mind is that taking Moringa supplements in capsules won’t supply a large number of nutrients.

Moringa is rich in various antioxidants, including quercetin and chlorogenic acid. Its leaf powder can increase blood antioxidant levels. Moringa leaves may also lead to reduced blood sugar levels, but more research is needed before any solid recommendations can be made.

In animal and test-tube studies, Moringa has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. This effect has not been studied in humans. Moringa can also lower your cholesterol levels, potentially reducing the risk of heart disease.

Animal studies suggest that Moringa may also protect against arsenic toxicity. However, this has not yet been studied in humans. Long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic may lead to health problems over time. For instance, studies have linked long-term exposure to an increased risk of cancer and heart disease.


 

Matcha

Matcha has skyrocketed in popularity lately, with matcha shots, lattes, teas, and even desserts appearing everywhere from health stores to coffee shops. Like green tea, matcha comes from the Camellia sinensis plant. However, it’s grown differently and has a unique nutrient profile.

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Farmers grow matcha by covering their tea plants 20–30 days before harvest to avoid direct sunlight. This increases chlorophyll production, boosts the amino acid content, and gives the plant a darker green hue. Once the tea leaves are harvested, the stems and veins are removed and the leaves are ground up into a fine powder known as matcha. Matcha contains the nutrients from the entire tea leaf, which results in a greater amount of caffeine and antioxidants than typically found in green tea.

Matcha contains a concentrated amount of antioxidants, which may reduce cell damage and prevent chronic disease.

The liver is vital to health and plays a central role in flushing out toxins, metabolizing drugs, and processing nutrients. Some studies have shown that matcha could prevent liver damage and decrease the risk of liver disease. However, additional studies are needed to look at the effects on humans in the general population.

Some research shows that several of the components in matcha could help enhance brain function. The researchers found that matcha caused improvements in attention, reaction time, and memory, compared to the placebo. It also contains caffeine and L-theanine, which can improve several aspects of brain function.

Test tube and animal studies have found that the compounds in matcha may inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Studies show that green tea and matcha can also decrease several heart disease risk factors.

Some studies show that green tea extract helps increase metabolism and fat burning, both of which may aid weight loss.


 

Dried Seaweed (Wakame)

Wakame is a type of edible seaweed that has been cultivated in Japan and Korea for centuries. In addition to bringing a unique taste and texture to soups and salads, wakame is low in calories but high in several nutrients that are essential to health.

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Wakame is very low in calories but contains a good amount of iodine, manganese, folate, magnesium, and calcium.

Wakame is a good source of iodine, which is essential to thyroid function and the production of thyroid hormones.

Animal and human studies show that wakame may help reduce blood pressure levels, but more research is needed to better understand cause and effect.

Animal studies have found that wakame may lower cholesterol levels to help promote heart health. However, human research is lacking.

Test-tube and animal studies show that wakame may help block the growth and spread of cancer cells, but the research remains inconclusive.

Animal studies show that wakame can reduce glucose production in the body and prevent insulin resistance to keep blood sugar under control. Yet, human research is lacking.

Several animal studies have found that wakame can prevent weight gain and reduce the amount of fat tissue in the body.


Vegetable protein

Avoiding animal products doesn’t have to mean missing out on protein. Whether you’re on the go or trying to refuel quickly after a workout, you can choose from a variety of plant-based protein powders — plain or flavored — to mix with water, non-dairy milk, smoothies, oatmeal or other foods. Plant foods like rice, peas and sunflower seeds aren’t protein-packed the way meat and fish are, but food processors can remove most of the fat and carbs and isolate the protein found in these foods to make protein-rich powders.

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Pea Protein

Pea protein powder is rich in BCAAs to support muscle building. Preliminary research suggests that it’s as effective as whey protein in supporting muscle gain. It may also help you feel full and lower your blood pressure.

Hemp Protein

Though hemp protein powder has more moderate levels of protein and is low in the amino acid lysine, it packs a lot of fiber, iron, zinc, magnesium and ALA omega-3 fat.

Pumpkin Seed Protein

Though low in the essential amino acids threonine and lysine, pumpkin seed protein powder is very nutritious, supplying high amounts of several minerals. Its beneficial plant compounds may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Brown Rice Protein

Though not a complete protein, brown rice protein powder is rich in BCAAs and may be as effective as whey protein in supporting muscle growth as part of a weight training regimen. Choose a brand that tests for arsenic contamination.

Soy Protein

Soy protein powder is a complete protein source rich in BCAAs to support muscle building. It may also help lower cholesterol levels. Due to potential safety concerns, you can buy non-genetically modified soy protein and avoid using it every day.