29 January 2017

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18 December 2016

On Poetry, Chocolate and Buddy the Elf

52@50 no 19: Reading Poetry

Reading poetry reminds me of school. Until quite recently that's the only time I've ever really sat down and read a poetry book. Then I discovered the work of poet and yogi Danna Faulds and started reading her lovely poems aloud during my Restorative Yoga Classes. They are lyrical, evocative and relaxing and, I think (I hope!), enhance the restful ambience of those classes.  

So I thought I would educate myself and become a little more well-read whilst searching for some new poems to include in future classes. Off to the library and down the rabbit hole I go, and discover a whole new world. So many poems that I never knew existed. I find I get the most from the poems from reading them aloud - I get into the rhythm of them better. I've learned that the rhythm of a poem is called a meter, and that there are different types of meters - iambs, trochees, spondees, anapests and dactyls. Yes, really - who knew?

I'm going to carry on with this particular 52@50 - I'm really enjoying it - and I hope to share some of these lovely poems with you either here on the blog or if you come to one of my Restorative Classes in 2017.  

Here are a couple that I find particularly relevant to life as a yogi... you probably know the first one - I remember it from school...



Leisure by W H Davies (1871-1940)

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.


Yoga's Reach by Danna Faulds

It is a wonder 
how a simple stretch 
deepens breath,
and an elegantly held pose 
grows to touch 
the whole of me.

Like sugar stirred into tea, 
the potency of yoga spreads 
from body into mind and heart,
revealing an ocean of energy 
that heals and opens, 
holds me close
and sets me free
all in the same moment. 

Bedtime reading...


Know Your Chocolate

I have some very important information for you this week. It's about chocolate. I'm taking a guess that you'll be eating some chocolate over the festive season.  I love the stuff but I also know that all chocolate is not created equal and, as someone who likes to choose the healthy eating option where possible, I'm interested in finding out what's good and what's not.

First things first, where does chocolate actually come from? It's made from the seeds (beans) of the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao), an evergreen tree about the size of an apple tree which grows in the tropical regions of Central and South America.  The tree produces pods along it's trunk and inside each pod there are rows of beans. The beans and pulp are carefully removed, partially fermented and finally dried. The beans are then ready to be bagged up and sold on to factories to be made into chocolate.


Cocoa pods 

The beans inside the pods
In the factory the beans are roasted, winnowed (the shell separated from the inner bean), and made into a paste. This is then mixed with cocoa butter, sugar and flavourings to make chocolate.

Cocoa butter is the fat extracted from pressed, unroasted beans. It is very oily and, because of its long shelf life and velvety texture, it makes an excellent moisturiser and is used in the production of toiletries as well as in the making of chocolate.  

So what's the difference between cocoa and cacao?  Although the spelling is almost the same there is apparently a big difference between them, especially in health terms.  Raw cacao is made by cold-pressing unroasted cocoa beans, which preserves their natural enzymes and nutrients and cocoa is the result of roasting the beans at high temperatures which destroys some of the nutrients. So therefore any product called or containing cacao has not been roasted and has higher levels of anti-oxidants and nutrients.

And why is dark chocolate better for you than milk chocolate? Dark chocolate is made with cocoa whereas milk chocolate has been diluted with milk solids, sugar and cream. The higher the percentage of cocoa the healthier it is. However, the more cocoa it has in it, the more bitter it tastes, which is challenging for those with a sweet tooth.  I have trained myself to like dark chocolate - I find 75% is about my limit - and I find that I don't eat as much of it as I would if I bought milk chocolate, so it's better for me all round. 


This Week's Recipe... Frozen Yogurt-coated Blueberries and Chocolate-coated Strawberries

Want to enjoy a sweet treat without diving into a tin of Roses (and not being able to stop)? Try these simple recipes. They're good to serve at a dinner party too - and your friends will thank you for offering them a healthier alternative.

For the Blueberries...

You will need:
1 punnet of fresh blueberries
1 tub of Greek yogurt
and a toothpick...
  • Wash the blueberries and pat them dry with kitchen paper.
  • Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper/baking parchment.
  • Using a toothpick, pick up a blueberry and dip it in the yogurt until completely covered.
  • Tap off any excess and place carefully on the baking sheet.
  • Put in the freezer for at least an hour.
  • Enjoy straight from the freezer.


For the Strawberries...

You will need:
I bar of dark chocolate
1 punnet of strawberries
  • Wash the strawberries and pat dry with kitchen paper (leave the hull on).
  • Leave to dry a bit longer on a clean tea towel (this is important - if they are damp the chocolate won't stick)
  • Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper/baking parchment.
  • Break up the chocolate into a glass bowl and place over a small saucepan with just an inch or so of boiling water in it. Turn down the heat to simmer whilst the chocolate melts because you need to be careful that no water droplets end up in the chocolate or it will not be smooth and glossy and you will need to start again.
  • Once the chocolate is melted, carefully dip the strawberries into it until completely coated. 
  • Place carefully on the baking sheet and place in the fridge (not the freezer this time).
  • Serve straight from the fridge.

Afternoon snack... yummy!

Optimistic women 'cut risk of deadly diseases' - an article from BBC News Health

Women who look on the bright side of life cut their risk of many deadly diseases, according to researchers.

In a study of more than 70,000 women, optimists were less likely to get fatal cancer, heart disease, lung conditions and stroke in their retirement years. Although some of the association is explained by healthier life choices and behaviours, experts believe a positive mental attitude is powerful in itself.

And even if you lack a natural sunny disposition, optimism can be learned. Encouraging people to imagine a bright future could be a good medicine to boost public health, say the authors of the study in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The researchers looked at health data collected from a large US study of working and retired female nurses. The participants had been asked to rate how optimistic they perceived themselves to be on a scale of zero to 24. The healthy women, who ranged in age from 58 to 83, were monitored over the next eight years and any disease-related deaths were recorded. There were 4,566 deaths overall.

Higher optimism was linked with lower death risk, even after controlling for other factors such as whether the woman was married, came from a richer or poorer family background, or had a history of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or depression.

A significantly lowered risk was seen for deaths from a number of causes, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, respiratory disease and infection over the course of the study period.

The researchers believe optimism may have a biological effect on the body as well as a psychological one, although they didn't look at this. Other studies have linked a positive outlook to lower inflammation, for example, and better heart health.

Investigator Dr Eric Kim, from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, said there were several strategies people might want to try for an optimism boost:
  • Think about what your "best possible self" should look like for key areas of your life such as family, marriage and career. For example, imagine how you would feel in a future work situation if you worked hard and successfully achieved a personal goal.
  • Write down three things each day that you are grateful for. Try it for a week and see how you feel.
  • Keep a log for a fortnight of any kind things you do for other people.
  • Or you could try a course of mindfulness or some sessions of talking therapy.
He said: "Twin studies suggest up to 25% of optimism might be genetic or inherited which would mean up to 75% could be modifiable."




This Week's Video... talking of optimism, watch this short montage of clips from my absolute favourite Christmas film Elf.  I love the enthusiasm and sheer joy of the main character Buddy.  If you're feeling a bit down or overwhelmed by Christmas preparations go and find/rent this movie - it really does make you feel good :-)



And finally, I wish you a very Merry Christmas. I'm looking forward to an exciting 2017 as I get closer to my big birthday. I'm also excited about Thrive Yoga next year. I have lots of things planned to bring you more revitalising yoga and inspiration to live your life in a healthy and fulfilling way. I'll be sharing these plans with you here on the Blog next week. As always, thanks for reading, Namaste and Seasons Greetings.

 

4 December 2016

Running in the Dark

52@50 no 17 - Participating in Run in the Dark, Battersea Park, London

I recently took part in Run in the Dark, a night-time charity 10k run in aid of spinal cord research. Each year the Mark Pollock Trust organises this event in various cities throughout the world to raise awareness and funds for research into a cure for paralysis.  Mark Pollock went blind as a child yet grew up to become a global adventurer and inspirational speaker. In 2010 tragedy struck him again when he fell from a first floor window and was paralysed. He now dedicates himself to learning to walk again and finding a cure for paralysis.   

For a number of years I have participated in Run in the Dark at a small, local pop-up event organised by one of my yoga students.  This year I decided to go and do the London event. I've done a number of races in my years as a runner but never one at night. Joining around 2,500 other runners in Battersea Park we braved the weather and ran for, and in honour of, those who cannot.  I ran hard and fast (for me!), was beaten by my younger sister (darn it!), and endured a cold, long journey home. But it felt good to participate and raise money for this charity. The words of Theodore Roosevelt "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are" are ones I try to live by, and they were relevant here, as was this quote by Margaret Meade, which is also one of my 'life signposts' and sums up the power of this sort of event - "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." 

Here's a picture of me looking elegant in my bin bag which was keeping me dry as I waited at the start. 


And here's the official video from a previous year's Run in the Dark so you can learn a bit more about the inspirational Mark Pollock, his Trust and his work to find a cure for paralysis ...







52@50 no. 18 and This Week's Recipe... Sauteed Persimmons

I follow a woman on Instagram who posts about wellbeing and reclaiming her health after Lyme Disease. (Her website is www.wholelifewithamy.com in case you want to check her out). She lives in California and one of her recent posts was a recipe for Sauteed Persimmons.  

I have heard of these fruit before and have a vague recollection of Persimmons being in the supermarkets around this time of year but I've never actually eaten one, so when I saw her very easy recipe on Instagram I thought I'd try it. If you'd like to know a bit more about Persimmons there is some good information here at ukfoodnet.com.  

I found the Persimmon fruits at Tesco and waited until they were soft to the touch before preparing them. Have you ever had Persimmons before? If not, why not give them a try? They were very tasty - a bit like nectarines, and I love the fact that, even at nearly 50 years old, I'm still tasting new and interesting foods.

I used:

2 x persimmon fruits
a little oil for sauteeing (I used coconut oil)
ground cinammon 
and I had them for breakfast with Greek yoghurt and granola



Here's Amy's recipe...

  • Slice Persimmons into bite-size pieces. 
  • Heat a pan and add a tablespoon of your favorite fat. We love coconut oil. 
  • Saute for several minutes until tender and starting to brown. 
  • Turn off heat sprinkle heavily with cinnamon and give a final toss. 
  • Wait till barely cool and devour




How To Be Happy: eat pickles, have a ceilidh. Yes, really
by Rachel Carlyle via The Times Body + Soul pages

Gardening is good physical exercise, but research is proving that it is so good for mental health that it should be counted as therapy. One study of mice found that a bacteria in soil ingested by gardeners activated neurons that produce the mood-regulating chemical serotonin - which is similar to the way anti-depressants such as Prozac work.

Research has proved that gardening lowers stress-hormone levels and blood pressure, and now the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has embarked on its biggest scientific study into the effects of gardening on mood and wellbeing.

"There's good evidence that gardening improves mood, but does it match Prozac or counselling? My feeling is that it could, especially for mild depression," says Dr Ross Cameron at the University of Sheffield, who is leading the three-year RHS project. 

Dr George MacKerron, a lecturer at Sussex University, has been tracking people's real-time happiness since 2010 with his smartphone app Mappiness. Users report what they're doing and how happy they're feeling and there have been 3.5 million responses. "We've found that the top activities are related to physical activity, and most are connected to the outdoors - gardening increases happiness by 7.8% which is just behind exercise and sports on 8.1%", he says.

Here are six activities aside from gardening that research says could boost happiness and wellbeing.

Eat more yoghurt and pickles...three quarters of the body's neurotransmitters are made in the gut, as is almost 90 per cent of the body's serotonin, the hormone which maintains mood balance, so there is a direct link between gut and mood. For that reason it's important to keep the gut microbiome diverse and numerous, which means cutting down on processed food (which destroys gut microbes) and increasing bacteria-containing probiotics, such as live yoghurt and fermented foods (pickled vegetables, soy, miso and kimchi).

Take up Scottish dancing... according to research from Oxford University last year, dancing - especially energetic dancing - appears to prompt the brain to produce more endorphins than other types of exercise. Why? Studies suggest it is because dancing connects directly with the brain's emotional centres.

Dr Peter Lovatt, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire who studies dance, says: "I think the social element is important. We've done research where people dance together in the lab, which produces a measurable improvement in mood, then they take home a DVD to practise, which produces no improvement in mood unless the researcher goes to the house to watch them practise."

Not all dancing is equal,though; rules-based dancing doesn't make you as happy as relaxed dancing with structure, such as Scottish country dancing, line dancing or Bollywood routines.

Give to charity... donating to charity stimulates the brain to produce dopamine in the same way as sex, chocolate and recreational drugs. "Experiments on people having an MRI scan while giving to charity have shown it's the same part of the brain that lights up - the front-mesolimbic," says Rhodri Davies, a programme leader at the Charities Aid Foundation, one of Europe's largest charitable foundations, and UK organisers of the Global Giving Tuesday campaign on November 29.

Go for a walk in the woods... walking reduces stress hormones because it releases endorphins. One experiment showed that walking doubled creative thinking. Scientists believe that this could be because walking doesn't require conscious effort, so our brains are freer to make creative connections. Strolling in green space lowers stress and increases happiness in a way that urban walking doesn't, concluded a study scanning walkers' brains at Stanford University. Walking in a forest is even better. The Japanese therapy of forest bathing, shinrin-yoku - or meandering in woodland - has been shown to reduce blood pressure and the production of stress hormones.

Take up a team sport... The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has officially sanctioned exercise as a treatment for mild to moderate depression. It recommends three 45-60 minute sessions a week for 10 to 14 weeks. Playing a team sport could be the best exercise for happiness: a study in Australia found that women who played netball regularly had greater life satisfaction and better mental health than those who went to the gym or walked alone.

Get a dog (but not a cat)... people with pets are healthier, have higher self-esteem and are less lonely than those who don't, which are three of the key aspects of wellbeing. However, - cat owners look away now - almost all the positive research is associated with having a dog. This is probably because dog owners get extra wellbeing points because they are physically fitter than the general population and spend more time outside. That leads to improved sleep and a reduction in blood pressure and stress hormones. Stroking a dog can also stimulate the release of oxytocin, a hormone associated with wellbeing and calm.

This Week's Musical Offering... Meditation of the Night by Benji Wertheimer



Slow and relaxing with an Indian vibe, this track is perfect for accompanying your Shavasana.




And finally, if Mark Pollock wasn't enough to inspire you to get moving, and the article about being happy didn't movitvate you then maybe Sister Madonna will... take a look at this video of an amazing woman who I aim to emulate in years to come....



27 November 2016

Caprioles, Cauliflowers and Coconut Oil

52@50 marks my half-century of being alive on planet Earth. It's a reminder to myself and, hopefully, an inspiration to you to be curious about life. To get off the sofa and out into the world. To open new doors and live this one precious life to the fullest.

These new things I'm doing, they don't need to be momentous or daring, they just need to be an exploration - with an open mind. I'm intending my next 50 years to be a little more adventurous than the first 50, but at the same time have a peaceful and restful flow to them, balanced with the joy of just 'being'. I want more freedom from constraints (which are often self-imposed, sometimes culturally imposed) yet I want to give more back to the world. I want to be interested, to look at things more closely, and be full of wonder. I want more magic.

In recent years I have chosen a mantra to guide me through the next 12 months. I've used "be bold", "head up and heart open", and "keep it simple" (which worked so well for me I used it for 2 years). I've already chosen my mantra for 2017, it's "be curious" and as I share what I find during the coming months I hope to inspire you to get out there and find some magic too.



52@50 no 16: The Spanish Riding School on Tour

I've always loved horses. As a small girl I constantly harrassed my parents to let me learn to ride, and I read all the pony books I could get my hands on. My bookshelves were crammed. In particular, I remember the paperback novels by the Pullein-Thompson sisters, Josephine, Christine and Diana. Between them they wrote over 150 books for pony-mad girls (Show Jumping Secret, Riding With the Lyntons, I Rode a Winner and Janet Must Ride were my favourites). At age 10 I was allowed to start riding lessons and shortly afterwards I started helping at the stables on a Saturday. At 15 my greatest wish of having a pony of my own came true. Except I chose a clompy carthorse rather than a gymkhana pony. On his way to Southall Market where he certainly would have ended up on the meat lorry, Questor became my true love for 20 years. He was a Clydesdale that was a little too small at 16hands to make the grade, but I thought he was perfect. Here we are all dressed up for a show nearly 30 years ago!! :



I had another horse for a while too - an unwanted grey pony who was lots of fun to ride, but when he died and my beloved Questor had to be put down about 15 years ago, I didn't get another one. I had small children by then and they were the focus of my life so I decided to step away from the rather all-consuming equine world. To this day, although I still love horses and have been on the occasional hack at a local riding centre, I haven't stepped back in. Maybe one day I will....

I recently had the opportunity to go to Wembley Arena to see the famous Spanish Riding School of Vienna perform with their beautiful white Lippizaner horses. Of Spanish descent (hence the slightly misleading name) the horses are born brown and gradually turn white. Only stallions are chosen to perform and those that are considered the best undergo years of training in classical dressage until they can perfectly execute the difficult movements that are required in the performances. The Riding School, which is situated in Vienna, is a tourist attraction in it's own right, but no visit would be complete without seeing the horses, both in their stables and in the arena.

The Spanish Riding School goes on tour around the world and a ticket to a performance is highly prized and not cheap! The horses are beautifully presented with sparkling saddles, and the riders wear immaculate uniforms. They perform set routines to music which include ridden sequences, long reining (where the rider walks behind the horse, guiding him with long reins) and the famous 'Airs Above the Ground' where the horses rear and leap. The Capriole is a vertical leap with a kick-back of the hind legs. These movements were historically part of the training of military horses, to keep them fit and athletic enough to perform in battle.

As I watched these beautiful horses circling and crossing the arena perfectly in time with each other, but controlled with whips and spurs, I unexpectedly experienced a sense of discomfort. I felt sorry for them, leading their organised, contained and artificial lives, dominated by mankind in every way. I'm glad I can say that I have seen them but I think this 52@50 is going to be a once in a lifetime experience for me.



This Week's Recipe...Cauliflower and Almond Soup

Here's another recipe from Florence House, the retreat centre in Sussex where I host my yoga weekends. Cauliflower is full of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants (if you're interested to find out more about its nutritional values click here) but it can be a little uninspiring and there don't seem to be too many interesting recipes around to make it a bit more exciting. This recipe is easy and has the added health benefit of the almonds (click here to look at all their many nutritional benefits). It makes simple, healthy lunch and the only drawback is that cooked cauliflower leaves a lingering smell and I needed to leave the windows open for a while to air the house afterwards! But don't let that put you off - every house needs a good air-change every now and then, especially in the winter when we don't have the doors and windows open so much, so you'll get an extra benefit here too.

You will need:

1 small onion
2 sticks of celery
small amount of olive oil
1 small cauliflower
110g ground almonds
600ml vegetable stock (use Marigold vegetable bouillon for the best flavour)
Ground white pepper
(Serves 2)


And here's how to make it:

  • Sweat the roughly chopped onion and celery in a little oil until soft. 
  • Add the chopped cauliflower, almonds, vegetable bouillon and a pinch of white pepper to taste and simmer until soft. 
  • Blend with a hand blender or in a food processor until it has reached the desired consistency - add more stock liquid if necessary. 
  • Season as required and add some seeds for topping. 

4 More Ayurvedic Tips to Help You Stay Well This Winter
Turmeric Milk is the healthy hot drink of the moment. Turmeric is a spice which has been used for flavouring food and for its healing properties for centuries in India and its benefits are now being scientifically recognised to help with many illnesses and diseases. Click here to look at its impressive list of beneficial properties.

Turmeric Milk, also known as Golden Milk, is an easy way to take the spice without having to eat lots of curries. Especially useful in winter to both prevent and alleviate coughs and colds due to its anti-viral and anti-bacterial qualities, turmeric milk actually tastes nice too and makes a great alternative to a caffeine drink. Here's the link to an article entitled '12 Reasons You Should Start Drinking Turmeric Milk' so you can have a look at why it's hit the health headlines recently.

This recipe was given to me recently by one of my yoga students (thanks Sandra - I love it):

Ingredients:
2 cups of homemade almond milk
1 tablespoon local honey, optional
1 tablespoon coconut oil, optional
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 cinnamon stick or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
small pinch of black pepper and grated ginger (fresh is best)
(serves 2)

Instructions:
  • Simply pour all ingredients into a small saucepan and bring to a light boil. Whisk to combine ingredients. Reduce heat to low and simmer for up to 10 minutes. 
  • Strain the milk if you have large pieces of ginger, cinnamon, peppercorns, etc. To serve, add honey or a dash of cinnamon. 
  • Enjoy warm. 
One word of warning though about this shift to all things Turmeric - it is powerful stuff and can have a neutralising effect on prescribed medicines. Therefore, if you take any medications, you should speak to your doctor first before embarking on enriching your diet with it.

It's been pointed out to me by one of my yoga students (thanks for the tip-off Hazel) that there's a word of warning about drinking lemon water first thing in the morning too (see last week's post). Because lemon contains high amounts of citric acid it can be detrimental to the enamel of your teeth. Apparently, dentists recommend that you don't brush your teeth immediately after drinking lemon water as this can wear away the enamel as the citric acid is still fresh on your teeth. Before you brush, make sure to rinse your mouth with water, or you can also use a straw so that the water doesn't touch your teeth. You could also try using lemon essential oil instead of the fresh fruit. Apparently, as it's made from the peel rather than the flesh it's better for your teeth - use 1-2 drops per glass of water.

Practise Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall Pose) This relaxing pose has many benefits. If you've been standing all day at work and have achy legs it will reduce swollen, puffy ankles and feet. The heart doesn't have to work so hard pumping blood into the legs, and lactic acid is flushed from the legs so it's a good one to practice after a workout or a run. It helps to balance the endocrine system and the nervous system as less adrenaline and cortisol (the 'stress hormones') are sent around the body so it can relax into 'rest and digest' mode. It is safe for everyone, including beginners to practise. Cautions are given though to pregnant women and those with eye problems and heart problems - but, as long as the pelvis is not lifted higher than the heart, it is fine for those who are menstruating to practise this pose (usually inversions are avoided during the first part of a period).

Viparita karani is my 'go to' pose at the end of the day when I want to settle and quieten both body and mind before bed and, hopefully, ensure a good night's sleep and, if I get a chance to do it during the day, it leaves me feeling refreshed as if I've taken a powernap, and content that I have taken the time to give myself a little tlc.

Here's how to do it:
  • Choose a quiet spot with clear floor and wall space. 
  • Use a yoga mat or a blanket to lie on if you are doing this pose on a hard floor but you should be comfy enough on a carpeted floor. 
  • Sit down close to the wall facing sideways, then swing your legs gently up the wall as you lower yourself onto your forearms and then down on to your back. 
  • If your hamstrings are tight you might need to have a little space between your bottom and the wall so your legs are slightly angled, but for those with looser hamstrings, lie with your bottom right up against the wall. 
  • Stretch the legs up the wall and reach up into the heels. You can use a yoga belt or the tie from a bathrobe to tie your legs together so they can passively relax if you like. 
  • You can rest your forearms and hands on your belly, have your arms stretched out to the side or stretch them overhead - whatever feels most comfortable. 
  • Check that you are symmetrical. 
  • Relax the whole body - legs, torso, arms, face, eyes - and rest for up to 10 minutes breathing smoothly. 
  • To come out of the pose, inch yourself away from the wall enough to bend your knees and roll to the side. Pause for a moment lying on your side before coming up to sitting. Pause again to savour the peaceful feeling. 
If you're a member of Thrive Yoga I've added a class with a Viparita Karani sequence for you to practice. If you're not a member of my online classes site and you'd like to add a bit more yoga into your life with guided practice via video, why not come and join us? Click here to take a look.



Use coconut oil to keep your skin soft I mentioned the Ayurvedic practice of Abbhyanga in the blog last week. It is self-massage, using simple, pure oils to keep the skin supple and smooth. It is a beneficial reminder too to care for this one amazing body you have been given. Ayurveda teaches us to treat the body kindly and to take the time to keep it in the best condition possible.

This tip, based on the practice of Abbhyanga, will moisturise your feet which can often become dry and cracked in winter. We tend to forget about our feet and keep them constantly wrapped in socks and boots and they need a little tlc too. Before you go to bed rub a tiny amount of coconut oil (which is solid at room temperature) into your feet. Do this over a towel to avoid getting oil on the carpet and put an old pair of socks on straight afterwards - the warmth will help the oil to soak in and will stop the oil getting on your sheets. It is a quick and easy habit to get into and it really works - your feet will feel smooth and cracked heels will quickly become a thing of the past.

To alleviate chapped hands, rub in a little coconut oil before you do the washing up, then put your rubber gloves on and when you've finished your hands will feel really smooth and silky. Best to keep a special pair of Marigolds for this job as they do get oily inside.




Ginger Steam Inhaler If you do have the misfortune to succumb to a cold, you could try this simple steam treatment to help relieve congestion: Boil a pint of water in a large pan. Add one teaspoon of ground ginger. Remove from the heat with care. With your head over the pan, inhale the steam. Use a towel over your head to keep the steam from dissipating too quickly. Stay for about 5 minutes to help clear blocked sinuses and a stuffy nose.



This Week's Musical Offering...
is Floating Sweetness by DJ Drez. I love this track. It has a gentle yet definite rhythm and a lovely melody. You could use it in a playlist for slow Sun Salutations or a relaxing seated/supine sequence or you could, right now, relax your face, shoulders, arms and hands, legs and feet. Take long, slow deep breaths and allow yourself to just sit in a quiet meditation enjoying this lovely music...



Finally, referring to my recent blog post and the happening of the Supermoon, I thought i'd share this photo with you, taken by a relative of my friend in Eilat, Israel on the Monday evening. It doesn't look real does it? But it is - no enhancement or photoshopping at all. Truly beautiful!


Namaste. Until next week....

13 November 2016

4 Ayurvedic Tips to Boost Your Wellness This Winter

We've definitely moved a big step towards winter this week here in Surrey. We've experienced the first proper frost and my beloved dahlias have been blasted and are now collapsing. We've had a lot of rain, it's been windy, and some of the leaves are on the ground - although as I look out of the window, there's still a remarkable amount of green leaves still on the trees.  As winter approaches we tend to retreat indoors, put the central heating on, and pile on the layers, and it's easy to get a little lazy about taking care of the body.  

Ayurveda is the ancient Indian system of medicine which balances the body using diet, yoga, meditation, breathing practices, herbal treatment and many other self-care practices with the aim of reaching and sustaining optimum health. Ayurveda offers more than just the treatment of illnesses, it shows us ways to change our lifestyles so we can nourish ourselves, become healthier and enjoy life more fully.

Here are 4 simple practices you could do first thing in the morning to start your day with self-care and boost your immune system this winter ... 

1. Drink a glass of warm water with a slice and a squeeze of lemon as soon as you wake up. This stimulates the digestive system , encouraging bowel movement, hydrates the body after a night with no fluid intake, and introduces some vitimin C via the lemon. Ayurveda recommends we then drink water regularly throughout the day but in small amounts so that we absorb the water slowly rather than downing a pint of water at lunchtime and just peeing it straight out. 

2. Dry Skin Brushing your skin every day before you shower has many positive benefits for your health and is very quick and easy to do. It's cheap too - a soft body brush from the local chemist or health food shop costs around £10-£15 and, if you hang it up to dry after use, it will last for ages. Always choose a natural bristled brush, or a loofah, rather than a synthetic one as the bristles are more gentle, and give it a wash it from time to time too.

5 minutes brushing every day will help to stimulate a sluggish lymphatic system. Your lymphatic system's primary function is to isolate infection and clear waste products from the whole body, so it is crucially important to your health. Lymph drainage is improved by deep breathing, exercise and massage. Dry skin brushing provides the massage to increase the lymph flow and also helps to reduce cellulite, which is caused when fat cells, lymph and toxins get stuck in little 'pockets' beneath the skin. If you're interested in learning more about the lymphatic system and cellulite, take a look at this article which explains it really well.

Before you shower (ideally in the morning as skin brushing really does boost your energy and make you feel tingly and alive) take just 5 minutes to brush your skin. Always brush towards the heart. Start at the feet and brush in long strokes up the legs and over the buttocks, then brush your arms from the hands towards the shoulders. Brush your back (it's helpful to have a long-handled brush for this bit), and gently do your chest (be really, really gentle as you brush your breasts), and the sides of the body. Finally, brush your stomach gently in a clockwise motion, following the direction of the colon (up the right side, across the top from right to left, then down the left side). Then step into your shower to wash away the dead skin that has been exfoliated. After a week or so of doing this each day your skin will be feeling really smooth and you'll start to notice the other benefits of this simple practice too. 

3. Oil Massage In Ayurveda the practice of massaging the body with warm oil is called Abhyanga. It helps keep the skin supple and smooth. It has the added benefits of being cheaper than expensive body lotions and much purer too - it just doesn't make sense to be taking care of yourself, trying to decrease the toxic load on the body, and then adding loads of chemicals to be absorbed into the skin via standard lotions and potions. Choose sesame, almond or coconut oil, and don't rush - take time to massage with loving care and attention.

Warm the oil first by placing a little bowl of it by a radiator (be careful not to spill it!) or place the bowl in a sink of hot water. Massage your body slowly, using long strokes on the limbs and circular movements on the joints. As in the dry skin brushing, massage the abdominal area in a clockwise direction. This helps with digestive problems such as constipation by encouraging peristalsis - the movement of food along the gut - which encourages regular bowel movements, which therefore removes more waste products and toxins from your body. Gut health plays an important part in keeping your immune system in good working order, which is especially important at this time of year when there are lots of coughs, colds and bugs being passed around.

4. Tongue Scraping This practice, known as Jihwa Prakshalana, is an important part of daily self care as it removes the bacteria and toxins that build up on the tongue overnight. If you are well, this coating is minimal, but if your body is struggling to cope with an illness or health problem the coating can be thicker and smell bad.  As with all toxins, we want them to be eliminated from the body rather than be re-absorbed, and scraping the tongue is a quick and easy way to do this. It is also beneficial for oral hygiene too by freshening the breath and helping to remove particles of food which decreases plaque building up on the teeth. Ayurveda recommends a stainless steel scraper as it is easy to clean which you can buy in health food shops and online, but there are plastic versions available in chemists such as Boots for around £5.  You can also use the side of a metal spoon quite effectively too.

Here's how to do it: extend your tongue fully and scrape from the back to the front repeatedly until all the residue has been removed, cleaning the scraper under the tap as you go.

Next week I'll be sharing some more simple Ayurvedic health care tips to help you stay well this winter. Until then, get brushing, scraping, oiling and flushing - you are important and feeling good is priceless, and anything you can do to take a little extra care of yourself is worth it. 




This Week's Recipe... Super Green Soup

This soup is like a green smoothie - full of almost raw, fresh, healthy goodness - but it's hot. Its vivid bright green colour makes it look very vibrant and alive and it just feels like you're eating energy! 


You will need:
  • 1 bunch fresh asparagus, roughly chopped
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 big handful fresh kale leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 small fennel bulb, finely diced
  • 1 big handful fresh spinach
  • 2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
  • half a litre of vegetable stock (I use Marigold Bouillon for the best flavour)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil oil
  • juice of half a lime
  • toasted nuts and seeds, to garnish


and here's how to make it...
  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the chopped onion, garlic, asparagus, fennel and celery stalks and cook for 5 minutes over low heat.
  • Add the vegetable stock, bring to boil and simmer over a low heat for 5-7 minutes.
  • Add the kale leaves and spinach and remove from the heat.
  • Allow to cool for a few minutes, then transfer into the blender, add lime juice and whizz until almost smooth (be careful when blending hot liquids). Add more vegetable stock to adjust the texture to your required consistency.
  • Serve warm, topped with toasted nuts and seeds



From super-greens to super moon...

Tonight, Sunday 13th November, and apparently tomorrow night too, if the weather is clear we will get the chance to see a celestial spectacle - the largest supermoon for 70 years!



Even though I watched the video twice it still boggled my mind so I found this article from CBBC's Newsround which made it much clearer for me!!.....

How to see biggest supermoon in almost 70 years via CBBC Newsround.

If you go outside at night on 13/14 November, you might get to enjoy something quite spectacular. You will see an amazing supermoon up in the night sky, which means the moon will be very big and bright.

There was a supermoon last month but this one is particularly special. That's because it will be the biggest and brightest that it has been since 1948 - that's almost 70 years!

But what actually is a supermoon anyway? Why do they happen? Two things have to happen for there to be a supermoon. Firstly, it must be a full moon. Secondly, the moon must be at a point during its orbit where it is particularly close to Earth.

Image copyright Reuters 

The moon orbits the Earth in an oval shape, and sometimes it is closer to the Earth than at other times.

When the moon is at the stage when it is closest to Earth, this is called its perigee. When it is further away, this is the moon's apogee.




The perigee, which makes supermoons happen, is about 30,000 miles closer to Earth than the apogee The reason that the supermoon this month is particularly special is because the moon will be even closer to Earth than it has been for decades, so it will be bigger and brighter than you will ever have seen in your entire life!

Usually, a supermoon is about 14% bigger and 30% brighter than a full moon when it is further away from the Earth.


How can I see it? Go out at night and have a look at the sky on the night of 13 or 14 November. Try to go somewhere where there aren't many other lights, as this can distract from how bright the moon is and how easily you can see it.

If you look at it when the moon is nearer to the horizon, this can create an optical illusion which will make it look even bigger and more spectacular.

There is due to be another supermoon on 14 December, but it won't be as amazing as the November one, which is the biggest so far this century.

The December supermoon will be special for its own reason. Because it is so bright, it will make seeing the Geminid meteor shower next month much more difficult than usual. As for November's supermoon, you won't see one as impressive as this again until the end of November in 2034, so it's well worth making sure you step outside to take a look!

Let's hope the weather decides to behave ...

A supermoon behind Glastonbury Tor 

This Week's Musical Offering... Moon Magic by Stevin McNamara... a track with a steady, gentle rhythm that you could add to your yoga playlist for standing and seated pose sequences and sun salutations.  



4 November 2016

Circles and Cycles




I sat down to write this week's blog post and .... nothing! No inspiration, nothing to say. Usually, something has come to my attention over the week that I want to share, but not this time.  I haven't participated in any 52@50 experiences this week either so I couldn't use that to get me started. I sat there and I sat there, willing something to pour forth but no, so I closed the computer and went to do something else instead.  

Then November arrived and we were full-on into autumn with all its glorious colours. On Tuesday morning I stood at the top of the Downs near Polesden Lacey and looked towards London but there was no view, just a very thick blanket of fog. The next day I walked to the same spot in bright sunshine and the view was clear and sharp. What a difference 24 hours makes.  And there it was - my subject for the blog this week - circles and cycles. The turning of the day into night, the changing of the seasons, the years and our lives themselves are cycles. Nature is full of circles and spirals too - flowers, shells, markings on ladybirds' wings (I've seen a lot of ladybirds this week). And my yoga practice itself is a cycle too - a gentle beginning to warm the body, strength-building poses, followed by slow, long stretches and then Savasana,which offers the opportunity to let go and begin again, renewed and refreshed. 

Mandalas

The Sanskrit word 'mandala' translates as 'circle'. Mandalas are circular designs used in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions as meditation aids and as offerings. Their circular form represents the Universe, and the intricate patterns within the circle are infinite and never-ending. Meditating on a mandala helps you to focus - there is repetition and order, energy and beauty which help to calm and relax the mind. 

Although Mandalas are part of the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, circular patterns are also found in Christian churches in stained glass windows and on the floors, and in Celtic designs too. In all traditions, the circle represents the cycle of life with no beginning and no end. 




Mandalas have been in my consciousness for a couple of weeks now - on my recent weekend retreat to Florence House in Seaford I shared mandala colouring pages and pens, and this week in class our standing poses took the form of a circular flow.  Funny how I had been searching for a theme for the blog and it was already there.  I just couldn't see it.  I had to wait for my fog to clear before I had a good view.  

I thought you might like a mandala to colour.  It's very relaxing - the perfect antidote to our busy lives where we are so often multi-tasking, colouring a mandala invites you to focus your attention on the circle and become completely absorbed in the colours and the infinite patterns of the design. Once you have coloured it, keep it somewhere safe and you can use it as a meditation aid - take a comfortable seat with your mandala picture in front of you, set an intention (you might want to quieten the mind or your intuition to help you make a decision, whatever feels right), then let yourself become focussed on the patterns, infinite circles and colours of your mandala for 5 or 10 minutes. Acknowledge your intention at the end of your meditation and observe how you feel.  

To print the mandala out, right click on the picture and, if your computer works in the same way as mine, you will get an option to 'open image in a new tab'. You can then press Control and P to print it out.  I hope that works for you and that you enjoy some rest and relaxation with some creative colouring.






This week's recipe...Stir-fried Savoy Cabbage with Caraway Seeds

A cabbage has it's own spirals and circles too - study yours as you slice it to make this super-quick and very tasty side dish. The caraway seeds give it a unique flavour.  The recipe comes from the Florence House Cook Book which was for sale at my recent weekend retreat there. I'm slowly working my way through it.  Although it doesn't have any photos (usually a pre-requisite for my recipe book purchases), it does offer really easy, yummy and mostly vegetarian recipes, many of which I've never come across before.  

You will need:

1 Savoy cabbage
Olive oil
1 tablespoon of caraway seeds
Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper



Here's how to make it:


  • Finely slice the cabbage.
  • Heat a wok or large frying pan and add some oil.
  • Add the cabbage and the seeds and stir-fry until the cabbage has wilted and started to go golden around the edges.
  • Season with salt and pepper.

This recipe serves 4 portions.



If you're looking for some inspiration for some tasty, healthy, wholefood dishes (although there's a good selection of desserts in here too), the cook book is available to purchase for £10. Please contact me via email to hi@thriveyoga.co.uk and I will order a copy for you.


This week's musical offering... Circle by Karunesh.  This track has a slow rhythm that could accompany both a slow vinyasa flow and some relaxing seated stretches.  





And finally, some pictures of circles and spirals courtesy of Mother Nature - once you start looking you see them everywhere...










Leaving you with this pretty mandala containing a thought for the week ...