The lovely Poppy from Yoga London interviewed me recently for their blog, and as well as chatting about the need to ‘practice’ relaxing, and our shared love of creativity and knitting, we explored self-care practices for getting through lockdown, tips on taking break from screens, the importance of mentorship in yoga teacher training, and overcoming self-limiting beliefs. If you want to be extra nosy, you’ll also be able to read all about my morning routine, where I’d love to travel to once it’s possible again, and how I unwind. Enjoy!
As we transition from Winter to Spring, the sense of coldness we may have felt over the last few months begins to ‘melt’ with growing warmer days. As we start to feel the Winter stiffness softening in the joints and muscles perhaps becoming more relaxed, the various bugs and bacteria within us can start to move and flow too. If we’ve been favouring hot, spiced foods throughout Winter months, slathering on oils and keeping ourselves cosy, the build-up of heat within us can lead to eczema, skin rashes and irritations, and an overall feeling of heat in the body come Springtime. If you’ve been moving less over Winter too, perhaps consuming more sugar than usual, and generally living in a way that prevents healthy movement of blood, lymph and prana (known as qi in Chinese Medicine, but you could simply call it ‘energy’ as well), you may have a build up of ama.
Ama is the Ayurvedic term for undigested nutrients and un-eliminated waste products. We can think of the word loosely referring to ‘toxins’, and when these toxins begin to build up within us, we can experience allergies, weight gain, sluggishness, joint pain, bloating, slow metabolism, hormonal issues, tiredness, and a general feeling of ‘bleugh’. No one wants to feel ‘bleugh’ – especially in Spring – so this is a great time to experiment with a few gentle cleansing practices to help you feel lighter and brighter. As well as cleansing and detoxing from the ‘heavy’ feeling, I also see a lot of clients who experience excess heat and acidity in the body at this time of year. It’s important to remedy this ASAP, as things like heat and inflammation tend to spread quickly if they’re not treated (think of the way fire spreads quickly if it isn’t put out). If you’re experiencing mouth sores, ulcers, bladder infections, acne, headaches, irritability, and hot flushes, it could be because you have a little too much ‘Pitta’ energy in your body right now (characterised by the fire and water elements, resulting in a hot, acidic, irritable internal environment). To reduce excess Pitta, we need to remove excess heat from the body, then bring in cooling, bitter, astringent and naturally sweet herbs to keep things calm.
Try this easy A B C juice to help ‘flush’ the liver and gall bladder and improve their function, and remove excess heat from the body. For a 5 minute video explaining more about the Pitta dosha, click HERE.
- 1 Apple (organic and local if possible! Apples are on the ‘dirty dozen’ list, so they’re more likely to contain pesticides if they’re not organic.)
- ½ fresh beetroot
- 2 sticks celery
- Add everything to a blender with 1 cup filtered water and whizz
- For a ‘juice’ consistency, strain through a sieve
- For more fibre and a smoothie consistency, simply drink straight away. You could also use coconut milk instead of water and 1 tbsp flax and 1 tbsp coconut oil for a breakfast smoothie.
Eating seasonally is something humans have done without even thinking about it for thousands of years – it wasn’t until the 1960s that supermarkets sold avocados! Now however, with aisles of food from across the world, it takes only minutes to grab tropical fruits, coffee, rice, and chocolate from across the world, that would be almost impossible to grow naturally in the UK. Whilst pretty much everyone I know (including me) enjoys non-seasonal food, and things like coffee and chocolate that are anything but local or seasonal, it’s still incredibly important to understand why eating seasonally is good for us, and why eating non-seasonally can actually be really bad for us. Health and nutrition leader and sports medicine expert Dr John Douillard has carried out extensive research into this, and shared on his blog that when deer eat out of season, they can die.
Whilst eating out of season may not kill us, it can contribute to poor gut health, high blood sugar levels, acidity, digestive problems, as well as a poor immune system, which overall, can shorten life span and health span. When we eat the foods and herbs that are in season and grow locally, we’re giving the body the exact nutrients it needs to be healthy in that season, and at that time. These seasonal foods can actually help balance the qualities of the season, and support us to feel our best. As we enter into Spring here in the UK, the qualities of heaviness, warmth, moisture, oiliness, sluggishness, congestion, and growth are abundant. These qualities are characteristic of the Ayurvedic dosha Kapha. A balanced amount of Kapha in our bodies is great, as it supports healthy growth, strength and good fertility, but too much often results in excess weight, water retention, Spring colds, allergies, asthma, phlegm and lethargy. Luckily, the plants in season during Spring are perfectly suited to prevent accumulation of excess Kapha energy, and help support the body’s natural detoxing processes throughout this season, helping us feel light and energised!
Bitter is Better
I’ve included a chicory salad recipe in this post, as chicory is seasonal to the UK, and is slightly bitter. Many chicory recipes give the option of lightly cooking the leaves to reduce bitterness, but that same bitterness is what gives the plant much of its benefit. Bitter foods are actually really good for us, especially during Spring. The taste can help reduce those qualities of heaviness and sluggishness, improves digestion, balances blood sugar, moderates hunger, and is naturally ‘detoxifying’. Dr. Andrew Weil is an integrated practitioner of medicine with over 30 years’ experience, and has an extensive blog covering a wide array of natural health topics. He says; “Bitter foods also affect health in that they stimulate the liver to produce bile, which is an important part of optimal digestion. Bile emulsifies fats and renders nutrients – especially fat-soluble ones such as vitamins A, D, E and K – more available”. So by consuming bitter foods, we help improve and maintain liver health (something Chinese medicine says is vital to focus on during Spring), and aid digestion of the heavier foods we may have consumed over Winter.
Bitterness is the least common taste we come across in the modern Western diet (which tends to favour more sweet and salty tastes), but when we do eat bitter foods like chicory, dandelion greens, spinach, broccoli and coriander, we tap into the tastes our ancestors would have consumed naturally. In the UK, our ancestors would have eaten many more wild greens and herbs than us, simply by picking them straight from the ground whilst out hunting, foraging and travelling. These naturally growing herbs like dandelion, wild garlic, fennel, nettle, borage, and cleavers, are naturally bitter, and extremely high in nutrients like iron, calcium, vitamin A, flavonoids, phenols, omegas, potassium, fiber, vitamin C, and other highly beneficial micronutrients that are important for the immune system, but that we really don’t tend to get much of in a standard modern diet. To read more about the benefits of bitter foods, click HERE.
Foraging Foods & Buying Seasonally
There’s a lot of evidence to show that when communities lived in a more foraging-focused, seasonal and connected-to-nature way, that we probably had a more nutritious diet than we do today, with far less diabetes, heart disease and obesity. To start eating a little more like our ancestors did, and in the way our bodies have evolved to, it’s pretty easy: simply buy foods that are in-season, and if possible, local. Seasonal foods are often actually a little cheaper in supermarkets too, as there’s a lot of them around, and they haven’t had to travel thousands of miles across the world to get there. Over the next couple of months too, plants like wild garlic, nettle, dandelion, and cleavers will all be growing abundantly in the UK, and if you know where to look and know safely what you’re looking for, you can forage them for free! (whilst being mindful to leave enough of the plants left for them to continue growing and flourishing). Look out for the seasonal foods in your supermarket or local farmer’s shop, as eating these will support your body to align with the season, giving it the exact nutrients is needs, whilst also supporting UK farmers.
Try including some of these foods in your meals over the next few weeks, and try the chicory recipe below!
- Brussels Sprouts
- Jerusalem Artichoke
- Cabbage (red, savoy and white)
- Spring Onions
- Spring Greens
Seasonal Chicory & Beetroot Salad
With Parsley Dressing
For the salad
(serves 1 )
- 1 small head of chicory, thinly sliced
- 1 small beetroot, thinly sliced
- 1 handful kale, ribs removed and lightly steamed
- 2 tbsp seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame etc)
For the dressing
- 1 handful fresh parsley
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 1 tsp honey (raw and local will help protect against hayfever and seasonal allergies)
- Pinch of salt and pepper
- Add all salad ingredients to a bowl
- Add the dressing ingredients to a blender and whizz
- Dress and toss the salad, and serve with a slice of sourdough toast and butter if you like.
I have a lot of clients and students who have Pitta-related issues. No, not issues related to eating too much pitta bread, but issues relating to an accumulation of the Ayurvedic Pitta dosha. ‘Pitta’ is the energy of heat, fire, and digestion. When in balance, a Pitta-type person will feel logical, sharp-minded, focused, driven and productive, with strong digestion. In excess however, Pitta energy can cause acid reflux, heartburn, anger, inflammation, irritability, and most issues relating to the qualities of heat and sharpness. If this sounds like you, try making the following blend below with equal quantities of chamomile, oat and calendula, and half the amount of liquorice.
This blend is super soothing and hydrating, softening and calming too. If you’d prefer to order a batch, email email@example.com to get in touch!
Use for making tea, as a face wash, or bath soak for dry, irritated skin
- Dried chamomile flowers
- Dried calendula petals
- Liquorice sticks
Blend equal amounts of oats, chamomile and calendula, and half the amount of liquorice, then try the following ways of using it:
- Add 2 tsp of the blend to a teapot or French press, add 1 cup hot water and steep for 5 minutes.
- Strain and add 1 tsp honey to serve (add milk too if you like).
- Make the tea as instructed above, but leave to infuse overnight.
- In the morning (or whenever you want to use the facewash) strain into a cup or bowl, and use to wash your face. You can add a tsp of honey to the mix too, for extra skin-softening benefits.
- Tip: Pour the liquid into a glass spray bottle and use as a facial spritz – it will keep for up to 1 week.
- Pour the entire packet into a warm bath as the water is running
- Use your hands to gently mix the ingredients around the tub. Imagine sending thoughts and energy of relaxation, softness and calmness into the bathwater as you mix.
- Enjoy! It may take a little time to completely remove the oats and petals from the bath afterwards, so ensure you are prepared, and have a sieve over the plug to catch the bits.
This recipe is so easy, yet the result is something absolutely delicious. I love keeping these bite-size snacks in the freezer, as they end up taking a little like a Snickers ice cream…. Try these with your choice of nut-butter filling, and keep them on hand as healthier snack options, particularly if you’re looking for alternatives to chocolate bars or biscuits!
- 10 Medjool dates
- 1/2 bar of good quality dark chocolate
- 10 tsp tahini
- pinch of salt
- Top with a sprinkling of coconut flakes, beetroot powder, or seeds if you wish
- Slice the dates length-ways and remove the stones
- Scoop a tsp of tahini into the middle of each date, and gently press to close
- Melt the chocolate, either by using a bain-marie, or in the microwave if you use one, then add the salt (you may also want to add a spice such as cinnamon, or even Chinese 5 Spice – trust me – to flavour the chocolate more)
- Roll the dates in the melted chocolate to fully coat them, then transfer to a box lined with foil or parchment paper
- Sprinkle with toppings or spices if you like, then transfer to the freezer and leave to set for 2 hours or overnight
- Enjoy! These will keep fresh for about 3 weeks.
For every action, there is a reaction….
In this blog, you’ll understand how our actions have a direct impact on our wellbeing, and how over time, our everyday habits can build up to create an internal environment that either encourages health or disease within us. Dive in, and perhaps contemplate the reflective questions too.
One of the wonderful things Ayurveda teaches us, is how to make more conscious decisions. By learning from the wisdom of this ancient ‘science of life’, we can shine a light on previously unconscious, unhelpful habits, and by bringing them into the light of awareness, make a decision as to whether we want to continue with them, or make a change. Living more seasonally, being aware of our individual prakriti (your original ‘dosha’ or ‘original nature’), and how each season may affect us, can all help us navigate life in a more present and engaged manner.
Every action has a reaction
None of our actions are done in isolation or within a vacuum. A lot of what we experience in terms of happiness, sadness, illness, discomfort, wellbeing, weight gain, weight loss, pain and pleasure, are an accumulation and result of our actions. The law of karma reasons that every action has a reaction, and when we observe how we’ve been living over the past several months or years, this can give us a clue as to why we might be feeing the way we feel right now. Indeed, this very moment is a result of every one of your past actions!
Ayurveda understands that even the foods we eat give an accumulative result. It can take around a month for all the dhatus (tissues) of the body to be nourished; from the first layer of the rasa dhatu, or ‘plasma’, to the deepest layer of the shukra dhatu, the reproductive system. Building nourishing Ojas energy (vital essence related to fertility and restoration of the nervous system) requires all layers of the body to be penetrated with good fats, good thoughts, and loving care for at least a month, for example. What we do today will impact tomorrow, and if we want real change to occur, consistency is the key. In the very same way, if we want to remove something from our system physically, mentally or energetically, what we do today will help to gradually clear the space over the coming days, weeks, months and years.
We can feel the results of our actions most profoundly after consuming too many hot spices, after too much alcohol, too little sleep, or through too much or too little physical activity. Whilst these more obvious sensations can be noticed more easily, recognising the smaller imbalances and preventing issues from occurring in the first place is a more beneficial way to maintain health and wellbeing. The transition from one season to another is a perfect time to reflect upon how you’ve been living for the past season, what you may need to clear from your body, what you may need to bring in, and anything you may want to change. At the end of Winter and beginning of Spring, we will have accumulated more heavy Kapha energy (in the form of cool, heavy, stable, mucus-y qualities), which needs to be ‘cleansed’ from the systems before we enter into Spring (which is already a season abundant in Kapha energy). If we can re-set the body between each season, we’ll be able to prevent issues like seasonal colds and flu, feeling too heavy or too scattered, feeling too hot or inflamed, and will be able to prevent dry skin and digestive issues too.
All it takes is more attention given to what we’re doing. So try reflecting this week:
- How do I feel? What are the qualities I’m noticing in myself at the moment? Heat, coldness, heaviness, lightness?
- What have I been doing recently that may have contributed to these feelings? Have I been eating too much hot and spicy food? Have I been moving enough, or too much? Have I spent a lot of time on screens?
- What simple changes can I adopt to clear away what I no longer need in my body and mind?
- What qualities or practices do I want and need to bring into my life right now?
Another Note on Karma
A traditional viewpoint within Ayurveda, is the concept of Karma as it is thought of in the Hindu religion. This way of viewing Karma tells us that we are each born with karmic influences ‘attached’ to us from past lives, and also from our parents, and our culture. These karmic imprints within us influence our dosha, and the types of issues we are predisposed to. For example; if you are born with a Pitta dominant mind-body type, it is likely that you’re more predisposed to a job where you have an aspect of power, or a job that is linked to high-pressure, stressful situations that require straight-forward and logical problem-solving. You may also be predisposed to issues such as anger, inflammation, and find yourself stuck in a cycle of stress and burnout throughout your life. Feeling ‘addicted’ to intense exercise and spicy foods, but suffering from their effects later, is also a common occurrence with those naturally high in Pitta energy.
Whichever dosha you are, and whatever issues seem to manifest in your life, these are said to be products of Karma, and exist because they are lessons we need to learn from in order to overcome, grow, learn and evolve spiritually. Addictions, anxieties, eating disorders and depression may even run through families or entire cultures, if the lessons are not fully learned and ‘digested’. It’s important to consider this aspect of Karma, as it can give us an insight into the deeper meaning behind the workings of our mind and body. Do you feel there’s perhaps a lesson to be learned from your stress or anxiety? Do you feel you need to learn something from an illness that continually causes you discomfort in life? These questions are all part of Ayurveda’s deeper healing methods.
Yes, you really can have cake for breakfast! Completely gluten free, free of flour and refined sugar, and full of healthy ingredients. Whip this up for luxurious yet totally healthy dessert, or keep it in the fridge to slice and devour throughout the week. If you don’t consume eggs, try using 2 tbsp apple puree per egg, or make ‘flax’ eggs by mixing 2 tbsp flax with 4 tbsp water per egg.
- 1 medium – to – large beetroot
- 3 ripe bananas
- Small amount of water
- 2 eggs
- 4 squares dark chocolate, melted
- 4 tbsp ground almonds
- 3 tbsp coconut oil + a little more for greasing
- 4 tbsp cocoa powder
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
FILLING & FROSTING INGREDIENTS
- 5 tbsp Greek yoghurt or coconut yoghurt
- 2 tsp beetroot powder (optional)
- 1 tbsp maple syrup, or 2 tsp stevia
- Chop the beetroot into chunks and add to a pan
- Add just enough water to almost cover the beetroot, and steam for 10 minutes until soft
- Take off the heat and leave to cool for a couple of minutes and pre-heat the oven to 175C
- Add the bananas, beetroot and beetroot water to a blender and whizz to create a puree
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the puree and all other ingredients and mix briefly to form a cake-batter consistency
- Grease 2 20cm cake tins with coconut oil and divide the mixture evenly between them
- Place on the bottom shelf of the oven and bake for about 15 minutes, or until the two halves are springy when gently pressed
- Remove from the oven and leave for a couple of minutes, then remove from the cake tins and leave to cool completely
For the filling & frosting
- Mix all frosting ingredients together in a large bowl
- Scoop half the mixture onto the bottom layer of cake and use a spatula or knife to spread gently, all the way to the edge
- Place the next layer of cake on top, then smooth over the second scoop of frosting
- Decorate with a sprinkle of cocoa, cacao nibs or goji berries if you have them
If your 2021 new year’s resolution was to look after your health and wellbeing a little more, this is a simple way to care for your mouth, digestive tract, and essentially your entire body! Especially for those who identify as ‘Pitta’ types, these oil pulling pops are a daily self-care tool that can help you feel cooler and more balanced. To find out your Dosha type, click HERE.
Oil pulling is an ancient technique that remains highly relevant and effective today. Before the invention of plastic toothbrushes, cleaning the mouth was a longer (and possibly more effective) process of using oils, herbal sticks, and medicated mouth washes. Today, oil pulling has become a popular practice amongst those studying holistic health practices, with the most commonly used oil being coconut. Oil pulling can be effective for preventing tooth decay, cleansing the digestive tract and sinuses, more deeply cleaning the mouth, strengthening the gums and teeth and providing a gentle daily detox. Although swishing coconut oil around the mouth is indeed beneficial, there are actually many different oils and techniques that can be utilised depending upon each person’s unique needs, the season, their age, and any imbalances they may currently be experiencing.
The classical Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita describes the benefits of oil pulling:
“It is beneficial for strength of jaws, depth of voice, flabbiness of face, improving gustatory sensation and good taste for food. One used to this practice never gets dryness of throat, nor do his lips ever get cracked; his teeth will never be carious and will be deep rooted; he will not have any toothache nor will his teeth set on edge by sour intake; his teeth can chew even the hardest eatables.”
– Charaka Samhita Ch V. 78 to 80.
To help more people benefit from ancient Ayurvedic wisdom, I love coming up with ways to make these practices more accessible and easier to do. This recipe creates small pieces of coconut oil you can simply ‘pop’ into your mouth, making the practice very convenient and something that slips seamlessly into your morning routine when you have time. Coconut oil is considered the most appropriate oil to use for Pitta types, any Pitta imbalances (such as mouth ulcers, acid reflux, or excessive heat in the body, and during Summer). To practice, simply pop one of the coconut oil pieces into your mouth, and ‘swish’ it around. The coconut oil will melt, so you can continue swishing for anything from 5 to 20 minutes. Spit the used oil into the bin, and clean your teeth afterwards.
(makes roughly 10 tbsp size pieces, depending upon the size of your moulds or ice cube tray)
- 1⁄4 cup melted coconut oil
- OPTIONAL: 2 drops edible, therapeutic-grade peppermint essential oil
- Gently melt the coconut oil, and pour into your moulds (you could use an ice cube tray, or mouldsyou may use for making small chocolates with)
- Add the essential oils if using. These must be edible, high-grade oils if you’re going to put them inyour mouth, otherwise the oil is more than beneficial enough without them.
- Place in the fridge and leave to set for 2 hours or overnight
- Once set, transfer the coconut oil pieces to a jar and keep in the bathroom. Store in the fridgeduring hot months, as the oil will melt as temperatures rise.
Enjoy! Use daily or when you notice an increase of physical or emotional ‘heat’ or irritability.
When it comes to dealing with day-to-day stress, what we eat and drink can play a huge role. Adaptogens are natural herbs and remedies that literally help the body and mind ‘adapt’ to stress. They reduce excess cortisol, help balance hormone levels, improve attention and endurance, and help nourish the adrenals. To read more on methods to nourish your adrenal glands and help your mind and body relax, read my recent YogaMatters blog HERE.
Tulsi is one of Ayurveda’s favourite adaptogens, as it helps reduce stress and blood pressure, promotes clarity, is great for respiratory health, and aids in reducing inflammation.
As well as my Turmeric Chai and Cosy Chai recipes, this is a great tonic to drink a couple of times a week to help balance your mind and body. This particular recipe also helps maintain healthy digestion and joint health. Give it a try!
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
- 2 tsp tulsi powder (organic)
- 2 tsp coconut oil or ghee
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup milk (organic dairy or plant-based)
- Add all ingredients other than the milk to a pan and bring to a simmer.
- Simmer for 10 mins, then add the milk
- Use a whisk or fork to froth the liquid, latte style
- Strain into 2 mugs and add honey to sweeten if you like
When the day is grey, cold, damp and blustery, we benefit from bringing in the opposite qualities, such as warth, stillness, cosiness, and even herbs and spices that are slightly drying. These aspects can all help to balance the Vata and Kapha doshas, which are more likely to become excessive during Winter. Towards the end of Winter especially, the heavy, sluggish and cold nature of Kapha means it’s time to add a generous amount of spice to foods and drinks! Try this classic chai recipe, which is great to sip from your favourite mug, or keep it topped up in a flask throughout the day, so you’re getting a nice big dose of warmth into your body. If you’re not sure what the ‘doshas’ are, click HERE.
- 2 cups water
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
- 2 cardamom pods
- 5 cloves
- Pinch of black pepper
- 1 cup milk of choice
- 2 tsp honey
- Add all the spices and water to a large pot, and simmer gently for 20 minutes, or until the water has reduced by half.
- Turn off the heat and add 2 black teabags to the pot. Cover and steep for 5 minutes (or longer if you want a stronger brew).
- Strain into 2 mugs, pour in the milk and stir in honey