Stressed?

Image

So we know stress is bad for us – while we may feel it manifesting internally, with emotional symptoms such as: irritability, frustration, a short temper, a feeling of being overwhelmed by small problems, low mood, resentment of others, an inability to focus or helplessness – to name just a few; stress also makes itself known to us in a very physical way.

To understand the physical effects of stress, we first need to know what ‘stress’ is, and what happens in our bodies when we feel it.

‘Stress’ is anything which activates the ‘fight or flight response’ within the body.

This response is something which is a reaction of the more primitive area of the brain – left over from when we had real situations that required us to need to fight or flee. We may have evolved leaps and bounds in terms of technology and communication, but our bodies haven’t yet caught up with the pace of modern life, and we pay the price when we don’t realise this….

So what actually happens when this fight or flight response occurs within us?

When something potentially stressful happens,  we begin to activate an area of our brain called the ‘hypothalamus’ – a part that produces hormones which control our mood, body temperature, sex drive, hunger, thirst, sleep cycles, and the pituitary gland – also known as the ‘master gland’ as it controls so much within us.

When we experience stress, the hypothalamus sends a message to the sympathetic nervous system (which aids in the control of most of our internal organs and is more associated with fight or flight response). This message has a massive effect; initially it creates huge amounts of tension, makes us more alert, and speeds up our reaction time – after all, if you need to fight or flee, you need to be ready, and the body no longer worries about protecting you from illness – but it also does a few other things, and these can have a detrimental effect if we allow stress to continue for a long period of time…

  • Increased heart rate
  • Secretion of cortisol
  • Reduction of sex drive and production of sex hormones
  • Increased breathing rate (usually accompanied by short and shallow breaths)
  • Muscle contraction and tension
  • Decreased ability to learn new things
  • Memory impairment
  • Lowers immune system
  • Increased sensitivity to pain

And these are to name but just a few….

The recognisable symptoms of stress?

Even if you don’t think stress is a major factor in your life, if you have a few of these symptoms it may be time to take a look at things and consider what could be a potential stressor in your life…

Common recognisable symptoms of stress include:

headaches, back pain, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitations, shallow breathing, tight neck and shoulder muscles, increased perspiration, ‘clammy’ palms and feet, diarrhoea or constipation, sudden weight gain or weight loss, insomnia or difficulty sleeping, fatigue, increased susceptibility to illness and infection, cravings for unhealthy and sugary foods, decreased libido.

Long term stress – when the fight or flight response is constantly activated – doesn’t give the body a chance to repair itself from the initial damage caused, and so we begin a vicious cycle, and the immune system in particular begins to suffer.

Long term stress can lead to severe anxiety, depression, cardiovascular diseases, and seemingly unexplainable weight gain.

So it’s pretty obvious that we don’t want stress to effect us in this way, and thankfully, there are a few things we can do to counteract stress, and get back to our healthy, natural and peaceful state of being:

Mindfulness

They key to most of this is a sense of mindfulness; change your thoughts, change your life…. Our experience of the world around us is created by our thoughts and feelings. Our subconscious thoughts have a big part to play in the way we react to and deal with the situations presented to us., and changing the way we think can have a big impact on the amount of stress we feel. Pessimists, for example, are more likely to experience feelings of stress as they perceive a potentially stressful situation to be much more threatening than it needs to be. Optimists, on the other hand – usually report stronger immune systems, longer life expectancy, quicker recovery time from injury, lower stress levels, and an increased sense of overall wellbeing and quality of life.

Breathe

Focussing on our breathing activates a more evolved part of the brain – the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain has a lot to do with emotions and wellbeing, and by activating it, we’re helping to reduce symptoms of stress.

Focussing especially on the exhale can calm things down in no time; practice inhaling for a count of 4, and exhaling for a count of 6 – repeat this for a while and you’ll notice the calming effects of the nervous system.

Get some perspective

Interestingly, the ‘top 10 most stressed-out’ countries listed by Bloomberg are:

Nigeria, South Africa, El Salvador, Mongolia, Guatemala, Colombia, Pakistan, Jamaica, Macedonia, and Bolivia; these are places in which the populations have real life-threatening stressors, although they’re also the countries who complain about stress the least and get the least help with dealing with stress. Perhaps it’s time we in the West changed our paradigm of what we consider to be ‘stressful’?

The chances are; if you have a safe place to live and food to eat, then you’re not facing life or death situations too often. Realise that the feeling of stress you’re experiencing – this fight or flight response – is intended for life or death situations. The situation you’re facing isn’t likely to be immediate life or death, so it becomes an unnecessary feeling that does not have to control you.

Get enough sleep

Sleep is important in regulating our stress levels, and getting enough of it ensures our minds are focussed, our energy levels are optimal, and our moods are stable. Aim for 7-9 hours per night.

Regulate your blood sugar

Unstable blood sugar levels usually encourage us to snack on refined, processed and sugary substances; these foods or drinks all contain a high glycemic Index, which gives us that initial boost of energy, but also means we face a crash soon after. Things with a low glycemic index keep us feeling calm and energised for longer periods of time and therefore help to greatly reduce feelings of stress and fatigue.

It’s useful to know which kinds of foods and drink are the best for our blood sugar, stress and energy levels, so here’s a few helpful examples:

High Glycemic Index:

Fizzy drinks, alcohol, white bread, white rice and white pasta, sugar (obviously), chocolate, cornflakes, pineapple, parsnips, white potato, and watermelon – just as a few examples of different kinds of substances.

Low Glycemic index:

Oats, barley, rye, sweet potato, peas, carrots, lentils, beans (not packaged baked beans) Chickpeas, wholemeal pasta, apples, plums, pears – just for a few examples.

If you’re consuming things with a high glycemic index, it’s a good idea to combine them with something of high-protein content, as this slows the release of those sugars and prevents that crash later.

Stop The Stimulants

So we feel tired, stressed or simply fed up – the usual go-to vice is coffee, alcohol, cigarettes, chocolate or drugs. While they initially relieve tension and stress, they ultimately just make the situation worse…. These substances stimulate the release of insulin and cortisol, which ends up making us feel more stressed over a period of time, as well as developing a dependency on these stimulants. The truth is; stimulants aren’t natural and your body is. You don’t need them! Yes, it’s difficult, especially if you consider yourself ‘addicted’ to something, but cutting out stimulants which you’re particularly dependent upon for just one month can have massively positive effects, and you’ll realise just how good you feel without filling your body with toxins.

Move!

Exercise such as running, yoga, swimming or dancing all encourage the release of endorphins – the ‘feel good hormone’. This chemical hormone block pain receptors to the brain and encourages a sense of wellbeing. Increasing regular amounts of exercise helps to clear toxins from the body, improve our ability to breathe well (which has a big impact on wellbeing), and decrease stress.

Healthy Fats

Stress, anxiety and depression are all linked to a breakdown in cell communication – when our body is having a hard time sending messages throughout the systems and doesn’t quite know what it should be doing…. Healthy fats like the ones found in nuts, seeds and avocado, help to keep cells healthy and allow them to communicate to each other efficiently. Healthy fats are especially important for good brain function and mood levels!

Think Positively & express gratitude

Studies have shown that expressing gratitude for the things we have in our lives helps to boost mood levels measurably, and thus decreasing feelings of stress; try practicing listing a few things you’re grateful for each night before you go to sleep –it’ll help you rest better, too.

Get outside

Spending time in nature has shown to lower levels of bad cholesterol, blood pressure, and feelings of stress, depression and anxiety. Getting outside and surrounding yourself with a little bit of nature each day is important if you want to de-stress completely.

Take a break from Technology

So after you’ve finished reading this, take some time for yourself. (If you can)

Turn off the computer, the tv, or whatever else your eyes are usually glued to. Turn off your phone or at least put it on silent for a while, and do something purely for YOU. Get to know yourself the way you really are without adding anything to it.

New Studio, New Classes…. New faces, see you there?

Image

Follow THIS link to the LOOSEYoga website – the new studio I’ll be teaching at in Crawley!

 

From next week: take a break from your work day on Wednesday lunchtimes 12:30-1:15 and come flow with me

From April:

Join me for some Mellow Flow on Friday mornings 10:00-11:15am

Start your weekend right with some Dynamic Flow on Friday evenings 6-7pm

Wake yourself up with even more fun, Dynamic Flow on Sundays 11:30-12:30

Of course, we’ll maintain our usual sense of playfulness, self exploration, and carefully crafted playlists to get you in the mood….

Practice: Parivrtta Surya Yantrasana (Compass Pose)

Image

Parivrtta = revolved     Surya = Sun    Yantra = Instrument   

 

Open your hips, hamstrings and shoulders in preparation to guide yourself in to compass pose.

This pose requires patience, lots of warming up, and the ability to know the difference between listening to your body and listening to your ego. When we push ourselves in to a pose without waiting for the body to open up to it naturally, we’re listening to our ego (that chattering voice of criticism and comparison within our minds – you know the one), and we’re doing more to harm than to help ourselves.

Like all aspects of yoga; it’s not about perfection. It’s about practice. When you move slowly and gently, everything unfolds and opens up with a surprising amount of ease. 

To Prepare:

Make sure you warm up the whole body, lengthen the hamstrings and work on some hip-openers before attempting to move deeper.

  • Flow through a few rounds of Surya namaskar A + B
  • Practice some warrior poses, and include trikonasana in your flow to open the hamstrings.
  • Take Lizard Pose to open the hips before moving down to the floor
  • Try some deeper hip opening with Baddha Konasana
  • And lastly, work on the hips and hamstrings simultaneously with supta hasta padangusthasana A and B

 When you feel ready, find your way to compass pose, approaching it with a sense of calmness.

 How To:

  •  Sitting in Sukhasana (easy cross-legged pose) *or if you find it difficult to sit this way, sit with the legs outstretched in dandasana.
  • Bend the [left] leg infront of you, sole of the foot on the floor.
  • Place the [left] arm on the inside of the bent leg
  • Take hold of the outer edge of the [left] foot with the [right] hand
  • Begin to extend that [left] leg up and out, so the [right] arm comes overhead and you feel and opening through the shoulders and chest.
  • Keep extending as you slide the left arm slightly out too
  • Be extra careful while you lengthen the hamstrings, as these muscles are particularly vulnerable when we push them too hard. The best way to become more flexible is to move slowly, breathing calmly and never EVER pushing, as this will just cause those muscles to contract more and cause more potential for injury.
  • When you’ve found your ‘edge’ – you know, you can feel yourself growing in the pose, but you’re not causing harm – then stay here for atleast 10 breaths to really get the feeling of what compass pose feels like.
  •  To come out, gently bend the [left] leg and bring it back down.
  • Release the hand from the foot, and come to sit in sukhasana or another comfortable seated position before having a go at the other side – noticing if there’s a difference between each side of the body.

To counterpose, come in to pursvottanasana to strengthen the muscles of the legs we’ve just lengthened, and to bring stability back to the shoulders, collarbones and chest.

*There are lots of variations of this pose, so find what works for you.

 

 

Have fun!

Your Healing Home

 

Image

When we seek out relief from pain, athletic enhancement, mood-boosters, or need to relax, many of us reach for something man made. We take pills of pain-relief, drink alcohol to relax, or consume sugary & processed food and drinks to boost energy levels. But did you know – these processed substances can actually do more to harm than help? Everything we need can actually be obtained naturally, and most of what we need may be in the last place we expect. Right here in our homes. 

So here are just a few natural things that are healthy, handy and healing that you might just have at home. (If not, you might want to go and get some of these things….)

Ginger

  • Helps to cure feelings of nausea – use it as a natural antidote to travel sickness
  • Aids in digestion
  • Helps to reduce flatulence
  • If you’re suffering from stomach cramps, ginger can help to soothe the pain
  • Ginger helps to improve the absorption of essential nutrients in to the body
  • The Ayurvedic texts even suggest that ginger has aphrodisiac properties! (As does asparagus, maca, and the herb Ashwagandha – although making a meal from those ingredients could prove to be interesting!

Apple cider vinegar does just about everything

  • Aids digestion, and is best drank before or with a meal
  • Becomes alkaline when you drink it (just like lemon juice) and therefore balances the ph of the body; many of us are way too acidic due to a diet consisting of processed and acidic foods
  • A natural antiseptic – use it on your skin if you have acne as it kills off the bacteria  (use a 1:3 ratio of apple cider vinegar to water and dip in a cotton ball, apply directly to any blemishes and leave over night or use several times throughout the day for 10 minutes at a time.)
  • Use as a natural household cleaner

Cherries

  • Help to ease with the pain of arthritis or gout, reducing swelling and inflammation.
  • They contain melatonin, a hormone which really aids in helping us get to sleep; other foods containing good levels of the sleep-inducing chemical include kiwis and walnuts.

Bananas

  • Supremely underrated, banans are cheap, come in their own wrapping, and provide lots of energy.
  • They have high levels of tryptophan, which is converted in to serotonin (the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter) so they help to boost our mood! *Studies have even shown them to help overcome symptoms of mild depression
  • They protect against muscle cramps, so it’s a good idea to eat one before exercising (since 2 bananas provide enough energy for a strenuous 90 minute workout), or before bed if you suffer from restless-leg syndrome.
  • Bananas contain high levels of electrolytes, which the body needs to thrive. When Summer roles around and we begin to sweat more and therefore lose electrolytes  – boost your levels with a smoothie of coconut water, banana and peanut butter (since these all contain high levels of electrolytes)
  • BONUS FACT: 50% of human DNA is identical to the DNA make up of a banana!

Honey

  • A natural antiseptic and antibiotic, and containing antibacterial properties, honey can be applied to cuts and burns to help the healing process. Be sure to use Manuka honey or raw honey for this. (I know this works from personal experience, as I seem to burn myself whenever I attempt to cook anything!)
  • Use honey to help soothe a sore throat. A great tea to help with colds and flu contains ginger, lemon and honey – which can also be taken daily as a tonic to help cleanse the body.
  • Obviously honey is sweet – and substituting sweeteners such as refined white sugar (which has an unbelievable amount of negative effects on the body) for honey, allows you to reap honey’s health benefits instead of sugar’s toxic elements while retaining a lovely taste.
  • Although it contains natural sugars, honey helps to regulate blood sugar levels
  • Honey gives a natural boost of energy, and other bee products such as bee pollen are said to even improve athletic performance.
  • Manuka honey has especially medicinal properties, helping to majorly boost the immune system, and can be applied to wounds to help naturally heal them. Taking one spoon full a day can do wonders for your health.

Garlic

Brilliant for boosting the immune system, garlic is so powerful that supplements can even be taken to boost the immune system. (Probably more of a popular choice than swallowing a strong-smelling garlic clove every day!)

Squash and Pumpkin seeds

  • Magnesium is especially important for the body to maintain good muscle and nerve function and can help to prevent fatigue and anxiety.
  • Squash and pumpkin seeds provide high levels of magnesium, as well as zinc which helps to strengthen the immune system.
  • These little seeds also raise levels of LDL or ‘good cholesterol’, and help to reduce post-menopausal symptoms in women.

Turmeric

  • Used widely in Indian cooking, Turmeric is one of those herbs which should be used regularly because of it’s powerful healing benefits.
  • It is an anti-inflammatory, so use it to treat cases like arthritis, and IBS because of the curcumin, which gives Turmeric its yellow colour and is the healing element of the herb. Although a controversial subject, Turmeric can actually help to prevent cancer from forming within the body as it replicated healthy cells and helps the body to destroy mutated cancerous cells. It really is a very important herb to look in to – turmeric supplements are even available to take as a daily dosage.

More healing herbs which you’ll either have already or can easily grow include:

Lemon Balm – soothes the nervous system and helps to calm symptoms of anxiety

Echinacea – An immune booster and cold – curer

Lavender – We know of it’s calming properties, and just smelling the herb has proven to reduce anxiety and induce and feeling of sleepy calmness. It has antiseptic properties too so can be applied to cuts and bruises

Parsley – While it’s handy to chew on to keep your breath smelling fresh, parsley is also an immune-booster, encourages digestion, and is great for detoxing the liver.

Hot chilli peppers

  • The carcinogens in chilli peppers help to speed up metabolism
  • Chili peppers can help to sharpen the mind and reduce the onset of diseases such as Aulzheimers or dementia
  • They’re also very high in antioxidants; the ‘hotness’ of the pepper is determined by the amount of capsaicin they contain, and the hotter the pepper, the higher amount of antioxidants it contains.
  • While you may not think of them as pain-relievers, the capsaicin in cayenne pepper can help to reduce the pain of psoriasis, fibromyalgia, shingles, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • One more reason to love chilli peppers?; They release endorphins. When a person gets used to the initial fiery-ness, it becomes pleasant, (for most people) and the ancient Aztecs and Mayans considered it chilis an aphrodisiac too!

Lemons

  • Drinking warm lemon water in the mornings is a great way to cleanse and detoxify the body before the day ahead
  • Lemon contains antibacterial properties, so can be used as an all-natural cleaning ingredient too
  • For a quick morning detox, and to get your digestion off to a good start; try a table spoon of apple cider vinegar, the juice of half a lemon, a teaspoon of raw honey and half a teaspoon of cinnamon in warm water.

**Don’t throw away the lemon peel!

  • If you buy unwaxed lemons, you can use the zest in tea, stirred in to porridge or in smoothies.
  • The peel contains around 5 to 10 times more vitamins than the actual juice!
  • Lemon zest can help to lower blood pressure, improve bone health, reduce symptoms of mild depression and anxiety, and help to reduce bad cholesterol, to name just a few of the benefits.

Blueberries

  • Famously high in antioxidants, blueberries can help to reduce effects of arthritis
  • They’re helpful in improving memory
  • Due to their antioxidants, the properties in blueberries help to ward off free-radicals in the body, keeping the body healthy and protected from illness
  • Most dark barriers are great sources of antioxidants, especially blackberries, which also include very very high doses of vitamin C

Coconut oil

This is worthy of a whole post of it’s own, you’ll be able to find dozens of ‘101 ways to use coconut oil’ lists, but here are a few especially useful (and money-saving) ways:

  • Moisturiser for body and face
  • Face cleanser
  • Hair oil or leave-in conditioner
  • Mix it with other ingredients to make a natural chemical-free deodorant [LINK]
  • Cooking oil (coconut oil is actually the very best thing you can cook with!)
  • Use as a base for face masks
  • Has a small amount of UV protection, so you can use as a very light sun cream
  • Apply a little under the eyes to reduce dark circles and puffiness

If there’s one ‘must have’ for all-round usefulness, it has to be coconut oil

Hemp Seeds

  • Many people have stated that including hemp seeds in their diet has been life changing’, and they’re probably right – as these little seeds provide so much energy.
  • They contain high amounts of protein – just 3 tablespoons gives you 11g of protein
  • They’re one of the most digestible seeds on the planet
  • Hemp seeds contain all 10 amino acids and are a great source of omegas 3 and 6
  • They basically provide all the nutrients you need for optimum health

* If you’re using processed protein powders before or after a workout, consider swapping to natural hemp seeds or hemp powder; They help to build muscles and give you tonnes of energy.

Cinnamon

  • Contains natural antibacterial properties, so when mixed with honey it’s useful as a facemask to help fight acne
  • Helps to balance blood sugar and aids in stabalising your energy levels and mood
  • Aids in digestion
  • Reduces levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol

Tea tree oil

  • Tea tree oil can be dabbed on the face to treat acne
  • Use it as an antiseptic for cuts and burns
  • Use it to clean your yoga mat! Combine 2 teaspoons of tea tree oil with 2 cups of water in a spray bottle, add some lavender or another calming essential oil to leave your mat smelling lovely

Cashew Nuts

  • A large handful of Cashews have the same anti-depressant properties as a prescription dose of Prozac.
  • Yes, it’s true; one big handful contains one to two thousand milligrams of tryptophan, which works just as well as prescription antidepressants. Tryptophan is the precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, which gives us a feeling of calm and wellbeing. Carbohydrates make tryptophan more available to the brain so that serotonin can then be produced.
  • Lentils, walnuts, brazil nuts, beans, oats, mushrooms, pumpkin seeds and bananas are just a few other good sources of mood-enhancing tryptophan.
  • We’re constantly being told by scientific studies that consuming a healthy amount of nuts is good for us and can lengthen our life span, so you’re really doing two amazing things for yourself by choosing natural nuts over pills and chemicals.

 

There are so so many more natural products you have lying around your house which can be used to cure an array of illnesses; herbs are especially potent, so stocking up on those is a must for anyone wanting to take their health in to their own hands. Don’t rely on doctors or chemicals when you feel discomfort or want to boost your energy levels. You know your body better than anyone else, just listen and it’ll tell you what it needs. 

 

 

 “Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.”

– Jim Rohn

 

Raw Chocolate Energy Bites

Forget about feeling guilty when you eat this chocolate. These taste so good that you probably won’t believe they’re actually good for you! All the ingredients are healthy and natural, and will give you a boost of energy throughout the day without the need to turn to sugary energy drinks or unhealthy snacks. Unlike most chocolate bars, raw chocolate contains very high levels of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Raw cacao – coming straight from the raw cacao bean – is unprocessed, so all the nutrients are retained!

Image

(Even if you’re a very messy ‘cook’ like me, these are still pretty quick and easy to make)

– Recipe –

Ingredients:

  • 6 dates
  • ½ cup of cashews (or a BIG handful if you don’t have ‘cups’ to measure in) *Cashews have surprisingly amazing benefits, which you can read about in my next post on Monday
  • 2 tbsp raw Cacao powder
  • 3 tbsp hemp seeds *Again, the benefits of these little seeds are a little bit life-changing, and I’ll explain more about them soon
  • 2 tsp chia seeds
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • some dessicated coconut for rolling

Optional extras:

  • Maca Powder
  • Gogi berries
  • Baobab powder
  • Cinnamon (Make sure you’re using real cinnamon instead of cassia to get the full benefits, most supermarkets sell ‘cassia’ which doesn’t contain the same blood-sugar balancing benefits that real ceylon cinnamon does.)

How To:

  • In a blender, pulse the cashews, dates, hemp seeds and chia seeds until they begin to clump together (If the mixture still looks a little dry, add a couple more dates or a little bit of water –or both!)
  • Add the rest of the ingredients apart from the coconut and blend again, until the ingredients are all sticky and clumped together. It should look something like this:

Image(Basically a big, sticky mess….)

  • Take your mixture out of the blender, scraping around the sides and trying not to eat too much of it along the way…
  •  Wet your hands a little, and with damp hands (so the mixture doesn’t stick to you) roll the mixture in to little balls – about the size of a big conker or just a little bit bigger than bite – size.
  •  Roll each conker – sized chocolate ball in dessicated coconut.
  • Either put them in the fridge to cool for a little while, or share them out straight away.

Image

Enjoy!

*Learn more about why raw chocolate is soooo good for you here 

Practice: Upavistha Konasana (Seated wide-angled forward fold)

Image

This is one of those poses in which we learn that the more you push and force things, the further away you get from where you want to be. Let things be easy, breathe in to it, and realise that the important thing is never where you end up, but what you learn along the way.

Upavistha Konasana requires lengthened hamstrings, moderately open hips, and a lot of patience…. If you managed to feel at all comfortable in Kurmasana, then this asana shouldn’t prove too much of a challenge.

As always, it’s a good idea to warm up with some sun salutations, and move through some hamstring – lengthening poses such as parsvottanasana, ardha hanumanasana, and especially prasarita padottanasana.

HOW TO:

  • Begin by sitting in dandasana or ‘staff pose’
  • Extend the legs out wide, keeping the kneecaps lifted, thighs engaged and toes pointing up to the ceiling.
  • On an inhale, begin to lengthen the spine, and as you exhale, fold forwards, hinging from the hips and leading with the chest.
  • It’s important to keep the sitting bones grounded throughout, in order for the stretch to be felt along the whole body, not just the hamstrings.
  • Continue to fold to the extent that is ok for your body. Remember, the more you push, the further away you’ll be from where you want to end up. This is due to something called the ‘stretch reflex’ which I’ll write a post on soon. 
  • Stay here for atleast 10 breaths to really notice what’s going on in your body and mind as you stay here; are you frustrated about how far you’re able to go? Do you find it easy? Do you tend to try and force things? Do you happily accept things as they are? 
  • Inhaling, gently raise back up and bring the legs back alongside each other to come out.
  • Like most things, you’ll notice progress when you practice, practice, practice! 

Image

*And just so you know, it really doesn’t matter how far you can go in any pose, what matters is turning up on the mat and showing your commitment, whether you do one pose or a two hour practice – it all counts.

Spring in Your Step

Image

So as we say goodbye to what seems to have been an eternity of Winter, Spring brings with it the promise of Sunshine, warmth, and a sense of optimism. It’s time to shed the Winter coat of sluggishness and hibernation, and embrace openness and being able to take off that extra layer of clothing!!

Spring is a time for feeling fresh and new again, just like we promised ourselves we would back on January 1st, (yeah, remember all those resolutions?) but this time the longer days and warmer temperatures make things a little easier. Here are a few ways to embrace all that spring has to offer and set good intentions for the rest of the year ahead:

Step up your practice

A natural time of hibernation; Winter can be a time when we slow down, turn our focus inward and maybe take a more gentle approach to our physical yoga practice in order to reserve energy. As we approach Spring time, there is much more of an outward, energetic feeling in the air, which we can infuse throughout our practice. Raise your energy and take on a more ‘yang’ approach by incorporating more energising asanas such as twists, backbends and stimulating inversions. Build up heat and energy by keeping your practice dynamic – lots of sun salutations and vinyasas! By the time Winter rolls around again, you won’t believe the amount of strength you’ve built up.

Shedding our winter coats

Winter saw us choosing warm, nourishing meals to keep us going throughout the cold months. Now the weather begins to turn more sunny and warm, begin to lean towards more fresh and uplifting meals – remember to always keep it nourishing though, so you have enough energy every day to feel good, live fully, and do everything you want to do.

Eat light and local – plenty of fresh greens, fruits and vegetables as locally sourced and naturally pesticide free as possible. Studies have shown that people who include seven servings of vegetables in throughout the day are actually happier and more satisfied with their lives than those who don’t! Think of this as a time to spring clean the body.

Make it mindful

Speaking of spring cleaning, now is a good time to de-clutter the mind, too. Take up meditation and practice mindfulness daily. The importance of mindfulness cannot be underestimated. To get properly acquainted with the importance of living mindfully, read Thich Nhat Hanh’s transformational book ‘The Miracle Of Mindfulness’.

De-clutter

While we’re clearing the mind and body, we might as well clear up the house a little too. This is a perfect time to get rid of the things you don’t need any more – you may be surprised how liberating and free-ing it is to let go of physical clutter! Donate as much as you can to charity shops, or even sell things online. 

 Sewing Seeds

Spring is a time for new ventures and being a little more self-reliant. If you’ve got the space, try planting a few vegetables; watching them grow and then being able to pick what you’ve been looking after is really rewarding. You don’t need to be planting huge vegetable patches – tending to a little pot of herbs or peppers is just as rewarding. Having plants in the house improves the air quality, which in turn reduces headaches and lowers blood pressure, and they contribute to a feeling of wellbeing (studies have shown that having plants around the house has actually helped people recover from illnesses quicker).

 Get outside

Spending time in nature has proven to have positive effects on health, and Spring is the perfect time to start taking part in more outside adventures again. As the rain clears away, cycle paths, parks and forest walks become more appealing. The morning is a great time to get outside; the blue light particles emitted at this time of the day help to regulate our circadian rhythms and reduce the production of melatonin during the daytime, so we feel extra energised and awake, and we’re able to fall asleep easier at night too!

 Ayurvedic Advice

The ancient indian medical system of Ayurveda, meaning ‘life knowledge’, divides each season in to one of the three doshas; Pitta, Kapha and Vata. For more of an understanding about Ayurveda, go here, and take the test to determine your own dosha here, it’s fascinating!

Spring is the season of the Kapha dosha, which is related to earth and water and is the most stable of the three doshas. While stability is great (especially for Vata types!) it also brings with it the risk of sluggishness, lethargy and laziness. Thankfully, all of the advice about ramping up your practice, getting outside, cleaning things up and eating fresh foods will help to balance this out, so you can feel your best throughout Spring. Specific practices to balance the Kapha dosha at this time of year are; rising early (preferably with sunrise!) drinking warm water with lemon and honey to cleanse the liver and digestive system (especially useful if we’ve been giving in to one too many glasses of wine throughout the colder months….), and moving through an invigorating yoga practice…. Up for it?

Most importantly, do things that you enjoy and that give you energy. Spend some with people who make you feel good, and take some time for yourself in order to re-energise and re-connect with yourself.

 

‘Spring is nature’s way of saying; ‘Let’s party!’
– Robin Williams

Sweet Potato Soup (Vegan, gluten free and Vata balancing)

Sweet Potato soup

(Vegan, gluten – free & vata balancing)

Image

A comforting soup perfect for cold, rainy & windy days. Serve with carrot sticks or oat cakes and healthy home made hummus. *You can use the recipe from the blog here. 

 This makes a pretty big pot of soup, and will last you a few days!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 large red or white onion (red onions have more antioxidants, but as you’re cooking everything it doesn’t matter too much)
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled if you want to (I don’t peel mine because I’m usually in a rush when I make this soup, so I just say the skins add extra fibre!….)
  • 4 Carrots (large ones)
  • 2 celery sticks
  • 1 Clove of garlic
  • 2 tsp of coconut oil (or any other high quality oil suitable for cooking)  *Want to know the best things to cook with? Go here.
  • Bouillon vegetable stock (3 tsp in 1and ½ litres of boiling water)

 

OPTIONAL:

  • ½ an inch of fresh ginger (especially good for Winter time and Kapha dosha types, and aids in digestion) *Want to know what I’m talking about when I mention ‘doshas?’ go here.
  • Black pepper
  • Himalayan mountain salt (or another good quality salt)
  • 1 tsp Turmeric
  • 1 tsp of oregano (If you want to add more antioxidant goodness)
  • Nigella seeds. *Why? 
  • Spinach (I use frozen and chuck it in with the veg when it’s cooking to add more protein calcium and green stuff!)
  • 1 tsp paprika or chilli powder
  • a couple of fresh chillisIt’s a good idea to have everything prepared before you start! Grate the ginger if you’re using it, finely slice the onion, dice the potato, carrots and celery, and have any spices handy.

HOW TO:

  1. Melt the coconut oil in a large pan (find the largest pan you can)
  2. Put in the chopped onion and cook until it’s soft but not browned
  3. Add all the vegetables, garlic, ginger and any seeds you’re using
  4. Stir for around 3 minutes
  5. Add the stock and any other herbs, salt, pepper or spices you’re using
  6. Bring to the boil
  7. When it’s boiling, turn the heat down to simmer and partially cover for about 20-25 minutes or until everything is soft and cooked
  8. Blend! (Possibly in batches if there’s too much for your blender) And if you haven’t got a blender? Well, now you have chunky vegetable soup…. so enjoy that….
  9. Once blended to the consistency you want, heat a portion up again if it needs warming (if the soup seems too thick, just add more boiling water) and serve!

(If you still want more herbs and spices, it’s quite nice to sprinkle with chilli flakes if you like it hot, of fresh coriander or basil if you like it cooler). 

Enjoy, knowing that everything in this soup is good for you, and you made it all by yourself! No can-opener required.

Practice: Kurmasana (Tortoise Pose)

Image

Kurmasana, or ‘tortoise pose’, carries with it that sense of inward focus, much like a tortoise drawing in to it’s shell. When we begin to focus more on what’s going on inside, we deepen our yoga practice and learn to cultivate ‘pratyahara’ or ‘sense withdrawal’, one of the eight limbs of yoga, laid out in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. This deeper awareness helps us to learn more about our bodies and minds, and differenciate between our ego (that voice chattering away in your head…. You know the one…) and our true self.

Physically though, it’s all about hips and hamstrings.

Warm up with a few rounds of sun salutation B (focus on holding utkatasana or ‘chair pose’ for a little longer than usual to get the thighs warm and working, work through some warrior poses, and preparation for Garudasana or ‘eagle pose’.

Then try these asanas before attempting the full Kurmasana.(**be mindful of compression of the collarbones if you’re able to come all the way in to the pose!)

The next step is to hold these poses for a few breaths to get deeper in to the hips and hamstrings:

Malasana

Upavistha Konasana

Baddha Konasana

Finally, How to:

  • Come in to Tarasana or ‘star pose’, which is just like Baddha Konasana, apart from your feet are further away from you, (about 50cm ish!) so the shape between the legs resembles something like the shape of a diamond.
  • Elongate the spine as you reach and fold forwards, with the chin slightly tucked and leading with the chest – when you’ve folded forwards as much as you can, then begin to round the spine slightly.
  • Slide the hands underneath the legs and forwards to hold the tops of the feet.
  • Take a few breaths here and get as comfortable as seems possible….
  • If you’re ready to move on, begin to separate the feet and the hands.
  • Slide the hands out to the side, palms flat on the floor
  • Begin to slide the feet forwards, heels grounded and toes pointing up to the sky as you continue folding forwards.
  • Deepen each movement until you find your ‘edge’ i.e. you can feel yourself working and progressing, but you’re not torturing yourself.
  • Stay here for 5-10 breaths and bring your focus inwards just like the tortoise!
  • Coming out can be tricky, so be careful; begin to gently slide the feet towards you again until you’ve bent the knees enough to allow the arms to come out from underneath the legs.
  • Come back to tarasana, then extend the legs and sit up in dandasana or ‘staff pose’.
  • Ideally, take a pose which will help to open up the chest again, just something simple like pursvottanasana, which will bring strength back to the hips and hamstrings, or a few cat/cows, focussing on opening the chest.

Focus, and have fun! 

Good Morning! The benefits of an every-day practice

Image

So why oh why do lots of us get up in the early hours of the morning, maybe only a few hours after some people have even gone to bed, to practice yoga? It takes commitment, and when the mornings are dark you’ll need a dose of willpower too – but it’s all worth it….

 Start your day right

Doing something so beneficial for you means you’re more likely to make healthier decisions for yourself throughout the day. The more you practice, the more you’re likely to naturally want to take care of your body. Goodbye bad habits!

Build Strength

After resting over night, our bodies are generally stronger in the morning (most people are strongest between 6 and 10 am) A great time to test those handstands and arm balances…. For those who are more flexible, we’re also less likely to over-stretch and cause injury at this time of the day, so the practice becomes safer and we get to know how flexible we really are that day….

Feel calmer all day

Carry that peacefulness you feel after Savasana with you all day and you’re guaranteed to feel good for longer. Your day will feel amazing!

Me Time

We don’t always get time to do something just for us throughout the day, so getting up a little earlier (maybe even before everyone else wakes up) is a sure fire way to dedicate some time completely to yourself.

Sunrise

It might not be so easy in the Winter months, but being able to move through sun salutations as the sun is actually rising is really worth getting up for.

Go with the flow

Our natural bodily rhythms indicate that we should get up when the sun rises and go to bed when it sets, so by doing your morning practice you’re living in alignment with nature. Plus, we have a natural bust of cortisol in the mornings, which makes us more alert and energetic! (just don’t hit the snooze button….)

Breathe better all day

Yoga encourages proper, deep breathing, and by starting the day this way, we’ll really feel the benefits of actually being able to breathe fully, giving our body the nutrients it needs for the rest of the day.

Good Intentions

The morning is a good time to set an intention for the day, think of something positive you’d like to create throughout the day, whether that’s something physical or a feeling; it all matters. The energy you create in your yoga practice can help to see that you live that intention throughout the day.

Know Yourself

Especially if you do a similar practice each morning such as the Ashtanga Sequence or something of your own (although make sure it’s well rounded), you’ll get to know which bits of your body ache today, which parts feel tight, and where you feel super strong and stretchy! You’ll also be able to see yourself progress over time as you continue practicing, noticing how each day is different from the last.

Mindfulness

The practice of yoga encourages mindfulness, and by getting in to this state of mind early in the day, we can carry it with us right through to the evening. Mindfulness is a very popular topic of discussion at the moment, and the brilliant simplicity of practicing it can be life changing.

Something To Rely On

Even when everything else in your life may seem crazy, stressful, or out of control; you always have your yoga practice to come back to. Come back to the breath, come back to the present moment….

Ditch the coffee

An energetic morning yoga practice can really wake us up by opening up the lungs, getting the heart pumping, boosting circulation, and generally making us feel fully alive!  – a natural energy boost, much healthier than an instant coffee….

No more back pain

Most back injuries happen in the earlier part of the day when our body is less warmed up, so by moving the spine in all directions in the morning, we’re preparing it for what lies ahead and preventing unnecessary pain.

Create your positive practice place 

The texts in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika say that:

‘The Yogi should practice Hatha Yoga in a small room, situated in a solitary place, being 4 cubits square, and free from stones, fire, water, disturbances of all kinds, and in a country where justice is properly administered, where good people live, and food can be obtained easily and plentifully….

The room should have a small door, be free from holes, hollows, neither too high nor too low, well plastered with cow-dung and free from dirt, filth and insects. On its outside there should be bowers, raised platform (chabootra), a well, and a compound. These characteristics of a room for Hatha Yogis have been described by adepts in the practice of Hatha.’

….While that might not be so easy for a lot of people, just make sure you’ve got enough room for you and your yoga mat, in a space which is relatively clean and feels safe and comfortable to be in. Somewhere you can be alone and know that no one is going to walk in on you while you practice your handstands against the door is also handy….

CHALLENGE:

Make the effort to get up just a little earlier each day for 21 days (since we think it takes around 21 days to form a habit) and practice whatever yoga postures feel right to you. You’ll notice the benefits, you’ll become noticeably stronger and more flexible throughout this time, and your body will thank you! As a bonus, you’ll get to say ‘yeah I practiced yoga today’ for 21 days….

“Practice, and all is coming”

– Ashtanga Yoga founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915—2009)