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)

Practice: Natarajasana (Dancer Pose)

Image

A little more difficult than balancing poses such as vrksasana (tree pose). Natarajasana cultivates (and requires) lots of concentration and balance – as well as a big opening in the hips and quadriceps!

 

Nataraja is said to be the ‘king of the dancers’, representing Shiva – who’s rhythmic play is thought to have created the universe. Dancing is extremely ‘free-ing’, and this pose represents the rhythm and energy that makes us feel free when we dance [like no one is watching….]

In the full expression of the pose, the hips are square and facing forwards, and both hands reach up over head to hold the toes….. yes I’m still working on that too!

See how your body takes to Natarajasana: 

  • Standing in Tadasana (mountain pose), raise the [right] leg and hold around the ankle or foot with the [right] hand.
  • Begin to press the foot in to the hand and raise it up behind you – try to keep the hips both facing forwards here….
  • Keep the upper body long, and you’ll notice an even curve along the spine as you come in to a small back bend.
  • When you’ve raised the foot as far as you can (without straining!), you can lean forward a little and extend the front arm.
  • To come out, gently release the leg to the floor, then try the other side – and notice if your body tends to work differently on each side, there is often a difference between the left and right….

**The photo at the top is a variation I have been playing around with, practice this version along with the description: 

 

Image

 

Have Fun! 

Yoga For Runners

Image

 

If you’ve managed to stick to your new year’s resolution of taking up running as a new way to stay healthy, then firstly; well done! Secondly; this could be handy….

 

While running is a really great form of exercise, unfortunately what comes with it – especially to those who aren’t necessarily experts – is usually some form of injury!

Running can be pretty high impact, so making sure you’re properly warmed up before going for a run can be very effective in preventing injuries (especially in the cold winter months). Warming down is just as important to keep your leg muscles from cramping up or tightening too much. Yoga helps to increase the body’s strength, flexibility and ability to recover quickly because of the release of immune-enhancing endorphins and circulation boost, consider adding it to your routine to help not only calm the mind but improve the function of the body.

 

Warming up:

Before you lace up your running shoes, take a few minutes to prepare your body, it’ll make your exercise more enjoyable and much more sustainable.

Warming up gets your heart pumping, and blood circulating in the muscles, preparing them for what’s to come…. Doing a proper warm up lengthens the amount of time you’re likely to be able to run for without your muscles fatiguing.

Practice a nice balance of dynamic movements, then focus more on stretching and lengthening the muscles after your run. The best types of movements to do are ones which will prepare the body for what you’re about to do – so moving dynamically through some sun salutations is your best bet.

 

Warming Down:

This is when you want to lengthen and release the muscles you’ve just been using, so it’s a good idea to do each of these poses for 5 – 10 breaths at least on each side of the body while you’re still warm.  

AnjaneyasanaLow Lunge

Great for warming up the legs – especially stretching out your thighs, groins and hips. This pose is often also referred to as ‘runner’s lunge’ – so you can be pretty sure this is a great place to start!

Ashta ChandrasanaHigh Lunge

Including all the benefits of stretching the thighs and hips, but this pose has the added benefit of strengthening the legs and hips too. It is a little more demanding and so begins to warm up the body a little more.

Utthan Pristhasana / Lizard pose

Great for opening in to the hips, groin, and thigh muscles. If you find this pose easy, try taking your forearms to the floor and maybe even hooking a shoulder underneath the front leg!

Virabhadrasana 1 and 2 / Warrior 1 and 2

Creating space in the hips, chest, and hamstrings, Warrior 1 and 2 are also great for bringing strength and stability to the knee area – working to build up strength and protecting this vulnerable area in high impact exercises like running.

Virasana / Hero’s pose

An important pose for runners – not only does Virasana strengthen the knee area, (which is often at risk during high impact workouts and running) but it brings fresh blood supply and oxygen to that area too, keeping the tissue healthy.

Supta Hasta Padangusthasana / Reclined hand-to-big toe-pose

Stretching out the groins, hamstrings and calves, this pose can be done using a belt to make the lengthening more passive. Stay here for around a minute – we generally reach our maximum amount of flexibility within 30-60 seconds. And remember, never force flexibility! Simply breathe in to it and feel a gentle stretch along the back of the leg.

 Utkatasana / Chair pose

Also known as ‘fierce pose’ or ‘….’ Utkatasana really strengthens the quadricepts, knees and abdominals, so it’s an important one to include in order to balance out stretching and flexibility. Hold here for 5 to 10 breaths. Warming up with sun salutation B allows you to include poses like Utkatasana and Virabhadrasana, already, so this could be a good option before going for a run.

Foam rolling:

Although not a part of yoga; foam rolling is such a great way to keep muscles healthy. Foam rolling ensures your muscles stay healthier for longer, preventing cells and tissue from crystalising within the muscles which can cause them to become tight. You may be able to find a foam roller at your local gym, or they’re pretty inexpensive to buy online. An essential to anyone taking up running who wants to make sure their body stays strong, healthy and reliable!

*If you notice your hamstrings are particularly tight (which is often the case with runners), here are 3 more poses to increase hamstring flexibility from the lovely Esther Ekhart!

“Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.” 
― Dean Karnazes 

 

 

Practice: Svarga Dvidasana (Bird Of Paradise Pose)

Image

Svarga Dvidasana requires a combination of steadiness (sthira) and ease (sukha); the steadiness to maintain a lengthened spine and strong balance, and the ease to open the hips and extend the top leg to it’s full potential. No matter how ‘difficult’ a pose seems, there is always a level we can take it to that suits us. Remember that the poses are there to practice in order to help us learn about ourselves. Are you the kind of person who pushes yourself in to situations? Or do you go with the flow and happily accept things as they are? Asanas like Bird of Paradise can reveal a lot about us.

It’s a good idea to open the hips and lengthen the hamstrings before practicing this pose, so perhaps warm up with a couple of sun salutations, warrior poses, and standing splits to really get yourself ready!

An interesting way to enter this pose is from Baddha Parsva Konasana or ‘Bound Side angle pose’. So get yourself comfortable and begin from there….

How To:

  • With the hands clasped in a bind around the [right] leg, begin to heel-toe the feet in towards each other. *If the hands don’t clasp together then just reach them towards each other, the bind will be easier for those with longer arms and more difficult for others.
  • When your feet are about hip width apart, bring the weight in to the [left] leg
  • With the hands still bound around the [right] leg, begin to lift that [right] leg up so you come to balance on one foot.
  • Extend upwards so you have a long spine – making sure your back is straight before you move any further.
  • If you’re happy to move on from there, maintaining the length through the spine, extend the top leg and reach through the foot. *This part is all about the length of the hamstrings; if yours are tight, be mindful not to push too hard. Your body will naturally open up to the poses when it’s ready.
  • Stay here for 5 – 10 breaths, taking a point in front of you to look at and keep balance.
  • REMEMBER TO BREATHE! (Surprisingly, we really do need to remember to keep breathing, as we often subconsciously hold our breath in challenging situations on and off the mat)
  • On an exhale, gently drop the [right] foot back down to the floor, and heel-toe your way back to your bound side angle.
  • Step back to downward facing dog, and then see how the pose feels on the other side, noticing any differences between each side of the body.

This pose is a good chance to practice binding, hip flexibility, balance and most importantly, self –acceptance.

 

Have fun!

Mindful Monday: Music and Your Brain….

Image

Music is intended to move us; from the beginning of time, devotion and tradition were celebrated with movement and dance – some of the oldest artefacts to be found were even musical instruments.

It wasn’t until the medieval times that the church decided to limit movement, until you were told when to dance and how to dance. Do we still limit ourselves to this today? Maybe even subconsciously, when we’re dancing, we’re following the form of what we think is acceptable and ‘right’, rather than letting go and experiencing how the body wants to move.

‘Most of us would be shocked if audience members at a symphonic concert got out of their chairs and clapped their hands, whooped, hollered, and danced as is de rigueur at a James Brown concert. But the reaction to James Brown is certainly closer to our true nature. The polite listening response, in which music has become an entirely cerebral experience (even music’s emotions are meant, in the classical tradition, to be felt internally and not to cause a physical outburst) is counter to our evolutionary history. Children often show the reaction that is true to our nature: Even at classical music concerts they sway and shout and generally participate when they feel like it. We have to train them to behave “civilized.”‘

– Daniel J Levitin.  This is Your Brain on Music

So you see, it is in our nature to have a connection to music….

The body directly reacts to the music we hear; Brainwaves resonate with the rhythm of music, and from this brain activity, the heartbeat and breath also try to match the rhythms too. This goes a long way to explaining why up-beat music makes us feel more energetic and excited – it’s literally physically changing us! The only two animals this happens to on earth are humans and songbirds….

Whether you enjoy a piece of music matters a lot in how it will positively or negatively effect you, or whether it will have the desired effect…. Yes, smooth piano, classical and jazz music have been shown to relax us – but not if you don’t enjoy it! If metal is what genuinely relaxes you, then that could work just as well….

 

Curing pain with music: 

Calm, soothing music which you enjoy listening to can reduce levels of the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol. When cortisol levels in the body are lowered, we are able to move away from the ‘fight or flight’ or ‘stress response’ we’re so habitually locked in to, and instead allow the parasympathetic nervous system to take over , allowing the ‘relaxation response’ to occur, which sets the body up for self-repair and optimal health.

‘Pleasant’ music (again, which we enjoy) can boost levels of serotonin – a ‘feel good’ neuro-transmitter which is important for overall happiness and wellbeing. Classical music especially, is closely linked to beating insomnia and promoting the release of dopamine in to the brain and inhibiting stress hormones because of the effects the music has on our brainwaves; slowing them down and therefore calming the nervous system.

The hippocampus is engaged when we’re listening to music – this is a part of the brain which stores long-term memories (it’s also larger and more active in females, which might explain why women forgive… but never forget.) Because of this brain activity, music has the ability to bring back past memories and feelings, even if we assume we have forgotten about them – this is a technique which can be used in sound therapy to help unlock past ‘stuck’ emotions, and has also been able to bring back past memories of those with Alzheimer’s.

What’s going on in there?:

While pitch and rhythm are primarily functions of the left brain hemisphere, and timbre and melody are more of a right-brain job; those who study music actually tend to use both sides of the brain more than those who don’t (and there aren’t many day-to-day tasks which involve us using both brain hemispheres). There’s a difference though; if the music has no words at all – the right brain hemisphere lights up dominantly, and processes the sounds just as much as the left brain processes things like language interpretation. So when we’re listening to even the most minimalist, instrumental music, the right brain is working just as much as we would do when engaged in conversation and interpreting speech.

When we hear a song that gives us gosebumps and really makes us feel something, that is the brain releasing dopamine – THE ‘feel good’ brain chemical associated with the ‘pleasure center of the brain’ – released during exercise, sex, eating, and achieving new goals.

Every song you’ve ever heard is stored in a part of the brain called the ‘superior temporal gyrus’ which is related to long term memory; when you hear something completely new, your brain compares it to all the other music you’ve ever heard, and if it decides the music is good, you’ll get a release of dopamine. These neural pathways can be determined by experiences you relate to these types of music – which could explain why Christmas music can make some of us feel ‘Christmassy’. (whether ‘christmassy’ is a horrible feeling for you or not is of course personal….)

‘Cultural ear’:

So why is a song that sounds ridiculous to us, number one in a different country? Why do some cultures produce mountains of electro-pop, while others prefer acoustic? Again, it comes down to what’s stored in the ‘superior temporal gyrus’ – if a lot of people in one country recognise the rhythms and pitch, relate that sound to something positive, and it measures up pretty well against the other music stored in there, then it’s likely to be a success…. Now you see why sometimes, on the radio ‘everything just sounds the same!’.

So, the next time you’re creating a playlist, writing music, or listening to the radio – realise that even with the most simple rhythm or melody, music is more powerful than it seems….

‘After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music’

– Aldous Huxley

Practice: Astavakrasana (Eight-Angled Pose)

Ashta = ‘Eight’

Vakra = ‘Bent / Curved’

Asana = ‘Pose’

Image

 

Possibly in some people’s ‘crazy arm balance’ category, Astavakrasana takes patience and practice. It’s often something which people decide they ‘can’t do’ before they even try….. While it may look a little complicated, Astavakrasana is easier than it may first seem if you approach it in the right way.

The first step towards this pose? Something the Bhagavad Gita taught us; to let go of the fruits of our actions. That is, to work for the love of it, putting in our best efforts and knowing we did our best without getting attached to the outcome. To be honest, that is probably the most difficult part of any pose – sometimes you feel you’ve got it all nailed, other times you’ll feel like a wobbly mess…. Just go with it, it’s all a learning process…. 

Astavakrasana requires patience, a strong core, upper body strength, and flexibility in the hips – which is what we usually acquire after a lot of practice.

Good steps to work up to this pose include core strengtheners like Navasana and Trikonasana – which involves training our core to become both strong AND supple, so it’s actually functional instead of rigid and frozen like the superficial 6-packs tend to be – try plank pose, and side planks too.

You’ll also need arm and shoulder strength, which can be worked on with chatturangas, dolphin pose, planks and side planks.

Great hip openers to work with include standing poses like lunges and prasarita padottanasana to open the outer hips, and lizard pose and baddha konasana to open tight adductors.

Finally, get used to lifting yourself up with Utpluthihi, Bakasana, Parsva Bakasana, and especially Eka Pada Bhujasana. 

 

Keep practicing – without rushing yourself toward completing this pose, and enjoy the strength and flexibility you build along the way!

HOW TO:

  • From a seated position, take your [right] leg and hook it over the [right] upper arm as far as you can, somewhere between the elbow and shoulder – of you can hook it over the shoulder then go for it.
  • Make sure both hands are firmly on he ground beside you, fingertips facing forwards, creating hasta bandha** – Hasta bandha is the ‘hand lock’, similar to what your hands are doing in downward facing dog – pressing firmly in to the fingertips and knuckles, especially the knuckle of the index finger. This helps to strengthen wrists and hands so you’re able to hold yourself without any aching wrists. With hasta bandha, actively claw the hands in to the floor even more, imagining the centre of the palm of the hand like a suction cup, pulling the energy upwards.
  • Lift the body up and bring the ankles to cross.
  • The final part here is to extend the legs, sliding them out along the upper arm so they’re hugging around the arm above the elbow joint, towards the biceps.
  • To come out – draw the legs in by bending the knes and hugging the ankles in, and place your bum on the floor. Extend the legs out in to dandasana (staff pose) and try the other side – noticing the differences in strength and flexibility on each side of the body.

It doesn’t matter how far you get in any of these poses, the point is that we turn up and practice. (FYI – that’s why it’s called a yoga PRACTICE – if we could do everything perfectly from the beginning, there wouldn’t be a point in practicing….)

 

‘It always seems impossible until it’s done’ – Nelson Mandela 

The Real Meaning Of ‘Health?’

Image

 “Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit – BKS Iyengar

When we think of health, what comes to mind?: Sweating it out at the gym, eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking or drinking, or making sure we’re happy with what we see in the mirror or read on the scales?

Well, it turns out that physical health can only take us so far…. If we want to be truly vibrant and healthy, we have to take in to account the health of our mind – I don’t mean the brain, here – the mind. And what makes our mind happy? It has a lot more to do with the things we take for granted than it may seem….

While we know that the benefits of exercise, fuelling our bodies with healthy foods and drink, and getting enough sleep all keep us feeling good, we don’t often consider that things like our sense of purpose, relationships with friends, or ability to express creativity also has a big impact on our physical health….

We might think our DNA is our destiny – that genetics determine whether you may be diagnosed with cancer, suffer from hereditary heart problems, or that arthritis ‘runs in your family’ – and while some aspects of genetics are unavoidable, we can actually control things we may assume are pre-destined…. Things like our environment can alter the way our DNA actually expresses itself; pollution, the amount of sunlight we get, and the amount of time we spend in nature are some of the physical aspects which alter the way our DNA is expressed. Things like our relationships – are we surrounded by people we genuinely care about and who care about us? Our sense of self-worth, the amount of gratitude we express, and our life’s purpose, are all vital factors that have a big impact on our health.

The biological chemicals released in to our bodies when we are filling our time doing meaningful things, can literally save us from suffering. Studies have been conducted in which the effects of being primarily an optimist or a pessimist affected overall health; it showed that those who are considered to be optimistic recover better from surgeries, have stronger immune systems, and ultimately live longer than pessimists. Heart disease rates are halved in positive males, as is the amount of time taken to recover from injury.*

Blue zones:

Parts of the world known as the ‘Blue Zones’ have the populations who tend to live the longest and have the healthiest lives; these areas include Loma Linda in California, Nicoya in Costa Rica, Sardinia in Italy, Ikaria in Greece, and Okinawa in Japan. These places are all pretty far apart, but they all have certain things in coming (some of which may be surprising) that means their populations are the most healthy in the true sense of the word ‘health’; The things they all have in common is known by the Blue Zones project as the ‘Power 9’, they include:

  1. Move Naturally: the people in these places don’t get their exercise from formal gym memberships or fitness classes…. Their lifestyles encourages them to just move more often!
  2. Know Your Purpose: These people felt they had a calling in their lives and they knew they were doing something meaningful with their time.
  3. Down Shift: Eliminating stressful situations may not be easy, but those who live the longest, healthiest lives manage to fit in a small amount of time each day to take time out for themselves to do something that relaxes them.
  4. 80% rule: These populations generally eat until they feel 80% full up, instead of rushing their meals until they feel like bursting!
  5. Plant Slant: The Blue Zone populations consume a mostly plant based diet, rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, and minimally processed products. Things like nuts are an important part of their diets, and eating just a handful a day has been proven to add 2-3 years to your life expectancy!
  6. Wine @ 5: One glass of wine for women and two for men has actually been proven to have a healthy effect on the body – the antioxidants in wine reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers, and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. (This only works with wine though – not pints of beer or cider or vodka!)
  7. Right Tribe: The healthiest people in the world are surrounded by people they feel safe with and supported by. Studies show that loneliness encourages depression, which has a detrimental effect on the body’s wellbeing – so surround yourself with people you love and who love you too!
  8. Community: Nearly all of the people in a study to determine the Blue Zones attended some sort of faith-based community gathering regularly. This doesn’t mean you have to join any sort of religion if you don’t believe in it, this could mean just being with people who believe in similar sorts of ideas that you too hold true, and realising that there is something bigger than all of us in the universe.
  9. Loved Ones First: The happiest, healthiest participants in the Blue Zones study put their families first, and being in a positive, committed relationship can even add 6 years to your life! **

 

Happiness directly effects our health, and it turns out it’s contagious:

A study at the University of California concluded that happiness is in fact contagious; if a friend of yours is happy, you’re 25% more likely to be happy yourself, and even if a friend of a friend is happy, we’re 6% more likely to be happy. So, we can directly influence the happiness of people we don’t even know, just by being positive ourselves!

If we’re able to widen our perspective of ‘health’ to include these aspects, we can prevent illness long before it occurs, and live as fully, healthily and happily as we deserve to.

*Research from Lissa Rankin’s amazing book ‘Mind Over Medicine’. You can watch her TED talk here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tu9nJmr4Xs

** To learn more about the blue zones, read Dan Buettner’s book ‘Blue Zones’ and watch his fascinating TED Talk here: http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_buettner_how_to_live_to_be_100.html

Dhalicious Dhal….

Image

Dhal is a traditional indian dish, either served as a side dish with curry or – when served with brown rice – is a complete protein, so it makes a meal by itself.

 Plus, it’s cheap, filling, and good for you!

This recipe is adapted from one a friend gave me, and I have no idea where they found it either – so feel free to adapt it and play around with all sorts of variations to suit you too….

INGREDIENTS: 

1tbsp coconut oil

1 medium size mug of split red lentils

2 ½ – 3 medium size mugs of water

2 medium size onions

2 cloves of garlic (can use more if you like)

5 chillis (I use a mixture of small red and green chillis but you can use up to 10)

2 tsp turmeric

2 tsp cumin seeds

2 tsp mustard seeds

1” of fresh ginger chopped finely

A fistful of fresh coriander roughly chopped.

HOW TO: 

Wash the lentils well either in a sieve or in 5 changes of cold water.

Bring the 2 ½ mugs of water to the boil and add the washed lentils. 

Bring back to the boil, then turn down to a simmer adding the turmeric and chopped ginger.  This should take roughly 20 minutes until the lentils are soft and the consistency of porridge.  Stir frequently so it doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pan.  If the mixture gets too dry add another half mug of water during cooking.

Meanwhile, chop the onions and fry in the coconut oil on a medium-high heat until just browned.

Chop the chillies finely and add them to the onions.  Add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds to the onion mix and continue to fry gently until the seeds pop and the onion is nicely browned.  Turn off the heat and wait until the lentils are cooked.

When the lentils are cooked add the onion/chilli/spice mix and stir well.  Simmer for five minutes.  If at any point it looks too dry add a little water.

Lastly, add the chopped coriander and mix well.

 

This dhal is best left for a couple of hours for the flavours to infuse but you can eat it right away if you just can’t wait! 

Best served with brown rice or chapattis and a mixed salad.

 

Lentils are good for you!:  http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=52

Practice: Camatkarasana (Wild Thing)

Image

Camatkarasana or ‘wild thing’ is an expansive, energising and FUN backbend. If you’re planning on practicing Urdhva Dhanurasana (full wheel) then this is a good option to warm up with. Wild thing is also not-so-elegantly named ‘flip the dog’ sometimes….

You may need to open the hips a little before ‘flipping’ in to the pose, (try some warrior poses first) and perhaps move through some sun salutations or gentle backbends like cobra to get the spine ready.

Entering Camatkarasana from downward facing dog trains us to get used to doing things which may seem a little scary at first, in the beginning you have to learn to trust that your body will work with you here.

HOW TO:

  •  From downward facing dog, inhale as you raise the [right] leg.
  •  Raise that leg up high, and then begin to bend the knee, letting the foot come up and over towards your [left] side, so you’re opening out your hips.
  •  Continue to bring the foot over more and more, until you’re ready to (gently) drop the foot to the floor and take your right arm up and over head.
  • Stay in this backbend for enough time so you can really feel the opening in the front of the body, feeling a long line of energy and full stretch across the body.
  •  To come out of the pose, lift the [right] leg back up and gently ‘flip’ back over to downward facing dog. Then take it to the other side, lifting the [left] leg this time.
  • Backbends are generally ‘energising’ and can leave us feeling refreshed and a little more alert and positive. Give it a try and see how it works for you!

P.S…. play this song to get the full benefits….

MINDFUL MONDAY – Feet First

Image

Consisting of just over 25% of the human body’s bones, 2,700 nerve endings, and the power to influence the health of our whole body, the foot is much more essential to our wellbeing than we give it credit for.

 Our feet carry us around all day, and as we know – it isn’t just what we do that affects us – it’s how we do it.

 Consider the approach many alternative therapies are already using, and more traditional doctors are awakening to; that a problem in the body often arises somewhere else, other than at the point of pain. Knee pain, back pain and headaches can actually arise from moving our feet in an unhealthy way.

Supination of the foot (when the weight travels too much through the inner foot) causes the ankles to collapse inwardly, effecting the next vulnerable joint above – the knees. This misalignment of the knees then causes the hips to become tight and a little crooked, this then transfers to the lower back which has had to compensate for imbalance in the lower body, and this is where most people feel that familiar lower back pain. Next up is the neck and shoulders, which often become tight when we’re compensating for other problems within the body – plus, the tension from having backpain often makes us feel uptight and this shows up in how physically ‘tight’ our shoulders are. Finally, the problem in the foot effects us all the way up in the head with headaches usually caused by obstructed blood flow or tension in the surrounding muscles. So you see, our feet are actually pretty essential to how we feel.

The pathway of weight through our bodies runs from our head, through the neck and collarboes, down the spine to the sarum and through each pelvic half. It then travels down the legs, through the ankles, and finally through the heel, to the little toe side of the foot (the 5th metatarsle to be accurate) to the big toe joint (1st metatarsle). If our feet are able to move in a way that supports this healthy alignment; think ‘Heel – little toe – big toe’, then our weight is being supported equally, and the rebound effect of the feet moving in this way creates an upward thrust of energy, helping to propel us forwards when we walk or run.

 Keeping the feet in a healthy condition need not take a lot of effort, just a little more mindfulness!

 

Change up your shoes often: 

In defence of women who buy a lot of shoes, there is some logic to wearing a variety of footwear. Our bodies are a map of the way we move and live (there’s a whole other post to write on that subject, though) so over time, our feet actually kind of become moulded to suit the shoe we repeatedly put on it. Changing your shoes often (or not wearing shoes at all when you can!) ensures they’ll be able to maintain closest to their natural state without relying on support from a certain type of shoe.

 *FYI – high heeled shoes are pretty much the worst thing you could put on your foot; not only do they force the foot in to a completely unnatural position – they shorten and tighten the hamstrings and calf muscles and don’t support a healthy posture.

Before you go out and buy your next pair of running shoes, take a look at this short and fascinating video from the brilliant Leslie Kaminoff:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_FZdv_LJl0

Heel – little toe – big toe:

Next time you go for a walk, pay attention to the way your feet move – do they fit this healthy pattern? If you experience knee, hip, back or neck pain, then you might notice that you’re putting extra weight on to one particular side of the foot.

Luckily, you can change your habits with just a little but of attention.

 Your feet tell you a lot about your current state of health:

Cold feet, numbness or tingling could indicate a circulation, thyroid problem or even diabetes, while a sudden cramping in the foot could dehydration or that your diet is lacking magnesium calcium or potassium if it happens often. Plus, although no one particularly wants hairy toes, a lack of hair there is actually a big indicator of poor circulation….

If you ever experience sore feet, or pain in the joints above, try a short sequence of movements to help wake up your feet in the morning or relax them before you go to bed:

  •  Rolling a tennis ball underneath the foot can really help to relax the muscles and tendons of the foot after a long day on your feet or after a run. Doing this before you wake up is also brilliant for stimulating circulation in the foot.
  •  Standing with the feet about hip distance, lift and spread the toes, replacing them again one by one. Feel the pathway of weight traveling through the heel, little toe and big toe. We don’t often bring this much awareness to our feet, but taking care of just one part of ourselves can lead to total self care and long term health and happiness.
  •  Massaging the feet when you wake up or before you go to bed again stimulates circulation, and helps to stretch out and free up the foot if it’s been squeezed in to a shoe all day.

 

If we’re healthy, our feet will carry us around for our whole lives (that’s a looooong time). We rely on them a LOT, so taking care of them is one way to make sure we’re happy and healthy in the long run. Apply this little bit of mindfulness to a part of the body that often gets neglected, and over time you’ll notice a difference in your overall wellbeing.

 

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go”.

– Dr. Seuss