Chasing away stress with Yoga

Yoga is a great natural mood enhancer. My clients are always amazed how one hour makes such a difference to how they feel. Last week one of them said “I didn’t even notice the back to back traffic on the way home last week” – quite impressive for someone who commutes 90 minutes!

Of course, any kind of exercise releases hormones that help ease the stress of a bad day, but what is special about yoga is that it doesn’t only cheer you up, but it also simultaneously relaxes you. Quite a unique feat of yoga practice, and why I fell in love with it in the first place. You can stretch, tone and flex and come out blissfully calm and smiling as well. Bad day turned good day within 60 short minutes!

Fitting It In

Very often people who are seriously stressed, and feel like they are in a cycle of ‘work, work, work’, lack the concentration and additional energy to try to disconnect themselves from their day to day and do some exercise.  What is unique about yoga class though is that it offers a kind of “meditation in movement” so it is much easier to move your mind away from your thoughts and calmly relax into an entirely new mindset.  The focus on balance and stillness brings back your mental strength without you even trying, and before you know it that “panic” feeling you’ve held all day has magically disappeared.  

As you probably know there is a pretty clear-cut connection between mind and body in yoga, that no other form of exercise or meditation can really attain on its own.  Negative thoughts like doubt, self consciousness, irritation, apathy and stress can be all encompassing but as yoga is designed to bring your focus back to you (and ignore all the outside stuff for a while) you can use it not just to improve body fitness, but how you feel too. I often find that I go into class wondering about something and after class I somehow find I have made my decision already.

All yoga?

There are certain poses that can influence your mood more than others (watch this super cute video from Huffington Post for a quick snapshot) but overall, throughout a class, all the poses work on calming your nervous system and increasing your lung capacity, allowing more oxygen to reach all the affected parts of your body including your mind.  The poses help depleted energy levels, and sluggishness as well as aiding with sleep the night after your practice. This alone is something worthy of going to class for - after all, those that have slept well are always more apt at handling stress than those that are constantly tired as well as stressed!

Most style’s of Yoga can help you overcome a stressful day but I would recommend that you steer clear of hot yoga’s and highly active yoga sessions when looking for something calming for stress reduction. You want the focus of the class to be on slowing and relaxing your para sympathetic nervous system (your rest and digest functions) rather than stimulating your sympathetic system (fight and flight functions), which actually activates more stress in the body. Something like Hatha, Yin or Kundalini would be my reco but ask your local studio what they recommend.  These slower classes may feel less physically demanding but you will find the total restoration at the end of your session way outweighs any doubts.

So breathe deeply, and start Googling a class nearby!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The wonders of walking. 5 surprise benefits!

Don't have time for yoga? Well surely you have time for walking?!

I love to share scientifically proven data around our health and the Harvard Medical School (one of my favourite sources) has just released a paper on walking and how wonderful it is for us. You probably know that all exercise is good for you bla bla bla, but I am including 5 walking specific benefits that you might not know. Don't be surprised if your Dr gives you a prescription to "walk more" at your next check up! So shake off your heels and put on your walking shoes.....here's why:

1. It counteracts the effects of weight-promoting genes. Harvard researchers looked at 32 obesity-promoting genes in over 12,000 people to determine how much these genes actually contribute to body weight. They then discovered that, among the study participants who walked briskly for about an hour a day, the effects of those genes were cut in half. Tricks to fight nature, tick!

2. It helps tame a sweet tooth - and we could all do with that! A pair of studies from the University of Exeter found that a 15-minute walk can curb cravings for chocolate and reduce the amount of chocolate you eat in stressful situations.  Fantastic news all round.

3. It reduces the risk of developing breast cancer. Researchers already know that any kind of physical activity blunts the risk of breast cancer, but an American Cancer Society study that zeroed in on walking found that women who walked seven or more hours a week had a 14% lower risk of breast cancer than those who walked three hours or fewer per week. 14%! Walking provided protection even for the women with breast cancer risk factors, such as being overweight or using supplemental hormones. So it's certainly worth kicking off your heels, right?

4. It eases joint pain. Several studies have found that walking reduces arthritis-related pain, and that walking five to six miles a week can even prevent arthritis from forming in the first place. Walking protects the joints (especially the knees and hips, which are most susceptible to osteoarthritis) by lubricating them and strengthening the muscles that support them. Makes sense.

5. It boosts immune function. Walking can help protect you during cold and flu season. A study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. Plus those that did get sick found it was for a shorter duration with much milder symptoms. (Yoga does this too by the way (!) but seeing as we are talking about walking I shall leave that for another post....)

So there you have it. I suspect you probably do have time for yoga but if, like many of my friends, you really don't think you can fit it in right now, well, you should probably start walking to work! Best foot forward......

Source: Walking for Health September 2016. A Harvard Medical School Special Report.

7 Yoga Weight Loss Truths

Yoga is arguably the mother of all health maintenance systems, however people are never short of a concern or a question on whether it’s really as good as the media makes it out to be! It has taken 5,000 years, and the arrival of a multi million dollar industry, for us to get this far and one of the most frequent questions I get asked is around weight loss – “Seriously, can yoga make you lose weight?”

I want to start out by saying that weight loss is not a goal of yoga. It can however be an end benefit and this is where yoga differs from many other forms of weight loss. In my opinion, as a yoga instructor and practitioner, yoga is certainly a viable contender for weight loss—but not for the reasons you might think. Here’s why;

1)     Yoga is a lifestyle change that includes a healthy diet; active “exercise” regime, adjustment of your posture and awareness of breathing techniques. Together these help people to lose weight –it is not the poses alone.

2)     In my experience, and this is a massive generalization, most Yoga practitioners consume more water, eat more moderately, and take care of their bodies on a more consistent basis avoiding the struggle with yoyo weight gain. It's a lifestyle change not just a class.

3)     Yoga stimulates the gastrointestinal tract and aids digestion. Yoga and Ayurvedic research has proven that a GI tract that is damaged or weak is a primary obstacle to digestion and leads to toxin accumulation and associated weight gain. Similarly a sluggish liver will mess up your metabolism and digestion making weight gain likely. Yoga helps to activate the liver and GI tract to work better so you can digest food better and therefore eliminate cravings (and potential weight gain).

4)     Yoga helps natural strength building by working your muscles with balancing poses and the steady holding of postures to help create a stronger metabolism with overall muscular strength and tone.

5)     Stress and anxiety often lead to weight gain and overeating. Yoga is a phenomenal antidote to daily strains, and in doing so, it naturally helps people lose weight, lead an active lifestyle and change their eating habits.

6)     Yoga tends to make people feel good emotionally so there is less temptation to miss a class (versus say the gym) meaning people tend to stick to yoga and develop a strong practice over time. This helps them stay active, lose weight and strengthen their bodies gently and naturally avoiding the “no pain, no gain” mindset that often leads to comfort eating after sessions.

7)     Yoga does burn calories – even if it’s not comparable to cardio exercise forms. The average person, in a moderate Hatha yoga class, is burning around 200 calories per hour. There are then Vinyasa Flow Yoga classes, that will burn even more calories, with much more active movement – so depending on the class you choose you will also be burning calories simply by turning up.

So in short, yes practicing yoga can help you manage your weight but the truth is, that’s not really what yoga is for. Nevertheless, the results that practitioners have experienced are positive and many people do lose weight via their yoga programs.  The discipline that yoga offers in terms of overall diet and lifestyle are critical elements to sustaining this.

The real benefit of steady Yoga practice is training for longevity, flexibility, balance and mind body wellbeing. Where yoga really makes a difference is when it stays true the science behind it that fosters discipline in helping us to slow down mentally and reduce stress. This helps to teach us to distinguish between the urge to eat and the emotional impulses that sometimes drive us to eat – as well as helping us to discern what we are truly hungry for.  In conclusion yoga can indeed help you lose weight but if you want a quick fix, look somewhere else!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Ode to the Rice Cooker (+ My one-Pot Ayurvedic “Spice Rice”)

One evening, whilst living in Asia, my neighbour popped by unannounced (as neighbours do there) to talk about "the dust that the building works across the road" were causing. A critical topic, you must agree, especially as I had just endured a six-hour meeting and was barely standing from exhaustion.  As I invited her into the kitchen, to listen intently to the day’s dust report, she stopped mid sentence and reeled in shock when she saw I was busy cooking rice…… in a pan. “A pan?!” she asked abashed, “why use a pan when you can use a rice cooker?!”  It was a fundamental moment in my food journey in the East. 

In Singapore you won't find a home without one (maybe two, just in case) electric rice cookers.  This wonder appliance, that sits in every home, pretty much never rests as it continually feeds a Chinese, Indian or Singaporean family each and every meal time. Even those who live in one-room apartments in relative struggle cook in a rice cooker. It just is. It’s just the way you cook.  

I was soon to find out why. Rice just isn’t the same cooked any other way.

A few days later I followed my neighbours advice, logged onto the local kitchen e-tailer and bought my first ever rice cooker. A shiny, beautifully round edged, stylish Philips rice cooker turned up 24 hours later on my doorstep (in Singapore it could sit there all day and no one would think twice about theft or security) and, nearly two years later you could take away nearly anything in my kitchen, except the rice cooker.

The short conclusion therefore is this, if you buy yourself anything this month, buy yourself a rice cooker. If you are thinking about buying a gift, choose a rice cooker. If you are simply curious, go ahead, buy yourself a rice cooker! Perfect rice every time and it does it all while you read a book, call a friend, watch a sunset, hell, do some yoga – and then you open up a steaming bowl of rice perfection. The best thing about it is you can also make one pot dinners like you would in a slow cooker (but with better rice obviously!) for perfectly delicious one pot Ayurvedic suppers.  Of course, you could just use your slow cooker…….. but you need to know dear Reader, the rice cooker would do it better……

My one-Pot Ayurvedic “Spice Rice”

The What:

·      2 cups basmati rice

·      4 cups water (or to the line on your super smart new rice cooker!)

·      1 onion, finely chopped

·      1 sweet potato, chopped small

·      1 courgette/baby marrow, chopped small

·      Handful spinach torn in small pieces

·      1 tablespoon turmeric powder

·      1 teaspoon coriander powder

·      1 teaspoon Garam Masala

·      1.5 teaspoons cumin powder

·      Salt & black pepper to season

The How:

1.     Place all ingredients in the rice cooker, give it a mix, and set to “Cook”. 

2.     Forget about it and relax

3.     Serve with fresh coriander leaves

4.     Cook easy. Eat happy.

 

Now, did I mention you should buy a rice cooker?

 

 

Wake Up to Warm Water!

In Ayurveda we believe that the way we start the day has an impact on the quality of your day ahead. There are a host of recommendations to begin your day the right way, but in this post I am going to focus on the easiest – drinking warm water.  As the seasons begin to change again (sorry folks but summer is nearly over in the Northern hemisphere!) there has never been a better time to kick-start a new habit and this one is one worth starting......

You will have often read in magazines about drinking hot water with lemon over the last few years. It has been terribly in and out of vogue (as all things are) but this “tip” comes from wisdom spanning back 5000 years and, therefore, it's truly one that should be more fixed than fad.

After a night asleep, lots of us wake up dehydrated (you know that “sort of hungover” feeling?) so before you reach for a cup of coffee, give your body time to wake, and nourish itself naturally, by boiling some warm water. One cup will do. Two is even better. After eight hours of inactivity, our bodies physiologically use cues like light and hydration to know that it’s time to start the day and kick in the enzymes and energy we need to get going. You will notice you wake more quickly and find it easier to get going – needing caffeine to do this is a myth (although it may take a week or so for you to get into your new habit!)

A mug of warm water is detoxifying and hydrating and is great for your stomach, your skin and your state of mind. It will stimulate the gastrointestinal tract and increase the secretion of bile into the liver, while loosening the toxins in the digestive tract. The effect of this is that it will support in getting your GI tract moving and ensure you don’t suffer with constipation or blockages in your system. Additionally, this wonderfully simple start acts as a gentle diuretic (supporting your urinary organs) and can help keep your skin clear and smooth (aka, less wrinkly over time!)

You don’t need to add lemon, and I often don’t, but the addition of lemon is alkalizing which is fantastic for balancing inflammation, and has an added immunity boosting effect.  It also adds a touch of flavor that some people prefer. For an added boost, and to keep things interesting, here are 3 other Ayurvedic additions to give this super water a kick: 

Ginger: a few slices of ginger or a pinch of ginger powder helps stoke your digestive fire for the day ahead, and can be helpful in reducing dryness or sluggishness.  

Cumin, Coriander or Fennel Seeds (separately or together): add about 5 seeds of each for every cup you boil. Strain the seeds before drinking. This blend is particularly good for stimulating digestion and cleansing the body gently.

Cinnamon: slightly sweeter, cinnamon balances the digestion and pacifies any stomach disorders. Combined with other warming herbs such as ginger or black pepper it is amazing for fighting off colds as the season changes.

So, from now on, Get Up & Brew Up. Enjoy!

 

 

7 Steps to Stress Management Success with Yoga Therapy

Yoga Therapy has been proven clinically to relieve stress, and to reduce stress hormones and chemical release in the body. The fusion of breath-work and poses, that unify the mind and body, have been linked to positive results with many of the most widespread diseases globally today. Arguably the largest of these is stress itself.

 Yoga Therapy offers specially tailored programs leveraging yoga and Ayurvedic wisdom as part of the world’s oldest natural medical system. If you are new to Yoga Therapy and are looking to reduce the stress in your day-to-day life, and the symptoms associated with it (gastrointestinal issues, backache, migraines, fatigue, anxiety….), these seven tips will start you on the road towards Yoga Therapy results and a more stress free, healthy body.

1.     Find a yoga therapist/teacher that you trust and like! It may sound silly but having a great relationship with your teacher is critical to achieving results. Talk to prospective teachers, try a few classes and check reviews and recommendations before you decide. Once you have a shortlist, trust your gut – 9/10 times it will be right. 

2.     Listen to your body – yoga should never be painful or uncomfortable. Ignore what you might see in the media – Yoga Therapy is not about getting your foot around your head on a beach at sunset! Each pose should be done steadily and with awareness – the poses will be most beneficial when they are done in tune with what your body needs. For every person in a class a different pose will have the most beneficial effect on their body. Yoga Therapy is unique in that the therapist can tailor the most impactful poses for you and your needs. Awareness of how each pose makes you feel will improve the impact two fold.  

3.     If you have specific goals, or very high stress that you want to overcome, consider trying private sessions to get started, or to kick start a change. Yoga Therapy tends to resemble an appointment with a chiro or physio in that it is often a one-on-one tailored program that focuses on your own personal needs. Once you have completed a program you can always continue to practice at home, take this awareness back into group classes, or simply mix group classes with just a few private sessions a month. Private classes are especially good for newcomers, older students or anyone suffering with specific pain or illness that wants to get started gently.  

4.     Find a yoga buddy! Although yoga is a very personal practice during class, it’s wonderful to share and continue your practice with someone. Research has shown that having “social support” (attending classes together, sharing results, chatting about progress) improves results by up to 55% - especially when choosing yoga for weight loss or lifestyle change. 

5.     Eat lightly before practice. Wait at least two hours after meals before yoga class. An empty stomach is best, but don’t let yourself get too hungry to think (!) as you won't be able to focus on the poses, or benefit fully from the relaxation practices. 

6.     Yoga Therapy (versus a standard yoga class) focuses on aiding people with particular pains, ailments or those who are living with very high stress. However, if you are suffering from a long-term chronic illness an important first step is to talk to your doctor. Explain what type of yoga you intend to practice (perhaps show your doctor pictures of the poses for illustration – any therapist can give you these in advance). Your doctor may rule out specific poses if you have high blood pressure, glaucoma or heart disease for example and by following their advice you can fully relax into the “safety” of your practice. Your Yoga Therapist will tailor the program to your health but the peace of mind that comes from a medical doctor is critical in success. 

7.     Commit to the program! For most people, once they start there is no way they would want to stop midway but, if you are tempted, spend some time considering why? Is it the teacher, the class style, the tone of the teachers voice?! Yoga Therapy is not a quick fix but an overall lifestyle reboot including nutrition, yoga classes, mindfulness, home practice (for optimal results) and lifestyle routines. If you are not getting on well with the program consider “the why” and then adapt, rather than running back to old habits.

Grab your mat, or get on Google, but get going! You have nothing to lose. If you are struggling with stress and like the idea of finding a routine that gives you back an hour or two a week just to focus on “you” - start making the change. Once you’ve started you won’t look back – even if yoga turns out not to be for you it will help you work out what is. Either way you will be one step closer to a healthier and happier you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Age Related Pain In Our Minds?

You might have seen the viral video this last week about the lady who started yoga, and got rid of her hunchback to “stand tall again”, at a grand old age of 85? Quite a feat indeed, and it made me think a little about ageing and our bodies as they change.

In the “western world” we are very quick to accept that tightness, soreness, pain and muscle tension is a “natural” part of ageing (“it’s my age” people complain), but much of my experience in Asia showed me that in fact there are many elderly people in the East that are physically ageing much more healthily. They are still walking around their city and shopping — and practicing Yoga and Tai Chi — with relative ease well into their 90’s.

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Whilst ageing has a huge amount to do with diet and lifestyle, a lot of the pain we are suffering with in Western societies is due to something termed “chronically active muscles”. This occurs when our muscles are not voluntarily relaxing back to their fully lengthened state after they have been contracted/used. This constant muscle contraction results in ongoing tension, tightness, soreness or pain and happens as a result of an injury, trauma or, yes, you guessed it, chronic stress.

As with many pains we suffer, the physical symptoms are often not actually "physical" problems per se. It is often instead a problem that can be traced back to the brain and the heightened use of our sympathetic nervous system. If you have been following me for a while you will know I write about the ‘Fight or Flight’ response with huge passion, and in this case, it is the daily stresses in our lives that are causing specific muscular reflexes to habitually contract without need. We can’t voluntarily relax them, as they are so deeply controlled by our autonomic system, and these contractions, over time, become so habitual we no longer have control of this part of our sensory motor system. In it’s most severe form this causes something called Sensory Motor Amnesia, but more often it results in people suffering an uncomfortable amount of pain as they age. Or in my case personally, chronic stress related neck pain from the tender age of only 26!

Research has shown that if a muscle is 30% contracted all the time the muscle will feel “very firm, moderate pain” because, quite literally, that muscle is exhausted! It needs a rest and our stressful lifestyles and overactive nervous systems aren’t giving our muscles the opportunity to recover. As a further impact, over time, our bones and joints get pulled out of alignment under the stress of this chronically active muscle pull and this continues 24 hours a day, burning energy and exhausting us! No wonder we feel so tired as well as having a constantly aching neck/back/knee….

The good news is that we can manage this and work towards getting ourselves, and our muscles, back to health. For me it took 4 months of yoga in Singapore with a fantastically patient teacher and daily breathing techniques, but one day I was sitting in the office and I realized my neck no longer ached. It snuck up on me and it was worthy of a celebration once I had realized this was “real” and I really was pain free. I was 32 by then however so it has been 6 years of pain, and wasted money at the chiro, before I solved anything. What a waste, but what a relief.

Simply stretching alone will not address the brain and body disconnect that is occurring, but what yoga allows us to do is treat the whole person — brain and body — to address the root of the problem. Through Yoga Therapy we use deep relaxation and breathing techniques to help the entire body revitalize and recover from a longstanding stress by calming the nervous system and activating the parasympathetic system (the “rest and digest” function.) Over time what you see is that people begin to regain sensory motor control and their muscle tissues relax back to their fully lengthened state. Then one day they wake up and realize they are not in pain.

Chronically Active Muscles occur at any age and its never too late to start “the fix.” As we age the tensions mount and for many people beginning yoga is life changing for their bodies and their state of mind. Just like the fabulous woman shared by the New York Post (just watch it, its fantastic, click here) these pains can be reversed at any stage . It is the critical combination of movement, breath and stillness that is unique to Yoga Therapy (and to each individual), and it’s probably worth giving it a go.

 

5 Simple Digestion Principles according to Ayurveda…

Ayurveda believes all disease starts in the gut and that healthy digestion is critical to all other areas of health. Healthy skin, healthy weight, healthy mind – they all depend on us eating, digesting and absorbing nutrients optimally. Whether we are coping with weight issues or uncomfortable GI symptoms such as bloating, gas, or indigestion, the underlying root problem is often poor digestion. Unfortunately, in the West, we are not trained to think about our digestion “power” but instead, we concentrate solely on the foods going in and then reach for medicine when we have a problem. In Ayurveda there is a host of advice on how to keep your “digestive fire” (the power and quality of our digestive enzymes) at an optimal level and ensure we digest everything we need, and eliminate the rest. 

In South Africa, Ayurveda is still pretty new so I hope it will be useful to start sharing some of the healthy eating and digestion principles that you can easily incorporate into your daily routine. There are many more but these 5 simple principles will give you a really good intro, and by making these easy changes you will be one step closer to a healthier gut and body! We’ve all heard the phrase “you are what you eat” but in Ayurveda we believe “you are what you digest”….

 

1.      Avoid mixing cold and hot substances together – ever - as it makes it difficult for the gut to digest such extremes. Eat either a hot meal or a cold meal, but don’t mix. Keep salad as a meal unto itself not a side dish! A big change for many of you I know, but give it a go and notice how your digestion improves.

2.     Whilst we are talking about hot and cold, avoid drinking cold drinks or cold water while eating. In the West we do this so habitually that this is often a hard one to get your head around, but in the East they would be horrified at the amount of ice cold water we drink at mealtimes. If you look at the Chinese, Indian and South East Asian cultures they all drink hot teas with meals. Cold water/liquids “put out the digestive fire” in your gut and stop the juices and enzymes working properly. Think of a burning fireplace – if you add cold water to the flames, what happens?! The same happens when you drink cold liquid with meals, you put out your digestive fire and then it cannot “burn” up the food you are consuming. Little by little, in the next few weeks, work towards having tea or warm drinks with meals. Ginger tea is particularly good to support digestion (a recent study in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology found that ginger stimulates digestion by speeding up the movement of food from the stomach into the small intestine, and helps eliminates digestive discomfort after eating) and doesn’t interfere with the flavours of your food.

3.     Banana and milk never go together during the same mealtime!! Again, we don’t know this in the West but both banana and milk are both very heavy to digest and when brought together they become very hard for the stomach to handle. They end up hanging around in there and “curdling” – never good!

4.     Contrary to public media opinion putting honey in hot drinks is not a good solution – in fact heating honey in any way makes the honey become toxic. Raw honey straight out the jar is a nectar for the body and incredibly good for you but please, don’t put it in your tea!

5.     Eat mindfully. Sounds like a fad I know, but eating while distracted by television, your colleagues in the office (!) or your cellphone prevents you from chewing properly and therefore hinders proper digestion and absorption. In fact when food isn’t chewed properly, and broken down into small enough particles, food enters the stomach in an “unrecognizable format” which causes a host of issues such as inflammation and sends your immune system into a panic. The impact of this affects our mood, the quality of our skin and our metabolism.

 

Deeply Nourishing Fresh Spice Tea

I love tea. It's a fact that I would rather shop for tea than clothes! At home I have an entire drawer of tea that spans every leaf, origin and spice you can imagine.

In Ayurveda we believe in ensuring you have enough warm (or hot) liquids daily to keep food flowing naturally through the digestive tract and to stop toxins getting stuck. Hot water helps to provoke our digestive "fire", speeding up and improving our digestion and helping detox and energise the body.  

The base of this tea is Ginger which is revered not only by Ayurveda but also Chinese Traditional Medicine for driving internal heat as a "universal medicine" our bodies need daily. The ginger helps reduce inflammation & nutrient absorption, manage glucose levels, relieve stress in the cells and aid weight loss. All round it's pretty special!

This tea is great for anyone craving healing, detoxifying warmth and deliciously spicy tea. It is deeply nourishing, easy to brew and tastes delicious. Try and replace some of your normal caffeine filled cups with this a few times a week and notice the difference!

The What:

  • ⅓ cup fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into thin slices
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 5 cloves
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 8 cups water or brewed Rooibos tea (in fact any herbal tea base that you like can work as the base)
  • 1 tablespoon of honey or maple syrup to sweeten
  • Splash of unsweetened almond, oat or rice milk.
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The How:

  1. Put the water/Rooibos and the ginger in a pan and bring it to the boil then reduce the heat and gently simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  2. Add cinnamon, cloves, turmeric and simmer for 15 more minutes.
  3. Strain spices from tea and keep them in a container in the fridge.
  4. Add maple syrup or honey, if using, and the vanilla extract. Stir.
  5. You can store this in the fridge and have it hot or cold. If serving hot I add a splash of warmed almond milk before serving. 
  6. Keep the spices in the fridge and reuse them to make a second batch within a 5 day window or so. Just simmer the spices again with 4-5 cups of water or Rooibos and add in 2 tablespoons of freshly cut ginger for 30 minutes and....voila.....fresh spice tea!

What is Ayurveda anyway?

There are many people that have still never heard of Ayurveda so if you are wondering what it is, you are not alone! You could write an entire book (or two!) on what Ayurveda is but, put simply, Ayurveda is the "life wisdom" (the direct translation of the word is "ayu" = life + "veda" = wisdom) of an ancient Indian healthcare system of natural healing. It looks after all the facets of day to day well-being and health from diet and cooking to supplements, yoga, massage, treatments and herbal/plant based medicine.

At its most basic Ayurveda is the knowledge of how to live wisely, healthily, happily and with balance. It is the sister science to yoga and together they focus on preventative healthy lifestyle plus the overall welfare and care of the body using ancient traditions, Indian herbal treatments, massage and medical treatment (if a patient reaches the stage of disease where intervention is needed.)

Ayurveda has practises and advice to aid all kinds of daily prevention and well-ness and focuses on teaching actions that are "life enhancing" -  and indeed, highlighting those actions which are not! More than being merely a medical system it encompasses total wisdom for healthy living in order to reach your emotional and physical potential from the foods we chose, the weight we aim for and even the way we get ready each morning. 

At the core of Ayurveda is the understanding that every individual is, well,"individual". We are all unique. Ayurveda is based on the principle that the body is made up of 3 key constitutions (called "doshas") which make up the unique form of every person. These doshas are qualities that influence all of the body's functions from biological processes to thoughts and feelings, and each of us has a wonderfully unique balance of them which impact the functioning of our own system.  Although these doshas are present from birth they can also change according to a variety of circumstances such as the food we eat, the weather, how happy we are feeling, what time we go to bed, how many hours we work, how stressed we are, how much we drink......the list goes on.  

The goal of Ayurveda fundamentally is to help keep balance of these doshas in the body and ensure we feel at our very best as much of the time as possible. It covers all areas of physical health, emotional well being, social welfare, relationships, dietary habits, seasonal changes, environmental realities, and daily living trends. Ayurveda believes that it is impossible to separate our health from our family, work, society and planet and offers insights, that are still as relevant today as they were many centuries ago, to fulfil your own health potential based on the choices you make. So there you have it, Ayurveda 101!

Healing Ayurvedic Lentil & Spinach Soup

Healing, Warming, Therapeutic

Lentils play a crucial role in Ayurvedic nourishment, especially for vegetarians, due to their versatility and ability to deliver protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber and vitamins. Pulses tend to be astringent in taste which is one of the 6 tastes of Ayurveda and it just so happens it's the one which is often lacking in our diets.  Mung beans and red lentils are both good for all dosha types so in this soup I use red lentils as the base, but any would work. I add spinach because, put simply, this green has huge healing powers! It is an excellent source of Vitamin K, Vitamin A, Manganese, Folate, Magnesium, Iron, Vitamin C, Vitamin B 2 (Riboflavin), Calcium, Potassium, and Vitamin B 6, as well as having a natural mineral and vitamin content that is good for all kinds of ailments - from helping lower blood pressure to strengthening our hearts. Have you read that spinach also delivers an amazing 1100% of the daily value percentage of Vitamin K in just one serving? What's not to love about this nourishing and warming lentil and spinach combo?! I have added a host of immune system supporting and anti inflammatory ayurvedic spices to make a super simple and speedy lunch or supper.

The What?

2 tsp ghee or olive oil

1/2 tsp finely chopped red chilli (keep the seeds for warming winter heat!) or red chili flakes

1 tsp freshly, and finely, chopped ginger

2 tsp cumin

1.5 tsp garam masala or allspice (either work!)

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp tumeric

1/2 tsp black pepper

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 onion, finely chopped

1 cup lentils, rinsed

5 cups of vegetable stock (ideally organic)

2 tablespoons of tomato paste (ideally organic)

1 tablespoon of tamari or soy sauce (tamari is gluten free, soy is not)

5 cups of chopped spinach (any kind works but remove thick stalks)

The How?

Heat the ghee or olive oil in a soup pot on the stove. Add the red chilli, ginger, garlic and onion. Fry them for 3 minutes or so to soften but don't allow them to brown. Add the pepper, tamari/soy sauce and saute for a further 2 minutes. Add the cumin, tumeric, coriander and garam masala/allspice and mix well before adding in the rinsed lentils and the stock. Stir and bring to the boil. Add the tomato paste, stir again and allow the soup to simmer for approximately 20-25 minutes until the lentils soften. If you have a Wonder Bag (what's this?) I pop my soup in there for an hour or more at this stage and leave it in there until I am ready to eat.  Sometimes I do this in the morning before work and leave it all day - its still warm 8 hours later!

Just before eating, bring back to a simmer and heat through, add the spinach and allow it to wilt before serving. If you prefer a smoother soup use a stick blend to blend the lentils before adding the spinach but personally I love to leave these little gems whole.

Ladle into bowls and serving steaming - if you have fresh coriander and a fresh lemon to hand add a squeeze of lemon and a sprig of corainder on top for serving. A dollop of plain yoghurt will also deliciously cut through the heat if you fancy it. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Nourish vs Nutrition

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Nutrition is quite a buzzword today but at Meraki Code we believe it is nourishment we should be focused on and not simply nutrition. As we go about our daily lives, we can never really be sure how much nourishment is really being absorbed into our systems and, especially as we age, our digestive system often doesn't extract nutrients as well as it did when we were younger.

Whilst there is no hard scientific studies yet to show how many nutrients are in modern vegetables, versus turn of the century vegetables, we do know, for example, that Omega 3 fatty acid levels have gone down in many foods and that specific vitamins associated with vulnerability to stress, depression, immunity and low energy are often missing from our daily foods. Our brain cells, and therefore the effective functioning of our whole system, work at a very high metabolic rate and burn more energy than any others in body. To maintain the brain's capacity we need to support it by ensuring we consume the vital nutrients and vitamins needed for high cellular performance. Did you know:

  • Many people are unknowingly eating foods that lead to improper digestion and these wrong food choices can lead to a host of problems associated with incomplete digestion, mal-absorption issues, inflammation and the accumulation of toxins in the body?
  • When your system is not digesting properly it cannot absorb the nutrients your body needs, and not only does this negatively impact health but it means your body cannot create the energy it needs for your jam packed day to day routine?
  • When your body isn’t fully nourished your sleep quality often suffers, and you’re certainly more susceptible to illness, energy drain, mood swings, gastrointestinal problems and lower levels of vibrancy and immunity?

A key specialism of Meraki Code’s Yoga Therapy Programs is the focus on restoring health and vitality through the application of tailor-made Ayurvedic nourishment plans incorporating dietary recommendations and supplements, where appropriate.  We know a huge part of healing begins with a nourishing food routine and that the missing link to many chronic health conditions may begin with finding the right food, and ingredient plan, to ensure your body is better equipped to regain health. We make sure we cover:

  • Ayurvedic nourishment, meals and diet planning
  • Yogic recipe recommendations for preventative, cell nourishing, healthy meals
  • Healthy tips, tricks and how to's for 2016's busy lifestyle and food on the go culture
  • Ayurvedic supplement recommendations to improve energy generators, our body’s wellness status and our ability & speed of healing.
  • Spice education
  • Daily routine boosters
  • Work day lunch solutions as well as cooking for meals at home
  • Symptom specific nourishing recommendations

Ayurveda is still new to many (even though it's 3000 years old!) and we love talking about how to best nourish our bodies for health and success. Watch this space for tips, recipes, and a host of very ancient (!), and very new, news on how to do this daily. The research globally is mounting and we will share it here first so you have all the science, and all the data, you need to make smart decisions backed by medical journals and scientific reports. If you don't know ayurveda yet - which translates as "life wisdom" - we know you're going to love the journey!