Book review – Namaste the Hard Way

I was looking for something easy and interesting to read when I came across this book by Sasha Brown-Worsham. I didn’t know anything about Sasha, but the book sounded interesting.

We follow Sasha on a journey as she reconnects with her mother through her yoga practice years after her mother passes away from cancer. Her mother was an avid yogini, something that rubbed Sasha up the wrong way as a teenager as all she ever wanted was a “normal” mom. She cringes from embarassment when her mom invites one of her friends to do yoga with them, she feels resentment towards her mother’s yoga practice as it takes up her mother’s time, even as she’s getting sick.

It’s a story of loss but also ultimately of understanding and reconnection. I didn’t expect to enjoy the book as much as I did and it even got me thinking about my relationship with my mom when I was younger.

Let me know in the comments below if you’ve read it and what you thought. Also, I’m always keen for book recommendations so please let me know which books you loved and think I might enjoy.

How to practice yoga with an injury

How to practice yoga with an injury

There will come a time in most yoga practitioners life when you will find yourself injured. This could be for reasons completely unrelated to yoga, overuse, overstraining, receiving a bad adjustment or just plain old bad luck.

So what’s a yogi or yogini to do?
Sometimes you can still continue to practice asana or the physical part of yoga just by modifying a few poses. Other times complete rest is the best option. As someone who has had a stubborn yoga injury as well as the unrelated bad luck of breaking my foot, I thought I’d share a few tips on what worked for me.

Rest
If the injury is very inflamed and very sore, sometimes it’s good to take a break from your physical practice and rest.

Some people immediately stop practicing. In some cases that’s necessary. Some injuries might be so inflamed that resting it completely is the best thing you can do before you start rehabilitation. Others work through the injury. I opted to work through the injury initially but it soon became apparent that all I was doing was making it more angry.

I went to see a physio therapist and followed his instructions to a T. After several months I still didn’t see any improvements and began to realise that while his treatment might have worked for others, my body wasn’t responding to it. I eventually found an amazing physio who has encouraged me to continue my practice, albeit modified while providing me with some exercises to help build up strength in areas my body is weak in.

Modification
When I broke my foot, the rest of my body was fine I just couldn’t put any weight on my foot for a while. This is where I modified my practice. I adopted a more restorative practice in the beginning, making sure to give my body some rest while it tried to heal.

Once the foot was feeling a little better, I began to modify by popping a block under my leg so I could come into Table Top. I still tried to keep off the foot so my focus was more on seated postures.

Once I could put some weight on it, I incorporated a few standing postures to help with my rehab and to build some strength back into that leg and foot. It was a slow process which changed daily depending on how the foot felt. The important thing is to listen to your body and your health professional.

Focus on the other limbs of yoga
There’s so much more to yoga than just the physical poses. See this as an opportunity to explore and deepen your pranayama (breathing) or meditation practice. When I broke my foot, my meditation practice was pretty sporadic, but it provided the perfect opportunity for me to learn how to sit each morning, even just for 5 to 10 minutes and meditate. Fast forward a couple of months and I now can’t imagine not meditating each day.

So don’t dispair and think you can’t practice when you’re injured. It’s all about listening to your body and adjusting your practice to suit your needs at that time.

5 Tips that helped ease my anxiety

I have always been an anxious person. As a child the feeling of my stomach doing flip flops, nausea and my throat closing up was all too familiar. Unfortunately, it got even worse as I got older. I am incredibly risk averse because I always fear the worst will happen. There are even days where I dread leaving the house, not because I don’t want to go out, but because I’m too anxious and worry something might happen to my fur-kids while I’m away.

I thought I was alone feeling like this, but it turns out anxiety is pretty common, especially in our fast paced world. So I thought I would share how I manage my anxiety and maybe you can find something that will also work for you.

Have a regular yoga asana practice
I have always heard people tell me that yoga worked wonders for their stress levels, better sleep and their anxiety, but to be honest I didn’t really buy into the whole hype. That’s to say, until I finally started practicing regularly. It’s didn’t make my anxiety disappear, but I began to notice the symptoms in my own body much sooner, which meant I could take action to make sure it didn’t get bad. I also found the movement quite calming which meant my anxiety was much less severe.

Meditate
Another one I used to roll my eyes at, but it seriously works for me. Finding that stillness, even just for 5 minutes each morning means I start my day calmer and much more relaxed. If I know I have a busy time coming up, or will need to do something out of my comfort zone I make sure to increase my meditation to sitting for longer, or practicing twice a day.

Pranayama
More specifically, Nadi Shodhana or alternate nostril breathing. During this breathing practice, you sit in a comfortable position and then breathe in through one nostril, close it off, open the other nostril with a finger and breathe out. You then breathe in through that nostril, close it off with your finger, open the other nostril and breathe out. Repeat until you’re done. I know it sounds a little strange but counting and focusing on the breath really helps to calm my body and allow me to focus on one thing, instead of all the worst case scenarios playing out in my head.

If you’re unsure how to practice Nadi Shodhana, I made a little instructional video a while back which you can watch here.

Get out in nature
There is just something calming about standing bare feet on the grass, or sitting underneath a beautiful tree or listening to the sound of the waves crashing on the sand. Heading outside, even just for 5 minutes immediately makes me feel more relaxed.

Asking for help
I think so many of us feel ashamed asking for help, but reaching out when you need a hand is important. Speak to your GP, your partner or a trusted friend. There is also no shame in taking medication or seeing a professional to help you get hold of your anxiety. Have an honest conversation with your GP. Sometimes all you need is something mild to help you through especially tough days, or they can provide you with a referral to see someone who you can work with. My partner knows when I have bad days and always makes sure to offer support. I am especially anxious when flying so he makes sure I have the seat I prefer and holds my hand when we take off and land or is ready for hugs when turbulence gets bad and I need a shoulder to cry on. My GP also knows that flying is tough for me, so I make sure I pop by to have a chat and stock up on medication I might need to help me with my anxiety.

Hopefully you’ll find one or a few of these tips useful if you suffer from anxiety. The important thing to remember is that you’re not alone and that it’s more than ok to reach out if you need help.

Book Review – A Search in Secret India

I’ll be honest, this was a spur of the moment buy for me. We were renovating our en-suite bathroom camping out in the spare room (usually my yoga room) and I was desperate for something to read to take my mind of the stresses of the building work going on smothering everything in our house in a fine layer of dust.

I downloaded the Kindle version and was hooked from the first page. I didn’t know anything about the author, Paul Brunton, or that the book was first published in 1935. The writing style is definitely of that era, but it reads pretty easily. Paul was born in London and travelled to India and Egypt in search of broadening his knowledge on the sacred and religious practices of these countries. He was convinced that these teachings and practices could be adapted to benefit those living in the West so they too could benefit from them.

The book is written like a travel diary. It starts off with a bit of background information on Paul and how his interest in India, and most importantly, India’s holy men began. He wishes to travel to India, but life happens and it’s not until later he gets the opportunity.

As he travels through India (which couldn’t have been easy back then given how vast the country is), he meets various sages and holy men. Some are merely performers doing magic tricks, while others seem to fit the stories of what he’s heard of the holy men. He documents his experiences and conversations with these holy men. Some he comes across by chance, others suggest the teacher they follow like Ramana Maharshi in Arunachala.

He’s a sceptic when he starts out on his journey and continues to ask the sages he comes across to repeat the seemingly impossible feats they do. Most humour him, but some you get the sense that they feel as a Westener and someone on the outside, i.e. someone who doesn’t follow their teacher or have spent years trying to learn what they’re doing, regardless of how many times they show him he still wouldn’t believe it.

What I like about the book is that you can sense his genuine interest and thirst for knowledge and his quest for turning his focus inwards. I loved reading about his visit in Varanasi as I have travelled there before. I was delighted to read his description of the area around the ghats where I stayed as it matched what I saw exactly. It’s amazing to think that so little in that area has changed architecturally.

I don’t want to give too much away as it’s really well worth reading if you’re interested in yoga and meditation and just interested in India in general.

Delicious and easy to make Rajma

It’s cold. It’s rainy. It’s the perfect time for comfort food that warms you up. Enter my super easy super quick Rajma.

Ingredients:
Cooked brown basmati rice (or which ever rice you prefer)
1 Brown onion
2 Cloves of garlic minced
1 Can of diced tomatoes
2 Cans of red kidney beans, washed and drained
1 to 2 Heaped teaspoons of tomato paste (to your taste)
1 And a half teaspoon of Rajma spice mix (you can make your own or buy premixed spices at your local Indian grocery shop)
Handful of coriander leaves if you like the taste
Dash of olive oil

For additional heat:
4 Green chillies chopped
1 Tablespoon red chili powder

Cooking:
Cook your preferred rice to your method.
In a medium pot, add your olive oil, garlic, onion and chillies (if you opted for them) and cook until the onions are light brown.
Add in your Rajma spice, red chili powder if you opted for it, tinned tomatoes and cook for a few minutes stirring regularly to ensure it doesn’t burn.
Add your tomato paste and mix it in thoroughly.
Now add your red kidney beans and stir it into the mix. If the mix is a little dry you can add some water. It all depends on how much juice is in your tinned tomatoes. Add water to make sure the beans are just covered by the mix.
Cook on medium to low heat for about 15 to 20 minutes stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t burn. Add a little bit more water if the mix starts to get too dry.
Remove from heat and let it sit for another 15 to 20 minutes.
Add your coriander leaves to your pot and then serve with your rice.

The great thing about recipes is that you can adjust and experiment to suit your own tastes. I was inspired by a recipe I saw in my Bollywood Cookbook a friend gave me for my birthday one year (yes, I love Bollywood and delicious curries, so this is the best of both worlds!) The original is from Bollywood actress Preity Zinta but would normally take me a few hours to make. I wanted something quick, easy and adjustable based on whether I had guests who didn’t like their food too hot. This is what I came up with. Let me know how you like it and how you tweak it to make it your own.

How to help your immune system this winter

We’re right in the start of winter and you would have noticed a few co-workers already succumbing to winter bugs. You would also have seen a sudden increase in “immune booster” products being advertised to us, but do they even work?

I thought I’d share a few scientifically proven ways you can help keep your immune system healthy and balanced this winter while addressing a few myths at the same time.

Boosting your immune system
We’ve all heard about boosting our immune system, but is that even possible? Our immune system is quite complex consisting of hundreds of different cells doing a variety of different jobs. It consists out of the innate response (which identifies unfriendly bugs often leading us to have a fever or feeling under the weather) and the acquired response (which swoops in and battles against the unfriendly bugs). So the question is, what exactly are these products claiming to boost? Is it antibodies, or white cells or nothing really? Scientifically speaking, you can’t really “boost” your immune system. You can however try to keep things in balance and make some lifestyle and dietary changes that will help you have a healthy immune system.

Supplements
Supplements only work when you have a poor diet and find yourself deficient. Studies have shown that taking supplements if you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet won’t improve your immune system. Taking high dosages of vitamins can actually have an adverse effect and can lead to toxicity, especially in vitamin D and A.

What about herbal supplements like Echinacea? Unfortunately there just haven’t been enough studies to support the claims that herbs have a boosting effect on the immune system. Some of the studies have also been criticised for being too small or for being badly designed, which means they don’t supply us with enough supporting evidence.

Probiotics fall in the same category as herbal supplements. Scientists have started to look at the role our gut bacteria plays on our overall health, but it’s still early days and currently we can’t conclusively state that taking probiotics as a supplement will help boost the immune system. At the moment eating a healthy, balanced diet rich in fibre is a scientifically proven way to keep the gut healthy and as a result, help keep your immune system healthy. As more research is done in this area over the next few years we might be able to understand better what effect taking a probiotic supplement might have on our immune system.

Exercise
Staying active especially as the days become darker and colder can be a challenge. But it’s one of the ways you can help your immune system. Exercise helps to keep blood pressure and body weight under control. Working out also helps protect the body against some diseases. So instead of hitting the snooze button and sleeping in, get up and get moving.

Sleep
Sleep in general won’t help improve your immune system, but getting enough restorative sleep will help keep your immune system healthy. Most adults these days get less than 7 hours sleep a night, which doesn’t leave much time for restorative sleep. A few tips include making sure you switch all blue light appliances off at least 30 minutes before bed (this includes your mobile phone), winding down in bed with a good book, meditation or a relaxing bath and make sure you don’t drink too much alcohol as it can impact your sleep quality.

Diet
Raw food diets, juice cleanses and detox diets are fad diets. Despite what they claim, they won’t help keep your immune system healthy. You need to make sure you’re giving your body all the nutrients it needs and the best way to do it is by eating a healthy, balanced diet. Focus on incorporating a wide range of fruit, vegetables and fibre rich grains and pulses. This will make sure you get all the micronutrients your body needs to remain healthy. Make sure you limit your intake of processed foods and red meat.

Conclusion

If you do have a compromised immune system, make sure you chat to your GP about steps to take to help protect you against bugs this winter. There’s so much misinformation dressed up as science floating around on the internet and it can be tricky trying to sort fact from fiction. Often times, having a healthy body is usually the answer and it doesn’t require fancy, expensive lattes (although they are pretty), gruelling diets or pricy pills. While it’s not very sexy, a balanced wholefood mainly plant-based diet combined with exercise is one of the best ways to take care of your body and make sure your immune system remains healthy.

Decadent Chocolate Brownie Bites

I am a total chocoholic, but I’m also a bit of a chocolate snob. It needs to be delicious and rich. Often though, the chocolates we buy in the supermarket is filled with ingredients not so good for us. Enter my Decadent Chocolate Brownie Bites.

I was trying to find something that was healthier than your average chocolate bar, but consisted out of whole foods and would hit the spot when I crave chocolate.

The great thing about these bites are that I find I only need to eat one tiny square and my craving is gone. Because they’re made out of whole foods, they’re also very filling.

Ingredients:
1 Cup Cashew
1 Cup Almonds
1 Cup Cocoa Powder (this is what makes it so chocolaty)
1 Cup Dates
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Essence
Water to be added to your preferred consistency.

I blitz up my almonds, cashews and dates in my food processor.
Next I add the cup of cocoa powder and vanilla essence and blitz it all together. It should be a loose, semi powdery consistency.
Now I slowly add a little bit of filtered water at a time while it’s blitzing until it all starts to stick together. You don’t want to make the “batter” too runny, it needs to be sticky.

Line a dish or rectangular pan with baking paper and spread out the mixture. I like to spread it to about 1.5cm thickness.
Cover and place in the fridge for an hour or so.
It should have hardened a bit and will be easy to take out of the container.

Remove the baking paper and cut into small, square bites (I like mine to be about 3cm). You can make them bigger if you like, but remember they’re meant to be a treat.

Store them in an air-tight container in the fridge and they should keep for about 2 weeks (they never last that long though, we eat them way before then).

If you make these, let me know how they turned out for you. If you tweak them let me know what you added. I sometimes add some chopped up pecans or walnuts and stir them in just before I spread the mixture out into the pan. Enjoy!

Benefits of bringing yoga into the workplace

Yoga

We lead busy lives. We sit for long periods of time staring at our computer screens, our work-life can often times be quite stressful and we rarely get an opportunity to hit pause during the day.

Yoga has been scientifically proven to have a range of positive effects on office workers and it’s an easy practice to bring into the corporate environment.

Benefits include:

  • Reduces lower back pain
  • Reduces stress
  • Increases morale
  • Increases energy
  • Improves concentration and focus

It also give co-workers an opportunity to relax and do a non-work related activity together. This can lead to more harmonious workplace relationships, better conflict resolutions and healthier and happier employees.

There really isn’t a good reason not to bring yoga into the office.

You can access some of the scientific articles around the benefits of yoga here.

Setting Intentions for the New Year

Setting Intentionsfor theNew Year

It’s that time of year where we get inundated with “new year new you” advertising and everyone is sharing their resolutions for the new year. These often include resolutions for change such as starting a new healthy eating habit, exercising more or finding a new job. The problem is that often before the end of January we are already back to our previous habits. Luckily there’s a way to help you find intentions that you can achieve within the year.

What are your intentions?
I find the easiest way to set intentions is to think about the year that just passed. What are the things I didn’t achieve? If I felt that it was a particularly crazy busy year, I think about why that was and if there was anything I could have done differently. It’s good to take a few days to think about what you would like to achieve in the new year and to make a list. That way you can then go back and perhaps focus on two or three for the year.

Keep it simple.
We often fail because we set unrealistic goals for ourselves. Of course I would love to spend the year travelling the world, but that would be impossible unless I win the lotto, quit my job and bid farewell to my husband and fur babies for a year and there’s no way I can leave them for a year. A better way for me would be to add travelling more as an intention for the new year. That could include sneaky weekend getaways and possibly a longer holiday somewhere overseas at some point in the year. The same goes if you have set a goal for losing a certain amount of weight. A better way would be to set an intention to focus on becoming healthier. That way there’s less focus on the negative.

Create steps to achieve your intentions.
Most of us set our intentions and then we wait for the Universe to fulfil it for us. If only it was that easy! I find that by creating a plan or steps to achieve my goal makes it far more likely that I will reach it by the end of the year. If you choose to be healthier, think about what you need to do to achieve that and write those steps down. They can include making sure you have a bottle full of water on your desk every day, setting reminders for yourself to get up and stretch every hour, scheduling a yoga class every few days or going for a walk at lunch time every second day and packing a healthy lunch so you don’t end up buying something deep fried and unhealthy every day. Creating stepping stones let you see how achievable your intentions are and provides you with a map that you can follow throughout the year.

Find supporters.
It can be difficult to go at it alone, so find people who will encourage you or possibly help you reach your goal. You might like to join a club where you will meet likeminded people. It’s much easier getting out of bed early in the middle of winter when you are being held accountable and have friends waiting for you to join them for an early morning run or walk around the river. Getting the family to also reduce their unhealthy eating habits will make it easier to make healthy meals and cause less temptation for you.

Don’t give up.
It’s important to know that we’re all human and with that comes the occasional falling off the wagon. It’s impossible to be perfect 365 days. There will be days when you’re feeling under the weather, when you might have no option for lunch but a quick, easy takeaway meal or when you just really need a break. The important thing is to not hate yourself over it. Accept that you’ve fallen off the wagon for the day or that you’ve given yourself a little leeway during a holiday and then get back to working on your steps again. If you feel that you’re struggling, talk to your support group. Chances are there are people who are going through exactly the same thing and together you can help each other.

I hope that by breaking it down, you will be able to set a few intentions for yourself this year. I have three which I’m working towards. I wish you a wonderful new year filled with all the things we often don’t wish for, such as happiness, joy, lots of laughter and fun adventures!

International Yoga Day & Winter Solstice

Happy International Yoga Day and Winter Solstice (for those of us in the southern hemisphere!) I started my day on the mat (how else) sharing my passion for yoga with some wonderful students before coming home and doing my own practice. I thought this is the perfect opportunity to share a short Winter Solstice inspired sequence with you.

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