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.

Remember to hit the subscribe button if you want to join me for more yoga practices.

Preparing for India

travel-tips-india

With so many of my yoga friends making the trip to Mysore lately, I’ve been reminiscing about our trip a few year ago and am finding once again India is tugging at my heart. India is one of those places; you either love it or hate it and I absolutely love it. I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts on how to prepare for a trip to the motherland of yoga, although I don’t think you can ever really prepare yourself for India.

img_1023
Sweet shop in Orchha

Food
I’m sure everyone knows at least one person who’ve shared their story on that explosive curry they had while travelling through India. Most guide books suggest adopting a vegetarian diet (if you’re not one already) for the duration of your trip. I remember how smug I was eating one delicious vegetarian dish after another while my Hubby went on what I called The Grand Tour of Mutton. “Any minute now” I thought at every bite he took until…I woke up in the middle of a hot,sweaty, humid night in Varanasi and didn’t feel too well. “Just dehydration after a day’s sightseeing” I thought. Unfortunately for me, I must have eaten something that got contaminated (we had dinner at a restaurant right on the ghats that night) and said bug traveled with me for the rest of our trip. So my tip would be to make sure you eat at busy, well reviewed places if you’re worried and to accept that while you can try and minimize your chances of picking up a stomach bug, sometimes the universe likes to remind you that you really aren’t in control.

img_1457
The banks of the Ganges in Varanasi

Travel Insurance
This leads me onto my next tip, get travel insurance! I can’t believe how many people risk it and travel without it. Sure chances of you using it is slim but it’ll save you bankruptcy, a whole lot of stress and tears in the unfortunate event something does go wrong. As my bug seemed resistant to all the medication I brought with me plus the ones we got from the pharmacies and local remedies, my Hubby ended up taking me to the hospital in McLeod Ganj up in the mountains. We were already risking our lives heading down the mountain at breakneck speed in a tiny taxi at night with me clutching the bin from the hotel room we were staying in. I ended up in what was the hospital’s tiny emergency room waiting for the Dr to be summoned from her home. Had things been worse, I would have been transferred to a private hospital where the fees would have been significantly higher and would quickly add up. Luckily we had travel insurance. Thankfully we were able to avoid that but I was very grateful that I didn’t have to think twice about going to the hospital.

 

img_0305
Jet-lagged but super impressed with the big gates

Clothing
Dressing modestly is key in India. As a foreigner, chances are you will get people starting at you regardless of what you wear. You look different and some people might never have seen red hair or blond hair before. I found that being friendly helps and often times, before you know it you’ve made new friends. However, India is a relatively conservative country. It’s changing slowly in big cities such as Mumbai, but it’s still best to make sure that you dress respectfully. This means trying to stay away from strappy tops and shorts or short skirts. I always carried a shawl with me as some holy places require you to cover your hair, and if you are wearing a strappy top, you can always cover up with your shawl.

I mostly wore salwar kameezes (super comfortable and perfect for hot days) and received so many compliments from the local women. Other days I wore long skirts, jeans or loose cotton pants with loose t-shirts or kurtas.

img_0817
Temple in Khajuraho

Respect
India is unlike any other country on earth. It has a long history and is incredibly diverse. This means that there are many religions, languages and people all living together for the most part in crazy, chaotic harmony. There are some places where religious tensions run high and we did our best to avoid them. People were always happy to tell us more about their religion, beliefs and culture when we asked and we were genuinely interested. I feel we learnt so much just listening to their stories and you often get to learn something you haven’t come across before.

It’s also important to know when it’s the right time to take a photo and when to be respectful. So many people try to take photos of the cremation ghats in Varanasi, but it’s actually considered incredibly rude and very disrespectful towards the family who are mourning the passing of a loved one. It would be the same as random strangers showing up at a funeral and starting to take pictures. The same goes for when you’re attending a religious ceremony at a temple. Always have a look and see what the locals are doing. We were lucky enough to attend the evening aarti at the Ram Raja temple in Orchha which is quite intimate. Taking photos would have felt out of place and I’m sure the locals wouldn’t have appreciated it. The evening aarti along the Ganges in Varanasi however is a big attraction and locals and tourists alike tend to take photos.

img_2183_4_5
Kangra Fort at the foothills of the Himalayas

Travel
As it was our first trip, we opted to have a driver. We had a few out of the way places we wanted to visit and taking public transport would have taken too long to get us there. Our driver was absolutely wonderful and ended up being a wealth of information. After our time in India he felt like part of the family and we were quite sad to say good bye. He knew all the unspoken rules of the road in India (there are many, the most important being the biggest vehicle gets right of way, doesn’t matter which side of the road it’s driving). He pointed out long forgotten forts and temples on hill tops, knew where we could stop in the middle of nowhere to get a bite to eat and took us along back routes showing us sights we would never have seen.

Travelling by rail is also a great way to see the countryside and meet people. Unfortunately we had limited time in India so opted for a more reliable mode of transport as trains can often times be delayed. Trips can also take quite a while. We flew from Varanasi to Amritsar and it was relatively inexpensive. Considering how ill I was feeling I was quite grateful I was able to crawl into a warm bed that night instead of having to sleep on the train.

img_0414
Life in Paharganj in Delhi

Put the camera down
You will fill up your memory card with photos, and then some! India is the most photogenic country I’ve ever visited. It’s riot of colours, beautiful smiles, incredible temple architecture, amazing sunrises, snow capped mountains, holy men, monks, beautiful sari clad women and stalls stacked sky high with spices, fruits and gorgeous fabrics. You’ll want to take photos of everything, but doing so you’ll miss out on the experience of just being there. Nothing beats sitting at the Ganga aarti in Varanasi, surrounded by laughing women trying to teach you the mantra blaring over the loudspeakers, or enjoying a rare, quiet moment as the forest surrounding McLeod Ganj erupts with thousands of butterflies.

A few other tips:

  • Don’t drink the tap water.
  • Remember that the Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays.
  • Take earplugs, you’ll need them, especially in the cities.
  • Make sure you have some smaller denomination notes with you for tips.
  • India is known for absolutely mouth watering dishes, from super spicy hot to mild. Don’t spend your time eating at McDonalds. There are countless hole in the wall eateries and restaurants where you can enjoy a meal without getting the feared Delhi Belly. A good rule of thumb is go anywhere popular with lots of locals.
  • Cows always have right of way.
  • You will get haggled by people trying to sell you everything under the sun. Try not to get annoyed and instead just say you’re not interested and walk away. Some might follow you but will soon lose interest to move on to someone who might buy something.
  • Wear shoes that are easy to remove. You’ll be taking them off and putting them on a 1000 times a day as you visit temples.
  • Most people understand some English in the cities, but that’s not always true in more rural areas. Usually some amusing arm waving and interpretative dancing gets the message across much to the delight of the laughing locals.
  • Don’t do anything you would’t do back home. I was asked several times by groups of guys to pose for a photo with them, but I wouldn’t do that with a group of strange guys back home, so just politely declined.
  • Do sit back and enjoy the beautiful chaos that India is.

Warming up before practice

yb-warm-up

If I head out to practice first thing in the morning, I often need to warm up first. My tendons and muscles tend to be on the stiff side first thing and I find that doing some warm ups, either as part of my home practice, or before I leave for class really helps my body feel more comfortable. I also find that it prepares me mentally for my practice by making me aware of my breath and how my body is feeling and reacting in poses.

Join me in my latest video as I talk you through a quick warm up that you can do ahead of any yoga practice or your exercise of choice. As always when practicing, remember to listen to your body and stop if you experience any pain.

Remember to click the thumbs up on the video if you liked it and click subscribe if you’d like to receive more yoga related videos in your inbox.

Have a wonderful week!
xx

Yoga Fun – Morning Routine

Hello everyone!

Summer is finally on it’s way and I can’t wait for the warm days to arrive. It’s so much easier for me to get up early in the mornings to go to yoga when it’s light and warm. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy at the moment and I still have my mornings where I just want to sleep in.

On such mornings, I always end up doing some yoga in bed. Just a few poses and some breathing to get my day started. You really can do yoga anywhere. Favourite poses include reclined twists (you can use your pillows as bolsters if you need to), legs up the wall, Cat/Cow and Puppy Pose. Below is a little video I did more for fun, but showing some of the poses I do when I just can’t get myself out of bed. It also features one of my yoga kitties.

I hope you enjoy the video and if you do, don’t forget to subscribe to my channel.

Hope to see you on the mat soon!