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.

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.

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!