Seasonal Yoga – Winter

I was lucky enough to find a new class this week. Housed in a beautiful local environment centre, I’d been to this place lots before with my children; where we’d walk, forage and stop for hot chocolate on chilly afternoons. This week I followed up on a poster I’d seen on one such afternoon and grabbed a spot in a Kundalini Yoga class. My previous yoga experience has mainly been with Dru Yoga (and of course my beloved Yoga Studio app) so I was excited to branch out and develop my practice. I learnt so much in that first session and having spent the past 24 hours rolling the new wisdom around in my mind, I want to share a mantra that really stood out to me; work with the seasons.

In Winter, we naturally want to hibernate. We plump up to keep warm and as the sun rises later, so we find the waking harder, forcing our feet to find the chilly floor in the cave-like room, like early daffodils eager to bloom in the midst of January. The midst of Winter. We spend our evenings curled up with blankets and we slow down, a little, saving big plans for Spring holidays and long summers. Well this week my sleepy eyes were opened; we can, and must, extend this mantra into our practice. Don’t fight Winter, go with it. We are naturally less supple in the cold and for most of us, the last thing we want to do is wake ourselves up with a dynamic set of poses. Like birds who stop singing in Winter, we too need to conserve energy to survive the winter hardship, save the exertion for the Spring and for now, hibernate. Give in to the season and give yourself time, check your awareness as it flows from the top of your body and into your feet in soft waves. Do this in abundance. Now is the time to indulge in you and indulge in the still and the quiet.

In terms of yoga, Winter is not the time for ferocious challenges, for a billion rounds of sun salutations or for contorting your rigid muscles into new poses. Save it. Save it and be glad to know that you can tackle these with joy in the sun-blessed mornings of Spring, but for now be rested. Meditate and keep a soft, flowing practice, indulge in savasana and bring your focus back to the gentle fizz of awareness in your body.

Light a candle for your practice this weekend and lay still, check your awareness from top to tail and then hug your knees to your chest, gently pivoting them forward and back as you breathe in time. Compress – breathe out, release – breath in, letting your tummy fill deeply with air. Compress, release, compress.

Indulge in you this winter.

Jaime xx

Image credit: www.bevitality.com

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Recipe: Shredded Sprouts and Tofu

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I love my Abel and Cole Cookbook. It’s full of wholesome, hearty recipes which work with the seasons (and therefore the ingredients in my weekly veg box!) So today, when deciding to use up a bag of organic sprouts languishing in post-Christmas asylum, this book was my go-to guide for some wintery inspiration. Now of course, the wonderful recipe writers at Abel and Cole land aren’t all vegetarian and so I am used to getting creative when not wanting to miss out on a beautiful dish, but this recipe Shredded Brussels and Bacon appeared to challenge us veggies directly:

“If you’re vegetarian and thinking about moving over to the dark side”

The blurb read arrogantly (But with a good enough dollop of tongue-in-cheek honesty, to allow me to refrain from offence) I did feel challenged though. Opening the fridge, I spotted a pack of smoked tofu that really needed using and considered if this would be enough to match the succulence of fried bacon. Perhaps not in texture but paired with the sweet maple syrup I had to hand, I thought I’d give it a go! So often with meat, it’s the sauces, flavourings and texture we in fact crave, not the taste of the plain meat itself. I also had some Indian ghee (clarified butter) to use up, and with its high smoke point (making it incredibly stable in molecular structure when cooking) it would be perfect for browning and adding much lusted-after flavour to the tofu.

Ok so here goes; a simple, healthy and seasonal vegetarian recipe inspired by Abel and Cole’s meaty one; where I switched bacon for smoked tofu, soy sauce for maple and butter for ghee. The original recipe also includes carrots, which I didn’t use – as I didn’t have, but I’d say feel free to experiment with/increase the variety of vegetables to your liking/as the season dictates.

Ingredients:
A small bag of Brussels Sprouts
A 225g packet of smoked tofu, cubed (I find that Clear Spot’s has a very good firmness)
1.5 tbsp of ghee (or a good quality oil)
A good glug of maple syrup
Salt and black pepper
1 tbsp fresh chopped sage (optional)
Brown rice (to serve)
Vegetarian hard cheese, grated (optional)

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1. First get your rice simmering in water and then begin preparing the sprouts. You’ll need to cut a few millimetres off the bottom of each sprout (depending on size of stalk) and remove the outer leaves, before slicing in half and then shredding lengthways, with each slice around 2mm wide.

2. Heat 1 tbsp of ghee in a heavy-bottomed pot and begin to fry the tofu cubes until golden and beginning to crisp on each side. Do this gently, but don’t allow it to stew. I find a medium-high heat, plenty of ghee, with as little stirring as possible the best method here.

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3. Add the shredded sprouts and half the chopped sage. Splash in a good glug of maple syrup, give it all a good stir and then leave it to cook for between 5 and 10 mins. After which, taste and season accordingly, adding more maple syrup if required.

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4. Serve on a mound of rice, with the sprouts having kept a slight bite and sprinkle over the rest of the sage and some vegetarian hard cheese for extra richness and flavour.

This recipe can easily be adapted for vegans, just switch the ghee for a good quality oil (one with a high smoke point like rapeseed would work well here) and omit the cheese or switch for a dusting of nutritional yeast.

I hope you enjoy this healthy, wintery treat, my children aged 7 and 3 cleared their plates and asked for more! An unequivocal Brussels Sprout result in my book!

Happy New Year!

Jaime xx

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Yoga and Meditation at Home

There is nothing better than expert advice and support from your local yogi or meditation group, but how are we to improve and develop our practice if we don’t expand on things at home? The truth is, it can be extraordinarily difficult to practise yoga and mediation at home, particularly if you have a busy job and/or family life. As a bit of a newbie, full time teacher and mother of two, I have myself become stumped, when trying to recall my favourite yoga combination a day or two after class. As for meditation; I would spend the entire 10 minutes or so asking myself rhetorically when time was up, or replaying the days events or simply fidgeting and readjusting my position with every twinge or niggle. I just could not achieve mental quiet on my own; in fact at times, the more quiet and still the environment, the more alone I was, the louder my inner thoughts became; I just couldn’t find stillness. This is the most bizarre juxtaposition but it’s more common than you’d think.

There are a myriad of home yoga and meditation apps for desperate beginners to download and use at will but are they any good? I feel as though I have tried them all, but here are reviews of my two current faves: Yoga Studio and Pranayama – Universal Breathing.

Yoga Studio £2.99

This app has been the answer to my at-home yoga dreams! Yes it costs a bit more than the typical £0.69 download but for a couple of pounds you are getting a fantastic resource absolutely brimming with poses, combinations and ready-made classes that you can download and play at your leisure. The poses are demonstrated by a single, simply-adorned female yogi with pleasant calming music accompanying each video, and a voice to guide you through the routine. You can use the pre-set classes or be creative and make your own – perhaps inspired by new poses learned at your recent yoga class. This app will help you to remember and recall those poses in order to practice them properly at home. To enhance this creative process even further, the app can automatically provide ‘linking’ poses to help you move fluidly from one pose to the next – they really have considered everything. One of the best features of Yoga Studio is that once you have downloaded your favourite classes, you can play them anywhere, no wi-fi connection required. Yoga in the park anyone? I am incredibly impressed with this modern, sleek, easy-to-use app, which has transformed my yoga and shaped the way in which I can develop my practice at home.

Pranayama – Universal Breathing £4.99

Before you run away screaming at the price tag, I know, it’s pretty expensive. I have actually only just downloaded the full app at this price, as the free version is just so brilliant in itself and absolutely perfect for beginners. For those unsure, pranayama, universal or diaphragmatic breathing, is simply the art of breathing fully, inhaling deeply, filling your lungs to capacity and releasing the waste air slowly. More expert modifications include sustaining and/or retaining this air between in/exhalations. There are a few key tips to remember when practising your diaphragmatic breathing at home (or anywhere!)

– sit or stand comfortably, relax your shoulders and focus on your lower tummy area; your diaphragm should move out and in quite noticeably as you inhale and exhale deeply.

– it’s not the amount of breaths, but the ratio! Even if you start small I.e. Two breaths in four breaths out, the key is to breathe out for much longer than your breathe in. The perfect ratio for optimum benefit and relaxation is 7:11. I.e. 7 counts in, 11 counts out.

– unless otherwise directed, always perform this kind of breathing through your nose.

The Pranayama app completely guides you visually and aurally through this process and keep count for you, as well as accompanying the exercise with pleasant music. There are lots of different ‘themes’ to choose from for this background music depending on your mood, but I tend to stick with the classic option which I find really soothing. I have also found this practice a real antidote to my early meditation problems and I can now apply the restorative breathing techniques, especially when needing a tool to focus or relax. A must-have tool for any budding yogi or meditation newbie.

Download them here; Yoga Studio, Pranayama – Universal Breathing (free version)

Photo credit: yoganonymous.com

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Go Green From the Inside out

I have finally bought myself a juicer! Yes I know I am terrifically late, but the main cause of my almighty dithering was purely down to shopping. Yuk. I really do hate shopping and after reading hundreds of different reviews and searching every juicer under the sun online (£400 will get you the best at-home-juicer. Yes, £400!)  Bearing in mind the spinach and kale bill steadily mounting up (In line with my nutritional aptitude of course), I’m glad I wasn’t persuaded to go for this option just yet. In the end, last Sunday morning, I packed the family into the car and we went juicer shopping.  I just needed to go out, pick one and buy it.  In the end I went for a simple Philips centrifugal model, which is compact, smart and easy to clean.  Yes its pretty loud and the pulp isn’t as dry as it could be, but hey, its a juicer and so far, it’s great!

Who knew that the hardest part about juicing was getting set up in the first place?

So why juice? This was another major factor in my procrastination over juicing – I have a good diet which includes plenty of vegetables, so why do I need to juice them too?  Well the reality is that we are just not eating enough of the stuff and certainly not enough of the really special stuff.  Dark green leafy vegetables are nutritional superheroes packed full of vitamins, minerals and those all important phytonutrients which are associated with protection against the big four: cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension. They are also rich in chlorophyll, which alkalises the blood.  When was the last time you ate half a bag of raw kale?  That is what you get from juicing – all the goodness of the veg minus only the fibre, which you replace by either hiding some of that pulp in your meals (yup!) or if your not that brave, just ensure that the rest of your diet includes plenty proper sources of fibre like legumes, wholegrains and fresh fruit and vegetables.  For me, my frothy fresh green juice has become a daily, ‘extra’ which I take first thing in the morning.  It is by no means a meal replacement or part of any fad diet to lose weight.  This is just about balancing my body and filling it with the goodness it needs to be of optimum health.  Do ensure you are prepared to sit down for a moment or two after your first cup, to savour the moment yes, but also to steady the legs – I felt an extraordinary high after drinking mine!

A couple of tips to get you started:

1. This form of ‘juicing’ refers to the extraction of nutritional goodness from beneficial, largely dark leafy greens – not that thick, sweet, fruit smoothie shake you’ve been blending (Although those are of course awesome as a treat!)

2. SOURCE YOUR GREENS RESPONSIBLY! I cannot emphasise enough, how important it is that you use homegrown, local or organic produce in your diet – particularly in your juice which is super concentrated. Go find that farm shop!

3. Kit yourself out! Blenders and food processors are great but do try to pick up a juicer, there are brilliant options available for all budgets. It doesn’t have to be professional standard – a simple model will get you started and won’t blow the budget.

4. Drink your juice right away.  Unless you have a really expensive piece of kit, the juice produced from most at-home juicers needs to be consumed within 30 minutes before it starts to spoil.

5. Have fun with it! Try swapping in different fruit and vegetables to enhance the taste and nutrition of your juice.  You will find an apple in most green juice recipes – why not try swapping for a pear?  Remember, don’t overdo it with the sweet fruits – its all about the greens!

6. Top tip from my lovely local farm shop owner; soak your greens first to hydrate them which will not only flush out those pesky minibeasts (Caterpillar, anyone?) but will optimise the amount of juice you are able to extract.

My fave green juice recipe so far:

  • About six kale leaves, soaked
  • A large handful of spinach leaves
  • 1/3 cucumber
  • One medium size carrot, whole
  • One apple, whole
  • 1/2 a lemon, peeled
  • A 1 inch (or less!) chunk of ginger, peeled
  • A handful of mint leaves (Or any other flavoursome fresh herb!)

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Start by juicing the greens, lemon and the ginger and then finish by pushing in the cucumber, carrot and apple. Give it a stir and pour into a clean glass to enjoy immediately!

 

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This frothy green goodness tastes surprisingly delicious!

So have I convinced you?  Are you rushing out the door as we speak on a juice-kit pilgrimage? Or are you a pro with recipes to share? Please do 🙂

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A New Path to Wellness

I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions this year, nor did I give up a vice for Lent.  It wouldn’t have been enough. I needed permanence, I needed a new path…I needed more.

Or was it actually less that I craved?  It’s all down to perspective in the end; is your glass half-full or half empty?

My eyes were opened in stunning fashion a couple of years ago when I was introduced to Dru Yoga at a local prenatal yoga class in fear of having to endure another terrifying labour ending in surgery, as I did with my first and wanting to try anything, anything to help my body through it this time.  I practised yoga weekly throughout my second and third trimester and in the end, was lucky enough to have a text-book, drug-free, natural birth.  Though I will always be skeptical about the physiological role yoga played in this experience –  I haven’t ever been able to forget about it. I have, since then sporadically kept up my yoga practice but have only recently begun to indulge in the wider ethos and lifestyle around yoga and wellness.

I never felt so alive and attuned, as when in a yoga session and the meditative phases allow my highly-strung, busy mind to slow and to clear.  The wider lifestyle, I would suggest, is all part of the same ethos; wellness. Or if you are sensitive to the term, plainly; ‘being well’.  I had already, for a number of years, been thoroughly adopting a ‘greener’ lifestyle through food and home product choices, visiting farm shops and markets as well as using British (largely) organic food companies like Abel and Cole to provide the majority of our grocery shopping.  I am an avid re-cycler and re-user and enjoy experimenting with the use of homemade cleaning products for bath and home. I have recently embraced vegetarianism again, which is something I first did as a would-be activist youth wanting to save the world, but let slip as I grew ever-more occupied by pressing societal concerns that all teens experience; like peer-pressure and conformity and commercialism. Yuk.  I let my true self go in order to conform and have it easy – eating meat was easy. Though it never did sit well with me and this time, I won’t look back.  To compliment my diet and boost my nutritional intake, I have in the past few days begun consuming ‘green juice’  (recipes, product review and experience to follow!) and am already feeling the benefits. (Yes truly!)

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I still have much to learn, and there are certain aspects of this wider lifestyle that I am yet to fully embrace.  Meditation is one of them and is something that has had a profound affect on me when in a guided session with Alison or one of my countless audio apps but I have yet to perfect meditation at home (Something to do with two very loud and demanding children perhaps?!)  The other one is positive mental attitude.  As a mother with a high-pressure job, this aspect is my nemesis but also, for the aforementioned reasons exactly, the most valuable.

Here are my personal six-steps to wellness for 2014:

1. Meditate daily – starting each day with clarity and stillness.

2. Put down the smartphone – be present!

3. Practise yoga regularly.

4. Embrace a vegan diet – indulge as much as possible in non animal-derived products.

5. Juice daily! Juicing vastly increases the amount of vitamins, nutrients and those cancer-fighting phytochemicals you can take from raw superfoods such as kale.

6. Write/read/walk/observe/reflect –  be creative and indulge in the things that make you happy!

 

What are your favourite wellness tips? Please do share any of your own super tips for a happy, healthy 2014!

 

 

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