CategoryHealth

Do Yoga ANYWHERE this holiday season

We are right in the middle of the holiday season! That time of year when yoga studios close down and personal practice is SO hard to come by. But, yoga is the perfect antidote to family gatherings and office parties. How does a yogi keep practicing when the festive spirit takes hold?

Yoga can be done ANYWHERE. Yes, anywhere.

Here are a few of our favourite tricks for keeping your practice on track.

Tadasana on the tube

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Bring yoga into everyday activities. Try a sneaky Tadasana next time you are standing in a queue or on the tube. Ground down through your feet as you grow tall through the crown of your head and subtly draw the shoulder blades towards the waist. Feel the chest open and breathe… Working on a posture like this activates muscles, takes us out of the habitual slouch and will even make you feel more confident.

Or maybe you have a long train journey home to your loved ones. How about a modified Dandāsana in your seat? Ground down through both sit bones and feet; lengthen the spine as you grow taller; and draw the shoulder blades to the waist again.  You could even gently squeeze an imaginary beach ball between the knees to activate the inner thighs.

And if you really feeling adventurous then add bandhas. Engaging mula and uddiyana bandha really energises the pose – and those opposite you on the train won’t even know!

Tricks for traffic

Stuck in the car more than usual? How about loosening the spine with a little cat and cow as you wait for the lights to change – no need to even let go of the steering wheel for this one. Inhale as you lift the chest and exhale as you curl up and drop the chin to chest brings the benefits of the breath to this simple movement.

Or if you’ve run into traffic, try a seated twist using the sides of your seat and use the opposing hand to reach across. Inhale to gain length through the spine and exhale as you engage the abs to turn. Repeat a few times on each side.

Standing sun salutes

I love these for the times when you just can’t manage a full Sun Salute. They are perfect for breaks on journeys – I do them in the car park beside the car…sometimes I even do them in the airport! These days, people are used to others doing all sorts of freaky moves while waiting for a flight!

  1. Start in Tadāsana.
  2. Inhale and lift arms overhead into a backbend then exhale and fold forwards – just like a Sun salute A.
  3. Inhale and slide hands up shins towards the knees as you lift your chest with a straight back. Then exhale and slide hands down back of legs to fold again.
  4. Inhale to return to standing with arms overhead then exhale back to Tadāsana.

You can add twists by bringing your right elbow outside the left knee and vice versa on the way to the forward fold. Or try Chair Pose from Tadāsana – this adds more muscle work to the sequence.

Yoga for a duvet day

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Visiting friends and nowhere to roll out your mat? No matter – use the bed! Smooth out the covers and put together a little sequence. Maybe Extended Child into Puppy then Cobra or Sphinx and repeat a few times moving with the breath.

You could also try any seated forward folds or twists and see how different they feel on the soft surface of the mattress. Supine twists work well on wider beds too and you may even manage a Dolphin or Down Dog if you are not in a bunk bed! You could also try Planks… the soft surface will certainly challenge your balance and core!

Yin poses like Butterfly and Knees to Chest are also ideal for bed-based practice and are really soothing before sleep if the stress is getting too much.

Beautiful breath

Slow, steady diaphragmatic breathing is such a good friend to the busy yogi. And perfect for when you are on the move. Try focussing on your breath as you go about your daily business – walking, standing in queues or sitting in meetings. It is so easy and brings much needed serenity and calmness.

There is also a lovely routine of breathing that stimulates the calming, parasympathetic side of the nervous system and will help you sleep. When you go to bed – lie on your back for 8 deep breaths; roll on to your right side for 16 breaths then on to your left for 32 breaths. Most people will be asleep well before the end of the sequence and sleep like a baby.

Mindfulness and meditation

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Even a few minutes of mindfulness each day can make such a difference to how you feel. If you can’t slow down enough to stop and meditate then all is not lost. Being present for a few minutes and mindful of what you are doing works just as well. Try taking time to smell your coffee before sipping it and REALLY tasting it is a delight as the world whizzes around you. Or being really present on a dog walk so that you take the time notice the colours; the smells; and the noises around you instead of mentally ticking things off the ‘To do’ list.

Festive survival secrets

So, this is my Seasonal Survival Guide for the clever yogi who finds themselves with no mat and bereft of yoga pants. Some tools that I hope you will find useful to help get you through the most wonderful time of the year without losing your yoga mo-jo.

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday season and a wonderful New Year – enjoy!

Delicious Christmas (root vegetable!!) Brownies

Image Credit: Vanessa Jaich via Alive&Thrive.

I made the most delicious root veg chocolate brownies at a Christmas market this weekend… and everyone loved them…even before I mentioned how healthy they are. I used chestnut and tiger nut flour. This gives the brownies a subtly sweet flavour and a lovely gooey texture. The dates and coconut sugar serve as the low glycemic sweetener. There’s also great fun in using whatever leftover roasted root veggies you have in the fridge! I’m partial to sweet potatoes as they’re loaded with anti-oxidants, but parsnips, roasted pumpkin bits, even butternut would work. And if you use beetroot, then you’ll add a lovely pinkish hue. Happy baking!

For the Brownies

– 200g leftover roasted root vegetables (either sweet potato, pumkin, parsnip, beetroot)

– 1 tbsp coconut oil

– 100g medjool dates

– 120g ground almonds

– 100g chestnut flour

– 100g tigernut flour

– 4 tbsp of raw cacao

– 1 tbsp carob powder

– 1/2 tsp vanilla powder

– 2 tbsp coconut sugar

– a pinch of himalayan salt

For the Ganache

– 1 tbsp cashew butter

– 1 tbsp almond butter

– 1 tbsp raw honey/maple syrup

– 2 tbsp raw cacao powder

– 2 tbsp coconut oil

Method:

Preheat the oven to 170C (325F). Peel the sweet potato (or any root vegetable) and cut into quarters. On a baking tray, mix the vegetables and 1 tbsp coconut oil (use more oil if needed). Roast for approximately 30 minute, checking halfway through. When the vegetables are ready a skewer will insert easily. Remove from the oven and add to a food processor with pitted dates. Blend until completely smooth. In a large bowl mix together all the dry ingredients, ground almonds, chestnut four, tigernut flour, raw cacao, carob, vanilla, coconut sugar and salt. Add to the date and sweet potato mix. Add the oil and mix well. Pour the mix into a prepared baking tin 20x20cm (8×8 inch) and bake for for 20 – 30 min. While the brownies are cooking make the ganache by mixing all the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Place the ganache in the fridge to firm up. Brownies are ready when they are light but firm to touch. Leave tocool completely before icing, otherwise your ganache will melt! Stir the ganache lightly and and spread over the cooled brownies. Cut into squares and serve.

Notes:

Tigernut and Chestnut flour can be replaced with other gluten free flours such as buckwheat, rice, gram, oat flour or basically anything.

If you don’t have carob powder, you could substitute with another tbsp of cacao powder.

Enjoy!

Nigella Lawson’s ‘SECRET’ weight loss

Between 2010 and 2017, celebrity chef and eponymous domestic goddess Nigella Lawson, has gone from a ‘voluptuous’ size 16 to a ‘svelte’ size 12. These are not my words, but the words of lifestyle magazines and tabloids, who have endlessly focused on the way that women in the public eye, like Nigella, look.

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It’s a trend that seems unlikely to change, but Nigella has credited one particular form of exercise for her ‘miraculous’ weight loss – that’s right, yoga.

In two separate interviews with Good Housekeeping magazine, in 2015 and 2017, she was repeatedly asked about how she had lost weight. She replied that it is her yoga practice that has helped to keep her in shape, but Nigella also kept trying to steer the conversation away from how she looked and what she weighed, instead responding about how doing yoga has made her ‘feel’.

In 2015 she told the magazine, “It’s certainly true my weight went up – that happens in life sometimes”.

But, she said, “I have never been on a diet to try to lose weight. I feel like I haven’t lost weight, but I’m possibly in better shape. I am doing a rather slow form of yoga now called Iyengar.”

She emphasised this again to the magazine when she said, “As you get on in life, you value feeling well as opposed to looking well. Yoga certainly makes you feel great, and you want to carry on feeling great. I just do a bit in a very slow way. Sometimes, lying down!”

Feeling well, not just looking well

Nigella has hit the nail on the head with her response that she values ‘feeling well as opposed to looking well.’ It’s taken some time, but I’ve now come to the same conclusion as Nigella, as well as some other stars, such as Kate Winslet.

In a recent Graham Norton show, Kate revealed that she hadn’t weighed herself for twelve years and it was ‘much better for the mood’ not to know.

But how many of us can put our hands up and honestly say we started yoga to ‘connect with our inner calm’ or some other mindful reason? Probably not many. Most of us, myself included, started going to yoga as part of a personal campaign to ditch the flab and tone up. Many of us, inspired by the endless pictures of insta-yogis looking ‘abs’-olutely fabulous on a beach makes us think that if we do yoga, we too could look like that.

It’s only once we commit to yoga that the true motivation for sticking to the discipline reveals itself: internal well-being.

Feel Happy, Look Happy

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The truth is that real beauty and health come from the inside first. Beauty radiates out of every pore of someone who is content. B.K.S. Iyengar, the father of Iyengar yoga – the style of yoga that Nigella has said that she practises, says:

A great boon of yoga, even for relative beginners, is the happiness it brings, a state of self-reliant contentment.

He doesn’t say, that a great boon of yoga is that you will ‘lose those extra pounds’, or ‘look svelte for your selfie‘. The fact is that if we stop looking for happiness by changing the way we look, we find happiness by changing the way we feel.

In 2017, the same questions on weight loss came up, and Nigella answered,

I do yoga three times a week,’ she said. ‘I have to do something I enjoy, otherwise I wouldn’t do it.” Again, she stressed her commitment to her yoga practice, and the way that it makes her feel – NOT the way it helped her look.

Yoga DOES help with Weight Loss

The fact is that most forms of yoga are an excellent way to keep fit and burn off extraneous calories. But yoga helps your physical health in many ways, not just through the strenuous physical effort involved.

In an article for LiveScience, Beth A. Lewis, Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota School of Kinesiology in Minneapolis, states that ‘yoga can increase one’s mindfulness and the way one relates to their body. So, individuals will become more aware of what they are eating and make better food choices.’

Through yoga the mind and body become more in tune, which often leads the student of yoga to adjust their lifestyle. Personally, I have completely given up drinking any caffeinated drinks due to the effect it was having on my body. I ignored the symptoms for years, but after taking up yoga, I found that I became hyper-aware of the negative physical and mental effects.

Lose Stress first, the rest will follow

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The fact is, when we are out of balance emotionally and mentally, the body will also be out of balance. Our attitude to yoga should be that we should address the internal imbalance first, and the rest will follow.

Beth A. Lewis again:

“Additionally, many individuals eat more when they are feeling stressed and yoga can help combat stress, which can influence one’s energy intake.”

In the high-octane, busy modern world that we live in, there are more and more ways that we can get stressed. We can stress about our jobs, about our relationships, our children and the way we look. But stress only adds to the unhealthy cocktail that leads to weight gain and long-term to disease.

As B. K. S. Iyengar says,

‘the essence of yoga is not about external display but internal cultivation.’

If we cultivate our inner balance, the external display looks after itself. Just like Nigella.

 

Yoga Should Be Taught In Schools, Says Fearne Cotton

Keen yogi and former Radio 1 presenter, Fearne Cotton regularly practises yoga with her children, four-year-old Rex, and two-year-old Honey. In addition to frequently posting snaps of them having fun on the mat together, she has called for yoga to be put on the school curriculum to help improve children’s wellbeing.

She told London’s Evening Standard: “My son is doing yoga at school, it’s amazing. It’s really important – so much focus is on academia, which is great, but I think in this day and age there needs to be a deeper understanding for kids to know it’s OK to feel a bit c***.”

Image Credit: Amber Gowens Hirschberg via Flickr.

“That is the job of parents and sometimes we nail it and sometimes we don’t, but it should be supported at school… To make small changes [to the curriculum] like kids doing yoga and getting them to be open to talk and share their feelings is brilliant.”

Having spoken publicly about her own battle with depression, part of which involved the publication of her book, ‘Happy’, a compilation of ways to cultivate mental wellbeing in everyday life, Fearne is keen to break down a perception that celebrity life is without the struggles we all face. Preparing to publish her second book, she said, “it’s nice… to have that cathartic process of saying who I really am, and also for other people to go, ‘Oh, right, so the myth of being in the public eye meaning life is perfect is utter s***.”

In addition to speaking up and raising awareness, Fearne has also written a children’s book designed to inspire bedtime relaxation for parents and their little ones. ‘Yoga Babies’ is a picture book that combines a story for adults to read aloud, with relaxing yoga poses for both to try as part of getting ready for bed.

Image Credit: Andres Sandoval via Flickr.

“Yoga is such a wonderful activity for all the family, and has a hugely calming impact all round,” she told the Huffington Post. “It’s great for coordination as well as health and wellbeing.” The text and illustrations have been approved by Marta Simonetti, a qualified children’s yoga instructor, who has taught for YogaLondon.

“I’m really excited about Fearne’s new release, Yoga Babies’, Marta explained. “It’s a brilliant way to bring yoga for children into the public consciousnesss, as it has become such a popular practice… I can’t recommend it enough.”

Fearne’s desire was to create a book that could at once help parents develop their affinity with their children, and incorporate the practice of yoga, which she believes has so many benefits for physical and mental wellbeing. Now that she has done so, and helped to popularise yoga for children through her unique storybook, perhaps her call for yoga to feature in schools will gain yet more traction.

Read more at The Evening Standard and The Huffington Post.

The Yogi’s Guide to Self-Care (Without Breaking The Bank)

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Do you ever find your yoga practice slipping away from what your instincts tell you is yoga? Are you rushing to class in a frenzy, or feeling like practice is yet another thing to tick off the to-do list? If that feels familiar, chances are you might be in need of a little self-care.

But before you google ‘self-care’ and become bamboozled by such articles as ‘45 Simple Practices for a Healthy Mind, Body and Soul’ (45? really?), here are a mere 8 ways to KEEP IT SIMPLE. Oh, and not break the band while you’re at it.

1. Breathe. Observe. And make a list.
Not glamorous, but it won’t cost you anything, and taking ownership of your well-being can give you an instant boost in itself. Ask yourself how you’re doing, what taking care of yourself might look like, and then make a list of things that usually bring you joy. Keep the list handy, and do whatever you need to do to help it seem enticing. Illustrate it, put glitter and fancy stickers on it, stick it to the fridge… the key is finding what works for you. Then, just choose one thing at a time from the list to do when you feel the need for a bit of decompression.

And if you’re stuck, here are a few ideas:

2. Essential oils bath.

Essential oils optional, of course, but this can be a quick and pretty cheap way to make bathtime feel like a treat. You can easily pick up a bottle of say, lavender oil, for as little as £1.99, which, spread over the dozens of baths you can get out of a 30ml bottle, represents great value for money. Lavender can be a great sleep aid, but of course you could choose whatever essential oil most appeals. AromaWeb have a helpful list of the benefits of over 120 oils.

3. Go for a walk, unplugged.

Image Credit: Zack Minor via Unsplash.

Take a backpack, pop your phone on silent, zip it into an inner pocket and let your senses take in your surroundings. Don’t try too hard to control your mind, but set yourself a challenge to remember at least three novel things you noticed and enjoyed about your walk. How did the weather change while you were out? What was the temperature of the air on your skin? What was the texture of the ground like underneath you?

4. Call a friend.

Don’t message them, actually pick up the phone and connect. If you’re anxious about disturbing someone, ask yourself how you’d respond to a friend calling you if the situation were reversed. And if you still feel like they might not want to hear from you, then call someone else. Enjoy the nostalgia to be had in just picking up the phone – the feel-good factor is surprisingly more instant than instant messaging.

5. Do something you wouldn’t normally do.

Doing new things can be a great way to give yourself a boost. Of course, bear in mind your energy levels, but sometimes doing something like rock-climbing, or wild swimming can be a great mood boost. When you’re feeling down, doing something new can be a great way to send a message to your subconscious that you are worthy of kindness, patience and generosity. Imagine yourself as a stranger to whom you’re being hospitable and generous as you embark on your new experience.

6. Do the yoga your body wants.

Unplug your mind for a second, and listen. Your body knows what it needs, and as soon as you can recognise that, a whole new way of practising opens up. Yoga becomes yoga when we detach ourselves from feeling the need to do the yoga we feel we should be doing, and free ourselves up to do the yoga that will actually benefit us. Very often, the yoga we feel we should do is the opposite to what we actually need. So, allow yourself the space to be curious, and for your practice to take care of you.

7. Make a self-care kit.

Image Credit: Ben Blennerhassett via Unsplash.

Why not get together with a friend and spend an evening making yourselves each a box of self-care goodies? The activity itself – compiling together whatever ingredients you associate with your chosen self-care rituals… essential oils, a killer bar of dark chocolate, whatever little things make a difference for you – can be a fun and heartening exercise. And the added bonus is that you now have, in addition to your list, a whole box (crate, pillowcase, stocking, hamper…) of things that mean something to the you that likes to be nourished. Again, none of these need be hugely luxurious or expensive. Sometimes all that is needed is a hot water bottle, a magazine and a cup of tea, and the simple act of assembling these things together can make all the difference when you need a pick-me-up.

8. Acts of kindness.

It might sound trite, but being nice to people makes you feel GOOD. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, but doing at least one little thing in a day to make someone else’s better can have a significant impact on your own. Again, it sounds cheesy, but just committing to making an effort to, say, smiling at people you pass over the course of a day can make a difference. Have you ever noticed that other people seem more positive, friendly and agreeable on the days when you feel like that? It’s not a coincidence. What we give, we receive. Be kind, and discover the kindness of others. We’re all in this together, so take care of yourself by thinking of others, as well as by letting others take care of you.

Zen Monkey, a sub-division of YogaLondon, is an online conduit for yoga students and teachers to share ideas and develop a catalogue of content that is informative, creative and fun. We are a community founded from the collection of writers and yogis we've mentored, worked with and been inspired by. Together, we are building a tribe that shares the tools, the inspiration and the motivation to lead a healthy, mindful and sustainable life.