When Not To Do Yoga

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Yoga is amazing so, the more the better, right?

Yes. Except when it’s not. Sometimes, we don’t need to do yoga. Sometimes, we need to do something different entirely, or need to do a different kind of yoga.

I got to thinking about this reading a post called “Yoga poses I simply can’t do, and what I do instead“. The point of the article is simple: not everyone has the same body so we can’t all do the same yoga poses in the same way.

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Photo by Ümit Bulut on Unsplash

Some of us need to modify postures a little, or a lot. Or substitute for another pose. Or just park on the mat and take a breather in child’s pose. None of us should ever feel bad about this, or like we’re doing it wrong.

This applies beyond the studio, too.

There are times when, for our own well-being, we shouldn’t do yoga. The whole point of yoga is to learn to flow with our bodies, ourselves, and our circumstances. If we do it in the wrong situations, or use it to mask feelings that need to be addressed, we muddy its purpose and create an unhealthy energy in our practice.

When should we not do yoga?

  • When we are under-nourished.
  • When we are exhausted.
  • When we have an urgent responsibility.
  • If we are using it to block or avoid painful emotions.
  • If we are using it to feel superior or powerful.
  • If we are using it to punish ourselves.
  • If we are chasing an unrealistic body image.

In these emotional states, we need to be honest with ourselves and brave enough to address the real issues. Yoga is a beautiful, healing, energising tool to help us through life. If we try to make it a shield or a weapon against the things we find difficult or scary, we distort its meaning and our relationship to it.

The ethos of yoga is unity and compassion, with starts with ourselves. We should always practice in a spirit of wellness and harmony, not anxiety or evasion.

Share you thoughts on when not to do yoga, in the comments.

 

Seasonal Food: Pears

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Pears are like apples, but easier. They are delicious on-to-go snacks, and cook down quickly into sauces, crumbles or cakes. Naturally sweet, they are perfect for naturally satisfying a sugar craving while providing nutritious fibre, water, and vitamins C and K.

Make the most of the fantastic seasonal fruit with a variety of quick recipe ideas!

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Photo by Olesia Buyar on Unsplash

There are countless ways to enjoy pears, as they are versatile and combine well with other fruits and even veg (a few slices of pear is a delicious addition to a green salad!)

Here are a few suggestions:

Pear Sauce

Simply peel and gently cook pears, adding cinnamon, nutmeg and (if you’re feeling daring) a pinch of cumin and fresh-ground black pepper. The warm spices are a delicious contrast to the sweetness of the fruit.

Pear Smoothie

Combine peeled pears with chunks of fresh or frozen banana, a generous spoonful of tahini, non-dairy milk and a fistful of spinach for a fresh, sweet, delicious smoothie.

Pear on Toast

Top a slice of lightly toasted rye or sourdough bread with sliced pears, crumbled blue cheese and a smattering of rocket. For a vegan option, use peanut or almond butter.

Baked Pears

Pears baked in red or white wine makes for a delicious, fat-free, vegan dessert. Though of course, you can add cream or ice cream for an extra rich touch!

Have a favourite recipe or dish featuring pears? Share in the comments!

3 Yoga Poses for Toes

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Stability, balance and movement begin with your feet, and especially your toes. Without these ten digits, we wouldn’t be able to walk into class, or stand in Mountain Pose, much less do a Standing Head to Knee posture!

These three yoga poses will increase your toes’ strength and flexibility, adding power to your practice and your every day life!

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Photo by Ramesh Iyer on Unsplash

Eagle pose (Garudasana)

This is a fantastic posture for your toes, as it calls on you to mindfully balance your whole weight on one foot at a time. Start with your feet side by side and root your standing foot into the earth, pressing your toes into the ground and checking that your weight is evenly distributed. As you enter the full expression of the posture, note how your toes work to wrap around your standing leg slide your foot down the supporting leg to get a full stretch of your toes.

Awkward pose (Utkatasana)

This is a great pose to invigorate and strengthen your feet, not to mention a wake-up call to  your large muscle groups like the quadriceps, abs and calves. To gain maximum benefits, focus on planting your feet and keeping them parallel in the shape of an 11. Don’t let your feet turn in or out, and spread your toes to create a firm foundation.

Crescent lunge (Anjaneyasana)

This power pose is a great workout for your toes, building balance and flexibility. As you move into the posture, focus on your front foot, ensuring the toes are gently spread (don’t exaggerate, but don’t scrunch them up) and fully planted in the earth. Your rear foot comes up, giving a wonderful and enhancing the propulsive power of your toes.

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Read more: 3 Tips for Eagle Pose, 4 Ways to Treat your Feet, Crescent Lunge

 

5 Ways to Love Your Ordinary Life

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Turns of season are a time when we are vulnerable to mood shifts. I’ve recently come back from an incredible Yoga Holiday With Paul in Cyprus, and have been seeking ways to get my balance back.

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Cyprus was such a lovely group in such an amazing place. The weather hot, perfect every day. After class we went straight in the warm, still sea. What more could you ask for?

London, though I love it, can’t help but feel like a bit of a letdown after a week in paradise. It is easy to over-react to the feeling of boredom or letdown by trying to cheer ourselves up, or by wallowing in the feeling. Neither of these is the healthy option.

Yoga teaches us to strive for balance. With that in mind, here are 5 ways to love your ordinary life.

Cultivate positive routines

Positive routines help us organise and make the most of our days. Little rituals like doing 10 Sun Salutations as soon as you get out of bed, or making time to read for 15 minutes before going to sleep, or taking an afternoon break for a cup of tea, are ways to calm and refresh your body and mind.

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Photo by Nqobile Vundla on Unsplash

Make time for human connections

We need people. Spending time in face-to-face conversation and proximity is essential to our mental and physical well-being. Instead of constantly messaging your friends, make time to meet up for a coffee, or do a yoga class together.

Don’t let your schedule run your life

It is easy to get sucked into never-ending-to-do lists, always putting off relaxing, or reconnecting, until we get the next arbitrary task done. It is also tempting to say “yes” too often, making ourselves busy when we need to rest. Remember, your schedule is meant to serve you, not run your life. Be the boss!

Get to the studio

Doing yoga every day is the best thing you can do for your mind and body. Doing it every other day, or three times a week, or whenever you can, yields untold benefits. You will be more alert, calmer, more flexible, and able to deal with life’s daily challenges. Plus, it is a chance to socialise (see above) and remind yourself that you are surrounded and supported by caring human beings.

Acknowledge the extraordinary, every day

Our life is only as ordinary as we let it be. When you start to feel bored, dissatisfied, or discontent, remember how amazing it is that you are here on this planet, in this city, with these friends and loved ones, this body, this vocation, this experience. Your life is unique and magical, even when it seems mundane.

How do you appreciate your ordinary days? Share in the comments!

Ocean Film Festival London

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Having spent some incredible time by the sea this summer, I’m missing the glories of the ocean. Luckily, the Ocean Film Festival, which is touring the UK in October, has a range of shorts that capture the splendour and fragility of the high seas.

The Ocean Film Festival splashes down in London 14-19 October.
Tickets and venue information are online here!

Read more: 5 benefits of hitting the beach, Karma yoga

4 Hydrating Autumn Infusions

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Autumn is on its way! Preparing your body for the change of seasons is critical to maintaining your health, energy and positivity as the days get shorter and colder.

Staying hydrated is key to health year-round, but it can get more challenging as the weather cools and you are less inclined to reach for a cold bottle of water. While regular tea and coffee are appealing, they also have a diuretic effect and excessive intake can jangle your nerves.

Instead, embrace the calming, healing properties of infusions based on herbs and spices, which offer a warming, flavourful way to get your liquids.

If you want to get all fancy you can seek out special herbal blends, or make your own. Personally, I find good-quality boxed teas hit the spot, and are less fussy than attempting to do it yourself. However, here are a couple of easy DIY infusions to try too!

Four Hydrating Autumn Infusions

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Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash

Thyme, rosemary and mint

These three herbs are all wonderful for digestion, and quite a tasty blend. To make this infusion, I use store-bought mint tea bags and add a generous pinch of each dried thyme and dried rosemary, then let infuse for several minutes.

Lemon, ginger and cinnamon

This is a classic that will invigorate your body from the inside out. Lemon and ginger offer antioxidants and stimulate digestion, while cinnamon is reported to balance blood sugar. If you’re suffering a cold or ‘flu, add raw honey for extra soothing.

Heartwarming Yogi Tea

This Ayurveda-based Yogi Tea blend is packed with warming ingredients like ginger, chilli, cloves and black pepper. Delicious on its own or with a splash of non-diary milk.

Elderberry & Echinacea Pukka Tea

This is a great autumnal blend that combines the tartness of elderberry with the immune defending powers of echninacea. Great to see you through the inevitable onslaughts of cold-weather germs!

What’s your favourite autumn infusion? Share in the comments!

4 Steps to More Respectful Relationships

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I read an article recently about food allergy sufferers who struggle to get chefs, or even their own families, to acknowledge their allergies. As a result, some have gotten ill from deliberately being fed ingredients they couldn’t eat, while those with severe allergies literally risk their lives if someone ignores their dietary needs.

This struck me as not just a food issue but a respect issue. When someone denies or refuses to acknowledge someone else’s need, it is saying, “you don’t matter.” Unfortunately, as the story demonstrated, people often have difficulties respecting each other’s needs and boundaries. Whether out of carelessness or ignorance, we damage relationships by failing to treat the other person with the care they deserve.

We all need to cultivate respect and these four steps are a great way to start…

Listen

The basis of all healthy relationships is communication, and that means listening. We need to practice really paying attention to what other people are trying to tell us — not just verbally, but physically and emotionally. The yoga studio is a good place to begin: focus on listening with real attention to the instructor, not just letting the words slide past you. When you’re talking to a friend, loved one or colleague, stay present.

Accept

Other people will experience, feel, say, and do things you can’t get your head round. They will staunchly believe things that seem totally inexplicable to you. No matter how strange, it isn’t your place to decide whether or not their feeling, ideas or experience are valid; you must accept their version of their life. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with someone whose beliefs you find objectionable, for example, but it means you have to accept they hold them, and have a reason — whether or not it seems right to you.

Support

To be a respectful person, you have to support others as they move through life, especially if their experience is different from yours. It isn’t enough to be an ally to the people who are like you. Practicing compassion and openness means being willing and able to care for those around you, whatever your similarities or differences.

Affirm

The big leap in respect is to not just accept but affirm other people, even when they are coming from a place — or going through an experience — that is foreign to you. Again, affirmation does not mean supporting beliefs that are contrary to yours, but it does mean respecting the inherent human value of everyone you meet, and affirming that everyone deserves to be treated with care and dignity.

Read more: Four practices to speak with kindness, Three practices to cultivate patience

Focus on What’s Right

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Having just wrapped up Yoga Holiday With Paul, it’s time to return to routine and prepare for autumn and winter.

The time in Cyprus was, as always, filled with joy and learning. One thing that impressed itself on my mind was the importance of focusing on what is right in our practice, and lives, instead of looking at what is wrong.

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Photo by Michele Guan on Unsplash

It is all too easy to focus on our weaknesses or what we lack. When we do so, we lose the ability to be present and grateful for our strengths and blessings.

There is a great book called Stories of School Yoga that focuses on the benefits of yoga for children and educators. One chapter, by a yogi and counselor named Helene McGlauflin, highlights the problem of focusing on negative behaviour, rather than seeking and praising positive behaviour. She was writing specifically about kids, but this applies to adults as well.

We are often our own biggest critics, and quick to blame ourselves for perceived flaws or failures. It is time to start telling ourselves a different story — one that focuses on the positive and empowers us to address life’s inevitable difficulties with courage and calm.

Read more: Body image boost, Making positive mistakes

Small Actions = Big Changes

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This past week of Yoga Holiday With Paul has reminded me how important it is to take small, positive actions every day. The little things we do are what add up to big changes.

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When we try to make a drastic change in our life, whether it’s to do with health, work, relationships, finances, family or anything, we often stumble at the challenge. We try to do too much at once and get overwhelmed; or we set our goals so high we can’t find a way to reach them. Then we get discouraged and frustrated.

To avoid this cycle, and to achieve real change, we need to focus on the things we can do — the manageable, realistic, small-scale stuff.

Here are four areas where small actions can add up to big changes.

Food

You don’t have to go vegan or keto or raw to be healthy. You don’t even have to give up your favourite snacks or your partner’s trademark three-cheese lasagna. You just need to make small changes. Swap butter for olive oil. Use antioxidant-rich cacao to make brownies, instead of sugary chocolate. Drink a cup of tea before bedtime instead of having that nightcap. Swap mince for spiced lentils in that three-cheese lasagna.

Friendship

One of the best things about YHWP is spending a week with warm, wonderful, like-minded people. Humans are naturally social, and friendships sustain our mental and physical wellness. This week, instead of just texting, make time to call a friend and chat. Make a yoga or coffee date with a friend you haven’t seen lately. Send someone a card (in the mail!) just because.

Surroundings

We soak up the atmosphere of the places where spend a lot of time which, for most of us, is home and work. Making small changes to your surroundings can enhance your mood and boost your well-being. De-clutter your desk, buy a new plant for your home, invest in a new duvet before winter arrives, clean out that cupboard you’re afraid to look into. When your space is comfortable, tidy and inviting, you’ll feel more at peace.

Yoga

Take stock of your practice and choose something to work on: breathing, a challenging posture, a favourite posture, meditation. Then, allow yourself the time to make gentle progress. Yoga isn’t a competition sport: enjoy the process of paying close attention to one part of your practice. Study yourself. See how being more open and attentive in one posture influences the rest of your class — and your life.

Read more: 3 steps to yoga as a mental discipline, 3 autumn essential oils

Mediterranean Potato Salad

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We’re away in Cyprus this week for Yoga Holiday With Paul where, among other things, we are enjoying a range of delicious plant-based meals made with local produce.

Potatoes are one of the secret stars of the veg world. They are packed with vitamin C, vitamin B6 and potassium, making them perfect pre- or post-yoga fuel. They also have a much higher water content than grains, ideal for hydrating in a hot climate!

This simple potato salad recipe uses many of the wonderful flavours of the Med. Make a meal of it by serving it along with a green salad and a protein dish, or enjoy it as a snack.

Ingredients

  • Waxy or new potatoes
  • Fresh green beans
  • Kalamata olives
  • Capers
  • Lemon
  • Extra-virgin Olive oil
  • Rosemary (preferably fresh)
  • Thyme (preferably fresh)
  • Sea salt flakes
  • Coarse-ground black pepper
  • Chilli flakes (optional)

Preparation

  1. Boil and cool the potatoes (peel if desired, or leave skins on for flavour and fibre)
  2. Chop and blanch the green beans
  3. Combine potatoes and green beans with olives and capers, to taste
  4. Squeeze fresh lemon over the salad, adding olive oil to taste
  5. Chop the rosemary and thyme
  6. Add herbs, salt, pepper and chilli flakes to taste, tossing to mix
  7. Cover and leave for at least 30 minutes to let the flavours blend
  8. Serve as a main, side or snack

For more recipe inspiration: Jersey Royal potatoes, Herb Cucumber & Potato salad