We’ve had a few misty and rainy days here in the mountains since New Year, which has inspired some quiet and reflective time – time to muse over Life and her Magic.
A few days back, the sun offered a welcome reprieve from the damp and cold drizzle, and I chose to tackle the task of debarking the grapevine pergola we had erected some months back. Now, ideally, the de-barking should have been done straight away – as soon as the trees had been cut down, as the longer you delay, the more the sap in the wood dries out, making it more and more difficult to de-bark. After days of rain however, the bark came off easily, which was very fortunate for me.
As the labels are gradually (or suddenly) discarded, we allow our authentic self to be seen and to shine. We peel off the layers, to reveal what is there, at our core – who we really are.
As I peeled off layer upon layer of bark, I began to experience a feeling of lightness and of being somehow cleaner; I began to see things with greater clarity – much like a retreat experience. It was indeed a cathartic exercise.
I then thought about how much of our lives are spent building and accumulating, adding and acquiring - in a constant endeavour to be better, to prove oneself, to impress, to feel successful… We do course after course to be more qualified; we buy more and more possessions in fear of not having enough; we work longer and longer hours to make more money so that others (and ourselves) can see that we are worthy…
Instead of building and adding and increasing, we needed to be peeling off, reducing, simplifying and un-cluttering – in every way, on every level. We need to trust that we are already enough. Instead of doing more courses, let's look at how much we already know, and work with that – from the inside, breaking it down, looking at it as if through a microscope, to discover all that there is. The answers are all within.
Looking at this from the perspective of my Yoga practice, I have done so many classes, courses and workshops over the years – and now is the time to simply discover the truth of what is there - of each posture, of each breath, of each moment – to work with that which already is.
Another way of ‘de-barking’ is to de-clutter. Everyday, I throw something out – an item of clothing I haven’t worn for a while, a book that I’ve read and probably won’t read again, or some other ‘dust collector’ sitting on a shelf - gradually reducing the chaos and making space for simplicity.
Out on the land, now is the time of year for pruning. We’re busy cutting back the branches of the fruit and olive trees - creating space for the trees to express themselves more authentically in the spring.
When you reflect back on the twists and turns of Life's journey, you can sometimes discern how it is that you are where you are right now. This is true for me when I consider where I now live and the retreats I lead...
Back in 2002, I left my flat in Stockwell, London to spend a month volunteering at a retreat centre in Portugal, on my way to live in India. The retreat centre gifted me with a first hand experience of exploring a vegetable garden in search of lunch or dinner. It felt like Heaven. In addition to all the vegetables and herbs growing in the garden, the numerous fruit trees were bowing down with the weight of their fruit, and it felt as if I was in Paradise. The sun was shining, the days were long, and I had a permanent smile on my face.
I already had a foundation in health and vitality – I was a vegetarian eating a lot of organic produce, practicing and teaching yoga and meditation, practicing various complimentary therapies, but it felt as though this was the next step – to dive deeper into the actions of healthy eating and living.
I was however, on my way to live in a relatively poor inner-city ashram in India, where there was very little chance of fresh, organic, vegetable gardens. So, before fulfilling my desire to live off the land, I was to spend a year diving deeper into meditation and spiritual practices - and that’s another story…
It's now 15 years and many experiences later, and I’m living in Portugal, where I live off the land with my man, Keiron and our 4 ginger cats, growing much of our own food and learning more and more about living closely to Mother Nature.
Eating more raw food feels like a natural step forward, and leading my retreats in Puglia, Italy where our host, Cathy prepares amazing gourmet raw delights has been an inspiring influence and motivation to move in this direction.
Eating only raw, vegan (and delicious) food for a week in early Spring of each year is an easy and gentle way to cleanse the body and to lose any extra weight gained after the possibly more sedentary Winter days. Some people come because they feel they need healing on some level, or a boost of health and vitality, or simply to relax and enjoy. No matter the reason for coming, at the end of the week, everyone feels brighter, lighter with more energy and sparkle.
Of course, the daily yoga and mediation contribute to this feeling of wellbeing, as do the amazing massages from the very talented therapist who visits us daily. The ancient olive groves, narrow country lanes, silent starry nights also lend themselves to a very special experience. The venue itself is very comfortable – a lovely restored Trullo with under floor heating, a solar heated pool and comfortable rooms.
I believe this week inspires you to introduce more raw food into your diet, as it shows you that it can be done easily, and is both delicious and healthy. During the retreat, I give daily talks on healthy living, as well as a daily demonstration on how to prepare something raw and healthy with every meal once back at home. We also explore natural products for body care and house hold cleaning.
The week is a beautiful gift to yourself - treating your body, mind and spirit with respect and love.
Find out more: http://www.yogadetoxretreats.co.uk/italy-yoga--raw-food-retreat.html
I started practising and teaching Yoga before I started juice fasting and detoxing, and Yoga still remains my great love. But when I did enter the world of detoxing it made so much sense, I felt so good and it seemed to me to be conducive to the Yoga path.
This is why.
As you may well know, Raja Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga has eight limbs or steps, the first two of which are the Yamas (injunctions / limitations) and Niyamas (observances). Now, there are five Yamas and five Niyamas and Yogis endeavor to follow these ten suggestions on living - for, in essence, that is what they are, in order to have a simpler and happier life.
The first of the five Yamas is 'ahimsa', which can be said to be 'non-injury'. When we eat the wrong foods or too much food or drink too much alcohol or coffee etc., we are causing injury to our bodies, to our minds (such as overly stimulating foods / drink) and to our spirit (food / drink can cause our spirits to feel dull and lifeless). On the other hand, if we choose to nourish the body, mind and spirit with fresh, healthy and organic food (of which juices are an excellent example), we are showing love and respect to ourselves (we are also supporting and valuing organic farmers, nature, planet Earth and, ultimately, God.
The first of the five Niyamas is 'saucha', which means cleanliness, and which refers to cleanliness on all levels, including cleanliness of our bodies and minds - inside and outside of ourselves. Juicing is a great way to cleanse the body, especially in terms of a juice fast, where, for a limited time (one day to three weeks), you eat no solids but drink only juices and water and perhaps supplement this with some cleansing herbs. This allows the body to purge itself of toxins and accumulated waste.
A juice fast as such, can also be considered a 'tapas' - another one of the five Niyamas. Tapas means taking part in an activity which may be difficult or unenjoyable for a short time, but the rewards of that activity make it all worth while. Living for a short while only on juices is not easy, but the health benefits far out weigh any hardship. You feel amazing afterwards - so alive, energetic, clear in the mind and positive.
Living only on juices for a while raises the vibration of the body, mind and spirit which means that any dullness, laziness or inertia which you may have had before is likely to diminish or disappear. When your vibration is high, the mind becomes more clear and focused, and it's an opportune time for self-study or the study of some scriptures or inspirational texts. This self study or the study of scriptures is called 'svadhyaya' in Yoga and is another Niyama.
By combining a juice fast / healthy eating with the practice of asana (yoga postures), pranayama (breathing exercises), pratyahara (withdrawing of the senses, such as removing yourself from all busy-ness and retreating in nature), dharana (concentration exercises and living mindfully) and dhyana (meditation), we pave the road to the experience of clarity and enlightenment (samadhi). These are the eight steps of Raja Yoga, and the lifestyle advised to serious students of Yoga... or anyone wanting a life of simplicity, balance, depth and meaning.
For those of you who have been to my retreats, you have probably gathered that although I cherish and prescribe a healthy diet and life-style, I'm not an ardent fan of nutrition by numbers - e.g. how many grams of protein you need on a daily basis etc. To me, measuring nutrition and at the same time, being mindful and feeling a connection with what you eat on an energetic and heart level don't really go hand in hand - but perhaps that's just me... and I'm sure there are people out there who manage to do both...
To me, one's a left brain activity and the other a right brain activity, and being a typical Pisces as well as a lover of blissful meditation, I prefer the floaty, dreamy sensation of tasting the sunshine in my kale rather than storing the nutritional facts about it in the filing archives of my brain... (even though it is very impressive: one cup of kale contains 36 calories, 5 grams of fiber, 15% of the daily requirement of calcium and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), 40% of magnesium, 180% of vitamin A, 200% of vitamin C, and 1 020% of vitamin K. It is also a good source of minerals copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus!!!)
So, although I don't talk very much on the theory of nutrition, but tend to keep it more practical, there are instances when terminology raises its head and needs some explanation... (e.g. fats - saturated-, unsaturated,- trans-! See my blog- http://www.yogadetoxretreats.co.uk/2/post/2011/10/fats-the-good-the-bad-and-the-trans-fats.html).
One such term is 'antioxidant'... and a lot of people aren't sure what an antioxidant is or does..., and as it's a rainy and chilly day outside (in May in Portugal?!), I thought I'd share some theory with you...
Antioxidants are vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that protect and repair cells from damage caused by free radicals.
A free radical is any atom or molecule that has a single unpaired electron in its outer shell. Now, electrons prefer to travel in pairs. Occasionally, though, an atom or a group of atoms (molecule) loses one electron. When this happens, the atom or molecule becomes a free radical. Like the human body in general, atoms prefer stability. An atom that's missing an electron will thus steal one from the nearest stable atom - turning that atom into a free radical. As you can probably imagine, this is the start of a chain reaction...
Free radicals are created as a result of the process of oxidation - when a substance combines with oxygen. This is part of the body's normal metabolism, which tends to increase with age. Free radicals can also be created by the immune system to help destroy bacteria and viruses during an infection. And they can form as a result of exposure to certain chemicals, environmental toxins like pollution, radiation, and cigarette smoke. Under normal circumstances the body can easily rid itself of free radicals, but problems can occur if the number of free radicals increases beyond the body's ability to neutralize or destroy them.
So, when a cell / molecule becomes a free radicle, it becomes highly reactive (except a few which are not chemically reactive, such as melanin) and can lead to free radical damage (often closely associated with oxidative damage). The cell membrane (the outer covering of the cell) becomes either too vulnerable or too resistant to outside influences. It can also damage the cell's DNA, causing the cell to malfunction or reproduce abnormally.
The damage caused by free radicals plays a part in a number of chronic diseases in people who eat processed foods, non-organic produce, meat and dairy to include hardening of the arteries, cancer, and arthritis. Free radicals can also interfere with your immune system. So, fighting off damage with antioxidants helps keep your immune system strong, making you better able to ward off colds, flu, and other infections.
Antioxidants are reducing agents that limit oxidative damage to biological structures by passivating them from free radicals.
Okay, time to take another look at kale...
Kale’s health benefits are primarily linked to the high concentration and excellent source of antioxidants - vitamins A, C, and K - and sulphur-containing phytonutrients. Carotenoids and flavonoids are the specific types of antioxidants associated with many of the anti-cancer health benefits. Kale is also rich in the eye-health promoting lutein and zeaxanthin compounds.
Beyond antioxidants, the fiber content of cruciferous kale binds bile acids and helps lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease, especially when kale is cooked instead of raw.
Hippocrates said 100's of years ago, "Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food." These words are just as true today as they were in 470 BC!!
I advocate a diet of fresh organic fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts. Eat what is local, what is fresh and in season and is available in your community. If kale isn't available, eat mustard greens or spinach. If berries are not available or too expensive, then eat apples and oranges. By eating locally organic food from local farmers, you are not only benefiting from fresh produce but you are also participating within your community by supporting hard working neighbors and businesses.
Adding more fruit and vegetables of any kind to your diet will improve your health. But some foods are higher in antioxidants than others. The three major antioxidant vitamins are beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E. You’ll find them in colorful fruits and vegetables – especially those with purple, blue, red, orange, and yellow hues. To get the biggest benefits of antioxidants, eat these foods raw or lightly steamed.
Beta-carotene and other carotenoids: Apricots, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, corn, green peppers, kale, mangoes, turnip and collard greens, nectarines, peaches, pink grapefruit, pumpkin, squash, spinach, sweet potato, tangerines, tomatoes, and watermelon.
Vitamin C: Berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, honeydew, kale, kiwi, mangoes, nectarines, orange, papaya, red, green or yellow peppers, snow peas, sweet potato, strawberries, and tomatoes.
Vitamin E: Broccoli, carrots, chard, mustard and turnip greens, mangoes, nuts, papaya, pumpkin, red peppers, spinach, and sunflower seeds.
These foods are the "superfoods" more than the synthetically created powders and pills which make a lot of money for some multinational corporations / individuals but don't deliver the nutritional goods to the same extent to the individuals - nor to your own community. Health, happiness, peace, kindness to your fellow man, compassion to all animals and respect and awareness for our environment is all part of achieving wholeness and wellness...... :)
When my yoga-ing, detoxing guests tell their friends and colleagues that they're going on a yoga detox retreat for their annual holiday, the response is very often one of surprise / shock / concern for their friend's mental health / complete wonder as to WHY?! WHY would anyone in their own right mind not have a holiday where one has the luxury of sleeping in until noon, of eating generous portions of delicious restaurant / hotel food, of drinking lavish amounts of alcohol without worrying about the consequences... etc. etc.??
I hope you are all well… and enjoying the holiday season! For those of you in the northern hemisphere, like myself, I hope you're cozy and warm in front of the fire... and for those of you in the southern hemisphere, I hope you're enjoying the life of a lazy lizard!
What with 12.12.12 and 21.12.12 and Christmas and the full moon on the 28.12.12… and New Year just around the corner… not to mention planet Earth's three day alignment with the centre of the galaxy… - a frantic time is certainly upon us!!
Spring Detox in Turkey
As the scent of orange blossoms gently announces the arrival of Spring, our bodies respond by craving more freshness, more organic, more vibrant health!! Spring is a great time to get fresh with our foods and clean things up a bit. A spring detox shakes us from the winter heaviness and gets our bodies digesting light and breezily ready for the heat of Summer.
As the seasons change, so too should our diet – no longer in need of that warming winter stodge, we can now adorn our tables and palates with colourful salads, light and delicious summer soups, fresh juices and smoothies, and even pick our desserts straight from the fruit-laden trees.
Globe-trotting nomad, yogini, holistic therapist, cat lover who, after 20 years of traveling the world, has finally laid down roots in the magical mountains of Monchique - Portugal's 'upper Algarve'.