Having just come off my annual 7-day detox I’m feeling inspired to share some thoughts on the vast and often confusing topic of detoxing or cleansing. I’m not going to pretend I know everything there is to know and how it all works but I do feel that my experience to-date gives me some level of expertise. I have personally done in the region of 8-10 detoxes in the last 6 years. I’ve also worked at a detox center supporting guests through their experience, designed detox programs for health coaching clients, friends, colleagues and yoga students, and supported them through the experience, observing their results.
Samahita Retreat is where my detox journey began back in January 2010 as a student, when I embarked on 3 days of what felt like deprivation, hardship and suffering with a touch of nausea on top! It was only 3 days! I remember it so well but what stuck with me more was how I felt after those 3 measly days: lighter in my body and yoga practice, full of energy, brighter and feeling like I’d won a contest with myself. That was it - I was sold. The hardship was more than worth it and the challenge was never as tough as the first time.
Since then no two detoxes have looked the same or felt the same but the results have always been great. I have tried a number of different methods ranging from home detoxes with food, to juice fasting, to a low sugar detox, to staying at an Ayurvedic panchakarma center in India. Most were 7 days with the occasional 3-day refresher mid-year. Practically all have included forms of colon cleansing: colon hydrotherapy, colemas, and / or enemas, plus a blend of natural herbs and drinks to support the process, including psyllium husk and bentonite clay, herbs to help kill bad bacteria, and probiotics to replace the good bacteria. Holistic treatments are generally also a part of a typical detox program at a center. What I have not done are the extreme detoxes such as water fasting or any program without some form of nutrition, whether through juices, food or supplements.
The reason I continue to detox is simple: from my experience, it works. But I can only speak for myself and from what I see when working with others. Here’s a compilation of the things I’ve learned along the way:
Tailoring is Smart
At Samahita Retreat our detoxes are based on the Ayurvedic principle that we’re all unique, have different dietary requirements, and therefore it’s important to tailor a cleanse to a person’s needs and body type. As a student and coach of Ayurveda this makes total sense to me. Not all body types can handle fasting e.g. those who are underweight or struggle gaining weight will likely need more nourishment during a cleanse. I can handle a fast and have done on several times but this time I chose to add some food as I was working and needed more energy. Each time my goals and needs have been different.
Length is Relative
3 days was enough for my first time but I now do 7 days once a year, with an occasional 3-day refresher in between. 7 days feels effective as I’ve observed a pattern: feel bad, start to feel better, feel rough again and want to give up, stick it out and fly high! In addition, I try to add on some pre and post cleanse days, reducing certain foods and drinks to help ease in and come off without shocking the system. I have known people who have detoxed for 10-14 days, specifically for a more intense clean out or weight loss, and they’ve experienced great benefits.
Planning is Key
Rest becomes really important during a detox so taking time off work is ideal, but of course not always possible. I have worked through most of mine and survived but it can become difficult to focus and I always need to sleep more than usual. So I try to clear the diary as much as possible, inform colleagues, friends, and family in advance so that I can get as much space and rest time as possible. As there are days when I simply want to be on my own and not have to engage with the world, while other days feel normal.
Keep it Simple
I’ve learned that keeping the plan simple with the same foods or juices every day, i.e. a mono diet, is a good idea as it’s much easier on the digestive system. The aim is to give the system a break from having to work so hard, removing certain foods such as meat, dairy, wheat and sugar plus alcohol and caffeine, replacing them with easy to digest fruit and vegetables whether in soups or juices.
Clean that Colon
From what I’ve read, been taught and experienced it’s super important to clean the colon as well as simply changing the diet, in particular if the body is likely overloaded or quite toxic from an unhealthy lifestyle. If healthy already, a simple cleanse removing certain foods, can of course still be beneficial. But for maximum benefit some form of colon cleansing is wise as, apparently, any toxic overload in the intestines will start to seep back into the blood stream unless cleared out simultaneously. I have always, always, without fail, had excess build up come out during colon cleansing and felt so much lighter and clearer afterwards, in particular with colon hydrotherapy. I’ve had digestive issues most of my life but as I continue to heal my system through the right diet, detoxes and yoga the build up seems less each time.
There Are Bad Bits
Never have I detoxed without experiencing most of these symptoms: low energy, fatigue, weakness, headaches, body aches, stiffness and nausea. I know for me that the headaches are from lack of coffee. I only drink one or two a day and am pretty attached to them but every time I give it up I definitely feel it at the start.
The nausea always accompanies the liver flush if I choose to do one towards the end of the detox. This involves drinking Epsom salts then an olive oil / lemon mix to stimulate the liver and release any build up of stones of various sizes and colours which apparently can turn into gallstones. I have released hundreds of green chalky stones (the first time) and small black ones (last year), which are apparently older. This last time hardly anything came out. Hopefully this means my liver is getting cleaner! I’ve heard of people releasing seriously big ones – eek. Some things help these symptoms such as lots of water, moving and sweating daily.
There Are Good Bits
During a detox I already start to feel the benefits, even if the process is a bit up and down. My skin and eyes get clearer, I feel lighter, and cravings are reduced. I even kind of enjoy the process now, it’s familiar, not so daunting, and I understand that the lows don’t last and that the temporary symptoms are more than worth it when they will be proceeded by bundles of energy and a feeling of clarity after the brain fog lifts. It also feels good to be taking control of my health by not indulging and giving my system a break for a bit.
Post Detox is Hard
You’re excited to get back on food and coffee and all the yum things you’ve missed, you’re feeling energetic and strong, but it’s a really, really bad idea to rush back to your normal diet. Slowly does it. I’ve made the mistake before of adding in too much too soon and it felt like my digestion practially stopped working. The key is to get the digestive system working well on it’s own after it’s had the assistance of colonics / enemas by continuing with simple foods and only eating when hungry and stopping when full. This is what I’ve found to work. It can take a day or two or up to a week to get back to my normal eating routine. I always take high strength probiotics for a month after detoxing and I find they help my digestion. Plus triphala, an Ayurvedic herb in tablet form, if things feel a little stuck.
What I Don’t Know:
Like I said, I don’t know it all, nor do I feel I need to.
I really don’t know the exact ins and outs of what’s going on during a detox. I learn by doing, by experimenting and by observing others. Each time I go through the process I feel more connected to what’s going on in my body but that doesn’t mean I have all the right terminology or understand what each of my cells are actually doing.
I don’t know what toxins actually look like or where they are hiding. Some say in the blood, some say in fat cells, some say in the digestive system, or all of the above. During my detox I always feel aches in the parts of my body where I store the most fat, and also in my lower back and abdomen where my small intestine is. So it makes sense to me that something is happening there.
Some say it’s a scam and that medically speaking toxins simply don’t exist in the body. I have no doubt there are scams out there - the detox industry is huge. And I don’t trust fads. But I challenge doubters to undertake a respected, well-planned and tailored detox program and to report back what they find. I believe the human body is perfectly designed to expel waste but I also believe that we all have our weaknesses and that most people dabble in excess from time to time, which can overload the body. Since I started detoxing I hardly ever get sick and when I do I recover fast, so much faster than I used to.
I also don’t know whether detoxing is for everyone. I’ve seen people become a little too fond of the high they get from fasting and questioned the need and healthiness of them doing too many. And I know people who are extremely healthy and lead a very clean life who don’t believe they need to detox. Fantastic. But I probably know a lot more people who I reckon could do with a little cleaning out, given my own past lifestyle and how it has benefited me.
I couldn’t possibly know all there is to know about detoxing and I don’t have the time or inkling to try every different kind out there, especially not the extreme ones. My aim is simple to apply intelligence to my own approach, gaining more insights so I can support others in their cleansing journeys.
Please get in touch if you have questions.
Having been a great sleeper most of my life, whenever I do suffer periods of sleeplessness, I really suffer! It’s not fun but on the plus side, figuring out how to get my sleep back on track has been one of the most rewarding feelings. And the difference in how I feel when I’m sleeping well just makes me more and more convinced about the importance of great sleep for overall health and wellbeing.
Naturally there are periods in life when lots of sleep might just not be possible, with a young baby, restless kids, traveling a lot, for example. But when sleep is totally possible but just not happening I know how frustrating that can be and how it completely sends your system off.
Recently fellow teacher Elonne wrote a blog about a wonderful and simple 10-minute yogic practice to help get a restful night’s sleep, which I highly recommend checking out: http://www.samahitaretreat.com/blog/restful_sleep-elonne-html/
While here I’ve compiled a list of 20 more tips that are worth trying out to find out what works for you when your sleep is off. Personally I’ve tried endless methods, determined to figure out what works for me, but also to help some clients and students get more restful sleep. Because not everyone needs the same amount of sleep, we’re all different, with different body types, lifestyles and at different stages of life. And it turns out there can be many reasons for not sleeping well, whether it’s simply not having enough energy to either go asleep or stay asleep, or whether it’s hormone, stress or blood sugar related, to name but a few common reasons.
Note that none of the tips below are quick fixes like taking sleeping tablets or even natural supplements such as melatonin. The first 16 are quicker fixes, you can pick a few that appeal to you and try them over a week or two, while the second 4 require a bit more commitment and may be for more serious sleep issues.
1. Brain Dump
Write down all the big things on your mind before going to bed. Empty it out, get it on paper or in your computer and leave it there to deal with tomorrow.
2. Talk About It
Just as affective can be connecting with people whether your partner, sibling, friend, colleague and sharing what’s on your mind. A mind that’s preoccupied will be much less likely to switch off.
3. Soothing Sounds
Playing music that soothes your soul can be a great way to relax the mind before bedtime. I like to lie down in savasana or with my legs up agains the wall with some relaxing sounds.
4. Nourishing Tastes
Warm, grounding, nourishing foods, especially in the evening are recommended if you’re feeling a bit ungrounded or strung out. Cooking itself can be relaxing and taking time to sit down and eat slowly can help you unwind in the evening and is much better for digestion.
5. Cut Caffeine
If you’re a coffee lover like me you don’t want to hear that you have to give it up. I can’t see me ever totally giving it up. But what I have found is that drinking it in the afternoon can definitely affect my sleep, especially if I’m a bit wired already. Try restricting your caffeine intake to the mornings only.
6. Exercise Early
If you like to workout in the evening it could be pumping your system up rather than helping it wind down. An early workout will energise you for the day and give you time to do more relaxing activities in the evening instead.
7. Foot Love
This is an Ayurvedic tip I recently came across which seems to work wonders for me. Try massaging your feet before you go to bed with sesame oil. Massage the soles especially, helping to calm the vata dosha to induce a sound sleep. Vata imbalances can often cause insomnia.
8. Holistic Healing
There are many holistic treatments which work wonders for sleep issues including aromatherapy massage, reflexology, reiki and acupuncture. Test some out and see what works for you.
9. Bath Bliss
A hot bath or shower before bed will help relax the body, washing off the worries of the day and making you feel much calmer before bed.
10. Technology Discipline
Being on your phone or laptop or watching in bed can be far too stimulating for the brain. Try limiting technology an hour before you go to bed and leave your phones and laptops in another room.
11. Belly Love
Hot water bottles are so comforting. If you haven’t had one since you were a kid, seriously go get yourself a new one! Try lying down with it on your stomach to relieve the stress and tension that’s often carried there. The heat and weight is so comforting.
12. Bedtime Tea
Herbal nighttime teas can be very soothing. There are plenty you can buy or you can experiment with making your own. A favourite recipe of mine is with rice milk and some chai herbs such as cinnamon, cardamon, clove, vanilla and turmeric. Simmer for at least 10 mins and add a small amount of honey to sweeten.
13. Lavender Oil
Long known as one of the most relaxing essential oils, lavender oil can be used in so many ways. Try a few drops on your pillow, in your bath, or add to your body oil and give yourself a nice massage before bed.
14. Yoga Nidra
A wonderfully relaxing practice that takes you into deep relaxation and can help with falling asleep. There are plenty of recordings available on YouTube or various practices you can download or buy on CD.
15. Book Time
Instead of TV just before you go to bed try reading a book instead. Books are wonderful for escaping your world and switching off from a hectic day plus they don’t have the stimulation aspect of TV.
If these tips aren’t working or you know that you need to make a bigger commitment to get to the root of your sleep issues then you could try some of the following tips that take a little more work:
Starting with your bedroom commit to doing a massive spring clean of your home, emptying out those boxes that haven’t been touched in years, giving stuff away, or throwing out all the junk. Creating space in your home helps create space mentally.
17. Routine Rework
Do you have a routine? If not start there and aim to go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time every day or as much as possible, over the course of a month. If you’re a night owl and lacking sleep try moving your fixed bedtime earlier and earlier until you are going to bed before 10pm and waking up before 6am.
18. Meditation & Pranayama
Many people will vouch for the effectiveness of meditation for reducing stress and helping sleep issues. Certain pranayama or breathing practices can also be used specifically to calm the system. However, it does take some commitment, both in learning good techniques and more importantly, putting it to practice.
19. Restorative Yoga
Again this can take some commitment but learning how to do restorative yoga like yin can be a wonderful tool for unwinding in the evenings. By committing to at least one or two classes a week you can eventually start to practice at home and see the benefits.
20. Ultimate Treat
If you know that stress is your issue or you want to learn some yoga, breathing or meditation techniques but simply don’t have time in your daily life, then treat yourself to a retreat, far away from it all. Immerse yourself, unwind, give your health the time it deserves and go home truly recharged and rested. Our de-stress program is a popular choice as are the spa programs, both combined with daily yoga.
I wish you many, many great sleeps in the future!
Many people wonder if they have the ability to practice Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga, which starts with what’s called the primary series. It seems there is an impression out there that Ashtanga is somewhat exclusive as it has gained a reputation, perhaps a little unfairly, for only being suitable for type A personalities or athletic types. While Ashtanga may not work for certain people with major restrictions, in my experience, the practice can and must be modified to suit individual body types and is, in fact, available to a wide variety of people for that very reason. What’s rare is someone who can start the practice without any difficulty. It is a more challenging practice, yes, but just how challenging depends on how you approach it.
The Ashtanga Vinyasa method is a systematic practice and the way to approach it is to realize that it’s never “one size fits all.” The beauty of the Mysore, self-practice style in Ashtanga is that each posture is taught one at a time, so you build your practice gradually and work according to your abilities. You start with sun salutations, move into to the standing then seated sequence and close with finishing poses and finally savasana or corpse pose to wind down. Each sun salutation in itself is like a complete practice, and then you simply add on. Modifying as needed, slowly adding on the standing postures, one at a time, each time working with the teacher, improving, adjusting and building a little more, and adding on to the closing sequence at the end. So by building the start and adding on at the end means you always have a complete practice from day one, whether it’s simply 15 minutes of sun salutations and sitting, or the whole primary series.
Whether one ever completes the entire primary series or how long it may take is irrelevant. Mysore style is designed so the practitioner’s individuality can be weighed in designing the practice; age, diet, lifestyle, ability, restrictions and history of injuries are considered. Basically, anything you’ve done with your body up until the day you start will have an impact on how the practice feels. So it simply can’t be the same practice for everyone, or the same experience. Although Ashtanga has always been a physical challenge for me, with the help of good teachers I learned to accept what I thought were limitations – stance too stiff, arms too short, body too curvy – and see them for just being the reality of my body and learning to work with what I had. The key is not to worry about what’s difficult for you but rather that you do the best you can without struggle or frustration. It can often be more of a practice of the mind than the body! Once I accepted that certain postures would always be a challenge, I was able to let go of the struggle and progress with the practice naturally for my own body type and benefit just as much as someone who could put their leg behind their head after just a few classes.
Individual body types will present different challenges but the practice can be adjusted to help and also to bring balance. Slower moving, stockier or kapha body types with the benefit of more stamina can use the practice to create more heat and sweat, melting kapha and helping keep their body in shape. Fast moving vata types who are constantly running around in life can use the practice to ground themselves by bringing their energy more into their legs and feet, moving and breathing slower. Fiery, ambitious, pitta types that might be tempted to power through practice can also do with slowing down and focusing on the breath to bring balance to their practice and lives. Ashtanga mainly attracts pitta types (type A personalities / athletes), hence it’s reputation, or vata types with long slender limbs that get easily into postures (but may lack strength). That doesn’t mean kapha’s can’t enjoy it, in fact they can very much benefit from it – speaking from experience as a kapha with just the right amount of pitta to get me on the mat!
But importantly, what matters most is not the external look of the practice and how many postures you end up doing, rather the internal experience of it. The primary series is also known as yoga chikitsa (therapy) and it definitely can be a healing and transformative practice. To achieve this a key concept to understand is that of tristhana or the three focal points, which are: the breath, the postures and bandhas / energy locks, and the drishti / gazing points. If the breath is good and if quality breathing remains the main focus of your practice then the deepness of the postures simply doesn’t matter. Correct breathing is what purifies the system and brings about the calmness experienced at the end of practice. The postures or asanas certainly help to detox and strengthen the body and gain flexibility. The bandhas or energy locks can be learned in addition to help create internal heat and space in the abdomen, creating lightness in the practice. This however can take time so correct breathing along with learning the postures in sequence is a good place to start. Then by also focusing your gaze on the dristhis or particular gazing points in each posture, your practice can also become more like a moving meditation and helps you not get distracted or frustrated by what’s going on with others in the room. Dristhi helps focus and therefore calm the mind. So however many postures you do you can always decide to work on these three elements, and then physical limitations become much less important. The breath will guide you as to how far you should go. Tip: anything less than a smooth even breath means it’s too much! Let the breath dictate what’s right, keeping it as even and smooth as possible to gain the full benefit of the practice.
And recognize that the aim is not to be perfect. Nobody starts perfectly, and perfect is not the goal. It’s about doing what’s appropriate for you, for that particular day, that stage in your life and allowing the practice to be a support for your life that will naturally move and change with the passing of days, seasons, years and life stages. You can use the practice intelligently to develop an insight into what your body needs that will help let go of attachment to results or how you want things to be. If you can do that, guaranteed it will be a much more enjoyable and beneficial practice than if you compare, compete, push too hard and eventually break yourself. This happens all too often in Ashtanga. Surely no yoga practice was ever designed to have that result! So I would fully encourage anyone who is curious to give it a shot, try the Ashtanga Primary Series in particular in a Mysore style setting, but give it a good amount of time, learn how to develop your own self practice and try to practice without too many expectations knowing that it’s ok to modify. Most of all try to practice with a sense of joy and that’s hopefully what you’ll get back. Enjoy!
This is not an anti-raw food rant, just to clarify! I simply want to look at the bigger picture when it comes to raw vs. cooked food. The way I see it is that many of us grew up eating mostly cooked food and I know I will probably continue to eat cooked for the rest of my life, not because raw is ‘just a craze’ but because it feels natural for me. The raw food movement has been and still is wonderfully creative and inspiring, providing so much choice in terms of cleansing and healing the body through whole, natural foods. I love experimenting with juices and smoothies loaded with superfoods and goodness. Yoga and raw food also seem to go hand in hand with retreats popping up all over the place. Eating raw food can definitely be extremely beneficial for cleansing certain body types and many people feel fantastic after a raw cleanse, but as a daily way of eating probably not sustainable for most people. It seems even some of the biggest raw food advocates are promoting eating some cooked food now and that a broader perspective is coming to play within raw food circles.
From an Ayurvedic and Macrobiotic perspective it would never make sense to eat only raw food. Both highlight the need to eat right for the seasons. It’s completely natural to want to eat more raw salads and fruits during hot summers, but in cold, wet winters, eating cold uncooked food is simply not healthy for the body. It needs nourishment and warmth from food during these months. Even for me living in tropical Thailand where there is no traditional winter I just do better with some cooked food in my diet. Yes, I eat loads of salads but there’s a reason curries and delicious cooked cuisine forms a key part of traditional Asian diets. Raw is actually harder for our systems to digest. The idea that raw contains more nutrients that are otherwise lost in cooking may be somewhat true but cooking food can also ensure better nutrient absorption as it increases your internal fire or ‘agni’. Raw can of course be very healthy and energising but it can also be very unhealthy if, for example, someone needs more grounding and warmth for their body. In the same way cooked food can be unhealthy if deep-fried, microwaved, barbequed or healthy if cooked well in good quality oil or steamed, for example. Raw is perfect for hotter climates or during the summer, for those with more heat in their body, to support weight loss, during a detox, for cleaning up your diet in general, and for healing certain diseases – as a temporary diet. But in my mind it simply does not make sense to eat raw 100% of the time nor is it sustainable especially in colder climates or seasons, for anyone who has low body fat, those with colder constitutions, anyone who is ungrounded or very active.
So personally I say flirt with raw, yes, and enjoy occasional ‘flings’ when it feels right, definitely add in more raw to your diet to cleanse the body, but long term, consider committing to some healthy cooked food as well. Extremes are never the answer anyway! It doesn’t have to be raw vs. cooked - you CAN have your (raw key lime cheesecake OR baked chocolate) cake and eat it!
Where in the world are you? What’s the weather like outside? What’s going on in YOUR world i.e. your body? What’s the weather like inside?
In Ayurveda it’s all about eating and living according to the season (outer climate) and your body type (inner climate). It’s fairly easy to check weather patterns but what about your own body’s tendencies? How well do you know yourself?
Do you tend towards being hot or cold? Is your skin dry or moist? Do you gain weight easily or find it hard to retain? Are you sensitive to heat, cold or damp? How is your digestion? How is your appetite? Are you a fast mover, talker and walker or slow, patient and calm? Do you sleep deep or wake up frequently? Do you sweat a lot in practice?
Evaluating these tendencies and many more over your entire life, not just in the present moment, can help determine your unique mind body constitution / prakriti. This gives you extremely valuable information about your own inner climate which, when evaluated along with the climate you’re living in, can be extremely useful in determining the best way to eat, live and even practice at any given time of year, to create vitality in your body and balance in your life.
In the ancient science of life and living there are 3 basic energies of life or doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha, which are a combination of the 5 elements in nature: Vata – air & space; Pitta – fire & water; Kapha – earth & water.
Most people’s constitutions are made predominantly of two – a primary and a secondary dosha. Plenty of online questionnaires are available to help you determine your prakriti but being objective with yourself can be hard and often there’s a tendency to answer based on your current state rather than looking at your whole life. So consulting an Ayurvedic doctor is highly recommended to truly discover your own nature. I would even go as far as saying it can be life changing if you take on the guidelines for living according to your constitution – it was for me! Your prakriti can never change but what can and will change is your vikruti / imbalance, depending your lifestyle. So anyone can have an imbalance in any of the doshas but once you know your constitution it’s so much easier to see your natural tendencies and to keep things in check.
The doshas in summary: Vata types are airy, cool and light and spend a lot of time in their heads, thinking. When balanced, they are creative, good communicators, artistic, adaptable, alert, enthusiastic, spontaneous, intuitive and charismatic. Imbalances will show up as mental & physical over activity, sensitivity to people and environments, sleep issues, a lack of confidence, being judgmental, disorganised, forgetful and fearful.
In our modern fast-paced world, anyone can be susceptible to a vata imbalance especially if life is stressful and you’re running around jacked up on caffeine and sugar. Even I, as a kapha-pitta, have experienced a vata imbalance from a work-hard, play-hard lifestyle for too many years. What fixed it? Complete change of lifestyle, career and climate, slowing down and practicing more yoga!
Vata types need warm, calming foods and activities. Sweet, sour and salty tastes calm the nervous system down. Raw food, being cold and dry, will only aggravate vata further (more on this topic at a later date!).
Pitta types are hot, fiery, and competitive, they are sensitive to hot weather, overheating easily, experience inflamed tissues if out of balance, yet they rarely get sick because their systems burn toxins quickly. When balanced, a pitta person has excellent digestion, clear eyes, radiant skin, good muscle tone, a healthy sex drive, they are passionate, determined, ambitious, funny, perceptive, confident, make excellent leaders and have a sharp intellect. A pitta imbalance will show up as intensity, stubbornness, jealousy, aggression, egotistical tendencies, agitation, impatience, control and attention seeking.
You might recognise some of these qualities in the business leaders of the world! Pitta is the fire needed for action. Thank goodness I have a healthy dose of it or I’d never get on the mat, certainly not to practice Ashtanga anyway!
To balance pitta, foods and activities should be cooling and soothing, avoiding too much spice, heat and intense activity.
Kapha types are calm, slow and earthy with more solid body types. In a balanced state a kapha person is patient, sweet, gentle, forgiving, emotionally stable, loyal, nurturing, community orientated, enjoys helping others and entertaining, a good listener and generally deeply satisfied with life. On the other hand an imbalance will show up as depression, lethargy, heaviness, greed, being attached to people and things, introversion, complacency, being easily taken advantage of and accumulating weight easily.Kapha time of year in the Northern Hemisphere is now– cold, wet and damp. Mucus and colds are signs of a kapha imbalance.
To balance kapha activities should be stimulating and exhilarating and foods should be bitter, pungent and astringent – lots of greens and spices, while reducing mucus-forming foods like dairy, soy and grains.
So Ayurveda is about bringing balance to life. Opposites balance while like increases like – this is the tricky bit. We’re often attracted to things similar in nature to us but what we need is often the opposite. E.g. if you have the winter chills you need soups, stews and hot drinks, and to leave those cold green smoothies and salads until summer time – they may have healthy ingredients but they ain’t gonna warm that body! Or, if you’re suddenly dealing with excess sweat or burn out, having gone from a cold climate to practice in the tropics or Mysore, you need to slow down, cool down, stay out of the sun, avoid spicy foods and best of all…enjoy lots of coconuts! So to eat, live and practice in a way to balance – check in with yourself. Each individual is unique. Check your outer world and know your inner world. One will often reflect the other. As Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie put it: “We are the world…”!!
Are you one of those crazies who gets up at ridiculously early hours to fit in your yoga practice before the rest of the world wakes up?? Or maybe you’ve considered it but not quite managed to get past the alarm stage?! Or perhaps you’ve only thought about it, and the thought alone was enough to put you off!
It’s fair to say that practising yoga early in the morning is not the easiest thing in the world. Especially for those of us in colder climates when literally the last thing you want to do is get out from under that warm, cosy duvet with the rain pelting against the window and it still feeling like the middle of the night. Yet anyone who has dared to try it will know that yoga sets you up so amazingly for the day. You walk off the mat and into the world feeling calm yet alive and ready to face whatever life throws at you. A stark contrast to how you felt when the alarm went off!
In Goa, we will open every day with a wonderful yoga practice. Ah but the difference is, there it shall be warm and you’ll probably have already woken up naturally to the sound of the sea and the sun peeping through the bamboo walls of your beach hut. Yeah it may still be a little hard to roll out of bed. You might have a touch of jet lag. You might think to yourself, why oh why do I have to practice yoga so early on my holidays! But you will soon see, it will be worth it. There is a certain peaceful magic to tap into at this time of day. And being on holidays, there’s no rush to finish your practice. We will have all the time in the world to be fully in it, without any other pressures. Time to sit, to breath, to stretch, to relax, to get ready for another warm day by the beach in magical India. Bliss!
Each morning we will gather in the outdoor yoga room and start with a meditation, maintaining the quiet of the dawn. Taking this peaceful time to tune into our inner selves, tapping into our intuition that is often heightened at this time of day. Away from your daily worries at home, this will be a perfect space for you to reflect on your life, as you are guided through a meditation practice that will focus on letting go - of your worries, stress, anger, and moving forward - with gratitude, clarity and guidance. A chance to lose some baggage and to gain some perspective.
Moving on from the meditation we will shift the focus to the breath. Deepening and lengthening the breath, using it fully, with awareness. Breathwork will be a key focus of the morning. You will be guided through simple breathing techniques to enhance the quality of your breath and to experience its powerful effects on the body and mind.
Then using our enhanced breathing we will simply start to add movement, as we move on to the yoga asana practice. You will be guided through a sequence to awaken every part of your body. We’ll start the week off gently, building the yoga practice each day and focusing on different parts of the body. But always moving with the breath and with focus. Starting with sun salutations we’ll then move through a standing sequence, followed by seated postures before winding down with a closing sequence. Full guidance will be given and beginners will be taken through each posture step by step. More advanced practitioners will go deeper, each working to their own ability. It will be a dynamic, ashtanga based practice but accessible to everyone.
Finally, there will be rest, deep rest. But with an awakened mind and body. To leave you rested yet feeling alert and alive. And then comes the toughest decision of the day...swim before breakfast or breakfast before swim??!
After a week or two weeks of this routine perhaps you will return home and think, right, I'm ready to give this early morning yoga lark a try! Or you may develop a sitting practice with some breathwork to add to your current practice, which you can do in the comfort of your own home with a hot brew by your side. What you take out of this retreat and integrate back into your life will be entirely up to you. But one thing’s for sure, you will go back a whole lot more relaxed and at peace than when you first decided to take the plunge and book that flight to India, thinking...a yoga holiday....I must be mad!
Are you mad enough to join us or still wondering what this craze is all about?! Email any questions you have to firstname.lastname@example.org. All kinds of crazy welcome!!
Yoga is this week's topic and it can fulfil many of our primary food needs including Spirituality, Joy, Physical Activity, Health, Social Life and even Career. In fact, if practiced properly and truthfully over time, yoga can indeed benefit every part of your life including your relationships, both with others and perhaps most importantly, the relationship with yourself.
Yoga is a science, and not one developed for the purpose of giving you a great body! It goes a whole lot deeper than that, but that doesn't mean we cannot enjoy the positive effects that a yoga practice can have on our bodies and minds. Used correctly over a long period of time the physical practice of yoga can bring about incredible transformation to the body, cleaning it up of toxins that have built up over time and reducing the desires for substances that intoxicate our bodies in the first place. Transformation can be quite dramatic for some but not necessarily immediate or initially visible. To experience real change, without a doubt requires discipline, focus and no real attachment to a particular outcome. If the goal is really to lose weight or tone up there are plenty of sports and other physical activities that can produce better, faster results.
So what is it about yoga then? Why do it? On purely a physical level yoga is one activity that can be practiced in some shape or form for all of your life. It can support the body, as it changes through various life stages and, inevitably, slows down with old age. It helps lengthen muscles, increasing flexibility and ease of movement in the body, which could make tying your shoe laces at the age of 80 a whole lot easier! Some people practice for this reason alone.
In terms of the subtler aspects of yoga we certainly notice benefits to the mind in its calming effect. Lying in Savasana (corpse pose) at the end of a practice one notices a stillness of mind, a reduction in the chatterings that go on most of the day, perhaps more clarity in thought therefore an ability to make better decisions. Some people simply enjoy the 'time out' for themselves, away from the madness of their daily lives and responsibilities. The breathing element of a yoga practice by itself can bring about positive effects to the mind. The breath and mind being so connected in the way the breath changes when we experience different emotions, such as sadness or anger, means we can use the breathing techniques in yoga to control the mind and bring it to a more level place. Breath work is a fundamental part of any yoga practice and arguably the most important. The effects of correct breathing can be felt on every level – physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual.
It's true with any practice whether it be yoga, a musical instrument, a sport or a religion, that focus and commitment are required in order to see results. Repetition is key, and belief in the system, sport or instrument to which you dedicate yourself to. The outcome is entirely unpredictable. But for many who decide to take up yoga, initially for some of the physical benefits mentioned, it becomes much much more than a physical activity. It might even become a spiritual practice, a system to follow to improve not only your own life but of those around you, an awakening of a desire to lead a cleaner, healthier life and to contribute positively to the world.
For others yoga enhances their social lives and becomes a new way of meeting great people. I haven't met many nasty yoga practitioners on my travels, it has to be said. It can be a great excuse to go on yoga holidays to explore exotic places, or simply a breakfast with some interesting folk after class on the weekend.
And for others, the call to teach after practicing for a long time themselves is too strong and yoga becomes a whole new career. Again this can't be predicted and certainly shouldn't be the goal of starting yoga. There are much easier and more profitable career changes available! But it could be that the benefits from yoga are such that you feel stronger and more confident as you decide to make changes within your current career or take on an entirely new one.
So which Primary Food needs your attention? Are you already working on one particular area of your life? Could yoga help you along the way?
The Love Food & Yoga retreat in Goa will provide the perfect environment to tap into some of these amazing benefits. If you're new to yoga, you'll be fully supported in getting started. And if you've dabbled but haven't committed, fear not, there will be no judgement, just gentle encouragement to get going again. Those with steady practices are of course most welcome too, as you will most likely know, there is always growth, always learning.
Look forward to sharing and of course experiencing a whole lot more in Goa!!
Questions? Email Anthea at email@example.com.