Happy Belly Happy Heart

A blog dedicated to nutrition, wellbeing and happiness. I believe the key to a good life begins with what you choose to put into your body. A happy belly = a happy mind = a happy heart.

Cleansing diet: day five

fruit-smoothieToday was pretty good! It was the last day of Sharath’s teaching in London but unfortunately I couldn’t go due to personal reasons. The lie-in was heavenly though!

I had a big lunch today which helped me get through the afternoon. However, I decided to walk along the seafront to a friend’s house to watch a film in the evening, which took about 40 minutes, and it totally wiped me out. I was so exhausted when I got there and felt just about ready to collapse. It seemed far more strenuous than my Ashtanga yoga practice, but maybe it was just because it was later in the day and coming up to feed time.

Luckily I’d taken some tasty vegetable provisions with me so I was able to refuel once I got there. But watching my friends tucking into a chunky cheese & veggie omelette was torture!

Here’s what I ate on day five:

  • sweet potato, veg & broccoliBreakfast: banana, mango, peach, blueberry & almond smoothie.
  • Snack: apple.
  • Lunch: baked sweet potato with leftover stuffed pepper mixture (see day three) and steamed broccoli.
  • Snack: half an avocado.
  • Dinner: leftover butternut soup (see day four); leftover stuffed peppers (see day three); leftover rice salad (see day one).

Only 2 days to go!

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Cleansing diet: day four

tomato-avocado-saladFour days in and I think I’m starting to get used to this. I even woke up 5 minutes before my alarm, at 3.55am this morning!

I felt like I had even less energy for yoga this morning and felt even hungrier, but you can never really tell until you get on the mat. As it turns out I was fine, had a good strong practice and barely snoozed in the car on the way there or back.

My food diary for day four:

  • Breakfast: banana, strawberry & peach smoothie; raspberries, blueberries & mango with chopped almonds; peppermint tea.
  • Snack: apple; grapes.
  • Lunch: leftover stuffed peppers (see day three).
  • Snack: chopped tomato, avocado & basil (not as well presented as in this picture though!)
  • Dinner: butternut squash, carrot & garlic soup; rice salad (see day one).

It’s amazing noticing the effects different foods have on the body. I’m used to eating oats in the morning, in the form of homemade toasted muesli which is a lot like granola, and they really keep me going for hours. But when I’m only eating fruit and 20 almonds for breakfast I find I need to eat again after only an hour or so.

I’ve never eaten so much fruit in my life! I do wonder whether it’s good to eat so much. Although fructose is a natural sugar, it’s still sugar so it can’t be good to eat it in excess. Although I do feel I need the energy. And it’s far more tasty than bland vegetables…

butternut-squash-soupI finally felt full today – for at least 2 hours! I ate over half a litre of butternut squash, carrot & garlic soup and it actually felt pretty satisfying – result!

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Cleansing diet: day three

cleanse-diet-4So I’m 3 days in and this is definitely harder than I thought it would be. I mean, for a vegetarian who mostly lives on fruit & veg, you wouldn’t think it would be that hard, right? Wrong!

I think the hardest thing is this permanent feeling of hunger. It might be a low level hunger but it’s there constantly and never seems to go away, no matter how much I eat! Luckily I don’t seem to have been hit too bad by the hungry grumps, though, so at least I can still be around other people without biting their heads off!

I definitely had slightly less energy during my yoga practice this morning, but I still managed to get through it and even discovered a bit more energy halfway through, which helped me sustain the more challenging postures for longer. And I didn’t need an afternoon nap today so maybe my body’s getting a bit more used to this new routine.

On day three I ate:

  • Breakfast: banana; grapes; raspberries & blueberries with chopped almonds; peppermint tea.
  • Snack: apple.
  • Lunch: rice salad (see day one).
  • Snack: mini corn on the cob.
  • Dinner: stuffed peppers (leftover tomato mix from day one plus brown rice, griddled courgettes, boiled carrots, steamed mushrooms and steamed leeks in a tomato and garlic sauce).

The lack of oil and butter is certainly opening me up to new culinary techniques – I never knew you could steam mushrooms or leeks and I don’t think I’ve ever griddled courgettes before!

stuffed peppersgriddled courgettes

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Cleansing diet: day two

veg-basketI’m still alive!

Ok so I survived the first day and still managed to have a strong yoga practice in the morning too. I wonder if any of the pizza I ate on Sunday was still in my system…

I was less tired than day one and didn’t need an afternoon nap, although I have been snoozing in the car to and from London! I’m still pretty hungry most of the time, but surprised at how much energy I have considering I’m barely eating any carbs or protein.

So this was my food diary for day two:

  • Breakfast: fruit salad (bananas, strawberries, peach and nectarine in lemon juice) with chopped almonds; peppermint tea.
  • Snack: apple.
  • Lunch: rice salad (see day one).
  • Snack: chopped tomato, avocado and basil.
  • Dinner: steamed veg in tomato sauce with rice (see day one).

And these are some of my initial observations:

  • It’s amazing how much fruit & veg you get through when it’s all you’re eating! I’m having to stock up every few days.
  • I need to eat much more frequently: scrap ‘little and often’; it’s more like ‘all day, every day’!
  • I’m developing an obsession with food, constantly thinking about what I’m going to eat next and planning my next meal.
  • But I’m also developing a deeper appreciation for food and even the simplest things seem like complete luxury. Oh to be able to eat an oat cake with peanut butter or a corn thin with Marmite! Or even a morsel of cheese. Or a bowl of cheesy chips with salt, pepper and mayonnaise (ok, now I’m drooling…)
  • I also seem to be craving comfort and I realise I usually get a lot of comfort from food, even when it’s healthy.

I’ll let you know tomorrow if I made it all the way to day three…

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Cleansing diet: day one

Fruits & VeggiesSo I finally got around to trying the cleansing diet I’ve been reading about in my nutrition course.

It’s a very simple alkalising diet, consisting of only fruits and vegetables (raw, cooked or juiced), filtered water and herbal teas, but you can also include the following:

  • Up to 1 cooked cup of brown rice per day
  • 1/2 a small avocado per day
  • Up to 20 almonds per day

As it’s designed to cleanse and detoxify your system, you should avoid all meat, dairy, gluten, carbs (apart from the rice), protein (apart from the almonds), oils, spices, salt, sugar and alcohol.

I decided to follow the diet for 7 days, as 10 days is the recommended maximum, and yesterday was day one. It’s certainly harder than I thought it would be and I have the added challenge of keeping up my daily Ashtanga yoga practice. However, this isn’t just a normal practice week for me. Sharath, the grandson of my guru Sri K Pattabhi Jois, is teaching in London as part of his World Tour. But I live in Brighton! So I’m going to bed at 8pm and getting up at 4am to get a lift up to London (almost 2 hours each way), practising led primary in a huge room of about 150 people (which is pretty intense in itself), then getting a lift home again to collapse. Phew!

On top of all that I’m having to put a lot of thought and energy into planning my meals and have already become a bit obsessed with food – thinking about it when I’m on the mat and even dreaming about it some nights!

It may sound a little mad to be following a cleansing diet in the same week as attending Sharath’s classes, but as I have the week off work, I figured it would be easier this way than trying to plan food to take to work, and more significantly, trying to concentrate at work. And I think I was right – yesterday I could barely think straight! When I got home I felt very tired, very hungry and quite wobbly. I slept for an hour and a half in the afternoon and felt quite headachey when I got up. But this is to be expected: apparently it’s a sign of the toxins being released and your body adjusting to the new regime.

apple_banana_almonds

So this is what I ate on day one:

  • Breakfast: banana, apple, 20 almonds (which isn’t as many as you might think).
  • Lunch: rice salad with salad leaves, basil, avocado, tomatoes, cucumber, mushrooms, beetroot, carrot, and pure lemon juice as a dressing.
  • Snack: mini corn on the cob.
  • Dinner: steamed squash, carrot and aubergine in a tomato and garlic sauce (no oil) on a bed of rice.

I was feeling pretty hungry for most of the day and nothing could quite satisfy me, so I was a bit worried about not having enough energy to practice the next morning. As it turns out I was fine, but the worst bit of all is going for breakfast after practice and watching others tuck into coffees, croissants and muffins while I try to feel content with my fruit, almonds and peppermint tea!

I’ll update you as the week progresses and let you know how I’m getting on – if I have the brainpower that is!

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“Those who can’t find time for exercise will have to make time for illness.”

woman running on sandI remember when I first heard this quote I felt it resonate quite strongly, and that hasn’t changed a bit. In fact it’s probably only got stronger. I simply don’t understand people who don’t exercise. To me it’s up there with eating, sleeping and even breathing. It’s part of normal, everyday life and I know that if I didn’t do it there’d be serious consequences.

I don’t think I’ve always felt this way. I mean I’m not a fitness freak or anything, but I guess when I look back I’ve always been a pretty active person. My Dad was in the bike trade for years which means my sister and I always had decent mountain bikes. I enjoyed cycling and would sometimes go out on bike rides, but ultimately it was just a more interesting way to get around town than walking. I guess I’m lucky to have always lived in a city where you could walk or cycle everywhere.

I used to go swimming a lot when I was younger, but not for exercise. It was just a lot of fun: splashing about, having races, learning to dive and swim underwater. At one point I was a keen trampolinist too, getting my first 3 badges when I was 16 or 17. But mastering the simple somersault seemed enough for me and I was put off by the idea of having to do backwards somersaults, piked somersaults, triple twisted somersaults, etc., etc.

kids runningI also used to play outdoors a lot as a kid. In the playground, in the street, in the parks: Hide and Seek, Squashed Sardines, Kiss Chase, British Bulldogs, 44 Save All – you name it, we played it! So maybe having such an active childhood accounts for some of my attitude towards exercise today. I know that if I didn’t exercise I’d feel tired, sluggish, more hungry, more bloated, I probably wouldn’t sleep as well and my brain probably wouldn’t function as effectively either. Plus I’d just feel downright lazy.

As we develop through life we take on more and more responsibilities. Like work. And chores. And work. And family. Oh and work of course. So being active undoubtedly requires a little more effort and planning. (Unless you’re a PE teacher or a gym instructor or a ball boy.) But only a little. And the best thing is, it can be fun! I think that’s part of the issue nowadays: that many people see exercise as another chore, another task they have to try to fit into their ever-demanding day or week because they feel they “should”. But the key here is finding something you enjoy doing.

Over the years I’ve done a lot of cycling and swimming, not because I felt I “should” but because they’re activities I really enjoy. I love feeling the wind in my face and the sense of freedom as I dart through the traffic or down a country lane on my bike. And I love the sense of achievement I get from cutting through the water, stroke after stroke, and beating my previous lap time. And part of the reason why I continue to enjoy these activities is down to how they make me feel. Which is no coincidence. Exercise decreases stress hormones like cortisol, and releases the feel-good chemicals endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine. So when we’re already doing something we enjoy it just gets better and better because we produce more and more feel-good hormones which keeps us coming back for more.

Even going to the gym can produce this effect. And I say that from experience. I know many people don’t enjoy pounding away on machines for hours, but if you set yourself personal goals, or go with a friend, it really can be enjoyable. And when you start to see results, even if it’s just that you notice you’re less tired after the same number of reps, or you can run a bit further than the week before, it can be such a good motivator.

ashtangis doing headstandsI’ve been lucky enough to find a form of exercise that not only keeps me fit, strong and flexible, but also has countless other benefits, and even has a spiritual side too. For me, Ashtanga Yoga is the ultimate. It’s become the single most important activity in my life (apart from connecting with friends and family of course). It satisfies my desire to keep active, it works on keeping my mind calm and focused, it gives me an inspiring reason to get out of bed in the (very early) mornings, it helps me sleep, it helps me concentrate, and it’s even helped to sort out my digestion. Because it’s a daily practice and you repeat the same sequence of postures every day, you get to see the results of your progress very quickly, which I find very motivating and inspiring. In fact I couldn’t live without it now.

However, I know it’s not for everyone. So I think the key here is to find something that keeps you active that you really enjoy. We’re so lucky in this day and age to have a gazillion different activities to choose from – and new ones are being discovered all the time. From base jumping to wake boarding; from zorbing to wingsuit flying; from spinning to zumba; and everything in between. Find something you love, go and enjoy it and watch those endorphins fly!

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Emotions are held in the body. Fact.

open-your-heartI’ve always believed that we hold emotions in our bodies. And there’s no greater proof than having a daily Ashtanga practice. When you’re on the mat doing your thing, there’s literally nowhere to hide. It’s just you and your emotions. And the practice of course.

As any experienced practitioner knows, a morning Mysore room can be a hotbed of emotion. There can be tears, grunts, screams, heavy sighs and even howls of laughter rippling through the shala at any given moment.

And it’s hardly surprising. As we move through our practice and begin to open our bodies, all the emotions that are held within our joints, muscles and cells are going to be released. But better out than in as the saying goes!

It’s long been known that our bodies are closely linked to our thoughts and feelings and this is fundamental to many complementary therapies. From personal experience I know that both craniosacral therapy and sensorimotor therapy are both based on ‘reading’ the body to give an indication of what’s going on at a deeper level.

Our bodies also have cellular memory and I’ve experienced this myself many times, both during my Ashtanga practice and when I used to play the sax. There I am, moving through the asanas or the musical notes and suddenly I realise I have no idea what I’m doing! My brain has disengaged and my body appears literally to be moving by itself. It can remember what posture or fingering movement comes next, but as soon as I engage my brain again I lose it! It’s like my mind is trying to take control but to a large extent this doesn’t work – I just need to let go and trust my body to make the right movements.

These last few weeks have been very difficult as I’ve been dealing with various family issues, career issues, relationship issues and general life issues! This has been reflected in my practice which came to a head a couple of days after my grandmother’s funeral. It had been a stressful and emotional couple of weeks watching her decline and fade away and then helping to organise the funeral. I’ve had days of feeling very tired, drained and heavy – like a sack of potatoes on the mat!

On this particular day I got to the end of my practice and went to do my dropbacks as usual. Now, anyone familiar with dropbacks will know that Backbendingthey’re a heart opening posture. As well as bending your back, you also need to open across your whole chest and shoulders, whilst at the same time keeping a strong foundation through your thighs and rooting through your feet. As I started to bend backward, and hence open my chest, I felt suddenly very fragile, very vulnerable and very weak. I pulled up immediately, instinctively bringing my arms around my chest, as if to protect my heart, and the tears started to flow.

I knew I couldn’t push my body that day and just had to surrender. Luckily my teacher could see that too and (after I’d been to the loo to sort myself out!) he gave me a reassuringly strong forward press. Although it’s tough going through things like this, I’m a firm believer that they only make us stronger and it’s a great reminder to stop and listen to our bodies every now and then, in case we lose sight of what’s really going on.

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Ashtanga Workshop with Joey Miles

Joey in various posesLast weekend (6-7 April 2013) I attended an Ashtanga workshop organised by Ashtanga Brighton and led by authorised teacher Joey Miles. This was the 2nd Brighton workshop of his I’d been to (see my post about his Sept 12 workshop), as well as countless classes at Buddhafield Festival where uneven ground, leaking tents and copious amounts of mud all add to the challenge!

Saturday am: Ashtanga Yoga Asana Techniques Class

In the first session we broke down the postures of Surya Namaskara A and B (sun salutations) and the standing sequence, grouping these into similar types of asana, i.e. forward bends, lateral poses (sideways bends), twists and balances. By grouping them together and practising them out of sequence we were able to gain a deeper understanding of how interrelated the postures are. For example, the setup for Parshvakonasana is the same as the setup for Virabhadrasana B (Warrior II).

He also impressed upon us the importance of levelling the spine and squaring the hips in the standing postures and we did some useful partner work to explore this further.

Saturday pm: Jumping Back and Through – HandstandsJoey doing a handstand

After a light shared lunch we went on a journey of exploration into techniques for learning to jump back and through. Joey showed us different variations for both and suggested we find the way that works best for us. But one of the most important things to remember, according to Joey, is to make yourself as small as possible by curling your chest and thighs together, as this will make it easier to fit through the gap formed by your arms.

The second part of this session was the bit I’d been dreading ever since I booked the workshop! Handstands. My nemesis it seems. Memories of frustration and inadequacy flooded back from the last time I tried to do these with Joey, when I was the only person in the room who couldn’t kick up against the wall. I still couldn’t do that this time, but I did manage to get up with someone holding me, although only after a couple of fearful shrieks and a few tears were shed.

I was determined to keep trying though, as my fear seems completely irrational and surely the more times I try the easier it will get…? I got over the fear of dropping back a long time ago and can drop back and come up with ease several times in a row these days. But for some reason the fear of falling forward whilst inverted seems to have a much tighter grip on me than falling back.

joey miles meditatingSunday am: Love – Acceptance and Easefulness

In this contemplative session we were encouraged to bring a sense of enquiry into our practice by considering the question “What is the true purpose of your yoga practice?” through meditation, journalling and discussion. Joey suggested keeping a practise diary as a way to reflect on our thought processes around our practice and to be able to look back over time to see how these change.

He invited us to answer questions such as “What attitude do you bring to your practice?” and “Does practice make you more or less identified with the bodymind?” We practised a short meditation around the concepts “I am not the body” and “I am not the mind” and also a Metta Bhavana (loving-kindness) meditation.

One of the recurring themes was around our reaction to meeting resistance. This could be resistance in the form of a physical pain or injury, or resistance that we co

me up against generally in our lives outside the practice. Our natural tendency is to meet it with more resistance, e.g. expressing frustration and annoyance when something doesn’t go our way. But a much better reaction would be to meet the resistance with space. So we need to create space around the issue or resistance, be friendly towards it and treat it with kindness. Then it is far less likely to escalate and far more likely to dissipate quickly and, hopefully, turn into a positive.

Sunday pm: Primary SeriesJoey in standing posture

In the final session we put everything we’d learnt over the weekend into practice during a very strong led primary class. It was great to try out all the tips and techniques Joey had been showing us, although I did occasionally experience moments of thinking my teacher wouldn’t like this! It had been a while since I’d been to a led primary class and I was reminded how useful they are for avoiding laziness in your practice, following the correct count and building strength.

My thighs and shoulders were certainly feeling a lot stronger, albeit very achey, the next day. But with fluey symptoms having arrived as well, it was difficult to tell what was making me ache the most – the flu or the yoga!

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Applying the 5 Yamas to Healthy Eating

cake and yogisI’ve been practicing Mysore style Ashtanga yoga daily for the last 3 and a half years. As a dedicated practitioner I’ve attended numerous workshops, read countless articles and talked about yoga with fellow Ashtangis until the cows came home!

I count through my practice in Sanskrit every day and can recite the Sanskrit names of all the asanas in primary and some of second series. I know the opening and closing prayers off by heart and have even chanted the yoga sutras a couple of times. But I’m ashamed to say I haven’t really studied much in the way of philosophy.

The other day in the shala, I heard my teacher talking to a beginner about the eight limbs of Ashtanga and the five yamas and I suddenly realised I don’t know what they are! What a bad Ashtangi I am! I raced home that evening after work, grabbed my copy of Yoga Mala (the seminal teachings of our guru Sri K Pattabhi Jois) and feverishly read and re-repeated the eight limbs, the yamas and the niyamas, vowing I’d never forget them again.

And then a strange thing happened. I began to read the yamas in a way I’d never done before. And I began to understand them. I think up until now yoga philosophy for me has mostly been this intangible, distant subject from some forgotten age which I never thought I could relate to. But, as it turns out, the five yamas – a set of principles by which yogis should live their lives – is actually very relevant to all of us, right now. Not only that, but I believe they can be applied to many different situations and aspects of life. And I could instantly see how similar they are to my own set of principles for healthy eating:

Ahimsa

The first yama is to do with non-violence. Or more specifically not causing harm to anyone, including animals, in any form, at any time, for any reason – in word, thought or deed.

In relation to diet, I guess the most obvious link here is vegetarianism. But it also has to do with not harming oneself, i.e. not overeating, not consuming processed or nutritionally devoid foods and not eating foods that don’t agree with you.

Satya

Satya means truth, so we should always tell the truth in thought, word and deed. However, the truth must be pleasant to others so an unpleasant truth should not be told.

I connect this yama with really listening to your body and being truthful with yourself about what your body needs. Are you being honest with yourself about your relationship with food? When do you turn to food for comfort and why?

Asteya

This yama says we should not steal and extends to not being envious of others, not cheating others with sweet words and avoiding yogi holding fruitgaining selfish ends under the guise of truthfulness.

I think you could apply this to not comparing yourself to others in terms of body weight, size and diet. Our bodies are all very different and need differing amounts of foodstuffs to sustain them. We should focus on our own body, tuning in to what feels right for us, rather than ‘stealing’ someone else’s idea of normal, or pretending to be something we’re not.

Brahmacharya

Brahmacharya is to do with moderation and, in its most extreme form, celibacy. In Yoga Mala, Jois states that the following must be avoided as much as possible in order to achieve brahmacharya: “mixing with vulgar people; going to crowded areas for recreation; reading vulgar books which disturb the mind; going to theatres and restaurants; and conversing secretly with strangers of the opposite sex”.

I’m not sure how realistic it is to avoid restaurants or crowded areas, especially if you’re a busy city-dwelling urbanite! But this definitely fits with eating everything in moderation and not binge eating or overindulging.

Aparigraha

The final yama has to do with non-attachment but specifically says that the food we eat should be pure, untainted and not acquired by unjust means. Moreover, we should only take as much food as we need and not desire things which are superfluous to the physical body.

The obvious connection here is that we should eat food that is as pure as possible: fresh, locally sourced and in its most natural form. We should also stop eating when we’re full, which relates back to listening to our body and eating in moderation. As for not desiring superfluous foods, I’d love to meet a person who never has an urge for a piece of chocolate, a slice of cake or a bowl of chips – for they have truly achieved samadhi!

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