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.

The best energy balls in the world… perfected!

Energy BallsFollowing my previous post, which provided a recipe for fantastic peanut butter, coconut and date power bites, I’ve been practising with them and have now fine-tuned the method.

The recipe is the same, but the nuts and dates should basically be chopped up a lot smaller. I did this by hand but you could use a blender or food processor.

It’s easiest to roll the balls when the mixture’s cold so start rolling them as soon as you take it out of the fridge. Then, if it starts to stick to your hands, you can pop it back in the fridge for 10-15 minutes before rolling the remaining balls.

I took the newly improved energy balls on a recent camping trip and they went down a storm! Plus they didn’t fall apart in our hands, which made them much easier to handle and more civilised to eat!

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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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The best deodorant in the world…ever!

Lush Aromaco deodorantI’m going to let you into a little secret. It’s one of the best kept secrets I know and I’ve only shared it with a few close friends so far. But I think the time has now come to share it with the world. Because it really is too good to keep to myself!

If you’re anything like I was, you still haven’t found the perfect deodorant, right? You want a product that’s effective, that doesn’t leave white marks, that smells nice and that’s naturally chemical-free, right? Well look no further because your search is over!

I can now reveal that the deodorant you’ve been searching for all your life is made by….

… drum roll please…

… Lush! Yes those lovely people making fresh handmade cosmetics have managed to create a deodorant that ticks all the boxes and more! It’s called Aromaco and is made in a big solid block, which gets cut up into chunks or bars, a bit like soap. You just rub it onto your armpits and hey presto – you’re perfectly deodorised!

It has a lovely patchouli smell, which often gets lots of compliments, but it’s delicate enough to not be over powering or overly girlie, in fact I know several men who use this deodorant too.

I find it’s best to keep Aromaco in a sealed container. I used to keep mine in a little cloth bag but it Lush Aromaco deodorant tended to dry out a bit so I now keep it in a little Tupperware pot and it stays perfectly soft and moist. You could also keep it in one of Lush’s own metal tins.

Because it’s a natural product it’s very versatile. Why stop at underarms? You could also try using it on the soles of your feet, inside your shoes, or anywhere that could do with a little freshening up.

Lush is a UK retailer but they have stores all over the world and also deliver internationally so you should be able to get hold of this wonder product wherever you are.

So there you have it – the best kept deodorant secret in the world. I’ve shared it with many of my friends and they’re all complete converts now. Maybe I should be getting commission! I’m keen to know if you love it as much as me, so leave a comment below and let me know how you get on.

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The best energy balls in the world…ever!

date & peanut butter energy ballsI came across this recipe for “No-bake peanut butter, coconut, date power bites” and had to share it with you! I decided to make some to take to a lovely little festival called Wildheart, which was just outside Lewes, East Sussex at the end of May. And they went down a treat!

You could really feel the energy they were giving you and we were able to keep going for hours (although the copious amounts of raw chocolate may have had something to do with it too!) They’re completely natural, very easy to make and require no baking. They are quite sweet, but that’s down to the dates, honey and peanut butter, so as long as you use good quality peanut butter they contain no refined sugar. My favourite is Pic’s Really Good Peanut Butter, but you can only get it in Nelson, NZ so it’s a bit far to go to stock up! However, I’ve just discovered they now have an online UK store – result! Other good brands include Meridian and Whole Earth.

The only thing I would change next time is to cut the nuts and dates up smaller. Although the honey and peanut butter are good for binding everything together, I did find it a bit tricky to make them stay in their balls and had to add more honey to help them stick. So I think having smaller chunks would be better.

Anyway, here’s the recipe, which I’ve adapted slightly from the original:

(Makes about 20 balls)
• 1 cup rolled oats
• 20-25 chopped pitted dates
• 3/4 cup chopped hazelnuts & almonds
• 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
• 1/4 cup sesame seeds
• 1 tsp ground cinnamon
• 1/3 tsp grated nutmeg
• 1 tsp vanilla extract (not flavouring)
• 1/3 cup runny honey
• 1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
• 1/2 cup shredded (or desiccated) coconut

Mix together the oats, dates, nuts, seeds, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl. Add the vanilla, honey and peanut butter and mix thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Then, using your hands, mould into small balls and roll in the shredded coconut. Store in fridge until ready to eat. Enjoy :0)

You could also experiment with various substitutes, such as: flax, poppy or chia seeds instead of (or as well as) sunflower and sesame seeds; almond, cashew or brazil nut butter instead of peanut butter; pistachios, walnuts or pecans instead of (or as well as) hazelnuts and almonds; almond extract instead of vanilla extract. The possibilities are endless!

I might make some more for a camping trip next weekend so I’ll let you know how the second attempt goes. Maybe I’ll even get them looking like actual balls this time…

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A Simple Diet to Cleanse and Detoxify Your System

fruits, veg & juicesI’ve always wanted to try fasting. There are many reported health benefits of going without food for short periods of time and the 5:2 intermittent fasting diet (where you eat normally for 5 days and fast on the other 2) seems to have had a lot of press lately. Even the NHS reports that studies show this fasting diet can aid in weight loss and help reduce the risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and certain obesity-related cancers.

Absolute fasting, however, would not be practical whilst maintaining a normal Western lifestyle. Personally speaking, I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to keep up my daily Ashtanga yoga practice, let alone function properly at work, whilst fasting!

However, the module I’m currently studying in my BSY Group nutrition course outlines a cleansing diet which presents a much safer and more practical alternative to fasting.

The premise of this cleansing diet is that it’s highly alkalising, which makes it particularly useful for arthritis sufferers as it strips away the acid build-up responsible for inflammation in the joints. It can also be very beneficial for cancer sufferers and others with serious illnesses, as well as anyone looking to lose weight, eliminate toxins, revitalise the body and clear the mind.

It’s a very simple diet which involves eating only fruits and vegetables and drinking only distilled or filtered water, herbal teas and fresh fruit or vegetable juices for either 5, 7 or 10 days. You can also add the following amounts of neutral or alkalising foods to the diet:

  • Brown rice: up to 1 cooked cup per dayAlmonds and avocados
  • Almonds: up to 20 per day
  • Avocado: up to 1/2 a small avocado per day

The fruit & veg should be consumed with as few combinations as possible at each meal and should never be eaten together, i.e. you should eat either fruits or vegetables for each meal or juice.

It’s not uncommon to experience a ‘healing crisis’ in the first few days of such a cleanse. As the calorie intake is lowered, excess fat is burnt off quicker, taking with it any toxins stored within the fat. If the liver and kidneys are unable to eliminate these toxins faster than they start entering the bloodstream, this can lead to a temporary feeling of unwellness.  However, these reactions shouldn’t last long and by the end of the detoxification you should be feeling much lighter and stronger with higher energy levels.

It can be useful to supplement this diet with digestive enzymes to reduce flatulence and bloating, and with enemas and colonic irrigation to cleanse the bowel and multiply the effectiveness of the detoxification process.

I should point out that this diet is not suitable for pregnant or breast-feeding women, people who are severely anaemic or nutritionally deficient, or the elderly. If in doubt, you should seek medical advice before attempting any cleansing programme.

I intend to put this diet into practice very soon. I have a buddy to do it with, which should help with the motivation and recipe ideas. So all I need now is to get myself a juicer and decide on the most appropriate event-free week in which to do it!

If you’ve tried this or a similar cleansing diet I’d love to hear about your experience and whether it’s made a difference to your overall health. Please leave a comment below. And wish me luck!

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2 Quick & Easy Veggie Meals

avocadoThings have been a little hectic the last couple of weeks, what with my sister visiting from New Zealand, both my Grannies in and out of hospital, various social engagements to arrange and my normal work and yoga routine to fit in as well!

I’ve had a couple of ideas for blog topics but haven’t had time to research or write about them, so instead I thought I’d share a couple of my favourite easy dinners, which I’ve been enjoying recently. They’re both quick to make whilst still being filling and nutritious, but I’m afraid they were too delicious to stop and take photos!

Beans on Toast Supremebeans-on-toast

  1. Heat a small can of baked beans.
  2. Add some chopped avocado into the beans 1-2 mins before taking off the hob.
  3. Pour the bean & avocado mix over 2 slices of hot buttered wholemeal or seeded toast.
  4. Sprinkle with grated cheddar cheese and freshly ground black pepper.
  5. Enjoy!

Deluxe Poached Eggs on Toast

  1. Melt some butter in a pan and add a bunch of spinach. Cook for 3-4 mins until wilted.
  2. Poach 2 free-range eggs (I use silicone egg poachers in a covered pan of boiling water).poached-egg-with-spinach
  3. Toast and butter 2 slices of wholemeal or seeded bread.
  4. Place a slice of vegetarian ham on each piece oftoast (I like Redwood’s Cheatin’ Ham Style Slices).
  5. Cover the ham with the wilted spinach and place the poached eggs on top.
  6. Sprinkle with grated cheddar cheese, freshly ground black pepper and a sprig of parsley.
  7. Enjoy!
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4 Pledges for a Sustainable Future

i'm-with-stupidMonday 22nd April 2013 was Earth Day, when hundreds of thousands of people from 192 countries help to spread the word about climate change, helping to protect the planet and secure a sustainable future. 

RSPB BadgesA colleague and I organised a day of celebration at work, with a British and seasonal produce themed pot luck lunch and beautiful RSPB badges featuring birds, animals and flowers for sale in aid of wildlife conservation. We also had a Pledge Tree where everyone was invited to make a pledge of what they’re going to do over the next year to reduce their impact on the planet.

We awarded eco-friendly prizes for the funniest, most ambitious and most innovative pledges and I was surprised at the effort that went into this. Whilst there were plenty of the usual ideas like turning off lights, having showers instead of baths, wasting less food and using less packaging, there were also some slightly more thoughtful pledges: partaking in car boot sales, keeping car tyres inflated to preserve fuel and giving away horse manure to use as fertiliser.

every-day-is-earth-dayThis got me thinking that there’s always more you can do, no matter how ‘green’ you think you are: things you’ve overlooked or not considered before. So I began to look with fresh eyes at my own green activities. I already recycle everything I possibly can, I don’t own a car, I use Good Energy for my electricity, I’ve switched all my halogen bulbs for LEDs, I turn off plugs & lights when not in use, I turn off the tap whilst brushing my teeth, I get an organic veg box delivered, I don’t eat meat, I use reusable tupperware for lunches and picnics, I use foldable and cloth bags instead of plastic, I only boil the water I need in the kettle, I buy recycled toilet paper and I mostly use natural, chemical-free toiletries, cosmetics & household cleaning products.

As I rent my flat, there’s little change I can make to the building in the way of insulation, solar power or heating. However, there’s definitely more I can do personally, so these are my pledges for the next 3 months:

Food Composting

Unfortunately, as good as my local council is at being green (and so they should be with the first ever green MP in tow), they don’t yet offer a food waste collection service. Not having a garden therefore means all my biodegradable waste goes into landfill.

But all is not lost! I’ve heard that Magpie, the original kerbside recycling collectors in Brighton, offer this service so I’ve contacted to them to find out and hopefully sign up.

Fruit-and-Veg-SaversFruit & Veg Savers 

As much as I hate to waste food, one of the downsides of buying fresh, organic veg is it doesn’t tend to last as long as its processed, preservative-ridden counterparts! So I do on occasion find myself chucking out rotten veg that I just haven’t got round to eating in time.

But I came across these Fruit & Veg Savers from Nigel’s Eco Store and plan to try them out to avoid any more vegetable casualties!

Eco Laundryeco-balls

I currently use Ecover laundry detergent and fabric conditioner but I plan to go one step further. I pledge to invest either in Eco Balls – reusable washing balls filled with biodegradable pellets designed to be used at lower temperatures using less water – or in Soapnut products, which are probably the greenest laundry solution out there because they grow on trees!

More research is required so watch this space…

reusable-cotton-woolReusable Cotton Wool

I have very sensitive skin on my face and have been told to avoid washing with water. I now only use gentle, organic skincare products, mainly from Green People. However, this does mean I get through a lot of cotton wool. Although I buy organic cotton wool pads, I do get a guilt complex over the amount of waste I’m producing.

But today I spotted these wonderful crocheted reusable cotton wool pads which can be made yourself or, for those less handy among us, bought online. There are other versions too, like these towelling ones in a washable bag. A little more research is needed, but I’ll definitely be investing.

What do you already do to help the environment and what other changes can you make?

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Spreading the Love

This week’s post is about living from the heart. There are 3 ideas I’ve seen or heard about lately that I think are wonderful and if we were all to adopt more of these into our lives, the world would surely be a better place.

love letterGlobal Love Letters

In an article in March 2013’s Natural Health magazine entitled Spread the Love, Rose Rouse reports on this fantastic global movement started by Simon Paul Sutton. I was amazed to find Simon had actually started this phenomenon in Brighton, where I live, and I’m quite keen to help continue his work!

Basically, you write an anonymous love letter addressed ‘For You’ filled with positive intentions and flowing with love, for example sentiments like ‘I may never meet you, or kiss you, but I will always be there for you’. It should be “a gorgeous declaration of love in the most delicious heartfelt way”. End it with ‘I love you’, not your name.

Then you go and find an exciting place to leave your letter: on a bus, at a train station, on a supermarket shelf, tucked into someone’s shoes at the gym, by a cash machine or on a bench. You’ll probably never know who gets to read it, but that’s part of the joy – giving love unconditionally, without any agenda or expectations. Just feel the love!

Find out more at globalloveletters.com

hiSbe logohiSbe ethical supermarket

hiSbe stands for ‘how it Should be’ and is a social enterprise started by Ruth and Amy Anslow who “want to make good, sustainable food affordable and accessible”. They have plans to open the first ethical supermarket in Brighton and there’s a great buzz building around the idea.

You can support their plans by tweeting with the hashtag #hisbe4brighton and spreading the word on Facebook. You can also sponsor the venture by pledging via Buzzbnk, which will then award you money-off vouchers and tickets to their 1st birthday party in return.

I’ve already made my pledge and am looking forward to the grand opening in the summer.

Suspended coffee donations cup of coffee

This was posted on Facebook via Amazing Things in the World and I think it’s brilliant!

This story will warm you better than a coffee on a cold winter’s day:

We enter a little coffeehouse with a friend of mine and give our order. While we’re approaching our table two people come in and they go to the counter: “Five coffees, please. Two of them for us and three suspended.”

They pay for their order, take the two and leave. I ask my friend: “What are those ‘suspended’ coffees?”

“Wait for it and you will see.”

Some more people enter. Two girls ask for one coffee each, pay and go. The next order was for seven coffees and it was made by three lawyers – three for them and four ‘suspended’.

While I still wonder what’s the deal with those ‘suspended’ coffees I enjoy the sunny weather and the beautiful view towards the square in front of the café. Suddenly a man dressed in shabby clothes who looks like a beggar comes in through the door and kindly asks “Do you have a suspended coffee?”

It’s simple – people pay in advance for a coffee meant for someone who cannot afford a warm beverage. The tradition with the suspended coffees started in Naples, but it has spread all over the world and in some places you can order not only a suspended coffee, but also a sandwich or a whole meal.

Let’s try to embrace this tradition at our local coffee shop/cafe. If you can, donate a suspended coffee or meal to someone in need. Maybe someone will be inspired by your actions and pay the good deed forward.

Sharing is caring.

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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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A Quick Quinoa Salad Fit for a Queen

Quinoa saladMy quinoa salad has become rather famous amongst my circle of friends, as some variation of it usually makes an appearance at any party, gathering or picnic I’m invited to! So I thought it was about time I shared the recipe.

Quinoa (pronounced kin-wah or kwin-o-a) is a type of South American grain, which is considered by many to be a superfood. It’s high in protein, gluten-free, contains all the essential amino acids and is easily digested. Quinoa is also a good source of dietary fibre, magnesium, iron and calcium. So it makes a much lighter, and more nutritious, alternative to pasta or rice.

It’s also easy to cook: just place the required amount of quinoa in a pan – I find one cup is enough for a large salad that lasts 5 days; half a cup is about one portion for an evening meal – and pour in double the amount of water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes. If you have an electric hob you can just turn the heat off completely and leave the pan covered on the hob until all the water is absorbed.

There are many different variations of my famous salad, but my current favourite (which I’m eating for lunch every day this week) is the following.

For the salad:quinoa salad plus dressing ingredients

  • 1 cup of organic quinoa (white, red or mixed), cooked & cooled
  • A bunch of organic rocket
  • 3-5 organic beetroots, cubed
  • A pack of feta cheese, cubed
  • A large avocado, chopped
  • 2 handfuls of cherry or baby plum tomatoes, halved
  • Half a cucumber, quartered
  • A large organic carrot, grated
  • A handful of toasted (dry fried) seeds, e.g. pine nuts, sunflower & pumpkin seeds

For the dressing:

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Wholegrain mustard

Mix all the salad ingredients together, or layer them into a large tupperware container, then they’ll naturally mix together as you take out each portion. Mix the dressing ingredients together in a jar or glass and adjust to taste. It’s best to avoid dressing each portion until the last possible moment to avoid a soggy salad.

Of course, you can substitute or add any other ingredients as you like. Grilled halloumi works well instead of feta, or why not try adding peppers, spring onions, mushrooms, fennel, radishes, bean sprouts or tofu.

Hey presto – a quick, quintessential quinoa salad fit for a queen!

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