Being resilient in the face of change

ZIMG_0134 (67)

Over the years I’ve learned that happiness is not the mere absence of suffering or temporary cessation of unhappiness, it’s less about elation and perfection, more about purpose and fulfilment, being connected to who you are. A big part of this is resilience, tough times will come to us all, it’s how you deal with it and bounce back that impacts your happiness.

It’s only the end of the road if you fail to make the turn, life has many twists and turns for us to navigate.

Growing up I thought I was the only one suffering and I thought that adults must have it all figured out and when I grew up I’d come to this enlightened point in my life where I knew all the answers, I thought that’s what coming of age was, imagine my disappointment! Now I’m grown up (some days) I realise everybody hurts, we are all fighting our own battles, pain is inevitable which is why resilience is so necessary. If suffering is inevitable then it seems silly that avoidance of pain is a major preoccupation in our modern world and the methods we employ to achieve this often contribute to more of the very pain we are trying to avoid; addictions, eating disorders, debt.

Unfortunately sorrow will always come, even to those who are happy but the good news is it will also go, impermanence is the nature of all things. This is good news if you’re going through a tough time, know that it won’t last but the same is also true when things are good and we are happy, this too will change, everything is impermanent. If we are able to accept this and enjoy what we have when we have it this goes a long way to helping us be more resilient. But our struggles make us what we are today, it’s because of the tough times we are strong and have learned the lessons of our life. It may be true that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. A monk once told me, mistakes are our teachers and we are never too old to learn. Where you are now is where you’re meant to be, trust it will turn out right in the end. There are no mistakes, only lessons, negative experiences teach us things and give us an opportunity to be stronger. As Paul Coelho said “Straight roads do not make skilful drivers”.

Resilience is something that we should be working on all the time, not just when we need it. You don’t learn to sail in stormy seas and a tree grows its roots in the good times to enable it to weather the storms, resilience is the same, don’t wait until you need it to begin to cultivate it. As we go through change we go through the process of losing something and adjusting to something new, almost like a grieving process. It begins with shock and denial, moves on to anger and eventually we reach acceptance and move on and get over it and the new becomes the norm, until it changes again.

BKS Iyengar said; “Change is not something we should fear. Rather it is something that we should welcome. For without change nothing in this world would ever grow or blossom, and no one in this world would ever more forward to become the person they’re meant to be”.

Having to go through the pain of letting go of the old enables us to find the growth and opportunities of the new. However that period of nothing between letting go of old before we’ve grasped hold of new is the most fearful bit, gap of unknowing and what often sends us running back to cling onto what we know rather than being left out in the dark grasping onto something that’s not there yet and no security, like trapeze artist who has let go of one bar but is suspended in mid air yet to grasp the next. But facing the fear and moving forward allows us to grow and achieve amazing things, only then we can look back on our journey and see how far we’ve come. Change is the nature of everything, nothing stays the same, change is the only constant. Within our lives and work we have a wide range of concerns, some of which we can influence and some we can’t. Make the best use of what is in your power and take the rest ass it happens, this puts you back in control. By focusing your energy and attention on doing something about the things you can control rather than those things you have no control over, you’ll feel more empowered and positive rather than feeling like a victim of circumstance.

Charles Darwin said “in nature it’s not the strongest most intelligent that succeeds, it’s those that are most adaptable to change”.

Top tips to cultivate resilience

  • Know that change will always come and learn to adapt
  • See change as an opportunity – ask not what you are walking away from but rather what you are walking towards
  • Look after yourself – be well
  • Remember it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react to it
  • There are no mistakes in life, only lessons and negative experiences teach us things and give us an opportunity to be stronger
  • Where you are is where you’re meant to be

Lessons Learned Living Life

155520_10150344782530612_423314_n

I’d spent the last 15 years planning what I wanted my life to be like and writing bucket lists of all the things I wanted to achieve one day then I realised that had actually been my life and I needed to start living my dreams not just thinking about them. My search for happiness took me around the world only to arrive back where I started to find it had been with me all along.

After 15 years as a Human Resources professional climbing the corporate ladder I had enough, I felt empty and anything but the ‘success’ my life looked like from the outside. This lead to a change for me, I took 12 months out to write a book, travel the world, volunteer and became a yoga teacher. I learned more about life during this time that any number of years at school or hours in leadership courses has taught me, here are 50 lessons I have learned from living life;

    1. Before you love anyone else, first you must love yourself
    2. Nothing is out of your reach, unless you put it there
    3. Know which direction you want to go before you set off
    4. Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food (Socrates)
    5. If you let go of excess baggage that you no longer need you’ll make room for what you really want
    6. You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep rereading the last one
    7. It’s not what you’re walking away from, it’s what you’re walking towards
    8. Stretch yourself and grow, learn new things
    9. Balance is not something you find, it’s something you create
    10. Laugh everyday, even at yourself
    11. You are not defined by your bank account, street address, job title
    12. You make a living by what you get but you make a life by what you give
    13. You don’t always have to have all of the answers
    14. You do not need to have valuable stuff to feel valued
    15. Don’t try so hard to fit in if you were born to stand out
    16. You define your own success
    17. The time is now be in the present moment
    18. Sometimes you have to disconnect to reconnect
    19. By slowing down you’ll find you have more time
    20. The quieter you become the more you can hear
    21. You can’t always control what happens to you but you can control how you react to it
    22. Instead of wondering when our next vacation is we should set up a life we don’t need to escape from (Seth Goldin)
    23. You can’t learn to surf without getting wet (John Kabat Zinn)
    24. Live simply so that others can simply live
    25. There’s always enough time if you spend it doing the things that matter
    26. Don’t be so busy making a living that you forget to make a life
    27. We are what we think, our thoughts make our world
    28. There are no mistakes only lessons
    29. Happiness isn’t about getting what you want it’s about loving what you have
    30. I can be wealthy even when my purse is empty
    31. Don’t chase your dreams, live them
    32. Don’t change so people will like you, be yourself so the right people will love you
    33. Everyone is fighting their own battles, always be kind
    34. Insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results (Einstein)
    35. We should measure in value not in price
    36. You can do anything you want but you can’t do everything you want
    37. Do what you love and love what you do and you will be successful
    38. That man is poor, not who has little but who hankers after more (Seneca)
    39. You can’t change anyone but yourself
    40. Not all those who wander are lost
    41. You don’t have to see the whole staircase to take the first step
    42. Security is not having things it’s handling things
    43. It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult (Seneca)
    44. A journey of a thousand mile begins with a single step (Lao Tzu)
    45. Action may not always bring happiness; but there is no happiness without action. (Benjamin Disraeli)
    46. Everyone who got where they are started from where they were.
    47. Live as though you’ll die tomorrow, but dream as though you’ll live forever
    48. Some pursue happiness, others create it
    49. Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things. (Robert Brault)
    50. The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be, (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

 

Pet Therapy

dog
We are living more separately now days than we did 30 years ago when social connection was a lot more common and science is now proving the impacts this has on our heath. Loneliness is one of the top reasons people see a therapist in the US now and a recent study suggests that over 25% of Americans feel they don’t have any close friends with which they’d share a problem. In the age of social media when we may have hundreds of friends on facebook we are actually getting increasingly lonely. Studies are now suggesting that social connection is as important to our health as diet and exercise and that social isolation is having a detrimental impact on our health.

Anyone who has owned a much loved pet will attest to the benefits, the smiles they bring to us, the comfort and companionship. Pets can ease loneliness, reduce stress, encourage exercise and studies now show they may even help you live longer. Most notably;
• Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression.
• People with pets have lower blood pressure in stressful situations.
• Playing with a pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.
• Heart attack patients with pets survive longer than those without.
• Pet owners over age 65 make 30% fewer visits to their doctors.

The use of pet therapy is becoming increasingly popular for the sick and elderly, this involves organisations bringing specially trained animals to visit those who are sick, depressed and lonely by bringing a smile to their face, providing companionship and calming anxiety to aid recovery.

But what if you are not able to have pets of your own? The Japanese have found the answer to this in Paro the therapeutic robot seal being used to help treat the sick and elderly. Designed to look and move like a real pet and respond to interaction, it is thought to help combat loneliness, make people smile, help keep them calm and is also used to help dementia sufferers. Paro has already been a real hit in nursing homes across the globe.

The studies seem to show more health benefits with dogs rather than cats probably due to the fact that a cat couldn’t care less about your health, aslong as you feed her, let her out and let her sit on your knee, bed, book, coat, desk, sofa and whenever else she wants. My family have had dogs and cats for as long as I can remember and the love, affection and company they have provided over the years for anyone who has visited the house has been immeasurable.

I have always admired the unconditional love you get from a dog, partly due to having less brain cells as cats will testify, cats will only love you when it suits and usually if there’s something in it for them. But what dogs lack in brains they make up for in heart (and appetite if they are Labradors)! I love both cats and dogs and animals in general but have noted that cats will tolerate us whereas dogs worship us but both bring benefits far beyond their company;

• The dog makes me feel safe when I am sleeping alone in the house
• He immediately cleans up any food I may have spilled on the floor
• The cat keeps me warm when she’s curled up on my bed
• She also keeps the mice population down in the garden shed
• The dog makes me exercise, even on the coldest days when he needs his walk
• When I am sick or sad they seem to know and come and curl up bedside me
• They have replaced the alarm clock as my morning wake up call
• They think it’s ok to go to sleep in the afternoon, in fact they encourage it
• They listen to you, even when you say the craziest things, and they never argue
• When I come home from shopping they great me as if I’ve returned from a six month expedition across the dessert.

I have grown up with animals around and I think it’s great for kids to learn how to look after something from a young age, even if it is a goldfish or a hamster, it also teaches kids lessons about life and death but the impact of pets goes much further than that. For me I am happier when animals are around and I always feel special when I come home to pets.

Travelling light

 What having nothing taught me about having everything.

ZIMG_0134 (6)

I’d just turned 30, in the prime of my life and I had everything; I lived in a house overlooking the beach, I had a top corporate job with a flash car, I was living the dream as some of my friends suggested but I was increasingly unfulfilled, I felt weighed down and trapped by the stuff I had and the rat race I was part of. So when I turned 31 I decided to try a different tact and opted for the simple life. I quit my job, my house and gave most of my possessions away. I wanted a taste of the simple life, made up of what really matters, making room for real things, the things that are necessary for happiness.

I took the advice I’d read about that seemed to work so well for others and got rid of everything in my life that didn’t make me happy and made room for the things that would. It was like unpacking the suitcase of my life that I’d been dragging around for the last 30 years getting heavier and heavier and I was determined to only put back what I needed and what was good for me.

I set off on a journey across the world doing the things that made my heart sing. I lived in Ashrams, volunteered in Northern Thailand and visited all the countries I’d longed to see. Before I left I’d laid out all the things on the bed I thought I’d need and then realised half of it was not going to fit in the bag and after much culling I had a backpack ready to go which I couldn’t lift off the floor. It’s surprising what you really need when you can only pack the bare essentials and nothing encourages you to pack light than having to carry it around on your back for 12 months!

I found that by clearing out the things I didn’t enjoy I had time and space to do more of the things I did. I realised I could make do with one pair of shoes, I didn’t need a wardrobe overflowing with clothes I’d only wore once, I could live without wifi if I had to as checking facebook daily was not as important as my useage suggested. If there was something I needed that I didn’t have I made do with what I had, found an alternative or went without. What really brought this home was seeing how others lived, the hill tribes villages of northern Thailand where the kitchen consisted of a fire to cook on and a floor to sit on, there was no oven, dishwasher, dinning table or dinner service. However the room was filled with what mattered; family, love, laughter and more than enough food to go around.

Spending time living the simple life you realise how little we actually do need and by not having it how much more room you have for things in your life that really matter. We have put too much emphasis on having many things and it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that if you have something you want you’ll be happier with more. We struggle in the modern world with debt, obesity and addiction as a result of this mantra. But as Seneca put it “that man is poor, not who has little but who hankers after more”

At some point in our lives we are forced to reduce the amount we have, whether it’s financial reasons, divorce, sickness, natural disaster or eventually death. Guess what we won’t take with us when the inevitable happens, everything.   Having less stuff does not mean less quality of life and this is clear to me now. It opens more space in your life for the fun stuff, the things that really matter, there’s less to clean, insure and pack each time you move!

Going on this journey taught me how to appreciate the things we take for granted each day. Cold fresh water, a comfy bed with a nice warm duvet, a spare seat on the bus, having your own room. Living simply has also taught me to be grateful for what I have. When you don’t have something and miss it you realise how grateful you are that it’s there, whether this is your bed or your family, it’s the simple things that matter.

In between thoughts

VipasanaIt sounded so easy, go away for a 10 day silent Vipasana retreat, away from the busyness of daily life, to have all your meals cooked, nothing to do but it was intense, hard going internal work on a scale I’d never tried before. This was 10 days devoted to working on awareness of the body and mind and I was surprised by what I found.

It was a beautiful place surrounded by nature high up in the bush nestled in a valley north of Auckland. My room had everything I needed which was nothing at all really – a bed, a bench and some hooks. No electronic devices were allowed, nor were reading, writing materials, intoxicants or communication of any kind. The idea was that all distractions were removed to allow your entire focus to be on the job in hand.

The rules were strict but the silence was deafening, although it didn’t seem to apply to the Cicadas, Tui’s, Possums and Morepork!  There was complete silence throughout the day which started at 4am when the wake up gong sounded, there was 2 hours of meditation before breakfast and after lunch no further meals, just some fruit and tea in the evening.  I found when all distractions and noise were removed you are given the opportunity to notice so much more; the nature around us, the thoughts in our heads, the way we feel; which isn’t always positive which is why I guess we devote so much of our time to distracting ourselves from it.

We know our mind is important, everything we do and feel starts in the mind, it dictates how we feel and how we act yet we pay it so little attention and in fact go to extreme lengths to avoid doing so. We seek to fill our lives with distractions, facebook and youtube are great examples of this along with TV, magazines, going to the pub, anything to avoid being left alone with our own thoughts.

After 10 days spent alone with my own thoughts what surprised me most was how much time my mind spend either going through past events (which I can not change as they are in the past) or day dreaming about future plans. It was never in the present moment, jumping from thought to thought many of which were of little importance. That’s why it’s called the monkey mind, maybe it’s always doing this we just never notice as we’re never watching it or perhaps it gets busier when we try to control it. Yet once you focus on what it’s doing and the thoughts begin to subside you get a glimpse of what a peaceful mind looks like, between the train of thoughts appears these moments of emptiness, space, stillness and it feels like bliss.

The people in attendance (about 80 in total) were from all backgrounds and all walks of life and whilst different reasons had brought us here we all had one goal; to find peace of mind and inner contentment. The centre is one of many world wide and all available due to the kindness of others, run on donations and by volunteers so accessible to everyone.

We had been warned that undertaking the course was like peeling back layers of onion and as we went deeper into our mind it had the same effect with some people brought to tears due to the nature of what they were working through, at times it was often more like a therapy room! Many of the participants had past traumas or addictions that had contributed to their reason for being here. Some craving their cigarettes or coffee, for me it was my notepad and pen. I realised we are all fighting our own internal battles, we just use different weapons.

We spent hours everyday watching the sensations that came up from within us and learning to accept what we found. I was having other worldly sensations in my knees after 10 hours a day of sitting cross legged. Over the 10 days we learned to maintain awareness and equanimity, giving all our attention to this present moment and accepting what it brings. There were difficult things that came up for every individual but as in life rather than trying to avoid these difficulties we learned to accept them and know that they will pass. In the same way when the pleasant thoughts arose, as in life our task was not to chase after them on a desire fulfilled pursuit but to accept they have arisen but know they will not last.

This is the main learning for me; everything is impermanent and the good news is that means tough times won’t last forever but the bad news is that means that good times won’t last forever either. Knowing this we can avoid the disappointment and rather focus on acceptance, making us stronger people.

Whilst I don’t necessarily advocate the particular technique used in Vipasana as there are so many good meditation techniques out there, what I do endorse is finding space, silence and peace of mind through whatever method of meditation suits you. It’s taking the time to be with yourself, focus on the breath and become aware and in between the thoughts find that stillness and peace of mind that is the antidote to so much of our modern way of life and can work wonders for your mind, body and soul.

For more information about meditation, the benefits and how to get started, click here to visit the meditation page

Diet beyond food

100_2057

Although it is true that we are what we eat, it is also true that there’s more to it than that. It is also about how we eat and other factors. In a nation that is overfed but under nourished it’s clear that we no longer eat because we are hungry, so what others reasons could there be? There are in fact many factors impacting what we eat, for example; our emotions play a role in our food choices, our lifestyles, environment, education, food cost and availability, the habits we’ve grown up with, convenience and time.

I don’t think we can underestimate the role our emotions play in our food choices but our food choices also play a massive part in our emotions; we all know what it’s like to reach for comfort food on a cold wet day when you’re not feeling happy and likewise we’ve seen the effects too much sugar has on the kids behaviour and the sluggish feeling we get ourselves when we’ve over indulged on the wrong things. We may eat for boredom, sadness, fear or just because those around us are eating, we may not even be hungry. I used to eat to fill a gap in my soul but I’ve found other things in my life that fill that gap now.

Stress also has a big role to play in our diet with studies now evidencing the role of the hormone cortisol in weight gain. Cortisol is produced when we are stressed and this helps us react in times of stress by activating the fight or flight response, this worked well in times gone by when stress normally meant you were being hunted by an animal or there was a famine occurring, the body would release adrenalin to activate the fight of flight response and would also hold onto its fat reserves, this is good if we still lived in past times but in today’s modern world our stressors are different; they are work emails, traffic jams, forgetting someone’s birthday, the supermarket car park being full and unfortunately ‘stress’ occurs far more frequently, the result being that are bodies are awash with cortisol and reducing fat is the last thing it wants to do, even if we’re eating all the right things.

The body doesn’t shape our health it is the mirror of our inner health and how we live our life. Whilst it’s important to look after our body (eating right, exercise etc) there’s more to it than that and the fundamental part is if we look after how we live our health will be better.

As well as what we are eating we should consider how we are eating it. How often do we sit around the table and focus on our meals, chewing slowly and waiting a few minutes afterwards to see if we’re full before we dive in for seconds? Many of our meals now are rushed and on the go. I’ve found it helpful using smaller plates to control portion size and only eating until I’m 80% full, once you’ve allowed time after the meal for it to settle you find that you’re no longer hungry, but without allowing this time the temptation is to continue to eat until we can’t fit anymore in and by doing this we are eating more than we need to. When you eat soley for hunger it’s surprising how little you need. Drinking water also ensures we do not feel so hungry and then accidentally overeat. In fact some of our hunger pains can actually be a sign from the body that it is thirsty and needs more water. Many of us are not drinking enough water throughout the day and this is contributing to our eating habits.

My food journey has made me realise how much of what we eat is through habit. You’re used to what you grow up on or what those around you eat, this becomes your habit pattern. As I began to travel I experienced many different foods I’d never eaten before and began to eat more real food and enjoyed it so brought the cook books. One day a friend asked me what are the best recipes from it I’d tried and I realised I hadn’t actually done any, it decorated the kitchen saying ‘look how healthy I am’, in the same way I’d take fruit to work and it would decorate my desk until it went off and I threw it away! Only when I put myself in an environment of eating this kind of food everyday (ashrams and yoga retreats) did I become used to it, realised how god it made me feel and my body started to crave it, even after I left. Now I use the cookbooks, my body actually wants to eat this food not just because I think I should, I have experienced it and it’s become a habit, it’s no longer a tough choice of what I think I ought to be doing versus what I want to do they are now the same thing.

This is the big turning point; putting what we know into practice, putting the education into action. There are thousands of books and articles relating to food and diet available and it’s become and muti million dollar industry but still we make bad choices. To me there’s more to it than understanding the educational elements of diet, there’s a big difference between knowing what we should be eating and putting that into action. We know that fast food is not good for us but it doesn’t stop temptation giving way to take aways, so how do we make the shift from what we know to be true to putting it into practice?

I think it starts by looking at why we make these choices; is it because of how we feel (emotions), is it because of convenience (time), maybe it’s because of our lifestyle or the environment in which we live. If we have a very social lifestyle that involves being at pubs and restaurants often we may find this is impacting our diet; alcohol in particular is not just responsible for weight gain itself it also leads to us making poor food choices later that night and even the next day, it dehydrates us and disturbs our sleep, also things that impact our diets.

It’s not easy and it requires a change that’s why we can find many excuses that prevent change from occurring, here are two of the most popular ones and some antidotes;

“I don’t have the time”; plan ahead and find the time; thinking about a menu for the week when you do your shopping ensures you have all the things you need in the house to make the right choices and if something tempts you (chocolate, biscuits etc), don’t buy it, save it for a special occasion, if it’s not there you can’t eat it. By making meals ahead of time on the weekends or the night before work it makes it much quicker and easier when you’re short on time.

“I can’t afford good food and take away is so cheap”; Deals in supermarkets now mean that making good meals for cheap is possible, there are also lots of free recipes available for inspiration on making healthy meals out of a few ingredients. If you have the land and climate try to grow your own from seed, this is a cheaper, healthier alternative. The question you need to ask yourself is what price do you put on your health?

Some of the biggest diseases in present times are diet and lifestyle related; obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression and they are still on the rise.  When the cost of being unhealthy outweighs the effort of being healthy we find that people adjust to making the change, for some the motivation to change comes in the form of a health scare, but don’t wait for this to happen, take your health into your own hands, put what we know into practice and consider the bigger picture when it comes to what we are eating to ensure we eat for our health. It not only helps you lose weight it also makes you fitter, healthier and happier and weighed up with the alternatives the choice is clear.

We are what we eat

Food

I brought my first size 8 clothes just recently and it came as a bit of a shock, I had to check the label to make sure it wasn’t a misprint, I’d taken a size 12 into the changing rooms so that shows how far off I was. I’d not really noticed myself, my clothes were all baggy but I’d been travelling for 4 months and thought it was just a side effect of washing and wearing the same things over and over again but when I returned home my friends all remarked on the weight I’d lost and asked me how so this made me think; how did I do this without really knowing I had?

I’ve dieted all my life, not because I’m fat but because I’m short (at least that’s the reason that’s always sat well with me), I am ‘stocky’ as my granddad would say and I love my food too which has never helped. This has lead me to try all the diet fads going over the years but never to any avail so how had I managed it all these years later without even trying. I’ve come to the conclusion that any diet that restricts too many food groups is doomed to fail, it’s just not sustainable or balanced, it makes you miserable and only works for as long as you’re sticking to the regime, I needed to find something that was part of everyday life that I could do forever not just whilst I was ‘on a diet’

Now I’m not going to sit here and tell you I was sat on the sofa eating chips when 10 kg disappeared down one of the back cushions and you’re not expecting to read that either (although you were secretly hoping I had discovered some quick fix that required little effort). It’s hard work and it takes discipline and it requires moderating some of the things you love the most but you knew that already didn’t you!

There has never been a truer word spoken about diet than the phrase “we are what we eat”. There’s so much temptation around these days and the less healthy stuff is often more convenient and cheaper which makes it even harder for us to do the right thing, as a result we are living in a nation that is over fed but under nourished.

Before processed foods were so plentiful and widely available what did we eat? We ate real food and coincidently during these times there was less obesity, depression and disease. Real food is food that has lived, things our grandparents would recognise as food and preferably the sort we can grow in our gardens (or someone else can grow in their gardens for us)! We need to eat far more fruit and veg than we currently do and we need to know that it is clean, the drive to mass produce cheap, plentiful, pretty food that can travel miles and last weeks has meant an increase in chemicals and preservatives used on food that is best eaten in its natural state. This is why organic produce is my choice or home grown is even better (and cheaper).

When we talk about the price of good quality food what we’re really talking about is the price we’re putting on our health and nothing puts it into context like a comparison to the millions of dollars our health system spends on fixing diet related disease. There can in fact be a high price for cheap food.

I’ve also found over the last few months that when I’ve not been eating meat I’ve felt better, due to the nature of the places I’ve been staying at my diet has been mostly vegetarian. Meat has become cheap and plentiful and has increased in our diets with the popularity of Atkins and Paleo diets. Now I’m not a vegetarian and I also believe meat has a fundamental role in our diet to provide us with iron and protein but I do think we eat too much of it in the western world. I think this impacts on our health in the increase in heart disease and digestive disorders we are seeing and the impact on the environment is just as significant. Take the mass deforestation occurring to make more room for livestock and places to grow the feed for the stock, there are now more livestock on the planet than people, this is contributing to an increase in water use and decreases in water quality due to the pollution from farms. There is also the increase in green house gas emissions associated with producing meat and the impacts on soil quality due to the large amount of feed that needs to be cultivated to feed our meat before we eat it.

The importance of eating real food is not just for diet, it contributes to our health and our happiness. People tell me my eyes are bright and my skin clear as well as looking slimmer, the weight is a bonus, the best thing about this for me is the way it makes me feel. Food has such an impact on our moods, eating the right things makes us feel better, we can all relate to that sluggish sad feeling we get when we’ve indulged in all the wrong things and if we’re feeling down we’re more likely to reach for the less healthy foods to comfort us, it can be a vicious circle.

I still have fish and chips by the beach and enjoy the odd glass of wine with dinner. I don’t have a gym membership, nor do I pound the pavement in my jogging gear. So how did I shed my additional kilos and how do I stay healthy? For me it wasn’t so much about diet, more about a healthy lifestyle, the weight loss was just a bonus.

I have chosen exercise that I enjoy, sometimes this is a simple as a gentle stroll along the beach, it could be a bike to work or regular yoga classes. I also noticed that once I no longer had a car I was walking much more everyday and this has also played a part.  Just remember the two key points for exercise; do it everyday for at least 30 minutes and make sure it’s something you enjoy, if it’s not fun you’re not going to want to do it. It needs to be something you look forward to not something on your to do list that you’d really rather wasn’t there. It’s not just the calorie burning, toning, sweat busting endorphin inducing plus of exercise, it can also be a great social activity too, it becomes more than something you’re doing for your health, it’s a valuable part of your life.

I eat real food, mostly fruit and veg with the occasional fish and meat, I drink lots of water and I exercise everyday. I have also reduced the amount of alcohol I have when I socialise. I don’t often snack between meals but if I do it’s healthy (fruit, veg, nuts etc). The key for me is balance and moderation, that way you don’t have to go without and when you do indulge it tastes so much better. I still have the odd treat, a chocolate bar or some ice cream but it’s reserved for special occasions.

I meditate to keep my stress levels down and I try to spend time doing things I enjoy and living happily. I give gratitude everyday, there is always something to be grateful for even if it’s just that the sun is shining. I make sure I have enough sleep and prioritise early nights. I have also learned to distinguish between hunger and emotional eating, eating for boredom, sadness, fear, or simply because others are eating.

By eating and exercising for health not diet we are making sustainable, long lasting changes to our lifestyles which can lead to happier, healthier, longer lives. I believe there’s more to it than just what we eat though and we’ll explore that in part 2 to come…….

The wonders of coconut

untitled

Until quite recently the closest I got to a coconut was in a Bounty bar, which I thought was as good as it got, why would you need more? I didn’t even know what one looked like, where they came from let alone how to get into one.

My journey of discovery began when I identified a dairy intolerance but also because of my love of Asian food. Whilst in Asia I would gorge on curries and creamy soups with no ill effects (apart from the occasional travellers stomach) and I would also buy a coconut to drink from the street stalls (thankfully they open it for you).

Dairy intolerances seem more prevalent today and this has lead to more mainstream information and sharing of ideas, coconut milk and cream feature heavily. Being intolerant to dairy made creamy sauces untouchable until I substituted coconut cream. The more I researched the more alternatives I found until I came to the wonderful realisation that I would not have to go without ice cream again.

It turns out the coconut has many uses and all of the different parts can be used. Weather it’s the oil, flesh, water, milk, cream and the husks make great serving bowls that add a fancy twist when serving up rice dishes.

The oil can be used for cooking with high heat, greasing baking tins, basting meat, making dressing – just about anything you’d use cooking oil for. The milk and cream of a coconut can be used as alternatives anywhere you’d use dairy milk and cream, but it’s especially great in porridge, curries and making ice cream!

Coconut water has recently found fame thanks to celebrity endorsements, it’s a great hydrator and natural, it has more electrolytes than water but none of the unhealthy additives the sports drinks on the market have, you can mix it with cranberry juice or similar if you want a different taste to it.

The flesh is nice to eat on its own or with sweet desserts but dried and shredded makes a great alternative to sugar. I put it in my baking, on my cereals and even in sauces, anything that needs a bit of something sweet really.

And it doesn’t stop there, coconut is also an excellent addition to your beauty regime, it’s inexpensive, multiuse and natural so totally good for you inside and out.  Due to concerns over toxins in our beauty products I now also use coconut oil in the bathroom. It’s a great hair conditioner and skin moisturiser which also naturally contains a low factor sun protection. Coconut oil can also be used to remove makeup and cleanse your face.

When I tell people I put coconut oil on my hair and body they look at me like I’ve just told them I smoother myself in butter or something.

I also use coconut oil for oil pulling, which is an Ayurvedic cleansing technique, by swishing melted coconut oil around your mouth for 20 minutes then spitting it out you help remove bacteria and toxins from your mouth and lymph system, it leads to whiter teeth, healthy gums, fresh breath and detoxes the body.

So rather than spending hundreds of dollars on products that ‘contain coconut’ why not use the real thing, 100% natural, no chemicals added, good for you and good for your wallet. It’s what the ancient tribes have used for thousands of years before the invention of chemical products and in my opinion is a wonder product of its own.

And of course it still tastes really great with chocolate too!

Natural Health

100_1954

In a world where stress, anxiety, mood disorders and depression are on the rise and many medical professionals are keen to turn to pills for the answer maybe it’s time we stopped to consider the natural remedies people have used for centuries to keep sickness away.

It may seem too good to be true that something so readily available could make us better. We have become conditioned to turn to pills for assistance and quick fixes, these days if we are ill there’s little time to stop and recover, life continues and we have to keep up but at what cost to our health and long term quality of life.

I used to get headaches when I worked all day in an office with no natural light, looking at a computer all day, breathing in air conditioning and sitting down for far too many hours of the day at a desk, although it was tempting to take a pill and carry on working through the busy to do list I found that all I needed was 30 minutes walking outside in the sunlight and fresh air and this resolve my headache naturally.

Studies are now confirming the health benefits of natural remedies, and in many cases doctors are now also suggesting regular exercise and being outdoors could be of benefit to patients with mild depression. So before we reach for the medicine cabinet ensure you’ve not overlooked some of the following natural alternatives;

1. Exercise
Studies now show that there are more benefits to exercise than we first thought, we know it keeps us healthy and trim and makes us feel good and is now recommended as an antidote for stress and depression but tests on mice show that it also improves memory and focus by contributing to the growth of new nerve cells in the hippocampus region of the brain that can stimulate improved memory and learning. Exercise is also know to help us sleep better and can add to our social health if we exercise with friends or play team sports.

The trick is to find exercise you enjoy whether this be taking the kids for a bike ride, walking with friends, yoga, swimming at the beach or maybe you are one of those people who love the gym or classes or need the extra motivation a personal trainer brings, as long as it’s something you enjoy it doesn’t matter what it is as if you enjoy it you’re more likely to do it regularly and it won’t feel like a chore. Making lifestyle adjustments can help too, walking to the shops not taking the car, cycling to work in the mornings, getting a dog and walking it daily whatever the weather, find what works for you and exercise will become so much easier, it should be something you enjoy.

2. Fruit & Vegetables
It is so true that we are what we eat, it is also true that we don’t get enough fresh vegetables in our current diets. Not only are they good for our health, they give us clear skin and improve our moods and have some of the vital nutrients we seem to be short of these days.

Space and climate don’t always permit it but where you can try and grow your own, not only does this foster the connection between you and your food but it also ensures you know exactly where it’s come from and how it’s been grown, nothing tastes fresher than veg that’s come straight from your garden onto your plate.

3. Pets
Pets can ease loneliness, reduce stress, encourage exercise and studies now show they may even help you live longer. Reports from recent studies suggest that pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression and that people with pets have lower blood pressure in stressful situations. This could be due to the fact that playing with a pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.

The use of pet therapy is becoming increasingly popular for the sick and elderly, this involves organisations bringing specially trained animals to visit those who are sick, depressed and lonely by bringing a smile to their face, providing companionship and calming anxiety to aid recovery.

4. Being outdoors
We know we don’t get outside as much as we should these days, especially in winter, not only it the fresh air good for us, we need sunlight to keep our vitamin D levels up and being in nature has also been found to lift our mood and better our health. We know how refreshing it feels to take a walk in the bush or sit by a lake and research is now showing it goes much further than that.

The connection we get from being in nature utilises all the senses and brings clarity and focus which is why sometimes when you’re struggling for inspiration in the office or to solve a complex problem it helps to take a stroll to clear your mind, many offices are now using walking meetings as a way of improving health, creativity and productivity. Particularly in the technological age when emails and phones so often disrupt our concentration and cause breaks in our creativity.

UK charity Mind suggest that time in nature is beneficial for those with depression, it enhances mood, self esteem, reduces anger and confusion and tension, it has also been linked to lower blood pressure, reducing pain and strengthening the immune system.

5. Coconut
Whether it’s the water, milk, cream or oil the benefits of coconut have been widely reported, great for hydration, an alternative to dairy and a natural sweetener, coconut is great for inside the body and out. Using the oil when frying on high heat or on your body; to condition your hair or moisturise your skin, I also use coconut oil for oil pulling to help eliminate toxins from my body.

6. Lemons
A great source of vitamin C that can be used to treat the common cold, lemon aids digestion and speeds up metabolism helping with weight loss. Can be used as a salad dressing, to add flavour to food, cleaning agent, beauty product or simply in a glass of water.

Take a slice of lemon in warm water to start your day to help detoxify and gently wake up your digestive system. Speaking of water……..

7. Drink water
Our bodies are made up of mostly water so it makes sense that keeping hydrated is critical for good health. Often some of the niggles we get like headaches or dry skin can simply be a sign that we’ve not drunk enough water.

By drinking enough water our bodies are able to carry out their required functions, our toxins are flushed out, we have more energy, we feel better, our skin is better and it helps your immune system.

8. Sleep
Our bodies heal when we sleep, not only that but after a good nights sleep we feel more refreshed and better able to navigate the day, our mood lifts and things seem to go smoother after a good nights rest, we should never under estimate the importance of a good nights sleep.

9. Meditation/ stillness
In a world that is constantly on and moving at a quickening pace we find it very hard to be still. 10 minutes of calming your mind each day and sitting in stillness is beneficial for your health and your mood.

Science is catching up with what ancient wisdom has always known, the benefits of meditation can be used to treat many ills, and science has now proven that meditation physically changes the brain. Studies show that not only does regular meditation calm us, it slows our blood pressure, gives us clarity of mind, improves our memory and has been linked to treatment for many health conditions.

What Yoga taught me

100_2056

As I have just completed my yoga teacher training, I thought it appropriate to write about how I got here, what yoga has done for me and what’s made me want to share those benefits with others.

I came across yoga after a series of knee injuries put an end to my team sport playing days, I was looking for a form of exercise which would help me unwind and keep me toned and anything to avoid having to join the gym really! I’d heard it could help reduce stress too and I felt like I needed to relax so combining the two things sounded like it may also save me time! I’d seen yoga classes on my travels and a room full of slim toned women who lay down and ‘relax’ a lot seemed liked something I could cope with.

Yoga is for everyone; I’ve been in classes full of men, women, old and young, all different sizes and levels of fitness. It is still seen as a woman’s thing but men are also seeing the benefits, many sporting teams now incorporate a yoga practice as part of their stretch routine to warm up, aid recovery and assist with injury prevention.

Many people join yoga for the physical benefits and I guess if this gets them to the mat it’s a good thing but there’s so much more to it as I discovered. As I progressed the postures began to get easier, I was feeling stronger and was beginning to master my focus and attention in class deepening my practice so it became about the body and mind and the connection with the breath.

However there was still that part of me that so badly wanted to be better, to do a headstand and put my legs behind my head and when I did finally pull of a posture I’d been practising I was desperate for someone to notice and offer some praise, I was still learning how yoga really worked.

A new challenge for me became the discipline to hold back and listen to my body and not to over stretch myself. It’s not about doing all the cool looking poses you see on the magazines or trying to run before you can walk. It’s not about pushing yourself to go further every time or trying to replicate the magazine covers and it’s not about feeling like you’ve failed when you can’t or getting mad that you’re not improving fast enough or as good as the person on the next mat.

It’s about doing what you can, with the body you have at the class you’re in, being grateful for that and enjoying the moment.

The original practice of yoga comes from ancient eastern traditions where it is more a spiritual way of life than a workout. The purpose of the physical asans (postures) was to aid the body when sitting in meditation for prolonged periods and the breath is such an integral part of the practice, if you’re not breathing right, you’re not practising yoga. Of course we’ve put our western twist on it and off the back of this comes gyms offering yoga to pumping music, million dollar fashion ranges and celebrity crazes but we should always remember the true purpose of yoga and respect where it has come from.

The Yoga Sutras explains the philosophy of Ashtanga yoga which includes; compassionate living (for yourself and others), freedom from possessiveness and envy, moderation in all things, generosity, truthfulness, purity of body and mind, motivation, inner contentment, study of the self, breathing, concentration and meditation.

The most beneficial parts of a yoga class can be in the breath, that’s the thing we are often holding whilst we strain to try and get our foot behind our head! Matching the movement to the breath and taking the time to calm ourselves and turn inward is really where yoga comes into its own, yes there are the physical benefits but this is only half the picture. In a world where depression and obesity seem to be the fastest growing epidemics yoga really can do wonders for us when we look at the practice holistically.

I used to find the resting postures an inconvenient interruption to toning my body in the early days, I thought “what possible benefit could there be of lying on the floor and doing nothing, I can do that when I go home to bed”. But as I spent more time in class I began to understand why this is an essential part of the practice and how it taught me to be present in the moment and more aware. Savasana (corpse pose) is one of the most important asana, yet also one of the hardest to achieve, we struggle to allow ourselves to let go and do nothing and relax but it is necessary for the mind and for a holistic practice to get the full benefits from yoga.

So remember next time you’re on the mat what yoga is all about; focusing on your own practice rather than worrying about what others are doing or that the person next to you can get their head to the floor. Not pushing so hard (it’s not a competition), closing your eyes and going inwards to feel the practice, listen to your body and be kind to it. There is also a strong link between physical and emotional in yoga, our strength and our balance when cultivated on the mat also help us become stronger and more balanced in our daily lives as we reap the mental and emotional benefits of our practice.

We should aim to take the practice into our daily lives, yoga does not stop when you leave the mat. Learning to be grateful for what we have rather than always wanting more, living simply, letting go of our attachment to things and ideals and learning to turn inwards to still our busy minds and be at peace.

Yoga is about the body, mind and the breath, taking the time to go within, spending time with yourself, discovering yourself and making peace with what you find.

The more self aware you become, the better your practice will be. I hated missing a class in the early days and would go 100% even if I knew I was injured or sore, these days I’ve learned to back off when necessary and listen to how my body feels and what it needs, although I’m never away from the mat for long. I’ve found yoga can be the antidote to many things.

During the times my life has become crazy and I’ve stopped doing yoga I have also discovered the consequences of not practising, you lose your tone and flexibility but also the mental side, I am restless and more negative in the mind when not practising yoga. The times when you think you’re too busy to do yoga are the times when you need it the most.

I think everyone who knows yoga would agree that it can aid strength, flexibility and balance but if you’d have told me at the start that I’d also become more self aware, confident, focused, calm, happier and more compassionate I would have laughed and then probably run a mile in the opposite direction, at the time I don’t think that’s what I wanted and was happy just to get a bit more toned ready for summer at the beach.

Many people are still uncomfortable with the spiritual side of yoga and some aren’t interested, wanting the physical benefits only but the practice of yoga is all about uniting the body and mind and the balancing of our physical, mental and emotional self.

Physically yoga has taught me how to love my body and this is easy to do when you start to see your wobbly bits toning up! But mentally it brought balance and clarity too. So what started off as a form of exercise I thought might be easier than going to the gym has now become my life. I have swapped my corporate career and suits for one of bare feet and yoga pants in a bid to share these benefits with other people.

People find yoga for different reasons and you’ll get out of it what you put in, it takes time and will happen when you’re ready but even getting the basics from yoga is a step in the right direction and it is capable of helping you achieve amazing things.

Namaste!