Diet beyond food

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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!

5 things to help create the life you deserve

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Have you ever thought “it shouldn’t be this hard” or “there must be more to life than this”? What do those who are happy and fulfilled do differently and how can we get a piece of the action?

Start by asking yourself these questions; When do you feel most alive, what inspires you and makes your heart sing?

Life often feels harder than it should be, we’re left thinking, what’s it about, how do I change things and how can I find a way off this wheel? It doesn’t have to be this way, we should not be so busy making a living that we forget to make a life.

We can be rich and ‘successful’ (and many of us would like to be) but this does not necessarily leave us feeling fulfilled. Being happy and living with purpose is very different from society’s model of ‘success’ we’ve been led to believe holds the key to our happiness.

Try these 5 simple tips to create a life you deserve;

 1.  Learn something new

Continuous growth is important, we all like to have something to aim for. Our ambitions and goals gives us a sense of direction and satisfaction when we achieve what we set out to do. Whether it’s a dance class you’ve wanted to start, learning to draw or a language you want to learn it stimulates your mind and soul and stretches you to challenge yourself and achieve.

2.  Let go  

Lao Tzu said “To become learned each day add something, to become enlightened each day drop something”. Clearing clutter, removing blocks makes room in your life for the things that matter. When you clean your house it feels more orderly and balanced, in the same way, letting go of what no longer serves you makes room for things that do.

We live in a world where we feel we have to have things to be happy, it leads us on an endless pursuit of material possessions, upgrading the car, extending the house, buying more accessories. We feel we have to ‘have’ things to be free when it’s the opposite, our struggle to hold onto things brings the very pain we are trying to avoid, we are terrified of letting go for fear we’ll have nothing but this is the true path to living.

If you have been hurt by someone and you still hold anger and resentment because of it, you are letting them hurt you again. Forgiveness sets you free, let go of resentment. “Holding onto anger is like holding a hot coal with the intention of throwing it at someone else, you are the one that gets burned” Buddhist saying.

3.  Give  

It gives us a sense of purpose and that warm feeling that we’ve helped someone in need. It doesn’t have to be big money donations to charity, helping an old lady across the road with her shopping or letting a car in front of you in a traffic queue and other small random acts of kindness are equally important

The root of all happiness comes from giving to others and wanting them to be happy. Studies show that giving to others makes us happier, when groups of people were given the same amount of money to spend on themselves or on others it was those who spent it on others that reported feeling happier. Researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School analysed data from 40 published studies and found evidence that volunteers had a 20 percent lower risk of death than their peers who do not volunteer.

4.  Find your purpose

Finding your purpose, why are you here, what’s it all about, what makes your life worth living. What’s important to you, what would you do and who would you be if money and other barriers were no object, what sort of person would you be, how would you like to be remembered?

We often get our sense of self from what we do (eg. I’m a mother, a lawyer, a widow). You are more than your job title or your social status, this should not define you or be who you are, it is just what you do.

Work is something we spend so much of our time doing we should ensure for a happy life that we enjoy it and it brings us a sense of purpose and satisfaction. Yet so many of us leave our souls behind when we go to work. Don’t ask ‘what do I want to do’ ask ‘what kind of life do I want to have?’

5.  Do what you love

It can be the small things like a walk along the beach, playing with the dog, visiting your favourite coffee shop, sitting down to read a good book or bigger things like travelling the world, skydiving or simply a night in with the family. Think about what makes your heart sing and incorporate things you love into every day. If you do what you love you will be successful.

10 things to do to make you healthier

10 things to do to make you healthier (and they are cheap and easy)

  1. Drink more water
  2. Eat more veg
  3. Walk outside in nature for 30 minutes every day
  4. Go to bed earlier
  5. Drink less (alcohol)
  6. Stretch every morning
  7. Take 10 mindful minutes a day in solitude to still your mind
  8. Think of 3 things you’re grateful for every day
  9. At meal times only eat until you’re 80% full
  10. Do something you enjoy everyday

Tis the season to be grateful

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So the ‘stress’ of Christmas is over, the presents have been opened, we’ve filled ourselves with an abundance of food and we hopefully are now able to relax and breathe, at least until the credit card statement arrives! It can certainly seem a lot more complicated these days than it used to be.

For me Christmas is about family, living overseas this is one of the few times I get to be with my family and as we sit having Christmas dinner pulling crackers across the table I can’t help but feel grateful for the time we have together, the abundance of things that really matter and how fortunate we are in a world where so many others are not. At this time of year I am also reminded of Christmas’s past and those family members who can no longer be with us and wish that I’d really taken the time to appreciate the big Christmas gatherings we had when we were children, the joy of Christmas and being with those we love, those times can never be repeated and during the moment we often overlook this.

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” Robert Brault

I look at the fridge bulging with food and the presents under the tree and I’m grateful, but it’s so easy to take these things for granted in our overdeveloped world, we run the risk of forgetting it’s not like this for everyone and we are in fact very lucky. This Christmas I travelled home through Thailand where I volunteered with under privileged children. Seeing how happy these kids are when they have so little made me think long and hard about gratitude.

We have a habit of focussing on what we haven’t got instead of all the things we’re lucky to have, even the basics like food, warmth, health, education, freedom. It is human nature to focus on the tiny bits that are not right rather than the large chunks that are. We overlook the good stuff and tend to concentrate on what could be better. This leave us feeling dissatisfied and always wanting more but that is a never ending journey, you’ll always be left wanting more.

A monk spoke to me recently about his upbringing in a hill tribe village in remote northern Thailand where he had to learn to cook, clean, plant, harvest and how to navigate life, as a result he tells me he learned where things come from and to appreciate what he has, he told me “as a kid in the hill tribe if I wanted to play with a toy I had to make one so I would carve a gun out of wood from a banana tree. Rich kids, if they want something it is given to them, they grow up having no idea how to live and they don’t appreciate what they have”.

“Happiness isn’t about getting what you want it’s about loving what you have”

We have put too much emphasis on having many things. It is true that if we are out in the cold in a forest with no food and no clothes we will not be happy but if someone gives us shelter, a blanket and something to eat we will be happy. So if a little of something is good then it follows that more must be better but a person with $2M is not twice as happy as a millionaire. You can also have too much of a good thing (as I have found with Mum’s mince pies)!

It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that if you have something you love or desire you’ll be happier with more, as a result of this mantra we struggle in the modern world with debt, obesity and addiction.

We feel we have to ‘have’ things to be free when in fact it’s the opposite, our struggle to hold onto things brings the very pain we are trying to avoid, we are terrified of letting go for fear we’ll have nothing but this is the true path to living. I look at those who live simply and can’t help thinking they know the secret, they have mastered the art of living. After all, everything material we have can be lost tomorrow and the irony is if you’re asked what you most value it’s likely to be the things money can’t buy and put under the tree, things like love, your health and your family. So this Christmas take a few minutes to think about all you have in your life and be grateful and remember those who are not so fortunate.

 “That man is poor, not who has little but who hankers after more” Seneca

Make 2015 your year!

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As the New Year approaches we are busy thinking about the possibilities for 2015 and what lofty goals we may set for our New Year Resolutions. We’ll be telling ourselves, “this is the year, it’ll be different”, we have new found motivation to achieve goals that maybe we’ve been ‘considering’ for the last few New Years.

I’m going to lose weight, I’m going to get up earlier, get fit, I’m going to find a new job. We dust off our bucket list for review, we join the gym, we update our CV and then by February the motivation has lapsed slightly, we’ve had a few set backs and real life has taken over and we no longer have the promise of a New Year hanging in the air to give us that extra push. Maybe we’ve taken salad to work for a few days and avoided the bread basket when we’ve been out for dinner but really we’re only a few weeks into the year and not that much has changed.

How do you get from where you are to where you want to be and ensure that this year is the year?

There’s a big difference between talking about what we want to achieve and actually doing it, how do we make it happen and actually do those things we say we’re going to do, whether it’s New Year or anytime of the year.

I’m not an expert, I still have things I’ve talked about that have not quite been crossed of my list yet but I have a pretty good track record. Quitting my corporate job to follow my dreams, travelling the world, spending a year living out of a van as a nomad, volunteering to teach English overseas, studying Buddhism whilst working full time, training to become a yoga teacher and emigrating to the other side of the world.

So how do we make our dreams reality and what is it that so often stops us?

If it was easy there would be no challenge and we’d not be having this conversation, your resolve will be key. It all depends on you and you must take responsibility and make the right choices along the way. Take control of your own destiny, know why you’re doing it and understand the consequences of failure and keep this in your mind.

So as you mull over your prospects for 2015 consider these top tips to help you achieve your goals and live your dreams;

  • Understand what you really want.  Take some quiet time out to reflect on what this might be. The quieter we become the more we can hear, listen to what is deep inside of you. Make sure your goals are actually what you want not what you think you should want.
  • Set your intentions – commit to it and believe in yourself
  • Write it down and put it somewhere you’ll see it every day to keep it at the front of your mind
  • Make it realistic so you give yourself every chance to achieve it
  • If it’s big, break it down, set milestones and timeframes to work to
  • Think positive, ordinary people can achieve extra ordinary things, the only person stopping you is yourself.
  • Tell people what you’re doing.  The more people know, the more ‘pressure’ there is to succeed, you’ll have people asking you about it, the fear of failure increases if it is more public and this helps hold you accountable. You may also find that by making it public you encourage others to join you or find support in places you least expected.
  • Be grateful.  Don’t get so lost in the search for something better that you forget all the good things you already have. Get into the habit of giving gratitude everyday even for the small things, you may even want to keep a gratitude journal. If you want to get fitter this year remember to be grateful for your health and wellbeing and the opportunity you have to improve your fitness, not everyone is so lucky.
  • Give yourself a break.  There will be ups and downs, praise yourself for the small successes but don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go so well. Your attitude is critical in your success, so if you accidently ate that piece of cake at lunchtime, get back on the wagon rather than letting it ruin your good intentions and doing more damage. Be kind to yourself and don’t let a little derailer put you completely off track.
  • Keep the company of those walking the same path.  Like minded people will understand what you’re trying to achieve, they may even be on the same journey themselves giving you a support network of people to share ideas and motivation with. They are more likely to be positive about what you’re aiming for and show an interest in what you’re doing.
  • Lose the company of those who do not believe in you or are not supportive.  Negative attitudes are infectious and they’ll weaken your resolve, they’ll inadvertently convince you that you’ll fail and may become a distraction to what you’re trying to achieve.
  • Let go!  Of what you think you should be, grudges from the past, limiting beliefs (I’m too old, not good enough etc), the need to control the outcome, the need for perfection (you don’t need to know everything). Have faith, trust the process and know that if you’re on the right path you’re heading in the right direction.
  • Stop procrastinating.  There’s always an excuse or a better time. (I’ll start the diet on Monday or after my birthday/holiday etc). Procrastination comes in many forms all distractions from achieving our goals, conditions will never be perfect, don’t let negative thoughts overcome your motivation, start now. This is it, this is life, you’re living it now, you only get once chance, it’s too precious a chance to waste on being unhappy. You get once chance to make it great and you can make it whatever you want it to be.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” Lao Tzu

“Every ordinary person has extraordinary potential” Swami Satyananda