Eat Like a Yogi

tarka_dahl

Staying at an ashram in the Himalayas taught me a lot about eating. Not just the food itself, but how and why we eat the way we do, and the impact on our emotions and bodies. In the run up to my trip, I read on the ashram’s website that they follow a ‘Sattvic’ diet. I had no idea what that meant, but the list of no-no’s seemed to be a yogic approach: no meat, fish, alcohol or coffee, very little dairy – until we got to no spices, garlic or onions. That struck me as odd – how ‘bad’ could they be? But it seemed a minor detail as I was in the throes of jabs, malaria pills, what to pack and how to actually get there. I was ready to embrace ashram life (living in basic accommodation, spartan eating, sharing the chores….). Even so, alarm bells did ring a little when a previous student (I was going to do the same yoga Teacher Training programme at the ashram) emailed to say she’d been hungry most of the time she was there. With two big yoga sessions a day, no wonder. She advised me to pack my favourite snacks and I duly lined my case with trail mix, 9 Bars and Green & Black’s.

The word diet in the Western world has come to mean weight loss. Having worked on glossy magazines for years, I cringe, but know only too well the selling power of a ‘lose half a stone in a week’ cover line. It pushes our buttons because, let’s face it, many of us do over eat and need (or more often want) to shed a few pounds. Trouble is, modish quick fixes promise a lot and deliver little and we end up back where we started or worse.

Practising yoga has put me more in touch with my appetite and what my body needs, giving me an ‘eat and enjoy everything in moderation’ approach. The only thing I have cut out of my diet is meat. This was no dramatic statement – it just happened because it felt right. About 12 years ago, I went on a serious detox involving waking up to a tablespoon of olive oil, taking psyllium husk, sipping pressed apple juice in between colonics and no solid food for 4 days. It was worth it – the after effects were enlightening. I’d never felt so ‘clean’ from the inside. I managed to cut out sugar, sticking to pure whole foods for a while, and haven’t wanted to eat meat since. So I wasn’t afraid of the ashram diet (backed up with my own supplies!) and was looking forward to the complete change of eating habits I was sure it would bring. Read More…

Free Your Breath

just breath

Through all the years I’ve been trying to stay healthy by eating well, exercising, taking vitamins, attempting to meditate, it’s only now I really understand that breathing properly is the simplest trick most of us miss in the equation. We can be forgiven of course, as it’s something we all do automatically – approximately 12-18 times a minute of every day. We don’t have to give it a second thought, and quite frankly, who needs ‘learn to breathe’ added to our endless to-do lists. But doing exactly that has made huge changes in the way I feel and look. I can relax more deeply, sleep better, meditate for longer, my digestion functions a whole lot better, I feel taller, lighter (a bonus when running) and I even detect more colour in my skin which others have noticed.

It’s work in progress though – as I sit here in front of my laptop writing this, I know I’m not breathing properly. Modern life – poring over iPads, driving, toting designer handbags, sitting in front of the TV and computer – all conspire to make us lean forwards, hunching our shoulders over and collapsing into our diaphragm, the major muscle which drives our breath. There’s often a sub-conscious emotional element to this too – if we’re hurt, grieving or broken hearted, our instinct is to curl over for comfort – the same goes when we feel threatened. The upshot is, we end up with with constricted breathing, air only going to our chests, using a fraction of our natural lung capacity. We feel anxious and tired rather than full of life. Read More…

Catherine Turner’s India

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image14026311

Catherine Turner’s India

In the end, the decision had been easy to make. After nearly eight years as Beauty & Health Director on a glossy magazine, I’d handed in my notice and was about to trade my dream job for a dream trip to India. This was no out-of-the-blue decision. I’d discovered yoga 11 years earlier: it had rescued me from a rather bleak time when I had been made redundant.

My stressed and stiff desk bunny body gradually melted and transformed into something resembling fit, healthy and flexible. I admit it, I’d become a yoga bore – it was that life changing – so I decided to walk the talk which is how, out of all the things to do on a trip to India, I ended up on a teacher training course at an ashram on the banks of the river Ganges in the Himalayas. At the risk of lapsing into hippy dippy ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ territory, it was my own little spiritual journey and I’d advise anyone (into yoga or not) to go and soak it all up. It’s a mind blowing experience on many levels – you’ll never forget it.

First Stop Rishikesh

It’s a bit of a journey to get there, and I did it the easy way. I debated for ages as to whether to fly to Delhi and get the full local experience by jumping on the train to Rishikesh. A true hippy would have got the bus. In the end I decided to catch an internal flight from Delhi to Dehradun which is then a 40 minute cab ride in to Rishikesh, and managed to persuade one other girl heading for the ashram to do the same. I’m glad I did, as I was troubled by a few horror stories of scams at Delhi train station.

Still, my fellow yogis made it by train or road without any problems, so it confirms I’m a ‘better to be safe than sorry’ rather than a risk-taking traveller. Either way, arriving in Rishikesh is an all-singing, all-dancing intro to India. Hordes of people, chaos and cows. Sun going down, beaten up old cab, horns blaring, tuk-tuks overtaking, dusty road, monkeys hanging off every tree…..and the smell. So bad, yet so good with bursts of delicate jasmine hanging in the hot evening air. Read More…