Thursday, February 26, 2015

Boosting our Immune systems.

Now the winter months are closing and spring is well on its way, the body is also changing with the seasons and this can mean a disturbed effect to our Agni (digestive fire) which can lead to a build up of toxins and cause sickness, especially respiratory and allergy ailments.  Also as we start to thaw from the cold months the toxins accumulated during this time also start to thaw with us building up in our system causing our bodies to react in some way.  However we can boost our immune system with some simple things that can help us with the transition between the seasons, gentle cleansing techniques like steam baths and oils massage are great at this time.  Cleansing techniques strengthen the Agni and prevent more toxins known in Ayurveda as Ama, building up.  Eating warm light meals will help to cleanse such as lightly spiced soups, couscous and kitcheri. 
To help enhance your Agni adding this simple pomegranate chutney to each meal will help improve your digestion, elimination, decrease gas and decrease stomach acid, thus not allowing the ama to accumulate:

1 Pomegranate
1 teaspoon of rock or sea salt
¼ teaspoon of black pepper
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
Fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon of grated jaggary (natural sugar)

Mix all the ingredients in a blender and add to your meals accordingly.

Enjoy cooking home meals and add immune-enhancing ingredients such as cumin, fennel, coriander, turmeric, ginger and black pepper.  Avoid eating left overs, frozen and processed foods, heavy fried foods and ice-cold foods and drinks which all add to ama (toxins.)  Also some vegetables can be more Ama producing – tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and sweet peppers, so better to avoid at this time.

Another great recipe packed with goodness is this chickpea and spinach salad, the spinach like other leafy greens providing a great source of vitamin A, C, K and folic acid, also stimulating the production of critical immune cells in the stomach:

1 cup of chickpeas (soaked and cooked in pressure cooker)
1 cup of tender baby spinach chopped
1 chopped carrot to match stick size
¼ cup of raw mango sliced
4 chopped dates
½ cup of fresh coriander
¼ cup of fine chopped cabbage
¼ teaspoon of cumin seeds crushed
¼ teaspoon of ginger paste or powder
¼ teaspoon of black pepper
½ teaspoon of mustard or olive oil depending on taste
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
2 teaspoons of grated jaggary (natural sugar)

Mix all the ingredients and enjoy!  You could also serve on a bed of fresh rice noodles to make a more substantial meal if you needed.

The practice of kapalabati the fire breath is essential at this time and will help to increase the Agni and reduce the Ama, so a few minutes each morning will really make a difference.
So let us stay healthy during these transition times between the seasons, eat well, sleep well and practice our yoga well!
Looking forward to seeing you on and off the mat where the best parts of yoga are those that cannot be seen.
Om Om shantih Om
Mangala / Nicky

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Mudra - the expression of our hands

Our hands can be so expressive in our communication, often when I am not able to communicate via language difficulties in other countries I am amazed at how much we can talk through our hands.  But do we think about the meaning behind all these beautiful gestures that we perform in our yoga practice with our hands?
In class we are often asked to perform certain Mudras where the hands, fingers and thumbs are placed in a certain way, most commonly is probably Namaskara Mudra, (Anjali Mudra) with the palms placed together or Chin Mudra with the tip of the thumb and forefinger touching.  But what are these mudras and what is their meaning?
Mudras are gestures or attitudes that use the body parts, breath or visualisation to enable the practitioner to develop awareness of the flow of prana (energy) in and around the body.  Energy is easily lost from the body and the practice of Mudra allows us to channel this energy back within, redirecting it for use of a higher nature, to enable the individual force to merge with the universal force or cosmic energy.  So we can define a Mudra as a seal or short cut or circuit by pass.  They deepen our concentration and focus and have not only a profound effect on the energy and where that energy is flowing but also have physical and emotional values, which can alter moods, perception and attitudes.  In fact the Yoga Hatha Pradipika suggests that yoga mudras are an independent form of yoga requiring a subtler sense of awareness and guidance from an adept Guru as they are considered a higher practice that can lead to awakenings of energies, energy vortexes within the body and to the awakening of the Kundalini, a dormant energy that resides in us all.
We can use them to simply open ourselves up a bit giving us more awareness to our prana and to gain some physical and mental benefits, here are some of the more common ones –
Namaskara Mudra (Anjali Mudra)
Join both of the palms together and place them on the chest with the thumbs touching the heart centre.
Benefits – opens the heart, reduces stress, anxiety and calms the brain.  Leads to a greater level of divine consciousness.
Chin Mudra
Touch the tips of the thumbs with the tips of the index fingers, place the palm upward on the knees of thighs.
Benefits – creates a circuit of energy between the body and the brain, enhances cell activity in the grey matter of the brain boosting mental capabilities.  Naturally calms down the breath, bestows wisdom, brings peace and allows us to connect within.
Jnana Mudra
Bring the hands into Chin Mudra but place the palms downward on the knees or thighs.
Benefits – reduces nervous tension, balances the air qualities within the body, stabilises the mind, develops creativity and increases mental peace.
Dhyana Mudra
Keep the left hand on the lap, palm facing upward then place the right on top of the left palm facing up.
Benefits – Promotes the energy of meditation, generates peacefulness and releases tensions.  This is representing the union of both the astral nerves running either side of the spine the Ida and Pingala Nadi, when they join they run up the Sushumna Nadi creating a forceful field of energy.

So next time we make a Mudra let us have a deeper sense of understanding of what it is we are doing and try to feel any effect that it is having on our body, breath and mind. 
Enjoy the practice
Om Lokha Somastha Sukinho Bhavantu
May all beings find balance, harmony and peace
Om shanti
Mangala / Nicky

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Diet issues that unbalance us that we should know about -

Eating habits can aggravate and unbalance the elements within us causing tiredness, unbalanced emotions and various diseases or illnesses.  In ayurveda this is called contradictory food and when it is consumed repeatedly it can put a load on our digestive system and cause a build up of toxins, which are not good for anybody!  Here are some important points to help us maintain our health that we should consider in our eating habits –

  1. Consider where we are, for example the type of foods that benefit us in a hot climate or dry climate may not be the same in another climate.  For example when we are in a marshy place oily and cold substances should be avoided, i.e. yoghurt and cream.  Whilst when in a dry region hot substances like chilli powder should be avoided.  When visiting someplace maybe we love the food there and when we get back home try to recreate it, but consider the environment and climate you are in, is that type of food suitable for where you are?
  2. Eat with the seasons, all the nature that surrounds us works with the changing seasons and we should do the same, eat heavier warming foods in winter and lighter cooler foods in summer.
  3. Be aware of your digestive fire, if your digestive system is working faster then your fire is stronger and you can eat heavier, if your agni (fire) is low then this is going to be contradictory so eat lighter and less oily foods.
  4. If you are embarking on heavy manual labour or excessive excersise then eat heaver more oily foods, light, dry and cold foods are going to aggravate your system.
  5. Consider how you are cooking, it all has an impact on the energy within the food.  Microwave destroys all energy within the foods, eating overly or undercooked foods is contradictory, cooking simply is best.
  6. Mixing sour substances such as meat with milk, banana and milk is contradictory.
  7. Honey shouldn’t be boiled or cooked on high heat as it becomes toxic to your system.
  8. Try not to shock your organs and digestive system with things that are too hot or cold, ice-cream unfortunately will disturb your digestion as will soup that is steaming hot.
  9. If you know about the three doshas - Vata Pita and Kapha and you know which one is aggravated then eat to the opposite qualities for example if Vata is unbalanced which is dry, light and cold in quality then eat more oily, heavier and warming foods.  Pita is oily and hot, Kapha is heavy and cool.
  10. Enjoy your food and eat well in a calm and reflective manor, without distractions, this will help your digestion and assimilation and gives us time to be grateful for our nourishment.

Remember our food is our daily medicine, we can heal ourselves with what we eat, so let us eat wisely, a natural and simple diet away from processes and chemicals.  What we put into our bodies has a profound effect on how our minds function, our emotions and intellect, the more naturally and simply we can eat the more at peace we will become. 

Om Lokha Somasta Sukhino Bhavantu
May we all find harmony and balance
Om shanti
Mangala / nicky