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Green+Aquamarine: February 2016

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Spring Fever Activewear Picks

As all the new season's collections have rolled in to activewear shops, and spring is slowly starting to make itself felt, my hypothetical wishlist has been growing again! Today I am sharing my top eight picks to get you feeling motivated to work out for the coming season with light and bright colours and kick-ass prints. I realise that there is a bit of a bias towards Lorna Jane bra's here, but they are so pretty, surprisingly supportive and super flattering! I'm also loving Gap's fitness ranges at the moment, and they are offering high-quality styles at a great mid-range price.

Spring Feeling Activewear wishlist

1. Eclipse sports bra, Lorna Jane £46.00
2. Saint Tropez sports bra, Lorna Jane £45.00
3. Coolmax layer shelf tank, Gap £30.00
4. Monorose sports bra, Ted Baker £64.00
5. Bamboo capri pant, Onzie £40.00
6. Splits capri, Sweaty Betty £75.00
7. Yoga flow top, No Balls £45.00
8. gFast mini stripe leggings, Gap £39.95

I hope you like these styles as much as I do, and that this post doesn't damage your bank balance too much! Let me know if you have purchased any of these or have any spring favourites yourself.

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Monday, 22 February 2016

Satay Sweet Potato

When I first started properly cooking for myself at university, I started making sesame noodles with almond butter and adding them to my stir fries for a tasty twist on a staple meal. Since receiving a spiraliser for Christmas, I have been adding as many vegetables to my meals in the form of noodles and spaghetti as I can. Carrots and courgettes are the most popular choices, so I decided to try my hand at sweet potato noodles. Sweet potatoes are rich in beta carotene, which gets converted into vitamin A in out bodies. Fat is supposed to help with the uptake of beta carotene (see here) and so the peanut butter and coconut cream in this make a great pairing. Mushrooms add a small amount of protein and go beautifully with the noodles.

Vegan sweet potato satay noodles. Via @eleanormayc

I did have a debate about whether or not this should be labelled in my healthy on a budget series as it uses a spiraliser. However, you can peel or finely chop the sweet potato, buy pre-prepared sweet potato noodles. That being said, the OXO spiraliser that I use is pretty good, is really inexpensive and takes up virtually no room in small kitchens.

Ingredients -serves 2 as a light lunch or side

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • 200g chestnut or button mushrooms (about 6-8 mushrooms)
  • Thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and grated/chopped
  • Clove of garlic, minced/chopped
  • 2 tbsp peanut butter
  • 3 tbsp coconut cream, or the top layer of full fat tinned coconut milk
  • Coconut oil
  • Soy or tamari sauce
Spiralise, chop or peel the sweet potatoes and slice the mushrooms. In a pan of simmering water, blanch the sweet potato for about five minutes. You can also stream them, which will take a couple of minutes longer. The sweet potato wants to be just about cooked and have plenty of bite to it.

Vegan sweet potato satay noodles. Via @eleanormayc

Meanwhile, sauté the mushrooms in a frying pan with a little coconut oil until lightly cooked and golden brown. Set aside. At this point the sweet potato will probably be ready; if so drain off the water. 

Vegan sweet potato satay noodles. Via @eleanormayc

In the frying pan, heat the garlic and ginger until fragrant but not browning, then add the peanut butter and coconut milk. Whisk together until completely combined. You are looking for a thick sauce, but just liquid enough to coat the pan rather than forming lumps, so you will probably need a small splash of water. Add a splash of soy or tamari, before mixing in the mushrooms and sweet potato. 

Serve between two bowls, with extra soy or tamari and a lime wedge to add according to taste.

Note - to reduce the fat content replace some of the coconut cream with water, but this does impair the taste.

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Thursday, 18 February 2016

Om Yoga Magazine: Restorative Yoga

In our busy lives, there is a lot of focus on high-energy activities, leading us rushing from college or work to Insanity classes whilst trying to squeeze in a hundred tasks inbetween. Although pushing ourselves can be good mentally and physically -see here for some key benefits of HIIT workouts -all that yang energy can leave us imbalanced or even injured. This is where restorative yoga comes in.

What is restorative yoga and how can it help your practice? Via @eleanormayc

Often advertised towards those with injuries or health problems, restorative yoga is a gentle practice focusing on long, slow stretches that are well-supported and aim to bring practitioners back to full health. With many of us suffering from niggles -ranging from post-workout DOMS to chronic injury -adding in a restorative yoga session can reap real benefits. In Om Yoga Magazine, Carole Mortiz explains the four main points of restorative yoga's approach to practice:

  • Aligning the bones so as to draw in towards the body's core.
  • Simple postures held for prolonged periods to achieve deep relaxation.
  • The use of props to protect and correctly align the body comfortably.
  • Focus upon the breath to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and relax.

Sounds great; but what if you're in good health and still want a restorative-style class? That's where Yin yoga comes in. There is a fair bit of overlap and confusion between the two forms, with both being focused on holding postures for extended periods. In essence, (according to YinYoga.com) restorative yoga helps to make an unhealthy body healthy, whereas Yin yoga takes a healthy body and provides it with the tools to achieve optimum health. Yin yoga is also more of a general practice, whereas restorative is likely to focus on specific issues based on the class.

What is restorative yoga and how can it help your practice? Via @eleanormayc

In each case, the slower practice can activate deep connective tissue, promoting greater flexibility. Compared to the larger muscle groups, which break down and grow following short duration, high intensity exercise such as weights, the deep muscle needs to be held before it can relax and change. Particularly if you are already doing high intensity exercise classes, a restorative or Yin class once a week instead of a flowing Vinyasa can aid in improving performance.

Mentally, taking the time out just to be still brings it's own rewards. As your muscles can't relax properly without steady breathing, concentrating on your breath and subsequently your Pranayama really slows the mind. In fact, Yin classes are jokingly said to leave students "yoga stoned" because of the deep sense of relaxation. I have to say; I agree! Coming out of a Pigeon pose after a few minutes can be almost a surreal experience as your heart rate falls to resting rate and you relax.

What is restorative yoga and how can it help your practice? Via @eleanormayc

That being said, Mortiz warns of restorative yoga bringing emotions to the mat, with unexpected tears falling, or feelings of elation emerge. It goes to show how much our brains and bodies can connect!

For the benefits of restorative yoga with less emphasis on asanas, lighting a candle and laying in Shavasana or massaging in a soothing body oil (or moisturiser) will allow the mental quietness to surface. Either way, it is your practice, and your chance to offer up some self love and healing.

Disclaimer: I am an Affiliated Blogger with Om Yoga Magazine. Each issue I will write a post on an article from the magazine and share it with you. Have a look here to find about the other lovely affiliated bloggers. All photos in this post taken from the Om Yoga magazine. 

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Monday, 15 February 2016

Inspiration: Sian Lewis from The Girl Outdoors

This month's Inspiration guest is Sian Lewis from The Girl Outdoors. I love Sian's blog and am always saving her inspiring posts on Bloglovin! Sian is a travel journalist who posts guides about places she has visited, tips and tricks for the outdoorsy girl, and kit reviews for all the gear that you could need. For serious travel envy and outdoor pursuits inspiration, look no further than The Girl Outdoor's blog.

Tell us about how you started writing about travel and outdoor living.
I began my blog as a journalism student in 2011 because I wanted somewhere to chart my adventures. It made me realise that the great outdoors and travelling are what I love to write about, and my journalism career has followed suit I guess! I'm now a freelance writer and video producer and feel very lucky to get to work in the field I love. 

What would be an ideal weekend for you?
Perhaps a summer weekend on the Dorset coast with my climbing friends - we go to Worth Matravers a few times a year and camp. The days are spent climbing in the sun and swimming in the sea and in the evenings we'll have a whisky round the fire. Perfect. 

Do you have any tips for staying healthy whilst travelling or spending a weekend outdoors?
I find travel can take a toll on your body pretty fast. I try to avoid too much street food, as tempting as it looks, and snack on fruit and vegetables when I can. I always take my running gear away with me and try to fit in a run or a yoga session. That said, I usually find it takes a week or two for my body to recover and feel fit again after a busy travel assignment. 

Interview with travel journalist Sian Lewis from The Girl Outdoors. Via @eleanormayc

You always seem to be doing an exciting outdoor sport or activity. Do you have a favourite?
I don't have a favourite, mainly because I'm not actually that good at any of the sports I love to do! I'm definitely a jack of all trades and I also have a short attention span, so my idea of a good workout week would include rope climbing, a run around the harbour, yoga, a walk in the hills and a surfing session. It keeps my brain engaged and I like training different muscles. My most regular activity is running though, because it's so easy to sling on your trainers and go for a quick sprint after work.  

What do you get up to when you aren’t travelling or spending the day out and about?
More often than people think I'm just sat on my laptop trying to meet deadlines with a steady stream of coffee to hand. I also love to read and always have a book on the go. Of an evening if I'm not working out I'll be in the pub with my friends in Bristol. 

Have you always been interested in healthy living?
I've always been into keeping fit, despite not being very good at PE and team sports growing up - I was more of a solo swimming, horse-riding, running kind of person growing up. I need regular exercise just to keep me sane! I do try to eat healthily but I'm not militant about it, mainly because if I couldn't have chocolate and wine I'd be distraught. 

Where is your must-see travel destination?
I'm desperate to hike to Everest base camp. I've been to the Dead Sea in Israel and I'd love to have visited the lowest and (almost) highest places on earth. I recently hiked to the top of Mount Kenya and found the altitude a huge but rewarding challenge. 

Interview with travel journalist Sian Lewis from The Girl Outdoors. Via @eleanormayc

Who, or what, inspires you the most?
I can't think of a single person but there's a whole army of cool women these days who are off adventuring around the world, and they inspire me hugely. Just this week Elise Downing is off running the coast of Great Britain and my friend Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent is driving around India on a motorbike. Those are some fearless ladies. 

Name a favourite healthy meal.
Lentils and goats cheese is an easy one. If I have zero time I'll have Tenderstem with olive oil and garlic. And I'm a bit obsessed with courgetti! 

Finally, what makes you happiest?
Being outdoors with friends. It sounds cheesy doesn't it? But I'm definitely a believer that happiness is best shared. Every year my mates get together for my birthday and we go and stay in a cottage on the coast, have a fire, go on lots of walks and usually get rained on. Those weekends have been some of the happiest of my life, and for me they sum up my main belief that you don't need to go far or spend a lot of money to find adventure and enjoy the freedom of the great outdoors. 

Thanks so much for speaking on Green+Aquamarine Sian! You can find Sian blogging on The Girl Outdoors and on Twitter. Stay tuned for more talks with inspiring people next month.

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Thursday, 11 February 2016

Using Yoga to Aid Study

Alongside the physical benefits, yoga's ability to reduce stress levels has been long since recognised. However, so far only limited research into the links between cognitive function and the ancient discipline has been taken. I found this an odd fact to come across as on more than one occasion I have been told about how balances improve brain function due to the signals running from your body to your brain that stop you from falling! Furthermore, the benefits of taking short exercise mid day has been thought to improve brain function in numerous studies. I wondered what effect my yoga practice -and at what time I do it -has. So, I did a little digging, and combined it with what I know, and here's what I found out:

How yoga can be used to aid study and workplace focus. Via @eleanormayc

Exercise, particularly short, intense bouts of it (think you lunchtime run or spin class) improves goal-directed functions, known as executive functions. In particular, those who take exercise breaks are much better able to focus their attention after exercise*. I myself have been encouraged to take midday walks or runs whenever working from home. A short, televised experiment showed participants who took a break from a puzzle and used more limited mental focus (namely exercise) performed better than those who switched to another highly mentally demanding activity. From this, it could be taken that the opportunity to let the mind go where it wants has as much benefit as the actual exercise itself.

How yoga can be used to aid study and workplace focus. Via @eleanormayc

Since the effects of more intensive exercises has been taken into account, a small study of female students was set up to look at other forms of exercise such as yoga, tai chi and martial arts*. What sets yoga apart from conventional exercise is that mindfulness and breath work (Pranayama) are an integral part of the practice. It makes sense to me that this is the key factor that could improve cognitive function as much as, or even more than conventional aerobic exercise. In the study, participants were found to have shown improved brain performance in a particular task following twenty minutes of yoga practice, meditation and breathing exercises. Indeed, the students in the study actually performed better following yoga than they did after the same amount of time on a treadmill.

How yoga can be used to aid study and workplace focus. Via @eleanormayc

Thinking specifically about studying, I wondered how yoga could help university students improve their work. I know that for me, procrastination after exercise or yoga can make the active break in my studies less productive than not. Looking at my patterns of behaviour, more relaxed yin-style yoga practice leaves me feeling focused. By contrast, finishing my yoga after a challenging posture that I want to relive doesn't exactly lend itself to concentrated study! I have been focussing on taking a proper Shavasana each time I practice (as I mentioned in this post, Corpse Pose can be the hardest asana!).

Yoga.com suggested seven poses to improve focus, which I had a practice of to get my zen on. I find balances great for improving my concentration and awareness, whilst cooling seated forward folds and meditation are perfect for quieting my mind.

*Source: The Acute Effects of Yoga on Executive Function.


Monday, 8 February 2016

Apricot Coconut Energy Bites

Energy bites are the tastiest way to refuel mid afternoon whilst the hunger pangs come in. As they are so easy to make and last for ages, these little balls of goodness are really having a moment. So long as you have a couple hundred grams of nuts or seeds, dried fruit and some flavourful "superfoods", you're in. There must be so many different recipes out there, covering a whole spectrum of diets, nutrient profiles, flavours...... However, I am pretty keen on my apricot and coconut flavoured bites, particularly good if you ever want a break from basing your healthy snacks on gooey dates (although really, can you?). I heard somewhere, possibly from Ella Woodward at the Oxford Union talk, that freezing energy bites is a good way to keep them out of sight and therefore sightly reduces the amount you eat in a day! With snacks so moreish, this is definitely a tip I'll be taking into account...

Healthy, raw and vegan energy bites with apricot and coconut. Via @eleanormayc

I've given in (for breakfasts and raw snacks at least) and started using cup measurements. For proper baking and cooking, I much prefer using actual grams, but for flexible recipes like these, volume measurements are considerably easier. If you don't have dates, you can just use a whole cupful of dried apricots. Medjool dates are best, but if you don't have them, soak whichever dates you do have in warm water for ten minutes.

Apricot and Coconut Energy Bites

  • 2/3 cup almonds
  • 2/3 cup walnuts
  • 3/4 cup apricots
  • 1/4 cup dates
  • 2 tbsp desiccated coconut, plus extra for dusting.
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil, softened
  • Optional - honey/date syrup, to taste

Healthy, raw and vegan energy bites with apricot and coconut. Via @eleanormayc

In a food processor, blend with almonds and walnuts until they form a fine powder. Add the apricots and dates, followed by the desiccated coconut, chia seeds and coconut oil. Add the honey for flavour or to make the mix stickier. The mix should just come together when pressed. Using a tablespoon as a measure, roll the mix into ball, and cover in the desiccated coconut. Allow to both set and then store in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer.

These bites taste so lovely and can be adapted really easily based on what you have. To boost your protein content, add a tablespoon or two of protein powder or hemp powder. I really like the blend of almonds and walnuts (a nice mix of protein and omega-3 and 6) but use whichever nuts you have to hand. Let me know what you think if you give these a go!

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Thursday, 4 February 2016

Rumble with Sweaty Betty and 1Rebel

Boxing has caused a storm this year (as predicted here!)  and we have only just finished January. Specifically, high intensity workouts that utilise the work required to pump out kicks and punches, alongside the fat burning benefits of circuits and agility training. The ubiquitous workout has evolved to include skipping punchbag or partner training, followed by lots of core work. Possibly the most popular studio to get punching at is 1Rebel, London's boutique studio that offers pay as-you-go classes in boxing, cycling and circuit/treadmill formats. The Rumble class fuses shadow boxing (air punches) with martial arts. Personally, I am really keen to train at the studios myself, but with London visits short and much less frequent than I'd like, it isn't that easy.

Review: Sweaty Betty and 1Rebel's Rumble class, a free online boxing class from one of London's top fitness studios. Via @eleanormayc

So, I was pretty stoked when I received an email from Sweaty Betty a few weeks ago announcing the launch of their new Rumble-based Get Fit 4 Free campaign, in collaboration with 1Rebel. I always seem to end up blogging about the Get Fit 4 Free campaigns but it's because I have almost always been really impressed with them. And I have to say, I think this is my favourite yet.

Review: Sweaty Betty and 1Rebel's Rumble class, a free online boxing class from one of London's top fitness studios. Via @eleanormaycThe thirty minute class is broken into short segments, allowing you to really focus and push yourself. The first time around, I was mindful of disturbing sleeping housemates, but even without putting my all into the jumps and between-punch bouncing, I was still sweating. Mila Lazar, who ran the session, made use of a punch bag, whilst her partner coach, Daniel, demonstrated how to take the class using air punches, with holding onto light weights recommended. By the way, if you need another incentive to try boxing, just look at Mila's arms! #Goals

The sections were split into warm up, punching, mixed martial arts (MMA), and plenty of cardiovascular work, all rounded off by a final session of push ups and ab work. The punch work was pretty simple with just straight jab and cross punches and wasn't too intense. That being said, having to repeat punches on one side rather than switching right to left really fired up all of my arm muscles and got them aching. I liked the MMA section as it included some new techniques for me such as elbow strikes. There's plenty of kicking involved too, which is always satisfying, especially with a punch bag! The cardio session is the longest by a fair bit, but the boxing-style work and constant changes kept this part both relevant and interesting. I did struggle with some of the leg work as Mila was stood sideways on to the camera, although I probably would have managed better had I focused on Daniel's work more.

What I really like about this video is that it could be done at the gym, where you may have access to a punch bag, as well as at home. I would recommend having at least one go at home first to have an idea of the moves involved, so that you don't miss part of a sequence if you can't see the video clearly (extra win if you have wireless headphones and get to watch and listen without getting tangled). I've jotted down some of the MMA sequences, which I had a go at when next at the gym.

As a thirty minute class, this is perfect short workout to do if you are short of time, or to tag onto another twenty or thirty minute training session to maximise gym time. I teamed the Rumble class with a twenty minute run out in the elements to get a good start to a Sunday, which felt about right.

In all, I am really impressed with this workout. You need absolutely no equipment (but light dumbells or a couple of tins of beans will really have you feeling the burn!) and will still build strength and definition in the upper body, whilst burning some calories. Perfect for the gym-shy, boxing-curious, or anyone wanting to add something extra to their routine.  Oh, and the playlist is epic -fancy sharing it with us Sweaty Betty? Get ready to rumble.

Liked this? See my article on Huffington Post to see how women's fitness has changed thanks to superhuman-style televised programs.

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Monday, 1 February 2016

Jewelled Omega Kale Salad

Every health blogger's favourite leafy green is currently in season in the UK, and is just begging to be put into as many dishes as possible (no joke -I like to buy local and/or organic kale from my local health food shop as it's much nicer than the supermarket offerings, and I currently have the hugest bunch of kale to munch through). Although kale can be eaten raw (after a bout of "massaging" to break down the structure) I personally prefer it lightly steamed or grilled. A member of the cabbage family, kale is right in many essential nutrients including vitamin A, C and B. Nutrition Stripped penned a full nutritional breakdown here, alongside a full explanation of how to massage kale. Although tipped of the list of the most nutritionally dense foods by the likes of spinach, kale is a serious power player. In fact, Dr. Michael Greger wrote on Mind Body Green that we should aim to eat at least one portion of cruciferous vegetables each day. This is as these veggies contain sulforaphane, a liver-enzyme that stimulates one of the liver detoxing systems. Pretty cool huh?

Make use of in-season kale in this omega fats-rich salad this lunchtime. Via @eleanormayc

This recipe is inspired by the salad that accompanied the avocado on rye toast that I had in York's Filmore and Union earlier this month. Fun fact: when visiting California, my parents came across the two streets that this health food cafe was named after! I wasn't sure if the kale in the salad was cooked or raw, but it was fantastic. All the ingredients blended together beautifully and took the simple instagrammable dish into a full meal.

The blend of rich, warmed olive oil glazed walnuts and sharp flavours in this dish, balanced by the kale, is heavenly. In this recipe, I have used feta, but to make it dairy free, simply omit this in favour of pomegranate seeds or even blueberries. This recipe is full of plant-based fats, including omega fats (note: the ingredients here do have a great proportion of omega-6 to omega-3. If you are concerned about balancing the two, include chia seeds in your day, which have a higher omega 3 portion).

Ingredients -serves 2
  • Two large handfuls curly kale.
  • 1 tbsp olive oil 
  • 30g walnuts, broken
  • 30g pumpkin seeds and/or sunflower seeds
  • About 10 dried apricots, unsulphured if possible, chopped.
  • 50g feta, chopped
  • Two large handfuls curly kale, torn and tough stems removed.
  • Optional: seeds from half a pomegranate (or 4 tbsp preprepared seeds)

Chop or tear the kale into bite sized strips, removing any coarse stems. Lightly massage the kale to break it down before it gets cooked. Do this by squeezing or crushing the leaves in your hands. Set aside. 

Make use of in-season kale in this omega fats-rich salad this lunchtime. Via @eleanormayc

Over a medium heat, warm the olive oil in a large frying pan. You don't need to use extra virgin olive oil here, but if you have a slightly nicer bottle tucked away, you will really appreciate the flavour of it in this dish. Add the walnuts and pumpkin/sunflower seeds and heat, moving the pan around often, until they start to pop. This should take 3-5 minutes. Next, add the apricots and heat through for a few seconds before adding the feta, if using. Stir, and as soon as the feta starts to soften tip the whole lot into a bowl and set aside.

Without adding anymore oil, return the frying pan to the hob, and add the kale. Stir frequently until cooked, at which point the kale should be a vibrant green and have reduced in size by about a third. Add a splash of water (about a tablespoon) and stir for another few seconds to make the kale really tender. Split the kale between two bowls and add the rest of the ingredients to serve. So good!