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Green+Aquamarine: May 2016

Monday, 30 May 2016

Learning to Adjust

Life, and time, is a funny thing. I managed to keep up my usual blog schedule throughout revision and my first two exams, but slowed down a little just as I thought I would have more free time again. At university, I feel as though I should be working constantly, but my time is quite flexible in how I spend it. At home, work has a definite end point, but I am tied to a rota. There are benefits to both methods, but there has certainly been a period adjustment between the two. To quote Heraclitus, the only thing constant in life is change. Because of this, we need to be able to adapt and have a certain amount of leeway and buffering within our lifestyles so that periodic change doesn't throw us out of whack. When life becomes a little bit unpredictable, if you are staying with friends or family, or perhaps starting a new job, your usual routine can be disrupted. There's a fair chance that at least one of the topics below will have been adjusted or hindered, so here are some suggestions to help you adjust and get back on track.

Keep your diet consistent
At home, I eat differently to when I only have myself to please. I eat with my parents who only get to have a light lunch at work, so the evening meal definitely is the main meal of the day. I'm aiming to have an extra side of vegetables such as leafy greens or broccoli to keep my vegetable intake high and so I don't have an extra scoop of rice or pasta needlessly or deprive myself. Before or after work I often pop in to the local greengrocers to pick up a few extras, like blueberries, bananas, spinach and avocado as I get through them so fast! Ensuring that you have your healthy staples to hand really makes a difference, both to keeping your diet on track and sustainable, and in making you feel normalised.

Find your active time
At university, I can go to the gym or roll out my yoga mat pretty much whenever I want. When working, I have to be more proactive in planning my workouts, but it is still doable (especially now I can go to two different yoga classes a week!). If you're in a new location, see if you can go pay-as-you-go at any of the gyms, or try a body weight-based circuit of HIIT session. I'm enjoying Amanda Bisk's guides, but for a free workout, look for Laura Jamie's YouTube videos or get searching on Pinterest. I have recommended a few ideas for online yoga classes, but to recap try The Yoga Collective, Yoogaia or Grokker for a subscription service, and Jayne Becca or Leslie Fightmaster for free YouTube videos.

Cherish your rituals
As often, it is the little things that make a difference. Wake up at a similar time each day and make your glass of hot lemon or whatever gets you moving. Take time to cleanse your face with your favourite products on an evening, and bring your favourite candle to scent your room as you meditate, read or relax in the bath. Whatever small activity is an essential in your day, make sure that it is always there waiting for you.

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Monday, 23 May 2016

Om Yoga | The Flexibility Myth

With Instagram and other social media accounts, it can seem like to be a yogi worth your salt, you should be able to contort you limbs into a variety of improbable shapes. But is achieving impressive flexibility really the be all and end all? The opposite, in fact, may be true. Yoga teacher and author of The Flexibility Myth in this month's Om Yoga magazine has found herself at the receiving end of injury caused by stretching stress.

When is stretching good?
Stretched muscle and taut myofacial tissue (connective tissue that runs through and encases your muscles, helping to hold bundles of muscle fibres in place) improves circulation and so helps to keep joints comfortable and loose. Often loaded with neurons and nerve endings, the myofacial tissue has important communication links to the brain. Additionally, supple and lengthened muscles are likely to  be better balanced, especially for those who run, weight train or do another exercise that can lead to a shortening of the muscles. Having a full range of muscular movement can make you feel much more comfortable in your body (healthy myofacial tissue is a key part of this), although this doesn't require being able to do standing splits!

When is stretching bad?
Every time we work our muscles, micro tears occur. These are normal, repaired quickly and are essential for the regrowth and building of muscles. The ache you get after a good workout or stretch is due to these tears. However, there is a difference between a temporary ache of rebuilding muscles and that from a more serious injury. Tears in ligaments and tendons are more serious and require rehabilitation and time to heal. Here, stretching weak or damaged areas can result in further tearing and potentially scar tissue. The Yoga Blog has a great article on hamstring tears and why stretching may not be the right thing for your apparently stiff hamstrings. Similarly, the emphasis of heart openers and back bends in yoga can be too much more many people -my pilates teacher thinks that as many as 1 in 5 people should be wary of backbends because if the strain it can put on the lower back. As a guide, a bearable muscular ache is a good stretch, but anything painful or a crunching "bone-on-bone" sensation is bad and should be avoided.

Staying in balance and flexible.
A takeaway message here is to take stretching slowly. Be warmed up and practice some preparatory exercises before attempting a deep stretch. Hold for at least seven whole breaths to allow the muscles to relax (where poses are held longer, such as in yin yoga, the fascia is targeted) and repeat three or four times. When in poses such as triangle pose, don't "lock" the knee joint, which places stress upon the joint and connective structures. Instead, keep the knee soft with a tiny bend and use your muscles to hold the leg in place. This has the added benefit of strengthening your muscles whilst you stretch.

Liked this? In this month's issue of Om Yoga there is a special on teacher training. If you are looking to further your studies in yoga, these tips really are a must read and are really helpful. You can pick up a paper copy in newsagents, or download a copy for a lower price using the link below.

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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Thursday, 12 May 2016

Wellness | Surviving Exam Season

May is here, which can mean only one thing for anyone in eduction... exam season! Although summer is just around the corner, with hopefully lots of exciting plans and projects, the run up is one of the most stressful times of the academic year. With a year or more's work culminating into a few exam hall sessions, it can feel like everything bar revision and the occasional Netflix binge goes out the window, leaving you feeling overwhelmed. As such, I'm sharing some of my top tips to help you stay balanced and (relatively!) relaxed throughout the exam season, whilst still getting a little exercise and socialising in!

Set realistic work guidelines...
You know yourself better than anyone. Be disciplined and start your revision punctually each day, and have a game plan on what you want to work on. Whilst I never got on with revision timetables -too rigid, too much switching between subjects -I like to have an idea in my head of what I want to work on over the week ahead, usually broken into AM and PM slots. Factor in workouts, errands, cooking times and of course socialising into your day to stagger breaks over several hours.

...but do be flexible
You may have scheduled a lunchtime gym session in, but if you're still on a roll at 11:45, don't break a productive revision stint. By the same token, if things start to stagnate before the end of a work slot, take a break for a few minutes, or even call it quits for an hour or two before starting renewed. We can't always predict how our brains or work ethics will pan out each day, and that's completely okay.

Have some quiet time daily
Obviously I will always have to throw yoga in at some point. Prioritise making a few minutes upon waking or before bed to focus on breathing and relaxing. This can be with a light yoga flow, pranayama breathing, meditation, but equally curling up with a book will all work wonders. You're giving yourself a screen-free way to escape the outside world

Make time to sweat
Whilst you want to make your time at the desk as efficient as possible, long stints working aren't always the best tactic. A quick Google will offer lots of supported evidence that exercise can increase productivity (see my post all about how yoga can boost productivity here). However, if you really are short on time, plan a HIIT workout. The simplest way to do this is to sprint for 40 seconds and jog or walk for 20 seconds, and do this for 10-15 minutes. However, my favourite full-body session looks something like this -

  • 5 minute warm up such as running or skipping. Then repeat the following five times:
  • 10 burpees
  • 10 goblet (wide legged) squats
  • 10 split lunges with back leg on a bench (right side)
  • 10 split lunges with back leg on a bench (left side)
  • 10 press ups / press up claps
  • 10 tricep dips, against a bench
  • Finish with a 10 minute interval run or ab work, followed by stretching.

Get enough sleep!
Whilst now is not the time to lie in until midday or take lots of naps, pulling all nighters on a regular basis is not the way forward either. A few of my friends do and get even more stressed, and I don't know how they can do it long term. Although you may find yourself working later, overwork and lack of sleep can seriously undermine your health and decrease your exam success because you're simply too tired to absorb any more information. It doesn't work for everyone as we all have different sleep patterns, but I'd much prefer to go to sleep an hour or two early, and get up that bit sooner and hit the ground running.

Exams are a bit of a practice for dealing with deadlines and taking on new information, so get to grips with these tips and utilise them whenever things get busy or stress mounts up.

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Monday, 9 May 2016

Raw Millionaire's Shortbread

Millionaire's shortbread has long been one of my favourite sweet treats. The buttery, crumbly base, the sticky caramel and the final flourish of chocolate. I've been keen to have a go at making my own healthier version for a while, so when I found myself with a pre-measured packet of raw chocolate* ingredients in my cupboard, I knew what I was going to make. Having all the ingredients for the chocolate measured out is so helpful, and coast effective if you don't use ingredients such as cacao butter often. This packet is from Indigo Herbs, but I've also jotted down a recipe for raw chocolate if required. I based the ingredients for the shortbread on my Easter orange and cashew cream biscuits, which you can find here, swapping the coconut for ground almonds. The dates really help to bind the biscuits. I used a packet of sticky dates for the base and saved the expensive medjool dates for the caramel, where their flavour really shines through.

Saturday was my friend West's birthday, and we decided to brave an extremely early morning to reach the summit of mt. Snowdon for sunrise. Leaving the house when many people were on their way back from nights out was the strangest thing, but standing 1085 meters above sea level at 6am was just incredible. We had been up for nearly 4 hours by that point, so the millionaire's shortbreads got passed around and went down a storm!

For the shortbread base

  • 120g ground almonds
  • 65g cashews
  • 4 tbsp coconut oil
  • 80g dates

For the caramel

  • 150g medjool dates
  • pinch sea or rock salt
  • water

For the topping

  • Use one packet of Indigo Nutrition raw chocolate pack* OR
  • 100g cacao butter/coconut oil
  • 80g cacao powder
  • 80g sweetener such as maple syrup or honey
First up, make the shortbread base. Prepare a rectangular tin by lining with cling film. Then blend all the ingredients together in a food processor until finely ground. Check to see if the mix can be pressed together into a solid mass, and add extra ground almonds, coconut oil (or add honey) as required. Tip the mix into the tin and press into a 1-1.5cm thick base.

Next, wipe the food processor clean and tip in all the medjool dates (removing stones if required). Add a tablespoon of water and salt and blend, scraping down as required. Keep blending until you have a smooth paste, then check the consistency. You want the caramel to be thick, but just loose enough to be able to spread over the shortbread, so you may need to add extra water -I used about 4 or 5 tablespoons. Add extra salt to taste. Spread the mixture over the top of the shortbread before moving on to the chocolate.

In a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water, heat the cacao butter until it becomes liquid. Remove from the stove and whisk in the cacao power, followed by the sweetener. Keep whisking until completely smooth and glossy, then pour over the shortbread and date caramel. Use a spatula to smooth out the chocolate topping then pop in the fridge to set for an hour.

Enjoy on the top of a mountain, or in the comfort of your own home as preferred, but use a hot knife to cut through the shortbread to avoid the chocolate cracking.

*Donotes PR sample. All thoughts and opinions are my own, and I will only positively feature or recommend products that I would use myself.

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Thursday, 5 May 2016

Hot Yoga | A First Experience and Beginner Tips

I know I am so late to the band with this one, but last week I finally tried hot yoga for the first time! The 37 degree class hasn't quite reached York yet, and I'm not quite sure if practicing my downward dog when in Turkey counted. A while ago, I came across yoga teacher Adam Husler and really liked his ethos and style. By pure coincidence, he also happens to be Tash of Dance Flow Lift's yoga teacher and so Tash and I arranged to meet when I arrived in London and go to one of his classes at Yoga Haven, a popular group of hot yoga studios.

Photo: Eva Katalin Kondoros
First up, it was really nice to meet and chat with Tash, who is one of the loveliest people. It's funny, how with social media and blogging you can "know" someone for two years and not have actually met in the flesh. We arrived in good time, which gave me a chance to say hello to Adam and get myself settled in the hot studio. I was a little nervous, being just in a yoga bra and leggings next to lots of well-practiced and toned hot yoga students. My abs are still a work in progress, but I was at least relieved that my clothing behaved!

I did find the class hard, although it was a tough one. Adam really is a great teacher and I moved and worked my body in ways I hadn't practiced in yoga before. Being a newbie (and someone who's had more than her fair share of heatstroke over the years) I took plenty of water breaks. The practice was made up from flowing sections and vinyasas, with a little strength and balance work thrown in. Laying down in Shavasana at the end was so satisfying as I really felt like I had challenged myself. Having a scented muslim cloth gentle applied to my forehead during the final resting pose really sealed in the practice and honestly, I'd return just for that even if I hadn't loved the class as I did.

Maui Hot Yoga
Water before, during, and after, food after!
As practicing yoga in a hot space will cause water loss, it is very important to be fully hydrated (without needing to have bathroom breaks!) before you begin. Sipping water throughout the class is essential to keeping you cool, but won't hydrate you much, so make sure you've had plenty of water before and after the class. Avoid food though, because a full stomach can make you feel queasy as the digestive system shuts down during exercise. Have a little fruit or a smoothie if you really need beforehand, but otherwise save fuelling up until later.

Bring two towels (at least)
Unless you have an ultra-grippy mat, like the Liforme or Suga mat, you'll definitely need a grippy towel on top. You can buy some very pretty ones that are just for yoga (I like these and these) and take up limited kit bag space. Alongside this, you'll want a towel to wipe off sweat throughout the class, and for the shower later. One on it's own probably won't cut it!

Pace yourself
When you're used to flowing through 90 minutes of Vinyasa without any trouble, it can be a little disconcerting to find yourself feeling impossibly tired just by stretching out into Warrior II. Accept that practicing hot yoga is more strenuous and don't be afraid to sit back in child's pose or on your back when you need it.

Embrace the increased flexibility... carefully
The temperature rise allows your muscles to stretch more, meaning that your flexibility increases more quickly as you attend sessions. Don't force yourself too much though, as you can risk over exerting your muscles. Just let your body move and you'll likely be pleasantly surprised without risking injury.

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Monday, 2 May 2016

REVIEW | Voltaire Vegan Restaurant

I don't get much of a chance to do reviews of restaurants and shops on here, and not being in a large city it feels as though any review would be a little niche. However, with the opening of a new vegan restaurant in my university town of Bangor, I felt as though this definitely needed sharing! You're likely to visit Bangor, situated right up on the North Wales coast if you're off to climb Snowdon, or are en route to cross over to Ireland from Holyhead. I have to be honest and say until now, Bangor is pretty poor on places to eat. During the day, there's the famous Blue Sky cafe, which really is amazing, but at night time you would have been better off going to Caernarfon or Beaumaris down the road. Step in Voltaire, the first vegan restaurant to open in Bangor. Having opened just two weeks ago, I was keen to try it out and headed over with Jess for a girl's lunchtime date.

Voltaire-named for the French philosopher and early supporter of vegetarianism -is located just by the pier in a quirky, bright old building. The front room feels cosy and cafe-like, but there's also a skylight-lit room behind and private function space. Although officially a restaurant, you can go in for coffee and cake, and Voltaire offers a lighter lunchtime menu as well as a range of starter dishes and tapas, so you feel catered for whatever your situation. Whilst Voltaire is not a health food restaurant -the owner, Rachael wants to dispel the notion that veganism can't be indulgent -there are lots of nourishing, healthy options. I opted for the superfood salad, made with quinoa and pomegranate. The quinoa part of the meal was served on the side of a fresh, leafy salad (pictured above), rather than all mixed together as a cohesive dish. Still, it was tasty and a perfect lunchtime portion size. Jess tried vegan cheese on a jacket potato for the first time and was pretty impressed. Main meals come in at roughly Ā£10, which is very reasonable, but the lower price of the lunch menu was also appreciated. There was also a deal on the tapas if I remember, making a mix-and-match meal be very easy to build up.

Wanting a thorough review, Jess and I decided we just HAD to have dessert (ha!). I had a nutty vegan brownie and Jess a fudge chocolate cake with vegan icing, both with soy ice cream. I usually tend to avoid soy because of all the associated environmental and health impacts, but will have it in small or occasional amounts, and in this case I'm so glad that I did because it was heavenly! Creamy, and ever so slightly nutty in flavour, the ice cream went beautifully with the warm, dense brownie. There is also an option for oat cream, which sounded very fast. All the cakes are baked for Voltaire by a local lady, and hats off to her. I'm looking forward to sampling her ginger cake, recommended by Rachael.

Voltaire is still very much in it's infancy, with Rachael and the team holding back on really pushing the marketing until they find their feet, which seems sensible. I'd like to see the menu changing on a regular basis to keep things fresh, with perhaps a little more confidence and flair in some of the salads, whilst maintaining the simple comforts already offered. With vegan nachos and beer-battered cauliflower, I'll definitely be keen to try more of the current menu as well. I am very much looking forward to watching Voltaire grow, with evening events or supper clubs and an engaging website top of my list of things to see.

You can find Voltaire on Facebook, where updates and photos are often posted up.

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