We’ve all heard it before: stress plays an important role in our health. Obviously, it can wreak havoc on our mental health, but did you know that it can also impact our physical health?
During our fight or flight state, our adrenal glands go into overtime and start pumping out a slew of hormones including cortisol and adrenaline. Before we evolved into the human beings that we are now, our bodies relied on these hormones produced during stressful times. Cortisol aided us by raising our blood pressure, and prolonging blood loss in the event if we were about to go into battle with an enemy (fight), and adrenaline began to course through our veins preparing us to run away from our attacker (flight).
These hormones are synthesized in the central nervous system, and if not exerted and balanced, numerous health issues can arise including imbalanced blood sugars resulting in depleted energy levels, vitamin C deficiency, digestive upsets and ulcers, sleep quality, hair loss, unpleasant complexion, mood swings, decreased libido, irregular periods & fertility issues, extreme increase or decrease in appetite thereby affecting weight gain or loss, deterioration of thyroid health, motivation to perform common tasks and your general vitality and lust for life.
Being in a constant state of fear that something bad will happen to us is obviously quite detrimental to our health. It doesn’t help that over the past few decades, the norm has been for us to live a 24/7 lifestyle of being attached to our phones and slaves to our jobs, with no time for play or rest. In turn, our fast-paced mentality has carried over to our grab-and-go eating habits through fast-food and commercially prepared snacks and meals, which as we know is just creating even further damage to our health. It’s a domino effect.
There are a number of steps we can take to assist in keeping calm, cool and collected — such as improving our nutrition, exercising more, and practising meditation and pranayama. However, just like with nutrition, the trick is to get down to the root of the issue and prevent these health ailments from arising, rather than treat them long after the damage has been done.
Think of the human body as a seed.
In order to flower, we require proper nutrition, a healthy amount of sunlight, clean water, and time to rest for growth, rejuvenation and transformation. If a budding flower were to constantly endure environmental stresses, how would it bloom?
If your job is causing your hair to fall out, can you find a different position? If you’ve developed ulcers from worrying about your relationships with others, can you distance yourself from them? If you’re turning to food when faced with a heavy course load at school, can you find better ways to manage your time?
If what you’re doing doesn’t bring you joy, either find an alternative way to cope with it, or cut it out of your life.
Address your stresses so that you can further bloom.
Who knew it was this easy to get kids to eat their vegetables?
Kale has been steadily gaining popularity for years. Often times people joke about it being the go-to food for vegetarians, vegans, and general health-conscious foodies alike, but there’s a good reason why so many people fall head over heals in love with this vitamin-packed leafy green vegetable.
Gram for gram, Kale offers as much iron as chicken breast, as much calcium as skim milk, and TWICE as much Vitamin C as an orange. Surprisingly enough, it also boasts a solid 4 grams of protein, which is more than yogurt but with the added benefit of not having any sugars. It’s any wonder it’s referred to the “beef” of vegetarian and vegan cuisine.
Of course, people assume that because kale is green and leafy that surely you must be able to treat it as common lettuce, and simply swap it out for the spinach on your sandwich or the romaine in your salad. However, kale, unlike its counterparts, is much tougher than traditional leafy greens. This is where you need to get creative in the kitchen, and find alternative ways to prepare this nutrition powerhouse.
I’ve noticed a trend when it comes to tricking kids into liking their vegetables though: simply give the dish a fun name, and introduce it as a special treat! All kids seem to love potato chips, and making these for celebratory occasions has resulted in actual cheers and requests to make them more often. I call that a win.
3 large kale leaves, stems & thick veins removed
1 Tablespoon of coconut oil, melted
2 lemon wedges, juiced
Salt & Pepper to taste
Optional: fresh crushed garlic or powdered garlic & powdered onion
Tear the kale into bite-sized pieces, slightly larger than that of a potato chip (the heat will cause the kale to shrink). Place all pieces into a large bowl, and pour the melted coconut oil over top.
As with using kale in a salad, the leaves will need to have the dressing massaged into them in order to soften up its texture and further absorb flavours. Be sure to massage the coconut oil into each piece of kale, making sure all areas are coated.
Tear kale into potato-chip sizes
Pour liquid coconut oil over leaves
Squeeze the juice from the lemon wedges over the leaves, and season with salt, pepper, and any other herbs or spices you prefer. Thoroughly mix everything together in the bowl, ensuring everything is coated.
Next, preheat oven to 135*c / 265*f and place the pieces onto a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Ensure that pieces are lying flat and not touching each other so that they can be properly roasted. You may need to use two separate baking pans.
place kale pieces flat on baking tray
ensure each chip is well seasoned
Once oven is hot enough, place the kale on the middle rack and bake for 5 minutes. Oven temperatures can vary, and it’s easy to overcook the kale and potentially burn it, so it’s best to keep an eye on it. Once edges begin to look slightly browned, test a chip to see if it’s crispy. If they easily crumble like a potato chip, they’re ready to eat!
Storing the chips may prove a bit difficult, but that’s usually not an issue since these crispy kale chips are typically gobbled up before you can even plate them. However, if you do plan on storing them so that you can eat them later on in the day, don’t use an air-tight container, and keep them at room temperature (you may need to rebake for a quick 2 minutes as well).
PREP TIME: 10 minutes TOTAL COOKING TIME: 7 minutes
I really enjoy solo road trips. There’s something so freeing and liberating about being alone in the car for long periods of time with nothing but you and the open road. I’ve always been shy when it comes to singing in front of people, yet when I’m alone in the car, I’m free to belt out the lyrics to my favourite songs on my car’s stereo. Singing makes me happy, and gives me a sense of finding myself more…so it’s any wonder I’m able to reflect and meditate best on long car trips alone.
A few weeks ago, I was driving along a desolate highway from Phillip Island back to Melbourne. The sun had long set, and the sky was pitch black. There were barely any other cars on the road and aside from the radio, my open windows revealed that there weren’t any surrounding noises outside. Yet, I unintentionally kept checking my rear view mirror.
Finally, for some reason I said to myself: Don’t look back. You’re not going that way.
I immediately knew that this was my subconscious bringing clarity to not only the present moment whilst driving, but also to life in general. For years, I can remember telling my friends during their tough times not to dwell on the past. And once, after getting into and argument with a family member and then reconciling, I was told it was water under the bridge and we never brought up the incident again. So why then, when facing my own struggles, do I have so much trouble with letting go of the past? Sure, you can forgive and forget, but the heart can’t instantly repair itself. And granted, time heals all wounds, but you’re only going in circles if you keep trudging up the past.
Since further studying yoga and moving to Australia, I’ve done a lot of self-discovery. I feel as though mentally, I’ve grown a lot and gained so much wisdom. People have come in and out of my life, and I feel as though each person has been vital in my mental development — even if I only knew them for a short period of time.
We have to keep in mind that we’re constantly evolving. Each new day can offer a life lesson, whether big in the form of death or heartbreak, or small through learning a new skill or brightening someone’s day.
Yes, it’s okay to look back on the past as a reminder of how far you’ve come. But continually picking at the scab and resenting or dwelling on a moment long past isn’t helping you grow.
Keep your eye on the prize, and try to move forward… because that’s the direction in which you’re headed.
Days before I was to fly to Nicaragua, Serge sent me a message to say that there had been a mix-up and that my room was unfortunately double-booked. He had found me a lovely Bed & Breakfast nearby to spend the first 2 nights at before I was to make my way to Casa Aromansse to start my training towards becoming a certified yoga instructor. La Orquideawas a gorgeous home with lush tropical gardens full of orchids, and handcrafted hammocks overlooking Laguna de Apoyo — a dormant volcano that had filled with rain water over the past 23, 000 years to create a beautiful fresh water lake. Although there was a language barrier and the owners didn’t speak any English (and I only spoke minimal Spanish), they ensured I was relaxed and made me feel welcome in their home.
The road sign pointing down a nearly-overgrown cobblestone driveway to the hidden gem, La Orquidea B&B
Amazing garden path right outside my bedroom window
Relaxing in a handcrafted hammock beside Laguna de Apoyo
I was actually grateful for the accidental double-booking at Serge’s, as the R&R at La Orquidea would be exactly what I needed before my 6-week intensive training began on Monday.
Although sometimes impulsive(read: moving to Australia on a whim), I consider myself a highly organized person, and my days of working as a journalist have instilled a desire to strongly research everything before I jump in with both feet. Somehow though, I hadn’t researched my schooling enough, and had accidentally signed up for a certification course in a style of yoga I had never even attempted before. Sure, I had been practising Vinyasa, hot yoga and hatha yoga outside in the parks and along the beaches in groups, but I’d never done a solo practice with a set plan, or been able to master a proper series of sequences.
I was briefly relieved when I learned that there was only one other student in my class, Nancy, and that she was actually over the age of 60. I figured my sharp wit and young body would have an advantage over her, unaware that she had nearly already mastered Ashtanga yoga over the course of the past 25 years, and that she was an ex-dancer with seemingly unnatural flexibility.
Day one began with a 5:00am wake up, the skies still dark and the staff at the Bed & Breakfast / Shala not even arrived yet for work. My brain was excited to start the day, but my body wanted to crawl back into bed, despite the humid air in my non-air conditioned room making my mosquito netting stick to my skin every time I turned over. I groggily made my way to the shower, hoping the cold waters would wake me up before I made my way down to the kitchen to start my task of preparing morning tea for the yogis. Once I’d steeped the Rosemary tea, I decided to assist Nancy with her chore of setting up the shala, lighting candles and incense, rolling out the yoga mats and scattering flower petals from nearby climbing clematis for an added zen-like touch. Serge, Nancy and I silently sipped our tea on the outdoor deck of the dining room for a few minutes, as we looked out on the still waters of the Lagoon. It was incredibly peaceful and serene. Once the sun had risen, Serge whispered to us that we’d be going back up to the shala for a half hour of silent meditation, still gazing out towards the water. I was at such incredible ease. I felt confident in my decision to travel 6,000km away from home to do something to nurture my body, mind and soul, and was happy to soon be gaining an added education in something I was passionate about. Thankfully I was excited enough to keep myself from nodding off, as my body was still very tired and I’d need all the energy I could muster for the intense morning ahead.
Our meditation ended with Serge ringing a small, delicate Tibetan bell, and he instructed us to stand in Samasthiti. Nancy diligently hopped to the top of her mat, and I followed her suit, confused by what Serge had just said. He began to give further instructions for moves I knew of, but didn’t often practice, and he used the Sanskrit names for each asana. At first, I had thought that perhaps I was just mishearing him, as his accent was thick. He was French, but had moved to Nicaragua only a few years before hand, so although his Spanish was fluent, it wasn’t his native tongue. It soon became apparent that I wasn’t breathing correctly, and I was scolded for not using my Ujahi breath. “My what?! How do you breathe incorrectly?!?” I accidentally said aloud. Shocked, both Nancy and Serge stopped and stared at me, almost horrified. My North American commercialized yoga classes never practiced Pranayama (the movement of breath) during classes, nor did they use anything but fun English names for the yoga positions. I suddenly felt embarrassed and overwhelmed with the fact that I had come all this way and made all of these arrangements to be here, yet I had no idea what I was doing. Tears began to well up in my eyes, but I fought hard to hide my frustrations. Serge sensed my panic, and decided instead to ease our way into training by leading a simple class rather than insisting we jump into a full Mysore routine. After a 90 minute practice, we finished in Savasna with guided meditation, then were instructed to make our way to the dining deck for our vegan breakfast. I sat with Nancy, and we discussed the morning’s routine. I explained my confusion and my prior yoga experiences, which were received with her horrified shock but matronly comfort and reassurance that everything would be okay. She on the other hand, was more concerned with the fact that our meals for the next 6 weeks would be entirely vegan, caffeine-free and alcohol-free. She was a “meat and potatoes gal” and a self-professed “coffee fiend” who also enjoyed a glass of wine with dinner, so she wasn’t sure how she was going to fare with our yogi diet. I for one hated coffee, and was so far enjoying the abundance of freshly picked fruits and vegetables on our plates, so I couldn’t complain. I was however, going to be spending 13 hours every day for the rest of the summer living and breathing a type of yoga I wasn’t familiar with, so my dilemma was a bit more pressing.
After breakfast, we met back at the shala with our study books, and began to learn the basics of Pranayama and some simple breathing exercises to aid in meditation. As we weren’t expected to have known many of these techniques, I felt at ease knowing that these exercises were just as new to Nancy as they were to me. This seemed to actually give me a stronger lust for learning, and studying different Pranayamas would quickly become my favourite part of the day. Being able to control and modify the breath made me feel cleansed and more open to being able to look inward a little deeper. Kapalabhati breathing (or skull shine breathing) gave me a sense of “opening up my third eye” so that I could observe my surroundings clearer, and Surya Bhedana (single nostril breathing) made me feel more focused and present. We practiced trying to teach each other our favourite pranayamas — which you wouldn’t think would be hard, telling someone when to inhale and when to exhale, but it’s surprisingly difficult to get the timing right — and after an hour or so, we moved onto the Mantra portion of our syllabus.
In today’s world, a mantra is seen as a personal motto to live by, always positive and uplifting, and a phrase to help motivate and inspire you. An example one might use as their positive mantra could be “what doesn’t kill me can only make me stronger” as inspiration to help get them through the tough times, and as a reminder to stay positive about their future. Our mantras during class were much the same, but of course in Sanskrit, and to be repeated 108 times as a melodic chant. A common mantra that just about every yogi knows is Om, which for only being one syllable and 2 letters long, surprisingly translates to “The sacred sound, the Yes!, the Vedas, the Udgitha (song of the universe), the infinite, the all encompassing, the whole world, the truth, the ultimate reality, the finest essence, the cause of the Universe, the essence of life, the Brahman, the Atman, the vehicle of deepest knowledge, and Self-knowledge.”
So although you could quickly repeat Om 108 times, it was more beneficial to actually concentrate on the sound and reverberations, and really focus on the meaning behind the word. To help keep count of our mantras, Serge presented us with beautiful locally handcrafted mala beads, adorned with a wooden charm to fasten the long strand of 108 beads into a long necklace. I decided to practice my mantras at the mouth of the dormant volcano along the water’s edge, sitting in padmasana (lotus pose) and surrounding myself with the beautiful pebbles and stones I’d found on my journey to my sacred spot amongst the lime and banana trees. As we’d recite our mantras, we’d move from bead to bead until we’d make our way to the end where the charm sat, and once we’d finished our mantra, we were to have felt enlightened. Hari Om, Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Jai Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram were the “beginner” mantras we started with, which over the first week, would become so ingrained that I’d find myself humming throughout the day the melodies I’d created for them. I loved the hour of mantras, and still to this day enjoy finding a quiet, private place to chant to myself and run my fingers along the now shiny beads (in fact, when not in use, my mala is always hanging from my bedroom’s closet door). After an hour of chanting and feeling more spiritual, we had worked up an appetite, and it was time for another freshly prepared delicious vegan feast, followed by a dip in the Laguna to help calm our tired minds.
During our break, I spent the majority of my time battling feelings of anxiety about my physical practice, yet contentment over my metal practice. I worried that perhaps I wouldn’t be able to retain any knowledge of the Ashtanga series let alone be certified to teach it, and my muscles were already aching from the intensity of the morning’s practice. I felt embarrassed yet again, thinking that perhaps this time away from home could have been considered somewhat of a vacation and that maybe this certification would be easy, and similar to that of a long yoga retreat. I tried hard to focus my anxious feelings into a more positive light, and to concentrate on how proud I was of myself for feeling like I’d gotten a firm grasp on the other aspects of the course. After attempting to swim in the volcano’s crater to clear my head and relax, my arms and legs were overexerted and I resorted to floating on my back until the gentle waves brought me back to shore. It was time to dry off, and make my way back to the shala for our next lesson, Kriya yoga.
Again, not knowing anything about Kriya yoga, I was coming into this portion of the course with an open mind and no prior knowledge or ideas whatsoever of what this practice would be. Unbeknownst to me, this was another form of mental yoga, and I breathed a sigh of relief in believing that this should be easier for me to learn than mastering the complicated vinyasa of 40 asanas in the Ashtanga series. I have always believed that there are 3 major topics that are best avoided in casual conversation (especially when meeting new people): sex, religion & politics. I winced as Serge began the class by asking what our personal religious beliefs were…and meekly answered Agnostic with the hopes that a debate wouldn’t arise on why I wasn’t Christian or Buddhist. Thankfully, my answer was accepted (I had to keep reminding myself that this was not a place of judgement), and this portion of the day was the most tranquil and a time to reconnect with each other through discussion of peace, happiness and love. Serge talked us through mental stimulation exercises and simple “ice breaker” practices so that we could get to know one another, and ended the session with guided meditation where we learned to focus our dristis, connect with our chakras and control our bandhas. It was emotionally moving, and I remember never feeling so connected to myself. Most importantly, I felt the desire to share this tool with others, so that they too could better get in tune with themselves.
At the end of the day, we were to practice writing down a lesson plan, and use our fellow classmate as our student. As it turns out, not knowing anything about Ashtanga yoga, and coming into the course with a “blank slate” actually worked to my advantage, as I didn’t have any bad habits to break, or assumptions on how to do certain poses. An added bonus was of course that my “young mind” was able to retain information better and organise my thoughts with more ease than Nancy’s, which also gave me a leg-up. To boot, my background in public speaking meant that I wasn’t nervous with leading a room full of people, and my years of writing experience worked in my favour when it came to verbalising the instructions to lead into the next asana. We were able to learn a lot from each other when it came to patience, and finding ways to help each other remember the next steps and how to confidently lead one another in the practice.
The course was challenging. There were frustrations when it came to the Ashtanga physical practice — not being able to remember the next sequence and having to start from the beginning of the practice, forgetting the Sanskrit name of the asanas, inhaling instead of exhaling in to and out of poses, my inflexibility prohibiting me from entering specific asanas, endurance failing me as weakness set in and I’d fall out of a pose, and some minor injuries when I’d try to force an asana my body wasn’t ready for yet (bruises resulting from falls, blisters and rug burn from repeated chatarangas on my yoga mat, and a dislocated shoulder coming out of astavakrasana and going into urdhva kukkutasana). There were tears that came with the frustrations of trying to learn so much, along with the emotional aspect of the Kriya yoga and feeling drained after an intense mental exercise. For the first week, there was the constant nagging thought of “Am I good enough? Will I be able to obtain my certification? Why did I think this would be easy? Why did I sign up for something so difficult?” and several times I tried to throw in the towel and even looked into flights back home. I had a great support network of friends and family back home though, and after my long days of study, once dinner was finished and homework completed (usually around 9:00pm), I was able to send messages to them and vent about my frustrations. They’d calmly remind me not to give up, and to stick this out (I think they believed that as I was in a tropical paradise, I must surely be relaxing on a beach with a cocktail in hand, despite there not being an alcohol on the yogi’s menu). Besides, I was tired of having my past failed accomplishments haunt me, and this was an expensive and non-refundable certification.
Mala beads + one of my favourite mantras
mastering how to play the singing bowls
serene view after hiking up an ACTIVE volcano in Masaya
I learned a lot about myself and the study of yoga. I quickly realised that Yoga is a mental practice above a physical practice — increasing your flexibility is just an added bonus along with the benefits of moving your muscles and burning calories. And with that being said, you need the mental discipline to harness your focus to meditate. I learned that you can spend a small fortune on name brand clothing and gear, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to reap the benefits of yoga unless you’re frequently stepping on your mat. I learned that not every practice is going to be a good practice, and that sometimes there are days where you’ll feel rushed and will think that the final savasna is never going to come. Most importantly though, I learned that there are always going to be challenges, but the most important challenge you’ll face is the competition — and not with anyone else, but yourself. Yoga is considered a practice for a reason. No one is perfect, and that’s what you’re continually striving to do: perfect YOUR yoga practice.
There were highs and lows, but in the end, I graduated as a Registered Yoga Teacher with Yoga Alliance and was now internationally recognised to teach anywhere in the world. Not only had my strength and flexibility increased, but mentally I felt as if I’d gained a stronger sense of self, and a desire live life to the fullest.
With practice and dedication, you can put your mind towards anything, even if that something turned out to be not at all what you’d initially expected. It’s important to keep active, both physically and mentally, and what better way to do so than by challenging yourself to learn something new?
a beautiful jasmine flower picked for me by Serge as I was leaving
Friends that soon became family: a farewell dinner after graduation
certificate of completion – work all of the hard work!!
A Hop Across the Pond to Kick off a 3 Week Tour of Europe
Less than 24 hours after arriving back home in Canada from my summer spent in Nicaragua, my friend Meghan had convinced me to re-pack my bags and accompany her on a 3 week-long tour of Europe. Surprisingly, my boss was very supportive of my new travel plans, and also urged me to get out and explore more of the world.
34 days later, Meghan and I would be running through the JFK International Airport in New York with our luggage as we struggled to make our connecting flight to London, England’s Heathrow Airport.
I had been to Europe before when I was 17 as part of a high school Latin class trip to Italy and Greece, but now I was more mature and able to appreciate the history, architecture and culture of my foreign surroundings. And of course, what I looked forward to most of all for this trip would be the varied cuisines between countries — my last trip to Europe resulted in a trip to the hospital when I’d arrived back home, as my then “vegan diet” included an abundance of sweets in place of any animal products, which lead to an unhappy gallbladder. But now I knew better, and understood the importance of a healthy lifestyle that included lots of vegetables but treats in moderation.
We arrived in London, slightly disoriented and jet-lagged from our 6 hour flight across the Atlantic ocean. Weeks of carefully planning what to pack and sharing clothes and other necessities between our bags, we were certain that we hadn’t overpacked. But, already exhausted and having to haul our heavy luggage from the airport to the Underground rail systems and then through the streets until we finally found our hotel, we were starting to second-guess our need for certain items in our suitcases. To make matters worse, we became further irritated once we arrived at the hotel, and were told we wouldn’t be able to check in for another 3 hours.
Desperate to make the most out of a less than ideal situation, we decided to duck into an authentic British pub, and indulge in some fish & chips and wash it all down with a pint of English lager (despite the fact that back home in Canada, it would have only been 5:00am our time)!
Eager to “sample” every country’s traditional dish, I made a simple promise to myself: not to overindulge in unhealthy foods — whether it be fried, dairy, red meat, or savoury sweets. I knew my digestive tract and my inflammatory trigger foods, and didn’t want to waste any time sitting in my hotel room with gastric cramping and nausea. It’s funny how after over 10 years of not really being able to go near certain foods, I’ve pretty much lost interest in junk food and anything that at one point in time had a heart beat. It was somewhat of a chore for me to eat half of my fish & chips, but I happily inhaled my side salad (or was that a garnish?) along with what Meghan left behind.
Once our bellies were full, we sleepily tried to make our way back outside to marvel at the city streets of London. Everything was so foreign: cars driving on the opposite side of the road, double decker buses whizzing by, the different noises the sirens of emergency vehicles made, fruit vendors on every corner, the currency (and sadly, our measly dollar comparison), the friendly locals, the gorgeous architecture and building character…it was all so much to take in, yet we could barely keep our eyes open. We realised that we had spent a fair amount of time in the pub, and as it was finally time to check into our hotel, we would go back to our room for a short cat nap. We would be able to appreciate more of our surroundings once we were better rested, had clearer heads, and were no longer carrying our various heavy suitcases.
Of course, our bodies craved more than a 45 minute nap, and we somehow both managed to sleep through the alarms we’d set to wake up at 2:00pm. Instead, we woke up several hours later and it was already dinner time, the sky pitch black and daily sight-seeing tours ended. We hurriedly got dressed, and made our way back to the streets to try to find something “British” to do before the day had ended and the shops had closed. Out of luck, we settled for a nighttime stroll through one of the beautiful city parks to appreciate its gardens, and then we made our way to a tea shop to partake in some scones, bikkies and sweets.
As London was our first stop, we unfortunately were only in the UK for a mere 24 hours before we had to embark on our European tour and check into our next hotel in Amsterdam. Fortunately, England wasn’t at the top of our Travel Bucket List, so we weren’t too concerned about missing some of the major attractions. In hindsight, I do regret not at least doing the Hop On Hop Off tour on one of the many double decker busses to see Buckingham Palace, London Bridge, Big Ben and the London Eye. I suppose part of me feels guilty for not wanting to explore more, especially since I grew up in Stratford, Ontario — a community obsessed with William Shakespeare and his life.
But, I have an entire lifetime ahead of me if I so choose to go back and see what I missed out on.