Don’t Forget to Breathe

Fitness
Photo Credit: Wari Om Yoga Photography

Photo Credit: Wari Om Yoga Photography

Starting a new exercise that you’ve always wanted to try, is not dissimilar to asking someone you’ve fancied for ages to go out with you. It takes confidence and you need to build up the courage to make the first move. You are leaving yourself totally exposed, treading on unknown territory and you probably put it off for quite a while. For me, my date was yoga.

Yoga is an exercise I had wanted to try for many reasons but never knew how to go about it. I had always felt intimidated about making the first move, how would I know where to start? What would people think of me? What if I couldn’t do it? I looked up classes and stumbled across different types, which of course, meant nothing to me, so I freaked out and retreated back to my comfort zone. When my friend and I set off across South East Asia last year, yoga was on our bucket list. I finally lost my yoga virginity in Indonesia, in a small bamboo outhouse in Yogyakarta, just me, my companion and a fellow traveller were led by a beautiful french instructor. Finally taking a class made me feel silly for all the worrying and deliberating I had put myself through, I was completely defying the point of yoga. The atmosphere of the class was calm, relaxed and not in the least bit competitive, in fact it was so calm I actually nodded off at the end (this is highly embarrassing and I wouldn’t recommended it, but apparently it happens all the time.)

Now, in slightly different circumstances and certainly a less exotic setting, I have found a yoga class in my hometown and I am a convert. I am only on my second class, so am by no means an expert, but already I feel like a yoga enthusiast.

We practise two different types of yoga in each session, Yin and Yang. Beginning with Yang, which involves more movement and is more strenuous on the muscles, and finishing with Yin, for relaxation. That does not mean however, that the Yin is easy, it can involve holding positions for up to five minutes, which in practice is actually pretty tough.

Two classes down, I have learnt the importance of focusing on breathing and that this may be the best life advice I have ever received. When holding a position, particularly in Yin Yoga, it’s inevitable that wandering thoughts will sneak their way in, this is where you learn to patiently put them to one side, and return back to concentrating on your breathing. Breathing is the only bodily function we are able to control, and it will always be there, taking a moment to reconnect with it is something we should actively practice, and obviously not just in terms of yoga.

What I love about the class is that our instructor drums into us throughout, that every body is different. The more yoga you practice, your body will get used to the stretches and you will find you can push yourself further, but there is no competition.There is no right way to look when you are holding a stretch and there is no shame in not being able to push yourself as far as the person next to you, each of us is made up differently and we all have our own limits. Yoga is individual and unique to each person.

For me, this is what yoga is about, taking time out to feel calm, be myself and absolutely not think about anything else. In turn, I’m hoping this will make me happier, healthier and more productive in other – less calm – aspects of my life.

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A Girls Gotta Eat… Indonesian Cuisine

Food

Wherever you are in the world, trying the local cuisine is one of the best parts of travelling, it can’t and shouldn’t be avoided. Trying different cuisine can be daunting for even the most adventurous foodie, particularly when you have never come across it before – and quite often are not entirely sure what it is! However, there is a buzz to experimenting with the unknown which I have grown to love, despite doubts which have held me back in the past.

While in Indonesia, I did something very out of character and took a cooking class – until now the furtherest I had ventured in the kitchen is adding mushrooms to my pasta bakes at Uni. With the guidance of a very talented local chef, I immersed myself in all parts of the course, from buying the -very fresh- ingredients at the local market, and experience in itself, to learning how to cook Tempe (fermented soya beans) to finally trying all of the finished products at the end – which turned out to be some of the best dishes I ate over the entire trip.

Here is a little taster of the dishes from that day, my next challenge is to try them at home!

 

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Fresh ingredients being bought from the local market

 

Ayam Goreng (Fried Chicken)

Ingredients:
1kg Chicken
1/2 litre Coconut Oil
1 litre Water

Spices:
5 pieces shallots
5 cloves garlic
50g palm sugar
10g tamarind
salam leaves (bay leaves)
salt and pepper

Method:
1.Wash chicken
2.Crush the spices until fine
3.Boil chicken in 1 litre of water and add all spices, cook until the chicken is half done
4.Fry the chicken until crispy
5.Serve with sambal

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Chicken boiling while Sayur Lodeh is prepared

 

Sayur Lodeh (vegetarian)

Ingredients:
50g long beans/green beans
50g spinach
50g tofu
50g pumpkin/aubergine
300ml coconut milk
3tbsp cooking oil

Spices:
3 shallots
3 cloves garlic
1 red chilli
1 green chilli
1tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
3 tsp white sugar
2 bay leaves
2cm galangal root

Method:

1.Wash spinach and long beans and put to one side
2.Cut long beans to about 3cm in length
3.Cut tofu into cubes 1cmx1cm
4.Peel the pumpkin/aubergine and cut into cubes
5.Chop the shallots and garlic into thin slices
6.Heat oil in a pan and fry the shallots and garlic
7.Add coconut milk, then herbs and hard vegetables
8.Half cook the vegetables and add salt, pepper and sugar
9.Finally, add spinach and cook all vegetables until soft
10.Serve in a soup dish with rice and fried tempe.

 

Sambal

Ingredients:
2 shallots
2 cloves of garlic
5 red chillis
1/2 tomato

Method:
1.Fry all ingredients together with cooking oil
2.Crush together until fine
3.Serve as a dip

 

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Serve prepared sambal with crackers or sliced, fried potatoes

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…and enjoy!

The Top 5…Islands To Escape To

Features

South East Asia is home to some of the worlds most exciting culture. I feel lucky to have experienced just a fraction of its’ mind-altering temples, vibrant cities and limitless jungle, but there’s something about South East Asia that steals hearts all over the world time and time again, it’s islands and beaches.

A self-confessed addict of all things sun, sea and sand, some of the best parts of my trip were spent taking in idyllic surroundings on a quest to find paradise.

Here’s some inspiration for your escapes this summer, the best of the desert islands I found:

 

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1. The Gili Islands, Lombok

For those who have been to the Gilis, they need no explanation of why they’re my number one. Made up of three islands, Trawangan, Meno and Air, the Gili Islands are the definition of an island escape. The more developed Gili Trawangan is becoming known as the party island of the three but it still harbours a relaxed, friendly vibe, whereas Gili Meno and Gili Air are perfect for the castaway experience. Snorkelling with turtles had to be the highlight for me.

 

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2. Koh Rong, Cambodia

Only discovered in the last three years, Koh Rong truly is, unspoiled paradise. White sands, turquoise water, fluorescent plankton and Long Beach the greatest stretch of untouched beauty I have ever seen. With only a few places to stay, accommodation is bamboo huts on the beach and electricity for just a few hours a day. It is untouched which means the wildlife is too, including venomous snakes. Despite my snake phobia it was worth every minute I spent on edge. I went for one night and stayed for five.

 

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3. Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

On the East Coast of Malaysia I caught the Perhentian Islands just as the season was reopening. Coral Bay has a sunset like no other and it’s worth taking the small jungle trek to Mirah Beach, a small stretch of sand but once you get here you pretty much have your own private beach.

 

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4. Kuta Beach, Lombok

Not technically an island, but the scenery at Kuta Beach deserves a mention. The unblemished golden sand and sparkling blue water are surrounded by lush green hills which offer sensational views of the surrounding bays. The lack of tourists made Lombok, for me, the Bali that most travellers go in search of but rarely find.

 

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5. Monkey Island Resort, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay is a masterpiece. I took a boat from Cat Ba Island through the floating villages and towering islands to the private bay where Monkey Island Resort is situated. The remote setting is the perfect place to get lost and waking up in the morning to the views of Ha Long Bay is really something special.

Be Mindful for Better Mental Health

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The word Mindfulness is being heard a lot more as part of our everyday language recently, as it has become a successfully proven counselling technique for mental health recovery, but also an increasingly popular technique, used by many for coping with the stress of every day life. Mindfulness was first recommended to me by a dietician about a year ago, as part of my recovery process, but it wasn’t until I tired a mediation class in Yogyakarta, Indonesia that I saw the full extent of how effective therapies such as this can be.

The setting for the class was a stunning Chinese Buddhist temple, in the heart of Yogyakarta, the city which locals and now me, believe to be the heart of Indonesia. To say I was apprehensive as I entered the temple, where there was only the rich, enchanting colours and the flicker of candles for company, would be an understatement. I had not expected it to be a particularly easy experience, but as I cautiously wandered further in, I started to wonder just how much I wanted to try this meditation malarkey.
Eventually I came across a local man, who looked just as confused as I did at my being there, and he led me to the back of the temple where two other local women were waiting for the mediation session.

“It’s our first time too” one of ladies said, in English.

My apprehension turned to relief. As with everywhere and everyone I encountered in Indonesia, it takes barely the time spent saying hello for the locals to make you feel welcomed and comfortable.

The session itself was led by a very tall, very limber local man. As would be expected, we sat, cross legged on cushions facing him, the lights dimmed as he talked us through the initial process of relaxing the body and then the mind. Then we began meditating. I urge you not to be put off by the term meditating, as always there are pre conceived ideas and much scepticism, but if you take away all the judgements and pre conceptions, it is really quite simple. Meditation is different for everyone and it takes many different forms but basically, it is a process in which you completely relax both your body and mind, in order to improve your mental health, clear your mind and live a simpler, clearer life. Still sound silly now?

For me, there was nothing spiritual about meditating. Obviously, it is an important part of some religions and other beliefs about it may be much more extreme, but the fundamental thinking and meaning behind it is something which I feel I could definitely apply to my own life, and no doubt many others could too.

I won’t lie, it is incredibly challenging, to completely empty your mind and remain focused for such a period of time is something which takes endurance and an awful lot of practice and I admired those at the class who had the mental strength to overcome any physical or emotional pain which crept upon them.

After the session was over I was left feeling surprised by my own reaction to it. I realised that during the mediation I had felt very connected to, and at peace with body. I had felt like I had control of my body and that it was a part of me, just as much as my mind is. Afterwards I became aware of how detached from my body I usually am, for me it is a shell I must exist in, a very flawed shell at that. For the first time in a very long time I wanted to take care of my mind and body alike, as though they were one. Me.

I know how ridiculous this sounds to the sceptics reading, who are probably thinking I went away travelling and "found myself." I too would of be one of them if someone else was to write this. It isn’t for everyone, but it is something to think about, and perhaps something that could be used to improve mental health in the chaotic, modern world we live in.>

Bikini Body, Why Bother?

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So tomorrow I will be jetting off to Indonesia. This means many things are happening for me right now, excitement, nerves, and perhaps the most dominant, massive body image worries. It is not unusual for me, or a lot of women, to suffer with body confidence issues in the weeks leading up to a holiday, particularly if that holiday includes sun, swimming pools and a lot of flesh being on show. Usually around this time I would be losing my mind (no pun intended) counting calories and desperately trying to resist carbs whilst checking my physique in the mirror 27 times a day. This time however, I have tried not to take this approach with my pre-Asia preparation. Though I might still be plagued with self doubt, the thought of slipping into my bikini provoking sheer terror, this time I have bypassed the two week panic fast – which usually happens when I realise I’m running out of time and must do something drastic and quick – and have just, gone to the gym.

As a result, I feel toned, healthy and positive. I don’t feel exhausted, depressed, lightheaded or any of the horrific side effects that come with restriction and starvation. My body is nowhere near how I would like it to be before I bare almost all on a beach, but it is healthier and therefore it is better.

My point is, as the time approaches when everyone starts the annual marathon to the perfect bikini body, the best advice I can offer is exercise, and don’t panic. Don’t let your mind drag you back into old habits just because the rest of the world seems to be on the latest 6 week fad diet. The beauty of overcoming an eating disorder is that it puts you in a better, stronger position when you come out the other side. You have a heads up over the rest of the serial dieters, you know first hand that fasting and diets don’t work and you are learning to accept yourself the way you are.