Here’s another handy tip that works great for this curry recipe. I just discovered it recently purely through curiosity in the kitchen – you can crush ginger in a garlic crusher… no really it works like a dream and then you get that fresh zingy flavour with so much less effort 🙂
I was really kindly given a copy of Happy Vegan by Fearne Cotton by a lovely lady in my classes and this is 100% inspired by her recipes… mixing chopped tomatoes and coconut milk has been a total revelation for me!
½ a medium butternut squash
1 small onion
250g frozen chopped spinach
1 tin chickpeas
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tin coconut milk
2 teaspoon garam masala
2 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoon turmeric
1 red chilli
2 gloves of crushed garlic
1 thumb sized piece of crushed ginger
1 teaspoon miso paste
Dash of soy sauce
1 veggie stock cube (Knorr is vegan… apparently some aren’t)
Veg oil for frying
Peel the squash and dice it into 2cm chunks. Roast in a tray with some oil and salt for 20 -30 minutes until soft with some caramelisation on the edges, stirring about half way through.
Microwave the frozen spinach for 5 minutes and drain of excess water.
While the squash cooks dice the onion finely and fry with cumin, turmeric, garlic and ginger until the spices are fragrant and the onion is soft. Chop the chilli into small pieces and add the mixture. Add the miso paste.
Drain the chickpeas and add them to the pan. Fry for a further minute or two.
Add the tin of chopped tomatoes and the tin of coconut milk. Bring the boil
When boiling break up and add the stock cube, then stir through.
Bring the heat down and keep the curry simmering
Add the dash of soy sauce.
When the squash is ready add it to the mixture and stir through
Serve with naan bread or rice… and perhaps a dollop of yoghurt (soy if you want to keep it vegan).
I want this to be both personal, because mental health is personal and practical, by sharing some exercises and habits I use to manage and maintain my mental well-being. In no way should Yoga or the exercises suggested be seen as a replacement for proper medical care and treatment.
I have suffered with anxiety. Two years ago, I was in a job where I was badly bullied and I really unravelled. I think I had probably been living with mild anxiety for a long time, but it was at this point that it really took over my life. My husband, who had married me just a few months before, gave me more support than I could have ever imagined and I will always be grateful to him for that. I would cry a lot and often in public, the stress of being away from my house was just too much for me at that time. My head was like a hostile environment, I tortured myself by reliving minutia and doubting myself constantly.
I found the physical symptoms of anxiety some of the hardest to cope with. I would feel nauseous most of the time. I threw up a lot. I felt tight in my whole body and my head often ached. I think that I would have benefited from medication, but I was living abroad and I was earning only enough to cover my rent and my living cost so I couldn’t afford a GP appointment.
Yoga practitioners often talk about choosing your feelings and reactions to things. I do believe this, but I think it needs further clarification. At my deepest, darkest period I was practicing mindfulness. I enjoyed the beauty of flowers and trees I passed by and savoured moments of fun and love I shared with family and friends. I was deeply grateful for all that was good in my life, but I was still very sick and the situation I was living in was contributing to that so I had to change it.
If people are abusive towards you do not allow them to continue to abuse you and expect yourself to just be happy regardless. It can be very scary to make big changes and it can feel like the end of the world – but it isn’t. I quit my job, I moved back to England. I stopped working for a time to recover. I lent on my family in a big way.
I’d always been interested in Yoga. I first tried it when I was twenty-one following along with a DVD in my university house and I loved it immediately. I started to practice more when my husband (then boyfriend) and I moved to the French Alps for a summer season. I started going regularly after that to gyms and local community classes. It was when I was really ill that my Yoga practice became so much more than an exercise to me. When I was living abroad there was a really inspirational teacher at the gym I went to and I ended up going to multiple classes a week.
When I came back to England, I began my Yoga Teacher Training with YMCA Fit & Yoga Professionals. Part of the training involved keeping a detailed Yoga journal. As I slowly began to live by the philosophy underpinning Yoga, really thinking about how I could bring the Yamas and Niyamas into my life I also began to recover from my anxiety…
Can you ever fully recover from anxiety? Probably not. Therapy can help. Lifestyle changes can help. I now feel pretty good most of the time and I have ways of coping when I don’t feel good.
Part of the trouble when moving away from being anxious all the time is that feeling anxious is a normal human state to be in sometimes. However, whereas when someone feels anxious they might think ‘I’m worried about something’ I often think ‘OMG my anxiety is coming back, what if I end up feeling sick all the time, unable to leave the house and crying all the time again?’ So my response to feeling anxious can make me more anxious and that is something I’ve had to work on a lot.
I have learned it’s ok not to feel good all the time and I discovered that in Yoga. In Yoga sometimes moves or transitions are hard, sometimes you’re not the ‘best’ at that pose, one day you might be more flexible and the next day really stiff… But it is still Yoga and it is fine for that to be the case.
Also, there is something in us which craves the known and remaining in our comfort zone. If you’re really used to feeling anxious even though anxiety does not feel good you can default to feeling anxious because you feel oddly at home in that state. It’s a good thing not to be comfortable, especially if you are resting in places of comfort which are not benefiting you. I learned this in Yoga as well. When you start trying to balance on one foot or on your hands you really push outside your comfort zone, but it’s amazing and fun and you often fall over and find out that falling over isn’t that bad after all (I am still not very good at most balancing poses, but getting used to trying has made a huge difference).
There’s one more thing that Yoga has helped me with when it comes to managing my mental health. When I was very anxious, I was completely and utterly obsessed with myself. I wasn’t a selfish person; I was a sick person. Have you ever burned your finger cooking? In that moment all attention is directed to the pain and the injury. It’s the same when you are feeling mental pain. But I have found that as I started to feel better turning my attention outward and focusing mainly on uplifting other people made my life easier. This is not to suggest that you should hide from pain, but you are allowed to not obsess and ruminate on things which aren’t helping you.
Now to be practical. Some Yoga exercises which can help maintain and manage (not cure or treat, you need a medical professional for that) mental health:
Sit comfortably. Maybe close your eyes or let the lids feel heavy. Inhale and exhale evenly and fully. Try to take the breath down into the belly on inhale. Slowly start to notice and extend your exhale. Try to make it roughly twice as long as your inhale. If it feels good to count your breath you could inhale for four and exhale for six-eight.
Tree Pose (Vrksasana) with Breathing Branches
Stand tall. Root your feet into the floor. Find a focus point (drishti) for your gaze. Place your left foot either toes to the floor heal against the right ankle, sole of the foot against the side of the right calf or sole of the foot up against the right inner thigh. Find your balance. Inhale your arms overhead, exhale your arms down by the sides. Breathe fully and deeply moving your arms with your breath. Repeat on the other side. If you wobble or fall over laugh. Shake it off and reset your position.
Meditation is great in the morning, although equally it can help people get off to sleep. Personally, I like to meditate in the afternoon to avoid the slump and feel rejuvenated. We’re all busy and we have commitments to family, work, friends etc. etc. so choose a time that works for you and stick with it.
Make a place where you feel safe and will be undisturbed
We can’t all build yurts in the garden, but if you have a busy house go into your bedroom and shut the door. Be comfortable. You could use a cushion or stack of blankets to sit on, or lie down on the floor or the bed. Make your own little ritual around getting comfortable, it will trigger your mind to relax and make the meditation easier over time.
Ensure that you are comfortable (at least at first)
At first it can feel like your mind and body are fighting against the meditation. As soon as you close your eyes your nose itches or you start thinking about what to cook for dinner. That’s normal, don’t beat yourself up about it. But learning to sit with a moderate amount of discomfort is really valuable. In life we can’t always be comfortable, sometimes our muscles might ache from being used, or our joints might ache from wear and tear. Coping with small amounts of pain and discomfort is part of life. And the same goes for mental pain, we can’t be happy all the time and things will sometimes not go the way we want them to. When you get started with meditation sit or lie down and be comfortable, but then start to challenge yourself – try sitting crossed legged without moving. If you feel an itch don’t immediately scratch it, if there’s some slight noise in the background don’t flick your eyes open. Sit with those feelings telling you to stop and move beyond them.
Use resources to help you
Well you’ve read this far into the guide so that’s a great start using resources!! And this is really the tip of the iceberg, there are loads of books and websites with advice (please see the resources section of the guide). Different strategies work for different people so hunt around and find what works for you.
Connect with others trying to add this into their lifestyle
I’d love to hear how your meditation journey is progressing and for us all to bond and connect, working towards being happier, healthier individuals. So why not join my Facebook group and keep in touch. You can also use the #hollysbreathingspacemeditation on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. And why not start a little meditation circle with your family or friends?
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you miss a day
We’re human and we’re busy. Adding meditation to your life shouldn’t be a chore like taking the bins out. If you missed your time one day because any number of things intervened (or even just because that day you really did not feel like you could be present in that moment and it just didn’t happen for you) that’s ok. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
Do come back to it if you miss day
Don’t be hard on yourself, but do come back to it. Building a new habit takes time and effort, but it’s so worthwhile. Get in touch with others to help keep you motivated. Think about why you wanted to start this in the first place. And be thankful for whatever progress and positive change you’ve already seen in your life since starting.
Enjoy your meditation journey. If you have any questions or want to share you experiences with me, please do!
Sun Salutations are fantastic! They move every muscle and joint, providing a perfect whole body workout, while also warming the body up for other poses (asanas) and increasing strength and flexibility. But they can be the most daunting part of a Yoga class for beginners, so as my next batch of Beginner Courses all start this week here’s my Beginners’ Guide 🙂
Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
Stand with toes together, heels slightly apart. Inhale and lift arms. If you have low back pain keep a straight back. If not you can squeeze your glutes, draw your abdominals in and lean back as far as comfortable. Then keep your knees soft and bend as much as you need to as you exhale forward into Uttanasana
Uttanasana (Forward Fold)
Don’t worry if you can’t get your hands on the floor with straight legs. Bend your knees, bend them more… bend them so much that you have your hands on the floor. Putting some weight through the hands takes the pressure out of your lower back. Also in this position lead with your heart, not the crown of your head, so you keep your spine long and allow your chest to remain open so you can take full, deep breaths. From here step one foot back and lower the knee coming into a low lunge.
Aswa Sanchalanasana (Low Lunge)
Don’t let the knee come past your toes. If you have any hip injuries keep this position more boxy, if not you can sink your hips forward more coming deeper into the lunge.
There are two options for what comes next:
Any pain in the knees you can double fold your mat under them here. Knees under hips, wrists under shoulders. Spread your fingers. Keep a micro-bend in your elbows so they are not locked out and use your triceps to rotate your inner elbows towards one another.
2. Kumbhakasana (Plank)
Any pain in the wrists in this position come to the forearms.
In plank lower your knees first so you are in Table. From here you have two options:
Bring your right forearm down, then your left forearm down. Make sure your forearms are relatively wide apart. Then keeping your hips lifted lower your chest down in between them.
2. Keeping your elbows into your body, lower your chest and your chin. This will require more upper body strength. If this is not available to you now do not give up hope, the best way to get stronger is to practice the first option, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time you are building the upper body strength you need.
3. From Plank, roll a little forwards. Keep the elbows into the body and lower yourself in one straight line to the floor. If you find yourself doing a belly flop stick to one of the earlier options to protect your back and build strength.
NB: I know it can feel like you just want to be able to do everything straight away, but Yoga practice remains fun and interesting because there is always a challenge to be working towards, your body is beautiful and strong just how it is, so never worry about what anybody else is doing.
If you’ve come down forearm by forearm, you may prefer to lift into Sphinx to keep the flow. Equally if you have low back pain Sphinx gives more support. Only lift as high as feels comfortable. Or if you want a deeper backbend, then you can bring the hands alongside the ribs and lift up a little higher.
From here you can push back into Downward Facing Dog. However, pushing back to Downward Dog can be quite strenuous, so you can come through Table pose, tuck your toes under and lift up into it to begin with.
Ardo Mukta Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)
In this pose don’t worry so much about getting the heels down to the mat. Focus on getting along spine, by pushing actively into the hands and sending your chest and belly back towards the thighs. Spread your fingers, push into the knuckles and fingers. Keep your thighs active, gently pushing your heels down.
To begin with get used to lowering your knees down from Downward facing dog and coming into Table. When in table you can take hold of the right/left leg and bring it forward into a low lunge. Make sure you assist your ankle so it comes under your knee.
If you have the flexibility you can step your foot all the way forward between your hands from Downward Dog. If it doesn’t quite make it, take hold of the ankle and bring it forward between the hands.
From your low lunge, you can then step together into a Forward Bend and rise up to Mountain/Tadasana, closing the sequence by bringing your hands to your heart <3
I had to write this while I was fresh with the inspiration and excitement from attending the OM Yoga show this weekend at Alexandra Palace! It was an amazing experience for me and I loved every second of it. I wanted to share a little of what I discovered while at the show and my huge gratitude to all of the wonderful people I met there, learned from and practiced alongside. Especial thanks to the lovely ladies I trained with, always lovely to catch up <3
You Are Full of Loving Energy
I’m quite a scientific person. Before becoming a Yoga Teacher I was a researcher, so when someone makes a statement to me my natural response is ‘what are your three peer-reviewed sources to back that up?’ So when I accidentally wandered into a 1-1 meditation class from Sahaja Yoga Meditation and was told by a blissful, smiling man that I was just made of ‘loving energy’, I was sceptical. Then he asked me to sit down and he slowly guided me through a meditation for self-love, followed by love for everyone. Afterwards he told me to love myself and to let go of any angry thoughts about others. It was a very simple message and it was beautiful in its sincerity. I thought he would then try to sell me something, but instead he gave me a leaflet with information about free meditation classes all around the UK. He was right, inside all of us is the capacity for huge love, great kindness and to let go of anger, I think we all know this, but I suppose for me anyway it didn’t hurt to be reminded of it.
2. You Don’t Have to Be Comfortable All the Time
I had an amazing Yoga Teacher in Dublin, Chris, who sometimes told us ‘you don’t have to be comfortable all the time’ and this message came back to me at the OM show this year. Yoga is so often discussed in relation to healing – relieving back pain, strengthening arthritic joints etc. And yes, Yoga can do wonders for the physical body! But it can also change the way your mind responds to things. In your Yoga pose you never want to feel pain, but learning to accept moderate discomfort is such a valuable life skill which in modern life we seem to have lost. At the show I put my heart and soul into everything, from a workshop on the splits (which I can’t do and may never be able to do… but now I know that’s not the point, the point as Sabi Kerr so wonderfully named the workshop ‘is the journey’) to attempting aerial Yoga poses. I have done so many vinyasas this weekend, but what’s a little discomfort for three of the best days of your life?
Even When You’re in the Wrong Place You Can Still Work on Being Your Best Self
On Sunday I did a workshop with Sarah Ramsden on common Yoga injuries and how to teach to avoid them. I was so interested to learn from Sarah and was looking to then implement practical strategies in my teaching to further support and care for my participants. So you can imagine my surprise when a rather flamboyant man burst onto the stage, told us to all close our eyes and walk around the room. When we’d bumped into three people we then had to dance with the third person. Then we group hugged for an unsociably long time with our eyes closed. The session proceeded with thumping pop/rock playlist, wiggling in Downward Dog and giving a total stranger a massage. It was only when I got home that I realised I had done a workshop by David Sye on ‘The Infamous Yogabeats Revolution’ because I was in the wrong room! As someone who twelve months ago was so anxious I couldn’t make it around Tesco without crying I honestly can’t believe I spent an hour and a half hugging and touching perfect strangers and dancing with my eyes closed. I would argue that David Sye was teaching Yoga for injury at the OM show, just as he teaches it in Israel, Palestine and Syria – Yoga for one of the greatest injuries any of us can suffer from… fear. As he put it: this could be our last day alive, we don’t know, so let’s love and live right now.