Kapha season and asana practice

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Kapha season and asana practice

With this cold, wet weather, we have entered Kapha season mixed with some cold, windy dry Vata days, so we need to adjust our daily rituals as well as our practice to fight off the imbalances this season can bring. To stay balanced and decrease Kapha, we need more fire and air. In terms of diet, warm and spicy but light food and warm drinks are great for this time of year. I use a lot of ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric and chilly. Most spices are Kapha pacifying. 

As for the asana practice, this is the time when I really build up my strength and do the work. I do a lot of fiery practice, I work on my balances and transitions as well as backbends but I make sure I am really warm enough before I do anything weight bearing on the joints or before I go too deep in asanas which require flexibility. This is a good time to really give it all you've got on the mat, without the risk of overheating and overdoing it. 
So, here are some tips for practicing on minus something degrees Celsius.

Get up and do it
This is the time we all prefer to stay under the blanket, and, even though we do need be more careful with our energy and rest more, any form of physical movement will reduce the heaviness and sluggishness we may feel this time of year.
I do my morning meditation but I leave asana practice for the afternoon and this feels perfect. Whatever time of the day you find is good for you, that is your perfect time to practice. Listening to the body is always a good idea;). 

Start gently
Start the practice gently, using 50% of your flexibility before you feel the heat building up. Don't skip your Surya Namaskars, they are meant to warm up the body and move the energy around before we start holding asanas. I never (not even in warmer days) jump back or forward in first few Surya Namaskars (too much for still cold ankles and wrists) and never do Chaturanga (too much weight on wrists before they are warm) or Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (too deep of an extension, Bhujangasana is better as it warms up the spine gently) in the first two Namaskars. I also keep my knees bent in Uttanasana until I feel my legs are warm enough.

Slow is the key
Rushing through the practice often results in using more the momentum - like in a vinyasa when you run trough Chaturanga - Urdhva Mukha - Adho Mukha instead of moving slow and with the breath, and the flexibility rather than muscle strength. Moving slowly and really working your muscles will not only increase the heat in the body but will also work on your strength. If you have been doing a more dynamic asana practice for some time now but feel you still lack strength, look at how you practice. Do you rush through your vinyasas or do you really use your body? Winter is perfect for practicing slow, mindful transitions from one asana to another as it’s not easy to create too much heath in the body.

Core practice
This is the time when I work on my core strength. Working with the fire element is great now; it decreases built up Kapha and with it heaviness, built up toxins in the mind and body. If you are working on some standing or arm balances, inversions like Pincha or a handstand, more difficult transitions like from one arm balance to another, this is a good time to up your game. 
Finish with some gentle back bends and a nice, long Shavasana.

Enjoy!

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Homemade lip balm

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Homemade lip balm

I love to make little presents for the upcoming Christmas season, and this lip balm is one of my favourites. The best thing about this lip balm is the fact that it doesn't contain any chemicals, actually, it doesn't contain anything you can't eat. Which is the rule I try to live by; if you can't eat it, don't put it on your skin. 

I made enough for ten small glass containers, you can use less if you're only making it for yourself. If you’re vegan and don’t want to use beeswax, use the other option.

What you'll need: 

50g yellow beeswax
30g cocoa butter
30g coconut oil
30g shea butter
essential oil (I used orange) 
Mica powder for color (optional) 

Vegan option:

60g cocoa butter
60g shea butter
20g coconut oil
essential oil + mica powder

How to: 

Melt Cocoa butter, Shea butter and coconut oil in a glass bowl over boiling water. Melting beeswax over steam in a double container was slow and messy so I melted it in a pot on super small flame and it worked fine. I added the oil mixture into melted beeswax and added 10 drops of orange essential oil. Transfer into glass containers (or whatever you'll be using) while hot. And that's it! 
If you'd like to add some color and you can find mica powder (a natural, mineral color), add at the end. I only found light pink mica and used it for half of the balms. 

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Metta meditation - the power of love

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Metta meditation - the power of love

For thousands of years, Vedic Rishis, Buddhist monks, Yogic sages, Tao and Zen masters alike used different meditation techniques on their quest for truth and enlightenment, and for millennia, these sacred, powerful practices, taught in different forms, have been taught and shared mostly behind temple doors, to those walking a spiritual path.

Even though rooted mostly in spiritual traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism, meditation techniques we know today, are not necessarily practiced only by spiritual seekers on the path higher consciousness and, ultimately, liberation, but by anyone seeking a peace of mind and relief from stress and anxiety of day-to-day life. Today, meditation is a wide spread practice and various meditation techniques are easily accessible to anyone. And one might say it was a never more needed antidote to many burdens of modern living.

In ancient times people learned by experiencing and doing; much of the knowledge came from observing self and nature, allowing to be guided by intuition and faith, and often simply trying things out; embracing what works, discarding what doesn't. If you know the story of Buddha, you'll know what I mean. Today, we have science. We have smart people with PhD's and MRI machines. Nothing wrong with that, it's all a part of our evolution as species, it is just interesting when science proves what those luminaries; rishis, monks, sages, masters knew all along - meditation is a gateway to higher states of consciousness and to our full human potential. On Patanjali's Eight limbed path for example, meditation, or Dhyana is a final step before Samadhi. 

The science

Since neuroplasticity was discovered (neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning and practice) a whole new field of brain research opened up in all directions, meditation being one of them. I won't go too scientific on you (there are plenty of scholarly articles online), and will stick to the basic facts. Meditation studies have shown that practicing meditation over a longer period of time can decrease stress, anxiety, neurosis and depression and increase concentration, attention feeling of calm, empathy, compassion, emotional regulation, help bounce back quicker from stressful situations, can boost immune system, improve memory and creativity. The list goes on. For all of this to happen, meditation needs to be practiced regularly and over a longer period of time. Many benefits will start to emerge even after a few days or weeks, but for some deeper 'rewiring' to happen, it might take a while.

Different types of meditation activate different parts and networks in the brain producing a distinct effect. Training your brain/mind is same as training your body. If you do only one form of exercise including only the muscles needed for that particular exercise, those are the muscles which will change their structure (increase in strength), but if you want a full body strength, balance, flexibility and agility, you need to change your routine and challenge your body in more ways than one. If you repeat the same, your body will get used it and you may hit a so-called plateau where nothing much changes. Similarly, if you want to get all the different benefits of meditation and not just increase a certain potential, you need to challenge your mind in different ways.
 

Five M's

I have been practicing yoga for two decades now, and every time I step on my mat to do asana practice I include some concentration / meditation practice too, bringing the mind to a one pointed focus, most of the time on the body followed by the breath. I still do this and teach this, but I have picked up some other meditation practices along the way which I love and practice today. My favourite are the five M's: Metta, Mantra, Mindfulness, Movement and Mudra meditation. In this series I will cover each one of them starting with, in my eyes most powerful one, - Metta. Metta simply means loving-kindness and it is simply a meditation in which our main focus is cultivating the capacity for loving-kindness.

This was a meditation practice that changed my life. In my twenties, when I was living in the US during one of my yoga teacher training courses, I stumbled upon a book on Buddhism. This encounter with, what I felt was philosophy of life, resonated so much with me, I kept on acquiring books on Buddhism reading and learning until I felt the need for more and found a Buddhist centre I would go to for talks and meditation sessions. Out of all meditations we did, Metta was the one which resonated most. From today's perspective, I see now how it helped that 20 something year old girl with much internal struggle heal some of her wounds and see the world with different eyes. It helped me realise that the only way to healing oneself as well as the world is through forgiveness, love and compassion. To never forget this Truth, I had Tara, the goddess of compassion tattooed on my back. I still believe that, without love, kindness and compassion there is no healing on any level of our being or on the global level.


How to practice Metta

Use the guided meditation video below first, but once you get the feeling of it, you can find your own way and practice by yourself anytime, anywhere. At the beginning, for a week or two, try to practice daily. It can happen, and very often does, that some uncomfortable feelings like sadness, grief, even anger, come up, but this is normal and a good sign that something within is shifting. If you have a therapist who can help you dig deeper into those feelings and help you integrate them, that is the best way to proceed. There is only so much we can do alone, it's amazing when we can ask for help, meaning we are willing to see, change, receive and finally, heal. 

Going back to science, Metta meditation fires up parts of the brain in charge of compassion, empathy and altruistic behaviour. With the increase of emphatic concern, we witness a decrease of personal distress and start seeing a bigger picture, shifting from the ego self to broadening our circle of compassion to all life. And when the change starts to happen from within, the world around us starts to change too because we start seeing the bigger picture, we take charge, we no longer blame but rather find ways to create positive change for the good of all.

I believe our essence is compassionate and kind, but due to traumas, disappointments and stresses of everyday life, we build walls and take on arms slowly forgetting and ultimately detaching from our true nature. This detachment causes unhappiness, depression, anxiety etc. Metta meditation is a daily reminder of our true nature and the more we practice it, the closer we get to living from the heart as free, open, loving, happy beings.

 “Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace.” Albert Schweitzer

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raw carrot cake with white chocolate cream

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raw carrot cake with white chocolate cream

what/

{for the base}
300 g carrot
150 g dates
20 g flax seeds
100 g sunflower seeds
100 g almonds

{for the cream}
270 g cashews
70 g cacao butter
50 g coconut oil
80-100 g agave nectar
250 ml water

how/
Grind the flax seeds. Put all the ingredients for the base into a food processor and process them into a somewhat homogeneous and well-bound mixture that is not completely smooth, but rather has small chunks of everything. Press the mixture into a cake mould and let it sit at the room temperature so that the flax seeds absorb the water. In the meantime, make the white chocolate cream: melt the cacao butter and coconut oil over a double boiler and put them into a blender with the rest of the ingredients. Blend it until you get a fully homogeneous and very smooth texture. Pour the cream into the mould on top of the base layer and put the cake into the fridge for at least a few hours, or until the cream thickens.

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beetroot soup

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beetroot soup

beetroot soup

what/
120 g beetroot
30 g cashews
75 g celery root
1 garlic clove
1 tsp nutritional yeast
1 pinch Himalayan salt
1 pinch caraway seeds
5-6 black peppercorns
400 mL water

how/
Dice the beetroot and celery. Put all the ingredients into a bowl or a saucepan and pour 400 ml of boiling water over them. Let it sit covered for around 10 minutes. Blend everything in a blender until you get smooth texture. Serve the soup with toasted sunflower seeds. You don't have to but it's nice :) 


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Soaking seeds

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Soaking seeds

what and how/
Seeds that we use in our diet (most common ones being nuts, grains, seeds of pseudo-cereals and legumes) need to be properly soaked before consumption, to deactivate phytic acid in them.
Soaking should be done in slightly acidic water above body temperature. For achieving the acidity, a few drops of lemon juice or vinegar should be added to the water. 
Usual soaking time for most of the nuts is around 8 hours, while soaking time for most of the cereals is 2-4 hours (if you want to consume them raw, it's good to soak them for 8 hours as well, or, even better, to sprout them) and for legume seeds it is usually 8-10 hours. After soaking the water should be discarded and the seeds should be rinsed with clean water.

why/
Phytic acid is a chemical compound that the plants use as a storage form for phosphorous. It is found in greater quantities in the seeds. In human digestive system, phytic acid forms complexes with minerals such as calcium, zinc, magnesium and iron, inhibiting their absorption in human body. That way our body discards the precious minerals rather than making them its building material. For that reason, phytic acid can be called an ''antinutrient''. By soaking the seeds, we activate enzymes called phytases, which are naturally responsible for decomposition of phytic acid. 

what if/
I will not write much about soaking grains and legumes as I don't normally use them in my diet (ok, I will write about buckwheat - a pseudocereal - in one of my next posts). But here is one interesting and useful information - oats don't have enough of their own phytases to decompose all their phytic acid, and that's why it is useful to add a little bit of some other grains (buckwheat, wheat, spelt, kalmut) to soak with them, so that their phytases could neutralize phytic acid from oats.

also/
This was just a very brief talk about soaking seeds. If you want to know more details, there is plenty of scholarly articles you can find on the internet. Explore!

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Fearless heart

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Fearless heart

Full moons (next in two days) can be a great time for exploring the heart and observing what sits heavy on our heart, which emotions arise, what thoughts. Is there space for softness and lightness, for love and compassion? Or is something closing the flow of life (love) in the heart creating heaviness and disconnection? And what needs to be released to allow the flow?

Feelings like anger, guilt, shame lie heavy on our hearts. We often hold on to them as a defence mechanism, we are afraid to let go of this defence as we don’t want to go through the same experience that brought those feelings in the first place, so we choose the road we’ve already travelled because, we don’t know what lies ahead if we choose another path this time around.

Somewhere we all know living in comfort zone is living from fear, and living from fear is not living fully. Fear blocks the flow of life in every part of our being, it's ego’s little helper making sure we’re not free. Moreover, fear is how we’re ‘put in place’ by the society, by the establishment. With fear comes judgment, false believes, separation, disconnection from our true essence and from all other beings, from everything pulsating with life. Letting go of fear, step by step, day by day should be a daily practice for all of us. Only by letting go of fear can we invite more freedom, compassion, lightness and love.

Full moons invite for a more grounded, slow practice and, if I practice or teach on full moon days, I will choose a very Earthy practice picking asanas which ground. But today I had a slow, heart opening practice, not going too deep, rather allowing the heart to open gently and giving time to observe everything that comes up. And things did come up. Something I was struggling with for a while finally came to light. Something which laid heavy on my heart. There is always some pain related to letting go of something. Like tearing off a band aid you had on for years and had adopted as a part of you. Even though it isn't. It made me think of the Stockholm syndrome - developing a sense of trust or even affection to emotions which hold you hostage. It's not always easy to free ourselves of this hostage situation, but if we want freedom, it is necessary. 

You can finish your practice with Abhaya Hridaya, the ‘fearless heart’ mudra. This is one of my favorite mudras and I use it often when I practice. As the name suggests, this Tantric mudra can increase the flow of energy in the heart giving us courage to act from our fearless heart. To let go of all which blinds us and binds us. To no longer be a hostage. It grounds scattered feelings and thoughts and brings us back to the heart centre.

To practice Abhaya Hridaya mudra cross your wrists in front of the heart, then interlock the little, ring and index fingers and connect the tips of ring finger and thumb. You can use this beautiful mudra today if you feel the energy of this full moon, or anytime while practicing asana or meditating, even in daily life whenever you feel disconnected, fearful or unsettled.

Sending love your way!

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Beetroot hummus

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Beetroot hummus

what/
2/3 cup cooked chickpeas
2/3 cup sunflower seeds
1 small beetroot
5 cherry tomatoes
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup olive oil
juice of 1 small lemon
1 garlic clove
2 pinches himalayan salt
1 pinch black pepper

how/
Put all the ingredients into a high-speed blender and blend until smooth. Add some more water if needed and blend everything well. Enjoy it with a slice of your favourite bread!

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Asana basics - Plank

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Asana basics - Plank

Plank is a great base for so many asanas which require core stability and strength in the arms, like Chaturanga Dandasana, Bakasana, headstands and even handstands. Planking every day can be very beneficial in building power in your core and stability in your body and can be done every day, on and off the yoga shala mat (at home, in your office etc.).

Don’t - the slouching plank

Plank is a very strong position in which you should feel your whole body should be active. If it isn’t, this can be a result. Gravity does what it does and, if we don’t pull up, it will pull down like in the photo on the left where the head is hanging down, as well as chest and hips resulting in this banana shape plank.

Do - the neutral plank

Lift the back of the head as you want to touch the ceiling, push the floor with your hands, engage the abdominal wall to lift the hips, activate gluteus (booty) and legs.

This is a more neutral plank, which means that, if we look at it sideways and turn it on the feet, it resembles Tadasana (the most anatomically neutral asana) with arms forward. For more power in the core you can try the variation below.

Do - the strong plank

To access more power in the core, arch your back a bit more, creating a flexion in the spine and activating abdominal muscles more as it takes more effort to pull away from the gravity. You will feel the activation of your anterior chain (muscle groups lining the front of your body) muscles more than the posterior, but the back muscles are also working hard to stabilise the position.

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Carob cake

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Carob cake

what/
250 g white spelt flour (T630)
200 g ground carob
100 g sunflower seeds
400 g carrot
100-150 g dark muscovado sugar
270 ml water
zest of 1 orange
2/3 tsp Ceylon cinnamon
2/3 tsp bicarbonate soda
6 tbsp olive oil

how/
Put sliced carrots, sunflower seeds, muscovado sugar, oil and water into a blender and blend until smooth. Mix the rest of the ingredients - spelt flour, carob, baking soda, orange zest and cinnamon - in a bowl and pour the mixture from the blender inside. Mix it all well. Pour the batter into a baking mould and bake for around 60 minutes at 175 °C. You can check if the cake is ready by sticking a toothpick in the middle. If it comes out clean, you can take the cake out of the oven. After taking the cake out of the mould, let it cool down wrapped in a kitchen cloth to preserve the moisture and keep its soft and juicy texture.

Luna

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Nature is the greatest teacher

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Nature is the greatest teacher

Everything that exists is an intricate part of the whole, all life is intertwined. This unifying principle can be observed everywhere we look. It’s raining outside as I’m writing this - the rain came from the vapour lifted up from the earth by the air after the sun has warmed Earth’s rivers, seas and oceans. The rain brings water back to the earth to nourish the plants and help seeds grow. Seeds which were planted into the Earth with the help of gravity, wind, water or animals. Animals feed on the plants nourishing themselves and fertilise the earth with what remains. Animals and humans breathe in oxygen provided by plants, while giving back carbon dioxide plants need to live, thus creating yet another cycle. Everything has its role, everything has its place, everything is in perfect balance.

Nature indeed is the greatest teacher. It teaches us about interconnectedness of everything, about the laws of cause and effect, about the complexity of balance. Nature’s constant cycles reveal a rhythm of death and rebirth like day and night, moon cycles and seasons. It teaches us about the necessity of change how change brings about balance and renewal. Nature teaches us about co-dependency; everything is connected and us, humans are nothing more or less than a part of the whole. It teaches us the importance of every drop of rain in this ocean we call life.“Each one of us, not only human beings but every leaf, every weed, exists in the way it does, only because everything else around it does. The individual and the universe are inseparable.” ~Alan Watts

All we need to do is become observant, tune in and see that, these laws which existed long before we have, still apply to everything around us as well as to ourselves. And all the knowledge is already within each and every one of us. It is just covered under a pile of illusion and delusion. We forgot, but if we silence the noise, it is possible to remember.

The five great elements

Ayurvedic and yogic sages understood these profound truths and looked to the nature for answers and inspiration. In their quest to understand the complexity of nature’s ways, they observed the nature, learned from it and developed theories inspired by it. One of them is the theory of Pancha Mahabhutas, or five great elements. The theory of five elements states that all existence is comprised of five elements: Akash (Ether or Space), Vayu (Air), Agni (Fire), Jala (Water) and Prithvi (Earth), and that everything is a manifestation of the interplay of those elements or rather qualities they represent. As human is a part of the whole, a microcosm within a macrocosm, this applies to our own existence too.

According to Ayurveda, a disruption in balance of elements causes disease and imbalance on all levels of our being, so understanding the qualities of each element, the fragile balance between them, what happens when a quality is missing etc, can give us profound insight into ourselves and help us find equilibrium on all levels.

Integral Vinyasa yoga I teach is very much rooted in the theory of Pancha Mahabhutas, in nature and its cycles. Everything I teach is inspired by organic, natural, fluid qualities of nature, and in this, what is intended to be a four-part blog, I will try to unveil the qualities of each element, as I see them myself, as I have learned from it myself, hopefully inspiring you to integrate this understanding in your daily life and in yoga practice, on and off the mat.

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butternut squash and sweet potato soup

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butternut squash and sweet potato soup

what/

300 g butternut squash
150 g orange sweet potato
40 g parsley root
2 large garlic cloves
1 small onion
2 pinches himalayan salt
small pinch of nutmeg
small pinch of ground chili
25 g sunflower seeds
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
~ 500 mL water (you can use more or less, depending on how thick you prefer your soup)

how/

Peel the sweet potato, squash, onion and garlic and slice them into small pieces. Wash the parsley root and slice it. Put the sweet potato and parsley into a pot with 500 ml of water and bring to a boil. Let it simmer on low heat for 7-10 minutes. Then add the squash, onion, chili and nutmeg and let it all simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and add nutritional yeast and salt. Blend the soup in a blender or with a stick mixer until smooth.

Luna

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Olive & wild fennel tea

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Olive & wild fennel tea

Olive leaves are known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as their immune boosting and blood pressure lowering effect.
Sweet fennel aids digestion and relaxes gastrointestinal system, but it also and makes the tea more delicious and gives balance to olive leaves' slight bitterness.

All in all, a healthy and tasty combination! That and much, and more in a cup of simple, herbal tea. To make it, I just poured hot water over fresh olive leaves and fennel herb and let it sit covered for 5-10 minutes.

Cheers!

Luna

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How to... Chaturanga Dandasana

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How to... Chaturanga Dandasana

Chaturanga Dandasana is one of those asanas you either love and enjoy it’s challenges, or hate and avoid or fly through it as soon as possible. Translated form Sanskrit Chaturanga Dandasana means four-limbed staff (stick) asana, and the name reveals much of what this asana should looks like, as well as it’s intention.

Due to much of the weight in the upper body, Chaturanga builds strength and stability needed for arm balances, so if you would like to progress to arm balances, this is a good place to start. Since Chaturanga is a part of Surya Namaskars and connecting vinyasas, so we usually just flow through the pose, but this doesn’t mean we should do it quickly. Quite the opposite, you’re reap all the benefits of Chaturanga only by slowing it down.

Before you build enough power in your arms for all the Chaturangas in one practice, build towards it slowly by using suggested modifications below.

Plank as preparation

Use Plank to prep and to find your Danda (staff, stick). Puah your hands agains the floor to avoid hanging at your shoulders, pull your lower belly in to avoid hanging at your hips and creating an arch on your lower back. Engage your legs and feel strength and power in your whole body. Plank is like a Tadasana with arms forward, your whole body should support the position, no muscle groups should be working more than others.

Chaturanga Dandasana alignment tips

When you find your stability in Plank, bend your elbows and lower SLOWLY down to Chaturanga using your full exhale. Try not to change your body alignment, keep your elbows close to your torso and bend your elbows so they align with your shoulder. Higher is better than lower. You don’t need to get the 90° angle, it’s a more challenging option if you have flexible, healthy wrists.
Look down rather than up to avoid spine extension (neck extension usually causes the rest of the spine to extend), pull your lower belly in, elbows in and body strong.

Modification - Ardha Chaturanga Dandasana

Ardha Chaturanga or half Chaturanga, is a good option to build towards full asana. It will build strength and teach your body proper alignment without shortcuts. This is also a good option for when you get tired and can’t pull off a full asana, much better than dropping your shoulders down or losing your core, which usually happens.
Simply just drop your knees down first, but stay high with your shoulders (aligned with elbows).

Adaptation with props - Chaturanga with blocks

If you tend to drop your shoulders low, or are unsure where your shoulders are, use a block to teach your body where it needs to go and what it needs to do.
Use it under your shoulders to stop you from dropping too low for a few Surya Namasakars, hold a few moments to notice what happens in the body and where to you lose stability first. Don’t lean too much on the blocks, rather use them as a guide.

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Yoga shala etiquette

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Yoga shala etiquette

A few things you should or shouldn’t do in a yoga studio…

Be on time

Those first moments on the mat are very important. They sometimes define the rest of your practice and how much you can let go of your day/week and tune into the presence. Being a few minutes late to a class and walking in while everybody’s sitting (or standing) still, disturbs your peace as well as everybody else’s. But, being on time doesn’t only mean not being latte. It also means being too early. 20 minutes is plenty time to sign in, change, roll out your mat and prepare for your class. Arriving 30 min early means you will either disturb the class before and their Shavasana time, or you will disturb the teacher while he/she is changing, lighting candles, incense and generally preparing for the class.

Respect the sacred space

Leave your shoes at the space provided and turn off your phone. Yoga studios are a clean, quiet, sacred space where people come to unwind and find an hour of peace. If you talk loudly, on the phone or with someone, if you gossip, talk about negative things like politics etc. understand that this will disturb someone. One thing is if you do that at a bar, another in the yoga space.
Never walk on other people’s mats unless there is no space between them at all. And that is usually not the case. One’s yoga mat is one’s sacred space, not to mention the fact it’s a space where you lie down or put your face down at times.

Come clean

Nobody smells nice in a yoga class when all that sweat and toxins are coming out. But, a few easy tricks can help:). And no, they do not include using lots of perfume (another no-no).
So… Shower before the class if you can, use a deodorant before the practice and wear cotton. Wearing those special technology sports materials that keep you dry while all the sweat stays on the surface, can make you go from fresh smelling yogi to that person that nobody wants to practice next to, in ten minutes.

Put the mats/props away

Nowadays yoga mats are not such a rear find, and are not so expensive considering you will use them for a years to come, so getting your own mat just seems like a right thing to do. However, if you do decide to use the studio’s mat or props (brick, strap, pillow, blankie..), wipe the mat and put everything back same way you found it.

Respect the silence

Yoga studio is not a church, so, you don’t need to be completely silent or whisper. Chatting in changing rooms or at the desk is normal and a part of socialising, but keep the subjects light and positive. And ones you sit down on your mat, it’s time for silence and inner reflection. Try to just sit and listen to your breath before the class starts. You can chat with your friends in the changing room latter. After Shavasana, try to stay peaceful and quiet. Perhaps you could even take that peaceful feeling home with you, perhaps leave your phone off for an hour or two, smile and hum your favourite mantra on the way home…
Unless, of course, you’re afraid people will think you’re crazy. Which they probably will, but, who cares?:)

Namaste.

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Vegan (plant) yogurt

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Vegan (plant) yogurt

During last five years or so I have experimented a lot with fermentation of various plant foods, got a lot of really cool results, and gained some precious new knowledge. Some of it I've described on this blog. One of my favourites was almond yogurt made from homemade almond milk fermented with water kefir grains. I had not tried making yogurt "the fast way" using probiotic capsules until this summer because i thought it was unnecessary, having all these wonderful and more natural methods to do it. But then i found myself living on an island with a jar of barely functioning water kefir, too much work to do to even bother trying to get some kefir by mail, real hunger for some plant yogurt and a little health food store that had exactly what I needed - a box of vegan probiotic capsules and a few various types of plant milk.

I decided to give it a try without too much research. A few almost successful intuitive tries and reading too many articles about making yogurt in a yogurt-maker lead to developing this simple and cheap DIY method that might not be as perfect and easy as with a yogurt-maker but is certainly applicable in many more occasions.

I tried it with full-fat coconut milk and plain soy milk (just soy and water; it's ok if it has just a little bit of natural sweetener, oil or salt but the simpler the better). You should choose the milk that tastes good to you by itself; if your soy milk has a strong soy flavour that you generally dislike but it's ok in a cup of coffee, then get it from another brand because you will taste it in the yogurt as well. Coconut milk gives a beautiful, smooth, creamy yogurt and you can't go wrong here, but for my taste it's even too creamy and oily and I can only eat it like a desert or occasional treat - in small amounts and with some fruits in it. Anyway, you should experiment and see what fits your taste buds the best. The probiotic strains that i used were Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Bifidobacterium breve, Bifidobacterium infans and Bifidobacterium longum. I'm not saying that is the optimal mix - it was just the only one I could get in the store and it worked fine. Some of the species probably died if soy milk wasn't suitable food for them (hence this is not the perfect way, I just want to show you that you don't need perfect conditions for making plant yogurt) but fermentation still happened and I got a really nice yogurt.

Here is how: i heated 700 ml of soy milk to around 40 °C in a double boiler, poured it into a clean jar, emptied a vegan probiotic capsule inside and stirred it with a spoon. I covered the top of the jar with a cloth and left it in my clothes locker at work (you see? Not at all perfect and it doesn't have to be). Next to this jar, i placed a jar filled with hot water to maintain the temperature for the fermentation and left it there for 24 hours. In 24 hours (and it's summer in the Mediterranean, so keep in mind that it can take longer in cooler climate) I had a perfectly thick and sour soy yogurt with a thin layer of "whey" on the bottom. You can strain the whey through a coffee filter if you want, i just mix it all and get a bit thinner yogurt.

And now here is another cool thing - you can keep this yogurt in the fridge for more than a week and use the last 4-5 tablespoons of it for making the next batch - the same way but with this yogurt instead of probiotic capsule. I think it's even better to continue cultivating it this way because the bacteria which are not suitable for fermenting soy milk die out, and the ones that you need, continue reproducing happily (ok, maybe not happily but you are happy). Even the taste gets better with every batch if you do it right.

Now, get your good tasting plant milk and probiotic (or even just store bought yogurt and you can skip the capsule step!), make sure you have some very clean equipment to make it and start to experiment with this wonderful thing called fermentation. You won't be disappointed, and your body will be grateful :)

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Asana basics - Adho Mukha Svanasana

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Asana basics - Adho Mukha Svanasana

Adho Mukha Svanasana is one of the basic asanas in the method of yoga we teach, but in many other methods as well. However, we often see our students struggle with this asana, which is by no means easy. This asana requires some strength in your upper body as it essentially is an arm balancing partial inversion, as well as flexibility of your back leg muscles, so the struggle is real:) and it comes not only from the lack of strength, but also from the lack of flexibility. Hyper-flexible students, on the other hand, might find this asana very comfortable, usually due to overusing their flexibility and not strength. Because not everybody’s the same, we’ll go through alignment tips for both - less flexible and hyper flexible students.

General tips for this basic asana is - hands shoulder distance apart, fingers spread, wrist line aligned (parallel) with the top of the mat. Feet are parallel to each other (central line of the foot) and hip distance apart. This is an arm balance, so you need to press the floor with your hands to find stability and shift weight from your arms, up your spine, to your legs. Don’t overdo the pushing action, find a good balance. Arms and torso should be in one line if possible, but if you are tight in your shoulders, this may not be easy. In that case, ask your teacher to show you ways you can work towards a healthy, 180° ROM (Range Of Motion) without putting weight on the joint (using the wall, Anahatasana etc.).
Inner sides of the elbows should be turned toward each other. The distance between hands and feet should be the same like in plank, but if you are a beginner, you can shorten the stance by half foot as the plank distance is challenging at the beginning and requires more strength.
Engage your arms, legs, and especially lower belly to protect your lower back.

Please note that different methods give different alignment tips for Downward Facing Dog, this one is based on the method we teach at Sangha. We base these tips on anatomy and biomechanics. Please ask us in the studio or comments below if something needs clarification.

Adho Mukha Svanasana don’t #1

Don’t over-arch (flex) your back. In Downard Facing Dog, your back should look more or less straight, and, if possible, in line with your arms.
The spine often flexes because it compensates less flexibility in the hamstrings (back thighs), like on the photo.

Adho Mukha Svanasana DO #1

Bend your knees as much as you need to in order to release the hamstrings and work on straightening your back rather than straightening your legs. There are better and safer ways to stretch your hamstrings than in this asana, so use Adho Mukha to work on your stability and upper body strength rather than flexibility.

Adho Mukha Svanasana don’t #2

We often see students with (hyper) flexible shoulders hanging in their shoulder joint like on the photo. This is similar to shortening the asana (shortening the distance between hands and feet), as it transfers the weight of the torso back, making it easier to hold weight. However, making it easy is not the intention here.
Shoulder joint is the most flexible, but at the same time most prone to injuries. Keep it safe by avoiding this hyper flexion.

Adho Mukha Svanasana DO #2

If you are already flexible, work on stabilisation and strength rather than more flexibility.
Keep the right distance between your hands and your feet, push the earth with your hands and align the head between your arms, creating more of a line between your torso and your arms (meaning a more healthy, 180° flexion.

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spelt flour taquitos with tofu

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spelt flour taquitos with tofu

what/
1 + 1/2 cup spelt flour (I used T630 but any white spelt flour can do)
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup melted coconut oil
1 heaping tsp himalayan salt
1 small pinch bicarbonate soda
150-200 g smoked tofu
+ for the sauce/
1 avocado
juice of 1 lemon
1 pinch himalayan salt
2 pinches cayenne pepper

how/
Cut tofu into thin sticks. Mix the flour, water, oil, baking soda and a teaspoon of salt and knead a dough. Flatten the dough with a rolling pin and cut into square or triangular shapes. Wrap each tofu stick into a piece of dough and put it on a baking tray. Bake the taquitos on 200 °C for around 25 minutes, or until the dough is crispy and its edges turn a little bit golden-brown. For the dip, blend one avocado, juice of one lemon, a pinch of himalayan salt and a few pinches of cayenne pepper until smooth. Serve the taquitos with avocado sauce and...enjoy!

Luna

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Asana basics - Tadasana

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Asana basics - Tadasana

Tadasana is a base asana for all standing asanas. If you learn how to properly stand in Tadasana, and understand the basis of Tadasana alignment, you can use this knowledge to align your whole practice.

So, let’s start from the base up:

The feet are firmly grounded and the weight distributed between three major points on your foot; on the heel, just under the thumb and just under your little toe. The weight should be distributed evenly on your foot, not using the toes. You can keep the feet hip distance apart, and we often use this version on our Basic flow classes, but on more Intermediate we’ll use feet together option. In this case, the thumbs are touching, but keep your heels one or two centimetres apart, so they are completely parallel. This is a more neutral position for your hips.

Engage your tights, but don’t overdo it. Relax your gluteus muscles (your buttocks), or don’t squeeze them voluntary. We often see students squeeze their glutes when we say ‘engage your mula bandha’. However, mula bandha has nothing to do with your buttocks:).

Pelvis should be in a neutral position. Usually, most students (especially more flexible ones) will tilt their pelvis forward. To avoid this, engage your lower belly (it’s a partial Uddiyana bandha engagement). Imagine you are trying to pull your navel closer to your pubic bone (again, don’t overdo it!). This engages your core and gives your lower back a much needed rest.

Place your hands on your lower ribcage and pull the lower ribs in. This is a common misalignment in most students that are open in their shoulders and chest – instead of being straight and neutral they actually backbend. If you do this, when you pull your lower ribs in you should feel a release in the middle part of your back.

Roll your shoulders up and down a few times and relax them to make more space in your neck, but don’t pull them to the back too much (again, if you are more flexible in your shoulders and chest this is a usual mistake). You should feel your shoulder blades away from each other. If you are closed in your shoulders and they tend to go forward, pull them back a bit and imagine you are making more space between your collar bones.

Imagine the top of your head is trying to touch the ceiling.
Use your breath. Ground more with every exhale, extend more with every inhale.

Every body is different. There are no general rules of alignment that can be applied to everyone. So, see if you can learn about your body and practice with awareness. And when in doubt, ask your teacher. We are here for you!:)

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chocolate banana tart

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chocolate banana tart

what/
4 bananas
300 g oatmeal
400 ml whole-fat coconut milk
100 g cocoa mass*
80 g coconut oil
~ 5 tbsp agave nectar

how/
Blend two bananas, one tablespoon of coconut oil, 70 ml of water and 1-2 tbsp agave nectar into a homogeneous mixture. Grind the oatmeal, but not too finely. Mix the ground oatmeal and banana mixture and let it sit for at least 5 minutes, so the oats absorb some water. Put the batter into a cake mould and shape it with your hands (press it into the mould and form the edges). Bake it on 180°C for 25 minutes and let it cool down a bit after you take it out of the oven.
In the meantime, you can make the cream - melt the cocoa mass* and coconut oil and blend them together with 2 bananas, coconut milk and some agave nectar (to your taste). Pour the cream inside the oatmeal crust and let it cool down in the fridge for at least a couple of hours to thicken.

*If you can’t find cacao mass, melt 50g cacao butter and add 50 g raw cacao powder

Enjoy!

Luna

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