June 1st marks my five year anniversary of switching to a vegan lifestyle and in honour of this landmark day, I thought I'd write about some of the major lessons I've learned along the way.
In many ways, not that much has changed. The last time I ate meat was two decades prior anyway and the amount of dairy alternatives (cheeses, milks and yogurts) has sky rocketed to the point where I don't even feel I'm making any sacrifices but still, veganism has fundamentally changed my life in many other ways. I'm now constantly aware of the complexity of adequate nutrition, sustainability issues, and even political factors that affect the health and lifestyle of our generation. I'm healthier (although more on this below) and savvier, snapping up seasonal produce and bulk-buying kitchen essentials like grains and pulses. I feel a consistent kind of inner peace from knowing that I'm doing all that's in my power to protect the environment but on the flip-side, when I slip (and that I do) the feeling of guilt (or eco-anxiety as they say) become very real. It has been far from a perfect journey and there is a lot I learned along the way with I'm sure, more to follow.
Another year is drawing to a close, and of course with this comes the inevitable desire to reflect and plan ahead. I was able to have a once in a lifetime kind of adventure where thanks to a couple of years of saving and planning, I was fortunate enough to step the soles of my feet onto the soil of three continent, nine countries and dozens of cities. Along the way, I crossed paths with three (forgiving) snakes, swam with a group of rescued elephants and dipped my toes in warm turquoise seas. The journey was diverse too, one month saw me hiking through handfuls of exotic national parks while the next had me immersing myself in ancient Roman history. I crossed paths with countless other souls too, from my time meditating with Buddhist monks to shaking hands with African villagers who’d never before seen blonde hair.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the human body is energized through specific internal paths, otherwise known as meridian lines, along which the life force, otherwise knows as chi, travels. There are twelve major meridians that run on both side of the body, mirroring one another. Each of these pairs is associated with specific organs and working with them through holistic practices such as acupuncture, massage or yin yoga are believed to have specific healing effects. This article will explore the kidney meridian and it’s relation to female reproductive health in specific.
It’s official, meditation has become mainstream. An increasingly huge range of people, from CEO’s running multi billion dollar businesses to pre-teens over-bursting with energy during school time, are embracing the practice with open arms. Scientific evidence overwhelming supports it’s benefits - meditation has been shown to reduce our stress levels, improve our concentration and physiologically, benefit our cardiovascular health and immunity too. This all illustrates that taking some time out of our day to meditate has the potential to greatly improve the feeling and productivity of the rest of it. No wonder the world has caught on! So, how exactly do you meditate, aside from in a lotus position in some remote cave? There is no one right approach that will suit everyone and if you've never tried meditation before, consider giving a few different options a go to see which will resonate with you most.
I recently came across a beautiful poem that made a deep impression on my psyche. It was lighthearted but very meaningful and it managed to stick with me for the past few days, to the point here I'm now drawn to share it. It's a gentle reassuring reminder that we are only responsible for our own path and should not let the actions of others interfere with our truth. And our actions and character should be coming from a place of love, deep within, uninfluenced by our circumstances and without seeking external rewards. And when we seemingly do everything possible right without receiving any support in return, we should keep doing it anyway, because it's our truth. People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered; Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; Succeed anyway.
Having just completed a 3-month trip to Madagascar, here is my account of the experiences with the various NGO’s that are doing amazing things for the Malagasy population and supporting the countries development. Akany Avoko Faravohitra is residential rehabilitation centre in the capital city, Antananarivo. It provides a safe haven for nearly 50 girls who have been placed in the juvenile justice or child welfare systems. The girls are looked after, mentored and provided with empowering training that aims to give them the opportunity to become self-sustainable in adulthood through avenues such as cooking and various handicrafts. The centre also hosts international volunteers who give the girls an opportunity to learn about other cultures and provide them with hands on experience of learning languages such as English and French. Ankizy Gasy is another wonderful organization based in the town Ambohidratrimo just outside the capital. The main focus of their work is supporting the families of local underprivileged children by funding their yearly expenses of attending school but they also organize activities and English lessons with their volunteers and run a canteen for the poorest of the community.
If you are considering becoming a volunteer English teacher with Hope for Madagascar and are interested in hearing about the perspective of someone who has already had the experience, here is my very recent and detailed account. When researching volunteer opportunities in Madagascar, I came across dozens of possibilities but only a couple immediately grabbed my attention because of a combination of two reasons. First, the programs were already well established and received regular participants, often quite a handful at a time. This is wonderful of course but Madagascar is huge and I felt that my time would be better given to a location that is more remote and not in receipt of so much attention already. Second, the majority of these programs were also very expensive with costs running into thousands for a couple of weeks of work. While I understood that this money would go on to support the local economy and the running costs of the NGO, on this occasion, I wanted my contribution to be of time and energy, not money.
I’ve observed that many people now turn to holistic practices such as yoga and meditation in times of turmoil and this is wonderful as they offer a way to heal without trying to numb which has been the dominant approach for us in the West for some time. But with time, these practices tend to be pushed to the sidelines as we begin to feel better, get busier and generally get sucked back into what we consider to be the ‘real world’.
This is unfortunate because the value in finding such time for ourselves extends far beyond healing what already hurts. It can also provide us with motivation, mental clarity and meaning so we can aim to be our best more consistently. My own practice slipped in the past couple of months as I spent all my time travelling and given the chance to reflect on this recently, I noticed my usual levels of intention and mindfulness lower too. My mind can provide a thousand excuses for why this is OK but thankfully I know better than to listen to that.
Chiang Mai is a bustling city in the Northern mountainous region of Thailand; it’s full of obvious treasures (and plenty of hidden gems) ready to fill visitors with awe and wonder. Chiang Mai is the fourth most populous city in the country with about 170 thousand people living within the perimeter and many more on the outskirts.
While the center of town can feel typically Southeast Asian with lots of concrete, traffic and pollution, rest assured there is peace to be found within the chaos and luscious jungles and gorgeous mountains and not very far away. All in all, keeping yourself busy, relaxing, and generally making the most of your time will be so easy as there is much on offer.
For most of us living in the Northern hemisphere, winter can bring about stagnancy and dullness. We dont get much day light or fresh air, and for many people recreational time usually involves some form of static indoor activity such as reading or catching up on films. Our appetites gravitate us towards meals that are hot, dense and comforting but leave us with little energy to spare for anything else but digestion. All these different factors can add up to extreme lethargy and more frequent lower moods which can become obstacles to us accomplishing all that we want and should.
Physical exercise can be an excellent way to bring in a little more balance into the season but finding motivation for this is challenging. We are inclined to take things easier during the colder months as the body needs to conserve energy but rather than giving up exercise all together, consider taking a gentler approach with exercises such as tai-chi and of-course, yoga. They encourage a more balanced distribution of energy within the body and even just a few minutes of movement can bring about noticeable changes to our mood, energy levels and physical health.
It has now been nearly a month since my return from the beautiful island of Madagascar, and although I’ve already shared many stories with friends and family, now feels like an appropriate time for a little bit more reflection because albeit short, it really was a trip of a lifetime and I’m eternally grateful for having had the opportunity to experience it. I’m still not entirely sure why this trip far exceeded all of my expectations or why it felt so special. As a seasoned traveller with six continents and thirty-five countries under my belt, I can say with certainty that there was much more to it than just following my sense of wanderlust or having a new experience. It was something much deeper that I can’t quite put into appropriate words but feel compelled to try anyway. The aim of this trip was to try and raise money for WaterAid and to learn more about the work they do in Madagascar. Of course, with that came the opportunity to learn more about the country, and to experience some of its natural wonders, and to meet some of its beautiful people.
If you’ve never attended a group yoga class but are considering giving it a go, getting ready is thankfully very simple and taking a few minutes to do a little research on what to expect can ease some of the possible anxiety.
Before you go: Yoga is best practiced on an empty stomach so try to avoid eating anything before attending (or give yourself as much time as possible to digest full meals), you’ll be glad you did. Hydration is also very important so make sure to drink plenty of water before and after class. You can take a bottle of water with you, especially if it’s a Vinyasa flow or hot yoga class, but be aware that some traditional classes in the Ashtanga style would ask that you not drink during practice. Next, wear clothing that doesn’t restrict your movement in any way. Active wear is best but also consider you’ll likely be spending a bit of time upside down so a top that fits more snugly or can be tucked in would be ideal.
Feeling negative, or just generally uninspired, can be the result of getting caught up in the daily routines of life without taking moments to pause and appreciate all that we are and all that we have. This is where practicing gratitude can help; as an adjective it means feeling deeply appreciative of something possessive, whether that is randomly receiving the help of a stranger, or having a warm room to come home to, or anything else appropriate to the individual circumstances. Consciously practicing gratitude creates a little more space in our minds for reflection, which in turn, helps us develop a more positive mental attitude.
The popularity (and effectiveness) of practicing gratitude may be down to its focus on the positive elements of our lives. I know from experience that its all too easy to focus on the negatives of a particular situation because their effect on my psyche are much more profound and longterm than that of a positive situation. That's just how our mind is programmed to work!
Yoga continues to expand and blossom throughout the whole of our world, from its birth place in India, to the Americas and Europe, to the more distant corners of Africa and the rest of Asia. More and more ordinary people are taking up the practice and more and more seasoned students are partaking in yoga teacher training programs. The motivation of both groups is as diverse as the amount of people within them and for those willing to give their energy, yoga has a lot to offer in return. But, is yoga reaching the widest possible audience or are there still prevalent misconceptions?
When I first started my journey ten years ago, I had many hesitations that initially held me back. The most significant of these was that it didn’t feel like I fit into the group of people who represented yoga across conventional media and that implied that perhaps it wasn’t entirely for me after all. Not only did I not look the part but I also lacked what I thought was the prerequisite flexibility – plus I had no interest in chanting, meditation or breathwork, and didn’t want to end up in a class where these were practiced.
Yin yoga is a unique practice that works to improve the health of our joints while cultivating stillness in our minds. Unlike cardiovascular exercises that focus on powering through for the benefit of working your muscles and heart, yin yoga works in an opposite, calming way, to exercise the joints through focusing on the actual physical connections within the body.
The practice consists of various poses that are usually mat based and target connective tissues (ligaments, tendons, bones and fascia) by applying moderate stress to them for several minutes. Anatomically, these tissues are usually in the region of the hips, pelvis, inner thighs and lower spine. These physical areas are not often exercised by the more active, ‘yang style’ movements (such as running or power yoga) so yin yoga can be very complimentary to those who practice them. The higher energy ‘yang type’ practices can also result in inflammation of the deep fascia tissue which can cause pain and stiffness that the long-held ‘yin stretches’ can help release.