It’s hard not be be overwhelmed with gratitude for life in this environment; so many reasons to feel joy for life surrounded with so much beauty, so much incredible, wild scenery. The air heavy with the scent of pollen, there were so many wild flowers along the road as I walked home from Jerzu, blues, purples, yellows, whites…such a spectacle! The butterflies gracefully fluttering through the air, my two companions making me laugh by energetically chasing the shadows of butterflies and bees on the road.
I walked for 2 hours, enjoying the spring sunshine, I saw only 3 cars the whole time, and one person tending his beehives; such a wonderful walk I wanted to share a few photos with you. I am not a photographer, I carry my iPhone with me and take shots when they present themselves, but I hope they give you an idea of how beautiful this “Island with an Island” of Ogliastra is, and I hope it might inspire you to visit, there is so much to see and do here if you love the outdoors and nature it truly is a paradise!
As I walked away from Jerzu travelling back home, this was the first view back to the “City of wine” with it’s cantina nestling just below!
The “heels of Jerzu” or Tacchi D’Ogliastra” jutting out from the earth above the town.
The view looking towards Tortolì & Cardedu.
An unusual rock formation jutting out at the side of the road and Kuma & Shiva trying to find lizards.
As I get nearer to home, this is the view the other side of the ridge from Jerzu.
Looking further South towards the end of the valley.
The other side of the valley from the Tacchi, this is the valley that our house nestles along.
The view from our valley, looking back towards Jerzu & Gairo
The entrance road to our house is at the bottom of this valley. Notice also the little chasms caused by the rock formations here.
Stress is on the rise, more people each year are reporting stress as being a problem in their life: effecting their work, home life and health. After years of depression, stress and barely keeping my head above water with our modern, frantic pace of life, I finally broke down, and after a couple of months off work with stress I finally quit. It was time to get out, heal myself and get some perspective.
So that’s what I did, I checked out of society, and in 2010 I moved to rural Sardinia with my retired partner and took some time to heal. It was pretty drastic and most people can’t or don’t want to go quite that far! So, rather than suggesting you quit your job, abandon society and move to a foreign country, I would instead like to share some of the simple things you can do to manage your own stress, some of the practices that have really helped me to learn how to deal with stress, get a different perspective on life and feel healthier, happier & more positive.
Here a 5 things worth trying out for yourself:
1. Take a deep breath
Our breathing is possibly the cheapest, easiest and most effective way of controlling our central nervous system and getting our body to calm down. By learning very simple breathing exercises we can tell our bodies to chill out, relax and calm down! Breathing more deeply and extending our exhalation (out breath) makes our body stop producing those nasty, unhealthy stress hormones and start producing those nice relaxing hormones instead. Ok, so that’s a bit of a super simplified explanation of the sympathetic (fight, flight response) and parasympathetic (relaxed) nervous system, but you get the idea! There is a guided breathing practice here which you can try out for free.
2. Count to 10
It’s a another of those cliché’s, but giving yourself time to pause, reflect and acknowledge what is going on before reacting, can make all the difference. Learning how to observe how you are reacting, both
emotionally; how you are feeling and why, and
physically; how this reaction or emotion feels in the body,
can give you some perspective and allow you to make more positive, calmer choices when you respond to stress. By learning to recognise why we respond in certain ways, by learning our own behaviour patterns, we can choose a different path and learn to respond in a way that is more beneficial to us emotionally and physically.
3. Eat away your stress
So I’m not suggesting we get out the ice cream and chocolate and start binging here; I’m talking about making healthy choices about what we eat to manage our stress! Certain foods can help us to be less stressed and promote a sense of calm.
Foods high in Magnesium, like Spinach & Quinoa promote a sense of calm.
Foods high in Omega 3, like walnuts, nourish the brain helping you think more clearly, and reduce stress hormones.
Foods containing tryptophan, like sunflower seeds, soy & spirulina, cause the production of serotonin; that feel good hormone.
Foods containing vitamin C, like kiwi, kale and guava, reduce stress levels and boost your immune system.
And guess what, certain foods can actually cause that nasty stress hormone, Cortisol, levels to rise, and guess what they are: yup, anything packed with fat, sugar or salt; so avoid cakes, chips and crisps!
4. Sleep more
Get a good nights sleep.
Try to get more sleep, go to bed a bit earlier than usual. It’s another one of those vicious circles, you’re stressed out, can’t get to sleep so you sleep less. And in turn, less sleep lowers your immunity, makes you irritable and reduces your ability to cope causing you more angst and anxiety. So how do you break this cycle?
Here are a few tips to get more sleep:
Switch off the TV & computer at least half an hour before you go to bed: use this time to have a relaxing bath or listen to some calming music.
Do some very gentle yoga or Tai Chi to help calm your body and mind.
Do some long, slow, deep breathing and become completely involved in the process of breathing, how it feels, the movements of the body, the flow of air at the lips, nostrils of the back of the throat. You can also count your breaths, counting backwards from 100 to 0 each time you inhale and exhale.
5. Learn some stress management tools
Finally, make some time to learn some tools that will help you to reduce your stress levels and help you to deal with any issues in your work or home life. Mindfulness based stress reductions techniques have been shown to reduce stress levels and to help us to be more peaceful and happy within ourselves, despite an increasingly overwhelming and demanding world.
There are lots of really simple and very effective tools out there we can use to help ourselves, these are just 5 that I have found useful in my own life. I hope you can take some time to check out more information about my new Stress Management Course, it lasts for 8 weeks, but only requires about a half an hour of your time each day, so it really doesn’t need a massive commitment of your time.
I am thrilled to be releasing a new 8 week on-line programme Stress Management for a Modern World. It is launching on the 20th January 2014 to coincide with Blue Monday, thought to be the most depressing day of the year. There will be another course also staring on the 18thMarch 2014.
With stress levels on the rise every year and costs to industry and health services mounting up, and as someone with personal experience of how stress can cripple your work and personal life, I am sharing the tools I have used to feel better, get a perspective and live a more positive life.
Let’s get Stress Out in 2014!
You can register on-line for the course, and there are also free places available to people who cannot afford to pay the full subscription (usual price is 150 euros). My goal is to provide as many people as possible with the tools to manage their stress and improve their lives and in the process also to be healthier and happier.
You can listen to a sample Guided Breathing Practice from the course here:
It’s the holiday season, time for parties, presents and lots of good will; yay! Unfortunately this time of year is not always merry-making and fun, it’s also the season of colds, flu and general ill health. The good news is there are really simple, easy and natural things we can do to maximise our immune system and keep ourselves healthy.
Here are my top 5 tips for staying healthy this winter:
1. Drink a cup of Turmeric Milk each day.
Drink a cup of Turmeric each day to boost your immune system.
Turmeric has been used for centuries to boost immunity and treat coughs and colds. Lots of people are put off by the idea of drinking turmeric, try my favourite recipe below, it’s sweet, warming and will keep those colds at bay, you might be surprised how good it tastes!
I like to make up a paste that I can keep in a jar in the fridge and use whenever I need to instead of making it fresh each time, then just add between half and a whole teaspoon of the paste (to your own taste) for each mug of turmeric milk.
Ingredients for the paste:
1 tbsp ground Turmeric
½ tbsp ground Ginger
½ tbsp ground Cinnamon
1tsp Black Pepper
1tsp Vanilla essence
½tsp Ground Cloves
To make the paste, add all the spices together and bind with a bit of water until it forms a paste. Then pop the paste in a small jar and conserve in the fridge.
(Feel free to remove any spice, apart from the turmeric, that you don’t like or add in your own favourite sweet spice)
To make a cup of turmeric milk
250ml milk (this can be cow’s milk, goat’s milk, coconut milk, almond milk, rice milk or soya milk depending on your dietary and taste requirements, but I think it goes particularly well with coconut milk)
½ or 1 tsp mixed paste (recipe above)
1 tsp Honey (or agave nectar or any other natural sweetener of your choice)
Add the milk into a small saucepan, then mix in the paste and bring to boil. Add in the sweetener to your taste and then remove the saucepan from the heat. Use a tea strainer over your cup and pour the Turmeric milk through the strainer into your cup. Top with a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg. Enjoy!
2.Practice some winter breathing exercises.
Breathing techniques (Pranayama) can boost general and lung health and help keep airways, throat and lungs free from infections.
Kapalabhati Pranayama, also known as the cleansing breath, cleanses the body’s internal system, not only the respiratory organs, but it also has a beneficial effect on the digestive system and organs, including the stomach, pancreas and liver. (You can read more about the benefits of Kapalabhati here).
To practice this breathing technique:
Sit comfortably with a straight back to make space for your lungs, and place your hands on your lower belly.
Use your diaphragm to forcefully and fully expel all the air from your lungs (as if you were blowing your nose). If you are new to this practice, use a longer slower exhale to force the air from your lungs, slowly working up to shorter, more forceful exhalations.
Allow the inhalation to come naturally, the lungs filling spontaneously, without effort or forcing anything.
Perform this cycle ten times to start off with, or less if you feel light headed, then allow your breathing return to normal and observe the sensations in your body. Repeat these cycles of ten movements two or three times to start off with and gradually work up to 6 rounds (60 breaths).
Here is a Youtube demonstration of Kapalabhati breathing from Yoga International.
If you are suffering from high blood pressure, any heart disease, hernia, gastric ulcers, vertigo, epilepsy, lung diseases such as asthma or poor lungs capacity or recovering from tuberculosis or if you are pregnant, you should do these exercises only under expert guidance.
3. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables
Eat fresh, local fruit and vegetables every day.
Make sure your are getting lots of health boosting vitamins and minerals, eat at least 5 portions of fruit and veg each day. If you don’t like eating them, try juicing them!
Top fruit & veggies for winter health are Kiwi, Oranges, Blueberries, Cantaloupe, Spinach, Broccoli, Kale, Carrots, Mushrooms, Sweet Potatoes.
Try adding some raw, organic coconut oil into your smoothie or meal for an extra boost.
Always buy your fruit and vegetables as fresh and local as possible.
4. Reduce your stress levels
Stress hormones lower your body’s ability to fight off infections and viruses, and can even cause illnesses and diseaase. Take steps to reduce your stress levels this winter; simplifiy your life as much as possible, be picky about which party invitations you accept and make time to get some physical exercise; take a walk in the countryside or park and get some fresh air out in a natural environment.
You can use a deep breathing practice to calm down your nervous system, check out our free guided breathing practice below.
If you are looking for more specific and sustainable ways to reduce your stress levels, check out our website for more information about our online Stress Management Course.
5. Sleep well
Get enough sleep!
If we’re not sleeping well, we’re more likely to get a cough or cold, studies have shown that a lack of sleep decreases the levels of infection fighting white blood cells in the body. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep and keep your immune system at peak condition! Make sure you are relaxed before heading off to bed; switch off the TV or computer for at least half an hour before bedtime and go to bed a little bit earlier. Listen to a guided relaxation like this one when you head off to bed.
That’s it Folks! Have a wonderful festive season, stay healthy and here’s to a happy, stress free 2014 😉
Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, fitness, or other health program.
So you would like to start or are already practicing meditation, but the sitting posture is making things difficult for you, you have seen meditation cushions, but can’t afford one yet….what are the cheaper alternatives??
One unique idea shared by one of my meditation teachers is to use 2 toilet rolls;
A novel, and cheap, meditation aid
“A good sitting gear: two new rolls of toilet paper. Try it with “comfortable posture” (sukhasana). Use these or 2 small balls (about 4-5 in/10-13 cm) or similar objects, perhaps covered/wrapped with a small towel. Place them under the sit bones (ischiums) as in the picture, with the heel of the rear foot in the opening of the “V”. Keep the knees touching the ground and the body upright, maintaining a small curve in the lower back if possible.” writes Thanh Huynh who runs a free online mindfulness meditation course.
Yoga Nidra is specific relaxation practice following a precise method for inducing complete, deep physical, mental and emotional relaxation, while maintaining awareness at the deeper levels of consciousness.
“In Yoga Nidra, you leave the Waking state, go past the Dreaming state, and go to Deep Sleep, yet remain awake.”
Indeed, the practice is so relaxing that it becomes very difficult to remain awake, but you finish feeling more rested than you do after a good night’s sleep, Yoga Nidra is a more efficient and effective form of rest, both physiologically and mentally compared to conventional sleep with one hour of yoga nidra being equivalent to around 4 hours of regular sleep.
As time goes on, the practice of Yoga Nidra deepens from relaxation to the full experience of Yoga Nidra and a deeper state of mind, sometimes this experience lasts just for a moment, but eventually, with patience this state becomes more sustainable
This level of consciousness is the place where thoughts, emotions, images, and sensations go when they recede from the Waking and Dreaming states. Because of this, Yoga Nidra is a valuable tool for examining, reducing, and eliminating habit patterns which are not useful or positive in life. Yoga Nidra effectively changes the way of feeling and thinking and habitual negative actions and behaviours can be reduced or eliminated through regular, sustained practice of Yoga Nidra.
Stages of Yoga Nidra Practice
Initial Relaxation of the body and mind is induced by the awareness of stillness, comfort, posture, position, breath, and listening to the external sounds with the attitude of a witness without the need to identify or name the sounds.
Intention, Sankalpa is a short, positive statement repeated mentally 3 times with feeling and awareness, for example “I will enjoy total health.” “I am happy and content.”
Explanation:The resolve should be chosen very carefully, and be precise and clear; otherwise it will not move into the subconscious mind. Here are some examples which can be used:
* I will be successful in all that I undertake.
* I will be more aware and compassionate.
* I will achieve total health.
* I will make healthy food choices.
* I will create less stress in my day to day life.
* I will awaken my spiritual potential.
Choose only one resolve and be patient. Once chosen, the resolve must not be changed. Do not expect results overnight; time is required depending on the nature of the resolve and the degree to which it is planted into the mind. The result depends on the sincerity and desire to obtain the goal of the resolve.
Rotation of consciousness rapidly through different parts of the body, with each area’s name mentally repeated and awareness brought to that area of the body. Practice always starts with the right hand and moves quickly through various areas of the body.
Explanation:From neurophysiology we know that each part of the body has a different control centre in the brain—curiously, small ones such as the fingers or armpits claim a large brain area. The movement of awareness through different parts of the body not only relaxes them, but also clears nerve pathways from each area of the body to the brain.
Rotation of awareness around the more subtle energy body
Explanation: Experiencing and connecting with various energy centres in the body, taking your awareness into the deeper levels of subtle sensations within the body.
Breath and Energy Awareness is practiced by becoming aware of the natural breath without making an attempt to change the flow or rhythm of the breath. The practice can be awareness of the breath in the nostrils, throat, chest, and abdomen, or in the passage between the navel and the throat. Counting of the breath can be added to the practice to aid awareness of each incoming and outgoing breath.
Explanation: Continues relaxation and promotes concentration, awakens higher energies and directs them to every cell of the body.
Sense Perception is the next stage in the form of an awakening of sensations of pairs of polar opposites, such as heaviness and lightness.
Explanation: The alternating of opposite sensations such as heat and cold, heaviness and lightness, helps to improve the body’s ability to regain balance and brings the related involuntary functions under conscious control. This practice harmonises the opposite hemispheres of the brain, develops willpower on an emotional level and brings about emotional relaxation.
The stage of images, visualization or journey involves rapid visualization of images and abstract symbols or a guided journey. This practice is finished with an image that evokes a sense of profound calmness and peace and makes the mind receptive to positive thoughts and suggestions, which leads onto the repetition of the resolve.
Explanation: Visualization is a method of consciously using a symbol our image as a catalyst to provoke a reaction in the unconscious mind. But since no time is given for the conscious mind to react, you remain detached and the ego becomes temporarily inactive. This phase helps to resolve suppressed conflicts, desires, memories. Relaxes the mind and purges it of disturbing and painful material.
Sankalpa – As above
Return to awakened state through a guided, slow transition from deep relaxation to being a state of being awake, calm, and refreshed.
Benefits & Uses of Yoga Nidra
Yoga Nidra prevents stress and stress-related disorders by inducing deep physical, emotional and mental relaxation, by training the mind to remain calm and quiet and by rooting out the repressed desires and thoughts from the deeper realms of the mind. Yoga nidra awakens the inherent creativity and promotes the learning and memory abilities of the practitioner.
Research has also discovered that yoga nidra can be used as a therapeutic technique for psychological disorders like anxiety, hostility, insomnia and also psychosomatic diseases like asthma, coronary heart disease, cancer and hypertension. It’s value has been scientifically investigated in recent years around the world with positive results and there are many applications for Yoga Nidra, far too many to go into detail here, so I shall just list the main categories:
Drug & alcohol addiction
Pain Management & relief
Pregnancy, childbirth & menstrual disorders
Increasing learning capacity and memory function
With our current lifestyles and the stress and tempo of modern life, where psychological and psychosomatic problems are on the increase, the technique of yoga nidra is rapidly becoming an essential tool for mankind.