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Day 1. The Intensity

I have arrived. I have finally finally arrived.. And I am almost crying and shivering sitting on this gigantic bed that was probably designed for another species. Or maybe I just got used to sleeping on the tiniest bed in the world and now a king size bed seems like utmost luxury. 

I am surrounded by a palette that flaunts a multitude of colours in this beautiful little clay house. A strange and unexpected collision of cultures and eclectic mix of styles, a shockingly harmonious cocktail of contrasting flavours and fragrances and tastes and colours, a truly unexpected surprise for my Western tastebuds. Here the Muslim traditions meet the Berber ones and the French aftertaste is still lingering on; everything seems in its right place. Here in this clay and stone oasis at an altitude of 700 meters, February night is greeting me with a chilly yet welcoming breeze, the handmade lanterns are drawing intricate shadows on the walls, creating a story that only comes alive at nighttime, and the wood in the fireplace is ready to be lit up to heat up the clay walls of my little palace. 

I see all of this beauty with completely new eyes. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been to the African continent before, maybe because just a few hours ago I didn’t know whether I’m going to make it. 

A mere few hours ago, as our pilot announced that we are starting our descent, a strange piercing pain sharply announced its presence just behind my eye and in a matter of seconds, grew in intensity to the point that I was losing my consciousness.. I got myself together and what was left of my strength, urged me to ask the flight attendant to assist me should I lose it before we land.. 

The noises, the passengers, the announcements and the air pressure all mixed up in a strange haze. I remember a concerned look of a man sitting across the aisle and then my new companion leading me to the emergency room. And then the bright lights blinding the sensitised eyes and doctor on duty taking tests and still unable to explain what just happened inside my head. 

The driver was still waiting for me when I eventually made it to the meeting point. After briefly greeting me in French and mentioning that he was worried, he quickly picked up my small bag and we left. In an hour or so, the intensity of my pain started to subside, it was gradually letting go of its grip and my mind was finally re-claiming the clarity, yet there was still a soft pulsation behind the eye socket as a reminder of something intense. And now, after what could have been a stroke, just sitting on this bed and still being able to perceive and discern the physical reality again seems like a precious gift, like a second chance I’ve been given to walk this earth in a human form. A transient, temporary body is still mine to rent for a while and I have shivers on my back as I realize over and over again how amazing this journey is.

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Celebrate Spring with Yoga and Meditation in Iceland. 31 March - 3 April, 2014

Imagine starting your day rolling out of bed and into stunning  yoga room with warm floors and a gigantic window overlooking the water. Beginning to awaken with yoga while the sky is lighting up and by the time you’re finishing the practice with a meditation, the sun has risen over the lagoon colouring the horizon with shades of apricot and pink and it’s time to get some breakfast and head outside to enjoy the crispy fresh air, the volcanoes all around and your morning dip in the hot springs. That’s exactly why I can’t get enough of this beautiful part of the world

This retreat will leave you feeling renewed, rejuvenated and glowing. One of the most otherworldly locations imaginable featuring healing hot springs and a stunning yoga space couldn’t be a better setting for a practice of yoga and deep meditation. For the third time, I am offering delicious yoga and meditation classes at the Lagoon to purify, strengthen and balance your mind, body and spirit. 

Activites

Typical day starts with morning yoga class from 8-9.30am, continues with breakfast, morning dipping in the lagoon, yoga nidra deep relaxation on some of the days, delicious lunch at the restaurant, free time to hike, enjoy the big lagoon, all the saunas and the waterfall or just relax, afternoon yoga/meditation practice and open evening. 

Food + Dining

Delicious vegetarian meals complement yoga and meditation programme perfectly. Our group is catered for by some of the best chefs in Iceland

What to Expect

  • 3 nights accommodation in a double room at the lagoon depending on your preference
  • Daily yoga classes, meditation and yoga nidra 
  • Myofascial release sessions to increase the range of motion, help release deep muscular tensions and improve posture
  • Stunning yoga space overlooking the lagoon
  • Delicious vegetarian meals 
  • Unlimited access to the hot springs, access to private lagoon at the clinic, bath robes, towels

Getting There

Arrival: at Keflavik Airport (KEF) on the 31.03.2014 Departure: from Keflavik airport (KEF) on the 03.04.2014

Register: elena@sparklingyoga.com

A cosy pre-Christmas workshop for beginners and experienced yogis. This practice will deeply restore and rejuvenate your nervous system and nourish your body, mind and spirit by combining breathing techniques, mindfulness meditation as well as Yoga Nidra guided relaxation. The practice strengthens the immunity, relieves stress and promotes healing, leaving you refreshed and energized.


Relax Completely I has focus on hips and hamstrings

Relax Completely II has focus on back and shoulders
Yoga Nidra means Yogic Sleep, a state of deep sleep while you remain conscious. It brings an amazing clarity of mind, calmness and stillness. It is one of the deepest forms of meditation leading to supreme quietness and insight. The depth of Yoga Nidra is far beyond just relaxation. During a Yoga Nidra session, you leave your waking state, go through the dreaming state and into deep sleep state, yet remain fully awake.

Winter time is an introspective, grounding, peaceful time of year when nature withdraws its energy back to itself to rest, restore and prepare. The weather tends to be humid, cloudy, cold and heavy, with predominance of water element. In Ayurvedic terminology, all these attributes are characteristic of Kapha (which literally means “that which flourishes in water”). According to Ayurveda, ‘like increases like’, so the qualities of this time of year can aggravate the same qualities in our bodies and minds making us more susceptible to feeling heavy, lethargic, congested and un-motivated. There are however many ways to prevent that by understanding the principles of Ayurveda and using some simple strategies to work with imbalances before they manifest as disease.

It’s important to note however that Vata constitution is also aggravated by the quality of cold which means that Winter can present this dosha (constitutional type) with certain health challenges, so we’ll take a look at how we can work with both constitutions at once.

Winter from the Ayurvedic perspective

Winter attributes/qualities: humid, wet, cold, cohesive, heavy, fluid

Water physiology: bodily functions that involve water energy to a great degree like reproductive function, lactation, saliva, urination, menses.

Water anatomy: organs and systems in focus are kidneys, lungs, mucus membranes, pancreas, bladder, synovial fluid, bodily secretions, lipids (fats), ova and testes. 

Common imbalances: swelling, mucus accumulation. 

Energetic focus: 2nd energy center/chakra - swadisthana (located at the base of the spine). This energetic/psychic centre is associated with the feeling of satisfaction, gratification, sensuality, desire and creativity.

Water asana: to keep kapha in check/decrease it, it’s a good idea to include more vigorous postures. This will also improve the metabolic rate and prevent sluggishness of digestion. Back bends and forward bends are both beneficial during this time of year as they activate the kidneys to prevent water retention and open the thoracic region (chest region) to clear phlegm.

Diet

To balance Kapha constitutions, it would be a great idea to eliminate foods that are heavy and/or difficult to digest - try eliminating wheat and dairy and pay attention to how it reduces the experience of sluggishness in the body and mind. 

Winter diet should consist of warm foods that are slightly salty, mildly spicy and nourishing. It is important to note that Winter diet is supposed to balance Kapha but not aggravate Vata.

Generally limiting the consumption of meals that are naturally heavy, oily and sweet could be helpful. 

A good choice of spices for the Winter season would be warming ones like cumin, fennel, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, cayenne, cardamom. Using these spices will prevent Kapha accumulation and keep you more vibrant and energized.

Ginger tea and other spicy teas are some of the best choices of drink this season while cold drinks and ice-cream are best  avoided altogether since the digestive fire is slow this time of year and the cold sweet quality will slow it down even more.

Winter Routine

If your constitution has a predominance of Kapha, it would be good to follow most of the suggestions below. Vata types would also benefit from the routine outlined below. As for Pittas, it’s important to continue to balance the internal and the external heat - so use the advice provided more intuitively than other constitutions.

  • Have a glass of warm water upon waking up. In the Winter time you can also add some freshly squeezed lemon juice to stimulate agni - the digestive fire
  • One of the most transformational additions to your routine is early morning self massage before shower - you can use a dry brush and stimulate the circulation and lymph system by applying long strokes moving from the periphery towards the heart (from hands and feet towards the heart). It usually takes between 5-15 minutes to cover the entire body and you know you’re done when the skin feels alive and the whole body is warm with improved circulation. It really wakes you up in the morning and keeps you warm all day.
  • Apply warm sesame oil to your skin to lock in the warmth and prevent the dryness and discomfort as you go out into the cold. Sesame is warming and can be beneficial to every constitution this time of year. The practice of oiling the skin also creates a protective barrier that strengthens your immune system and protects you from colds and flu. If you would like to delve deeper into Ayurvedic oiling practices, research abhyanga - it’s an ancient tradition in Ayurvedic practices and a great way to detox, nourish yourself and maintain vibrant health.
  • Take a warm (not hot as it dries out the skin) shower once you’re done with self-massage and oiling. Let warm water wash off excess oil, using no shower gel or soap so that even as you leave the shower, there is a fine oil layer left on the surface of the skin. Lightly pat the skin dry.
  • To protect your teeth and gums from excess sensitivity to cold, hold some warm sesame oil in your mouth for 3 minutes after brushing your teeth. This simple practice has an extremely nourishing effect on teeth and gums and prevents the occurrence of  bleeding or overly sensitive gums.
  • It’s important to keep your mind clear and digestion healthy by practicing breathing techniques/pranayama, The best choices for Winter are vigorous practices like bhastrika (bellows breath) and kapalabhati. These pranayama techniques cultivate the clarity of the thinking process and help the body expel excess mucus and sluggishness while invigorating cells and tissues with life giving prana.
  • There is a practice in the Ayurvedic tradition called Nasya. It’s therapeutic oiling of the nasal membranes that can be done right upon waking up or after completing pranayama. This practice is particularly appropriate for Kapha season as it brings about a wonderful lightness and clarity of mind as well as dissolve mucus and excessive water that can accumulate in the head and sinuses.
  • The practice of yoga asana can be more vigorous and energizing than Autumn routine. It can be beneficial to include Surya Namaskar - Sun Salutations (up to 12 rounds) as well as a multitude of backbends and forward bends. Some recommendable asanas are matsyasana (fish pose), chakrasana (wheel), ustrasana (camel). These poses stimulate both lungs and kidneys that usually need an extra boost during Kapha season.                                                                                                                                

Thank you Maria Garre and Sebastian Pole 

This yoga and meditation retreat will be hosted in a retreat centre in the North of Bali that belongs to a a non-profit foundation supporting a multitude of local initiatives like coral restoration and enabling access to education for kids from refugee families. This also happens to be a stunning location in a non-touristy part of Northern Bali. Retreat is situated on a mountain overlooking the ocean and the beautiful lush simplicity is a wonderful setting for a yoga and meditation practice. So it’s both a great holiday and good karma.

In Bali, mountains symbolize humanity’s relationship with Creation. Here, the earth elements of nature combine with the vitality of rural Bali, to create an environment where you can reconnect and rejuvenate.

This yoga retreat is an invitation to deepen your understanding of yoga and meditation, whether you are new to yoga or an experienced practitioner. Yoga retreat is a holiday that nourishes you on many different levels - physical, mental and emotional and one of the best way to celebrate the beginning of a new year by recharging yourself and attuning to the vibration of radiant health amidst the stunning nature of the island. Daily yoga and meditation classes during the retreat create a great foundation for consistent and joyful practice for the rest of year and what a better place to start the year than warm and sunny Bali.

Bali an island in Indonesia, an exceptional place on Earth that is full of prana, vitality, abundant with sun soaked fresh fruits and vegetables, abundant with joy and rich in spiritual tradition. You will be amazed how many shades of green exist on the island.

We will be staying in a beautiful centre on a mountain surrounded by a huge organic garden which provides most of the ingredients for our meals and for a little spa at the centre. The mountain is close to the ocean and it will be possible for you to either stay at the centre or enjoy the ocean or spa during the day.

Daily Schedule

The programme will include daily yoga classes every morning (a delicious long session before breakfast) and an evening hour of breathing practices and meditation

  • 7:30-9:30 Morning yoga and meditation practice
  • 9:30 Breakfast
  • 10:00-13:00 Free time to enjoy spa treatments, swim in the ocean… enjoy life :)
  • 13:00 Lunch
  • 14:00-19:00 Visit of the temple or cooking course or free time depending on the day of the week
  • 19:00 Dinner
  • 20:30 - 21:30 Evening meditation and breathing practice

Temple visit

One of the days, we will be taken to a local temple and will have a chance to enjoy a cleansing ceremony.

Cooking course

One of the afternoons we are invited to a cooking course which will take place at our centre. We will prepare dinner all together as a group as we are taught about the traditional Balinese ingredients and cooking ritual

Spa

Every day you have a chance to book a treatment from the spa menu of the Rainforest Spa that is located at the centre. The treatments are inspired by the local environment and living herbal traditions of Bali. Using touch, healing herbs and plants gathered from their 4-hectare organic garden, the body therapists hope to share Bali’s timeless wisdom and natural healing power with their guests.

Food

Most of the ingredients are from the centre’s organic gardens, the freshest sun ripened fruits and vegetables rich in prana. We will be served a delicious vegetarian menu and on the last evening we will have a festive dinner together.

Teacher

The classes are taught by Elena Mironov, a Copenhagen-based international yoga and meditation teacher and author.

With international yoga teaching experience and Yoga Alliance certification as well as a degree in Psychology and background in music and arts, Elena Mironov uses the full spectrum of her creativity in her yoga classes and workshops. She has been practicing, studying and teaching for over 12 years in Europe, North America and Australia and done over 700 hours of training with some of the world’s most renowned teachers including Shiva Rea, Paul Muller Ortega, Max Strom, Christopher Tompkins, Annie Carpenter, Yogrishi Vishvketu, Chetana Panwar as well as Jivamukti legends Sharon Gannon and David Life.She has a unique ability to create a sacred space celebrating the special sparkle in every individual she works with with love, knowledge and presence.

Centre

The centre where we’re staying is a non-profit foundation and here are a few highlights they are proud of:

Rooms and Bungalows

Dotted throughout the retreat centre are 4 large and 2 smaller Balinese-style bungalows. The larger bungalows have two double rooms each, and the smaller ones are perfect for a couple. All homes are located at a discreet distance from their neighbours and come with fully-equipped kitchens and open-air bathrooms. Each home is unique, lovingly furnished by their owners, and situated in beautiful private gardens.

Dining Terrace

Guests can spend many hours on our dining terrace reading, relaxing or having their meals. The terrace is an open construction shaded by trees and bamboo that looks out on a verdant valley. If you look carefully, you will also catch glimpses of the blue sea yonder.

The daily buffets and à la carte menu comprise a variety of delicious balanced vegetarian dishes from Indonesian and western-influenced kitchen. At the terrace, guests can freely help themselves to mineral water, green and herbal teas, Balinese coffee and cocoa throughout the day. Friendly staff are on hand should you wish to order fresh pressed fruit- and vegetable juices, lassies, and specialist coffees.

Salt Water Pool

Salt water pool is built on a mountain terrace, with uninterrupted views across the verdant orchards to where the distant ocean meets the sky. Play… exercise overlooking the resplendent valley… or simply relax on the wide stone terrace. The pool is large enough for doing laps and there is a stone terrace alongside that is suitable for bodywork and yoga.

Walking Trails

The centre is criss-crossed with walking trails that range from gentle strolls to more strenuous full-day treks. Explore the four hectare estate, hike along the ridge dropping down to the river, or journey through traditional villages, temples, orchards and jungle gorges. Serious mountain bikers can bash down muddy tracks and rough village byways, or follow the road up to the hill villages for stunning views.

Our Yoga Space - Mountain Lotus Room

Feel the early morning sun rays on your skin and find stillness even as the local community and animals stir quickly to the cacophony of life. Located directly below the dining terrace, one side of the room is totally open, looking out on a lotus-filled rainwater collection pool and lush green surroundings. In this beautiful setting, you can relax, meditate deeply and reconnect with Creation.

Sustainability

The water at the centre is untreated, and comes from a natural spring. The the use of chemicals is minimized; the swimming pool is a saltwater pool and they have built a wastewater garden to filter grey water. The organic gardens produce delicious vegetables, following principles of reuse and recycle. The electricity use is mindful - the centre uses low-consumption bulbs and natural ventilation instead of air-conditioning. In line with this holistic approach, food is vegetarian.

Practical things

Travel

Guests are responsible for organizing their own transport to Bali. It’s recommended to book the flights to Denpasar airport Ngurah Rai (DPS) as early as possible since the prices for travel around New Year’s tend to go up the closer you get to the date. It could also be a good idea to travel together with a friend or partner and arrive a little earlier or leave a little later to have a bit of private time to explore this beautiful part of the world.

Airport transfer

The location of the retreat is a 3-hour drive from the airport and transfers can be organised beforehand. You will receive all the information and contact details when you register.

Visa

You will need a visa for Bali. You can either apply for a visa on arrival or organize yourself beforehand (recommended). It may involve some waiting if you decide to go for visa on arrival, so it’s best to apply for one before you travel. More information onthe embassy website.

Weather

During the day, the temperatures are pleasant, usually between 20-33°C year round. January is the beginning of the rainy season in Bali, but days are still often sunny with the rains starting in the late afternoon or evening and passing quickly. The nature during this time of year is beautiful, lush and very green. Read more about Balinese weather on The Lonely Planet

To enquire about prices and availability, please email elena@sparklingyoga.com

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I’ve been thinking about this post for months now. It’s going to be a very practical post that is meant to  CLEAR SPACE around you and eventually, within you. It’s based on my own experiments that I felt I shouldn’t be discussing until I had enough time to let it germinate and see how and whether it works for me before I share my research with you. It’s been nearly half a year now and I think it’s time.
The idea emerged in my head when I was sitting in a room with a group of nutrition enthusiasts and listening to a talk by one exceptional, extraordinary woman. She kept on presenting her unprepared, improvised, spontaneously beautiful speech, clueless of how it was affecting me…And even though she’s a nutritionist, she somehow managed to plant a seed of deeper realization that was going to change a lot about my everyday life in the months to come.
I returned home from that forest retreat and saw my apartment through a different lens. It dawned upon me that despite my intrinsic effort to leave a lighter imprint on the environment by using less and using natural products where possible, the effort wasn’t always informed and therefore not intelligent enough. There is so much that has undergone transformation in the past months that I decided to write about my journey and my deepest hope is that it inspires you to re-think your consumption of certain things that are toxic - both for you, your family, your home and the world - and as a result, create a clear open space, free from what’s unnecessary.
Plastic
Take a closer look at the amount of plastic in your immediate surroundings. Isn’t it astonishing how this blessing and this curse of the 20th century has now taken over our living spaces and packaging replacing materials that could have been so much more sustainable and way less toxic. But how exactly is it toxic? Well, certain types of plastic release chemical breakdown products called phtalates (as well as a bunch of others depending on the type of plastic: styrene, polyvinyl chloride, dioxin, bisphenol A etc) that can disturb human hormonal system that pretty much regulates all vital processes in the body. This can in turn predispose us for an array of illnesses and as much as I would like to avoid writing about it - cancer. Another thing is that it takes up to 400 years for plastic to decompose and think about it - US alone produces 416,666 plastic bottles every HOUR and so far, since plastic was invented a few decades ago, there hasn’t been a SINGLE plastic item fully decomposed in the world..
What to do?
Switch to glass containers for your lunch of snack and carry a metal flask or glass bottle for your water instead of plastic bottles that are both unnecessary expenses in your budget, toxic for you and the oceans and just make no sense as our tap water in the West is perfectly drinkable. When shopping, stick with products with minimal, non-plastic or no packaging. In Denmark there is a company called Årstiderne (http://www.aarstiderne.com/) that delivers fruit and veggie boxes using minimal packaging and I am sure there is a farmers market or a local supplier close to you where you can shop packaging-free.
Beauty Products/Toiletries
Again, we are mainly talking plastic here. Shampoo bottles, toothbrushes, shower gels etc mainly come in plastic packaging. And interestingly, we normally don’t even question neither the necessity of all those items in our lives nor possible alternatives.
Let’s talk about shampoo first. After months of experimentation and trusting health experts that it would be better for me to use shampoo less frequently and instead wash hair with warm water, I can say that the health of my hair did improve significantly. And besides, it turns out neither shampoo nor conditioner have to come in plastic packaging. Here are some alternatives that are way more delicious then the conventional products: http://www.chagrinvalleysoapandsalve.com/ you’ll find both shampoo and conditioner in a bar which is simple, practical, easy to travel with and non-toxic plus will leave your hair looking and feeling lovely) and http://www.suryabrasil.com/en/linha.php?id=12 (great organic conditioners in metal tubes instead of plastic).
Shower gel is a mystery product to me - why is washing ourselves with warm water not enough? I must admit, I was sceptical at first, but now 5 months into my new shower gel free existence I must say that my skin is no longer dry and so much healthier. If your feet or armpits feel dirty, you can always use a bar of soap, all other body parts will appreciate just warm water a lot more.
Deodorant. As my Ayurveda teacher once said: “If you feel you really need a deodorant, you’ve got some serious detoxing to do”. Not only will you save another chunk of plastic but also let the body release what is designed to be released (as opposed to trapping waste products inside the body - this is essentially what deodorants/antiperspirants do), you’ll also remain more aware of when your insides are in need of some cleansing - there are many possibilities out there if you find you need to detox like juicing, green smoothies, massage therapy, lymph drainage. In my experience, these healing modalities are some of the best ways to stay consistently healthy and radiant plus with no deodorant, you can notice the potential problem at its onset. While in transition from a conventional deodorant, you can apply baking soda mixed with a little water to your armpits to keep them odour free without harmful chemicals. If you work out and sweat a lot, this could be a great solution also after you quit deodorant altogether.
Toothpaste. There are brands like Voegel, Dr Haushka, Weleda etc that offer organic toothpaste in a metal tube. I find the kinds I’ve tried also really gentle on the gums and sensitive enamel, more delicious and more efficient in keeping teeth clean. 
Facial cleanser/make-up remover. Raw Gaia has some super yummy ones in a glass bottle that also remove water resistant eye make up and will not irritate neither your eyes not your skin. You can also learn to make your own!
Facial exfoliators, masks, moisturisers - try Raw Gaia for plastic free, non-toxic and just delightful skin care.
Cotton swabs. They are also make them from wood - inexpensive, nice and non-toxic.
Nail polish and polish removers. I love the idea of colourful nails but man, this stuff is packed with things like formaldehydes, DBP and their ‘friends’ that contribute to reproductive health issues, disrupt hormonal and nervous systems and irritate lungs to name just a few. So my choice is to use up my favourite and not buy this stuff again. And drink more green smoothies that make nails naturally strong and beautiful (by the way, who said that the real unpainted nails are not pretty?).
Hair Colour. In May 2013 I finally discovered just how toxic hair dyes are and I promised myself: never again. Even the most innocent looking hair colours from health food store still contain a bunch of cancerogenes and hormone disrupters + seriously damage your hair and cause breakage and irritating the scalp. They also poison and pollute animals’ habitats when the breakdown products sip into the ecosystem. while seriously damaging your hair  and causing breakage and irritating the scalp. 
After extensive research and experimenting I concluded that there are way better options out there then commercial hair dyes: something my granny used back in the day: herbs like organic henna, indigo and cassia which will give you healthier shinier fuller hair as well as desired colour whether you’re willing to go red, brunette or blond. If you use these herbs properly, they will cover greys perfectly - my mum’s hair will happily prove it :) The process is messier and takes more time, but the way your hair, your scalp and your karma will feel and look is well worth it. This is one company that I think is great: http://www.suvarna.co.uk/pure-henna-indigo.html
Feminine Hygiene Products. As most conventional products, they are packed with plastic and rayon that are far from being safe to keep your lady parts healthy plus they are leave behind so much waste. Here are some alternatives: http://www.mooncup.co.uk/
http://www.organicup.dk/. It’s a bit of a personal revolution for most women I know and though it takes a few months to do the switch, you’ll be happy you did.
But at the end of the day, it’s really not just about plastic. Minimizing the plastic consumption is barely a reflection of how in tune we are with the world that we’re a part of and contributes to simplicity of life that for me is one of the objectives. And this way the argument of “I am not enough to make a change” becomes inconsequential since you’re creating a pretty significant shift in your own life and in your own thinking, and the benefit for your own life is subtle but immediate. So my hope is that these ideas will inspire you to maintain a mindful approach to how you take care of yourself and what you consume and eventually create more space, more openness and more clarity in your life, in your mind and in your practice.
 
Namaste,
Elena

Warm, Healthy and Radiant is a workshop that will cover the ways you can adjust your yoga and pranayama practice to WINTER and will include Ayurvedic tools to adopt your daily rituals, your diet and your sleeping patterns to changing weather and light in order to strengthen your immunity and keep you warm and energized

register

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cake credits go to my friend Amanda…

Autumn Self Care: Balanced Biochemistry, Beautiful Skin and Radiant Health for the Vata Season

“Nature wants you to be beautiful: when you’re healthy, you’re beautiful; when you are happy, you are beautiful; when you are sincere, you are beautiful” Victoria Boutenko

I have already experienced the first snow this year - just some days ago while teaching in Iceland.. And as I’m making a switch to a cosy wintertime wardrobe, the daily routine, yoga self practice and many other daily rituals are about to change as well. I have been asked to write a few words about how to maintain your energy level, a happy disposition as well as a healthy glow as we move into a darker, colder season. For me, it’s an interesting assignment in many ways since for years I had difficulty liking Autumn and Winter, unable to find inner and outer balance and struggling with staying warm and immune to colds and their friends.. Not that I am completely immune to Winter blues and colds now, but I do believe that something’s changed both in my perception and in my rituals and I would love to share some tricks with you. Some of that is coming from me as a neuroscience nerd that I used to be back in uni (probably still am:) and some from me as an Ayurvedic aficionado, but hopefully as a whole, it is going to inspire you to actually try these things and feel great!

Stay physically active - whatever it is that you’re enjoying: dancing, yoga, swimming, jogging, acrobatics - as long as you’re having fun doing it! It is usually also a great excuse to be social and that promotes a healthier brain biochemistry by releasing the feel-good hormones and “cuddle chemicals” endorphins and oxytocin - that also keep your health in check

Make an appointment with a naturopath and have a vitamin and mineral test done. In Denmark most health food stores have a naturopath they are working with and I can personally recommend Helle Wedelholm. I don’t advocate stocking up on all possible supplements and have a strong faith that we should be able to get nearly all we need from a balanced diet (including vegetarians). However, I also believe that if it’s something specific you are deficient in, it’s smart to address it.

Sweat at least once a day to rejuvenate the skin - whether it’s your vigorous yoga or workout or sauna (Lululemon’s legendary advice that I could engrave on my wall!)

Get the lymph flowing by massaging the body with a dry massage glove or brush before taking your morning shower. Use long strokes directed towards the heart. Lymph is a thick liquid that detoxifies and heals the body and unlike blood, doesn’t have a heart to pump it, so the best way to get it moving is either lymph massage, dry skin brushing, quality cuddling, sauna or jumping on the trampoline. One of the most entertaining ways to strengthen your health - and kids seem to know the secret :)

Switch to oil based natural or homemade skincare - the water molecules in water based creams tend to make the skin even more dry in Autumn and Winter since the molecules of water freeze in the pores of your skin and irritate it from the inside. Try either moisturizing your skin with natural organic oils (like jojoba, argan, cacao and almond oils) or oil creams from Raw Gaia

Make your home a spa one morning a week. Take a morning off or just do that during the weekend. To purify the respiratory system and the pores of your skin, make your own facial steaming bath by boiling some water in a regular pot, adding a few drops of eucalyptus oil and covering your head with a towel to breathe in the steam for a few minutes. To draw the impurities out of the skin, use dry clay blended with water (Raw Gaia has a great lava clay face pack. The raw chocolate one is great, too:). To nourish, use some raw organic oil instead of synthetics’ laden fancy creams. My personal decision is to only apply products on my skin that I can eat so essentially, your kitchen becomes your playground!

Get creative :) Here in the North the dark months are an invitation to spend a little more time indoors despite all our determination to stay active so if you feel inclined to become more introspective, go with it and express it. Whether it means you are going to explore living room dancing, redecorating your place or writing a musical, it’s one of the best things about the time of year when weather is less conducive for outdoor adventures

Sleep pattern - notice what time you’re going to bed and waking up. Sure, some things are not completely up to you especially if you have a baby in the house. But I’ll give you a little fact: with the same amount of sleep, you’ll be way better rested if your bedtimes are 10pm-6am then 12pm-8am simply because biologically we’re programmed to get way more out of our restful time if it corresponds to certain cycles - in Ayurvedic terminology that is Pitta and Vata cycles of the night when the bodily cells re-build themselves most effectively and the tissues heal and rejuvenate themselves better.

Meditate - whether it’s 5 minutes or 1 hour a day - it’s not really important. What is important is that you actually sit down to do that and find a bit of clarity in your head as you quiet down the movement. From the neurochemical perspective, it’s curious to note that while you meditate, the brain releases some of the same chemicals as it does when you experience orgasm - it fires the feel-good endorphins and decreases the amount of stress hormone cortisol. But in addition to making you feel good, you’ll also experience a sense of deeper purpose and meaning when you get mentally clear - which are probably some of the most satisfying things a human can experience.

Keep yourself hydrated - try caffeine free herbal teas that are suitable and healing for most constitutions. Try www.naturesource.dk for a great selection. I like to make a big teapot that I place beside me when I have to write or work from home - that way it’s just so easy to reach for a cup and keep the cells healthy and hydrated.

Food certainly deserves a special article. As much as I love raw food, after many years of experimenting, I am a firm believer that it’s good to combine it with some cooked food to stay warm and grounded in Autumn and Winter. Vegetable soups, hearty casseroles, spicy dahls are all great choices and can be adjusted to your diet whether you’re a vegetarian, a vegan or a ‘flexitarian’

Oil your body. You’ll stay grounded, keep the skin moisturised naturally, strengthen your immunity. Avoid coconut oil in the cold season. Its cooling properties make it a Summer favourite but it’s not your best friend for colder months. Almond, jojoba, sesame are all great choices for most constitutional types and you can get them from heath food stores or for supreme raw quality, again Raw Gaia is a great resource. If you’re more serious about Ayurvedic oiling practices, research a technique called abhyanga.

Finding time for “hygge” - this is one special Danish word and Danish concept that means…errrmm…so many things! Well, let’s put it this way: stay warm, stay cosy, surround yourself with friends and have a good time together. The extras that come along with that like a good laugh, hot tea and a boost of oxytocin, the cuddle hormone, will boost your immunity and make you feel loved and appreciated.

AND the last but not least: create a mission, a purpose, a project you burn for if haven’t got one already. It’s the true driving force behind every action, every thought, every word. Make it something bigger than you, something bigger than ego, something that benefits both you, your community and perhaps also leaves a lovely little imprint on a more universal scale. You don’t have to save the world. You just have to give yourself permission to be more open to the goodness in yourself and in others, and make YOUR little world a healthier, happier place - one step at a time.

I hope that this helps you find a bit more enjoyment and a bit less resistance to the cold dark time of year here in Northern Europe. I look forward to your comments and your questions and hopefully, see some of you on the mat soon.

Namaste,

Elena

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I didn’t sleep much tonight. Maybe because I dreamed that it was snowing and when I woke up suddenly in the middle of the night, it actually was..The first snow in Iceland this year, a spectacular sight in it’s majestic humbleness. Or maybe because I knew that the decision’s taken and in the morning I’m going for one of the most unforgettable journeys of my life - Arctic freshwater dive at Silfra, a descent in between the teutonic plates. Those who know me, also know that I have a panic fear of open water and depth in general the seed of which was planted when I nearly drowned as a child. So every rendezvois with the deep water brings about a paralyzing fear which I feel I need to confront every now and again. This time it was different though.

I had a dream just over a year ago. It was clearly happening in Iceland and I was walking over a mountain ridge that got so high it got lost in the clouds. I kept walking for a while, then suddenly stopped and without a second thought, took a sudden leap down through the clouds. 

I had been falling or should I say flying for quite some time and then after I fell through the clouds, I finally saw the stunning sight: a beautiful Autumn panorama in ochre, clear crispy air as far as the eye can see and I’m falling, falling… Eventually, I land in the water in between two mountains, a deep valley where the water is so cold that the sensation of being in it penetrates my body like a million needles. And then I take a look around as I am floating mid-water and it’s so spectacular that I forget all about the lack of air and being unable to breath, forget all about how I’m dying of cold, forget about fear, mesmerized by the sight of little water crystals reflecting light like a million tiny prisms, forming countless rainbows and the finest rays intersect, interconnect, creating new fantastic colours and sparkling brightly where they meet. So I keep spinning under water, the movement is starting to resemble a weightless dance, the resistance of water making each movement slow and graceful. Then I look up only to realize that I am so deep that the sky above the water has become just a glimpse of blue..

I never planned this dive beforehand, it was one of the most spontaneous decisions I’ve taken. No dry suit experience and years since my last dive didn’t quite make me a perfect candidate for this journey but somehow I knew that it was meant to be. And when the morning of the trip the driver said we will have to drive slower through the mountain ridge since there are often clouds making the road visibility poor, I had to pinch myself this was actually happening… And the dive in this incredibly clear glacier lake water where the visibility is often over 150 meters was without any exaggeration, one of the highlights of my life so far.

I have never meditated under water before, floating weightlessly in the water that’s clearer than air so you almost forget you are in the water, never seen a bluer, brighter, more captivating shade of blue, I never dived in water that tasted better than Perrier, I never confronted such a panic state of fear at the first descent into the endless blue and such an incredible inner serenity of surrender.

This part of the world touches me so profoundly.

And in this moment, my jaw is still sore from desperately clinging to the mouth piece in the +3C water and somewhere deep in my bones I still feel the aftertaste os having spent a few hours of my life in coldest water I’ve experienced so far, but how I treasure a little glimpse into a different reality that I got a chance to try, a place on Earth where the continents merge and drift apart and where the vibration of little earthquakes that mark the constant movement and evolution of the deepest layers of this planet, is so special and distinct, it makes you want to breathe deeper, live fuller, laugh harder and love life like you never did before.

Sounds of Balinese gamelan, a deep sense of calm amidst the chaos and the traffic, an omnipresent smell of burning incense and the taxi driver telling me that we should be able to make it to the airport on time despite the fact that it’s the full moon and people are a little disturbed. A note to myself: since when do taxi drivers care about the moon phases? Well, apparently in Bali they always did, there is hardly a person who doesn’t start a day without a prayer and a flower offering and lives detached from the rhythms of nature and lunar phases. That’s what dazzled me in the beginning of the journey and still continues to impress as I am about to head back to Scandinavia.

It’s a different reality here in this part of Asia - Hindu heritage, unlike the rest of Muslim Indonesia, has certainly affected people’s mentality and I find a lot of affinity with the ways of the locals in whom I recognize a bunch of natural Bhakti yogis - the devotional spirit of living life as an offering to a higher than ourselves, the attitude of serving the divine through serving others and the Gods as well as gratitude that they infuse each day with my placing a little offering on a water and electricity meters, resonate strongly with a yogi’s mindset.

And now that I am back to Copenhagen, I have to pinch myself to believe that the last few weeks really happened. I really can’t wait to go back in January to teach the retreat that I have been preparing for.

It’s surely been an interesting timing to return home - both at full moon and just before the autumn equinox. The full moon that occurs closest to autumnal equinox (this year it is the 22nd of September - today!) is called Harvest Moon. It is the harvesting time of year in the Northern Hemisphere that marks the beginning of Autumn.  An equinox occurs twice a year when the plane of the Earth’s equator passes the centre of the Sun. At this time the tilt of the Earth’s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun - this means that night and day are about equal length. 

This is also the time when we begin to prepare for an energetic shift that takes place as we move towards the 3 darkest months of the year - time to contemplate, create and “harvest” the fruits of what we’ve been working on all year as well as prepare the ground for the next year’s beginnings. To me, these last 3 months of the year have been the time to go deeper - whether it was the yoga practice or studying the scriptures, or “hibernating” and letting creativity blossom through music. Maybe this is why returning to the North from Australia 3.5 years ago felt like such a natural shift - back to 4 seasons and honouring the natural rhythm of my body and mind that has been craving these dark months to balance out the exuberance of Spring and Summer and explore the shadows.

Autumn Equinox blessings to you all and to the planet that is in need of so much love right now.

E