Celebrate what your body can do

27/12/2018 at 6:12 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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At this time of year it’s so easy to feel bad about eating too much and exercising too little. That’s why it was good to step through the sunlit winter mist and into my local gym, where the following unattributed message was displayed: “Exercise is a celebration of what your body can do, not a punishment for what you ate.” So true! Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to exercise when you accept and appreciate yourself wholeheartedly, just as you are? “I can do this” is a mantra that gives us wings.

The next step from appreciation is thankfulness, and that’s the word that we will be meditating on in sessions through January. I’m thankful for a body that is, on balance, pretty healthy. I’m thankful for family and friends and warmth and nourishment. I’m grateful for being part of overlapping circles of community that cooperate and help one another. Being thankful gives sustenance to the very things we appreciate. What will you appreciate in 2019? What forces will you feed with your thankfulness?

 

Lift your mood with lavender

14/06/2018 at 7:56 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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In a week when a study showed that over a third of all medicines can cause depression, it’s worth remembering that simple remedies from nature can lift your mood. Lavender is one of the very best that you can rely on.

Run your fingers gently through a lavender plant that’s just come into bloom, and you will instantly relax with the characteristic, uplifting, restful scent. Inhaling lavender is proven to reduce levels of anxiety and stress.

A few drops of lavender essential oil on a tissue placed near you at night or near your desk will calm the mind and nerves. Diluted in a carrier oil and rubbed into the skin, molecules of soothing lavender have been found to enter the bloodstream and deliver pain-reducing, mildly sedative benefits. Lavender oil in an intensive care unit or hospital ward can reduce the levels of body-disrupting sedation required.

Lavender spray recipe

This is a simple and delightful way to feel the benefits of lavender.

Take a clean and empty 100 ml bottle with a fine spray attachment. Add 15 ml of vodka, 80 ml of spring or other water, and 40 drops of lavender essential oil. Put the lid on the bottle and shake. Spray on yourself, around rooms or around your bed at night for instant, soothing relaxation.

Do you have a favourite method of using lavender?

 

 

 

 

 

 

These five healing boosts can help, right now

21/05/2018 at 7:13 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Healing happens when you are relaxed and open to the beneficial, life-enhancing flow of energies all around and within you. While going to an energy healer or therapist is a very sensible step when you need extra help, every day there are healing boosts that can make a difference. Here are five of the best.

1 Put a few simple flowers on your window sill or table, like this single cornflower and strands of tamarisk. Seeing small moments of beauty can open heart, mind and spirit.

2. Love and accept yourself, just as you are. Practise this frequently until it feels easy (even if that takes a lifetime).

3. When you catch yourself with negative self-talk, think of three nice things to say about yourself. Your energy will begin to grow and flow.

4. Meditate. Even five minutes a day can make all the difference. Sit still in silence, deliberately, and open up to the timeless presence of this moment now.

5. Prepare a simple meal – as simple as you like – in a spirit of loving kindness to yourself, and gratitude to all who played a part in getting the ingredients to your table. Eat it slowly, as though eating for the first time. Notice the textures, the flavours, and the sensations within your body as the life-enhancing food enters you.

Do you have any healing boosts to share?

This is why you need to make balance your new best friend

26/09/2017 at 11:29 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Recently my work was soaring like an eagle or, to be more precise, like the buzzards that live around here. I seemed to succeed in everything I did. I felt strong, confident, invincible. I cut down on sleep to fit in more work…. and my throat began to hurt, and then I got a chill that kept me away from work for a couple of days.

“How annoying,” I thought. “Just when everything was going so well!”

And then I realised my cold had arrived precisely because my work had become super-charged. Humans need to pace ourselves, or we burn ourselves out. Obvious, isn’t it? And yet I had fallen into the trap of believing I was super-human, above such considerations.

The tell-tale signs were there. They alway are. The intoxicating feeling of invincibility. The exhilaration. The lack of regard for rest breaks. The sense that there was no time for nourishing meals.

Our bodies truly are our own best guides when it comes to living a happy, healthy, balanced life. As soon as your choices get out of balance your body will let you know. The first signs are subtle – sneeze and you’ll miss them. Then the signs grow bigger, until you can’t physically avoid them.

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Here is the most important question you can ask yourself:

“How am I feeling right now?”

Are your emotions in balance, or are you tending towards one extreme or another?

The immediate remedy to help you get back in balance is always the little, natural things.

Have enough sleep.

Eat apples from a tree.

Cook a tasty, sustaining meal.

Turn off your phone.

Collect firewood.

Draw a picture.

Talk to a loved one.

Simply be.

 

Seven steps to perfect kefir

02/04/2017 at 8:23 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Update in 2019: Since I wrote this post a couple of years ago, ready-made kefir has become a mainstream item in supermarkets – who would have thought it! I still make kefir from scratch, however, as I love the super-vibrant taste. Read on for the instructions….

This is a fantastic way to look after your gut, and overall health and wellbeing too. I first discovered kefir in 2003, when I took my young son with physical and learning disabilities to see a nutritionist. “Feed him fermented foods,” was her advice. She could easily guess that he was likely to have more than his fair share of antibiotics over the following years. She knew that fermented foods are rich in probiotics that keep the gut healthy.

I went home, did a little research and have been making kefir ever since. Now every member of the family drinks it regularly. The almost-fizzy, almost-lemony, definitely vibrant taste is curiously addictive. It’s not remotely like those yogurt-style drinks that have entered supermarket shelves in little armies. Kefir is well and truly alive. And when you drink it, you get to feel that way too.

In brief, kefir is made from a complex symbiotic culture of beneficial bacteria and yeast. This culture looks rather like a lumpy spoonful of rice pudding, but feels more gelatinous than that. Sounds lovely so far! Here’s a close-up:

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You pop the culture into a pot of milk, leave it in a reasonably warm place for 24 hours, then strain the resulting creamy liquid through a plastic sieve. The rice-pudding-like culture is left in the sieve, ready to be popped into a new pot of milk. The kefir itself is ready to drink. It’s so easy.

So to make kefir, you first need some of the culture. If you’re lucky you may get this from a kefir-making friend. Otherwise, it’s possible to buy on-line. Do not, please, make the mistake of getting sachets of ‘kefir starter’. You want the real-deal lumpy, bumpy culture. Once you’ve got that, you can keep making kefir from your original culture indefinitely. It grows, and it grows.

Kefir has become increasingly popular since I first started making it. More and more friends are giving my excess kefir culture a home. Every time, of course, instructions are required. So I thought it would be useful to share those instructions on-line. Once you’ve got your culture, just follow these easy steps.

1. The most important thing: be aware that your kefir culture is a living, amazing community of beneficial bacteria and yeasts which bring great benefits to the digestive system and beyond. So always treat it kindly and with respect.

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2. Now for the practical bit. Your kefir culture has likely arrived in a small pot of semi-skimmed milk ready to do its stuff. Or it may have arrived in a small bag with just a few spoonfuls of kefir liquid. It may be small enough to fit into a teaspoon, or large enough to fill a dessert spoon. (But please keep it away from direct contact with metal – it doesn’t like it.) Say hello to your culture, put it in a plastic or glass pot, and add approx 150 ml milk: semi-skimmed, whole or goat’s milk. (Note, illustrations here show a larger quantity than you’ll likely start off making.)

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3. Rest a lid lightly on top of the pot – kefir needs to breathe, while protecting it from its environment. Put the pot somewhere reasonably warm – the kitchen may well be warm enough, but depending on where you live, you might choose to place it by a radiator, warm pipes or other heat source. The ideal temperature range is probably around 21ºC or 70ºF.

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4. Wait. In approx 24 hours it will look like the picture below. Note the little lines of whey down the sides of the jar. Depending on temperature, size of culture and volume of milk, it may look less cultured than this, or more. If left longer it could separate completely between curds and whey. It would also have a correspondingly strong, almost cheesy taste.

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5. Pour the kefir mixture into a plastic sieve over a bowl or container. Gently push the kefir mix to and fro with a plastic spoon or spatula to encourage it through the sieve. Use a scooping action to avoid squashing the culture too much (though it’s quite elastic). Make sure you’ve got all the kefir and more importantly the culture out of your original pot. Avoid having metal come into contact with the culture itself. I’ve never tested this, but over time it could distress the culture and make it less viable. (However, later, if you make a kefir smoothie or add it to your cereal, it’ll be fine to use metal utensils.)

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6. Keep sieving gently. Soon you’ll see the cute or messy culture (depending on how you view it) sitting in the bottom of the sieve. Your culture may be in one or more pieces.

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7. Carefully scoop the culture up and place it in a clean container. You can optionally add a spoon of kefir from the last batch if you wish. Pour your chosen milk over the kefir culture. You can use semi-skimmed or whole cow’s milk, or goat’s milk depending on your taste. (If your kefir formed quickly and well last time around, you could gradually increase the volume of milk over successive cycles.) Place it somewhere reasonably warm, as before, and let a new cycle begin!

Meanwhile, enjoy your kefir straight from the fridge, or follow the recipe suggestions below.

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Foodie tip

Make your kefir over the normal cycle – about 24 hours. Then put it in the fridge for 2 to 3 days. Then sieve as normal. Kefir made this way has a creamier consistency.

How much kefir should you drink?

A small glass of kefir once a day is ideal, but it’s fine to drink more (or less). If you’re new to kefir, start with small portions ( up to 100 ml a day) then build up.

Recipe suggestions

You can drink kefir unsweetened or with a teaspoon of honey or maple syrup if you prefer. Many people like to add it to cereal in the morning, instead of milk or yogurt. It’s yummy in a small bowl with fruit. It’s also good to drink just before bed. Don’t heat kefir up or cook with it though, as then it will no longer be alive – and it needs to be alive to do its magic in your digestive system!

What to do with your excess culture

Your culture will grow with each new cycle. When it’s doubled in size or more, you can divide it. You can store spare culture in a spoonful or two of kefir in the freezer as back-up in case your original culture fails or you lose it; you can whizz it up in smoothies; you can compost it. You can also store spare culture in the fridge in a small pot of milk – change the milk weekly.

A final note

Kefir is very easy and inexpensive to cultivate. Although it’s important to keep your kefir equipment clean, the culture itself quickly creates a mildly acidic environment that deters unfriendly bacteria.

Enjoy your kefir, and just ask if you’d like to know anything else. Or feel free to share your recipe ideas below.

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Aquamarine bliss

14/11/2016 at 5:18 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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The theme this week in my studio is ‘Aquamarine’.  I invite you to focus on the beautiful green-blue colour of the sea. You know, the way it looks when waves rise up and daylight filters through the water…

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Here is a wellbeing exercise for you. Imagine you are made up entirely of this sea-glass colour. These pictures taken at Surfer’s Point in Western Australia may help you.

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Visualise that any areas of pain or illness in your body are being washed away by the cleansing aquamarine light. Picture your body becoming more and more like aquamarine sea glass, as if lit from within. You might imagine that areas of pain are dark and dense, or sticky and gluey. As the water keeps washing through, these become dislodged until the whole of you is simply aquamarine: healthy; radiating with good health, and speaking with your own authentic voice. Enjoy the feeling!

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How to gather and cook wild garlic

01/05/2015 at 10:50 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Garlic bud Wild garlic grows in vast, natural fields in damp woodlands in the spring. It’s just waiting for you to harvest it and if the buds are looking like this one above, the perfect time to harvest is right now. Here are some guidelines for you.

Be sure to identify it correctly

Wild garlic, or Allium ursinum, has long very pale green stems. Its leaves are arrowhead-shaped, one per stem. Its buds grow one per stem, and opens out into a loose tuft of pretty white flowers. Every part of the flower has a pungent garlicky fragrance which is best experienced by crushing a leaf lightly between your fingers. There are two toxic plants that must never be confused with wild garlic. Lily of the valley has similar leaves but purple stems, and its flowers grow in a long spray. Lord and Ladies, an arum, has different shaped leaves but grows among the wild garlic and could be scooped up by an over-hasty picker.

Only gather what you need

One spring I went out with relatives and we all went a bit crazy, picking as much garlic as we could carry. Of course it was next to impossible to process all that food, and I’m sorry to say some of the surplus ended up in the compost. It’s a plant that is best eaten fresh, so just gather what you need. If you’re intending to cook wild garlic as a side dish, 20 leaves per person makes a generous portion.

Pick the stems low to the ground

The stems have a more delicate taste and pleasant texture, so be sure to collect them as well as the green leaves. Don’t unearth the bulbs which are very small. The goodness we want is in the aerial part of the plant: the part above the ground.

Vase of garlicProcess it early

It will keep for two or three days in your kitchen, either in a loose bag in the fridge, or in water as shown here.

Eat it raw

Wash, chop roughly and add in small quantities to salads. The open flowers can also be added to salads, contributing beauty and an amazing peppery taste. Wild garlic pesto

Create a pesto

There are many recipes on the internet. My favourites don’t copy the classic basil pesto, but blend ingredients that perfectly suit garlic’s distinctive taste. This is a great example by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall. Blend 50 g of lightly toasted and cooled walnuts in a food processor with around 75 g of washed and chopped garlic leaves, 35 g parmesan cheese, finely grated zest and juice from half an unwaxed lemon and around 130 ml of olive oil. Add sea salt and black pepper to taste. Spoon into a clean empty jar, and store in the fridge. It will keep for several days, but probably won’t last that long – too yummy! You can also freeze portions for up to six months, in my experience. Mix it with pasta or spread on crisp bread.

Cook it as a spring green

Wash and roughly chop leaves and stems, and simmer for a few minutes in a little water until soft and wilted. Make sure the pan doesn’t boil dry. The flavour when cooked is remarkably mild, making it a perfect spring vegetable. You can also add the washed, chopped leaves to a casserole for the last few minutes of cooking. You can create a soup with onion, a little potato, and lots of wild garlic with seasoning and a swirl of cream. Or you can simply add a single raw garlic bud to the centre of any soup as a peppery garnish.

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Give a truly fragrant gift

Wrap some wild garlic up in some brown paper and write some simple instructions on the paper. As gifts go, it’s a definite talking point, and you may even be introducing someone to a great spring ingredient. A jar of wild garlic pesto is another popular foodie gift.

Bask in the health benefits

Wild garlic is antibacterial and antiviral, and of all the allium family it is particularly good at lowering blood pressure. So it’s helpful for your immunity and your heart.

Who do you choose to be?

28/12/2013 at 6:12 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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MarshmallowI was waiting to buy some items in a local pharmacy. In front of me were two women. The one who had her purse out was elderly. The other was there to help her. The process was taking a while. I found myself studying the elderly woman. I noticed that her skin was a uniform, pale colour. I noticed that her legs in their tan-coloured tights were thin and lacked muscle tone. Her ankles were swollen. There seemed to be no sense of fire or animation about her. If I focused with my inner eye I could see the English rose she  used to be. But today she was child-like and obedient, simply doing what the carer instructed her to do. The carer used simple language, as if she was talking to a child. The older lady smiled sweetly, took money out of her purse, and passed it to the cashier.

Something about the scene unsettled me. The older lady was being spoken to as if she were simple, or senile. Perhaps she was. That was certainly the assumption. Yet it would have been so easy for the carer to choose her words differently. What if the carer spoke to the older woman as though she were a wise elder, a treasure house of  experiences? Would the older lady have been different as a result? I believe she would have been.

And what of the older lady herself? Was there a moment in her life when she began to say to herself: “I am old. I am not as able as I used to be.”  What if she had never said that – never believed it? What if she had decided to keep herself in tip-top shape with a few gentle stretches and a walk every day? What if she’d developed a taste for nutritious daily smoothies, or loaded her plate with fresh fruit and vegetables? What if she had, as Louise Hay (87 years old) recommends, gazed at herself in the mirror every morning and said: “I really, really love you.”

I read recently that our DNA is altered by our beliefs – i.e. the physical structure of your body and mine is altered by what we believe.  And these beliefs go very deep. An estimated 95% of these beliefs are unconscious. So it’s not really enough to keep telling ourselves to ‘think positive’ (although affirmations can be helpful). That approach is like trying to put a layer of sugar icing over a deep, deep ocean – it just won’t stick.

A better solution, it seems, is to access our unconscious. Luckily, there are many paths to this strange, deep place within the psyche.

Writing a journal, especially a dream journal, is one good path. It’s therapeutic to allow the intuitive insights to emerge, and listen to their wisdom.

Spending regular time in nature is also such a good idea. Most weeks, I spend a morning in the garden. Recently that involved digging up roots – elecampane and marshmallow (pictured above) – then shredding and drying them for herbal teas. The process helped me to connect with rich, dark earth; the stored up, vibrant, healing power of plants; and also my own roots.

And then, of course, there is meditation. The sort I share with others is what I sometimes call ‘Intuitive Meditation’. As a group, we enjoy the deep personal insights that emerge when we are sitting still, focusing on a single word that changes by the week.

But ultimately it’s not about following any method in order to achieve a result. Ultimately, it’s about having fun, and learning. On the deepest level, it’s about letting go of all outdated programming, and choosing to be ourselves.

Recipes: elderflower cordial, elderflower tea

26/05/2011 at 10:01 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Elderflowers: fragrant and good for you

We are busy gathering elderflowers for cordial right now. The fragrant flowers are all around us in the hedgerows, and easy to collect. Each head is a frothy summer’s bowl of wellbeing.

Elderflowers have been used for centuries for their health benefits. Elderflower water is mildly astringent and has traditionally been valued for the complexion. Make your own fresh elderflower toner by steeping a head or two of the fresh flowers – remove the pungent stalks first – in half a cup of boiled water, then straining. Apply on cotton wool, or spritz on to your skin. You can use it over a couple of days if kept in the fridge.

Elderflower cordial is an uplifting summer tonic – delicious with still or sparkling water on a hot summer’s day. If you have a cold or flu or feel run down, a hot drink of it in the evening is comforting and healing. Elderflowers are diaphoretic – they help the body during a fever by inducing sweating.

The recipe: we take around 25 elderflower heads, with the stalks removed, and add them to a big bowl in which 1.3 kg of sugar have been dissolved in 1.8 litres of just boiled water. We add a couples of lemons, sliced, and a couple of oranges (or limes, for a more sharply refreshing summer drink). We mix the whole thing up, cover and leave for 24 hours.

After 24 hours, strain the liquid through a muslin cloth. It’s ok to give the cloth a good squeeze to get out more of the juices. Then decant into clean, sterile bottles (You can sterilise bottles by putting them through a dishwasher, or by gently simmering in a big pan of water.) The cordial will keep for at least a month in the fridge. I have kept it for up to six months, though it usually gets drunk long before that! You can also pour it into washed plastic bottles – leave space at the top as it will expand once frozen – and store it in the freezer.

We also gather the flowers to make herbal tea, which has all the health benefits of cordial, without the sugar. Discard the thick stalks, and leave the flower heads to dry. When dry, crumble the flower heads, discarding more stems as you spot them and place in an airtight container. This will keep for a year, until the next elderflower harvest. To make your tea, put one teaspoon of flowers in a cup of boiled water, brew for three to five minutes, then drink. You can add a slice of lemon or orange and maybe a spoonful of honey…. You can also make fresh elderflower tea by steeping some of the florets (without the thicker stalks) in hot water for around 5 minutes.

Yellow hearts for happiness

12/04/2011 at 10:28 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Cowslips are beautiful tiny medicine chests

If you are lucky enough to have cowslips growing in your garden or nearby, nurture them. These small, quirky relatives of primroses aren’t so common nowadays, and they carry with them the peace and slower pace of a more rural past – and a few related health benefits.

The garden around the Studio is old farmland, and so the cowslips never really left it. But it’s easy enough to sow seeds in any garden and wait for them to appear.

Just looking at them is instantly calming and relaxing. However, if you have an abundance of them, you can do much more than that…

Herbal medicine

Herbalists use cowslip flowers and roots as a nervine, to relax and calm; to help dispel chesty coughs and nervous headaches; and to promote restful sleep. Collect the flowers between March and May, and the roots before flowering time, or in the autumn. Add the flowers to herbal teas; or make a decoction of the dried root: 1 teaspoonful to a cup of water; bring to the boil and simmer gently for five minutes. Then drink three times a day.

Healthy salad

The tiny, sweet tasting flowers are a pretty addition to salads; you can eat the young leaves too, though we have yet to try them here. In the old days, many households made their own delicious cowslip wine from the flowers, which helped to clear winter coughs and was a popular night cap.

Flower therapy

But the best reason to grow them is probably just to look at them. Each flower is a tiny trumpet of five connected vibrant yellow hearts. Gaze into one, and take three deep breaths, and you will receive a small but potent dose of happiness, I guarantee.

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