My wonderful friend and fellow yogi Anna Lempriere asked me to speak at the Celebration of the Divine Feminine she organised last weekend… “Easy peasy” thought I, “10 minutes on the benefits of practicing yoga in a heated environment…” WRONG!
“I want you to tell us about your diet and what you eat to give you stamina to practice and teach the amount of hot classes you do!” said Anna (we had both recently taken some of our students on a Breeze Yoga Holiday to Turkey, and I was sprinkling Maca on our breakfast cereal in the mornings).
Superfoods? Oh my, thought I, I am not an expert on this subject…
But speak I did. I was very nervous and sweated through my harem pantsuit, but the group seemed to get something out of it and many of them have asked me to post my notes on Facebook… so here goes… (apologies if there are any errors, I am not an expert or scientist and only have my own experiences to cite… if any of you foodies, nutritionists or practitioners more knowledgeable than I out there want to offer anything to this, please feel free.
We are what we eat; simple!
Having brought Bikram Yoga to Brighton in 2002, I opened the first Bikram studio outside of London shortly afterwards and found myself within a year being a new (single) mum (whoops!) and teaching sometimes 20 hot classes a week… I am not a natural businesswoman, this was my first enterprise and I found daily challenges of running a studio, teaching and taking regularly 2 or more times a day, 6 to 7 days a week, whilst breastfeeding and on little sleep an enormous struggle. I had been vegetarian for 20 years, a smoker on and off pretty much all my adult life, and my diet was ok, but not great, I didn’t drink or party, but I pushed myself way to hard to have it all. I managed with the help of great staff (mostly, some offered their own challenges for sure 😉 and sheer bulldog determination and Bengal tiger strength.
By 2006, the studio was in trouble, the landlord was doubling the rent yet not making repairs to the leaky roof, heaters were popping allover the shop due to the damp, numbers were dropping so cash flow terrified me on a daily basis, the political situation with both my staff and the Bikram/Hot Yoga environment was troubling me enormously, my son’s dad was less than helpful (understatement) I had no family in town and I was beyond stressed, exhausted and utterly tied up in knots about my seemingly hopeless I situation… some mornings I just sat on the bed and cried with tiredness!
There seemed no way out… I won’t bore you with the details of how I got out of the mess, but it wasn’t pretty and I ended up by Dec 2007 weighing less than 8 stone, bankrupt, unemployed and my child and I facing homelessness. Feeling like a failure and social pariah, I wanted to hide from the world.
I knew I needed SOMETHING, but had no idea what would heal me other than what I already knew…and besides I had no money for train fares or healers.
I couldn’t sleep, yet I had no energy and could barely get out of bed. My mind raced, yet thoughts remained unfinished. I found myself staring into space – a lot!
I had gone from 60-0 mph in 4 years…Body, mind, and heart were shattered, gutted and broken…the worse was over but I had found I was neither bullet-proof, bomb-proof, money-proof or sex-proof as my Guru had promised…I was done, I was in BURNOUT!!
How did I get better?
I learnt to garden and slept in late, I lounged about watching a lot of videos with my son, I started eating meat, (organic homemade chicken soup in particular), and made time to juice my greens, I taught abroad and got sun on my skin and retrained in yoga therapy and got hooked on Yoga Nidra, I signed on the dole and wasn’t ashamed of it, I closed my curtains, got rid of my phone, refused to let toxic people and situations into my life, and read and read and read all I could lay my hands on about ADRENAL FATIGUE and relied on the kindness of friends that still remained post-studio, and was kind to ME (M.E?) until a year later I was in a place to return to a dynamic practice (mixed with the softer stuff) and start teaching again… There are still times when I still push myself too hard for sure and teach 5 classes in one day, but now I understand better the laws of balance and I recognise the signs of the dreaded tiredness coming back, and the feelings of ‘I just can’t do anymore today’ so I reduce my teaching hours, frequency, intensity and type of practice and things I say ‘yes’ to accordingly. Sometimes I am Wonderwoman, and sometimes I am soft, vulnerable and lazy as hell, but my secret ingredient… well, that is what I am here to share today… SUPERFOODS!
SUPERFOODS – (this is in caps because they deserve it!)
We know our soils are depleted. We know much of our food is GMO’d, sprayed with pesticides, has travelled far and is overly processed. We know that through negative thoughts, lack of sleep, trying to be everything to all people, and the continuous push and pull of life can put undue strain and demands on our bodies and souls; and that stress is a major contributor to Cancer, Alzheimer’s, Stroke, Heart Attack, Anxiety and Depression… and even that sometimes doing too much of the very thing that is originally our salvation and aid to dealing with life – exercise, CAN lead to mineral depletion. Being in the hot room, sweating, teaching in both London and Brighton and asking a lot of my body up to 20 classes a week, I need to regularly replace my minerals and sometimes the old favourite Emergen-C sachet just doesn’t cut it – so what else can we do to look after ourselves in the hot room and during times of stress?
‘Superfoods’ such as spirulina, acai, blueberries seem to have been around forever, but have you heard of ‘Adaptogens’?
Adaptogens are safe, non-addictive, natural products, either powdered, or in a capsule form. They increase the body’s ability to literally ‘adapt’, to stressors, to anxiety, to working long hours, to time pressures and rapid changes of internal and external environments.
The science boggles me, but I understand that Adaptogens were classified by the ancient Chinese as the most effective plants to increase physical and mental capacity, reduce fatigue, improve resistance to diseases, and extend lifespan. People discovered that using adaptogens is vital during times of challenges. In China, adaptogens were used by soldiers right before battle. In Siberia, the same plants were used by hunters before long, dangerous journeys. The Tibetan monks were able to get by without food and warm clothes, living high in the mountains for many days using these plants. Despite many legends and thousands of years of use of these herbs by many generations of people in China, Russia, Japan, Korea and finally in Europe, the effectiveness of these herbs from a scientific standpoint was not confirmed until 45 years ago. It was done by the Russian physician and scientist Dr. Israel Brekhman. He, and his mentor Prof. Lazarv, named them ‘Adaptogens’.
Maca – I have been blending this Peruvian turnip-like plant into my smoothies for years now and it’s my favourite superfood of them all. It grows in frigid climates at high altitude and Incan warriors used to munch it before battle for stamina and endurance. A side effect is increased libido and after battle they had to keep the Incan women locked up for their own safety! Don’t take it too close to bedtime as it will keep you awake (unless that’s the plan) and make sure to take a break every few months because feeling horny 5 times before the school run even commences is just darned inconvenient! Balances the endocrine system, good for menopause, a natural antiseptic, it helps circulatory system and heart, contains high levels zinc, selenium, potassium and amino acids for building muscle, boots metabolism, can aid weight loss… I take about 3 teaspoons in the morning in my power smoothie.
Rodiola root – (aka Golden Root) grows in the Arctic, Scandinavia, and can help balance serotonin, endorphins and dopamine, and decrease healing time after illness, reduces fatigue, good for stamina and endurance, used by Vikings to give ‘em some extra ‘oomph’!! This is a new one for me but seems to work well with the others and I take it in capsules.
Ashwagandha root – Grows in very dry, sandy environments. This is also a recent discovery for me and I have only been taking 3 capsules a week for a couple of months, but I rate it and do notice a difference when I take it, I feel more balanced… can help with fertility and insomnia, helps the nervous system and has been used to treat Parkinsons disease, Alzheimers, Bi-Polar Syndrome, drug withdrawal and Chronic Fatigue. It boosts the Immune System and is known in Ayurveda as a ‘normaliser’.
Did you notice how all of these Adaptogens grow in cold or harsh conditions?
THE PLANT ITSELF SURVIVES A HARSH ENVIRONMENT, WHICH ALLOWS US TO IN TURN SURVIVE OURS.
How freakin’ cool is that?!
Bee Pollen – aka ‘The Perfect Food’ helps immune system, athletic performance and ACTUALLY CONTAINS ALL THE NUTRIENTS YOU NEED TO LIVE! Mice and rats have been fed only this and showed no signs of malnourishment.
Collected from the hind legs of bees, (but don’t worry, it apparently doesn’t hurt em!) Bee pollen contains an incredible array of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, co-enzymes, and hormones. It is especially rich in B vitamins and antioxidants, including lycopene, selenium, beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and several flavanoids. It is composed of 55% carbohydrates, 35% protein, 3% vitamins and minerals, 2% fatty acids, and 5% other substances. Overall, it’s one of the most nutritionally complete natural substances found on earth.
Not ADAPTOGENS but worth mentioning…
Chia seed – Aztec food from the mint/sage family, full of fatty acids/B vitamins Good for the skin, brain, mental stamina, breastfeeding, menstruation and menopause and helps retain electrolytes by cleverly binding itself to them, so PERFECT for the hot room!
Matcha green tea – 137 x more antioxidants than regular green tea! Made from the whole leaf, Zen monks would use this to stay awake to meditate, 15 x more nutrients than regular green tea and 9 x beta carotene of spinach – this is currently my favourite wake-up cuppa….it is the only way I have caffeine (unless it’s my bi-annual post yoga can of ice cold Coke, but hey everything in moderation) and I have a GREAT practice/meditation a couple of hours after drinking it. Not cheap at £25 a jar, but definitely a great medicine.
Durian fruit – Known as King of the Fruit this huge Asian prickly fruit has a personality of it’s own….To call it stinky is an understatement… smells of rotting flesh! I have never managed to stomach more than a mouthful although the lady in Wing Yip says if you have it more than 3 times it’s a life-long addiction. Do not let it into your house, car or handbag unless you are happy to smell like a corpse for 2 weeks afterwards, and don’t eat more than 2 of the ‘pods’ in one day (you can OD apparently and then you really will smell like a corpse.) Contains vast amounts of Copper, magnesium, zinc, amino acids, balances brain serotonin and builds muscles.
There are so many more of these wonderful ancient cures, and I am hearing more and more about Baobab from Africa and Australia (having more vitamin C than oranges, and more calcium than milk), and also about Suma (this one is definitely next on my list).
One of the not-so-happy benefits is that these Superfoods are not cheap and are heavy on the air miles, but I like the thought that indigenous people can grow, harvest and sell these products fair-trade or as co-operatives and gain some financial benefits for themselves and their communities.
I have seen my students THRIVE on these products and hope this is useful to some of you and that you can gain the benefits from these Super-nutritious foods!
With love and to your good health!