How Yoga Changes Your Body

This infographic, from the Huffington Post, shows some of the changes you will notice in your body with a regular yoga practice.  No time for a daily practice?  On days when you can’t find time to get to a class or do a full practice, a few sun salutations in the morning is a great way to start the day and will keep the benefits rolling in!  Enjoy!

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Coconut Butter

image I have a new favourite thing. Coconut butter. Think peanut butter, but coconut instead.  Rich and delicious, coconut butter has many fabulous uses.   I put some on top of my oatmeal in the morning to turn breakfast into a decadent dessert!  Wow!  Oatmeal will never be the same again. I add some to curries and soups to add luxury to our meals. Add it to smoothies, cakes, desserts, ice creams, make a coconut bark or noodle and rice dishes.  Really, when y ou are a coconut lover, there is nothing that coconut can’t make better.

Coconut Butter

3 packages of unsweetened coconut

Put the coconut in a blender or food processor.  I think a food processor works better, but go with what you have. If you use a blender, you will likely have to scrape down the sides regularly.  Run the food processor or blender, on high, until the coconut is the consistency of peanut butter. This will take some time, so be patient. With my machine, it usually takes about 45 minutes. Unless you want to watch this metamorphosis, you can leave your appliance largely unattended.

The coconut butter will be warm when it is complete, but will become quite hard in the refrigerator so I like to pour it into my mini muffin tin to let it firm up. Then all the little pucks go into a mason jar for storage in the fridge.

imageI like to chop on up and sprinkle it on my oatmeal and blueberries in the morning.  Breaking it up helps it to melt over the cereal more quickly.

I’ll post more ideas on how to use coconut butter soon.

Enjoy!

 

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Health Benefits of Yoga

imageThe health benefits of yoga include stress reduction and improved fitness. The physical and mental disciplines of yoga achieve peacefulness of body and mind allowing the individual to relax and manage stress and anxiety. Yogic postures increase strength and flexibility while breathing exercises increase the practitioners ability to control both the mind and the body.

Swami Vishnu-devananda states “yogic postures help to strengthen the endocrine system through exercise and also bring emotions under control through concentration and relaxation.”

Yoga has a positive impact on the total health of its practitioners. While many people are attracted to yoga as a means to general fitness and the tight, toned body that regular practitioners enjoy, others come to the mat in an attempt to relieve symptoms associated with chronic conditions such as arthritis or hypertension. In fact, the health benefits of yoga are as unique as each individual that comes to the mat.

Yoga is not just a set of exercises; it is a healthy lifestyle. Individuals who participate in a regular yoga practice begin to naturally avoid things that are not beneficial to a healthy body. Examples are a reduction in unhealthy food choices and alcohol.

Yoga’s affect the whole body, including increased endurance strength and flexibility, increase stamina (physical and mental), arm and shoulder strength, posture corrected through the strengthening of the back and core muscles that support the spine, hip flexors are strengthened and the gluteus, quadriceps and hamstrings are stretched.

The health benefits of yoga are being verified in many scientific studies worldwide. For instance:

Chronic Back Pain

HMO Health cooperative in Seattle did a study on patients with back pain. Subjects were given either 12 weeks of yoga or therapeutic exercises and a handbook on self-care. Patients receiving yoga experienced greater improvement lasting 14 weeks longer than the other group.

Depression

Individuals with depression have low levels of the neurotransmitter GABA in their brains. Yoga increases GABA by 27% in a one hour session compared to a control group that read for one hour. Yoga improves mood and reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Inversions alter the flow of blood and cerebral spinal fluid. Increased blood flow to the brain delivers increased oxygen and glucose to the brain, which allow the brain to produce norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin with regulate mood, emotion, sleep, appetite, attention and focus.

Diabetes

Long term diabetes can cause nerve damage causing slowing of nerve impulses, decreased sensation, numbness of the feet and poor bowl function. Subjects were provided with forty minutes of yoga, daily for forty days. Yoga improved nerve impulse in hands, had a beneficial effect on blood sugar control and improved nerve function in subjects with type 2 diabetes. Further testing showed a decrease in fasting blood sugar levels from 190 to 140 and improvement in lung capacity.

Menopause

University of California San Francisco subjects who participated in two months of weekly restorative yoga classes reported in a 30% decrease in hot flashes. In a University of Illinois study, subjects took a 90 minute class 2 times per week reported a boost in energy, less physical and sexual discomfort and reduced stress and anxiety.

Stress Management and Relaxation

When an individual is under stress muscles tense, heart rate increases and breathing patterns are altered. If the individual experiences continued stress, hormones are released that create increased blood sugar and raised blood pressure. The relaxation techniques learned in yoga and a positive effect on the individual’s ability to relieve stress and therefore reduce the physical response to stress.

Asthma and Breathing

A study involving 120 asthma patients at the department of Physiology Christian Medical College had 60 subjects participate in yoga classes and 60 were the control group. The subject’s pulmonary functions were studied at 4 and 8 weeks. Results showed that yoga, when combined with standard pharmalogical treatment, significantly improve pulmonary functions.

Obesity

Vigorous power yoga done for 90 minutes 3-5 times per week has been proven to produce weight loss. In addition to the physical benefits of yoga, participants reported an increased connection to their bodies and became more in tune with hunger messages. Further, participation in yoga, a good health habit, helps people see themselves has healthy and leads to healthy choices in other areas of life such as food selection.

Heart Disease

Several trials have shown that yoga practitioners can lower blood pressure, cholesterol and resting heart rates and slow the progress of atherosclerosis. Yoga postures are good for the health being, while providing relaxation with is beneficial to the mental health. Further relaxation is achieved with mediation, with aids in the stabilization of the endolithium, which when irritated can lead to cardiovascular disease. Further, Yoga slows the progression and increases the regression of coronary arthrosclerosis in patients with severe coronary artery disease.

The Bhabha Atomic Research center, Medical division in Mumbai, India studied patients with high blood pressure with is a know risk factor for heart disease and stroke and kidney damage. Subjects were provided with yoga sessions, one hour in length, daily for 3 months. At the end of the trial, subjects showed a decreased blood pressure and an improvement in overall well being. Researchers concluded, “Yoga can play an important role in decreasing the risk factors for cardiovascular disease”.

The international Journal of Medical Engineering and Infomatics reported, “heart rate variability (a sign of a healthy heart) is high in yoga practitioners”

Cancer

Relaxation techniques learned in yoga help cancer patients to cope with the stress associated with chronic illness. Yoga is a low impact, low stress, rejuvenating activity that helps combat the fatigue associated with cancer treatment. The individual should direct frequency and duration of yoga practice. The University of Rochester Medial center reports that patients who participate in a regular yoga practice were able to reduce that amount of sleeping pills required and still sleep well, as well as reporting a increased energy levels and quality of daily life.

Cancer patients in repeated studies report better sleep, a decrease in anxiety, a better ability to perform daily activities comfortably, and increased quality of life and an ability to stabilize weight.

Aging

Seniors who participate in a regular yoga practice can comfortably continue to complete their daily activities and routines. This allows them to remain living independently for longer.

Studies published in the journal of Rheumatic diseases clinics of North America found that yoga helps with the pain of osteoarthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome.

The Indian Journal of Pharmacology found that yoga is effective in controlling hypertension. A 4-month yoga program increased subject reported feelings of good health.

At Stanford University, yoga is offered as a complimentary treatment for musculoskeletal disease and related disorders. Studies performed at the Roosevelt University stress Institute in Chicago show that yoga reduces physical stress while increasing physical relaxation.

Alcoholism

The controlled breathing techniques learned in yoga provide relief from depression and help with alcoholism and depression in the early stages of alcoholism.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Studies at the Walter Reed Medical center in Washington DC are currently exploring the benefits of yoga and deep relaxation on soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, controlled trials are planned for the future.

A University of Utah study found that yoga practitioners had a high tolerance to pain and low pain related brain activity. Yoga helps to regulate stress and pain responses. A yoga program (duration 3 months) for women who were “emotionally distressed” showed an improvement in depressions scores by 50%, a reduction in anxiety scores by 30% and an increase in overall well being by a 65%. Further subjects indicated that back pain, headaches and poor sleep issues were resolved.

Controlled trials demonstrated improvements in mood and quality of life for the elderly, people caring for people with dementia and breast cancer survivors and patients with epilepsy.

Sources

Health Benefits of Yoga explained, http://www.yogahealthfoundation.org/health_benefits_of_yoga_explained/

The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga, Swami Vishnu Devananda, 1960, Julian Press Inc.

The Health Benefits of Yoga, reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, M, June 24, 2014, http://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/the-health-benefits-of-yoga

Good for the Mind, but How About the Body?, Dr. Timothy McCall, September 2008, http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/harvard_health_letter/2008/September/good_for_the_mind_but_how_about_the_body

Stress and Your Health: the art of Slowing down in a Fast Paced World, Jacci Collins, http://www.doyogawithe.co/content/stress-and-your-health-art-slowing-down-fast-paced-world

Yoga: Fight Stress and Find Serenity, mayo clinic Staff Writers, January 15, 2013, http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy/living-stress-management/in-depth/yoga/art-20044733?footprints=mine

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Spinach Salad with Walnut Crusted Chèvre

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I made this delicious salad for dinner tonight. Warm creamy goat cheese is wonderfully offset by crunchy walnuts and a sweet pear dressing. I rounded this salad out with roasted sweet potato and lentils to make it a main dish salad. I could see these walnut crusted goat cheese rounds topping a salad made with arugula, strawberries with a balsamic dressing. Or maybe in the fall with apples and a maple dressing. The point is, walnut crusted chèvre is really special, as well as easy to make, and you can take it in any direction you would like.

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Lentils add a nice earthy balance to the richness of the chèvre. I like to use puy lentils in salads because they hold their shape and don’t get mushy when cooked. Puy are small, dark lentils from France. If you can’t find them, use another sort, just be sure not to cook them too long.

ImageI use my mini chopper to grind up the walnuts to make the crust. Be careful not to run the processor too long, or you will wind up with walnut butter! I like they way the mini chopper doesn’t grind the nuts totally uniformly. Some larger pieces are mixed in with small bits and more almost to dust. I think this adds to an overall pleasant texture on the crust.

Spinach Salad with Walnut Crusted Chèvre 

Washed baby spinach
1 large sweet potato, cubed
Olive oil
1 cup puy lentils
1 log of chèvre – sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
1 cup of walnut pieces
1 egg – beaten

Dressing

1 pear – peeled, cored and cubed
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
2 tbsp maple syrup or honey
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
Pinch of dried thyme
Pinch of salt

1.  Toss your cubed sweet potatoes with a few tablespoons of oil, to coat. Place them in a single layer on a parchment lined cookie sheet and roast at 425. How long this takes will depend on how big your pieces are. Mine took about 35 minutes. Turn them after about 20 minutes and keep roasting them until they begin to caramelize at the edges.

2. Cook your lentils in 2 cups of water. Bring water to a boil, add the lentils and simmer until tender. (About 20 minutes, but this can vary depending on type and age of lentil)

3. Make your dressing. Place all ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth. Correct the seasonings.

4. Dip each goat cheese round in the beaten egg, then press the walnuts into the round. Heat a dry pan over medium-high heat. Put the walnut crusted goat cheese round in the pan and toast until the nuts begin to brown. Carefully turn the rounds and brown the other side.

5. Assemble the salad. This can be served on a large platter or on plated individually. Layer a bed of spinach, the lentils and the sweet potato on the plate. Place the walnut crusted chèvre in the middle of the plate and drizzle with dressing.

Enjoy!

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Maintaining Fitness While Injured – Swimming

Photo curtesy of breaking muscle.com

Photo curtesy of breakingmuscle.com

Once a week, I swim laps at our local community center while my sons are in lessons. I have always loved swimming and think that it compliments any fitness program. I love the wobbly feeling i have in my body after a good workout in the water. Some time in the sauna or whirlpool makes me feel like I’ve pampered myself a little as well.

I made the arrangements for once per week swimming prior to an accident where I sustained an injury to the rotator cuff on my right arm. I haven’t written about this before now, because every time I started to a post about it, I just sounded whiny. This injury is physically very limiting and has a really long recovery period. My goal now is to maintain fitness, as much as possible, while always protecting my shoulder and the delicate progress I have made.

In the interests of maintaining fitness, I hit the pool with the boys, performing a legs only workout of my own devising. I did a combination of flutter kick and whip kick on front and back for 80 minutes. While it felt good to be moving and active, I really didn’t feel like I was getting a good workout. So I spent so e time on the internet, looking for legs only pool workouts. I read that many competitive swimmers use special flippers when swimming, to increase leg strength.

I thought I’d give it a try. I purchased pair of Zoomers, and headed to the pool. Zoomers are training flippers are designed for competitive swimmers to use in training to improve leg strength. Far from being competitive, I can still benefit from leg strengthening! The flippers increase the amount of water that you push with each kick, targeting the quadriceps on the down stroke and the hamstrings and gluteus on the up stroke. At the same time, that are short, allowing for a fast kick, so you can still get you heart rate up.

I complete my workout, flutter kick only, holding a kick board in my good hand and hooking the thumb of my bad side into my bathing suit (to keep me from using my arm). To get the full effect of the flippers, it is important to keep your your hips square to the bottom of the pool, your and legs very straight, kicking from the hip. This workout definitely made my legs feel wobbly when I got out of the water. I noticed some core fatigue by the end of my workout as well.

I am convinced that using flippers on a swim workout will help me maintain my fitness level while recovering from my shoulder injury. I also think that they will be useful when I have recovered, maybe to add intervals into a regular swim workout.

This shoulder injury has made me change the way I do a lot of things. I think that sometimes things happen to us to make us shake things up a bit and see things in a new way.  It has taken a while, but I am starting to find new ways of finding and developing my strength and stamina.  This has changed my outlook considerably, I now am finding my new workout routines refreshing and fun. I’m sure that many of the new things I am trying will stay with me after I have recovered and am back to normal.  Who’da thought?
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Quinoa Lettuce Wraps

imageI have spent entire Sunday long runs thinking about what I’m going to eat when I get home. I ran a half marathon dressing and redressing a burger in different ways, thinking about eating and relaxing with my family after the race. Another time, I raced thinking about a trip to my favourite gelato place and deliberating on the flavour choices….

A little bit nuts, I know. But whatever gets you through the rough spots, right?

imageAt this time of year, I like to serve a big family brunch or lunch on Sundays, so I plan the menu during my runs. Recently, I cooked a pot of quinoa before I headed out, not being fully sure of how I was going to serve it. Initially, I thought of a curry quinoa soup or some Japanese style maki rolls, substituting quinoa for sticky white rice (future posts!).

As I continued my run, I was beginning to feel hungry and knew I was going to want something that could be ready quickly. I thought about what I had on hand and decided to make some Quinoa Lettuce Wraps.

These wraps are flavourful and packed with protein and healthy carbs. They are light, yet sustaining, making them a really great recovery meal. I make a lot of the quinoa salad as I find it stores well for a few days in the refrigerator. The quinoa filling packs well, alongside a head of lettuce for lunches on the go. Or you could serve the quinoa over a bed of lettuce, as a light meal or as a side salad.

imageI used black quinoa, largely because it’s what I had on hand. Although there is no nutritional difference between white, red and black quinoa, I find that they have different textures when cooked. White quinoa becomes fluffy and light, while red and black quinoa hold their shape making them a better choice for salads. Black quinoa takes the longest to cook, about 25 minutes, and has a crispy texture which works well in the wraps.

A note about choosing a lettuce for these wraps. Look for a lettuce with a large, soft, leaf. I used Boston Lettuce for these wraps, but I think Butter Lettuce would also work well.

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Quinoa Lettuce Wraps

Quinoa Salad

1 cup dry quinoa, cooked
Cucumber
Tomato
Red Onion
Yellow Pepper
Feta cheese

imageUse the vegetables and cheese in amounts that ate suitable for your tastes. My only note here is to dice them fairly finely, so that the wraps roll easily and so that you get as many flavours as possible in each spectacular bite. Substitute vegetables and cheese at your own discretion, depending on what you have on hand.

Lemon-Tahini Sauce

Make the Lemon-Tahini Dressing from the Mediterranean Salad with Falafel Croutons reducing the water to 2 tbsp.

Quinoa Lettuce Wraps

Boston Lettuce or other soft lettuce
Quinoa salad
Lemon-Tahini Sauce

Smear some Lemon-Tahini Sauce on a leaf of lettuce.
Spoon on some Quinoa Salad.
Roll the lettuce leaf around the salad and eat with you fingers.

Enjoy!

 

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Mediterranean Salad with Falafel Croutons and Lemon-Tahini Dressing

imageI really love Easter weekend. For me, it’s a great time to spend with family and friends. Winter has given one last blast here and the weather outlook is great for the weekend. We are planning lots of time outside with bonfires and walks. I’m looking forward to a nice long run with my running buddies.

I’m also planning to so lots of entertaining, brunches, lunches and a big family dinner. I really love planning the menus, shopping for ingredients and spending time in the kitchen preparing for our friends. I love it when our long dining table is full of friends a end family, all enjoying a feast!

One thing that’s sure to be on my lunch table this weekend is this salad with baked, mini falafel ‘croutons’. The salad is fresh and crispy with a bright lemony dressing and a bit of falafel in every bite.

imageMy Falafel recipe was inspired by the falafel burger in Moosewood Restaurant Favourites cookbook. I make them tiny, brush with olive oil and bake them in the oven. I know it looks like a long list of ingredients and steps and dishes to dirty, but don’t let that deter you. It actually comes together really quick. The recipe makes a lot of mini falafel. They keep well in the fridge for a few days or the freezer for longer and are great for quick meals later on.

I will have to admit to using a pre-packaged falafel mix when I didn’t have time to make these from scratch. I certainly won’t hold it against you if you choose this route. Simply stir up the falafel mixture according to the package directions and the form and bake according to my directions below.

The Lemon-Tahini Dressing also comes from the Moosewood Restaurant Favourites cookbook. I have been through almost a whole bottle of tahini since I discovered this dressing. I tweaked it a little bit, to give it a little more kick, but you can adjust the seasonings to your taste. Also note, if you add only a few tablespoons of water to this dressing, it makes an awesome veggie dip.

A note on this cookbook: My family and I have loved everything that I have made from it. The recipes include easy to find ingredients and are very forgiving to substitutions. I originally borrowed it from the library and then decided I had to have it.

I serve this salad with whole wheat pita wraps on the side. My kids love piling the salad on to make their own falafel wrap sandwiches. This salad makes a great weeknight supper, leftovers are nice for lunches on the go and I think it would be a great addition to a potluck or buffet table.

imageMediterranean Salad with Falafel Croutons and Lemon-Tahini Dressing

Salad

Tomatoes
Cucumber
Black olives
Romaine lettuce
Red onion
Feta cheese

Prepare vegetables as you like and assemble on a platter or large salad bowl.

Falafel Croutons

2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 cups onion finely chopped
3 garlic cloves – minced
1 bell pepper (any colour) finely chopped
1/4 tsp cayenne or crushed chilies or one fresh hot pepper finely chopped
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp turmeric
1tbsp ground coriander seeds
1 block of firm tofu – well pressed
11/2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 tsp salt
juice from 1/2 lemon
2 tbsp soy sauce
1/4 c finely chopped parsley

1. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan.
2. Add the onions, peppers, garlic and cayenne/crushed chilies/hot pepper. Cook until vegetables are very soft.
3. Add the turmeric, sesame oil and coriander and cook together for another minute. Remove from heat.
4. In a food processor pulse the chickpeas and tofu until crumbly.
5. Mix together tofu and chickpeas with lemon juice, soy sauce, parsley and cooked vegetables.
6. Form the mixture into small balls and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush or spray balls with olive oil.
7. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes.

Lemon-Tahini Dressing

1/2 cup tahini paste
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 olive oil
1 garlic clove – minced
Pinch of cayenne
Salt to taste
1/2 cup of water

Mix all ingredients together and process with an immersion blender.

Enjoy!

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