What foods should you always buy organic?

You’ve probably heard that eating organic is better, but when you check the prices you wonder: Is it really that much better? I couldn’t agree more. It’s a completely valid question. I was asking that to myself a few days ago when I realized the organic milk I wanted was almost a dollar more expensive than the already-expensive milk I usually bought. Well, to answer that question, it’s important to go back to the basics.

What makes something organic?

Organic means that it’s a product free from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), there was no routine use of hormones or antibiotics, and no harmful pesticides and fertilizers were used. This is important because when you ingest these things they stay in your body and eventually can have an impact on your health. 

Still, there’s a budget to consider.

Although the ideal scenario would be to consume everything organic, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s not always possible ($$$). So, the solution is to prioritize. 

The first thing you should buy organic is the meat (especially chicken). When it’s labeled organic, animals are free to be animals. They eat what they would naturally eat, there’s no GMO products in their food either, they get to walk around, enjoy the sun and have a normal animal-like life, which makes them healthy. Also, they aren’t administered antibiotics just for the sake of it. Hormones and antibiotics stay in the animal, so when you eat it, they go into your system too. 

Secondly, it’d be eggs and dairy. It’s pretty much the same as above. If an animal is healthy, so is its milk or eggs. What they eat turns up there, so you’d also be consuming the GMO, hormones or antibiotics they received.

In the case of produce, the main problem is the amount of pesticide residue a product might have. Because of that, the Environmental Working Group created a list called the Dirty Dozen, which measures which fruits and vegetables have the highest amount of pesticide residue. They also have a list called Clean Fifteen with those that have the least amount. The list is updated every year, so here’s the latest: 

Dirty Dozen 2022 

Here are the top 12 products with the highest amount of pesticide residue, but the complete list is actually 46 products. Find the complete list here

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale, collard and mustard greens
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Bell and hot peppers
  8. Cherries
  9. Peaches
  10. Pears
  11. Celery
  12. Tomatoes 

Clean Fifteen 2022 

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Onions
  5. Papaya
  6. Sweet peas (frozen)
  7. Asparagus
  8. Honeydew melon
  9. Kiwi
  10. Cabbage
  11. Mushrooms
  12. Cantaloupe
  13. Mangoes
  14. Watermelon 
  15. Sweet potatoes

Would you eat a cactus fruit?

Prickly pears (called tuna in Spanish — and no, it’s not the fish) are a wonderful Summer and Fall option to savor a fresh, sweet treat. But what are they?

In case you haven’t tried them in the past, these Mexican fruits are born on the nopal (cactus). Although the complete plant is edible, the parts are completely different in flavor. The nopal itself (the green part) is great for a salty salad, you just need to boil it or grill it and it’s a super healthy food. On the other hand, the fruit, which is round and light green, is soft, sweet and doesn’t need extra cooking to be eaten.

Prickly pears usually have spines, although they are usually clean when you buy them. The outside is a thick skin, but it’s very easily removed. You just need to cut both tips and make a cut with a knife along the fruit. After that you just need to pull it and all of it will come off in just one move. Inside, the pulp is soft, meaty and sweet. It has a lot of seeds, but these are edible too. It kind of resembles a kiwi, but with thicker seeds and skin.

This is how it looks before peeling it:

You can eat it just like that, like an apple. I also like to mix it in different juices. For example, I blend it with orange juice or pineapple juice. Its flavor is soft, so it doesn’t entirely change the way the juice tastes, it just adds a little twist. 

Why should you eat it? 

It has lots of health benefits!

For starters, it has a very low calorie count, so it’s not a too-sugary fruit. It’s mostly water! This also helps balance sugar levels in the blood. 

Prickly pears improve your digestion, since they are rich in fiber. They also help balance the gastric acid. And since it’s a diuretic fruit, it helps keep your kidneys healthy. 

Regarding nutrients, they have calcium, potassium, phosphorus and vitamin C. This makes them great antioxidants. 

Do you have an intention for this week?

The past couple of weeks have made me realize how busy I really am. I got in touch with a friend I hadn’t spoken with for a while and when he asked what I had been up to my list was endless. So much so that he said: “I don’t think there are enough hours in the day to do all the things you do. How do you do it?” I didn’t know how to reply to that. 

The truth is that at times you just let life happen and you don’t stop to think about the details. So you just keep pushing and wonder why are you so tired? Can you relate? So, I decided to stop and think about what I’m doing, and especially why I’m doing it. So I set goals for a better balanced life and to recover from my burnout. 

The thing with goals is that they might seem a little hard to reach. Since they aren’t short-term plans it’s easy to get distracted. So my strategy was to set weekly intentions that address the barriers to reach my goal. For starters, this week I want to learn to slow down. And that’s from all angles. I even have to learn to walk slower! 

What makes an intention different from a goal? Goals are set in the future, whereas intentions are set in the present. Answer this question: What can you do now to take a step towards your goal? Goals might be the larger vision, and intentions are small, achievable things that are within your reach. Intentions can also be set whenever you want. You can have a weekly intention, even a daily intention (hourly? Why not?). It depends on what works best for you. For me, weekly intentions work best, since I get to plan for the week and be aware of my everyday plans since the beginning of the week. 

So, how do you do it?

  • For starters, what is your goal? That way you can start working backwards, to know what you have to achieve in order to get there. 
  • Prioritize those steps so you know your path.
  • Now, think of one small thing that you can and want to do now that is within your present reach. 
  • Don’t limit it to an idea. Turn it into a sentence. Either say it out loud or write it down. 
  • Make sure it’s clear, actionable and achievable. 
  • Think about how that makes you feel. Steer away from ideas that cause you anxiety or worry. Intentions should make you feel accomplishment and excitement. 
  • Stay in a positive tone. Be real, but make sure it’s not stated in a negative way.  
  • It’s not a to-do list. It’s actionable, but also emotional. For example, your intention can be to “prioritize being more present”. That way when you’re in a meeting or with your family you can remember that your intention is to be present and then you’ll put the phone down, or actively participate in the meeting. 
  • You can also be more specific. For example, if your goal is towards a healthier life, you can define what that means for you. And then set your intentions around it. You could say that your intention for this week is to start exercising. And then complete your intention with a specific plan, like take a walk three times this week.
  • Remember your intention. If it’s a weekly intention, every morning set aside a few seconds to remember your intention for the week and that’ll help you be accountable for your actions throughout the day. 
  • Nothing is fixed. Intentions can change as life, needs and interests change. They are fluid, so don’t worry if an intention didn’t work out 😉 you can always change it.
  • Believe in yourself. You have the power to build the path you want to walk in. Just take the first step.   

COVID-somnia has turned sleeping into a constant challenge

The pandemic’s effect on people’s health goes beyond the illness itself. Dealing with stress, anxiety and recurring sense of loss is altering our wellbeing, and more than 50% of Americans are seeing the consequences in sleep disruptions.

If you regularly struggle to fall asleep, you’ve had recurring dreams where you forgot to wear a mask in public, or are finding it harder to wake up; know you’re not alone. Along with feeling sad or tired, sleep disturbances are a growing issue that affect many people around the world as a result of Covid-19 stress and anxiety. 

For two years, there’s been a constant worry about getting sick and about the health of our loved ones. But people have also been worrying about financial and career uncertainty, how to balance work and family, and how to stay connected despite social distancing. This has impacted the quality and quantity of our sleep, whether we realize it or not. And even as we’re starting to see an end to the pandemic, several stressors will remain, such as economic uncertainty, and new ones will arise, such as transitioning from social distancing to social environments when some people still don’t feel ready. In an interview with Dr. Kannan Ramar, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, he said that “It’s certainly possible that these factors could cause stress that interferes with sleep.”

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) refers to these sleep disturbances as “COVID-somnia.” And 56% of adults in the United States have experienced it. According to Dr. Ramar, “Common sleep disturbances experienced during the pandemic include problems falling or staying asleep, sleeping less, experiencing worse quality sleep, and having more disturbing dreams.” The Academy’s research, which was held in March 2021, showed that the rate of COVID-somnia even goes higher among people 35 to 44 years old, where it rises to 70%, and although it affects men more — 59% have experienced disturbances — it’s also taking the toll on women (54%).

A collective sense of loss

COVID-19 is not only haunting American’s dreams, but it’s also affecting people all over the world. This year, The Lancet published the article “Sleep research in 2020: COVID-19-related sleep disorders,” which reveals that people are struggling with sleep globally. The first studies of sleep disorders associated to COVID-19 were held in China and they revealed that about 35% of these participants had symptoms of general anxiety, 20% of depression, and 18% of poor sleep quality. These studies also showed that those people who were most worried about the pandemic presented more symptoms. 

Disturbed sleep was also reported in Italy where 57% Italians admitted having poor sleep quality, 32% high anxiety and 42% high distress. Among the symptoms shown in these studies some of the most common were insomnia, nightmares, sleep apnoea, fatigue, and exhaustion.

So, why is this happening? Dr. Kannan Ramar says that “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused stress, anxiety and disruption to the daily routine, which can all impact quantity and quality of sleep. And a lack of healthy sleep affects mood, energy level, work performance and overall health.”

In an interview with Transpersonal Psychotherapist, Hilda Zepeda, she explains that people tend to feel anxious in the face of radical life changes, especially those they didn’t choose. “By nature, humans resist changes that are beyond their control. And now, we’re dealing with all types of change: in health, family, house, work, and overall lifestyle. Anxiety happens when you feel afraid, and we’re in a constant state of fear. People are afraid of death, of the suffering that could happen before death, of having to let go things they were attached to, like jobs, and of not knowing when they will be able to recover what they’ve lost. 

Something important that Hilda highlights is that people are going through a sense of loss, even if they’re not aware of it. “In many of my therapies I’ve heard people say ‘it (the pandemic) took my life away from me.’ And this is grief.” The psychotherapist explains that people are mourning, and not only those who have lost friends or family to the illness, but mourning a general sense of loss. “Dealing with the pandemic means dealing with loss, whether it’s of health, of your job, of your stability, or your lifestyle. There’s a collective sense of loss that people aren’t seeing, but that is affecting them on a physical and emotional level, such as sleep disturbances.”

Fear, loss, worry, stress and anxiety are all factors that alter your nervous system. These activate the fight-or-flight response in the brain, which is the physical reaction that responds to a threat or an attack. It is what keeps you alert and ready to act. When the nervous system is under this stress, it releases hormones like cortisol or adrenaline. In order to fall asleep, the body should release a different hormone: melatonin. Cortisol and melatonin are opposites, the first causes the body to be active, whereas the second intends for it to be inactive. So, when either one of these gets out of balance, sleep becomes disturbed. 

Zepeda explains that what’s happening now is precisely an imbalance, because people are constantly going through stressful situations. She mentions that even watching the news can alter our nervous system. “This is a vicious cycle because after you go through an altered state, it comes a deep sense of tiredness. People are feeling tired because they’re constantly stressed, and this state of apparent calm is not reassuring, so it starts to affect your emotional state. People are feeling sad, and can even feel depressed. This happens because the reason behind the suffering is not being solved,” the therapist adds.

Do not sleep on it

Not sleeping well (or not sleeping at all) is not healthy, and shouldn’t be ignored. The CDC states that adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing. But it’s not just about the amount of time, also about enjoying deep, restorative sleep. 

Dr. Kannan Ramar shares that “getting the right amount of sleep affects mood and quality of life. It also boosts your immune system and strengthens the effectiveness of the vaccination (for COVID-19).” 

Caring for sleep is caring for the overall health of the body and the mind, and this is crucial not only for adults but for kids too. Dr. Ramar explains that some children are also having trouble getting quality sleep since their daily routines are likely impacted by the pandemic. Hilda Zepeda adds that kids are mostly suffering from nightmares.

In order to deal with these disorders, Dr. Ramar recommends the following: “Many patients find that appropriate sleep hygiene (good sleep habits) will help them get better sleep, while those with chronic insomnia will benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, which includes strategies such as stimulus control, sleep restriction and relaxation therapy.”

Transpersonal psychotherapist, Hilda Zepeda, recommends having a strong support system to talk to and seeking professional help, like going to therapy, if the disturbance doesn’t improve. “It’s important to talk with family and friends about what’s troubling you, so you don’t feel alone,” she says. “When you talk about it in therapy you tap into your emotions and you process them, so the physical alterations start to wind down. You transition from the negative pole you were in, to a healthier pole. You understand that you cannot change what you’re living, but you can adapt and learn.”

According to Zepeda, people are reacting to loss with anger, frustration and sadness, and they are not aware that they are mourning. Even if what they lost is their weekly coffee with friends or their exercise routine at the gym, it’s still a loss and it’s causing them grief. So the first step is understanding why you’re feeling angry and frustrated, so you can consciously choose what to do about it. “You always have the freedom to choose, and you have the creativity to adapt. This pandemic is giving us the opportunity to learn about ourselves. When you manage to see the opportunities in a harsh situation, like this one, then you’ll see how all your system changes for the better.”

Technology as a path to better sleep

And just like sleep disturbances are growing, so is the interest of people to fight them. A positive thing that has come up is that people are taking action and, instead of settling for a bad night, they are proactively looking for ways to improve their current situation. Google Trends shows that the search for “how to fall asleep easier” has grown 500% year over year. Similar search trends are also rising, such as “how much sleep do you need,” “sleeplessness covid,” “restore sleep aid” and “natural sleep aid for adults.” These last two with an overwhelming increase of 4,800% and 4,700% respectively. 

In response to this growing interest, many digital tools have also grown and become available to help people relax and restore their sleep. One company that has invested many efforts on this topic is Headspace. During the pandemic, they added to the mobile app new features dedicated to sleep, from guided meditations, to sleep casts, breathing exercises and relaxing music and sounds that last up to 500 minutes (which is the recommended 8 hours of sleep). 

According to the company’s blog “meditation helps lower the heart rate by igniting the parasympathetic nervous system and encouraging slower breathing, thereby increasing the prospect of a quality night’s sleep.” The company even made a mini series for Netflix called “Headspace Guide to Sleep” and offers free playlists for better sleep on YouTube.

To deal with uncertainty, lifestyle changes and evolving challenges we need energy, focus and a clear mind. The only way to achieve this is through sleep. After a restful night, problems are easier to figure out and we’re in a better mood to deal with whatever life throws at us. Although there’s still many things we don’t know about what’s to come, we know what we can control, and that’s how we react. One way to do it is by taking care of our health, starting tonight.

How to make a red velvet smoothie

“I want that red velvet, I want that sugar sweet.” If those lyrics touch your heart, then you’re like me and this is a recipe 100% for you. 

I have to admit I just love red velvet, from the color to the taste, but having red velvet cake and muffins isn’t the healthiest choice. That’s how I bumped into this recipe and now I enjoy a romantic and tasty, yet healthy, breakfast or sometimes even dinner.

One thing that makes this smoothie good for dinner too is that cherries are a great source of melatonin, which can help you have a good night’s sleep. Especially if you’re in constant contact with blue light at night (like your computer or your phone) you might need a little extra boost to help your body get into resting mode. (Learn more about it in this post). 

The other key ingredient in this smoothie is cocoa powder, which has several health benefits. Here are a few: 

  • Improves cognition – it helps with your memory, your attention and your ability to learn. 
  • Strengthens your immune system – thanks to its content of iron, zinc and selenium.
  • Keeps your muscles healthy – because it’s rich in magnesium.
  • Reduces risk of diseases – since it’s a great source if antioxidants. 

Let’s get cooking

You’ll need:

1 cup of Cherries

1 cup of Strawberries

1 tablespoon Cocoa powder

½ teaspoon of Vanilla extract

1 ½ cups of Almond milk 

Just blend everything together and enjoy! 

I prefer using fresh cherries, but frozen ones also do the trick. One tip: to get rid of the pit faster, use a straw.

If you want to add some protein powder, it goes well with those that are vanilla or chocolate flavored. 

You can also add some chocolate chips to get creative 🙂

Need a good night’s sleep? Have a cherry!

Yes, cherry, not Sherry!

If I did a top 5 list of my favorite fruits they’d definitely be there. I love them because they’re sweet, without being overwhelming, and you can have them like a snack any time of the day. The best part is that they aren’t only delicious, but they also bring a lot of benefits to your health. 

When I was in college I remember getting home, feeling super tired and launching myself into the sofa to watch TV with a bowl of cherries. The moment my dog (Dixy) smelled the fresh juice of my cherries he ran and joined me. I ate one half of the cherry (the one with the pit) and he ate the other half until we finished the bowl. I loved those afternoons, and now, I always remember Dixy when I watch TV and eat cherries.

Now, I know why I enjoyed those cherries so much. They gave me the sweet push I needed to get up, do my homework, and finish the day. But that’s not the only thing they have. Their deep red color means that they are rich in polyphenols, the plant compounds with antioxidant properties. They’re also packed with fiber, vitamin C and potassium, among other nutrients that improve your health, like lowering inflammation and protecting your heart.  Plus, they are low in calories! 

Eating cherries can improve your sleep

What makes you fall asleep and rest every night is a hormone the body releases called melatonin. Cherries are one of the few foods that are a natural source of this chemical, which is why eating this red treat can improve your sleep. Melatonin influences sleep and mood. It’s that element that induces sleepiness. The body is very smart and it starts releasing it when the sun goes down. However, the use of artificial light, especially blue light, can confuse the body and mess with our sleep cycles. If you suffer from insomnia or are struggling with getting a good night’s sleep, cherries can be very helpful. 

There have been some studies that analyze the effects of eating cherries on sleep. These have concluded that the people who consume a cherry-based product have their sleep and nocturnal rest improved. One of the things the people in these studies consumed was tart cherry juice concentrate, and it made their melatonin levels rise, which made them enjoy more sleep and better sleep quality.

Healthy heart, strong muscles and other benefits

Cherries may be small, but they carry tons of nutrients. Among them, you can find B vitamins, manganese, copper, magnesium and vitamin K. Having this fruit in your diet can even be helpful for your joints, muscles and heart. Here are some of its benefits: 

  • Reduce oxidative stress – Polyphenols are a powerful source of antioxidants. You can find them in colorful fruits and vegetables, like cherries. These antioxidants are good for reducing bad cholesterol and fighting inflammation. 
  • Lessen muscle soreness – Have you ever felt that burn and pain after a workout? Cherries can help reduce that. 
  • Keep the heart healthy – Because they are rich in polyphenols and potassium, they can help lower blood pressure. In a sodium rich diet like today’s, having a good source of potassium is important to remove the excess and, thus, create balance in blood pressure levels. And you don’t need to eat that many, 100 grams is enough to get about 5% of the potassium you need in a day.  
  • Reduce Gout flare-ups – People who suffer from Gout can have more cherries in their diet because they reduce uric acid levels in the blood, which reduces pain in the joints. People suffering from kidney stones and arthritis can also benefit from this effect.        

How to pick them

I personally prefer fresh cherries instead of cherry juice or other cherry-based products. Eating whole foods guarantees that you’ll get the most of their nutrients and benefits. Summer time is the best time to get great cherries. Look for those that feel firm and plump. The texture should be smooth and the color bright and even glossy. These will be ripe and ready to eat. If they’re soft, mushy, shriveled or look dried up, then they’re no longer good.  

The best way to keep them fresh is in the refrigerator. However, I also like to use them for smoothies, so freezing them is a great option to make them last longer. (Here’s my recipe for a delicious red velvet smoothie)

Need ideas on how to eat them? To eat them fresh, add them to your yogurt or oatmeal, add them to smoothies with berries or other summertime fruits, like mangoes, or just have them fresh as a snack. You can also cook them and create a cherry sauce for a pork or poultry dish, turn them into jam, or use them for cakes, pies or cheesecake toppings. Or, why not, a Cherry Sherry Cobbler like this one!

Cello Meditation: mixing mindfulness with music through an emotional journey

When I was invited to join a Cello Meditation I was immediately intrigued. I was curious to experience music with a mindfulness purpose and the effect it would have on my emotions. 

I enjoy meditation and I’m aware of its benefits on my overall wellbeing, but I’ve never been able to meditate for a long time. So when I saw that it was an hour long meditation I got a little nervous. I dove in anyway, and I can tell you that it’s been one of my favorite meditation experiences. The way the musician and instructor took us through the meditation was dynamic, interactive and deep. It was certainly an emotional ride, where I cried, smiled and came out feeling recharged and with a lighter mindset. 

Let’s start by telling you a little about who’s behind this experience. The artist is called The Wong Janice, and she’s an Australian-born music producer, cellist and meditation teacher. She performs virtual cello meditation concerts live from her living room with her cello and her effect pedals and loop machine — to make it sound like a larger concert instead of sounding like just one person with an instrument. She has also recorded some albums you can enjoy by yourself. I now listen to her Spotify channel regularly to enjoy longer meditations. 

What makes her live cello music good for meditating is that she uses deep cello vibrations, sweeping cello melodies and moments of silence that help you get into a meditative state. Music has a direct effect on our emotions and our body. Different types of music can make you feel happy, upbeat, alert, calm and even focused. And, although there’s still a lot to find out, scientists have even noticed that listening to music can change brain functioning. They’ve particularly found that music can help reduce stress. 

Stanford researchers released a study about how music and other rhythmic stimuli can alter mental states. Here, they state that “slow beats encourage the slow brain waves that are associated with hypnotic or meditative states. Faster beats may encourage more alert and concentrated thinking.” 

The experience

So, now that I shared with you what cello meditation is and why music can have an important influence in meditation as a stress reliever, I’ll take you through the step-by-step of this experience, so you get to know what it’s like to be in a cello meditation. 

For starters, you need to get comfortable. I started the meditation sitting down, but since it’s pretty long and you reach deep levels of relaxation I eventually lay down. So look for the best spot for you, get a blanket or even have a cup of tea before the experience. 

We started with a regular guided meditation to relax and place ourselves in the present moment. We connected with our breath and did a body scan to raise awareness of our body, our tension spots and our emotional state. Then Janice explained that we would go through four music pieces of her own composition. Each piece connected with a theme (or emotion) that would lead the meditation. This was great for me because I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to stay in a meditative state for a complete hour. This way we would meditate for one musical piece and then get into the next with a brief pause in between. The silence between pieces is also a moment to reconnect with the present moment and focus on our breath. Breath work is very important in this meditation. Janice even explains that you can either use your breath or the music to bring your mind back into the present when your thoughts start to move away from the meditation.

The first theme was a piece of gratitude. The objective was to have a mindset change through feeling gratitude. Here, Janice had us think about all the things/people we were grateful for while she played. She said that it doesn’t have to be big things, even small things counted. The point was to change our perspective and build up a sense of gratitude. I think this was the most emotional piece for me. I’m not sure how long the piece lasted, perhaps 5 minutes, but spending that time thinking about everything and everyone that surrounds me and I’m grateful for was very moving. By the time the music was over I noticed tears running down my face. 

The second one was about self-empowerment. We tend to put ourselves down and, instead of thinking about what we’re good for, we always think about what we could improve and what we can’t be, have or do. This was an opportunity to change that. Janice highlighted that, especially when things get tough, it’s easy to go down a spiral feeling down and expecting others to make us feel better. So the idea here was to remind ourselves of the greatness we have. During the piece we got to think about what makes us unique, what we’re good at, and all of our qualities. The mantra was “I am…” and we had to complete the sentence. I have to say that at first it’s a little hard to find adjectives and the ideas can even come out shallow, but as time passed my thoughts began to go deeper. I guess we’re not used to telling ourselves good things about ourselves. We try to be humble and not show off, and that’s an invisible barrier we must break. 

The third piece was about love. Janice explained that when things are overwhelming the best medicine is to think about someone you currently love or loved in the past. Thinking about things like how they made you smile nurture your soul and give you the strength to pull through hard times. The idea here was to think about that someone and fill our hearts with the joy and warmth of their love. It was such a beautiful experience going down memory lane and bringing back small things that I don’t give myself time to remember. When the music stopped I had such a big smile on my face.

The fourth, and last, theme was surrender. This was a powerful way to end the meditation, thinking about all the things that don’t serve you and surrendering them. Letting go is one of the hardest things to do, but raising awareness about what it is that you have to let go is an important first step. Here, we had to breathe in and think about that thing we needed to surrender and then sigh as we breathed out and release it. 

At the end of the experience we stayed still for a little while and then opened our eyes. I felt lighter and calmer, and my thoughts felt clearer and energized.

Below is an example of The Wong Janice’s pieces. This one, from her YouTube channel, is aimed for overall relaxation.

Picture: Pexels

What Power Yoga is all about

Last week we celebrated International Yoga Day, and it came at the perfect moment for me. I’ve been feeling super tired lately, more than usual, a combination of extra work and that I got my Covid-19 vaccine a few days ago (here’s why you should get it if you haven’t), so I changed my regular workout routine, which includes several hours of dance and some HIIT training. Instead, I’ve been doing a lot of yoga. Not only has it helped me manage my stress, but it’s also less intense, allowing me to move my body and not feel overwhelmed. 

I’m usually more into Hatha Yoga, which is slow paced and with a strong emphasis on breatwork. However, last week, because of the celebration, there were so many virtual events that promoted different techniques and combinations with other practices that made it the perfect time to explore new things. 

One technique I tried last week was Power Yoga. This is an interesting one, because it’s not an “official” type of yoga, it’s more of a variation of Vinyasa that focuses on building strength and endurance. 

Can yoga be an intense fitness activity?

The experience I had with power yoga was more physically oriented, rather than mindfully oriented. It requires more physical energy, which is why it’s a good workout to burn calories and gain strength. What I liked is that, although it’s not too focused on breathwork, like other techniques, it preserves this element that’s so important to yoga. 

How it works is that you go through different challenging poses, which is why it helps with strength, but you don’t stay in those poses for a long time, you move quickly to the next one, and you lean on your breath to move from one to the other. The fast paced nature of power yoga is another part of the workout, since you’re also looking for cardiovascular endurance. 

Something I found surprising was the flow. I was expecting to stay a little longer in each pose and I was surprised when we were quickly moving from one into the next. It made the session very dynamic and, even though I was not pulled to be present through my breath, I got the same experience but through my movement. Since I had to switch poses at a fast pace I had to be more aware of my body movements. I had to make sure every part of the body was aligned and in the right position, I had to be careful to get the pose right, and I even weighted each pose as it got more challenging to see if I was ready to take it to the next level. Since the session gets more complex as it moves forward, being present is about being aware of your movements and what you’re capable of doing. 

What I didn’t like is that I didn’t feel very comfortable doing this technique by myself at home. I think that, since the poses are more challenging, it’s important to be in a studio, with an instructor that sees if you’re doing the pose correctly to prevent injury. I don’t have much experience with complex yoga routines, so at times I wasn’t entirely sure if the pose was correct. Also, there were some poses that were challenging enough, but I thought I could make them, and I didn’t dare because I could get hurt if I didn’t get them right. 

So, overall, I really liked power yoga as an alternative to my intense fitness activity because it adds the element of mindfulness and breathwork to a good calorie-burning workout. However, this is an actility I’d rather do in a studio instead of doing it at home

Have you tried power yoga? How was your experience?

Why is yoga a stress reliever?

I believe that yoga is one of those practices that arise discussion and controversy. Some people swear by it, whereas others don’t believe it’s really useful. I’ve personally had an on-and-off relationship with yoga. I’ve tried several techniques, and I think that’s very important. Not all yoga styles and techniques are for everyone. For example, Bikram yoga is not for me — hot rooms and exercise are not to my taste — but I have a good friend who loves it because she can really disconnect from the world when she’s there. I prefer Hatha yoga, which helps with strength and flexibility and uses a lot of breathwork.  

I’ve been very stressed out lately. So much so that I’ve even gained some weight (yes, stress can do that. I’ll write about it in an upcoming post). So, in addition to some changes in my diet, I had to add activities that helped reduce my stress levels. When you’re always active and asking a little too much of your body you activate the sympathetic nervous system, but the body needs a balance, and to get it you must make sure to activate the parasympathetic nervous system too, which is in charge of rest and relaxation. Breathwork is a great way to do it, but I’ve also added yoga to the mix, which lets me dive deeper into a full mind and body relaxation experience. 

You’ve probably heard that yoga helps with stress relief. I’d heard of it too, so I tried it in college and in different moments of my career — hence the on-and-off relationship — but I guess it didn’t stick before because I didn’t know what was the relation between yoga and stress. I constantly wondered what made yoga better than other forms of exercise for this matter, and if it was really helpful or just something people say. So this time around I decided to research and read studies that explain the science behind yoga vs stress.

The reason why yoga is better to combat stress than other types of exercise is that it combines three key factors in every practice: exercise, breathwork and mindfulness. Yoga is a Sanskrit word that means unity of mind and body, so all of the poses, pace and practices make sure that not only our bodies, but also our minds remain in the present moment. Because of this, yoga can help reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) levels, which eventually causes other health benefits, like lowering your blood pressure and combating inflammation. 

Exercise

Not just yoga, but any type of exercise helps relieve stress. This is because it releases endorphins, which are the natural hormones that make you feel good. Exercising also boosts your energy, improves your mood and promotes good sleep, all of which help reduce your stress levels. And this isn’t just heavy, sweaty exercise, it also applies to stretching — an important part of yoga practices. 

Breathwork

Breathing intentionally is a way to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and, thus, promote relaxation. Yoga exercises match breathing with the movement of the body. This makes you aware of your breath and helps you control it better. Deep breaths are especially effective to reduce stress and anxiety almost immediately, so quick access to feeling better. Most yoga practices begin with a few deep breaths and continue to control breathwork throughout the session. 

Clear mind

The practice of yoga is about being in the moment. Poses, mantras (like the famous om) and breathwork keep our minds in the current activity. This is a great break to stay away from thoughts about the future (and your never ending to-do list) or about the past (and all the “what if” worries). These types of thoughts tend to cause stress, especially when we feel powerless and overwhelmed, so having space from them will help you relieve stress and address these issues with a clearer mind when it’s time.

And lastly, most yoga sessions end with a few minutes of rest, lying on your back, perhaps meditating, which is an extra boost for relaxation.

So, in celebration of International Yoga Day (June 21), try it out! It’s a great excuse to practice and share your experience. Already a yoga fan? Share your favorite poses, videos and tips! For a little extra encouragement, here’s a video I love for beginners. Yoga with Adriene is my favorite YouTube yoga channel! 

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Healthy and hearty soup? Try Chicken Ramen

You’ve probably heard that nothing heals the body and the heart like chicken soup. And I’m a believer of this. Chicken soup is my go to food when I’m feeling down and need a boost. However, it sometimes needs a little extra, an additional spiciness. That’s how I discovered Chicken Ramen.

The first time I tried ramen soup I was on a business trip in Silicon Valley, and I was really tired. A friend from work had heard of a great ramen place nearby (Ramen Izakaya Yu-Gen if you’re ever in the area) and, although the only thing I wanted to do was to get right to my hotel bed, I figured I had to eat at some point, so why not try it out. It was an amazing discovery. Although it was way too much for just one person, servings there are huge, the texture, the warmth and the combination of ingredients made me feel nurtured and cared for. A different version of my childhood chicken soups; one that had a unique twist. 

Make your own soup

Ever since that first encounter I fell in love with ramen soup, especially chicken ramen. And, in addition to looking for places where they serve this soup, I started trying out some recipes at home. 

Making an authentic ramen soup requires several ingredients that sometimes are a little hard to find, so with time I’ve developed a simpler version of it that’s easier to cook and still has the essence or a chicken ramen flavor. And it’s not just eating it, but preparing your soup also has a little magic in it. It makes you feel that you’re taking care of yourself and giving your body nutritious food. In the end, some of the ingredients, like Bok Choy and eggs are superfoods. 

Here’s what you need 

  • Chicken thighs 
  • Bok Choy
  • Garlic
  • Ginger root
  • Onion
  • 1 lime
  • Mushrooms (preferably Shitake)
  • Boiled eggs
  • Soy sauce
  • 1 package of Yakisoba noodles 

(Although I’ll add my suggestion of quantity of ingredients, these can vary according to what you like best. For example, I’m not much into garlic, so I go low on that, but I love mushrooms, so I add a lot. Make it your own.)

How to do it

You’ll need chicken broth, so I prefer preparing it from scratch with the chicken thighs. So cover the chicken with water, add a piece of onion, garlic and salt and wait for the thighs to be cooked. Then remove the chicken and shred it with a couple of forks. 

In another pot add olive oil and one (or half) sliced onion, 2 or 3 minced garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon of grated ginger root and mushrooms. Sauté until it’s soft and fragrant — don’t burn it — and then add the chicken broth you put aside. Add a cup of water and half a cup of soy sauce (try it and add more if you feel it needs it). You can also add rice vinegar, oyster sauce, fish sauce and something spicy if you want. I only add soy because the other ingredients aren’t that easy to find, and I’m not much into spicy food. But this is the moment to make it your own, so don’t be shy to try different things out. 

Mix everything together and add the shredded chicken and the lime juice. Let it simmer for a couple of minutes and then add the bok choy and the noodles. Once the bok choy and the noodles are soft, try it again to check if it needs more condiments. If it’s ready, serve it and add the boiled eggs. I love boiled eggs, so I usually add three halves to my plate!