Open your heart to love every day of the year with this gentle heart-opening yoga and meditation practice.
Your body is aching. You've trained 2 hours a day, six days a week, for more than 6 weeks straight. You continually push through the 'no pain no gain' barrier for faster results.
You know you should slow down but this punishment is given for the reward of rock-hard abs and a tight butt.
You took some time off your regular tennis classes last Christmas and got comfortable. You are rapidly gaining weight and losing muscle tone as the months pass. You are well-versed in the ins and outs of tennis, but you can't seem to find the motivation to pick up that racket and ball.
You know you need to head out and do a work out, but that snooze button is being thwacked at a consistent rate most mornings. And you roll over.
You love your yoga class. You've been going for a few weeks now and you feel like you're getting into the flow of it. If only you were as flexible as that long-legged, muscular dude who practices at the same studio.
You strain to touch your toes with straight legs, ignoring the teacher's instructions to move slowly into the pose and bend your knees to protect your lower back. You feel a twinge in your lower back, but ignore it and go deeper.
You might be a mathematician, an astronaut, a psychologist, a counsellor, an artist, a performer, an IT professional.
You might have an average to high IQ - intelligence quotient. You might have an enviable EQ - emotional intelligence.
You may be vibrantly skilled in any number of the multiple intelligences proposed by Howard Gardner in 1983, such as musical or linguistic intelligence.
However, in order to have a thriving physical life, you really need enhance your BQ - your body intelligence, according to Margaret Moore, MBA, and Jim Gavin, Ph.D., in the November 2010 issue of the IDEA Fitness Journal (Gavin and Moore, 2010). While Garner highlights that kinesthetic and spatial intelligence are key to an athlete's impressive and graceful abilities, Moore, founder of Wellcoaches Corporation, argues that BQ requires much more than that.
BQ is considered to be the combination of 3 important skills, or pillars:
somatic awareness - knowledge - engagement
Somatic awareness means how aware you are of your body; knowledge, what you know about your body; and engagement, what you do for and with your body.
This subtle and finely-attuned form of intelligence brings you in touch with what your body feels, needs, and knows, things which are uniquely different for each of us. It seems that this type of knowledge is essential for both enhancing your personal wellness, but also avoiding injury and illness.
You may know people who have a vast amount of knowledge about the body's physiology, anatomy, or perhaps even information in one particular skill, such as a football coach, or a dance instructor. Yet, when they themselves go to train, they push far beyond their own physical boundaries, causing micro-tears or strains that may eventually lead to long-term damage. Despite their incredible knowledge, they aren't tuning in to their own body telling them when enough is enough.
Or perhaps you know a brain surgeon or a famous mathematician who works well into the night, ignoring their own physical needs, the need to move, the need to hydrate, to the point of self-destruction.
Where do I get off making statements like this?
The truth is, I am one of those people. I admit it. I believe my BQ could be better, and I'm willing to bet it's the same for many of you. Most of us are lacking in at least one of the three pillars which make up a well-rounded body intelligence. Becoming aware of BQ and identifying where you are falling short could be the key to living with vibrant health for the long-term.
I can safely say that my BQ has improved over the years, especially after I began yoga and, much like anything you begin to pay attention to, I'm quite sure it will continue to improve. There's no end point to building this intelligence really, so there's no reason to put it off for later. You can begin to improve your BQ right now.
The question is, where are you letting yourself down? Is it one pillar, or two...or perhaps all three! Let's find out more...
Somatic awareness is the level at which you are tuned in to your body and listening for subtle shifts and signs of change. If your body could speak, these tiny sensations would be the words, or messages, telling you what the body needs and feels. Wilber (2000) distinguishes different kinds of sensations from subtle to gross.
Subtle sensations incorporate awareness of depleted or heightened personal energy, the awareness of where joy or sadness sits within the body, or the shifts in energy of the environment around you.
Gross sensations include the feeling of muscle tension when stressed, a limit to your range of motion, or muscle and joint stiffness.
Sometimes your awareness can be raised on either a gross or subtle level after eating a particular food. Perhaps this food gives you satisfaction and sustained energy, it may give you a quick rush and a massive dive, like processed sugar, or perhaps it gives you indigestion or stomach upset.
Developing awareness around the gross and subtle messages from your body allows you to make quick decisions and shifts in action, so you can guide your body to a safer, happier, and hopefully healthier place.
Somatic awareness and yoga
Having awareness of the subtle and gross physical sensations within the body is a key player in most yoga classes. It may be the first time that you have listened, really listened, to the inhale and exhale of your breath and noticed whether it is calm and gentle, or rapid and rasped, or somewhere in between.
It may be the first time that you have slowed down and paid attention to the sensation in your hamstrings as you stand and fold forward in Uttanasana.
It may be the voice in your mind, noticing the signs from your body and telling you to hold back from going into a full headstand until your shoulders and torso are strong enough to hold you safely.
A good yoga teacher will ask you to tune into your bodily sensations in each class, becoming aware that you are not on autopilot and that a pose which was accessible one day, may not be there for you the next day, like the balance needed in a standing pose. If the balance isn't there for you, you don't need to force yourself into it. It's simple. Yet it is so hard for many to let go of the need to push through it, and stop and really listen to their body's messages.
You don't need to go to a yoga class in order to develop awareness of the subtle and gross sensations from your body. See below for some tips on how to develop somatic awareness on a day to day basis.
Knowledge is a confusing subject in the internet age. And yes, I can say 'the internet age' because I remember a time when there was no internet!
So, on the one hand, we are able to access the answer to pretty much anything with a few key word searches on Google. This is an amazing thing. We can bring the University into the home and educate ourselves! Yet it can also lead to a self-proclaimed expertise in almost any subject area, including Google Doctor self-diagnoses, and remedies and concoctions to cure illnesses which are unproven and sometimes downright dangerous.
Using Google searches can lead to an overwhelming amount of information, resulting in 'analysis paralysis' as we sit like a rabbit in the headlights, unsure of what to do with all the Google 'answers'. Despite this, enhancing our knowledge, and connecting with like-minded people all over the world, for free, is an absolutely incredible achievement.
So much can be gained, and shared through the internet.
So we have all the information we need at our fingertips. All the knowledge in the world. Yet still people engage in unhealthy choices. As Gavin and Moore (2010) state, 'most people live as if the rules did not apply to them'. Are you one of those people?
Body knowledge is also known as 'health literacy' and considers things like, your level of knowledge over health standards and guidelines; how well you know generic scientific information and the application of it to your personal health; knowledge of scientific facts and practices; knowing what the appropriate actions are to diagnose and treat physical conditions, or what to do in the case of not knowing.
Let's try this. Can you answer the following questions:
What is the recommended amount of sleep per night?
What is the minimum amount of water you should drink every day?
What should you eat or drink to be healthy?
What is the maximum amount of alcohol you should drink per day or week?
How much exercise should you do?
What is appropriate exercise for you?
How should you sit when working or studying?
Do you know when an illness can be managed at home and when you should see a doctor?
Building knowledge can definitely be done with the help of Google. There's no doubt about it.
The important thing to be aware of though, is where you get your information from. I'll be the first to admit that sourcing knowledge from a blog is a murky place, sometimes more of a bog than a blog.
There are many experts or trustworthy people (plug plug) who write blogs. However, if they are providing evidence or new knowledge, just make sure they give you the source of their information. Check the source. Is it reputable? Is it from a scientific journal or reliable source?
These things matter
Because what Joe Bloggs says in Joe Bloggs Blog can't be taken as evidence unless they can show you it is true in scientifically controlled conditions or, at the very least, published by an academic or professional in the industry. And if it can't be taken as valid evidence, you are taking a very big risk in blindly following the advice.
Ok, I'm going off on a little tangent here I guess! But it's still related. It's all about knowledge. Grow your knowledge around health. Use your brain to determine whether the source is trustworthy, and give more weight to the information which has been proven. It is done to protect you. Phew! Ok. Moving on.
Knowledge and yoga
Yoga is another minefield altogether. Yoga can help you to build knowledge alongside awareness of your physical body. As you learn the strengths and limitations of your physical body and mind, you may also learn more about certain poses, and the philosophy that is the foundations of yoga, because the physical practice is really only one small part of it.
Having said that, these days you can have yoga asana in virtually every form.
I'm surprised I haven't seen cooking yoga yet... you heard it here first!
As there are so many yoga styles, and so many teachers around, it is easy to try something new. The only caution I would add to the pillar of knowledge is to check out the knowledge of your teacher also. Yoga seems like a very passive and harmless practice, but it is easy to sustain long-term damage to the body while doing it. Please practice in an environment which is safe, with a teacher you can trust.
Where to begin when building your knowledge? Scroll down for some tips below!
If you are able to tune in to your body and understand what it needs, and then actively engage in it, you are performing 'engagement'. There are no rules as to how long or how much you need to do something in order to be engaged. For some who rarely exercise, a short walk around the block - because you know you need to start moving - is a form of engagement. Being fully aware of what your body needs, and then actively participating means that you are totally tuned in to the fruition of awareness and knowledge through engagement. The other two pillars cannot function effectively without this pillar.
It is important to remember that, based on knowledge and awareness, your engagement can change all the time. You may start with a short walk, and then become aware that your body is used to it and can move more. You may then progress to a longer, brisker walk, taking into account all the time, that this may change, based on what your body needs each day. Awareness is about understanding when your resistance is psychological, and when it is due to a true physical barrier, and then engaging accordingly.
Yoga and engagement
If you practice yoga, you are probably familiar with your teacher saying something like, 'honour yourself for showing up', or 'yoga isabout showing up'. What does this mean?
Like any physical practice, you probably have many days where you'd rather stay at home in your pj's. For many, even getting changed and making your way to class is an act of engagement in your own wellness, and you should be proud of yourself for doing it.
Showing up to the yoga class when you are aware of your body and know what it needs - this is engagement.
Then, within the poses, bringing your full awareness and attention to the sensations of the pose, bringing your wandering mind back to the present moment of engagement in that pose - this is engagement.
Check out the tips below to build your pillar of engagement.
Putting it all together
I hope I have given you some sense of what Body Intelligence is in this blog. There is a lot more to uncover, but I wanted to share the basics with you. I am constantly focussed on improving all three pillars but, really, there is so much more to learn.
The first step is really to have a think on your own practices to determine whether you are not paying attention to one or two particular areas.
Perhaps you know very well what you should be doing, but you are not making the time in your day to do it.
Or perhaps you've recently thrown yourself into a boot camp, when really your body needs to start with some gentle walks and swims first.
No one is perfect and there are plenty of ways for us all to build our BQ.
How to build your pillars
- Stop and notice - set up regular points during the day to stop and notice how your body is feeling, especially during any physical activity.
- Perform a mental scan of your body - perhaps do it before you exercise, after you exercise, and a few hours later.
- Start a journal on your physical practice routine. It doesn't have to be long, just a few points on how you feel before, during , and after the practice.
- Find some reputable journals and news sources to build your health literacy
- Join the mailing list of a news health website you can trust
- Participate in a knowledge-building workshop, whether it is for healthy cooking, a first aid course, and so on.
- Find yourself an exercise buddy you can check in with. You don't necessarily have to exercise together, but you can check in weekly and help each other to stay accountable.
- Book yourself in to classes or sports. When the time comes to do the class, you can scan your body and decide whether it is appropriate for you.
- Have a go at a new kind of exercise. There are plenty of free trials around. You might find something you like!
As a coach, I can work with you to identify the pillars you should be focussing on, whether it is one or all three. Together we can build a plan to help you gain confidence in your own body. I'm happy to chat with you about it at any time.
Disclaimer: As always, please see your GP before engaging in any new forms of exercise, especially if you are suffering from a medical condition.
Gardner, H. 1983, Frames of Mind. New York: Basic Book Inc.
Gavin, J., and Moore, M., 2010, Body Intelligence: a guide to self-attunement', in Idea Fitness Journal, November 2010, accessed 19 March 2016, <http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/body-intelligence-a-guide-to>
Wilber, K. 2000. A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality. Boston: Shambhala.
Lately, I've had a lot going on.... I mean, a lot of changes work wise.
And I decided I need to ask you something.
---> Have you ever taken a risk, be it personal, financial, career-based, without any clue as to how it is going to work out? It's pretty hard to focus on being present and calm when you have a lot riding on a future outcome, isn't it?
Well, I recently signed an agreement to start practising my wares out of a health centre in the Sydney CBD. Maybe it doesn't sound like much to you, but it involved quite a bit of upfront money, and a massive dose of courage to put myself into a new space and share my passions with new people. For me, this was BIG!
You might be surprised by this. You might even think I'm Queen of Calm and 'have it all together', but, like anyone else, doubts and fears can rise in times of uncertainty and risk. I'm not immune.
Truthfully, I'm super excited but I'm pretty damn nervous too! I mean, a whole day to offer all kinds of stress relief treatments to stressed out people in the cbd?! I can't wait to start!! But it is a big change too.
I wasn't always a business owner and I am still not used to risks like this, so it is easy for that voice of panic and anxiety to jump in and have a say in what's happening!
"No one will come! You'll lose all that you invest! Who are you to be offering that?!"...I mean, it's just incredible what these anxieties say!
Can you relate to this?
Do you find yourself catastrophising the outcome of some future events?
Do you find it hard to sleep or stay calm, thinking of all the different ways it can go wrong?
Well you're not alone. Many people tend to spend more time focussed on the past or the future, without really being present in the present! And it seems to increase in times of uncertainty or change.
Now, I'm not saying anxiety is a bad thing altogether. Anxiety and fear are equals to happiness and anger in the broad range of human emotions. All human emotions are valid. There can be a positive twist to anxiety, which is motivation. Imagine being extremely anxious about an upcoming exam, versus laissex-faire and super relaxed? Which one might help you be more prepared to take action and study?
Clearly there are benefits to recognising potential threats, be they social, physical, mental, or environmental and taking action to avoid them. The question is, are you taking action (physical response) on threats which are not real or cannot be changed?
Take a look at the timeline below.
Where do you spend most of your thinking time? If you close your eyes right now for a minute and let the thoughts flood in, where are they focussed? Past? Future? Right this moment?
When you're about to take a risk, or there's some type of uncertain event playing out, you might be spending a lot of time hanging out in the future. Playing out different scenarios, possibly getting yourself into a state of anxiety over what 'might' happen. Maybe you have a doctor's appointment you're dreading, maybe you're about to invest in a new business or a new home and you're wondering if it will all fall down around you ---future focusser.
On the other hand, if you've just done something with a strong emotional investment, possibly with a poor outcome, chances are you are currently dwelling in the past. Maybe that first date didn't go so well, or your boss had a go at you in a staff meeting, or you said something you regret to someone you love. Now, you're going over what went wrong, replaying the scene in some kind of torturous replay again, and again, your mind can't let it go. You are ruminating on it --- past dweller.
This is where our anxieties get the better of us.
Now, let me be clear here before we go any further. I'm not talking about the medically-diagnosed psychological disorder of Generalised Anxiety Disorder or all the other classifications of Anxiety in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V of Mental Disorder of the American Psychiatric Society. If you feel that you are suffering from a level of anxiety that is beyond the 'normally expected' levels, and is persisting for months please go straight to your GP for a referral to a specialist.
If, however, your anxiety is not ongoing and is specifically related to an event or series of unusual life events, you may benefit by thinking about where you focus your thoughts.
It is possible to train your mind to bring awareness to the present, despite your mind's desire to dwell in the past or future.
Really. It is possible!
Why is this important?
One of the main answers is: the body can't tell the difference between what is real and what your mind is saying. Your body will react to your fears in the same way as if it was really happening. If you imagine a terrible scenario, like your manager ripping you apart in a meeting, your body believes that you are actually being threatened, even though it is only in your thoughts.
What happens? You prepare for 'flight or fight' of course!
Your adrenals start pumping out stress response hormones to engage your body. Your muscles tense. Your heart rate increases. Your breathing shortens and quickens and you are ready to roll. All to prepare you for a 'flight or fight' response to something which probably won't even happen, or if it has happened, can't be changed, and is probably not the catastrophe you think it is.
What a waste of energy!
It is your thoughts which are creating a scenario which your body is reacting to. It just isn't real!
So how do you get yourself out of this and back into the present moment?
In short ---> mindfulness and focussed awareness is a great way to get your wild imagination back to NOW.
German-born Eckhard Tolle, a famous author and speaker who resides in Canada, has spent many years studying and researching spiritual philosophy and psychology. He has worked as a counsellor, a teacher, and an author. One of his most famous books is called, 'The Power of Now', which extols the transforming virtue of living in the present moment. Because the present moment is all we really have.
In this short video, Tolle outlines some steps you can take if you find yourself being overwhelmed by anxiety:
- Firstly, recognise what is happening with your thoughts and the impact it is having on your body. How is your body currently reacting to your thoughts? This takes quiet awareness.
- Then, choose (actively make a decision) to step out of the situation. This is difficult sometimes because the thoughts are very powerful, especially at the beginning.
- If you can't manage to get yourself out of the anxious thought process, it is enough to just recognise that you are in it. Notice what is happening in your body and mind. Later, as you progress, you can start trying to step out of the anxious thoughts. Just knowing the anxious thought has control over your body and mind is already a step forward.
- Next, take a conscious breath --- long, slow belly breaths, not chest breaths.
- Lastly, remove the tension from your body. Shake your body, hands, arms, clap your hands, move your jaw to release tension. Or just notice where you are sitting, look around, notice where you feet are, where your hands are resting, the position of your body.
He describes it as a kind of awakening and returning to your body and returning to the present moment.
This type of thing takes time. If you are used to getting caught up in 'what ifs' and creating panic in your body, it will take some time just to become aware of the thoughts themselves. Let it happen slowly, and as you become more used to noticing the anxious thoughts for what they are, you can begin to start making an active choice to step out of the process.
Creating your own alternative thought pattern can also help you. So consider this:
A. You notice yourself in the throes of anxious and unrealistic thinking.
B. After practising, you are able to choose not to stay in that anxious thought.
C. You take a long, slow belly breath.
D. You shake your hands, shrug your shoulders and move your body to release tension.
E. You choose an alternative pattern of thoughts to focus on. You might choose something more mundane, like planning your shopping list. Or you might choose to look around you and find something positive to focus on in the present moment, like your children happily sitting in front of you, or the delicious taste of your early morning tea as you sip it.
What do I do?
Well, thankfully, I noticed pretty quickly that I was getting a little anxious and overwhelmed with my changes because over time I've become used to noticing subtle changes in my body. So firstly I added a few extra personal yoga classes to my schedule as I had let them slide recently. I also increased my morning meditation time and decreased my morning cardio time.
Yoga is my go-to when I am anxious. It is an incredibly meditative way to get into the present moment as you use your breath to switch on your parasympathetic nervous system (aka the 'rest digest' response), the opposite of the 'flight or fight' response. Through yoga you become mindfully present in your practice and in your meditation, allowing more time to notice damaging thoughts and bring the mind back to the present moment.
I'll finish with this.
When in the grips of anxiety, it can seem as though it has complete control over your life. It can seem as though all the worst things are going to happen and they are all targeting you. There is a window though, for you to recognise those anxieties and, with practice, choose to step out of them and into the beautiful present moment.
Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness allow us to be more present. I feel absolutely thrilled that I can offer these gifts to others, and call on them when I need them myself. Just send me a message right here if you'd like me to share them with you. xo
Links and resources:
Wisdom Talks, 2015, Get Rid of Fear and Anxiety Today, videorecording, Youtube, viewed 28 February 2016, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ze0-vGa-MQ8>
beyondblue depression and anxiety organisation Australia : https://www.beyondblue.org.au/
Note: As stated above, if you feel that you are suffering from a level of anxiety that is beyond the 'normally expected' levels, and is persisting for months please go straight to your GP for a referral to a specialist. In fact, while I'm at it, if you are in Australia, you can also contact Beyond Blue, a fantastic organisation which can give you advice and point you in the right direction to receive good care. If you are not in Australia, please speak to your GP for a referral to a mental health professional, and try Googling for a similar organisation in your own country so you can talk to someone straight away. I need to say this because if you are mentally ill, reading a blog is not going to be enough to remove chronic anxiety. It is in your best interests to seek the care you need from appropriate qualified health professionals.
So, I didn't tell you before, but my husband disappeared before Christmas.
Well, ok. It was a totally above board, tickets booked, travel plans arranged type of deal. He went on a long-awaited trip home to see his family in Spain. But it still felt like he had literally disappeared. You may as well have chopped off my right arm and kept it somewhere for a few weeks, showing it off to me on Skype and in Whatsapp photos, to 'keep me connected' or taunt me... that's how it felt...
And along with my darling husband, what also disappeared was our super Sunday night ritual....paella, his style! His mum's secret recipe with his Aussie twist! Aargh! Alone without him or our tradition!
Words cannot describe the flavours that man can create with his precious recipe, and I don't dare to emulate it.
He heard from a friend once that paella literally comes from 'para ella'... paraella... paella! I like it! It was traditionally cooked by the husband for the wife on Sundays, as a way of thanking her and giving her a chance to put her feet up! While we aren't quite so traditional in terms of breaking down the household chores - are you kidding?! - my hubby and I have definitely made a tradition with him cooking me this beautiful meal every Sunday evening, and I love it. He also enjoys a glass of red wine and a loud yarn with his family while he does it, so he infuses it with full Spanish vitality!
I managed to fill my paella gap for a little while during his absence, with Christmas feasts and family dinners to satisfy me. On my return to Sydney and approaching my first Sunday night alone though....the tension got to me. How can I survive a Sunday night without his delicious, authentic Spanish feast? Read: I was missing him terribly.
So, resolute, I decided to create my own. I didn't want to even attempt his recipe, so I decided to do a little background research into the general way paellas are put together. I also reflected on the process I saw my husband follow. I then thought about the ingredients I would like in a paella, and I came up with my own 'Ruth's authentic vegetarian Paella' recipe! It combines some delicious foods and flavours, and I used brown rice so it is super wholesome too.
It turned out....really well! I was surprised at how good it was actually! The only issue was that I didn't consider the measurements at all. I almost made enough to feed 15 yogis about to break their fast....not so great if you're chilling at home, husband-less.
Here's a peak of my creation:
Anyway, look, try it for yourself! Here is the recipe below. Give it a whirl and chop and change it how you like to add your own twist! I'd love to hear what you think of it.
* These ingredients will end up feeding 3-4 people very well. It's up to you how much rice you add, and it will also depend on the size of your pan.
- 2 tbs good olive oil
- 1 brown onion - diced
- 6 cloves of garlic - finely chopped can't have too much garlic in this!
- 1 red capsicum - diced
- A few florets of broccoli - just shave the tops in and finely chop a little of the stalk
- 1 tomato - chopped roughly
- A small can of green peas
- A can of chopped tomatoes
- A few sticks of celery to your liking - sliced or diced, your choice
- 1 heaped tsp of paprika
- 5 to 10 saffron threads or a dash of saffron powder
- A twist of ground black pepper
- A litre of vegetable stock
- 1 cup of long grain brown rice - add more depending on how many people you're feeding.
- A Paellera!! - I'm afraid if you want to be truly authentic, you really do need a paellera - paella pan. They are not too expensive, and they are worth it for the way it cooks the paella. I've seen recipes with non-stick frying pans. Your call, but consider it like eating pasta without good Italian cheese on it, just not quite the same ;-)
Ok, so getting the flavour going early is very important. Trust me, I see the intensity on my hubby's face at this stage of the process!
It starts with the onion and garlic in the beginning and builds up. It's important you give the vegetables some time to absorb the flavours, without burning.
Step 1: Heat the oil and add the onions and garlic, cooking until soft.
Step 2: Add the paprika, stirring through quickly, then add the chopped capsicum and celery. Allow time for the flavours to mix in and absorb.
Step 3: Make a well in the centre of the pan and add the chopped tomatoes. Mix through for a few minutes.
Step 4: Add about half of the stock to 1 cm from the top of the pan and add the saffron. Allow some time to simmer.
Step 4: Start to sprinkle in some of the rice, without letting the pan overflow. If you don't use all the rice, don't worry. Just make sure it's evenly distributed and covered by liquid. You can give a gentle nudge to the vegetables to allow the rice to distribute through the pan a little, but there's no need to really mix it.
Step 5: Allow the rice to simmer gently and keep adding stock as necessary - you should see bubbles and simmering (like the photo above) for most of the time, until it fully absorbs towards the end.
Step 6: Lastly, sprinkle the peas over the top and allow some time, 5 mins or so, for them to absorb the flavours. No need to stir! Grind a little black pepper over it all at the very end.
Note: If your cooking plate does not distribute heat evenly (electric for example), you may need to turn the pan occasionally to ensure even cooking.
With brown rice you will need to wait a bit longer for the rice to cook. With gentle simmering it could take up to 30 minutes. It is important that you DON'T stir the dish at all. This is the beauty of the paella, getting the balance between having the absorbed, unstirred rice, without over-cooking or burning. Test the rice as you go to see when it is ready.
* Tip! You might end up with a kind of dark, golden crust on the bottom of your pan - yay, good for you! It's not burnt, or at least it shouldn't be burnt. It's called soccarat (sometimes spelled socarrat), and is from the rice on the bottom. It has a beautiful caramelised flavour, and is considered the pinnacle of a good paella. Doesn't always happen though, so good luck with it!
Whether you get the soccarat or not, you should end up with a seriously delish wholesome meal to share with your family. Here's mine below:
I'd love to see how your paella turns out - let me know! And remember, cooking is just for fun. Don't take it too seriously, and try experimenting with ingredients and methods to find what suits you!
I am super excited about this TED Talk I want to share with you all, 'How to make stress your friend', by health psychologist, Kelly McGonigal. As a yoga teacher and mindful wellness coach, I'm all about reducing unnecessary life stress, but does that mean there is no place for tension in our lives? Current research shows there is a place for stress and making friends with it is a good idea.
New research out of Harvard demonstrates that it is not stress itself which causes health problems and possible early deaths. Rather, it is the way we perceive stress which is the big issue. What I want to show you is that we can experience the stress response* in a healthy way.
* What is the stress response? Follow this link to a clear explanation on the stress response via the Harvard Medical School. As you will see, the stress response begins in the brain and induces a whole-body physiological and emotional response. This response was borne through evolution and serves a very important purpose in our survival, but these days it is often induced in non-threatening situations time and time again, day in and day out. Chronic activation of the stress response has been linked to high blood pressure, anxiety, poor sleep, depression, and more. It is important to understand the role of this stress response, befriend it so to speak, but also to develop personal tools to help counteract the negative effects.
Of course that doesn't mean we have free reign to head out and overload our lives with stressful situations thinking it is good for us! No doubt, it is better to try to reduce the amount of stress in our lives as much as possible. However, sometimes we are in situations which really do call for a natural stress response in the body and, if that does happen, research shows it is better to consider this reaction as a normal part of your physiology. Listen to your body, rather than trying to fight it.
Yes, it sounds like a bit of a Catch 22, and in some ways it is. The point is, do as much as you can to reduce stress in your life, but if it does come up, roll with it rather than fight it!
If you have or you know someone who has stress-related health issues, have a listen to the link above. It might change your life, and may make you think twice the next time you are stressed out.
---> For those short on time - and stressed out about it! - here are some of the main points from the talk:
- For many years Kelly McGonigal preached against stress, considering it our worst enemy, something to be avoided at all costs. She pushed the notion that stress makes us sick, reduces immunity and can bring on preventable illness and death from cardiovascular disease.
- Her beliefs were dramatically reversed when she came across the results of a longitudinal study in the U.S.A of 30 000 people. The study found that people had a 43% increased risk of dying after a highly-stressed year, only if they perceived that stress as harmful. If they didn't consider it harmful, their risk of dying was even lower than people who only reported a little stress. I know! Crazy right?! So, all this time we have been thinking it is stress itself which is the issue, but it may be the way we look at that stress which really needs the work.
- Science indicates that if you change your mind about stress and consider the experience in a positive way, your body will listen and act accordingly. This doesn't mean the physical stress signs disappear. Rather, what happens is that you view those physical changes in a positive way, which allows the body to move through the process naturally and comfortably.
- Key points from the Harvard study: Participants were told that the heart pounding is to energise the body and prepare for action, the increased breathing rate is to give the muscles much needed oxygen. In short, they were told their body is doing exactly what it is supposed to do in a stressful situation. The study found those participants then had reduced anxiety and stress over this reaction and were more confident in stressful situations.
- The results: In typically stressful situations, the heart rate goes UP and the blood vessels CONSTRICT, a situation which is commonly associated with cardiovascular disease and a possible increased risk of stroke. In this study, after participants learned to be aware and accepting of their stress response, their heart rate still went UP, which is normal, but their blood vessels STAYED OPEN AND RELAXED. This type of physiological response is quite similar to the positive emotions of JOY or COURAGE. Clearly this is a much healthier response for the cardiovascular system.
- The stress response also releases the famed neuro-hormone OXYTOCIN, known to be the love hormone of the body. Many people do not know that oxytocin is as important as adrenaline when responding to stress. So what does it do in this situation??
Firstly, oxytocin creates a sense of connection, it makes you crave physical contact. You know when you're all stressed out and all you really want is a hug? Well, good! Your body is working! Hopefully you'll get that hug and your oxytocin will increase even more!
- The other thing oxytocin does is work on helping your body. It is an anti-inflammatory agent, helping the blood vessels stay relaxed and open, as discussed above. It also does incredible things to the heart muscle itself. The heart has receptors for the hormone and the oxytocin helps the heart cells to heal and regenerate from any damage caused to the heart muscle during stress. So it all works in a cyclical, healing way! The stress response is a natural part of our physiology, and we have in-built mechanisms to reduce the damage caused by the stress!
- Final study: 1000 adults in the U.S.A. ranging from 34 to 93 years of age. The participants were interviewed about the level of stress and kind of stressful events they had experienced in the previous year, and also how much they had been involved in helping out friends, family, or the community. They were followed for 5 years and rates of death were recorded.
- Findings: For every stressful life event, the risk of dying increased by 30%....BUT! Those who reported caring for other people (family, friends, community), had 0% increased risk of dying. SO...caring created resilience! Yay!
The take aways on this...
So what does this mean?
Should we run-out and get stressed-out as much as possible in the hopes of increasing our oxytocin levels and possibly getting more hugs?? Obviously not! Though hugs are great - I'm all for extra hugs in your day!
Ultimately, the more you can avoid landing in a stressful situation, the better. This may mean improving your planning or communication skills, working on your romantic relationship, talking to your manager about your workload, or whatever you need to do to help reduce stress in your life. Even doing this though, it is likely we will still come across stress in our lives.
In that case, the first thing to do is develop the skills to differentiate between normal stress versus over-reactive stress.
There are various techniques available to us, such as mindfulness and meditation, which can give the ability to step back from a situation and evaluate it, deciding whether it really is a stressful situation, if you are over-reacting, or if the situation can be viewed in a different, more positive way.
If the situation calls for some level of unavoidable stress, perhaps one of the best things to do is to accept it for what it is, understand that your body is fuelling you and preparing you for what is coming up, and possibly go seek out a hug from a mate or partner to boost that sense of connection with the outside world.
No mate or partner available? A sense of connection can also be found by heading out to a community sport, grounding yourself with a yoga class, or receiving the healing touch of a full body massage.
--->In short, don't fight stress, or perceive it in a negative way. Your body is your friend trying to help you, so roll with it!
Note: If you are experiencing high levels of stress or illness induced by stress in your life, it is important that you seek external support and visit your GP for advice and medical support. (Dr Google is handy, but information you find on the internet is not a substitute for a face-to-face physical examination by a health care provider!)
Let's be honest with each other. You know as well as I do that stress is not our friend. Activating the sympathetic nervous system for a 'flight or fight' response is pretty darn handy when fleeing rampant tigers a la thousands of years ago. But it is not so useful today when we activate it daily, over long periods of time at work, opening emails, dealing with difficult customers, and so on. Sure, it can be handy to help us meet that deadline and remain alert in a busy environment but, long term, activating the sympathetic nervous system can lead to a whole gamut of physical damage, a lot of which can have you ending up in hospital (or worse) down the track.
These days, to state that chronic stress damages the health is stating the obvious. But if you need more convincing, watch this simple video here which explains it well. In short, long term stress is an uninvited friend and you need to develop strategies to deal with it when it shows up in your life.
*hint*...while we can make some changes in order to minimise stressful situations, it is near impossible to eradicate stress completely! The best thing to do is have a tool belt full of strategies you can whip out when that 'friend' knocks on the door.
Here are 3 simple and effective strategies to try out over the next few weeks. The best way to do this is to interweave all three of them into your week. Find what works for you and try to practice it daily for at least a few weeks to start building it into your routine. At first you will probably try it and forget it later on. It's like remembering someone's name at a party. If you hear it once you will probably forget it. If you repeat it several times, it concretes itself in there a little more. So, if you are really serious about tackling stress and reducing it's presence in your life, why not put a timer on your phone and select designated times to perform your chosen activity. Over time, it will become routine and you won't need to set up a timer for it. It will be part of your every day life.
An oldy but a goody, we are starting with this one. Long, slow, diaphragmatic breathing immediately triggers the 'relaxation response' via the vagus nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system. In times of stress, we tend to constrict the chest, taking short, shallow chest breaths - preparing ourselves for our tiger run. This activates adrenaline and cortisol throughout the body which, as explained in the video above, are not particularly helpful for our long-term health (though they are great energy boosters when used at the right time!).
Try this method: Either lie down, or sit upright in your chair, in a relaxed but open posture. Begin by relaxing your belly muscles - give them a poke to check! Holding the belly in will force the air into the upper chest which is the opposite of what you want to achieve here. So, with buddha bellies ready...take a long slow inhale through the nose. Try to inhale for the count of 5 slow beats. Hold the breath in for another 5 beats. Release the air slowly for 5 to 7 beats. Pause a moment. Then begin the process again. You should notice your belly doing most of the moving, but don't force it. Just let it fall in and out naturally. Repeat the process five to ten times and you'll notice a lighter and warmer feel to your body and mind, and your thought become more clear - this is the Relaxation Response!
Keep a diary of your stress levels. Use a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 = absolutely no stress, and 10 = extreme stress. Set an alarm and record your stress levels at certain points throughout the day. Do this over a period of one to two weeks for a complete picture of your life stressors. Doing this is a good way to check in and become more aware of your stress. It is also a useful strategy to see any patterns or triggers that may be bringing on or increasing the stress in your daily life. Once you know what the triggers are, you can start to develop some plans to work around and overcome them.
If you record a stress level of 5 or higher at any time during the day, give Tip #1 a go.
If you do notice you are being driven by that unfriendly sympathetic nervous system response, get moving! Typical signs: shallow breathing, tense shoulders, tight jaw, clenched butt. Use that energy that is flooding your system right now. Release it, and move on.
If you're at work, try and find a quiet place to jump down on the floor and do ten situps or pushups. Or stretch your body up and out, and swing your arms in a gentle fashion. Or go for a short walk. It doesn't have to be for long. A brisk five-minute walk around the office or up and down the stair-well will use up the energy you've been releasing.
After that short release, place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Step into the centre of your awareness, slow down your breathing and activate the parasympathetic response with ten slow belly breaths.
As I said, stress sometimes shows up uninvited. Becoming aware of when you want it to hang around and when you'd rather chill out alone is important for your long term health and wellness. Give the tips above a good go and see if you can bring these changes into your routine. Let me know how you go!
* Remember! Long term changes are best made through ongoing coaching and behaviour change. Call or email Ruth today to schedule a free 15 minute discovery session to see how she can help you deal with your long term stress*
Note: Please see your GP if you are concerned about stress and anxiety or any of it's related symptoms and diseases.