The essential guide to prepping for yoga

My recent quest for a healthier existence took me to a yoga school yesterday morning. Where I realised (much to my horror) that it’s quite different from simply strolling into a gym, water bottle and towel in hand. Yoga requires a certain amount of prep-work even before you step into the class and starting a new program can be intimidating. So, I spent the days frantically phoning yoga experts to put together a checklist that will ensure one gets the best out of every session.

1. Don’t eat right before class: Refrain from eating at least two hours prior and 30 minutes after your practice.

2. Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water before, during and after class. Better yet, drink plenty of warm water with fresh squeezed lemon juice, which is a terrific detoxifier!

3. Dress correctly: Wear whatever feels comfortable, preferably in soft cotton and Lycra spandex blends, with soothing colours and dry-fast weaves. That said, big baggy clothing does a disservice because you can’t see what’s going on with the body. Tighter fitting clothes, with the ankles showing, let the teachers see your true alignment and make it easier for them to help you with adjustments. Also avoid pockets, zippers, buckles or buttons on the back or abdomen.

4. Do not wear shoes: You could try yoga socks that help prevent slipping, but practicing barefoot is highly encouraged.

5. Bring water, a hand towel and a mat: While you can rent or borrow them at most studios, it’s more hygienic to have your own. Your mat = your germs. Simple!

6. Bring a large towel: Sweat + yoga mats = slip and slide. Draping a large towel over your mat will help you gain traction in poses like downward dog.

7. Avoid “noise”: Go easy on perfumes and don’t be loud or chatty. The yoga space is intended to be a sanctuary where one may go to decompress from the day and as such it’s best to keep it in a neutral, relaxed state.

8. Be on time: You don’t want to miss the warm-up. This is not just a matter of respect but also of safety.

9. Practice common sense: Know your limits and listen to your body. Ask questions if you’re unsure about a pose or movement. Beginners should start slowly and learn the basics (like proper breathing) rather than how far you can stretch. If you have any medical conditions or injuries, talk to your doctor – poses can be modified once the instructor knows your problem areas. And always remember – pain is not good. Don’t push into it, don’t hold your breath. Just get out of the pose.

10. Accept your feelings: It’s normal (and healthy) to sometimes feel emotionally upset during or after a yoga session… releasing tension in the body releases emotions as well.

Finally, don’t give up too quickly. There are many styles of yoga, not to mention different studios and instructors you might prefer if one doesn’t work out.

Namaste.

How to stay warm but look cool: The 11 best beauty cures for your winter blues!

Feeling low? You are not alone. According to research, this is the most depressing time of the year. It’s cold, it’s grey and those holier-than-thou resolutions are laughing in our face. So, we could really use something to beat the blues right now.

Right?

So, come with me and let the smiling begin!

beauty-winter-mood-boostersTry the “happiness molecule”

Euphoryl – a molecule developed by Laboratoires Sérobiologiques – has the beauty world abuzz with its mood boosting promises. It is said to stimulate the production of dopamine and endorphins, which promote happiness, energy and sex appeal. An easy way to get your fix? The Physician’s Formula Happy Booster Blush ($10). Forget the science bit – the pretty pink hearts have us feeling more cheerful already.

Take a decadent dip

Bubble baths will warm you up mentally and physically. Especially when coupled with Champagne and some cozy tunes. No time for the tub? Fill a bowl with warm water and a squirt of bath gel. Soak hands only, palms up, while you feel the stress slipping away from your whole body.

Armed with aromatherapy

One of the best beauty cures for winter blues lies in the world of aromatherapy. Fruity scents – such as lemon and watermelon – are usually associated with the happiest, most carefree times in our lives, like summertime and vacations. Plus, the scent of fruit sends your body a message to release certain chemicals that create a state of blissful relaxation. So, create your own blend of cheery scents with a mix of essential oils or try a pre-blended product: use a citrus body cleanser or face wash like Soap & Glory’s Sugar Crush Sweet Lime Body Wash ($12) or stash a lusciously scented body lotion in your desk drawer.

Slather chocolate all over

The smell of chocolate releases seratonin in the brain, which works as a natural antidepressant. Give yourself an at-home chocolate massage, scrub or shower with these easy recipes or order up a scrumptious off-the-shelf treat. A couple of feel good finds? Hershey’s Cocoa Bath Set ($20) or The Body Shop’s Chocomania Scrub ($14).

winter beauty productsColor therapy

It’s said the right colour can turn a frown upside down so opt for bright hues. Result: an instant jolt of energy. The easiest switch is a red lipstick, whose association with fun and sexy times is full of positive energy.

The taste test

Something as simple as a new lip gloss in a flavour you love can bring out the cheerful! Citrus ones get bonus points for their uplifting aroma.

Show some massage love

A stress-busting massage sends messages to your brain, triggering the release of feel good chemicals that produce a sense of relaxation and well being. And that’s not all: massage also improves blood circulation, steps up lymphatic drainage, relaxes the muscles and boosts the immune system.

Embrocation creams

Sometimes, there is nothing more depressing as having to pile on layers and layers of heavy woollens to keep the cold at bay. Imagine how much time would be saved if we could skip the whole put-on-thermal-and-pullover-and-tights-and-coat and then take-off-thermal-and-pullover-and-tights-and-coat and then put-on-thermal-and-pullover-and-tights-and-coat-all-over-again four times a day? And what when that cute cocktail dress really, REALLY demands bare legs? When it’s freezing outside?

Then you turn to embrocation creams – the stuff those cute spandex-shorts-clad cyclists use to trick their legs into thinking its 30 degrees warmer outside. Embrocation creams call upon blends of circulation-boosting ingredients like clove, capsica, peppermint and menthol to create a long lasting sensation of warmth that means bare legs can take the streets even in the dead of winter. Added bonus: the shea butter base hydrates winter-worn skin and gives it a super-sexy gleam. Happiness much? Look for DZnuts In-Heat Embrocation ($19.10) or Chamois Butt’r Hot Embrocation ($16.80).

Happy hair

Your hair products go a long way in deciding how you are feeling. That’s because skin absorbs upto 60% of what we put on it, and the scalp has some of the most fragile skin anywhere on the body. So, choose your ingredients carefully and sail through the day cocooned in bliss. Mint and menthol-spiked hair products offer the perfect wakeup call, and will leave you refreshed. Seeking comfort? Lemongrass and tea tree oil create a slightly warming sensation, which combines with their aromatherapy qualities to relax the scalp muscles and make you feel calmer.

Love winter? Loathe winter? How do YOU cope with winter?

12 beauty trends that are going to be HUGE in 2017

Who would imagine that 2017 is already here. And thank God for that. Between Brexit, Donald Trump, India’s demonetisation, the bombings across Europe, the acceleration of the refugee crisis and multiple other national and international issues, 2016 is a year we would soon like to forget. Then there was George Michael’s Christmas swan song, Princess Leia finally succumbing to a greater force and her mother Debbie Reynolds following in grief a day later, and other screen and music legends like Zsa Zsa Gabor and Prince bidding us goodbye… 2016 couldn’t get over soon enough.

Which is why, I guess, we are happy to put on our nostalgic glasses and turn back to the 1980s, when life was a lot more rocking. So bring on the side parts, party glitter, lipstick-bright blush, color-pop lips or lids (or both together – whatever, who cares!) and that reborn love for the ’80s rave scene is going nowhere in a hurry. As an informed opinion, I would say it’s the overarching trend that will inform most of 2017. And here’s how to can incorporate it in your own beauty arsenal.

Color shock

Yellow eyebrows, bright orange lips, violet eyelids, even emerald green earlobes… it’s the time to celebrate color in all its hues, views and avatars. The easiest way to wear it is big and bright, popped onto one feature at a time. Subtle just doesn’t cut it any longer.

Daring lips

Speaking about our new found abhorrence for the subtle, lips are the easiest way to make a statement with bold color. For added fashionista points, go ombre or two-tone: An orange-red combo is the easiest to pull off; try a red-fuschia when you crave more drama! Pair with clean, crisp makeup everywhere else for a modern effect.

The smudgy eye

This one’s my personal favourite: A smudgy, messy, the-morning-after-the-night-before eye that doesn’t require the skills of a cartographer. There are no neat lines, only free-hand application with a lived in feel. Think cigarette ash smudged into the countertop (that was the literal inspiration at Christopher Kane). Powdered kohl and creamy kajal work best. For a more amped up effect, top with a bit of MAC Studio Eye Gloss.

Lipstick = blush

Draping is the new contouring: Applying blush from high up on the corners of your cheeks to the side of your eyes. It lifts up the whole face and makes you appear younger and brighter. The key in draping is to use a bright blush, with additional points for a creamy texture, which is where makeup artists have been putting pinkish lipsticks to double duty. So, you don’t need to invest in a whole new cream blush – just swipe a bit of your lipstick across your cheekbones and blend lightly.

Glitter all the way

Glitter, glitter and more glitter… whether you call it the Pat McGrath effect or attribute it to our reborn love for the ’80s, glitter is the most important product in your party beauty arsenal for the coming months. Pat it onto lips and lids, sprinkle on your hair, rub some into your ear lobes… everything works!

Clean skin

With lips and lids this bold, fresh and clean skin is practically de rigeur. And with celebs going bare faced all over town, this look is set to rule 2017. Keep it creamy and dewy, with concealer only on trouble spots, then play up one feature if you are stepping out for an event or formal dinner. That’s. It.

Pick your plait

From super-tight plaits to the hastily braided topknot, this is clearly the overarching hairstyle of 2017. And it plays well with no-heat hair, so bonus points for going this route.

Quick tip: Rub some styling cream between your palms before braiding to add grip and keep the plait going longer.

Blunt hair

Forget the layers… this is the time of the all-one-length blunt cut. It’s a statement within it’s own simplicity. Pair with…

… deep side parts

Ditch the middle parting for a slick side part. It’s more authoritative than pretty and will polish up your look instantly!

… and no-heat hair

Hair dryers, straighteners, curlers, crimpers… our hair has had it with all the torture and pledged to go heat-free in 2017. Simply work in some leave-in conditioners or styling cream and leave your follicles to recover their health this year.

A photo posted by Sam McKnight© (@sammcknight1) on

Focus point: Ears

This year is going to be all about the year, with attention grabbing earrings ruling the roost. How in the world do you make up your ears, you may well ask. If you want to go the extreme designer route, try painting them with silver glitter (Giamba) or coating them in yellow pigment (Proenza Schouler). For a simpler take, sweep and tuck back hair to leave ears exposed, then dress them up with an ear clip or statement earrings.

Chrome nails

Nails are going super-smooth and mirror-like with a special chrome pigment that’s buffed into nails and sealed with a top coat. For an at-home take on the trend, try one of the new nail polishes that recreate the chrome effect without the buffing.

Boozing with benefits: The right way to drink red wine for weight loss

It all started with the French Paradox.

The question about how the French eat a high fat diet, smoke and totally shy away from active exercise, yet they have half the rate of heart disease (143 vs. 315 per 100,000 middle-aged men) and live 2.5 years longer than anyone else in the world.

French researcher Dr. Serge Renaud’s studies concluded this was primarily because the French drank bucket-fulls of red wine – at the time 16 gallons per person per year vs. 2 gallons per person per year in America.

25 years later, practically every science lab across the world has not only endorsed the theory but actually taken it further, crediting red wine with everything from weight loss and protection against cancer to lowering the risk for diabetes and helping manage depression.

A sampler, if you may.

First, let’s look at red wine and weight loss

1. In 2015, researchers at the Washington State University, found that resveratrol – a key antioxidant found in red wine – helps convert ‘white fat’ into ‘beige fat’. Beige fat reduces weight gain by actively burning calories.

2. The Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health concluded a 13-year obesity study of 19,220 middle aged women in 2010. The result? Women who drank two glasses of red wine daily were 70% less likely to gain weight.

3. According to a joint study between Harvard School of Public Health in the US, the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel and Leipzig University, Germany, red wine increases the balance of HDL (the ‘good’ cholesterol), while boosting glucose metabolism to curb diabetes.

4. At Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, scientists concluded that red wine creates thermogenesis, which raises body temperature by burning more calories.

5. At the University of Alberta, Canada, it was found that the weight reducing benefits of red wine are similar to that of exercise (this one’s my favourite study!).

6. A Norwegian study revealed that one glass of red wine a day significantly increases levels of the appetite-regulating hormone leptin.

7. At Purdue University, it was discovered that red wine contains piceatannol, which actually blocks the growth of fat cells. It also helps fight cancer, heart diseases and neurodegenerative diseases.

8. In 2012, a team of scientists from Arizona State University, the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and Harvard Medical School found that bumblebees who were given resvesterol late at night, ate less.

9. Wondering if virgin grape juice has the same benefits? A German study proved that wine drinkers lose more weight than grape juice drinkers.

10. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, red wine increases levels of good bacteria in the digestive tract.

And there are the other benefits of red wine, like preventing gastric infections, reducing the risk of ovarian cancer, preventing heart disease, strokes and other cognitive disorders (think dementia and Alzheimer’s), cutting the risk of depression and – in the strangest of turnarounds – actually decreasing the prevalence of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). But that’s a whole new story for another day.

So, why not white wine?

While both red and white wines are made from grapes, red wine is made from the whole grape, including the skin and seeds. The skin and seeds are what add powerful antioxidants like resveratrols, polyphenols, procyanidin and flavonoids, which give red wine most of its weight loss and anti-ageing benefits.

Red wine also has less natural sugars, while having more iron, potassium, magnesium and bone-friendly phosphorous.

red wine benefitsBut white wines are much less likely to trigger headaches, especially migraines, due to lower concentrations of histamines. And the paler varietal is also less likely to give you a hangover, as it lacks congeners – chemicals produced during fermentation.

And what about the calories?

Yes, red wine – like everything else that’s edible on Planet Earth – comes with it’s own set of calories. Specifically, about 125 to a glass.

These are however, negated by its low GI (Glycemic Index). GI measures how much glucose different foods produce in the bloodstream. Foods with a high GI score, like bread and cakes, produce large amounts of glucose, which is ultimately stored as fat. However, some high calorie foods such as nuts produce little glucose, explaining why they don’t make you put on weight. Red wine scores very low on the Glycemic Index (less than 15), which is why it doesn’t pile on the pounds.

And then there’s the research that a glass of red wine suppresses cravings for unhealthy snacks, like chocolate, biscuits and sweets, making you feel sated without going on a late night junk food binge. As always, the trick lies in moderation. Bingeing on the red wine will pile on more calories than can be outweighed by its benefits.

Does the variety of red wine matter?

The short answer is: Yes. Not all red wines are created equal. They are dependent on the grape varietal, fermentation process and age.

Red Wine Being PouredMadiran: Made from Tannat grapes in the Gascony region of the southwest of France, Madiran wines are extremely high in procyanidins (for cardiovascular and arterial health) and resvesterol (weight loss, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, blood sugar control, cardiovascular health). In fact, they have up to 10 times the levels of procyanidins than wines grown elsewhere, which is why the Madiran area has double the national average of men aged 90, despite an extremely high fat diet.

Grenache: The Grenache grape, grown in Sardinia, Spain and southern France, is known for producing some of the greatest amounts of resveratrol of any varietal.

Muscadine (or Scuppernong): A wine grape native to southeastern US, Muscadine is extremely high in ellagic acid, which boosts weight loss. The levels of ellagic acid are boosted with each year of oak raging, so read the label. And incidentally, there are only about 5000 acres of Muscadine grapes in the world, most of which are concentrated in Georgia.

Pinot Noir: Pinot Noirs grown in cool, rainy climates have among the highest concentrations of resvesterol among any red wines in the world. Regions to look for include the Burgundy region of France, the Marlborough region of New Zealand and Willamette Valley in Oregon.

Barbera: Originally of Italian original but now also widely produced in California, Barbera wines  contains very high levels of resveratrol.

How much red wine should I be drinking?

Time calls alcohol the “Goldilocks of the nutrition world”. Drinking too little red wine may deprive you of its benefits; while drinking too much can also be destructive to your health.

The key lies in moderation. This means up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men, or less. And one drink is five ounces.

Why do women have a lower limit? It’s nothing to do with sexism… females generally have lower levels of alcohol dehydrogenase, a liver enzyme that metabolises alcohol. Hence, that are advised to drink smaller amounts of any alcohol.

Even if we look to the French and the Italians for their propensity to drink more wine and yet be healthier than any of us, you will never catch them binge drinking. Even on weekends. Instead, they drink a little everyday and know just when to stop!

And when to drink red wine for maximum benefits?

Red wine, like every other alcohol, doesn’t play well with empty stomachs. The best option is to have it the old fashioned Mediterranean way: with a meal rich in vegetables and fish, complete with fruits and a healthy fat such as olive oil.

What if I simply can’t have red wine? Am I out of options?

Firstly, absolutely don’t start drinking red wine suddenly if you’re a teetotaller. Or without checking with your doctor if you have health problems. Or if you or your family has a history of health abuse. Or if you react badly to the beverage in any form!

Instead, stock up on other antioxidant and resversterol-rich foods, like blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, red grapes, peanut butter, dark chocolate and apples. The weight-loss boosting ellagic acid is also found in raspberries, blackberries, green tea, oolong tea, walnuts and pecans.

Remember, a balanced diet is everything.

Cheers!