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.

Clay 101: Which one’s best suited for your skin. And hair. (Because clay masks are everything!)

While I have yet to achieve Louis Litt’s levels of mudding (What? You don’t watch Suits? Why??!!), the lure of a simple clay mask that literally sucks out toxins and other accumulated grime from deep under your skin is massively ooh-worthy!

That’s why this innocuous ingredient, which literally comes from the earth and has been used by some of history’s most gorgeous women since ancient times, is fast becoming one of the trendiest staples in today’s beauty circles. From face masks and soaps to foundation sticks and hair conditioners, clay seems to be just everywhere.

And it’s one of the simplest face masks to put together: Mix with a liquid (plain water/milk/rose water/yogurt/aloe… the possibilities are endless) and apply. That’s all!

But which clay to choose? Bentonite? Kaolin? Fuller’s Earth? Which one will work with your skin type and sort your specific complexion or hair issues?

Let’s figure it all out.

Bentonite clay

This fine-particled, grey-green clay (avoid the white variety – it’s over processed) comes from volcanic regions and is rich in magnesium. Bentonite’s signature is its unique molecular structure, which develops an electrical charge and swells up like an open sponge when mixed with water. This makes it particularly great at sucking out toxins, bacteria, fungus, oils and even excess sodium (hello water retention and puffiness) from the skin’s very follicles.

All properties that make bentonite perfect for oily, acne-prone skin and complexions suffering from large pores, is subjected to pollution or has chronic infections. On the other hand, dryer skin types should try and avoid this particular clay – not using it more than once a week.

Fuller’s earth

This ancient volcanic ash sediment – also known as Multani mitti – is so absorbent that it’s even called upon to soak up small oil spills and draw out poisons from the body. It looks very similar to bentonite and is again great at drawing out toxins, excess oil and other impurities from the skin.

However, it has one additional property: This particular clay is great for treating hyper pigmentation, because of its mild bleaching action. It also boosts circulation but may be too drying for some complexions.

Kaolin clay

This finely milled clay is the gentlest of all and comes in many colours. White kaolin (which is also used to make porcelain) is the mildest. And rather than being absorbent, it’s a gentle exfoliant that’s great for softening the skin. This make white kaolin clay perfect for dry, sensitive complexions. Yellow kaolin is a little more absorbent and exfoliating, with the additional benefit of boosting skin circulation.

Red kaolin is the most absorbent, making it perfect for oily, congested and acne-prone skin. Pink kaolin is a mixture of red and white, which is great for oily yet sensitive skin that needs medium-level exfoliation and detoxification.

French green clay

Made of mineral-rich volcanic ash mined from the bedrock quarries of France, this green clay’s molecular structure helps pull out deeply seated toxins, bust blemishes, soak up excess oil, boost circulation and balance skin’s pH levels. It is also a great anti-ager, given its toning action, which boosts circulation to repair damaged skin, soothes out fine lines and tightens the pores.

French green clay is a boon for oily and acne-prone skin, though it may be too drying for those on the other end of the spectrum.

Rhassoul clay

Mined from Morocco’s lava fields, Rhassoul clay has a dual action: It contains a super-potent blend of minerals and is negatively charged. Since most skin toxins are positively charged, the latter quality literally helps suck out blackheads (it’s seriously the best treatment for blackheads!), excess sebum and other debris out of skin pores. The inherent minerals simultaneously tone, calm and soften the skin.

This means Rhassoul is not as drying as bentonite or Fuller’s earth, making it great for dry skin as well. This particular clay is also great for hair and scalp, since it sops up excessive oil, pollutant and product buildup.

Umbrian clay

Indigenous to the Umbrian region of Italy, this clay is super-loaded with minerals and is also highly absorbent. It’s not only great for detoxifying and de-greasing, Umbrian clay also helps maintain the skin’s pH levels, soothe irritations, calm inflammation and refine the pores.

Umbrian clay is best suited for normal to oily complexions, though drier ones that are tempted by its other benefits can also bring it out once a week. The trick is to not let it dry on your face completely; rinse off while the clay is still a bit wet to the touch, to stop it from dehydrating your skin.

Blue clay

One of the rarest cosmetic clays around, blue clay is found in Siberia and has an exceptionally high mineral content. Besides being super-absorbent and drawing out impurities, it also nourishes the skin, stimulates blood circulation and tones the complexion.

This makes it perfect for mature skin, since it has a potent ant-ageing action, ironing away fine lines, stepping up cell metabolism to keep wrinkles at bay and restoring suppleness and elasticity.

Dead sea mudDead Sea mud

Though this is technically not clay – mud is a mixture of soil, silt, clay and water – the terms are often used interchangeably in the beauty industry. And Dead Sea mud (seen above in its natural habitat – the Dead Sea) is one of the most cult skincare ingredients out there, revered for its super-high concentrations of salts and minerals (specially magnesium, sodium, calcium and potassium). This makes it a terrific deep cleanser and exfoliator, while killing acne, nourishing the skin, restoring pH levels, treating conditions like psoriasis and eczema, toning and clarifying the complexion, improving its texture and even smoothing out cellulite and stretch marks.

Dead Sea mud also has another huge benefit: It is great at easing out the pain of sore muscles, combatting inflammation and relaxing the mind and body, hence appearing in a lot of body masks and scrubs. It is good for all types of skin, including dry and sensitive ones.

European Moor mud

Also known as Balneoo Peat, European Moor mud actually contains almost no clay. Instead, it contains the organic residue of multifarious flowers, herbs and grasses, which make it rich in natural enzymes, minerals, amino acids and vitamins. Originating from Hungary and the Czech Republic, its high humic content makes it a potent anti-inflammatory and circulation booster, which helps detoxify the body, decongest the skin, soothe joint inflammation, ease achy muscles and smooth away cellulite. European Moor mud is highly soluble in water, so it won’t clog up your bath tub either.

Have you tried a clay product before? How was your experience?

The hot coffee glossary: How to brew up all those cool caffeine cuppas right at home

Ever since my last blog post on coffee, I’ve been inundated with questions on how to distinguish the different kinds of cuppas out there. And how to recreate them right at home. Because if coffee comes loaded with so many health and beauty benefits, we should be exploring multiple ways to enjoy it!

And no, it’s not in the least bit difficult to make a fancy-sounding (and tasting) marochino. Or a demi-cremé. Or a Café Viennois.

These super-easy recipes – and a good base, which I brew up with coffee capsules of Gourmesso – should equip you with all the knowledge your caffeine-seeking brain could ever need to know. Play around with your new vocabulary and see a whole new world of caffeine opening up for you!

hot-coffee-typesEspresso

Espresso is a concentrated 1 oz shot of coffee made with 7 grams of finely ground coffee extracted at high pressure. Having it “short” means that it has less water and is therefore more concentrated, and “long” conversely uses more water and does not taste as strong. Purists have it without milk, though you can add a bit of sugar!

Americano

An Americano is a single shot of espresso diluted to taste with hot water. The name was a dig at Americans, who couldn’t handle an actual espresso.

Ristretto

‘Ristretto’ means ‘restricted’ – to make a shot, water is forced through ground coffee just like espresso but more quickly. There’s less caffeine compared to regular espresso but the same amount of coffee oils and flavour.

Doppio

A double shot of espresso, extracted using a double coffee filter. This results in 2 oz (60 ml) of drink, double the amount of an espresso.

coffee-morningRed Eye

The red eye is a shot of espresso mixed with drip coffee.

Macchiato

A macchiato is an espresso “stained” with a little bit of foam and usually drizzled with caramel sauce. Often, vanilla is added to provide extra flavor.

Con Panna

Another bitter espresso that is topped with a small amount of sweet whipped cream.

Cappuccino

A true cappuccino is equal parts espresso, steamed milk and milk froth. If frothed correctly, these are not supposed to distinct layers but rather a smooth, silky blending of each elements.

Dry Cappuccino

A regular cappuccino but with very little warm milk and more foam or froth.

Flat white

Developed in Australia, flat white is made by pouring steamed milk from the bottom of a pitcher, aka “microfoam,” over ristretto.

Irish coffee

This classic drink is made from hot coffee, Irish whiskey, and sugar topped with thick cream.

Cafe latte

A caffe latte is a single shot of espresso to three parts of steamed milk with a small amount of froth on top.

Demi-cremé

Espresso topped with half-and-half or skimmed milk.

Cafe au lait

A weaker form of caffe latte made with brewed coffee instead of espresso, with an equal milk to coffee in the ratio of 1:1.

Cafe mocha (Mochachino)

This is a cappuccino or a caffe latte with chocolate syrup or powder added. You could garnish with some whipped cream.

Marochino

A shot of espresso, cocoa powder and milk froth; thick hot cocoa optional.

Café Viennois / Vienna coffee

A classic in the cafés of Budapest and Vienna, the viennois is made of espresso, hot milk, and whipped cream.

Cuban coffee

Cuban coffee is a type of espresso, which is sweetened with natural brown sugar as it is being brewed.

Cortado

‘Cortado’ is Spanish for ‘to cut’ – and this drink is a shot of espresso cut with approximately the same amount of steamed milk.

Caffè corretto

The corretto is an Italian cocktail of espresso, grappa, and sambuca or brandy.

Café con leche

A Spanish beverage consisting of strong or bold coffee (usually espresso) mixed with scalded milk in a 1:1 ratio.

Long black

Another Aussie creation, a long black is made by pouring a double shot of espresso over hot water that’s been heated by the espresso machine.

What’s your favourite coffee? Discovered anything new and interesting lately?

11 reasons you should drink coffee every single day

You know what I love most about birthdays? Getting to swan around like a total diva Because my family has this really cool tradition: From the stroke of midnight on your birthday, till midnight the next day, you get to boss around whoever you want and nobody can yell at you or make you do any work. Not even mom can make you clean the table or pick up your clothes off the floor. And the husband has to concede every argument and can’t call you out for being unreasonable or demanding. So, basically, 24 hours of pure bliss… which sort of make up for turning a year older!

You know another thing I love about birthdays? Gifts. Not the extravagant kinds but the small, intimate ones that can only come out of true love. Like the lavender flowers so beautifully crafted out of clay by my mother, despite having two fractured fingers in her right hand (pix coming up soon as they’ve gone for framing!). She knows I love lavender and am always bemoaning the fact that they bloom for such a short while. Only a mother’s love could have spent a straight 72 hours without sleep, putting together something that would take somebody else at least a couple of weeks, even without the fractured fingers. Love you mom!

And then there was the most mammoth box of Gourmesso coffee capsules for Nespresso machines, complete with all my favourite flavours (Soffio Caramello, Soffio Mandorla and Messico Forte Blend) from my oldest friend on earth. This is the kind of gift that keeps on giving, because not only does coffee wake you up, get you through a lousy day and tide over the crazy deadlines, it’s also chock full of health benefits that other beverages would find it hard to equal. So, basically, this is a gift of pure sunshine that promises health, good humour and happiness in a cup. Through the year.

Don’t believe me? Here are 11 science-backed reasons why a jolt of java is good for mind, body and soul. Have fun reading while I quickly pop a pod and see you on the other side.

Coffee makes you happy

And I don’t just mean this in terms of the caffeine high! Coffee literally makes you feel happier by stimulating the production of serotonin and dopamine, which make you brighter and perkier.

Coffee promotes mental sharpness

Well… d-uh… right? Coffee helps us perk up and face the mornings. And the mid-afternoon slump. And the late-at-night deadline. And everything in between. But it doesn’t stop there. Coffee actually sharpens the brain, making it work more efficiently. Result? Faster reflexes, enhanced attention span, increased focus, better memory and improved logical reasoning. But it doesn’t just end there. Research shows that drinking 3-5 cups of coffee daily also cuts the risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia by 65%.

coffee-benefitsCoffee cuts pain

Sore muscles? A cuppa can reduce the pain by up to 48%, say Norwegian researchers and the Journal of Pain. I need my gym to install a coffee bar. Pronto.

Coffee helps weight loss

A jolt of java not only reduces post-exercise pain, having a cup of black coffee an hour before your workout can increase physical performance by almost 12%. The link? Caffeine boosts adrenaline, which helps you work out harder and more efficiently. Plus, it also helps break down fat cells. #doublewhammy

Coffee suppresses chronic inflammation

And I don’t mean the kind of inflammation that occurs when you hurt yourself or are stung by a bee. We are talking about chronic internal inflammation that occurs under the skin or around our vital organs – such as the heart or liver – putting extra pressure on them (think of it as an extra layer of fat or mucus that’s squeezing the organs), while simultaneously blocking optimal supply of nutrients. This internal inflammation is the leading cause of chronic issues such as diabetes, heart trouble, cystic acne, eczema, wrinkles, fine lines, dullness and sagging. Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine have discovered that caffeine can block the pathways of inflammatory molecules, preventing them from lodging in our body. This means more flexible arteries, lower blood pressure and a host of skin benefits to boot.

Coffee amps up your antioxidants

Strange as it may seem, Americans get most of their antioxidants from coffee. Yes, coffee. That’s because a serving of coffee contains more antioxidants than a serving of things like grape juice, oranges and blueberries.

Coffee protects your heart

Dutch and Japanese studies (the latter had 76,000 participants!) show that moderate coffee drinkers (1-2 cups per day) have up to 38% chance of dying from a cardiovascular disease.

Coffee prevents diabetes

After 28 studies over more than one million participants, researchers at Harvard have found that a single cup of coffee can cut the risk of Type II diabetes by 8% (just remember to hold the sugar). Take this up to 6 cups daily and you reduce the risk by 33%. The reason? Coffee contains chlorogenic acid, a polyphenol that reduces the concentration of blood sugar and slows down its absorption. It also contains magnesium and potassium, which increase insulin sensitivity and reduces sweet cravings.

Coffee protects your liver

Drinking one cup of coffee a day can cut your risk for developing liver cirrhosis by 20% by lowering enzyme levels. Take it up to four cups a day and it can also halt the progression of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD).

Coffee helps avoid kidney stones

According to studies at Harvard, coffee is a diuretic that helps flush out excess calcium and sodium from the body, thereby preventing the formation of kidney stones. Trust me, I’ve had them and they literally do hurt more than childbirth.

Coffee prevents cavities

If I had to choose my favourite finding about coffee’s health benefits, this is The One! As someone who has a serious dental phobia (think serious hyperventilation, high blood pressure and shortness of breath every time I have to see the dentist), just knowing that black coffee helps the bacteria that cause tooth decay has me literally brewing up another cup right now. Hold the milk and sugar, though!

What’s the best birthday gift(s) you’ve ever received?