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 drop a dress size in 20 minutes

how to drop a dress sizeThe weekend begins and it’s time to get out that body hugging dress and paint the town red! Or is it? Unfortunately, life is rarely that perfect – especially for those of us whose days normally consist of rushed meals grabbed off fast food counters and late night spent chasing deadlines. The result? Bloated bodies that make you want to slip into a tent-shaped kaftan rather than risk the unforgiving cocktail number.

But despair not – there is help at hand, courtesy Thai damsels of centuries past, whose herbal wraps are superb at drawing out body impurities, banishing bloat and firming up the skin. No, you won’t lose 10 kilos in one session and the effects last only a few days, but if it gets me from a size 10 to a size 8 in time for Saturday’s bachelorette bash at the Four Seasons, it’s good enough for my needs! My personal favourite is this super-simple wrap recipe from the Six Senses Spa at the Evanson Hua Hun, which promises to rejuvenate even the most weary.

You will need

1 oz (20 gms) ginger
3 oz (80 gms) turmeric
Handful of rice
Warm water as required

How-to

1. Grind together the ginger and turmeric.

2. Powder the rice to a coarse, grainy texture.

3. Add everything to the warm water and mix till it makes a thick paste.

4. Massage the paste all over your body in circular motions, paying special attention to areas with fatty deposits such as thighs, stomach, hips and upper arms.

5. Leave the paste on for 20 minutes* and then rinse off with warm water. Follow with a moisturiser of your choice.

* You can increase the recipe’s potency by wrapping your body (or at least the problem areas) in plastic sheet or strips of cloth.

how to drop a dress size 2Why it works

This is a super-potent wrap as the ginger stimulates circulation and reduces water retention, turmeric acts as an anti-oxidant and detoxifier, while rice removes dead skin cells and drains impurities through the skin’s outermost layers. What’s your surefire way of losing those pesky pounds in an instant? Do share!

UPDATE: I have been getting a lot of messages from readers who are concerned that turmeric will stain their skin with yellow streaks. Actually, genuine turmeric does not stain the skin when used in face or body pack-appropriate quantities. The problem is we now have a lot of spices that use artificial dyes to give the impression of better quality and it’s these pigments that cause the stain. Just to be on the safe side, I would suggest doing a patch test on the back of your hand before using a turmeric-based skin treatment. And if you do get a stain, rub olive oil or castor oil into the skin and then wipe it off with a warm cloth. You might also try using a mild alcohol-based astringent on the stained area of skin. This should clear it up quickly!

Witch hazel: Adding magic to your beauty routine

Double, double, toil and trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble. Witch hazel sounds like something that would be used in a potion or spell, right? But you probably didn’t realize that it’s actually a pretty common ingredient in skin care products ranging from Clarins’ Beauty Flash Balm to Clinique’s Clarifying Lotion… and for good reason.

What exactly is witch hazel?

witch-hazelWitch hazel is an ancient herb that has been used for medicinal purposes since centuries. It was first discovered by the Indians, who found a way to extract oils from the bark of Hamamelis virginiana – commonly known as the witch hazel shrub. Although the origins of its distinct name are unclear, it may have come from the Middle English word “wich”, which means “flexible”, in honor of the plant’s bendy branches.

Witch hazel contains tannin, flavonoids and strong anti-oxidants, which can help clear up a multitude of skin problems. Native Americans used the plant to ease swelling and treat minor wounds, abrasions and several other skin conditions. Today, herbalists consider it a powerful remedy for relieving muscle aches and pains, treating varicose veins, as well as to stem bleeding from cuts and scrapes.

However, it is as a beauty treatment that witch hazel keeps its mystique. And you don’t even have to wash your face with it from a silver bowl at full moon. It works quite simply and effectively at any time of day and the benefits are underlaid with solid scientific proof.

What to do with witch hazel

De-grease your hair: To reduce excessive oil, dampen a cotton ball with witch hazel and dab it along your hairline and parting. Leave on for 10 minutes, then rinse off with cool water.

Spot control: Witch hazel helps disinfect and reduce the inflammation on a pimple, which is why it can be found in many over-the-counter acne treatments. For maximum effectivity, try this potent mask: mix a teaspoon of witch hazel with two teaspoon of honey (for dry skin) or an egg white (oily skin). Apply this to the affected area and leave for 20 minutes; rinse off with cool water.

Soothe sunburns: Treating a sunburn with witch hazel will lessen healing time and prevent the infamous skin peeling and flaking. And it’s simple – just spread a thin coat of witch hazel on the ‘burn. It will both cool and soothe.

Treat dry skin: Apply witch hazel immediately after showering… it will “lock in” the moisture that has just soaked into your skin.

Pore perfecter: The high level of tannin content (which strengthens pore walls) in witch hazel makes it great for soothing and tightening large pores. Plus the herb is naturally antibacterial and effectively sucks out dirt and oil without over-drying. To use, simply soak a cotton pad in watch hazel and gently rub over cleansed skin twice a day.

A branch of witch hazel

A branch of witch hazel

Toner: Unlike many harsh toners that contain chemical ingredients, witch hazel naturally firms the skin without making your face feel too tight. It also helps reduce inflammation and redness, while having a cooling touch that leaves you feeling refreshed.

Anti-aging: Witch hazel is rich in antioxidants, which defend our skin against free radicals. Free radicals can damage skin, leading to premature skin aging. So, apply witch hazel regularly to clean skin when you want to slow down the clock.

Refresh tired eyes: NOT by squirting witch hazel in them, but by soaking a clean rag in witch hazel and cold water and placing the cold compress over your closed eyes for 10 minutes. The anti-inflammatory effects (which make witch hazel one of the magic ingredients in Preparation H) will help relieve strained, puffy or red eyes.

Heal a bruise faster: Been in a fight recently? Well, maybe not. But if you bang your leg or arm and are left with a nasty bruise, a thrice-daily dab of witch hazel can help speed up the healing time. It also works as a disinfectant for cuts, cracked skin and blisters.

Soothe (or prevent) razor burn: The anti-inflammatory properties of witch hazel stop itchy bumps from forming around irritated hair follicles. Apply before or after shaving – this goes for both ladies and gentlemen.

Scars and age spots: Pour 2 tablespoons of witch hazel into a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice and mix well. Use a q-tip to dab the mixture onto the age spots before bed. Let dry and put on the night time moisturizer. Repeat process for 2 weeks to fade the spots.

Do a deo: The same antibacterial and astringent properties that make witch hazel so effective at reducing oiliness can also help your underarms. Simply saturate a cotton ball in the liquid, dab it on your underarms and let it dry. You can also add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to give it a nice scent.

Varicose vein relief: Soak wash cloths in witch hazel and lay on legs (which are propped straight out) to reduce pain and swelling from varicose veins. Witch hazel will help tighten the veins, relieving discomfort temporarily.

Soothe poison ivy and poison oak: Just like acne and blemishes, witch hazel reduces itching and relieves swelling. Something definitely worth packing on your next picnic or camping trip.

Do you currently use witch hazel in your skincare regimen?

10 sneaky ways to drink more water (it’s the cheapest, quickest way to look AND feel great!)

I did a post on acne (What is your acne telling you?) and the role that various bits and bobs of our bodies play in its horrid takeover of our faces. Amongst the 24,36,987 visitors who stopped by this post in a week, over 40% wrote in to say that they have pinpointed much of their spottiness to a lack of adequate water.

Which makes sense. Water is not called the ‘source of life’ for nothing… it is crucial for every body function, right from metabolising fat and regulating temperature to facilitating important bio-chemical reactions, lubricating the joints and limbs, aiding digestion, hydrating the skin and helping the body flush out waste and toxins. So, it stands to reason that without regular top-ups, our skin (actually our whole body) will go into crisis mode. The simplest solution? DRINK MORE WATER!

Yet, 99% of us don’t heed this advice. H2O is bland, it’s boring, it’s always “just there”… maybe if water becomes more expensive, we will start paying more attention! But till then, I would be the first to admit that sometimes drinking the requisite “8 glasses” (find out exactly how much water you need HERE) can be a real challenge! So, after much interviewing, thinking, researching and experimenting, here are 10 tips to help you accomplish that feat (and I have personally tested every one of them – they work stupendously!). Click through, then tell us the sneaky ways you trick yourself into drinking more water in the comments. We could all use the help!

Drink your water! Stay well hydrated! Stay healthy! Stay pretty!

drink-waterIn case you can’t see the image above, here are the tips in text form

1. Add two glasses of drinking water to your daily skincare regimen: Drink, cleanse, moisturise, then drink again.

2. Don’t purchase any other drinks: let’s face it, if you have your favourite soda chilling in the fridge, are you honestly going to opt for water?

3. Drink at least one glass of water for every alcoholic drink you down. (It’s also a great way to prevent a hangover!)

4. Set an alarm to beep every hour – this is your reminder to down a glass of water. If you drink only small (6 ounce or 180 ml) cup per hour, you will consume 48 ounces (1.4 liters) in an 8-hour workday.

5. Eat water-rich foods, such as watermelons, which are 92% water. A tomato is 95% water, while an egg is 74% water.

6. Add ice or freeze water in a sports bottle before taking it with you. Tt will eventually melt and stay cold, thereby creating a pleasant frisson on a hot day.

7. Purchase a water bottle that holds the amount of water you need to drink each day, or use a combination of 1-liter and half-liter bottles. This will allow you to see exactly how much water you are consuming on a regular basis.

8. Fill a glass jar with water, pop in some fruit-infused tea bags in a glass jar and place it in the sun for naturally brewed tea that has an intense flavour. Drink it chilled for loads of flavour and antioxidant protection.

9. Prefer a sweet sip to plain ol’ water? Fill 1/4 of your glass with 100 percent fruit juice and top off with water or seltzer.

10. Bring a touch of the exotic: Add mint leaves, slices of apples, strawberries, lemons or limes to a pitcher of water; serve chilled. Keep a jug in the fridge so you always have great-tasting and great-looking H2O available. For an even greater kick, drink it out of champagne flutes!

How much water do you manage to drink on a daily basis?