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 NOT to look sick (yes, even when you are sniffling away)

Red, watery eyes, runny nose, blotchy skin and chapped lips… having a cold or the flu isn’t very nice. It’s not just that you feel awful but you don’t look too pretty either. But there’s no need to let a nasty chill wreak havoc with your looks (or your plans). Master these easy beauty tricks and face the world looking terrific, despite the sniffles.

sick-day-makeupHide a cold #1: Glow of health

If the winter chills have left your complexion looking tired and pasty, use a gentle cleansing scrub to rev up circulation and make skin glow. Follow with a hydrating, vitamin-rich moisturiser, like Dermalogica’s Multivitamin Power Concentrate, to soothe soreness around the nose.

Pale, sick faces sometimes need a bit of artificial health pumped into them – a sweep of blush will make you look sprightly and healthy.

Hide a cold #2: Get rid of the red

Red and blotchy skin is a sure sign of an unhappy immune system. Use products that counter the redness, like Smashbox’s Photo Finish Color Correcting Foundation Primer, then damp-sponge on a sheer liquid foundation to even out the skin tone.

Bring out the skin brighteners like Stila’s One Step Illuminate. Unlike many other makeup products, which contain titanium dioxide – a white substance that adds opacity (not what you want when you are tired) – skin brighteners pack crushed rose quartz and mother-of-pearl, which reflect light to perk up your skin.

Hide a cold #3: Eye bright

Caking concealer over dark circles will only emphasise them further. Instead, dot some where your eye meets the bridge of your nose and blend outwards. Opt for a lightweight concealer that’s one shade lighter than your skin tone. Clinique’s Even Better Concealer is perfect for this. Follow with a light layer of loose powder. 

And that’s not all: Brighten up groggy eyes with over-the-counter eyedrops that will give them a good cleanse and tone down redness. Plus, run a white eyeliner along the inside rim to make tired eyes look fresher. Also remember that watery eyes can make your mascara run in nasty streaks. So, when colds strike, go waterproof.

Hide a cold #4: Lip service

Dry, cracked lips are painful and ugly. Restore their smoothness with this old-school trick: brush your lips with a toothbrush smeared in Vaseline. This will buff off any loose skin and leave your lips soft and rosy.

For a more permanent solution, heal cracked or damaged lips with a super salve like Burt’s Bees Replenishing Lip Balm with Pomegranate Oil.

Finally, slick on a little lip gloss; lipsticks are usually to drying and hence avoidable during this time.

How do you deal with being sick? Are you the indulge-me type or do you prefer to just get up and keep going?

Why sugar hates your skin (and how to quit it without going crazy!)

If it wasn’t bad enough that sugar wreaks horrors on our health (diabetes, Alzheimer’s, mood swings, candida, hormonal balances, cholesterol… anyone?) research now shows that it’s terrible for our skin as well. An excessive intake of processed sugars can fast track the aging process, leading to dark circles, wrinkles, fine lines and loss of radiance.

Don’t believe me? Read on.

sugar-and-skinFirst, let’s look at the way sugar wrongs our skin

  • Sugar leads to premature ageing: When sugar enters your blood stream, it binds to proteins in a process called glycation. Glycation destroys the flexibility and density of collagen and elastin (skin’s protein-based building blocks), thereby leading to wrinkles and sagging.
  • Sugar breaks down antioxidants: This breakdown in proteins and collagen also weakens the body’s natural antioxidants, leaving it vulnerable to all kinds of environmental damage.
  • Sugar increases dark circles: The process of glycation produces toxic compounds called Advanced Glycation End Products (commonly shortened, appropriately, to AGEs) that are directly responsible for dark under-eye circles, yellowing of skin and dullness.
  • Sugar suppresses the Human Growth Hormone (HGH): HGH helps regulate body composition, muscle and bone growth, fat metabolism and even the heart function; low levels make you look and feel older.
  • Sugar leads to chronic inflammation: A diet high in sugars is associated with inflammation, which leads to all sorts of skin and health issues (like loss of skin elasticity, broken capillaries and breakdown of cells). The result? Fast track ageing.
  • Sugar decreases the lifespan of skin cells: The sudden spikes in energy intensify the activities of cells and tissues, making them divide more rapidly and thereby decreasing their lifespan.
  • Sugar causes acne: Finally, sugar can also contribute to acne flare-ups, since they rev up all the body’s functions, including oil production.

How much is too much?

Ideally we should eat no processed sugars at all. Instead, sugar should come from  a wholefood diet such as grains, fruit and natural food. The American Heart Association recommends most women get no more than 24 grams of added sugar per day. That’s about 6 teaspoons (or 100 calories) – a little less than the amount in one can of soda. However, the average American woman eats more than 18 teaspoons of sugar every single day.

And exercise? Sorry to break the news but current medical opinion stresses that unless the exercise is extreme and the food is eaten directly afterwards, it is has little effect on blood sugar.

Fresh vegetables salad with croutons and chickenHorrified about the thought of giving up the sweet stuff? There is good news on this front. Forsaking sugar doesn’t have to be a miserable and tasteless existence. Neither should it give you the shakes, destroy all hopes of comfort food or take away the promise of chocolate. Rather, kicking the sugar habit should kick your mood and energy through the roof. So here are my tips to kick sugar without hating your life!

  • Drink water: Sometimes those sweet cravings are actually a sign of dehydration. So, instead of the sugar-laden beverages, opt for filtered water, coconut water or green tea.
  • Read the ingredient labels: Sugar is hidden in unlikely foods, from salad dressing to deli meats. Do a quick scan of the the ingredients and don’t just look for sugar –  it’s often disguised as glucose, evaporated cane juice, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), fruit juice concentrate, agave nectar, fructose, dextrose, caramel or syrup.
  • Switch to low GI foods: Low GI (Glycemic Index) foods like whole grains and nuts, release glucose more slowly and steadily. This avoids the drastic spike and crash normally associated with sugary ingredients. The crash makes you crave even more sugar, thereby creating a vicious cycle.
  • Have a pre-meal: Eat a protein-based snack like hard boiled eggs, or an apple with a dash of almond butter, before hitting a party. This will keep you from making bad choices later in the night.
  • Experiment with spices: Not all spices are hot. Many – like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves – will add natural sweetness to your food. Certain spices, such as cinnamon, will also help to lower the blood sugar.
  • Eat every 4 hours: Fill up on healthy foods at periodic intervals so you are able to maintain stable blood glucose levels and don’t get have sugar-rich cravings. The more you eat sugar, the more you’ll crave sweet stuff.
  • Go easy on the booze: Alcohol is metabolized as pure sugar. Plus it makes you hungry, likely to overeat and prone to making poor choices. So, try to cap it at 2 drinks and drink water between refills.
  • Rid your kitchen of sugar: Throw out or give away any foods in your kitchen that contain added sugar. Out of sight, out of mind!
  • Relax: Because when you’re exhausted or sleep deprived, the body craves sugar-laden carbohydrates.
  • Slow down: For many of us, sugar has become an emotional crutch, a comfort zone, a reward or a way to relax. Instead of falling upon this sweet poison, slow down and decode your cravings. Identifying the real need behind the sugar is the key to kicking your sugar habit for good.
  • Go gourmet: If you simply have to indulge, stick to dark chocolate or truffles over high sugar candies. When baking, use unrefined sweeteners such as natural honey, molasses or maple syrup.

You slipped up… now what?

However, if you are like me and are reduced to tears with the mere thought of a life lived without chocolates and cupcakes, there is still some hope. What we need is moderation in our diet along with products that can neutralize sugar’s damaging effects on the skin. And the beauty industry is fast coming up with solutions.

How much sugar are you consuming on a daily basis?

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!