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Early Winter Warmer – An Afternoon of Asana, Pranayama, Chant & Meditation

Join Zone in Yoga and Black Dog Living for an afternoon of Soul Warming Yoga practice. As the winter draws in and the festive season approaches we gather our energies in preparation for the winter months ahead. We’ll be using Asana, Pranayama , Chant and Meditation to focus inwards and bring warmth and flow to the whole body, mind and soul.

Date:  18th November 2017

Time:  2pm-5pm

Location:  The Harmony Centre, Ashley CofE School, Ashley Road, Walton-on-Thames.

Working with warming asana to bring stability and grounding to the body, an awareness of our foundations and heating Pranayama focusing on the abdomen and inner fire.  Followed by a yin yoga practice to open the heart, encouraging the flow of joy within the body and Chant to bring flow to our inner voice.  The session will end with a Meditation to align the mind and body, and as always there will be tea and sweet treats before we go home…

Bookings are £35 in advance.  Please email lauren@blackdogliving.com to reserve your space.

 

Daim Bar Laundering Brownies… Post-modern and possibly gluten-free

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What Daim bars?

These brownies represent the emotional wreck that I am this week… In a frenzy of duty-free chocolate buying which went something like this in my mind… “oooh Toblerone, oooh Daim bars, oooh nougat… snap out of it Lauren you don’t even like nougat… but daim bars…Mmmm”  and then I justified the buying of the Daim bars by thinking “it’s really only ever the airport of Ikea that I would buy them, so that amounts to about once or twice a year, so it’s a special treat, right?”…. I ate a handful on the plane until I felt sick… and then tried to fob them off on everyone else… and then, when I got home to the realisation that I had a year’s supply of daim bars and no self-control I went in to panic mode, no amount of yoga or meditation could fix this.  I had to wash the daim bars like dirty cash (I learned about this watching Ozark on Netflix by the way which is really good), transforming them in to something legitimate, something wholesome, something of real value in the world.  So I mixed them with organic eggs and ground almonds and created these post-modern, gluten-free, vegetarian, whole food containing real chocolate brownies.  Now all I have to do is make everyone else eat them… Hopefully you have more self-control than me, but the next time you accidentally bulk buy Daim bars at Ikea or the airport… THIS is your solution…PS making them with children adds virtue.  You’re welcome!

 

Ingredients:

250g organic butter from happy cows

250g organic fair trade sugar from people who actually get paid OK

3 eggs from organic free-range hens that someone loves

200g organic ground almonds from happy trees on holiday in spain

50g fair trade organic cocoa powder, no pesticides please

250g organic dark chocolate

1tsp vanilla extract

Most of the bag of mini Daim Bars…weep… made not with love or care for the environment… I’m so sorry…

 

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Eat me… I’ll make all your dreams come true…

Method:

 

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C and butter and line a brownie tin.
  2. Melt the chocolate and 50g butter in a bowl above a boiling pan of water.
  3. Cream 200g butter and all the sugar together.
  4. Add the eggs and then vanilla extract to the butter and sugar and mix.
  5. Allow the chocolate to cool slightly, and in the mean time put the Daim bars in a plastic bag and smash them up with a rolling-pin, be careful not to break the rolling-pin or the worktop at the same time.
  6. Now stir the melted chocolate through the butter / sugar mix and add the almonds and cocoa.
  7. Pour the brownie mixture in the tin… then add the broken Daim bars to the top of the mixture.
  8. Place in the oven for 25 minutes.
  9. Enjoy warm with ice cream (which is a fantasy of mine which I’m not indulging until at least next year)…

 

 

 

Charity Yoga Garden Party in aid of Mind

Those of you close to me will know that mental health awareness is an issue close to my own heart.  Those of you less close to me may be aware of my interest in the subject via blog posts and facebook news updates.  Students of mine will be familiar with our work around simply noticing our states of mind, emotional qualities and the differences between entering a yoga class or treatment with a whirring or racing mind and leaving with a more settled sense of well-being.  And for anyone else in the world, at some point it’s likely you will have experienced stress, overwhelm, feelings of anxiety, pressure, uncertainty or sadness.  It’s also possible that these states of mind have come with the added pressure that because we’re feeling them, it means we’re not ‘coping’ or that somehow we’re ‘lesser’ than our peers who seemingly navigate the world with ease and tranquillity.

Recognising and accepting ourselves unconditionally can be difficult.  My own experience practicing Yoga has created a structure, and safe space within which I have found acceptance and ever deepening compassion for myself.  It’s been inevitable that those feelings spill over to life off the Yoga mat, which is where my teaching journey began…

In recognition of the power of Yoga in finding self acceptance, and building lasting change within us the amazing Dee Opp has opened her home on the banks of the river Thames for a Charity Yoga Garden Party.  There is an incredible line up of teachers, who all believe that mental health awareness is a high priority in terms of our health and well-being.  That the conversation around mental health should be open, and who acknowledge the benefits of Yoga in this field.

We would love you to join us.  We have a full schedule of Yoga classes, SUP sessions and nourishing food… You’ll find the full line-up and booking details on the flyer below.  All donations, whether you’re able to attend or not, will be gratefully received.

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Blog Post: Yoga, Depression & Anxiety. Navigating and Changing our Inner Landscape

States of Transition – Yogic Exploration, Relaxation & Meditation

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Finding our feet through transition…

As the summer draws to an end and life resumes as normal after the holidays, we often find ourselves in a state of transition.  We often start new ventures, our children start new schools, we re-visit personal resolutions.  For many of us, this transition represents a fresh start. 

Transitions, by their very nature, are unstable.  A state of flow, motion and movement, before re-claiming firm ground.  When life becomes unsettled, dormant parts of our being re-surface.  As yogis we have the opportunity to examine these changes from the safety of the mat.  Establishing ourselves in the presence of our being through transition and static posture allows us to experience what it means to be grounded, and to accept the processes of movement and flow just for what they are.

Join Zone in Yoga and I for an afternoon of yoga exploration, relaxation and grounding meditation. We will be examining the way we transition between poses, states of mind and looking to establish a true grounded presence within ourselves.

Date:  16th September 2017

Time:  3-6pm

Location:  The Harmony Centre, Ashley CofE Primary School, Ashley Road, Walton-on-Thames, KT12 1HX

Booking:  £35 in advance

Contact:  Lauren@blackdogliving.com 

Peach, Pea & Halloumi Salad

imageWhat did the cheese say when it looked in the mirror?  “Hallou-mi!” This salad though, it’s no joke.  In fact it’s seriously lovely… It’s about as easy as dinner comes too, so when you’re ready for a super summer supper and a glass of cold white wine this is for you… Full of allotment bounty and wholefood nourishment… If you’re not buzzing with vitality (and a sense of virtuousness) afterwards then… well, pop to a yoga class instead!!

Ingredients (serves 2):

A bed of mixed watercress, spinach and rocked (around 2 large handfuls)

2 good handfuls of fresh, shelled, green peas

4 roast new potatoes (halved or quartered depending on their size)

2 handfuls steamed green beans

2 flat peaches, cubed

6 slices halloumi

1 beetroot, cubed

1 tbsp olive oil,

1tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp agave nectar

1 sprig fresh rosemary

Sea Salt

Pepper

Method:

1) Pre-heat the oven to 180C.  Cut the potatoes and beetroot in to halves or quarters, drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of sea-salt, add a sprig of fresh rosemary and roast for around 25 minutes, or until golden and soft through.

2) Bring a pan of water to the boil, top, tail and halve the green beans.  s=Steam or simmer in the pan for around 5-7 minutes or until cooked through.

3) Heat a griddle pan with a dash of olive oil.  Slice the halloumi and cube the peaches.  Add to the hot pan and brown either side, which takes around 2-3 minutes.

4) Add the olive oil, lemon juice and agave nectar to a cup or jug.  Whisk until combined.

5) Place the green beans on top of the salad leaves, followed by the potatoes and beetroot, halloumi, peaches and then peas.  Drizzle with the salad dressing and serve immediately!

As always, its great to hear your feedback… Let me know how you get on, and any suggestions you have!  In the mean time if you’re on social media I’d love to connect… Come and find me at the links below:

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Stoke Up Your Summer…

Join Black Dog Living & Zone in Yoga for an indulgent 3 hour Summer workshop at:

The Medicine Garden Cobham

We’re taking over ‘The Dome’ for an afternoon of Fiery Summer Asana, Cooling, Soothing Yin Yoga and Deep AromaMeditation!

Date:  8th July 2017

Time:  2pm-5pm

Location:  The Medicine Garden, Cobham

Price:  £35 in advance

The Dome is set in the grounds of the beautiful Victorian walled garden, surrounded by grasses and flowers and with access to wholesome refreshments at the hothouse and garden pod cafe’s.  Soothe your senses and still your mind with us…

To book contact lauren@blackdogliving.com / 07763 135146 or zoneinyoga@hotmail.com / 07767391324

Plant Powered Protein Bowl

For a nourishing bowl of plant-based goodness, feel-good freshness and tantalising tastiness – TRY THIS!  Hot off the hob and straight to your bowl faster than you can say ‘virtuousness in the extreme’… Nature gives us some real powerhouses of flavour which I’m in total awe of.  Chillis, garlic, ginger… Not just good for us, but they can transform simple whole-food in to really tasty, moreish delights… So here’s a speedy supper, or sumptuous lunch to wrap your taste buds around and power up your day…

Ingredients (serves 1):

Plant Protein Bowl 1

Plant Powered Protein Bowl

2 tbsp toasted sesame oil

2 cloves garlic

1 thumb ginger

1/2 large green chilli

2 large broccoli florets

1/3 red pepper

3 medium mushrooms

handful fresh wild garlic

Palmful pumpkin seeds (or almonds)

150g silken tofu

2 tsp tamari

pinch black pepper

2 small handfuls quinoa

1 tsp miso paste

Method:

  1. Bring a small pan of water to the boil (about double the water to quinoa), add the miso paste and the quinoa and bubble for 15/20 minutes, but test to find the consistency that you like.
  2. Heat the sesame oil in a wok on the hob.
  3. Crush and chop the garlic, finely grate the ginger and chop the chilli, then reducing the heat, add to the wok.  Be careful not to brown the garlic.  I sometimes remove the hot pan from the heat temporarily at this point.
  4. Chop the silken tofu in to cubes and add to the pan.
  5. Chop the tops of the broccoli florets, finely slice the red peppers and mushrooms and add to the pan.  Stir and return to the heat.
  6. Add the wild garlic and a handful of pumpkin seeds (or chopped raw almonds) and stir through along with a pinch of pepper and the tamari.
  7. Soften the vegetables, but allow them to retain a little crunch.
  8. When the quinoa is ready, drain and stir through the vegetables.  Serve Immediately.

More plant based recipe ideas here

 

 

 

Inflammation, Stress & The Benefits of Yoga

A recent small scale study has shown increased quality of life in chronic Ulcerative Colitis sufferers.  Those who previously reported a reduction in life quality due to the disease undertook 12 weekly Yoga sessions and subsequently reported greater improvements in their quality of life.  Advice from the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany states that Yoga is “Safe and Effective” (along with other evidence based interventions) in the “maintenance of remission” for sufferers.

It’s also interesting to read the links now made between inflammation and, not just chronic illness such as asthma, arthritis, diabetes, certain cancers and Alzheimer’s disease, but also depressive episodes and anxiety as reported by Dr’s Irwin & Slavich at UCLA.

So what is Inflammation?

Simply put, it’s our body’s immune system’s response to a particular stimulus.  Importantly, in the case of bacteria entering the body, our immune system works to isolate bacteria, in order to stop it spreading.  Perhaps an allergen enters the nostrils and the immune system acts to flush it out as mucous membranes produce more fluid.  This helpful inflammation we can probably all relate to…

Chronic inflammation

However some immune responses are unhelpful, chronic and cause the immune system to attack the healthy body.  What is the stimulus that causes chronic inflammation,  Psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis etc?  Usually it’s unknown.  My own experience is with alopecia areata, where the immune system attacks hair follicles resulting in patchy hair loss.  I’ve had two episode of alopecia, both as an adult, and both times they’ve resolved relatively quickly.

Is Stress the stimulus for chronic inflammation?

Well, yes.  Stress, defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances”, actually changes our immune cell genes, which as we know, lead to inflammation.  In acute situations, such as jumping out of the way of oncoming traffic we need stress, to prime our heart, large muscles and prepare us for injury.  At the point at which we perceive stress, in whatever form we perceive it, biologically our bodies become primed, ready for fight or flight.  This response has the potential to save our lives.   But what if a packed tube is the cause of our stress?  What if we work for a difficult boss, and spend 8 hours of our day stress primed in their presence?  What if there is a daily struggle to find finances in order to eat, or keep a roof over our heads?  What if we experience grief and the loss of a loved one?  Or what if the demands of raising a family cause stress?  Throw in poor quality food choices, weight loss or gain, and the inability for the situation to resolve and we have a recipe for chronic stress, inflammation, disease, anxiety and depression.

How does yoga help?

The point at which we decide to go to a Yoga class, is probably also the point that we decide something has to change.  Perhaps subconsciously we want to get fit, claim some time for ourselves or are actively looking for respite from pain or stressful life circumstances.  Whatever the reason we find ourselves in a Yoga class though, the outcome is usually the same once the class is over.  We may experience a reduction in mental activity, a less tense body.  We may feel we can breathe more easily, or that we’ve stretched out tight muscles.  Often we sleep better following a Yoga class and have a sense of feeling refreshed.  If you came along for respite, you’ve probably found it!

What are we doing in Yoga class to reduce stress? 

Breathing…

All good Yoga teachers will lead students to their breath.  The breath can be seen as an indicator for stress.  When we experience short or restricted breath it can be due to physical tensions, mental stimulation, fear, anxiety and stress.  As we connect to the quality of the breath, and begin to lengthen and smooth the breath, our bodies begin to receive the message that we are ‘safe’ and that there is no perceived threat.

Moving…

With practice comes skill and the ability to bring this message through the breath and in to our Asana (the shapes, and poses we make on the mat) and each pose can bring relief to different parts of the body.

In finding ourselves in new shapes, usually very different to our habitual patterns of movement, we have the opportunity every time we move, to bring the breath with us, and with it the signal that we are ‘safe’ ‘secure’ and doing something restorative for ourselves.

Again, good teachers will lead our bodies to the subtleties of our experience, such as how grounded we may feel, leading us to the effects of gravity and the support of the earth and returning our mind’s focus to the breath often.

Resting…

And then there’s the ‘let go’ whether it’s the Savasana at the end of the session, a guided relaxation, breathing exercise or meditation.  Yoga teaches us how to let go, unload, release ourselves from our day, week, lifetime’s habits or simply from the physical practice we’ve just taken.  We practice letting go, and when we first allow ourselves to let go… there is no going back, it’s just too good to not return to!

Reading the emerging research and science relating to inflammatory conditions and how Yoga is proving beneficial is not surprising.  I believe my own experiences with stress, Alopecia, and with anxiety and depression have be resolved by acknowledgement firstly, which included a trip to the GP, through CBT and subsequently through a regular yoga practice.

10-minute breathing practice

This short breathing practice is designed to bring awareness to the quality of the breath in the body.  And to experience the effects of practicing an extended exhale.

You’ll need to find a comfortable upright seat, either on a firm chair, or sitting cross legged or kneeling either side of blocks, a bolster or a supportive cushion.

 

 

 

 

 

Yoga, Depression & Anxiety… Navigating and Changing our Inner Landscape

Recent research from Boston University School of Medicine is showing Yoga to be more beneficial than other forms of exercise in improving mood.  Their studies relate to Anxiety and Depression specifically and measured increased and rising GABA levels (low levels of which are associated with depression and anxiety disorders) in the brains of their test groups.  In another study Yoga and deep breathing taken twice a week was shown to effectively reduce the symptoms of depression.  It’s promising and reassuring to hear the science emerging on the relationship between Yoga and mood, particularly as I have personal experience of how profoundly Yoga can change the mind… and with it the physical body…

 

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Garudasana ‘Eagle Pose’ requires balance, focus and strength.  The stronger the inner mental qualities, the stronger the outer physical qualities.

As a yoga teacher I watch people leave my classes every week with a glow, facial tension having eased and often standing taller.  Feedback from clients is showing that a weekly class can effectively manage back pain as well as stress.  Many clients report improved sleep after classes too.  These are benefits I can relate too.

 

It’s harder to share the benefits which relate to our inner landscape though.  Particularly if that landscape is damaged, suffering or is seemingly at odds with the world around us.

Having spent many years looking around me and seeing women who seem happy in their jobs, able to balance work and home life or coping happily with young families, I’m very aware of the sense of shame this type of comparison can cultivate.  My own struggles with anxiety and depression have often stemmed from comparison.  Taking these thoughts on board as my own truth and beating myself up constantly in order to reach impossible ideals has been mentally exhausting, resulting in crashes in mood or anxiety to the point of panic attacks.  This has been my inner landscape for many years.  Talking therapy and CBT gave me coping tools, but didn’t change the inner landscape I was experiencing.  It wasn’t until I took on a regular Yoga practice that things really changed.  Not only did I have a physical outlet for the way I was feeling, I also had an opportunity to stop and breath, I found inner space for the first time in my adult life.  With this sense of inner space came greater perspective on my mood and the thoughts that fuelled it.  The landscape didn’t change, but the horizon seemed much wider, my perspective broader.

Going to Yoga classes gave me a lift.  I wanted to refine and improve my physical ability in classes, and in doing so I came up against my own tensions, resistances and habitual patterns of movement.  As I held my attention with these physical sensations I felt comfortable in asking my body for greater flexibility or strength.  As I worked through these physical sensations I began to notice that I was either free of, or better equipped to work through emotional and mental situations I found myself in.  There too my perspective was broader, and the landscape seemed less terrifying or less hopeless, if only a little bit.  It’s taken a committed practice over several years, but I’ve recently found myself in a place of direct relationship with my thoughts and emotions.  I am free of fear and subsequently anxiety too.  I am able to feel depression, hold it close and provide the attention it needs, which is usually a rest, in order for it to pass freely.

 

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Urdhva Danurasana ‘Wheel Pose’ requires fearlessness and flexibility of mind and body.

My own practice (inner and outer) is the result of commitment and determination, I know how hard it is to acknowledge what it is we are truly thinking and feeling, but I can safely say that there is nothing more terrifying in facing our thoughts, than the thoughts themselves and in the process of doing so we build a lasting strength and resilience which really does begin to change our inner landscape and the possibilities of our lives.

 

I wonder how low my GABA levels were when I was beating myself up, and how they’d look on MRS imaging now?  I suspect I’m experiencing exactly what the test cases from the Boston University research is showing.  I’m not a Yoga teacher because I’m good at Yoga.  I’m a Yoga teacher because I was very very bad at Yoga, physically and mentally, and if Yoga can turn my life around, then there’s hope for us all!

Yoga Poses for Depression & Anxiety

My favourite yoga poses to lift the mood have become heart openers.  These are strong and require the guidance of a confident teacher, but the simple action of lifting the heart, or lifting the sternum at the front of the chest, I have found can also lift the mood.

  1. Urdhva Danuransana ‘Wheel Pose’
  2. Ustrasana ‘Camel Pose’
  3. Anjaneyasana ‘Low Lunge Pose’

My favourite yoga poses to combat anxiety are those which challenge focus and balance.  These poses require an inward focus and help to ground the senses and energies.

  1. Garudasana ‘Eagle Pose’
  2. Vrksasana ‘Tree Pose’
  3. Tadasana ‘Mountain Pose’

Read more about recent research:

Science Daily ‘Study Finds New Connection Between Yoga and Mood’

Neuroscience News ‘Yoga Effective at Reducing Depression Symptoms’

NDTV ‘Power of Yoga:  It may help keep a check on Depression’

Hindustani Times: ‘Bye Anti-depressants Yoga and Deep Breathing could be new prescription for depression’

 

 

 

Mushroom, Lentil & Red Wine ‘Shepherd’s’ Pie… (He’s a veg shepherd. Obvs.)

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Piping Hot from the Oven..

The crisp cold and frosty season is well and truly upon us.  The air is cold and the sky is blue, which can provide light relief from the January blues…  The stillness of winter reminds us how important rest is though.  Pacing ourselves, and taking time to be still, whether that’s sitting with a warm drink, or switching fast paced exercise for a more restorative yoga practice.  Stillness in winter can be a way to reconnect to our sense of vitality (or lack of) and preserve our energies, it can also be a place where we begin to feel stagnant, where coughs and cold creep in and it becomes hard to move at all.  Balance is key (Not just tree pose -but it helps!)… One thing this time of year requires, however you’re feeling, is warming hearty food…Good nourishment and extra calories.

This is a vegetarian shepherd’s pie recipe that’s hearty and rich, warming and comforting!  Just what’s required in the middle of winter…

Ingredients for the Filling:

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Deliciously Hearty Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

1 Red Onion

2 Cloves Garlic

2 Sticks Celery

2 Carrots

1 knob butter

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp maple syrup

200g Button Mushrooms

1/2 Butternut Squash

1/2 Cup Red Lentils

1 x 400g Tin Chopped Tomatoes

200mls Red Wine

1 Sprig Fresh Thyme

1 tsp Herby Zaatar (or dried mixed herbs)

Salt & Pepper

Ingredients for the Topping:

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Yum!

4 large potatoes

Pinch Salt

50g Cheddar Cheese

1 tbsp butter to mash

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 220C.
  2. Peel and cube the butternut squash, add to a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of salt.  Roast in the oven or around 20 minutes or until the squash is soft through
  3. Melt a knob of butter and a tbsp olive oil to a pan on the hob.
  4. Finely chop the onion and celery, cube the carrots and crush and chop the garlic and add to the pan, add a pinch of salt and the maple syrup and soften for around 10 minutes.
  5. Add the lentils, red wine and tinned tomatoes and bring the ingredients to a simmer.  Add the sprig of thyme and simmer on a gentle heat as the liquid reduces.
  6. Add the zaatar mix (or dried mixed herbs if you don’t have this).
  7. Finely slice the mushrooms and add to the liquid.
  8. As the lentils cook through the liquid will reduce so just add a little water now and again to keep the mixture loose.
  9. When the butternut squash is cooked through, add it to the pan, stir and simmer.
  10. Bring a pan of water to the boil and add a pinch of salt.
  11. Peel and cube the potatoes and boil for around 10 minutes until soft.
  12. Drain the water and add the butter to mash.
  13. Place the butternut squash mixture in an oven proof dish and top with the mashed potato using a fork to press down.
  14. Top with grated cheddar cheese and place in the oven for 15 minutes, or until the cheese is beginning to crisp.

Enjoy!!

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