5 Tips on how to take an instant mental holiday

We’re heading into summer here in Barcelona, although it’s been off to a slow start this year. I often find that by this time of year, I’m well and ready to kick off my shoes and take a break. Only problem being that the holidays have still not arrived. There are still deadlines to meet, exams to write and hard work to be done. That’s why I’ve put together a little list of tips on how to take a short mental holiday, before the real thing comes along, in order to keep your batteries charged. Of course it’s also good for your sanity and those around you as well.


  1. Do Viparita Karani for 15 – 20 minutes (also known as legs-up-the-wall pose) This is definitely one of my top, go-to poses. If I feel tired, but wired and still need to get a lot done, 15 minutes spent in this pose will make the world of difference to how you feel. It’s an instant pick-me-up with rejuvenating, yet deeply grounding after-effects. So put on your favourite music to chill-out to and spend 15 – 20 minutes here. For instructions on how to do the pose, have a look here.
  2. Reconnect to your breath   Easier said than done, this thing of staying present. If you’re feeling stressed and as though you’re completely disconnected, taking just 2 minutes to sit quietly and watch your breath, will make you feel like a different person. An effective technique is to silently count your breath as you inhale, e.g. count to 3 or 4 or 5 and then keep the count the same as you exhale.
  3. Abhyanga   In Ayurveda, there is a massage called, Abhyanga, where you massage your whole body with warm, organic sesame or coconut oil, before taking a shower in the morning. Massage your limbs by using long strokes and use circular strokes on your joints. Then take a shower, at first with hot water and then finishing off with cold water. This Ayurvedic practice is incredibly detoxifying and revitalising. You’ll feel amazing afterwards.
  4. Put on your favourite dance track and dance your heart out   Our bodies are designed to move and often we need to get rid of some excess, negative energy in order to reboot our brains and get our endorphins flowing. Only requirement here, make some space, turn up the volume and have fun!
  5. Go and sit under a tree and watch the world go by   When is the last time you just sat down on a bench or on a patch of grass and drank in everything that was happening around you? Without any judgment, just watching people, animals, nature, everything moving at its own pace and feeling your connection and place in the world. Notice how time slows down, when we are more present to everything around us.

What are some of your favourite ways of taking a mental holiday?

New Year’s Resolutions are so last year

I mean, here we are only into the first week of 2013 and already my resolutions are lying in a crumpled heap on the floor. I think in a way we set ourselves up to fail by making this long list of resolutions, which come from a belief that we’re inherently flawed and need to change in order to be happy.

That’s why I find the yogic equivalent of sankalpa to be a much better deal. For one thing, you absolutely are not allowed to feel guilty if you slip up. You just renew your intention to live in the new way you want to, because it all happens in the present moment and the past is already old news.

Let me explain. A sankalpa is an intention that we set, that originates from an idea that comes from our hearts, from our deepest truth. Also, we don’t need to inherently change ourselves, as we’re already perfect as we are, it’s simply a matter of getting back on that path to yourself and to living a life that serves your highest good.

How to find your sankalpa in 3 easy steps:

1) Tune in Make some time to sit for a few minutes and become quiet. Start bringing your attention to your inhalations and exhalations and feel how your breath starts to connect you to the present moment and yourself. Ask the question of what your true desire is at this moment in time? You can write down any thoughts that come to you.

2) Present tense The things that will come up, will probably at first be expressed as a wish or might seem negative to you, e.g. I hate my job or I wish I could lose 5 kg’s. Examine the things that come up and see what lies beneath these statements. Often we react from a place of fear or suffering. Therefore it’s important to rephrase your initial sentences, so it’s a positive statement you’re making in the present moment, essentially something that has already occurred. So instead you might say: I have a job that I love which allows me to spend time with my partner or I choose to be well by eat healthy foods and exercising daily. This helps manifest the outcome as reality and not as some distant goal in the future. It also removes the negative association that there is something wrong with us that we need to fix.

Be aware that your Sankalpa may change during the course of a year, depending on your circumstances. It’s a good idea to check in from time to time to see if your goals have changed and then set a new intention.

3) Be kind If you fall off the proverbial wagon, be kind to yourself and know that it takes time for us to change our deeply ingrained habits or samskaras as they’re referred to in Sanskrit. Try to incorporate your sankalpa into your daily life, almost like a mantra. You could even write it down and stick it up on your bathroom mirror, so that you’re reminded of it daily.

So join me this year and tear up that list of resolutions and set an intention to live each moment of your life in a way that serves who you really are. Happy 2013!

Kukicha Green Tea

I have to confess that I have been drinking and preparing Kukicha Green Tea in the wrong way all along! I only discovered that now as I was doing a bit of research about how to prepare the tea ‘properly’. Steeped too long, the tea will turn slightly bitter. Turns out though, that I really enjoy drinking it in this way, as it enhances the roasted taste and I love adding either almond or hazelnut milk and a bit of honey to it, especially in the winter. Sacrilege I know!

As with all things in life, it’s nice to follow the recipe, but sometimes it’s also good to do things in a dodgy way, or as I like to call it the ‘creative’ way, in order to discover new things.

Kukicha or bocha is different from other teas, in that it’s the stalks and stems of the Camellia sinensis or tea shrub that is used and not the leaves. From there it is steamed and dried and then aged and roasted. You can also use the unroasted variety, if you prefer it that way.

Therefore, in today’s recipe, I’ll offer 2 ways to prepare this Japanese tea.

The proper Japanese way: The tea can be steeped 3 times. The first time at 40 seconds, with the water at 70-80 degrees Celcius. The second time for 15 seconds and 30 seconds for the third time. Take some time to savour the more subtle flavor of this tea – plus if you’re not a big fan of green tea, you might find that you’ll love Kukicha, as it’s not astringent.

The dodgy way: Steep the stems in just-boiled water for 3 minutes or more. Drink as is, or add a bit of nut milk and honey to taste.

 Benefits of Kukicha

  • High in minerals like copper, selenium, manganese, calcium, zinc and fluoride
  • Contains A, C and B-complex vitamins
  • Helps with digestion
  • Contains anti-carcinogens (to help prevent cancer)
  • Helps anyone suffering from bladder infection and heart diseases and lowers cholesterol levels.
  • High in antioxidants
  • Has 90% less Caffeine than coffee (normal green tea contains 60% less)
  • Has various skin care benefits


Felices fiestas!

I just wanted to wish all of you a wonderful festive season. May you be surrounded by those you hold dear during this time. And may 2013 be filled with lots of love, laughter and new yoga adventures!

Please note that ujuyoga clases will resume on Wednesday 9th January 2013, after the Día de los Reyes festivities.

uju news summer

While I was living in the Middle East, I always watched in wonder as there was a mass-exodus out of the country during the summer months. Everything seemed to stop. Not that hard to understand with the temperatures soaring at 50 degrees Celcius! As I moved to Spain, I realised with bemusement that the very same thing happens here. It also ties into the school holidays of course, but it’s still funny to see how a whole city can just empty out. This year I will be joining the exodus to take a little break and go and practice a bit of yoga myself, so please note that classes will resume again in September as the ‘new European year’ starts.

I hope all of you are having a wonderful summer and we’ll meet again in September!

uju news for June

Summer is in full swing here in Barcelona!

Any season is ideal to practice yoga, but I think especially in summer we have a need to move our bodies and we also have more energy to do so. If it’s been a while since you’ve been to class, or if you’re a complete beginner, you’re welcome to come and join any of the classes on offer.

Practising outside in the open air under the trees, with the birds singing is an amazing experience. The classes in Park Ciutadela are now starting a little bit later at 7 pm, so we’ll see you there! The meeting point is outside the gate of the park which is closest to Estacio Franca (and Barceloneta Metro station), a few minutes before we start the practice. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me.

During the month of June, I will also be substituting Prenatal Yoga classes at 6 pm on Monday and Wednesday evenings at Yoga con Gracia, so if you are currently pregnant or know of anyone who is, you’re welcome to come and try out a class.

uju News for March

Happy ‘almost’ Spring everyone!

As of this month, I will be contributing a monthly post for the BWN (Barcelona Women’s Network) blog. You can check out the first one here and basically I will be offering a short practice to address some of the common aches and pains that yoga can help to alleviate, or simply mini-sequences to create more space, freedom and flexibility in your body. Suggestions on which sequences you’d like to see are welcome, of course.

In other news, I am now also offering a 10 am Wednesday morning class in English at Espacio Vació, so hope to see you there!

As the weather is warming up again, I’ll be offering some early-evening classes in Ciutadella Park, starting from next month. So watch this space, or join the ujuyoga Facebook page to stay up to date with all the latest uju-happenings.

How this year has flown!

Astanga Yoga in Spanish

Oh wait. I should say, month. How does that happen? That life travels so fast, that we can hardly catch a ride on our own one? Last year felt a bit like that and now here we are already at the end of January of a new year. (Mmm, I still wanted to write a blog entry for December!) It’s hard to just slow down enough to really take in what is happening in our lives. That’s why I find practicing yoga helps. It’s a bit like pressing the slow motion button on the remote control of your life. You do a series of postures and through bringing your awareness to the breath and the different shapes you make with the body, you start slowing down and tuning in. Connecting with your centre and finding your way back to yourself again. Everything just seems to make more sense when we do that.

Last year, I started teaching yoga in Spanish for the first time. To be honest, for me it was quite scary to take that step. Getting up in front of a class and speaking for 75 – 90 minutes in a language in which I still didn’t feel that comfortable. That, in itself proved to be an experiment in mindfulness. I had to tune in completely and look at the practice in a completely different way, even though it was Astanga, something I had practiced perhaps thousands of times and where you always do the same series of postures in the same order. A student who had attended my class both in English and Spanish commented that I said a lot less in Spanish. I told her it’s simply because I lacked the vocabulary. Funny, but true. And perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. Speaking less and listening more. Something that could be valuable for all of us. Whether it’s listening more closely to our friends and partners or listening closer inside.

In conclusion here, what is it that you really want to achieve this year? Not in terms of completing a long to-do list of resolutions, but more in terms of growing as a person – on the inside? Try to find some quiet time here at the start to a new year to sit down and really tune in and listen. And then start following that inner voice, which at first might sound faint, but will become more clear the more you listen to it. It will lead you down the path of a more authentic and ultimately deeply fulfilling life. At the end, that is really all we want to tick off on our to-do list: that we lived deeply and intensely, having savoured each moment along the way.

Be the tree

Many of the postures we practice in yoga are named after and based on the natural world, with poses such as crow, camel, eagle and downward facing dog to name just a few. That’s because the ancient yogis spent a lot of time observing the natural world around them and recognised qualities there that they knew we would do well to imitate and bring into our lives.

They further believed that our feet and legs are the roots of our bodies, which keep us firmly grounded when we have to weather the storms that life bring our way. Finding our stability we also start to work on balancing and grounding the first chakra or ‘Muladhara’ (in Sanskrit literally meaning to ‘root down’) which is located at the base of the spine.

I don’t know about you, but for me this time of the year always feels completely chaotic, as though I’m rushing towards some impossible (more often than not, self-imposed) deadline to fit everything in and get it all done before the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s Eve. It’s as though our feet barely touch the ground as we’re rushing from one thing to the next, and we seem to spend all our time in our heads and very little time in our bodies, connecting to the breath and to the here and now.

If you are feeling particularly ungrounded at the moment, try to bring a lot of standing postures into your yoga practice, reconnecting with your roots through your feet and legs and focusing the mind by taking deep, smooth breaths. Try practising tree pose, or Vrksasana which is a perfect metaphor for illustrating that when we ground down through our roots, we can find stillness and stability within, no matter what’s going on outside of us.

How to do Tree Pose

Start by shifting the weight of the body on to the right foot. Keep your hands on your waist at first, to help with your balance. Begin rotating and opening the left hip towards the left. If you are a beginner, you can simply rest the left toes on the floor or on a yoga block beside the right foot. Taking the pose a bit further, rest the sole of the foot against the inside of the left leg, below the knee. Make sure to never place the foot directly on the knee joint, as this may cause injury to the knee. And finally, bring the foot right up into the root of the thigh and find your balance here, by strongly pressing the foot against the thigh and vice versa. Keep your gaze fixed on a spot on the floor in front of you or straight ahead of you. Slowly start bringing the hands into prayer pose in front of the heart and from here slowly raise them up overhead. If you feel steady, you can extend the arms outwards away from the body, like the branches of a tree and voilà! suddenly you become the tree. To come out of the pose, once again bring the palms to touch overhead and draw them down to the heart. Release the foot and repeat on the other side.

Rooibos Masala Chai

As I sit here writing this, sipping my tea, it is a grey, rainy day in Barcelona. If there’s one natural remedy I swear by, then it would have to be fresh ginger. It keeps the winter bugs away, is great for digestion and adds a bit of internal heat to the body when the weather starts getting a bit more chilly. I love drinking spicy Indian masala chai, but as I’m not a coffee drinker, I’ve found that if I have it at night, I’m wide awake, because of the black tea that’s in there. As an alternative, I’ve started making my own South African inspired version of a masala tea, using fresh ginger and Rooibos tea. It’s super simple to make and really versatile as you can drink it on it’s own or add a bit of soya milk and honey, if you want something a bit more filling.

Simply grate some fresh organic ginger root into a medium pot of water, and then add two heaped teaspoons of loose Rooibos tea. The amount of ginger and Rooibos is up to you and will also depend on how big the pot is. I like mine really spicy, so I add a lot of ginger. If you only have Rooibos teabags, tear them open and pour the loose tea into the pot. Bring to a boil, strain and enjoy!

Ginger is thought to have originated in India. It is now of course used widely throughout the world, as an ingredient in both food and medicine. Listed below are just some of ginger’s amazing super-powers and benefits.

  1. improves digestion and promotes a healthy digestive tract
  2. helps minimise nausea
  3. improves circulation
  4. due to its anti-inflammatory properties it can help relieve painful arthritis
  5. a natural remedy for the prevention and treatment of colds, flu and allergies
  6. relieves heartburn
  7. pain relief in cases of migraines and menstrual cramps