Sunday, 20 January 2013

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London (Neasden Temple)

Would you believe this temple is in London? I never cease to be amazed by the variety of great architecture London offers.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Chamomile Tea Facial Cleanser

I was rummaging in a second-hand bookshop in Charing Cross Road, London, when I found what I didn't know I was looking for: a ladies' beauty book almost a century old. I expected to find outdated advice about skincare, but instead pages after pages of healthy and fascinating tips unfolded on my lap.
Chamomile is an antiseptic and a soother when used on the skin. Tea made with its buds makes a gentle cleanser, which, to my surprise, removes cheek blush  and lipstick efficiently. I adore the soothing effect of the cleanser especially now in the winter when the wind is blowing and the rain is pouring down. 
The beauty book advised to use the cleanser also in the summer when the sun damages the skin.
Olive and sesame oil make a gentle eye-makeup remover.

Chamomile Tea Facial Cleanser
- brew 1/2 cup of chamomile tea, medium strong
- use loose buds if possible
- clean the face and neck with a piece of cotton wool or soft tissue in the mornings and in the evenings
- keeps 4-5 days

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Bound Revolved High Side Angle Pose or Parivrtta Parsvakonasana*

At TriYoga, London

I have noticed over the years that some asanas (yoga poses) for me take time to master, perhaps even a few years, but once I have mastered them, the asanas become so comfortable that I could drink a cafe latte in the morning and a glass of champagne in the evening while balancing on my head or binding, twisting and balancing all at the same time as on the photo above. Indeed, the Bound Revolved High Side Angle Pose has with practice become so easy that it is now my all-time favourite yoga pose.

Benefits of the Bound Revolved High Side Angle Pose
It is a complex pose with several major benefits:
* it strengthens the feet, ankles and legs;
* it stretches the Psoas and Iliacus muscles, which are in a tricky place to stretch and for this reason are often neglected;
* twists cleanse and reduce stress in the abdominal area, which leads to a better digestion and a healthier body;
* twisting and revolving opens the chest area, which leads to a better posture, and also opens the heart chakra, which leads to living a more meaningful life;
* balancing is both mentally and physically very important and practising balancing poses helps maintain a harmonious relationship between the two worlds.

A few points to consider
* If you are a beginner and have been practising yoga regularly less than a year, don't attack this pose quite yet. Instead, practise Triangle diligently and only when you comfortably reach the ground every time you do the pose, add a simple Revolved Side Angle to your practice. The body needs time to become used to the strange yogic twists and turns, so don't rush. I practised the simplest yoga poses for about three years before I moved on to the more complex poses and their variations.
* If you cannot bind, there are two other arm options available:
option 1: stretch your arms like wings, one touching the ground and the other pointing vertically towards the ceiling;
option 2: position hands in a prayer in front of your chest with the opposite elbow touching the knee.
* Make sure you don't claw the front foot toes. Spread them out and suck them onto the ground instead.
* Energise the feet and legs to hold a good balance. If the foundation is wobbly, you will fall over.
* Make sure your balance is in the middle, not tilted towards your front or back foot.
* Turn your head toward to ceiling only if the neck allows it, otherwise look straight ahead or down to the floor. The neck is a delicate area and often over stretched. Over stretching lead to nasty headaches and muscle strains that can last for days. I have learnt the hard way to listen to the neck before turning it sideways.
* Once in the pose, hands bound, in a prayer or stretched out like wings, take very deep breaths down to your stomach. It is a tricky pose to breathe in, but make sure you do your very best to breathe. When you are stable, deepen the twist with every out-breath.
* I practise Vinyasa Flow yoga style, which is an uninterrupted flow of poses without any pauses between them. I normally do a long flow of Warriors and other standing poses and go into the Bound Revolved High Side Angle Pose without touching the ground at all. For example, a simple version of Vinyasa Flow is from Warrior II to Bound Revolved High Side Angle with an appropriate breathing and without touching the ground at all. First, I establish a high lunge, then twist, revolve and bind. When I come out of the pose and go into the next one, I do it again with an appropriate breathing and without touching the ground. I often like the next pose after Bound Revolved High Side Angle to be Half Moon, Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend with Reverse Prayer Hands or Warrior III.

 * Over the years I have tried to find out what the appropriate name in Sanskrit for the full Bound Revolved High Side Angle Pose is, but there doesn't seem to be one. I thus call this pose by its simple name Parivrtta Parsvakonasana, which means the Side Angle Pose. If any one of you could add the words "bound" and "high" and make it fluent in Sanskrit, please leave a comment.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Niccolò Paganini Caprices and Relaxation

The Italian violinist and composer Niccolo Paganini, born in 1782, was at the time widely believed to have sold his soul to the devil. Paganini's technical skills were so astounding that no human was believed to be able to reach his level of mastery without being possessed by the supernatural.
Paganini's famous and very beautiful 24 caprices are rarely performed all in one concert; even most top violinists cannot master the technical skills and have the mental and physical stamina required. It was rumoured that people fainted in concerts when Paganini performed the caprices himself.
Aleksander Markov, a Russian-born Jew living in the United States, performed all 24 caprices in one concert. It takes one hour and a half from the first to the last, each demanding a very high level of concentration, a lively temperament and superior technical skills.
The last caprice, the 24th, is among the most difficult ones in the set. Particularly the left-hand pizzicato at 3:00 is only for those with an unparalleled genius. Ordinarily it is performed with the bow hand; with the left hand it is just too difficult. The 17 seconds are sublime and transport the listener to an otherworldly universe. Turn up the volume and watch it a few times

Relaxation is the key to the best performance
In a master class Markov gave on Paganini's violin techniques, he draw attention to the need to relax while playing technically demanding music. If the body is tense and stiff, the fingers will not move fast on the strings, the shoulder will not allow the bow to glide on the violin and the muscles will not remember the notes to play. When you watch Markov perform, notice the ease of his body and the precise and controlled movements while he remains completely relaxed. The whole of his ensemble is elegant and beautiful.
Markov made an important point that extends beyond playing Paganini. In yoga too it is vital to relax when striking a pose. The body will stretch further when it is not tense, it will shake less and the experience of exercising is more pleasant. For example, Reclining Hero (Supta Virasana) or Standing Revolving Balance cannot be done well if the body is not relaxed. Sometimes the more difficult poses add tension and rigidity to the muscles and the face, so make a conscious effort to relax the harder it gets and find strength, power and grace both in the mind and in the body.

Paganini's 5th caprice (the bow bouncing on the strings)
Paganini's 6th caprice (elegant and extremely complicated finger work; Markov is not playing the violin, he is making love to it) 
The full vesion of Paganini's 24 caprices by Alexander Markov
Leonardo da Vinci and Contrapposti (contrapposti in da Vinci's paintings and yoga) 
Yehudi Menuhin and B.K.S. Iyengar (a master violinist who took up yoga and meditation with a master yoga teacher)
Savasana (relaxation is linked to better sleep and weight loss)
Guitar and Violin Sonatas (Paganini composed lots of charming pieces for the guitar and the violin, which are excellent background music for yoga, cooking, reading and relaxing; I have several CDs myself, some just for the guitar)

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

20-Minute Workout

At Triyoga, London

If you have 20 minutes to spare, use it to make yourself feel good. 20 minutes of stretching and toning a few times a week adds up at the end of each month. It is a short enough time to fit into most days and long enough to keep the body in a good shape.
You can do the following workout anywhere any time of the day. Keep an exercising or yoga mat in the office and pack it into the suitcase when you travel. 
Put on some music if you like and switch off the mobile phone. Take 10 deep breaths in each step and then move on to the next one. You will feel so much better afterwards:

1. Stand up and do a few slow head and shoulder rolls
2. Bend the knees and roll slowly to a forward bend. Do the one I am showing on photo nr 2. Bending forward releases tension in the neck, shoulders and back
3. Move on to a gentle side stretch
4. Do a couple of wrist and forearm stretches. These feel particularly good if you spend more time at your computer than you should 
5. Roll down to Downward Facing Dog. Don't lift the leg. Spread yourself out, all 4 paws on the floor and take 10 very deep breaths
6. Move slowly to Plank
7. Lower yourself slowly and with control to the floor and do upper body lifts. This will firm the back, buttocks and legs
8. Back to Downward Facing Dog and 10 breaths here. Throw in a few Facial Exercises to keep the face looking youthful and rosy
9. Then Side Arm Plank on both sides. Side Arm Plank is great for toning the waist and keeping it narrow
9. Lie on your back, pull your knees towards your chest and roll on your spine a few times
10. Do stomach exercises either with bent or straight legs. A set of 3 and 10 breaths in each set
11. Move on to a backbend. Backbends feel particularly good after stomach exercises. They also help keep a good posture if you tend to hunch at your desk or spend too much time on the sofa watching TV
12. Do a twist either this or this. Twists cleanse the internal organs and have a detoxifying effect
14. Stand up and finish with a Shoulder Stretch. Then roll up slowly and take a few seconds to feel the difference 20 minutes can make! 
15. If you have 3-5 more minutes, spend it in a lovely deep relaxation, which is called Savasana. Savasana is related to a better sleep and weight loss.

Repeat this workout a few times a week. To keep it fresh and lively, click on the links and use the options & variations I have given.