“Have a nice journey.”

Learning from dogs

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Most of the time I run by myself. Occasionally I run with a running partner and sometimes I run with my neighbour’s dog. Today I ended up with dog and running partner.

Before going on my run I always have a few mindful exercises to focus on. Today’s focus was to get out of “thinking” mode and in to “sensing” mode. These exercises help me stop my over-analyzing mind and bring myself back to the present while I am running:

Scanning exercises

  • The first focuses on the passing surroundings. Today the sea was like an over-saturated photo. Such blueness! The waves were clean but big and I could feel, smell and taste the seaspray in the air.
  • The second exercise was to observe my body in motion – the tingling of the blood rushing into my fingertips, the sound of my feet hitting the ground, keeping check on my breathing, observing the slight soreness in my right heel as it hit the floor. No reaction to them – just curious observation. Soon the soreness in my heel disappeared.
  • The last exercise was focusing on my mind. The more you practice observing your thoughts the quicker you can bin thoughts that are not productive to your run. The occasional non-beneficial thought was quickly sent packing and I got back into my ‘enjoying the moment’ zone.
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“Have a nice journey” and she’s off at her gazelle-like pace

Now running partner is a taller-than-me Danish lady with legs as long as The Andes and a running stride that could get her across The Strait of Gibraltar in a couple of bounds. She also works at Club La Santa sportsclub so is in very good condition. We always start the warm-up run together and then with her usual smile and up-beat voice she says her catchphrase, “Have a nice journey”, and she’s off at her gazelle-like pace while I reply to her back, “Thanks. Same to you”. I observe how she doesn’t even seem to move with great speed but those strides take her well ahead of me. (It’s wonderful observing a fluid running technique.) However I noticed today the gap was less than usual…yesss!

Now that little 4-worded catchphrase is absolute prime when it comes to those moments when I’m not feeling like things are running smoothly on a run. I remember the cheery tone and those four words “Have a nice journey” and it’s an anchor for me to change my mindset in an instant and focus on enjoying the moment. Your runs are what you make of them. I like to finish my runs off on a positive note knowing that I was able to overcome non-productive thoughts.

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Simba is always up for a run!

So now it’s just me and my neighbour’s dog, Simba. He’s a very well-trained dog. His owner is a trainer himself who has completed many triathlons and often takes Simba on his runs. He’d be ideal for canicross,   I know I can run with him on offroad trails without putting him on a lead as he’s obedient (most of the time!). As I ran I observed how 5 year old Simba (35 years in human years), moves with an endless amount of energy! Here’s another anchor to focus on my run I thought! I listened to his fast panting, tongue hanging out and zigzagging from one side of the dirt track to the other observing this and that. This dog runs with a curious mind!

Learning from dogs

Running with curiosity (like Simba) can help make runs more motivating. It is the reward that makes you enjoy running for its own sake rather than being overly focused on achievement. It is this curiosity that helps get over stressful moments in the body by being curious about how it feels and just by observing. Maybe you notice that your shoulders are tense, so you let go and relax into the run. There’s an intrinsic reward from that feeling of curiosity, to the joy of letting go and not getting caught up in stress. Look at every experience with fresh eyes like Simba does. This is especially useful for motivating longer-distance runs. If you get a fundamental enjoyment from just being out there running, it keeps you going.

So with this little tip from observing Simba I wish all those who have challenges coming up, whether it is a running race or getting on a treadmill or any other activity to have that curiosity to enjoy the experience for its own sake. it will help get you there to the final!

 

Running Like William Wallace!

F### me! Feeling alive and kicking this morning! Dropped the kids off and then went for my morning run. There were dark, looming rain clouds hanging out over the ocean and it looked like everything was going to close in and swallow up the Earth. Okay, drama aside I decided I’ll go for it nevertheless, dressing as if it were 8ºC warmer than it actually was.

Living in Lanzarote means that in some respects we have easier running conditions – good climate, no snow or ice, sometimes it gets very windy but hardly ever uncomfortably cold temperatures. Today though the temperature dropped and felt like a pin sticking in to your skin, the chilly wind couldn’t decide in which direction it wanted to blow making running more of a challenge, the rain clouds were looming closer…

I mindfully embraced all these sensations and reminded myself that each step here and now is what matters to reaching my finishing point, not what might be coming ahead. I became aware of the few holes in my running leggings letting in the real exterior temperature bite the skin on my legs and making my face sting.

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“Life, like these runs, are an undulating experience”.

I love running on my undulating trail. Its ups, downs and more levelled parts are synonymous with life. Life is never linear; life has its comfortable moments, then comes those uphill struggles that require more effort and even suffering, and finally things then plateau out and ease off again back to that more comfortable zone. Reminding myself of this and understanding the impermanence of all things helps get me through the more uncomfortable moments on a run. I accept that each step will help get me through the tougher parts and things will get easier again. This is why I prefer training on trails rather than on flat runs. Life, like these runs, are an undulating experience.

Back to my run. I was nearly halfway through when the heavens opened, the temperature dropped even more and the wind got stronger. The rain was lashing down! Suddenly, hailstones hammered down diagonally into my face, stinging my eyes, cheeks and lips! Hail is highly unusual for Lanzarote! A strong gust of wind made me have to run diagonally into it, and its chilly temperature was biting through the holes in my leggings. Suddenly the wind turned and a gust blew from behind which pushed me ahead faster than my legs could run! In conditions I’m not accustomed to, my senses and body felt really alive and empowered. It must be in my Celtic blood! Everything was wild and I was Braveheart screaming “Freedom!” I felt under the mercy of the elements but with a determination to embrace the experience feeling present in the moment, alive and kicking. I even began to enjoy it and ran like I have not ran in a long time.

Knowing that I was able to mindfully  overcome more difficult conditions and turn what might be an unpleasant run into something envigorating gives an incredible sense of satisfaction and those endorphins were flowing for a good while afterwards.

Gratitude today for those adverse conditions to push my limits and knowing I can withstand them. Now I’m set up for the rest of the day! How do you feel when you’ve overcome more difficult moments?

 

Be Grateful

“If you’ve forgotten the language of gratitude, you’ll never be on speaking terms with happiness.”
Ocean Robbins

When I was teaching children, one of the mums of my pupils (who is an amazing runner and person), suggested to me that a nice way to start the day with the right mindset was by asking the children what they are grateful for today, what is going to make today a great day, and what they are grateful for in general. It really did help get things off to a more positive start. Thanks for that tip, Sarah!

You can check out Sarah’s webpage here: www.simplifythegetgoing.com

There’s no doubt that practising gratitude leads to many benefits. Sometimes the things you take for granted deserve to receive gratitude: the food you receive at your table, the sunrise and sunset, the roof over your head, when you’re in good health, beautifully written music, your body getting you to that 1km or 21km on a run…just by showing an appreciation for the smallest or greatest of things you feel more interconnected with the world around you. I often feel gratitude in the beauty of nature when I take a photo, whether it is a dramatic landscape or just a single plant.

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How about starting your day with a positive mindset by thinking about these 3 questions:

  1. What am I grateful for?
  2. What can I do today to show as an act of gratitude?
  3. What is it about myself that I am grateful for?

Here’s some ideas to guide you:

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Is Music the Food of Love?

Having a Sense of Discovery moment

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Over the last week I felt like I had fallen in love – that kind of first time you set eyes on someone sort of love and your heart beats faster, your breathing changes, you have butterflies in your stomach, your body temperature rises and your eyes dilate. Just in this case it was not with a person, but a beautiful song.

These ‘symptoms’ are part of a real physiological process that happen when you listen to your favourite music, no matter what genre it is. Certain networks in the brain increase in activity. Dopomine gets released into the bloodstream, which then gives that tingly skin sensation we know as ‘goosebumps’.

I’m fascinated by the effects of music, so much so, that my university dissertation was based on ‘The Effects of Music on Creative Thought in Children’, and later studying as a Kindermusik teacher ‘The Benefits of Music.’

So let’s get back to my falling in love experience…

Simple Minds’ new album ‘Walk Between Worlds’ is due to be released this Friday 2nd February and a few songs have already been officially showcased on the internet.

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When you are a passionate fan of a group, you know exactly what that feeling of expectation and excitement is like on hearing new material for the first time. This was me, the teenager eagerly waiting to hear ‘Once Upon A Time’ in its entirety. And this will be me, again like that teenager, when I finally hear their new album in its entirety, 33 years later.

But what I felt a few days ago when I heard one of the new tracks for the first time was such a wonderful experience it goes to show that music is the food of love.

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Hearing ‘Sense of Discovery’, right from its very opening bars transported me on a cosmic journey. My mind started daydreaming of flying through space and a familiarity rang to the chord changes that were pleasurably comforting as I anticipated where they were going. The twinkling guitar-sounds took me back to my pre-uni days of ‘Street Fighting Years’. Great memories! Then Jim’s (the lead singer’s) voice came in, strong, tender, warm, sublime. Hearing that quality in his voice made me smile. I held my breath momentarily and my heart I swore skipped a beat. I was transported back to those late nights listening to my ‘Once Upon A Time’ cassette before going to sleep. I was in pure bliss. A few minutes into the track came the uplifting female chorus lines, which are an adaptation from the chorus of one of my favourite songs of the band, ‘Alive and Kicking’. The rhythm and intonation were more or less the same adding to that feeling of familiarity that really lifts my spirits. Oh, the joys of music! For me, this new song is just perfect. The type of song I could put on repeat and capture something different every single time.

Research

These are some of the results from researching the effects from music we enjoy:

  • Most music creates memories, but favourite songs recall memories.
  • No matter the genre, music we like makes us become more self-aware.
  • Music we like can help relax, soothe and lift moods.
  • Our brain drifts into a resting daydream.
  • Preferred music connects parts of the brain associated with introspection, mind-wandering and possibly imagination.
  • Music we like can increase creativity, productivity and calmness.
  • Favourite songs may plunge us into nostalgia (oh yes!)
  • The physiological process mentioned at the beginning of this article.

Our musical taste does tell us something about ourselves as a person and the song we love the most is associated with an intense emotional experience in our life. The music we enjoyed in our 20s will probably be the music we love for the rest of our life.

So the key to a person’s heart is hidden in their playlist!

Think about what is your favourite track and what it evokes in you. Feel free to share in the comments section.

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Endurance Beyond Belief – The ‘Marathon Monks’ of Mount Hiei, Japan

-the most demanding physical and mental challenge in the world

This really blows my mind! Forget about ultra-marathons, Iron-Man triathlons and other extreme races. I’d like to share with you an ancient challenge dating back to the 10th Century and continues to this very day.

The Kaihogyo monks are a special breed. They’re classed as spiritual athletes who face a 1,000 day running/walking challenge in reward of spiritual enlightenment. This challenge is believed to be the most demanding physical and mental challenge in the world. Only 46 men have completed it since 1885. Brace yourself as you read on….

It takes 7 years to complete as the monks must undergo other Buddhist training as well, such as meditation, calligraphy and general duties within a temple. I’ll go into detail about this challenge year by year. The course is over mountainous and poorly marked terrains around Mount Hiei in Japan.

First Three Years

This could be classed as basic training.  It consists of completing 40km per day for a 100 consecutive days! Yes, basic training! The equivalent of running nearly a marathon everyday for 100 days! After completing the first 100 days, day 101 is decision time. This is when the monk must decide whether he will continue to complete the 1,000 day challenge or not. Historically, the monk had to complete the course, or if not, he would have to take his own life. This explains why the course is littered with unmarked graves of those who didn’t succed. (No suicides have been counted since the 19th Century, or at least no information has been found).

The second and third years the monk continues with the 100 consecutive days, completing 40km per day.

The Fourth and Fifth Years (and the doiri)

This involves 40km per day for 200 consecutive days, or in other words, more or less a full marathon every day for more than six months! For several weeks before completing the 200 days the monk reduces his food intake so his body can cope with the next challenge…the most daunting part of the course known as a fast called the doiri. 

During a doiri the monk stays at a temple for nine days without food, water or sleep or rest. The idea is to bring the body as close as possible to death. The entire time is vigilated by two other monks who ensure that the spiritual athlete doesn’t fall asleep or is tempted to drink any water. Time is spent reciting Buddhist chants and mantras (sometimes up to 100,000 each day). The monk can only leave the temple at 2am to walk 200m to a well and return with water to make an offering without being allowed to drink any himself. This 200m walk can take up to two hours in the final days of the fast!

During the second and third day of the fast there is some nausea. By the fourth and fifth days the hunger pangs have disappeared but the monk is so dehydrated there is no saliva in his mouth so he will begin to taste blood.

The purpose of the doiri is to bring the monk face-to-face with death. It has been said that the monk develops extraordinary powers of sense and is able to hear the most miniscule of sounds or smell things that are kilometres away.

The Sixth and Seventh Years

These years are more challenging in terms of distance and endurance. In the sixth year the monk must complete 60km per day for 100 consecutive days and in the seventh and last year complete 84km per day for 100 consecutive days, i.e., running more or less two marathons back-to-back every day for 100 days! This is followed by 40 km per day for 100 days! The monk also has to make stops at temples of worship so this means that completing 84km could take up to 20 hours leaving very little time for recovery or rest. It is because of this that monks learn to rest sections of their body while running, such as arms or shoulders.

Technical features (or lack of it)

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Author John Stevens,  in his book, The Marathon monks of Mount Hiei writes about the running style: “Eyes focused about 100 feet ahead while moving in a steady rhythm, keeping the head level, the shoulders relaxed, the back straight, and the nose aligned with the navel.”

 

 

More amazing is the manner and the conditions in which the monks run. They usually begin at night and over poorly marked and uneven mountain paths. During winter months low temperatures and snow need to be endured. As you can see on the cover of Stevens’ book there’s no Adidas shoes, no cutting-edge technical sweat-wicking fabrics, and certainly no spandex leggings. Shoes are no more than straw sandals, an all-white outfit and a straw hat.

The monk’s diet is based on vegetables, tofu and miso soup. Nowadays athletes and nutritionists would deem this unsuitable for endurance events.

During the course the monk carries books with directions and mantras to chant, food to offer, candles for illumination, a sheathed knife, and a rope, known as the ‘cord of death’. The knife and rope are a reminder of his duty to take his life if he fails, by hanging or self-disembowelment, hence the unmarked graves, marking the spot where monks have taken their own lives.

 


What can a runner learn from the ‘marathon monks’?

  • Running can give us time to reflect on our life and help us ponder on those ‘why’ questions as it is a type of meditation through movement.
  • Running is a challenge that can teach us to continue facing other challenges, to enjoy and appreciate life, to learn new things.
  • Running has the power to clear the mind that few other activities possess. Even marathon monks experience slumps with heavy and tired legs, just like marathon runners, but then come those moments when we break through and our bodies begin to feel light and strong again, and at one with the earth. There is the wisdom that nothing is permanent.

What can any person learn from the ‘marathon monks’?

  • The marathon monks are an extreme version of the “complete or kill” mentality. But you can take the same approach to your goals, projects, and work. Either something is important enough to you to complete, or it’s time to kill it. Fill your life with goals that are worth finishing and eliminate the rest.
  • A monk has such a sense of commitment and conviction of their goal that every possible distraction is rendered unimportant. Taking this mentality to our own personal goals, e.g. building a successful business,  doesn’t mean you can’t approach them with the same sense of conviction.
  • On Day 101 a monk is 900 days away from his goal. Their journey is so long and ardous but they accept the challenge, and seven years later, they finish. So don’t let the length of your goals prevent you from starting on them.
  • We are fortunate in that we won’t die if we don’t reach our goal, but we can learn from the experience. We also have the privilege to change our mind. We have the freedom to choose something else if we feel it is not working.
  • Finally, the biggest lesson we can learn from these monks is to have commitment and conviction.

Every big challenge has a turning point. Today could be your Day 101. Today could be your Day of Commitment.

 

 

Don’t You (Forget About Me Facebook)

Does social media know us better than we know ourselves?

Okay, I’ve said my blog is to try and make your day a bit better and promote positivity but I need to bring some awareness to this post about the darker side of social media. You see the highly powerful influence it has on us is one of the reasons for starting up this blog on mindfulness and spending more time outdoors. I’ll go into more detail why I think that we are a generation that needs to consider being more mindful and perhaps a little less inclined to be hooked on social media.

I confess to liking social media just like the majority of us (although in small doses I have to add). If you are reading this it is thanks to social media like Google and Facebook…but I am aware that valuable time needs to be spent away from the computer or smartphone and spent in the company of family and friends, or being active by going for a run, hike or being in a club or following a hobby. Anything that involves physical, direct interaction with other people and the environment.

Are we a happier bunch?

We love a bit of gossip, some news we like to believe in whether it’s true or false, have a chat, state an opinion, or just being nosey as to what is going on in other people’s lives regardless of if you know them intimately or not. Much time can be spent daily connecting to our mobiles or computers checking our FB account, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat…it’s irresistable. Does this bring more happiness? Or are we not even aware of how it makes us feel as we’re so caught up?

Technology is advancing at such a rapid rate and now more information is at our fingertips than ever before. We can be immersed with so much information that it can be overwhelming. What we might not be aware of is that technology has been distracting us from our bodies which means that we are losing our ability to pay attention to our senses. Instead we are absorbed by our smartphones and computers. We are more interested in what’s happening on FB, YouTube, etc., etc. than what is happening right here. We are more connected through our screens and wanting to know what happens elsewhere than savouring the tastes and smells of the meal set out on the table. We’ve actually ‘evolved’ from being alert and attentive hunters to being audiovisual beings, ie. a pair of eyes and a pair of ears connected to eight fingers and two thumbs, a screen (and don’t forget that credit card). Social media doesn’t appreciate that humans have bodies.

Now do you get the idea why I meditate and go outdoors to remain connected to the here and now, to the body as well as mind, to what is real and to work at remaining focused and balanced? Mindfulness helps bring awareness to not becoming addicted to social media and maintaining a healthier balance without feeling attachments or anxieties.

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Audiovisual beings

Today is all about ‘sharing experiences’ on the web. We post news, take a picture, and wait for the “likes”. Our feelings are increasingly determined by the online reactions rather than by our actual experience.

When audiovisual beings are estranged from their bodies, senses, and physical environment they are more likely to feel alienated, lonely and disorientated. This is rather concerning when social media like FB encourages people to spend more and more time online leaving less energy to devote to other activities. Now wouldn’t it be great if FB invested in a tool to encourage more meaningful offline activities, caring more for our social and health concerns than over its financial interests,  but I don’t think that is in FB’s business model.  Can you imagine after being connected for let’s say 30 minutes, FB makes a suggestion, for example, “Please leave FB now for a while, get outdoors, move your body, feel the air on your skin, notice the smells…” It sounds laughable but just really think about it…wouldn’t it help us reconnect with our body and senses?

It’s not all bad

I’ve come to realise how very few of my online friends I actually know intimately. I imagine this could be the same for anyone who has in excess of 200 people in their account. Now I’m not going to knock FB completely because it’s true that I have also made some really good friends through groups that connect us, such as the Simple Minds FB groups, (and please don’t be offended if I don’t respond with a “like” or a comment to all your posts and likewise I’m not offended if only one person reads this). Thanks to social media like FB, this has also allowed me to share my blog with you. I receive some news that is of interest to me as I rarely watch TV. I can connect via Skype, Messenger or WhatsApp with my family overseas for free. It has even be an educational source. But there is always a price for receiving these goodies. In exchange we are also giving away our very own privacy and information about ourselves.

 

Giving away intimate data

We don’t need to listen to ourselves anymore. We give away so much data that now algorithms come up with answers for us: which books to read, what our ideal partner is like, what type of personality we have, what kind of music suits you, what type of news interests you, which political party to vote for…We don’t have to look inside ourselves anymore; just use our fingertips to access the information we need for us.

Algorithms have the capability of shaping an individual’s decisions without that person even knowing it and this is concerning, especially as it means the power to manipulate large population groups.

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“Ignorance is strength.”

George Orwell’s novel ‘1984’

 

 

 

 

But let’s not get all doom and gloom here,  on the upside we face far fewer obstacles to getting what we want leading to more instant gratification and all that information, thanks to the power of algorithms, are so easily accessible at our fingertips. Let’s not pay attention to an old philosopher like Epicurus who pointed out that an immoderate pursuit of pleasure inevitably leads to misery. (Forgive me for my sarcastic humour.)

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The people at Silicon Valley

We can thank the employees at Silicon Valley for their incredible work on developing the internet. In all fairness, they originally saw the internet as a tool for social revolution rather than for money making. However, this vision over recent years has been distorted with many not envisioning the consequences that have occurred. The fast pace of introducing new technologies, our busy lives, so many changes, all this doesn’t allow time to even consider what might become of us in the future.

Now Silicon Valley has become aware of something that they’re not openly communicating with us. They’ve become aware of how addictive and hard it is to disconnect from social media and even employees at FB impose themselves limits to using social media. There’s been increasing concern about people’s ability to focus being more limited as it’s so distracting. Children of Silicon Valley workers are sent to Waldorf schools where smartphones and laptops are banned. Some employees at Silicon Valley prohibit their children access to computers and phones until they are 14 years of age with settings for access restrictions and time limits. Employers invest in seeking out the best mindfulness teachers to come in and give courses to their employees. It seems that Silicon Valley now realise that social media has turned into compulsions.

So what can we do to control those compulsions?

It is possible to find a healthier balance over our use of social media without having to dismiss it completely. For example there are many apps which give rewards for not using the phone when you need to focus. One example which was created by an employee at Silicon Valley is Pocket Points. If you are an avid You Tube user there’s DF You Tube to control distractions. For restrictions to internet access on your router, a quick visit to the setup page of your router can establish restrictions for some or all devices.

And finally, don’t forget to look after your body as well as your mind. Get out, go for a run or a walk, focus on your breath and sensations in your body and live in the moment. That laptop/computer/smartphone can wait for a while.

 

The Simple 7 Step Morning Routine that Changed my Life

Bring peace to your mornings. Give the rest of the day purpose.

Establishing routines, especially in the morning can be a challenge and can vary from person to person according to their personality. Let’s face it, routines can be a pain in the arse but the reality is they can do a lot of good to help make room in our lives for other things.

Many of us have busy lives and sometimes we feel like we spend the rest of the day playing ‘catch up’. This can leave us stressed so having a morning routine is a good way to bring you peace and give the rest of the day purpose.

What’s important is having your own routine because everyone’s different. So I thought it might be helpful to share my routine – not because it’s the only way to start a day, but rather because it may help you consider what your routine could look like. So don’t throw away that alarm clock just yet!

 

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No more Groundhog Days.

My Routine

It’s taken a lot of experimentation but this seems to work with getting my two young boys up, fed, dressed and ready for school.

1. Wake up

The alarm goes off at 6am and the first thing I do is go to a quiet room to meditate for 1 hour. This helps me get in the right frame of mind to start the day.

2. Stretches

giphy.gifAt 7am I do ten yoga sun salutations which I find stretches every part of my body and helps maintain flexibility and warms up the body. This is important for the next step.

 

 

3. Cold shower

Yes, you read right! What a nutter you’re thinking. The body is warmed up enough from the stretching to be able to face a fast and vigorous, cold(ish) shower. This is the crème dela crème to an instant wake up call! This will ‘shake off the ghosts’.

4. Breakfast

Time to prepare the boys’ school snacks and get them up for breakfast, dressed and ready to go to school. I have about 45 mins for this. I don’t leave the house without having my fairly strong black espresso. Another way to ‘shake off the ghosts’.

If I’m feeling run down or want to detox I follow a 3-day herbal tea cycle to cleanse lungs, liver then kidneys, repeating the cycle in this order. The herbal tea for detoxing the lungs was a relief whilst I was getting over my pneumonia.

Click on the title below for more information on these herbal teas:Picachu Queen Infusions

5. Morning run or walk

After dropping the boys off at school at 8.30am I then focus on my mindful run which could be 30-45 minutes, observing my breath and being aware of my environment and thoughts that pass. These runs are along coastal trails with winding tracks and undulating hills. I often include a run up to the top of my favourite volcano, Picachu and pause briefly to reflect on some ideas that spontaneously arise for this blog.

6. Smoothie time

Return home for a quick shower and then a veggie/fruit smoothie. I prefer to drink them after exercise as I prefer a light stomach for running and these smoothies can be a filler!

Start with a neutral alkaline base. In winter: apple or pear. In summer: watermelon or melon. Always add some lemon juice to aid in absorbing calcium and to delay the oxidation of the fresh ingredients.

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Click on the title below for more details and benefits of smoothies.

Picachu Queen Smoothies (1)

 

 

 

 

 

7. Jobs

This is where mind and body should be focused and ready to do the activities planned for the day. This might involve checking those e-mails, writing a blog post, preparing a delicious meal, studying or making bits and pieces out of recycled wood…