Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Starfishing through Space and Time

Anyhow.  I don’t always get what I want but I often get exactly what I need.  So yesterday I found myself driving towards the sea to Braunton.  You know how much I love Hands On – it’s a small yet impeccable natural health clinic with a truly lovely float room.  Oh, and you know how much I love floating.  J

My good friend (also a wonderful therapist) Nicki Hughes had sent me a gift voucher for a float, and then Phil said he’d throw in a massage for good measure (my friends are so generous). 
Massage isn’t really the right word for what Phil does though.  It’s more of a body/mind/soul fix.  I hadn’t realised just how much tension I was holding, and in the weirdest places – my ankles, for pity’s sake?  The backs of my knees?  My jaw?  Okay, so the last one wasn’t so much of a surprise.  He’s not just a great technician but a true healer and, as my session drew to a close, I could start to feel my energy reawaken.  Just the faintest tingle.  And the pain in my chest had lessened.  Just a little.

Then I cocooned myself in a bathrobe and walked in a delightful daze to the float room.  You have to float, you just have to float.  It’s not claustrophobic, I promise.  It’s just…heaven. 
So I lay back, let the water hold me, and gazed at the starry sky for a few moments before turning out the lights and letting myself drift in the darkness.  Now Nicki won’t float (well, not yet) because she says she doesn’t like being alone with her thoughts.  To which I’d answer – which thoughts?  

Floating is the perfect form of meditation.  Your breathing is amplified and so it’s simplicity itself to focus on it – inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.  And then, at some point between now and then, here and there, you just – vanish. 

And then, I must have fallen asleep (when did I get so tired?).  And then, very loudly, right in my right ear, a voice shouts, ‘Boo!’  And I start awake, thinking someone’s come into the room.  But then I recognise the voice.  It’s my own.  I’m playing hide and seek with myself in the vastness of the cosmos.  And I start to laugh.  All by myself in a float chamber in Braunton, not touching the sides.  All by myself floating huge as universes, not touching the stars.  Starfishing through space and time.  Birthing aeons.  Biting my tale. New skin for the old ceremony.  This is where I belong, this is where it all makes sense, I think, before laughing at myself again and dropping the stupidity of thought.

And then the music begins.  And coming back is so hard.  

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Kichadi and ghee recipes for autumn ayurveda detoxing

Okay, so here are the recipes for the autumn ayurvedic detox.

Ghee is basically clarified butter and very simple to make (or you can be really lazy and buy it ready made). You will need unsalted organic butter.

  1. Put the butter in a small pan and cook over a gentle heat.
  2. Let it reach boiling point when it will become transparent and a white foam will appear on top. 
  3. Allow to boil quietly for about 15 minutes–you will know when it’s ready because it will turn a lovely soft golden colour and white curds will separate out from the clear oil. The boiling will quieten down and become almost still. It’s ready. Be careful not to let it burn or turn brown.
  4. Filter it through a muslin (drugstores usually sell them in the baby department) or let it cool until the solid curds settle at the bottom.
  5. Store the clear ghee (discard the curds) in a clean (boil it first) glass jar that can be closed firmly. It will now keep pretty much indefinitely–in or out of the fridge. It may melt but that won’t affect it in any way.

It occurs to me that vegans won’t want to use ghee.  Coconut oil would be a suitable substitute – although not ideal as it’s cooling in its effects, and would aggravate vata (air) types.


Kichadi (also known as kitcheri and a host of other spellings) is a simple rice and mung dhal stew with spices and vegetables added. It’s really simple to make and is a bit of a moveable feast.  It is quite bland, so you may want to jazz it up with more veg.  I’ve listed a few additions that have specific healing properties.    
Use around 30g of basmati rice and 15g of mung beans per person.
* Mix the rice and beans together and wash in cold water.
* Melt a tablespoon of ghee (see above) in a pan and add half a teaspoon each of fennel, cumin and coriander seeds. Cook for a minute or two.
* Add half a teaspoon each of powdered ginger and turmeric plus the drained beans and rice. Allow them to become well coated with the ghee and then add enough water to cover the ingredients with a few inches to spare.
* Bring to the boil then cover and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, making sure the mixture does not dry out or stick. It should take about an hour to cook.
* If you wish, you can add seasonal vegetables (see below). Root vegetables will need cooking from the beginning (add at stage 3) while leafy vegetables can be added towards the end of your cooking time.

The following additions will help particular conditions:
    • to tone the reproductive organs and promote fertility: add quarter of a teaspoon of fenugreek seeds; 4 neem leaves (fresh if possible); a pinch of hing; one onion; 2-3 cups of fresh asparagus.
    • to strengthen the lungs: add two medium sweet potatoes, one onion, four cloves of garlic plus small amounts of hing, cardomom, dry ginger and peppercorns. 
    • to strengthen digestion: add half a teaspoon of turmeric, one teaspoon of oregano, one teaspoon of grated ginger, three cups of fresh vegetables (carrots, squash, courgettes).

An ayurvedic detox for autumn

So, a few people have been in touch asking if I could post up an autumn detox.  When I’ve overdone it (last last week, for example) I usually just shrug it off and get back to my normal eating.  I know the things that don’t suit my body – sugar, wheat, alcohol, heavy rich fried foods – and so I just cut them out again and start to feel a whole bunch better. 

But a lot of people like to follow a plan.  So, here’s one of my favourite autumn cleanses, based on ayurveda.  I like it for this time of year because it's warming.  As we prepare for colder weather, it's best not to chill the body with lots of cold juices and frigid salads.  Think warming, comforting, soothing.  

Ayurveda has a whole science of detox – known as panchakarma.  It was designed as a potent revitalization and rejuvenation program and was taken by ancient Indian princes three or four times a year.  If you get the chance to do a full panchakarma, grab it with both hands.   It’s not just wishful thinking:  the ghee, sesame oil, massage and heat treatments of panchakarma loosen lipid peroxides (free radicals which cause cell damage), which are then eliminated in the weeks after detox. In addition, panchakarma has been found to "significantly" lower stress and anxiety, to improve cardiovascular health and to scavenge other kinds of free radicals which cause ageing and disease. 
This is a very modified version of panchakarma but it will still have a profound effect on body, mind and soul.  
If you possibly can, get hold of the ayurvedic preparations Trikatu and Triphala. Follow the instructions on the product you buy (I like Pukka herbs products). You should expect your bowels to become quite loose while undergoing this detox. However if this becomes extreme or uncomfortable, reduce your intake of Triphala. 
Although the major part of this detox does fall over the weekend, you will need to start preparing mid-week so it’s not too much of a shock to your system.

Start the day with about two fluid ounces of warmed, liquefied ghee. Swallow it quickly (it doesn’t taste unpleasant, just strange) then suck a piece of orange to take away the oiliness in your mouth. Taking ghee internally in this way prepares the body for your detox, loosening ama (toxins) from the body.

Start the day with ghee as for Wednesday. You can follow it with a mug of hot water and freshly squeezed lemon which will help your bowels to move.
Eat your usual meals throughout the day but try to keep them light and avoid rich, heavy foods. Avoid alcohol and any sugar. Keep away from fried food or junk food.

Boil up four large glasses of fresh water and keep in a thermos–sip the hot water throughout the day. This will help to release ama.  In addition you can drink another four glasses of water that has been kept at room temperature (don’t drink very cold water–it stops the digestion). As you won’t be drinking tea or coffee (or alcohol) you may want to find something to take its place–try herbal teas or freshly squeezed vegetable juice.

Before you go to bed, have a warm (not hot) aromatherapy bath with your choice of oil (juniperberry, vetivert or eucalyptus). Take Triphala with lots of warm water.

Again, start with liquefied ghee. Follow with a mug of hot water and freshly squeezed lemon.
Eat a light diet today. Cut out heavy proteins such as meat, cheese, eggs and milk. If you drink tea or coffee you can continue up until the end of your working day, but cut down your intake. 
As yesterday, drink eight large glasses of mineral water–at least four should be hot.
Avoid salt and sugar.
Breakfast could be fruit compote; stewed fruit; fruit salad; oatmeal porridge made with water and served with nuts and seeds (plus a little maple syrup if you like – yes, it’s sugar but it’s not too bad). 
For lunch choose something like steamed vegetables with a little lean chicken or fish or tofu.
After each meal take Trikatu.
Prepare yourself a light supper: a bowl of vegetable soup or dhal and basmati rice. Eat it as early as possible-around 6pm is ideal.
If you want a hot drink from now on, choose herbal tea (make sure it’s caffeine free), ginger tea or hot water. 
Take Triphala with lots of warm water before bed.

On waking, have a mug of hot water and freshly squeezed lemon (tip: prepare a thermos just before you go to bed and keep it by the side of your bed).
For breakfast gently stew some seasonal fruits (eg apple, pear, raisins).  Add a mug of herbal or spiced tea. Finish with Trikatu.
Lunch is a small bowl of kichadi. Chew each mouthful mindfully. Take Trikatu.
Make sure you drink at least eight glasses of water throughout the day (remember, don’t drink cold liquids with your meal). If you can drink it hot, so much the better. If not, make sure it is room temperature rather than straight from the fridge or tap.
Mid-afternoon you can have some fruit (either fresh or gently stewed). Or a handful of nuts and seeds.
Eat your supper at around 6pm. Once again, have a light meal of kichadi followed by Trikatu.
Don’t forget the Triphala before bed.

Have your usual hot water and lemon on rising. 
For breakfast have stewed fruit and herbal/spiced tea followed by Trikatu.
For lunch have kichadi followed by Trikatu.
Remember to drink your warm water throughout the day. 
Have your evening meal at around 6pm. Once again have kichadi and Trikatu
Have an early night.  Triphala as before.

Have your usual hot water and lemon juice.
Breakfast as for Saturday and Sunday.
Today you can return to a more varied diet but don’t race into it. Stick to vegetable soup for lunch or maybe a light pasta with vegetable sauce. Follow meals with Trikatu.
Continue to drink warm water. Avoid coffee and tea, sodas and alcohol. Herbal teas should be your substitute.
Supper should be light–vegetable risotto or paella, root vegetable stew, soup, pasta. Try to avoid meat as it’s hard to digest. Steer clear of dairy for the same reason. Bread is also difficult to digest–if you must have it, toast it. Follow it with Triphala as before.

After Ayurvedic Detox
You may be able to take longer for your home detox. If so, that’s great and you can safely repeat the guidelines for Saturday and Sunday for as long as feels comfortable.
Whether you just do the weekend or continue for a longer detox make sure you ease yourself gently back into normal living. In other words, don’t suddenly start eating a full diet (packed with meat, dairy, stodge); drinking alcohol and coffee; staying up late etc. Your system won’t know what’s hit it. 
It’s all safe to continue on a regular basis–except the internal taking of ghee, the ayurvedic preparations (Triphala and Trikatu) and the very modified diet.

There are a whole bunch of things you can do to support yourself while on detox – I’ll post some more over the next few days (if I can remember!). 
I’ll also put up a Cheat’s Detox.  J

For longer detoxes see my book The Detox Plan which also gives lots of advice on supporting therapies and DIY tips for home detoxing

For more on ayurveda see my book Live Well - how to work out  your prakruti (mind-body type) and how to adjust your diet, exercise and lifestyle to suit your individual type.

This post is getting too long - I'll post recipes for ghee and kichadi on a separate post.  

Monday, 29 September 2014

Wake me up - when September ends...

Long time, no blog.  I’ve been off with the fairies, dreaming, dozing, delegating my life.  Now it’s time to wake up.  Why do I never follow my own advice?  I took a look in my book The Natural Year and there it is…

‘Autumn shouts ‘wake-up’ to the psyche – it’s time to dust yourself off after the languor of summer and take life head on again.’ 

I’m late, I thought, as I blinked my way into the day (hideously early as always on a school day); September has nearly ended.  And, see, there goes my mind again, skittering off on a tangent, now thinking about the song.  Flibbertygibbet mind. 

I made far more sense when I was younger.  J  Let me remind myself what I said then…
‘Neither yin nor yang can hold power over this time of the year – the year is held like scales in perfect balance.  This is a transitional time when you need to keep balanced and centred, just like the year itself.  But it is also a time when the powers of creation are coming up again – from the clear energy of fire comes the manifestation implied by earth – not just the harvesting of the fields but all kinds of creation, new beginnings, the start of something different.  Earth energy can kick-start you into new directions and differing ways of living life.’


And how?  In practical terms?

‘In the early part of autumn you should begin a warming  and toning diet.  Shift to wearing light but warm clothes and take oil baths and massages to begin gently to warm the body.’

I can do that. 

‘Autumn is a time for storing what is necessary and getting rid of what is no longer needed.  It’s a time of clarity; of dumping the dross, of getting rid of things both physical and emotional which no longer have a place in your life.  It’s time for a second big clear-out, an ‘autumn-clean’ if you like.’


‘According to Chinese philosophy, if you cling sentimentally to old attachments and desires, you will end up feeling anxiety, grief and a profound feeling of melancholy.  These feelings, in turn, will affect your body – predominantly your lungs and large intestine.  The result will be flu, colds and a general case of low resistance, of feeling under par.  If the problem goes deeper it might bring breathing difficulties, chest pains, skin conditions and other unpleasant results.’


Okay, so time for a clear-out.  Some decluttering.  A detox.  I get it.  Care to join me?   J

Sunday, 10 August 2014

It's time...

So, it’s finally time.    

After all the shilly-shallying, will we-won't we, we are finally going to put this crazy, gorgeous, mad house on the market
How do I feel?  Conflicted.  I thought this would be my forever home, I really did.  If you’ve followed my blog for some time, you’ll know how I fell head over heels in love with the place, with everything about it.  I could see past the layers of vinyl wallpaper, past the nutty layout (inherited from when it was a sporting hotel).  Its problems didn’t faze me – I knew I could put it right.  Okay, so it’s not quite finished – there are bits that still need some TLC, but the bones of this house are good.  Oh, let’s be honest – it’s drop-dead gorgeous.  That vast sitting room with the immense fireplace and the vaulted ceiling that could  be a chapel or, if you’re feeling fanciful, a Viking great hall (on a small scale); those arts and craft windows with the dragon latches; that secluded garden; those suntrap bedrooms. 
Why are we moving?  Because it’s time.  Because things change and, no matter how much one might like to keep everything in aspic, it’s akin to asking the tide to stay put and please wait just there.  No lapping, if you don’t mind. 

After twenty years of country living, it’s time to head for the city again.  London?  No.  Much as I love my old manor, I couldn’t move back even if I wanted to.  My old house (a three-bedroom terrace in North-East London) would now cost close to a million.  Crazy, huh?

‘Of all the people I know, I never thought you’d settle in the country,’ said an old friend I met recently.  ‘London was your happy hunting ground, your patch.  I never thought you’d stick it in the sticks.’ 

Yes, I loved London.  But I have loved the countryside too.  Over the last twenty years, I have watched so many city dwellers arrive starry-eyed, only to become disillusioned, and race back to the smoke.  Mainly they find the countryside boring in comparison to the city.  There simply isn’t the diversity of shops, entertainment and people that cities have.  

Here in Dulverton, we’re lucky – we have four pubs, some great restaurants and cafes, tons of individual independent shops, plenty of clubs and activities and plenty of deliciously odd people (as well as some very nice normal ones, of course).  Even so, people want more - it often seems as though what they really want is the city with a few cows, sheep and thatched roofs.  But the countryside (even relatively 'civilised' outposts like Dulverton) is a very different beast from the city and it takes a certain mindset to get on here. 
I've been lucky.  I have made great friends here – a far greater variety than I ever did in the city.  Back in London my friends were all pretty much arty media types – journalists and musicians, artists and fashion designers, with a garnish of lawyers.  Here in the country, my pals are teachers, carers, farmers and builders; fitness instructors, beauticians, owners of small businesses.  The age range is far wider and, whereas in London my friends shared much the same political views, in the countryside one simply can’t afford to let politics get in the way of friendship.  I’ll miss them and this community that open-heartedly welcomed us.
I will miss being able to walk straight out into stunning countryside, up through the woods, down through the fields, along by the river, out onto the moor.  I will miss popping into the shops for a pint of milk and coming back an hour later because I’ve bumped into so many people and been kept chatting.  I will miss my outdoor exercise classes – in drizzle, fog and frost, even in snow and cloudburst – Exmoor folk are hardy.   And I will miss this gorgeous old house which is right in the centre of this glorious Exmoor town (is it a large village or a small town – I can never decide) and yet remains completely secluded.  As James recently pointed out, if there were a Zombie Apocalypse, we would  be ideally situated to hunker down and stay safe.  Now there’s a good selling point!
My son, however, is not remotely conflicted.  The countryside was his playground as a child – yes, we followed all the clichés – wild swimming and picnics by the river; lazy days on the glorious North Devon beaches;  building fire-pits and willow huts; larking around with dogs and ponies; hunting for antlers (and finding them); hiking and cycling, canoeing and camping. 
But now he’s fifteen, he wants something a bit edgier, something more urban, something more ‘youthful’.  His friends, who used to love coming over to build huts and tree-houses, now want to hang out at the shops or go bowling, paintballing and to the cinema.  Soon it will be bars and clubs.  So, it’s time to go.  Time to let him stretch his wings and time for me to snap out of my country fugue.   Besides, journalism is changing.  I am changing. I need a new challenge. 

So.  If you know anyone who is keen to try the Good Life on Exmoor, let me know.  I’ve tugged together a blog to show a little more of the house so take a look and spread the word.  Just make sure you're the 'right type' huh?  :-) 

Friday, 4 July 2014

Magic don't work if you don't believe in it

A dear old friend said something yesterday that gave me pause.  ‘Magic don’t work if you don’t believe in it.’  And I thought about it, and felt about it, and I think and feel she’s right.
If you shut your eyes and close your ears and lock away your hopes and dreams behind a mile-high wall, then, sure as eggs is eggs, ain’t nothing magical going to happen, is it?   Just as you won’t win the Lottery if you don’t buy a ticket, you’ve got to meet magic halfway.  You’ve got to give Fate a chance. 

Maybe there is no real magic, maybe there are no elves and dragons, maybe there are no fairies at the end of the garden or gold at the end of the rainbow, maybe there are no fairytale princes or genies in bottles granting wishes or happy ever afters but, hey, so what if there aren't?  Let’s live as if there were, because…well, maybe because life is simply nicer than way.  And who knows?
Delusion?  Maybe.  Bonkers New Age claptrap?  Quite possibly.  But hey, who gives a fuck?  J 

If you baulk at that, then maybe change the words.  Spell it differently.  Instead of ‘magic’ say ‘good things’, say ‘chance’, say ‘serendipity’, say whatever the hell you like but just open up, allow a glimmer of hope in for hope's sake.
Sometimes you have to believe in order to let the magic happen, to give it a toehold, to let it breathe.  I’ve told you already that there was a firepit at the Pause, on the top of the sun/moon/starlit hill, within the magic circle – and we sat around it at night and talked, and meditated, and watched the stars and all sorts.  And it was lovely.  But…

‘I almost brought my guitar,’ said Sarah.
And we all sighed.  Music…that was what was missing.  Because there is nothing more magical than the combination of fire and music. 
Remember this magical fire song?

Lynn said that her chap Dave was a musician, and she said, ‘Shall I get him to come and play for us?’
We looked at her in amazement.  They live in Whitstable, on the East coast, and we were in Cornwall, right down in the far West, at the other end of the country. 
‘But he’s 300 miles away,’ someone said.
‘So?’ She smiled and turned to her phone. 
She whistled and he came.  Just like that.  He just got in his van and drove, not quite all night but for a heck of a long time, just to come down for an evening to play for us around the fire.  Just?  The power of Love, huh?  And it was so so magical, lounging around the fire, sipping wine, nibbling on those healthy truffles of Amy’s, and passing round Dave’s list of songs and shouting out numbers, like a Chinese menu.
And, funny thing…there had been a lot of tears during our five days at The Pause, but I hadn’t cried once.  Much as I will sob in private, I never let my defences down in public.  But when he started playing, I couldn’t help myself.  Tears welled up and I started gulping a bit.  And it was, really, deeply embarrassing because it was that old bloody standard, The Sound of Silence, the bane of my school assemblies.  How many times had I strummed it out on stage?  So clichéd.  But it just whacked me in the solar plexus and then whammied me in the heart.  And, yeah, I cried.  And was that magic?  Yup. 

Anyhow, you can book Dave for your own firepit, should you wish.  I hear he’s also pretty good at clubs and parties and anything really. Cos he's one absolutely lovely guy.  No bullshit. Just magic.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Dancing in the Shitstorm of Life

So.  Yes.  We went to the beach.  To Bude.  It’s about half an hour from lovely Waterloo Farm, the Cornish base for The Pause (check it out if you fancy a farm holiday – they have several renting cottages). 
It wasn’t the best day, weather-wise but never mind.  We spread out the blankets and looked at the sea and decided that, no, it really wasn’t warm enough after all for a dip, however bracing.  Danielle suggested we might want to go and look for a stone that spoke to us, a heart stone, that we might want to meditate with it, or paint it, or maybe not; that we might want to do something entirely different.

I wasn’t quite sure how I was feeling.  There was that sense of disappointment I always get at the seaside – that’s it never quite how I imagine it will be.  That old sense of waiting for the perfect beach day that never comes.  Old childhood stuff, maybe.  Who knows?
Anyhow, after a while I wandered off and sat down away from the group.  Needing some space.  Feeling a bit off-kilter.  I wondered if I might find my ‘special stone’, not by wandering along the beach and seeing what caught my eye but by picking out a spot and digging around, under the surface.  To find hidden strengths maybe?  So I picked out stones and found myself placing them in a circle around me.  A protective circle?  A magic circle?  That would be nice, but it was actually a small circle, a constraining circle, a hardly-able-to-breath circle.  And what did I find?  Small stuff.  Boring stones. Nothing special. Nothing juicy. 
I took a deep breath and kicked the circle.  It wanted to open into a tunnel…no, not a tunnel…a funnel.  A retort, an alchemical vessel.  Had I been fermenting again, like smelly old sauerkraut?  And then it became a passageway, a birth channel.  Leading to?  The sea?  The wider world?
So I got up and walked out, looked around and…hellfire, out there was an exciting world, full of big pebbles, different pebbles, really exciting  pebbles!  WILD PEBBLES!   And not just pebbles, but rocks, and sea and sky and how have I got myself trapped in such a tiny tiny place?  With so few resources?  Without passion. Without my tribe.  How have I settled for something so godamn small and mean and mundane?
What do I want, I asked myself.  And the sea and sky winked.  I want to dance on the whirlwind.  I want to breathe deep.  I want to be true and wild and free and…
And I found my pebble…the perfect pebble.  One that fitted softly into the palm of my hand.  And on it?  A wild dervish-dancer spinning in the storm.

Except that…when I showed it to my mini-tribe, they laughed. 
‘Hey, look! It’s your crow shit!’ 
And, sod me, they were right.  It did look like a giant splodge of bird crap.  And then I looked up and over at my circle-cum-alchemical vessel and, would you believe it…

‘No!’ I wailed.
‘What?’ they said. 
‘That dog, that big retriever…it just shat in my circle!’ I said.
‘No way!’ they said.
‘Way!’ I said, and we all burst out laughing. 

So I thought again.  Hmm.  Life has been a bit shit lately and I am more than a bit of a shitty person (and that’s fine; it is what it is, no point denying it). 

Maybe it’s about time I started owning my own crap.  Maybe it’s time to break out and start dancing in the shitstorm once again.  J