Potatoes and other vegetables.

Beyond Veganuary: 11 Top Tips for Sticking with a Plant-Based Diet

‘Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution towards a vegetarian diet.’
Albert Einstein.

Peperamis, Ginsters, Chickstixx, Cheesestrings and packets of Matteson’s Fridge Raiders. If you leave the small matter of how you nourish your miracle machine to the last minute, this might be your snack-list in a Western world of vending machines, service stations, corner shops and duff takeaways. You deserve better.

The prospect of an animal-free diet for a day – let alone a month – might seem like an ordeal at first, but if the plants are calling to you, you might be dipping into Veganuary. Go for it. Some people will make long-term changes. Others won’t be ready to. Here we share our top tips for making lasting changes towards to a plant-based diet.

1. Commit to learning
Embarking on a journey of re-education means being a student. It means taking on board new information and applying it. Have you switched off already at the thought of having to try? Well, give yourself a chance! With food consciousness comes a whole raft of new ideas about not just food – but other things too. By committing to learn you’ll see the swiftest improvements to your food knowledge, your cooking skills, your motivation for health and you’ll find making the right food choices a doddle. You might be surprised about what else you learn about too.

2. Stock a good pantry
When your mum used to put vegetables in the pressure cooker it was awful, right? Soft, tasteless mush leached of colour, flavour, mineral, vitamin or texture. Bad vegetables would drive anyone towards eating a cow. There is another way but you need some essentials to work from. You’ll need a tasty oil for salad dressing and a good cooking oil with a high smoke point. Good salt, pepper, herbs, spices, vinegars – an intelligent larder. Beans, grains, nuts, seeds, vegetable stock and maple syrup or agave. If you have these things in your cupboard, you give yourself a fighting chance of surviving beyond Veganuary with plant-y-foods.

3. Ditch the microwave
Nothing has ever tasted better because it’s been in a microwave. Ever. Create some space in your kitchen for real food and put that silly cuboid in the garage. Better still, give it away to someone you hate who may be more interested in a weirdly radiating, 1940’s, radar technology, fear-box. It’s no place for food. A commitment to a microwave is a commitment to harrowing, grey slop. Move on. If you’re struggling with this revert to 1.

4. Soak 
It seems fashionable these days to have dry goods like green lentils, rice, chick peas, mung beans, pearl barley, split peas and these sorts of things in Kilners on shelves. It’s not just for Instagram. You can eat these things. If you want to eat conscious, cheap, healthy, in measured portions and get your fibre and protein from plants – this is a great step forward. Soak the right amount before you go to bed and set your intention to eat right the next day. Nothing will give you a better sense of well-being than when you’ve thought ahead about what goodness you’ll be eating in the proper measures tomorrow.

5. Go Indian
Roughly 30% of India is vegetarian. For inspiration of how to eat tasty plant-centric food, look no further. Rice and dal together offer a complete range of proteins, nobody does bread better than India and Indian food has been adopted around the world as some of the tastiest and most satisfying there is. Learn how to make a simple curry from scratch with a base of onion, ginger, garlic and spices and you’re on your way to a world of food discovery.

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6. Have high-protein go-to stuff
The biggest misconception is that you have to consume meat in order to get enough protein. You don’t. Tempeh, kale, seaweed, tofu, broccoli, peas, oats, nuts, seeds, rice, pearl barley, lentils, raw balls, peanut butter, bread – these are all excellent sources of protein. Switching from animal products, you will need new sources of regular protein and/or to shift your perception of where you get your protein from. Build your new repertoire of recipes around these sources of protein.

7. Give yourself the very best
For us here at The Mat Movement, it’s not about cutting out animal products as much as taking control of our diet and making the tastiest, healthiest food we can. You’re not missing out, you’re making a positive change. Reject bland, mechanically reformed, hormone injected, over-salted, highly preserved, factory, tinned, fake, colourless and outright grim food. Reject any food that doesn’t sit right with the way you feel about it. Instead, embrace colourful, abundant, fresh, low fat, well-seasoned, healthy, balanced, exciting food made with love and all of the best intentions of happy nature.

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8. Bridge
If, like me, going vegan seems just inconceivable at first attempt – bridge. Maybe hold on to eggs, cheese, fish or a combination. That initial shift will mean that you have a need to engage with your diet and work on some new recipes without a full rejection of old patterns which can be very hard to drop. Once you’ve gone without beef and chicken for a while you’ll start to realise how unimportant it was. Losing the eggs and cheese will then be an easier next step.

9. Don’t believe the protein myth
The myth that a plant-based diet means you’re a pale, skinny wimp has been absolutely de-bunked. You can get all of the worldy goodness you need from a diet that doesn’t require animal products. Don’t believe anyone that tells you otherwise. Here’s what vegan ultra athlete, Rich Roll eats in a day.

10. Take a test
People seem so preoccupied with protein these days. It’s not all about protein. We all need a good varied diet, which of course includes proteins but also contains carbohydrates, a wide range of vitamins and minerals, fatty acids, water and all the colours of the rainbow. If you fear that you may be missing an element of your diet, it’s less likely to be protein you’re missing as some other element. If you have a concern, why not take a test? Here at The Mat Movement we sent our hair off for analysis to see what foods suit us, what doesn’t and what we’re missing. It seems I need to eat less soya and more Brazil nuts and Collette has a host of intolerances. This education has helped is to re-find our balance and set a course for a more suited diet with some science behind us for good measure.  For a hair sample analysis speak to our friend, Hebe at Health Synergy.

11. Get Your B12
B12 is mainly found in animal based food but it’s a vital nutrient and you’ll miss it if you’re not careful. The only reliable sources of B12 for vegans are from foods fortified with B12. So get stuck into your fortified breakfast cereals, Vegemite, nutritional yeast, fortified nut milks, fortified breads and for obvious reasons meat and dairy substitutes are usually B12 fortified – but check the labels. Or take a supplement.

We want to make a conscious decision about how we fuel our beautiful bodies and we want to make sure great food is available when we’re ready to eat. Making good choices for our consumption takes a level of engagement and it doesn’t happen over night.

This doesn’t mean that moving towards a plant-based diet is too hard. For sure, it means that there is a period where making changes takes a little thought and consideration. However, once you’ve fallen into the habit of eating in a new way, you’ll feel it’s a breeze, just like any new challenge. Soon, making good plant-based food will be as easy as any other way of food prep.

Please check out our recipes for some inspiration. We are adding new recipes all the time. If you have any queries then we’d be very pleased to hear from you.

Thanks for reading and good luck with any changes you may be making with your diet.

Pete


We offer beautiful, plant-based food on retreat.

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I died a thousand times

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“Every yoga practice is an experience of death.”

Nameless Yogi

What is certain? Certainly not the future. So what is happening right now for you?

Listen. Let the sounds reach you. Become aware of the temperature of the air on your skin. The breath that breathes you. The quality of light that surrounds you. What is happening right now in your body? Become aware of your posture. Your shoulders. The slight tension in your jaw or your brow. What can you hear. And smell. And taste. And what is the texture of your emotions as you read these words? How do they find you today?

Take a moment.

Close your eyes.

And listen.

“We practice yoga, not for life but for death. If any of you are practicing for the life you are mistaken.”

I don’t know his name but it’s not important. I’m more interested in the life force that is joyfully animating his slight Indian form. There is a lift and dance in his movements that reflects the impish arc of his smile, widening with his eyes as he teaches from the front. Witty and provocative, he amuses himself as he watches our addled brains lumpishly wrap around the esoteric enquiries of the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita.

“The only thing that is certain is death. In pranayama we are controlling the life force, no? We hold our breath. We stop the life that is breathing us.”

In every moment there is a death. Each moment that has just past is gone. To sit inside that moment and this moment and that moment is to live more fully. To experience the moment as it passes away is to live and die in a heartbeat. Or at least, that’s what I thought he was talking about.

What I also thought he was talking about was the power of yoga to transform. That gradual metamorphosis of who we are, how we see ourselves and begin to experience the world. We peel back the layers of conditioning, shedding the old skin that doesn’t fit any more. We begin to notice our recurring patterns, start to see through the traffic of our thoughts, catch ourselves in our shadows and, as we practice, something luminous begins to sing in our words and ways. In how we treat our bodies, listen to our loved ones and get closer to ourselves. As the dead cells fall, we rise up to live.

Asana, meditation, and the ancillary practices, burn and burn and burn till we reach the stillpoint. We move our bodies to still our minds and come home to this expansive state of being that anchors us so fully into the now that everything else diffuses. Through the practices we die a thousand times. And, conversely, the parts of ourselves that we have cast away and denied get to live again. The judgements, the expectations, the chaos and the ideas about who we ‘should’ be are replaced with something far greater. A truer sense of what lies beneath. One that pierces through those tired concepts of ‘self’, allowing them to perish so we can become fuller.

In a previous lecture, our artful guide challenged us to consider that yoga is not union. Yoga is separation. This was dangerous ground, I thought. Yes, we are separating ourselves from our thoughts and our concepts but we can all too easily separate ourselves from our feelings in a bid to ‘transcend’ our ‘suffering’. In my understanding, it is only through uniting with our suffering that it can pass away. We must experience that which is painful to allow it move through. As with death, we can’t avoid it. If we push it away, deny it, separate from it, bypass it, our spirit will die from the toxicity of what remains buried. In contrast, if we recognize what is truly living in us, if we see the certainty of our pain and the root of our suffering then it can dissolve. When we shift from the consumption of thought to the consciousness of feeling, we learn to honour the whole spectrum of human experience and facilitate flow. By not getting caught up in the story that surrounds what is happening, by ‘separating’ our thoughts and ‘uniting’ with our feelings, we become more alive as those concepts die a death.

 

 

Compassion in action

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“Don’t just do something, stand there.”

Buddhist saying

The Indian Ocean beats down on the beach, relentlessly dragging the shoreline back and grinding the sand with its frothing mouth. Ravens squawk and shit in the eaves of the thatch and wild dogs howl indiscriminately at passing scavengers. The sun is seething, flattening the sea breeze, while Pete and I sit on the rough hewn cement of our two-storey hut, taking shade and eating a breakfast of idli pancakes.

We’re discussing the book I’m reading, Non-Violent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg, and Pete asks if I think there is sometimes a need for violent communication. My sense is that our communication baseline is already violent. We’re brutal to ourselves, criticising, blaming, putting ourselves down and insisting that we should be better than who we already are. The gift of consciousness veiled by the illusion of unworthiness. We place unreasonable demands on ourselves and others. We’re violent in our judgement. We cast aspersions, make comparisons, measure people by our own perceptions and ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing. And we can be unaware of the violence we bring into our relationships. Wanting to get our own way, wondering why our lovers, friends and family don’t understand us, won’t listen to us, won’t do as we say.

The premise of Non-Violent Communication is based on Ahimsa, one of the five yamas in classical yoga. It translates as ‘do no harm’, which is not to say don’t be boundaried or stand up for yourself, but be alert to your thoughts and actions. The invitation is to listen to what’s really present. To put our own story to one side, whilst becoming more skillful at understanding our own feelings and needs and then those of the Other. Tools and skills that help us to move beyond the communication baseline. To articulate ourselves more clearly, to speak our truth more compassionately, to know the difference between requests and demands and to learn how to deeply listen.

As we sit and talk, a low table lies between us, with a murti of the Goddess, Tara, taking centrestage. Tara represents compassion. Her name means ‘star’, ‘guide’ or ‘the one who traverses’ and as I send my whole self across my makeshift altar, I attempt to traverse the space between us, to be more fully on Pete’s side. To be more compassionate to his feelings and needs by offering up my presence.

“The hearing that is only in the ears is one thing. The hearing of the understanding is another. But the hearing of the spirit is not limited to any one faculty, to the ear, or to the mind. Hence it demands the emptiness of all the faculties. And when the faculties are empty, then the whole being listens. There is then a direct grasp of what is right there before you that can never be heard with the ear or understood with the mind.”

Chuang-Tzu, Chinese Philosopher

When we arrived in Chennai, four weeks ago, the air was thick with diesel and uncertainty. There was no money in the ATMs, my laptop had packed up, I was missing the studio and my feet were yet to feel the hot, dry earth. Inside the first few days, we found ourselves in an arts and crafts shop and this heavy, bronze murti of Tara called to me. Resting in easy pose, holding mudras of fearlessness and openness, she insisted on joining us as we travelled. And, in honor of that, I began a Tara saddhana, chanting her mantra, meditating and journalling each morning, inviting compassion, non-violence and empathy to take root in my heart. Calling my awareness back to that intention as I move through the increasingly hot days. Having compassion with myself, with Pete and with our new friends and experiences.

Non-violent communication is the practice of compassion in action and the refinement of holding space. It’s the skill of ‘emptying our mind and listening with our whole being’. I can sense the shift when I do this and I can hear my harsh language when I don’t. Telling Pete that he ‘should’ do this or offering misplaced advice that is neither needed nor invited. Interfering but believing I’m ‘just trying to help’ and seeing my tendency to control a situation rear its shadowy head… before remembering to be compassionate with myself again.

Rosenberg presents the following examples of how we don’t listen empathically or truly hold space. How we try to fix things when someone just wants to be heard and held.

Advising:                      “I think you should…” “How come you didn’t…”

One-upping:               “That’s nothing, wait till you hear what happened to me.”

Educating:                   “If you just did this…”

Consoling:                   “It wasn’t your fault. You did the best you could”

Storytelling:                “That reminds me of the time…”

Shutting down:           ”Cheer up. Don’t feel so bad…”

Sympathising:             “Oh, you poor thing…”

Interrogating:              “When did this begin…”

Explaining:                  “I would have called but…”

Correcting:                  “That’s not how it happened…”

“Believing we have to fix situations and make others feel better prevents us from being present”. We go up in our heads. Start strategizing. Finding ways to solve things. And it’s not that this is wrong or bad or that we now have to start judging and criticizing ourselves but we can pull back, offer our presence and perhaps notice a shift. What we might find is that our need to solve and fix and advise is more about us than the person we’re trying to help.

“The capacity to give one’s attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle. It is a miracle. Nearly all those who think they have the capacity do not possess it.”

Simone Weil, French philosopher

When the wifi is strong enough, I’ll share my saddhana and post an online class around the theme of Compassion in Action and we can practice together, across the Indian Ocean. If you want the saddhana, in the meantime, then email me at hello@colyoga.com and I’ll give you the details.

 

Is this it?

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Achy, yearning hunger. An appetite for something always out of reach. Something ineffable. Something we must keep searching for. Working for. Hurting for. This indescribable emptiness that hangs low and nibbles away at your would-be satisfaction, as your inwardly overt dissatisfaction resounds. Mildly anxious and just not sure whether you are in the right place at the right time with the right person. Because everything should be right. Right?

I was having lunch with one of my dear friends after class, and this was one of the subjects we landed upon. Is this it? This job, this relationship, this house, this child, this sense that you should be grateful and satisfied but, quite frankly, you’re not. As long as we keep on looking outside of ourselves for what ‘it’ is then we will remain achy and hungry and always looking for something else to quench our insatiable thirst to arrive. To be complete. To get to that place we thought we were supposed to get to.

What about if we started to look within for our answers? And what if we started asking different questions? Like, what is that creative energy that pulses inside of you? What is that life force? That itching, yearning, willful being that wants to know? That seeks for answers? What is that space that sits between your thoughts? And if you’re not your thoughts, or your job or your actions, your name or your beliefs, then who are you?

We each have a purpose. Some souls know theirs from an early age but most of us are still trying to work that bit out. And that’s where the emptiness can really eat you up. What is it that I want? In my experience, those answers can only come from the deepest place in your heart. The trick is learning how to listen.

I’ve had a meditation practice for a number of years and I make sure I sit every day. It’s taken time to build up to that and I’m not dogmatic about how many minutes I sit for, or what time of the day I practice, but I (nearly) always create space to check in, reset and get quiet. I didn’t practice yesterday because I was a bit hungover and I felt bonkers mental inside. Like, seriously. If that’s what it’s like to not meditate then no wonder the world has gone raving mad.

“If we could teach all children to meditate, we could change the world in one generation.” Dalai Lama

There are many ways to meditate, including a myriad of concentration techniques, but the approach I have found to be the most powerful is to not try to control anything. The mind is meant to think. That’s its job.

I was introduced to this style through Adyashanti, and he describes it so clearly in his book True Meditation. Working in this way feels more like an act of generosity where you can separate yourself from your thoughts. Bearing witness to where the mind wanders and gently bring yourself back into Presence when you notice you’ve gone on a merry little journey into headland. It’s amusing to watch your thoughts and rest back into the space behind them. It’s deeply profound to connect to your awareness and it really is pure bliss to come home to yourself in this way. Moving into a bigger space gives rise to insight and allows your intuition to speak up and participate. Adyashanti prescribes the practice of Inquiry; dropping a question into the meditative space can be very powerful and it’s quite magical to see what comes through. Journaling after your practice is a great way to articulate and crystallise your insights and experiences but I don’t always feel like I have time. Which, of course, isn’t true.

We can be resistant to spirituality, often because of its attachment to religion, but many of us are spiritually bereft. We have been led to believe that growth is defined by achievement. By what we can attain outside of ourselves. But even with the perfect job, house and family, if we don’t have the opportunity to commune within, if we are disconnected from the flow of our creative awareness, from the deepest life force essence that is inside each of us, then our satisfaction, and our life force, will wane.

If you feel like nothing is quite cutting it or you just don’t know why you’re here and what you’re supposed to do next. Sit for five minutes. Try to sit everyday and see what happens. Over time you’ll be able to sit for longer and longer and that’s when it gets all kinds of next dimension exciting.

Give it a go.

What have you got to lose?

Want some concentration techniques to get you started? I hear the headspace app has got it going on.

Want to know more about True MeditationBuy it here or learn more about Adyashanti.

Looking for a meditation group in Leeds? I recommend this or come to Yoga Hero on Monday nights and meditate with us there.