Spring Equinox: Planting The Seeds Of Gratitude

“Because of the way your brain works, the pursuit of gratitude and compassion will make you happier than the pursuit of happiness itself.”

– Dr Amit Sood

Today marks the first official day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, according to astronomy.

The word equinox comes from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night). At the equinox, the Earth’s two hemispheres receive the sun’s rays equally and night and day are relatively equal in length. It marks a pretty special moment in the sky when the sun crosses the celestial equator going from south to north.

In the Northern Hemisphere, we are privy to lighter mornings, longer days and beautiful carpets of crocuses.

But in the weeks, or even months leading up to the spring equinox, you may have been feeling a little out of sorts. Interestingly, the period right before the spring equinox is associated with much heavier energies with people often reporting fatigue, irritability and feeling withdrawn. Once spring abounds, a new cycle begins and we have a golden opportunity to plant new seeds and let go of things that don’t serve us: emotional baggage, old habits, deadwood, self pity – whatever it is.

Let.It.Go.

How do we start a fresh, even bigger and better than before? Well, we practice an attitude of gratitude. I mentioned in 6 Healthy Morning Habits That Will Change Your Life how effective gratitude is on general wellbeing and happiness, but in order for it to become a the mainstay in your life, you must practice regularly.

So today’s post focusses on reasons to be grateful and you too can join in and share your reasons – it can literally be anything. You may even trigger an ‘a-ha’ moment in someone as they too may remember the something, or someone they’re grateful for.

I’ll kick things off, starting with one little act of kindness…

I woke to a hand written note by my man telling me he’d put a towel on a radiator to keep it warm for me (British weather is a little nippy even in spring). This may seem pretty minute or even insignificant, but to me it’s such a  wonderful, thoughtful act for another human being to consider how you feel in each moment and to maximise those feelings at every opportunity.

This is my interpretation anyway, and I’m going with it. He’ll have probably forgotten about said towel heroics by lunch.

By the way, the feeling of warm, fluffy towels…that is all.

Gratitude to me is synonymous with happiness and living a deeply fulfilled life. If you find something to be grateful for everyday, life will start to throw opportunities your way that you never even knew were available to you.

And how fitting that the equinox and this new, fresh cycle and way of thinking should also fall on International Day of Happiness.

Thank you for stopping by!

Nadia

What are you grateful for?

Is Fear Getting In The Way Of Your Dreams?

Is Fear Getting In The Way Of Your Dreams?

Come to the edge. We might fall. Come to the edge. It’s too high! COME TO THE EDGE! And they came, and he pushed, And they flew.

– Christopher Logue

I love this poem. It’s the mantra I keep in my head when things get a little hairy in life. I like to remind myself, or other fearful folk, we can still fly – metaphorically speaking. My own interpretation of Logue’s words is this: our idea of reality is something to be feared. We stay on the fringes of success because we’re too frightened to come closer to the edge since it’s unfamiliar, yet the edge is in fact where we realise our true potential.

When we’re children, the sky really is the limit. Kids conjure up the most weirdly wonderful and imaginative “When I’m a grown up” scenarios, yet as adults listening we laugh and scoff. Little people consider that the ‘impossible’ is completely within their reach. So at what point do we tell ourselves that our dreams are no longer possible? Does someone else snuff out that spark or are we dealing with an obstacle much, much bigger?

Fear is the biggest barrier to our dreams. Think about it – fear can be paralysing and has the power to stop most of us in our tracks. In fact a lot of things boil down to fear – I see it very prominently in adults even now: fear of not being liked, fear of not being popular, fear of failure, or fear of disapproval,  fear of embarrassment, fear that we’ll never have enough or be like everyone else. It’s very telling when someone is operating out of fear because it often manifests itself as a pursuit of lots of meaningless objects and pastimes – although the individual may think they’re doing a good job of hiding it.

But if we fear the stuff of everyday, something as major as realising your dreams is way up there on the fear-o-meter, so what you truly want gets put on the back burner.

‘The trouble is we think we have time.’ – Buddha

The great news is noticing things need to change, and a willingness or desire to do whatever it takes to make that change means you are already halfway there. Actually most of us know we have to do something, but don’t know how. If you’re at that stage, it’s time to start finding ways to let go of the crippling fear that halts things every time your heart guides you to what you really want.

How fear can misdirect your career

How many of you love your job and bound out of bed in the morning? I reckon there’s a fair few of you whom the above does not apply to. Or maybe you love your job, but dislike your managers. Yet you’ll spend most of your day away from your family doing this job and for what – a few snatched hours with your kids before bedtime? A night out perhaps at the weekend? We all need financial security, but it sure isn’t enough to bring you the inner fullness and joy you’d always hoped for in life. If you can’t afford to quit your job because it supports your family, work on your passions or hobby at night and at weekends. Before I left my previous job to work on my business, I’d often work late into the night doing market research and researching the products and the industry I was entering.

When you allow your head to decide without also consulting your heart, there’s always going to be a limit to what you can achieve in life. Ironically when you look back on your life, how often have the fearful decisions worked out well for you in terms of bringing you inner peace and joy?

Yup.

What you can do about it

Those omnipresent quotes or bits of text about chasing dreams that are supposed to motivate and inspire, tell us we should be reaching for the stars and living out our true purpose. Easier said than done, right? What they don’t tell you is the blinding obvious: one must have a strategic plan.

1. See it – know that change needs to happen. Look for a perpetual pattern to your life and be aware of it. Note that the same old cycles are rooted in your belief systems, so if the same negativity keeps on knocking at your door, address your beliefs about you and the world around you. Acknowledge you are in a system and take a step back from it.

2. Get specific – know what it is that you truly want, because you cannot ever be within reach of your desires unless you know what they are. Whatever you want to achieve, don’t dim that light just because you feel it doesn’t fit into societal moulds. If you consider your wants and dreams as too ‘out there’ or unobtainable, don’t. If you can dream it, you can conceive it.

3. Begin – once you have decided on your goals, grab a notepad and pen and start to sketch it out about further and include the date or period you’d like to have achieved your goals by. See and be privy to what it is you’re promising yourself. This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, but there’s something about pen to paper that feels a little more permanent, as if somehow you are bound by it contractually. Look at which areas you excel in, what gives you meaning and what you can’t wait to get up in the morning to do. Your life mission lies among these answers.

4. Begone negative voice – stop and listen to what you tell yourself on a daily basis…”I can’t”, “I better not” or “What will they think of me?”. That is bull and a complete waste of time. Be a little kinder to yourself and suspend judgement on what others think you should be doing. Whilst you are stuck living with a decision you made on the basis of others’ opinions, they’ve already moved on. Think of the possibilities that will open up if you just say “Yes I can” more.

5. Ignore white noise – listen to your true voice, the one you came into this world with. You arrived here with all the information and knowledge you ever needed, so prioritise this over outer noise. This is not to say that you should ignore objective advice, but outer judgmental noise from people who really haven’t got your best interests at heart is unwelcome and unproductive. Sometimes people around you feel intimated when you decide  to go on a different path and may offer an opinion that isn’t useful. If you are changing, perhaps they feel your dynamic will also change and that is scary to some people, but you can’t live vicariously through or for others.

6. Great people – surround yourself with great people who are also living  in their bliss. You are the total sum of the five closest people around you. And I really believe this! The five closest people to me are bright, ambitious, high achievers, and are tenacious, funny and kind. They understand that life is a journey, not a destination. I’m hoping their energy will stand me in good stead.

7. Heart over mind – make decisions from a place of love and go with your heart and inner knowing. The head without the heart generally makes poor decisions regarding what is for your highest good. You will feel far less stressed when your decisions come from what feels right to you and what supports you, rather than allowing the fear in your mind to determine your choices.

8. Understand the journey – you won’t realise your dreams over night: it takes time. The journey and the lessons learned are just as important as the end result. Said lessons are life’s way of demonstrating what is valuable to you. Feeling that sense of knowing and the conviction you’ll arrive at the destination will make you feel a lot less impatient, pave the way for clarity and lead you to inspired actions.

Change isn’t always easy – oftentimes life stuff gets in the way like mortgage…bills…and the rest. But we can make incremental changes daily. First off, we can step off the hamster wheel – don’t let someone else have the last laugh. Ask yourself: What will your legacy be? What will you leave behind for the world? Will you make a difference to your and, by default, other people’s lives?

Finally, I’d like to take you back in time for a moment and recall how you felt as a small person when someone asked you: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. You felt excitement, elation and you answered the question with conviction and without fear.

I fluctuated between ballerina and astronaut, obviously.

5..4..3..2..1…LIFT OFFFFFF!

Let’s harness our child-like sense of curiosity, of wonderment, of pure joy and utter belief that we can achieve our dreams – applying the steadfast life lessons we’ve learnt along the way. There is more to life than living for the weekend or living for the ‘someday’: most of us know this but need a little guidance.

We’d be limitless if we just came a little closer to the edge.

And I know that astronaut is in there somewhere…

Godspeed, starseeds.

Nadia

Why Forest Bathing Could Be The Best Health Investment You Ever Make

Why Forest Bathing Could Be The Best Health Investment You Ever Make

Hurrah, we’re on the home straight to the weekend!

What are your plans?

However you spend those precious days off, consider also bringing a little forest magic into your life with Shinrin-yoku, the Japanese concept of forest bathing.

The idea may sound a little kooky, but chances are you’ve ‘Shinrin-yoku’d’ once or twice anyway.

In Japan the concept codifies the practice of exposing yourself to nature (particularly trees) and engaging in multisensory connection activity. The country’s long association with living harmoniously with nature means they consider this practice a valid form of therapy and take it very seriously. So convinced are they by the positive effects of forest bathing, that the Japanese government has invested millions in both research and forest therapy trails, where the forests have the sufficient density and trails are of sufficient length to provide the best benefits.

The instructions of Shinrin-yoku are simple: Take yourself to a forest or park and follow a trail. Or better still, wander freely and listen to the sounds and take in the aromas – let the experience pour over you. Think of Shinrin-yoku as bathing in the full experience of the forest, whilst simultaneously engaging all of your senses.

As well as walking, the Shinrin-yoku concept is also encouraging of sitting and being present, as long as you are awakened.

Here are some basic guidelines for the practice…

  • Arrive untethered – don’t have any expectations
  • Take in deeper, considered breaths than normal
  • Allow yourself and your mind to wander and be contemplative
  • Pause and take stock – what are you hearing? Observing? Use touch too.
  • Trust your internal GPS and let your body guide you
  • Do this at least once a month to reap the full health benefits

Pay attention to the immediate benefits and how you felt afterwards.

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How does it help the body + mind + soul? 

The physical results of such regular practice have left researchers in an excitable tizzy at the dramatic and immediate effects of forest bathing. A belief that nature is good for you may sound like common sense, but in Japan Shinrin-yoku has come to the attention of those prominent in the medical field and is a contender in preventative medicine. Researchers have taken the idea to the lab and produced evidence that a walk in the woods can help with our immune system and immune function and may help prevent cancer, fight obesity and reduce stress and depression.

Dr. Qing Li, an Associate Professor at the Department of Hygiene and Public Health of Nippon Medical School says:

“Forest Medicine is a new branch of study in the field of public health. It is recognised as new research area within the environmental immunology, and in fact, Nippon Medical School has taken up a lot of shares in establishing this field of study,”

Since 2005, his research team has been working on field studies on forest medicine, and has introduced a multiple results in this field. One study conducted in 2005 showed the effects of forest bathing trips on human immune function. “To clarify the medical effect of forest bathing, we investigated mainly natural killer (NK)** activity, number of NK cells, and anti-cancer enzyme expression in peripheral blood lymphocytes, during our visit to forest fields,” says Dr. Li.

The results showed that NK activity and the numbers of NK cells were significantly higher in the forest bathing samples, compared to normal working day samples. In addition, increased NK activity lasted for more than 30 days after the trip, suggesting that merely a once a month forest bathing trip would enable individuals to maintain a higher level of NK activity.

“These findings indicate that forest bathing could build bodies that may be resistant to cancer development,” says Dr. Li. “We will continue with the research and will continue to popularise the concept of forest medicine around the world.”

He also argues that the sense of smell is most important.

“The effect of forest bathing is the total effect, but the biggest effect is from the olfactory or smell. What we’re smelling are phytoncides,the medical equivalent of essential oils; the most effective aroma is Japanese Cypress.” Li’s research has shown that trees’ aromas, known as phytoncides, boost our body’s NK (natural killer) cells which help fight tumours and virus-infected cells. The hypothesis is that certain molecules released by the forest that you smell will decrease the risk of certain chronic diseases due to the extra activity of NKs.

Furthermore environmental medicine is a neglected resource in mental health, yet it’s easy to integrate into psychotherapeutic work. Forest therapy can have an effect on sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous activity and blood pressure, impacting on the feelings of stress anxiety, anger, fatigue, confusion, depression and the restlessness associated. Forest bathing lowers blood pressure and also has a positive effect on factors such as mental clarity and emotional wellbeing.

Focussing on the environment and nature itself helps you to understand the self. What’s more, it’s accessible regardless of body shape and physicality, so we can all get out and have a go. To be ‘awake’ and to be completely aware of what it is you’re experiencing will, over time, improve your chances of feeling truly and utterly fulfilled. Strolling among rows of trees is frankly bliss anyway – especially if there’s water nearby, but its ability to help heal physical, emotional and mental issues is the stuff of pure magic.

Shinrin-yoku is an easy way to reacquaint yourself with nature in a way that feels supportive and comfortable. Our long working hours almost demand that complete detachment from our chaotic environments.

To the forest!

Health + happiness, always,

Nadia

** NK cells (Natural killer cells) a type of lymphocyte (a white blood cell) and a component of innate immune system. NK cells play a major role in the host-rejection of both tumours and virally infected cells.

Who will be doing some Shinrin-yoku this weekend?

6 Healthy Morning Habits That Will Change Your Life

6 Healthy Morning Habits That Will Change Your Life

Image credit: @my_full_house

A few years ago, before the days of Yujen, I was a morning hater. Mornings would often start without me whilst my eyes were still closed and my brain still fast asleep. I’d reach the office on mental standby and by the time the afternoon made an appearance, that long list of tasks remained uncrossed and incomplete.

By chance, I stumbled across an article which talked about the morning routines of CEOs and athletes, and how their morning rituals were directly correlated with performance and output that day.

‘Morning people are successful people!’, the article exclaimed. As if chirpy morning people weren’t annoying enough, they were likely to be successful too.

Eugh.

I knew my life needed an overhaul, starting with mornings.

Today, I’m utterly convinced that the changes I made to my morning routine all those moons ago were instrumental in the way I now view and face the world. It may seem insignificant, but how you approach your morning will change everything and attract a whole host of wonderful opportunities into your life.

Here are some tips to help get you started and an explanation on how they could benefit you in the long-term. What’s more, they’re realistic making them easy to stick to.

1. Use a light therapy alarm clock 

Hands up who uses their phone as an alarm clock?

There has been lots of research recently on insomnia-inducing the ‘blue glare’ or blue light that emits from your handset, which reports negative effects on sleep. When your alarm goes off, a combination of the unnatural light and being startled out of your slumber suddenly increases levels of cortisol which is a stress-responding hormone and can also result in low moods.

Alarm clocks that use light therapy to simulate sunrise gradually soothe you out of your sleepy state. Light also controls melatonin levels. Melatonin, a light responsive hormone, should follow the opposite pattern of cortisol – that is, lowest in the morning and peaking at night. Studies show that exposure to dawn stimulation in the morning supports better melatonin balance throughout the day (source, source).

Therefore using light therapy in the morning is more likely to have you waking up feeling refreshed from your previous night’s sleep by keeping hormones in balance.

You can easily find a decent light therapy alarm clock on Amazon and the like.

2. Wake up an hour earlier 

**Collective sigh**

Hear me out…

Waking up earlier makes a huge difference as it allows your body to establish a rhythm in its own time. The period when you first wake up is a particularly sensitive time and depending on how you spend it, will be how your mood and efficacy levels are throughout the day. If you wake an hour earlier, essentially you have gained a ’25th hour’. Spend time doing whatever it is you like doing — read, get some family time in, yoga, running  or other exercise. Or look at some of the other activities on this list.

It’s not easy to forgo that extra hour in bed and early rising does require commitment to the cause, but the brain is amazingly plastic so it’s possible to completely change your habits with training and practice.

Plus, if you implement some of the other tips, you’ll find early mornings a whole lot easier and more importantly, enjoyable.

Over time, these new routines will become the norm and you’ll become a morning maestro.

3. Practice gratitude

When you have an attitude of gratitude, all sorts of physiological, wonderful things happen to your body such as increased energy, lower blood pressure and can even aid depression. If you’re practising gratitude in the morning, the impact it has on the rest of your day is huge. For me, visualising and really feeling all the things I’m grateful for has changed everything and opened up all sorts of new and exciting possibilities. It can be something minor such as being thankful for that warm cup of coffee or something big like your kids or family. Caveat: you have to really feel it.

If you’re happy and grateful for your present situation – no matter how tough things may seem – that energy becomes a magnet for more of the good stuff. Be grateful even for fraught situations and the less-than-savoury people that may enter your life, because there are lessons to be learned which will soon become clear once you rid yourself of that dead wood.

If you’re struggling for things to feel grateful for, here’s some food for thought.

  • If you have food in your fridge, clothes on your back and a roof over your head, you are said to be richer than 75% of the world.
  • If you have money in the bank, or change in your wallet, you are among the world’s most wealthy people.
  • Be grateful for the bills that arrive through your letter box. Companies only contact people they believe have the means to pay.
  • If you are reading this, you are more fortunate than the millions of people who cannot read at all.
  • You have just made another 24-hour trip on your journey around the sun and you lived to see another dawn. There is someone somewhere who won’t survive the day.

4. Meditate, don’t procrastinate

Thoughts always seem more severe when you internalise them and get up in your head. But they are just that – thoughts. We humans have it all back to front. Our thoughts don’t dictate to us and we are in more control than we think. Morning meditation, or ‘being present’ puts life into perspective, allowing you to see things much clearer and therefore tackle the day ahead with ease.

There are lots of meditation apps can purchase with all sorts of bells and whistles on, but to be honest they’re neither here nor there. YouTube has some very effective meditation channels – check out Vishen Lakhiani, Deepak Chopra or Jason Stephenson for guided meditations. It does take dedication, but you will start to see results pretty quickly.

Meditation will bring you the gift of balance. Problems will become easier to solve and a fresh new outlook on life will lead to a more focussed, productive and creative you. The key with meditation is to consider it a permanent state of mind rather than a practice you dedicate yourself to for a few minutes here and there.

5. Do not check your emails 

Has a colleague or boss sent an email first thing that put the kibosh on your entire morning or day? Don’t let external influences ruin your morning, there is nothing that can’t wait, despite what you (or your boss) may think. You are not technically in or at work and employers that are happy to skew work/life boundaries could be making their employees sick.

Workers in France have a legal right to avoid work emails outside working hours. The new law termed the “right to disconnect”, came into force in January of this year. Supporters of the new law say that employees who are expected to check and reply to their work emails out of hours are not being paid fairly for their overtime, and that the practice carries a risk of stress, burnout, sleep problems and relationship difficulties. Stress is one of the biggest causes of serious chronic disease and illness . Nothing is ever worth the price of your health.

French companies with more than 50 workers will be obliged to draw up a charter of good conduct, setting out the hours when staff are not supposed to send or answer emails. This is something the UK would do well to impose since it could save on sickness days in the long-term.

Your micro environment may convince you that that email is pressing, but when you consider the bigger picture, the Earth will still turn without your expedient reply and you’ll still be just fine.

Your time, your rules.

6. Tackle your hardest task first

The idea of focussing on the most difficult or unpleasant tasks early on in the day is a strategy that can be helpful for several reasons: in the morning people often have more mental and physical energy, as well as fewer distractions and scheduled tasks. Studies have proved that willpower is at its strongest in the morning before exhaustion and other priorities get in your way. Additionally, the sense of achievement after completing a difficult item on the to-do list makes it easier to approach the rest of the list. So go ahead and tackle the most arduous, dry task you can imagine first.

On a normal day, you might have something annoying or painful to do. And you may also have something planned that you LOVE to do. If you do what you like first and the painful task last, you will remember your day as going from a good to bad. That’s the opposite of what you want.

Behavioural scientists call this stacking and it’s one of the most effective ways to create an enjoyable experience. Stack the painful parts of an experience early in the day – for example, if you tackle the most arduous, driest task first and then your favourite bits last, you will remember your day as going from bad to good. As a result, you’ll feel happier because psychologically, humans favour experiences that improve over time.

Try some of these and you’ll soon hit the ground running.

Thanks for bobbing by,

Nadia

Do you have any morning tips you’d like to share? What has worked for you?

Natural Vs Organic Beauty Products: What’s The Difference?

Natural Vs Organic Beauty Products: What’s The Difference?

This is a question I get asked all of the time when I talk about the development process behind our skincare products here at Yujen.

And, although the more seasoned plant-based beauty champs may have the difference down, from my experience there is still much confusion between the terms, natural and organic. But I believe that ultimately it is the responsibility, not to mention duty of the brands themselves to educate their customers on exactly what they’re offering.

Aside from this, I can certainly see why people are bamboozled. It doesn’t help that the terms are often used interchangeably on packaging and on marketing material, despite their divergences.

So to clear things up a little, here’s a short explanation of how natural and organic beauty products differ from one another, and how vegan differs from cruelty-free.

In Terms of Green 

Organic 

Beauty products labelled as organic or made with organic ingredients are those that contain ingredients grown in environments – or have involved a production process – without the use of chemical fertilisers or other synthetic chemicals such as pesticides, petroleum fertilisers and sewage sludge fertilisers. The ingredient on its own must not be a genetically modified organism (GMO).

In short, when it comes to the cultivation and farming of ingredients, whether destined for food or beauty bottles, organic is the rearing of crops without artificial chemical fertilisers and growth manipulation.

The lower levels of pesticides, manufactured herbicides or artificial fertilisers makes for a more environmentally sustainable management of the land and the environment. But besides being better for the planet, these organic products are also kinder to skin.

Natural 

A product is considered natural when it contains ingredients that are sourced from nature rather than created synthetically. Synthetic chemicals are produced through laboratory manipulation, some of which can’t be found in nature, however it is possible to create synthetic versions of natural ingredients (such as Vitamin E.) by mimicking the same chemical structures in lab production.

Natural products generally don’t include ingredients like petrochemicals, parabens, sodium lauryl and laureth sulfates, phthalates, synthetic dyes. Conversely, a natural product isn’t necessarily organic just because its origins are the soil itself. Some products that have been produced with natural ingredients could still have involved the use of additives for growth as well as the use of pesticides.

The lure of  products labelled as natural is understandable as they indicate the ingredients used in the formulation have been pulled straight from the Earth. Whilst this may be so, as mentioned before, they may still be laden with controversial chemicals.

Cruelty-free

Cosmetic or beauty products labelled as cruelty-free haven’t been tested on animals. Animal testing is a practice that has thankfully been banned within the EU since the legislation came into complete effect in 2013. Testing a finished cosmetic product and/or cosmetic ingredients on animals is strictly prohibited, although there are many other countries that still do.

Additionally, it is prohibited to market finished cosmetic products within the European Union. This claim doesn’t necessarily make them vegan, organic, or natural: some products are cruelty-free, but their products may be comprised of synthetic ingredients.

Vegan

Vegan is the term used to describe cosmetics or personal care free of animal products. Vegan cosmetic brands are also cruelty-free, but it is possible a vegan product could be composed of synthetic preservatives such as methyl- and propylparaben, and therefore not be 100% natural.

According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), animal products used in cosmetics include: Keratin, Shellac and Collagen – the list goes on!

Conclusion

An organic ingredient is by definition natural, and vegan cosmetic products are also cruelty-free. In the end, products may be labelled natural, vegan, or cruelty-free without bearing the qualities of the others.

It is important therefore that we’re aware of the different terms on labels and their meaning. Making more mindful and informed choices, like we’re doing increasingly with our food, means we get to decide which products tally with our own personal values.

Godspeed, starseeds!

7 Ways Italians Nail Health & Wellness, Daily

7 Ways Italians Nail Health & Wellness, Daily

William Wyler’s Roman Holiday is one of those great classics. His portrayal of the Italian way of life – as Greg Peck and Audrey Hepburn meander on a Vespa through the busy, cafe laden piazzas of the Eternal city – is on the face of it, give or take a little romanticism, as accurate as it gets.

Italians do have long lunches outside, towns and cities are full of opportunistic moped drivers, and aperitivo time really is a thing. But one thing that struck me recently during a visit to see family in Italy, is the connection between way of life and longevity. And I don’t just mean diet. It’s no secret that the Mediterranean diet is a key component to a long and happy life, but it’s our continental cousins’ other daily habits that could be deeply beneficial to our health long-term.

These seemingly effortless cultural rituals are most certainly ones we can, and ought to, adopt.

1. Coffee

Coffee is pretty much life to Italians and although I’d always assumed it was an aid for digestion, the benefits to your body go beyond simply the satisfying conclusion to a meal.

Scientists from the University of Naples have found that drinking coffee can massively reduce the risk of developing preventable fatty liver disease. The disease usually associated with big drinkers, is on the rise due to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and poor diet.

It’s estimated that the number of people in the early stages of liver disease – which is completely preventable with the right diet and regular exercise – is increasing. Whilst a coffee can’t solve this alone, it can certainly help combat the risk of it developing later on.

Studies have also shown that regular coffee consumption may also reduce the risk of developing multiple sclerosis, heart disease and type two diabetes. However, drinking no more than three strong cups of coffee a day is recommended and without the extra sugar and sinful trimmings.

2. Il dolce far niente

Literally translated as ‘sweet doing nothing’, Italians are nonchalant when it comes to idleness. They don’t necessarily see momentary periods of doing nothing as a negative, rather a necessity. The fact is that sometimes, the ‘sweet life’ can be attained in moments of nothingness.

Such moments create a sense of inner calm and wellbeing which is good for the body, mind and soul and our increasingly busy lives mean that there has never been more of a need for such moments. Taking time to do nothing, is said to maintain and even improve overall mental health and focus.

Although telling your boss that you’re off to do sweet nothing in the staff kitchenette isn’t advised, you can practice il dolce far niente at home by making small changes daily, such as switching off the TV for an hour or so in the evening, or committing to a ritual of daily meditation.

3. Eating local and fresh

“Why is food so important to you in Italy?” I posed recently to a table full of hungry Sicilians. I’ve always been fascinated by this question, because I believe the answer lies far deeper than because food is love – although this is true for some.

The response to my question was really rather lovely. Italians have the most wonderful relationship with the land because it produces such bountiful yields. They respect it hugely, and in return it gives and gives in abundance.The diversity of the terrain, coupled with variances in climate from North to South also mean most ingredients can be found in Italy.

Italians lead the way in the ‘slow food’ movement, championing local and sustainable – ultimately reaping the full health benefits from what the terrain has to offer during each season.

4. Family and friends

There have been many times during my visits where an impromptu family dinner has sent the Nonnas into a frenzied production line whilst the emergency (or garden) chairs are assembled. However comical the scene, there’s something so sweet and heartwarming about those timeless, unplanned moments where everyone mucks in, tucks in and share stories well into the evening.

This habitual bringing together of friends and loved ones is absolutely essential to health and wellbeing and something other countries regularly overlook. Consistent, close human connections are not only precious, but also vital for survival. They can help us deal with – even counter – the physical and painful effects of stress which can lead to serious chronic diseases.

5. Wine

We’ve all heard the saying ‘a glass of red wine a day keeps the doctor away’. Or is it apples? Either way, I’ve probably taken the above advice more often than I’d care to admit. But could the red tipple actually be good for us? Absolutely – in moderation.

Although the sales of wine have recently taken a dip in Italy, wine consumption is still one of the highest in the world per capita. It’s the go-to liquid accompaniment to dinner. This little and often wine quaffing, particularly with food, counters the negative effects of wine’s alcohol content, whilst maximising its benefits.

Studies suggest the moderate consumption of red wine can lower heart disease and the risk of heart attack. The flavonoids present in the fermented skins of the grapes stimulate the production of good cholesterol so are responsible for keeping your heart healthy.

6. Socialising

Italy is the country of the sagra, where even the most remote towns and villages come together in a celebration of all things food. A sagra is essentially an outdoor food festival with lots of music, dancing and sporting events. It’s a fairly cost effective way to get out and about and celebrate what’s good in the locale. Events such as these, help people feel more connected to their community.

Socialising has been known to create a vast impact on mental health. A massive 41% of mental illnesses are reported among people who are isolated and don’t connect with their outer world. There’s also a reported correlation between loneliness and immune deficiencies. Since Italy has a significantly lower rate of reported mental health issues than the UK, socialising could be one of the factors behind its lower numbers.

7. The great outdoors

Italy is a huge outdoor playground – for kids and big kids alike. Whether it’s skiing in the Dolomites, rafting in Alcantara or simply picnicking in Italy’s vast open spaces, the outdoors is always luring. The landscape is beautifully diverse, leaving choice in outdoor activities plentiful, and in summer most parts of the land of soleconsistently hit temperatures in the high 20s.

But don’t let the weather be an excuse for you not to get outside. When most of us are settling down to a night in front of the telly, lots of Italians – even in the winter, in sub zero temperatures – are out and about taking a walk or passeggiata, letting food digest properly whilst getting a little exercise. Just wrap up warm!

5 Surprising Health and Beauty Benefits of Figs

5 Surprising Health and Beauty Benefits of Figs

Oh hello Autumn, nice of you to show up at last! This season is, let’s face it, is ALL kinds of good, so it’s no surprise it’s our most favourite season here at Yujen towers.

So what’s so ace about Autumn? Oh now let’s see, pumpkin spiced everything, scented candles, mulled wine (never too early), cute coats and yes, it’s finally time to get the ankle boots out. And whilst I’d be quite happy to sit and pen a list of Autumnal awesomeness, perhaps it’s time to consider the healthy foods this season has to offer in abundance.

Today we’re going under the rich skin of the fig, and consider this mulberry family member’s rescuing properties for health, hair and skin.

The common fig grows on the ficus tree (ficus carica). It’s pretty much the OG of the fruit world with remnants found on excavation sites traced back to 5,000 BC. But especially when it comes to skin, hair and health benefits, the fig is big! The abundance of important vitamins, minerals and fibre contained within make it a serious contender as a superfood. 

So, without further ado, here are just a few amazing (and surprising) benefits of figs.

On the regular

Figs are extremely fibrous, making these yummy purple beauties great for maintaining a healthy digestive tract and keeping us, ahem, regular. They nourish and tone the intestines, acting as a natural laxative because of their high fibre content. The high water content in figs also helps to flush out the toxins and waste from the body.

Besides the elimination of toxins, staying regular can help boost energy and emotional wellbeing. An unhealthy digestive system can cause weakened immunity making you more susceptible to colds and viruses as well as fatigue, drowsiness and irritability. 

Weight loss warrior

The other lesser known benefit of fibre is its ability to stabilise glucose and cholesterol levels. When glucose levels in the body spike, there’s only one way for them to go and that’s down. When glucose levels fall rapidly, you can soon feel hungry even after eating, which means the likelihood of overeating is increased. This makes figs excellent at keeping you full and trim. 

The mulberries also contain B vitamins which help the body convert carbohydrates into glucose or sugar, which is burned in order to produce energy for proper body function.

Shiny happy hair

Figs are packed with vitamin C, a vit up there with the best of them, especially when it comes to protecting hair health. Vitamin C contributes to the formation of collagen, a protein which makes the majority of our hair and scalp.

Collagen is important for hair growth, but also for maintaining hair strength. It therefore helps in countering hair loss due to breakage and keeps hair looking its shiny best.

Glow getter 

Millions is spent in the pursuit of a dewy glow and whilst topically applied products are an essential bit of kit for your beauty arsenal, the best starting place is from within, i.e. your diet. Along with skincare that contains naturally sourced ingredients, figs in your diet will help you catapult your skin’s health.

In particular, vitamin A contained in figs is plenty beneficial for skin. It can fight inflammation and helps the skin and mucous membranes repel bacteria and viruses more effectively. This makes them able to combat the effects of acne and spots and contributes to overall improvement of skin tone.

Vitamin A also keeps fine lines and wrinkles at bay by producing more collagen, which is responsible not only for healthy hair, but for keeping the skin looking healthy and youthful too.

Smarty pants 

Figs contain high levels of potassium which allows more oxygen to reach the brain, stimulating activity and increasing cognitive function. Your brain does its best work when your potassium level is maintained. Because potassium plays a role in the basic function of brain neurons, it increases your capacity to learn.

But the macromineral also supports the brain’s memory function. Have you noticed some days you struggle to remember things? Or do you forget? Just kidding. In all seriousness, you may see an improvement in your memory function when you increase your potassium intake. Figs are a great source of potassium but remember, dried figs do contain significantly more.

 So there you have it. Figs are yummy and ruddy good for you!
Thanks for paying us a visit!
Nadia
How do you like your figs?