SRI LANKA, THE WONDER OF ASIA

-By Ranjith Chandrasiri-

Sri Lanka, where nature’s beauty remains abundant and unspoilt offers a combination of stunning landscapes, pristine beaches, captivating cultural heritage and unique experiences to the traveller.  Within a compact area of just 65,610 kilometers lie 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites with a cultural heritage that extends back to over 2,500 years, 1,330 kilometers of coastline – much of it pristine beaches – 15 national parks showcasing an abundance of wildlife, nearly 500,000 acres of lush tea estates, 250 acres of botanical gardens, 350 waterfalls, 25,000 water bodies.

This is an island of magical proportions, once known as Serendib, Taprobane, the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, and Ceylon. In modern day English the term Serendipity denotes the property of making fortunate discoveries while looking for something unrelated. Today, Sri Lanka is no different. It is a land of serendipity, one where as you search for one moment of bliss you discover a thousand more.

 Wildlife

Closely following the Buddhist tradition of conservation that dates back over 2,500 years, Sri Lanka is home to no fewer than nine national parks and seven bird sanctuaries. Sri Lanka is one of the few places on earth where the world’s largest land and sea mammals can be seen in a day. Home to the inimitable Asian Elephant, Sri Lanka’s southern ocean waters are the playground to the giants of the sea- the docile Blue Whales.

 

Pristine Beaches

Sri Lanka offers over 1,300 kilometers of idyllic sandy beaches. With its year-round summer and two different weather systems, whatever the time of year, there’s always a beach with sunshine and a choice of clear blue sea or steady surf in the beautiful island of Sri Lanka.

 

Heritage

To this day Sri Lanka’s centuries old heritage lives on, in the culture and the way of life of the Sri Lankan people. The rich tapestry of cultural practice, beliefs and the traditional way of life renews and revives this Island nation’s historic ties, creating an oasis of cultural richness in the modern day.

 

Exquisitely carved stone friezes, serene statues of Lord Buddha, dazzlingly decorated temples built into rocky overhangs, and feats of irrigation that amaze the world even today are just some of the treasures left by a proud civilization stretching back more than 2500 years.

The remains of Sri Lanka’s ancient and medieval civilizations — palaces, monasteries, shrines, water gardens and temples — bear witness to thriving kingdoms and to the influence of Buddhism.

It is time to discover the exotic beauty of Sri Lanka and it’s the mystical world of ancient History and culture.

-Ayubowan-

 

AT HOME YOGA WORKOUT WITH SURIYA NAMASKAR

– By Chitra Chandrasiri –

One of the best aspects of yoga is that you don’t need any specific equipment or a designated space to practice it. Yoga is accessible to everyone; you can practice it anywhere anytime. Although it is great to work with an experienced teacher, sometimes it is just not possible due to financial, personal or geographical restrictions. Good news is that you can get started with a safe home practice with the resources available online, videos and a good book as a guide as long as you are willing to approach it with consistency and commitment.

One of the biggest obstacles to doing yoga on your own is figuring out where to start and what to do when you first get on the mat. If you have been practicing yoga for a while, you are probably familiar with Sun Salutation or Suriya Namaskar. Many yoga teachers use it as a warm up at the beginning of a class or even base a whole session around it. If you learn this sequence with proper guidance, Suriya Namaskar is probably the best answer to getting started with a home practice on your own.

Suriya Namaskar is a sequence of 12 poses designed to be done in the direction of the sun, at dawn, sunset or any other time during the day. Practicing at least 4 rounds of Suriya Namaskar in the morning in empty stomach is a wonderful way to awaken your body. It is an effective sequence to make you strong, flexible and energetic. When you practice it every day you will feel that your body is getting stronger and flexible, your mind becomes clearer and you feel calm and relaxed.

The sequence of poses in Suriya Namaskar is designed to center you in your heart, to focus your mind, to energize your body and to give you inner strength. Pranamasana centers you, connecting you with your breath and your heart center. Uttanasana relaxes you while lengthening and energizing the spine. Looking up in Ardha Uttanasana gives you confidence to face whatever the day brings you. Astanga Namaskara or Chaturanga (advance variation) makes you stronger. Bhujangasana energizes the spine and open up the chakras while Parvatasana is a relaxing pose. Tadasana seals the sequence.

One of the most important things in Suriya Namaskar is synchronizing your breathing with your body movements. An easier way to remember this is to synchronize all upward movements with inhalation and downward movements with exhalation. For example, raising your arms over head and stretching up is coupled with inhalation and bending forward to touch your toes is coupled with exhalation.

One round of Suriya Namaskar consists of two complete sequences, the first leading with the right foot in steps 4 and 9, the second leading with the left. If you are a beginner, start by doing 4 rounds at slow pace gradually building up to 12 rounds as your body gets stronger and you can do each pose perfectly well. As you get more experienced with it, you can add other yoga poses such as Warrior I & II, Side Plank and Triangle etc for variation. Doing Suriya Namaskar at different pace has different effect; at slow pace it is calming, relaxing, stretching and toning the muscles in the entire body. If done at a fast pace it is an excellent cardiovascular workout for the whole body. With the guidance of a yoga teacher, young children can perform Suriya Namaskar with easier steps imitating animals and nature such as Upward facing Dog, Downward Facing Dog, Cobra and Mountain etc.

Sun Salutation as the name suggests, is greeting the sun expressing gratitude for sustaining life on earth. It is not to be considered as a religious practice of worshiping the sun. It is a great way to start the day with an awareness and appreciation of what the sun provides; a simple gesture and an attitude of gratitude for the sun and the nature that we often take for granted.

Let’s begin with this simple yet effective yoga routine that is so versatile offering numerous health benefits.

 

 DSC02538 copy1.        Prayer Pose (Pranamasana) – Stand straight at the front of your mat with feet together making sure your weight is evenly distributed on both feet. Inhaling, lift your arms from the sides and bring your hands in Prayer Mudra in front of your chest. Exhale.  Back bending2.        Raised Arms Pose (Hasta Uttanasana) – Inhaling, stretch your arms up and arch your back from the waist, pushing the hips forward, Keep the knees straight and look up.
 DSC02546 copy3.        Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) – Exhaling, Bend forward and place your palms down on the floor, finger tips parallel with the toes. Bend your knees if necessary. Inhaling, lift your head until you come to flat back position (Ardha Uttanasana), with your hands moving up on your calves. Exhaling return to full forward bend. DSC02549 copy4.        Equestrian Pose (Ashwa Sanchalasana) – Inhaling, move the right leg back and place the knee on the floor. Arch back and look up, lifting your chin.

 

 DSC02551 copy5.        Plank Pose (Dandasana) – Holding the breath, bring the other leg back and support your weight on hands and toes.

 

DSC02556 copy - Copy6.        Salutation with Eight Limbs (Astanga Namaskara) – Exhaling, lower your knees, then chest and chin to the floor, keeping your hips up and toes curled under. Eight parts of the body; two hands, two feet, two knees, chest and chin touch the floor.
DSC02565 copy7.        Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana) – Inhaling, slide forward raising your chest up and lowering your hips down in to Cobra Pose. Keep your legs together pointing your toes, bend backward and look up. You may keep your elbows bend in this pose. DSC02568 copy8.        Mountain Pose (Parvatasana) – Exhaling, curl your toes under; raise your hips and pivot into an inverted “V” shape. Push your heels and head towards the floor while lifting your tailbone up, going deeper into the stretch.
DSC02549 copy9.        Equestrian Pose (Ashwa Sanchalasana) – Inhaling, step forward and place the right foot between your hands. Rest the left knee on the floor and look up as in step 4.

 

 

DSC02546 copy10.     Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) – Exhaling, bring the left leg forward and bend from the waist, keeping your palms on the floor or on your ankles or calves; whichever is comfortable. Keep the knees straight.

 

 

Back bending11.     Raised Arms Pose (Hasta Uttanasana) – Inhaling, come up stretching your arms above head and bend backward slowly from the waist. DSC02571 copy - Copy12.     Upright Pose (Tadasana) – Exhaling, bring your arms down by your sides.

Those with medical issues such as arthritis, slip disk, back pain and heart disease etc and pregnant women should consult a doctor before practicing Suriya Namaskar. Women should refrain from doing inverted poses (upside down poses) during menstruation and those who suffer severe cramping, lower back pain and severe loss of blood are advised to wait till the period is over before attempting yoga exercise. Suriya Namaskar can be performed during the first trimester of a pregnancy and in fact it is believed to promote easy delivery. Always remember to listen to your body while doing yoga.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOW TO AVOID COMMON YOGA INJURIES

– by Chitra Chandrasiri –

Yoga is not a high-impact sport, but that doesn’t mean injuries don’t happen. Most yoga injuries occur due to overstretch of the muscles involved. When you push your body into a new pose and if it hurts, it is time to release the pose. Never force yourself to go deeper into a pose until you’re ready. Instead, inhale and exhale deeply as your body gently moves into the pose.

The good news is that yoga is one of the safest form of exercises out there. It is said that the injury rate is comparable to that of gardening. But you still need to be aware of any pain and discomfort and be mindful of your body’s limitations.

I encourage my students to practice yoga at home so they can deepen their experience of yoga in a solitary environment, making it a truly personal experience. Most people choose a home practice due to various reasons; perhaps it is just not possible to attend classes due to financial, personal or geographical restrictions. Home-based yoga practice can be effective, invigorating, and calming. Just listen to your body and be careful, without teacher guidance, many individuals end up injured as a result of pushing themselves too far or simply failing to properly align the body while holding poses.

By understanding what the most common types of yoga-related injuries are, you can begin to take steps to avoid putting yourself in a position where these injuries are more likely to occur. Shoulder, elbow, and wrist injuries are quite common, so are pulled hamstrings, lower back pain, and knee and neck injuries.

Shoulder, elbow and wrist injuries

These are common because a lot of people are very tight in their shoulders and they try to force the shoulders to open. Going into shoulderstand, headstand and handstands, before you’re ready is a big mistake, so focus on stretching and strengthening the shoulders first.

To avoid injuries in poses like downward dog and plank, spread your fingers wide and press into the knuckles with the fingertips pressing down for more support. Focus on pressing the forefinger and thumb area down into the mat.

When in Plank, keep your arm in one line, with the wrist underneath the elbow and the elbow underneath the shoulder. This alignment will also prevent elbow and shoulder injuries and make the exercise more effective.

Your body alignment during downward dog, arm balances and handstand also has to be near perfect. You need to bear weight on the proper part of the hand. Make sure your fingers are evenly spread and that both your index finger and the heel of your hand are pushing into the mat.

Hamstring pulls

Just about everyone seems to have tight hamstrings, it is a side effect of modern living, those who sit or drive for long periods of time, runners and walkers tend to have them and some people just have naturally tight hamstrings.

If you push deeply into a forward bend testing your limits, you can pull your hamstring muscle up near your buttocks. If you feel pain, pull back and breathe into the entire length of the hamstring along the back of the leg to be sure you are stretching it gently.

If you are not very flexible, keep your knees slightly bent while doing folds and Downward Dog rather than forcing the legs to be straight or the heels to touch the ground, respectively. This will also prevent lower back strain, especially when maintaining a straight spine at the same time. Never force yourself to go deeper into a pose until you’re ready. Instead, inhale and exhale deeply as your body gently moves into the pose.

Lower back problems

Forward bends can also lead to bulging disks and other low back injuries. The problem occurs when you keep the knees too straight and round your backs going into the pose. Instead, keep your knees soft and aim for a straight back, don’t fold too deep beyond your limits. Engage your abs to keep your core stabilized.

Knee injuries

It’s unlikely that you’ll injury yourself serious enough to require surgery, but a knee tear will slow you down for a few weeks. It can happen if you let the knee twist out of alignment when doing pigeon pose, warrior poses or half lotus. Moving from the hip while keeping the knee bend often prevents these injuries. Do all the preparation poses before moving into something like Lotus pose and use props during pigeon to support the knee.

Neck injuries

Neck injuries are probably the scariest and it does take time to heal.

When doing the full wheel, resting on the top of the head before going up into the pose is a dangerous move, as much of the body weight is on the neck.

Be cautious in headstand, plough and shoulder stand that you’re not putting too much weight on your neck.

Also, in poses like camel and upward dog, you can fling your neck too far back without support. A gentle look up to the ceiling is good enough, if looking at the wall behind is too much.

Listen to your body; if you feel sore or your strength dwindles, tense in your neck and shoulders, you know you have been too ambitious.

Remember that yoga when done correctly should prevent injuries rather than cause them. Work within its limits will not only prevent injury but, paradoxically, may actually result in one day going deeper than you ever thought possible.

 

 

 

IMPROVE YOUR FLEXIBILITY WITH YOGA

by Chitra Chandrasiri 

Most people exercise to stay healthy, keep fit or simply because it makes them feel good. Many fitness enthusiasts and athletes push themselves to the limit without balancing the strength and stretching of the muscles. If you are a runner, most likely you may notice your muscles are stiff and tight. You can run a marathon but can’t touch your toes? You are not alone.

Whatever is your fitness goal, gaining flexibility will improve your form, efficiency, balance and whole-body strength even if you could never touch your toes. Flexibly is a key part of maintaining your health & fitness and avoiding injury especially as you age.

Yoga is a great way to improve the flexibility of your body and mind. Physical, mental and spiritual approach in yoga teaches you how to integrate the body, the breath and the mind to stay strong and flexible in every aspect of your life; in sports, career, business or relationships. It helps you cultivate flexibility of the body and mind, the capacity to remain calm, staying aware of the present without feeling overwhelmed no matter what comes your way.

It’s a common misconception that you have to be flexible to do yoga. But In fact, the opposite is true; doing yoga regularly is a sure way to become more flexible.

Here are some yoga poses that target major muscles groups that tend to get tight from sitting for long periods or even from other types of sports and exercises. When it comes to lengthening tight muscles, there are no shortcuts. It just takes regular practice and patience and consistency is the key. So, let’s get started.

Legs

Forward bends are a great way to stretch hamstring muscles that run along the back of your thighs. Most people are pretty tight in this area and it is important to stretch these muscles as tight hamstrings can cause back pain.

Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)

Standing Forward Bend

Standing Forward Bend

 

  • Stand straight (Mountain Pose) with your weight balanced evenly on the feet.
  • Bend forward from the hip joints, not from the waist while exhaling.
  • Keep your knees straight, bring your palms or finger tips to the floor slightly in front of or beside your feet, or bring your palms to the backs of your ankles. If this isn’t possible, cross your forearms and hold your elbows and let your torso hang.
  • Stay in the pose for 30 seconds to one minutes breathing deeply. Then come up gently on an inhalation maintaining a long front torso.

Triangle Pose – Trikonasana

Triangle Pose (Trikonasana)

  •  Stand with your feet 3 1/2 to 4 feet apart.
  • Raise your arms parallel to the floor, shoulder blades wide open and palms facing down.
  • Turn your left foot in slightly to the right and your right foot out to the right 90 degrees. Align the right heel with the left heel.
  • Exhale and extend your torso to the right directly over the plane of the right leg, bending from the hip joint, not the waist. Anchor this movement by strengthening the left leg and pressing the outer heel firmly to the floor.
  • Rest your right hand on your shin, ankle, or the floor outside your right foot, whatever is possible without distorting the sides of the torso.
  • Stretch your left arm toward the ceiling, in line with the top of your shoulders.
  • Look up, gazing softly at the left thumb.
  • Use a yoga block under your bottom hand if you can’t reach the floor. It’s better to put pressure into the block than into your leg by leaning on it.
  • Stay in this pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Inhale to come up, reversing the feet and repeating the pose for the same length of time to the left.

Seated Wide Legged forward Bend – Upavistha Konasana

 Seated wide legged forward bend (Upavistha Konasana)

A wide-legged position is a good way to stretch the insides of the thighs.

  • Sit in with legs wide open in Dandasana (Staff Pose). If you cannot sit comfortably on the floor, raise your buttocks on a folded blanket.
  • Walk your hands forward keeping your arms straight or grab hold of your big toes with each hand and bend forward. Increase the forward bend on each exhalation until you feel a comfortable stretch in the backs of your legs.
  • Stay in the pose 1 minute or longer. Then come up on an inhalation with a long front torso.

 

Hips

Hip flexibility is complicated because there are so many muscles packed into this small area.

Pigeon – Eka Pada Rajakapotasana

Pigeon (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)

 

Pigeon is an amazing hip opener, but it can be a tough one for people with very tight hips. The best thing to do in this case is use props. Use as much padding as is necessary to bring the floor up to meet your seat. Once you feel supported, see if you can begin to forward bend. That added pressure on the front leg can open you up even more. But take it gradually if you are very tight to avoid injury.

  • Come onto the floor on your hands and knees. Place your knees directly below your hips and your hands slightly forward of your shoulders. Slide your right knee forward to the back of your right wrist.
  • Lower the outside of your right buttock to the floor.
  • Left leg should extend straight out of the hip (and not be angled off to the left).
  • Lift your torso away from the thigh. Lengthen the lower back by pressing your tailbone down and forward.
  • Lift your chest and maintain the upright position of your torso with the support of your hands on the floor. Drop your head back.
  • Stay in this position for a minute and repeat with the legs reversed for the same length of time.

Shoulders

Like the hamstrings and hips, shoulders are another area that gets tight from sitting at desks, working on computers and driving.

Eagle Pose – Garudasana

Eagle Pose (Garudasana)

Eagle pose improves your balance and stretches your upper back, shoulders and outer thighs. Regular practice of this pose will give you a great shoulder stretch. This pose opens the pelvic area, strengthens the legs, knees and ankles and creates space between shoulder blades. Breathing evenly and gazing at a distance of about 4 or 5 feet away will help you maintaining the balance.

Be cautious if you have shoulder, arm, and hip or knee problems. If you have shoulder or arm problems, keep your arms in the prayer pose and lift the hands and arms toward the ceiling without straining the shoulders. Lightly touch the wall if necessary while performing the pose to help you maintain balance.

  • Stand in Tadasana. Bend your knees slightly, lift your left foot up and, balancing on your right foot, cross your left thigh over the right. Point your left toes toward the floor, press the foot back, and then hook the top of the foot behind the lower right calf. Balance on the right foot.
  • Stretch your arms straight forward and cross the arms in front of your torso so that the right arm is above the left, then bend your elbows. Snug the right elbow into the crook of the left, and raise the forearms perpendicular to the floor.
  • Press the right hand to the right and the left hand to the left, so that the palms are now facing each other. Press the palms together (as much as is possible for you), lift your elbows up, and stretch the fingers toward the ceiling.
  • Stay for 15 to 30 seconds and then release the pose and unwind the legs and arms.
  • Repeat for the same length of time with the arms and legs reversed.

Yoga is a practice incorporating physical, mental, emotional and spiritual exercises to create a stronger, healthier, more flexible body and mind. As you gain experience with yoga, you’ll learn to use your breath and your form to find strength beyond physical flexibility.

 

 

 

PRETTY TASTES BETTER

-By Chitra Chandrasiri –

Visual appeal is an essential part of the dining experience as much as the taste of the food itself. Food presentation is truly an art form and professional chefs pay great attention to everything from the arrangement of the food and garnishes to the shape, size and colour of the plate. As with any art form, there is no right or wrong way to plating food, but few helpful tips can get you started and let your creativity guide you as you arrange your dish.

So what makes an appetizing plate? One that appears not sloppy or overblown, has varied spacing and height for interest, without being overly contrived, and includes complementary colors and textures, rather than a boring monotone. Bottom line? A plate that is carefully composed is just more appealing than one that is slapped together.

Of course food needs to be cooked properly if it is to be presented beautifully. That means your steak needs to be seared nicely, with a beautiful brown crust on the outside. Your grilled pork tenderloin needs to have nice grill marks on it and your roasted whole chicken should be golden brown with crispy rendered skin.

When it comes to cooking vegetables, you want them to be beautifully cooked retaining it’s colour as changing pigments of overcooked vegetables can affect the look and taste of your dishes drastically.

Some form of garnish is a nice touch adding texture and color to the dish. I like the idea of functional garnish, which is a garnish that somehow ties into a dish or it can have some other function on the plate (as a salad, for example). I find that micro-greens are awesome for this purpose, because they come in so many different varieties and colors. From micro-chives to micro-arugula, micro-beet greens to micro cilantro, you can add your color, complimenting flavors, and texture to a dish and the guests will eat it, unlike a sprig of rosemary that is going to be picked out and thrown away. By the way, edible flower garnishing is the new rage and many restaurant chefs garnish their creations with flower blossoms for a touch of elegance.

Aspics and gelees have become extremely popular of late. Their ability to present a liquid as a solid, melting in your mouth without feeling like it can bounce off of the wall adds an extra dimension to the overall dining experience.

Froth and foams add a modern twist to a dish. Culinary foams are often created with stock, fruit juices, vegetable purees and even soups. Liquid is combined with an stabilizing agent such as agar agar and soy lecithin and the air is introduced in the form of whipping. In professional kitchens, “espuma” or air, which is dense foam comparable to mousse is created with a nitrous-oxide charged whipper. Foams made with the use of a hand held immersion blender results in a delicate froth similar to cappuccino. These modern cuisine froth and foams can be made either sweet or savoury and they can be served in a range of temperatures from cold to hot.

To present your food like a pro, you need some simple tools and equipment in addition to the essentials like kitchen knives, chopping boards and plates. On top of the list is a hand blender not only for plating, but for your home cooking in general. It can be used as a great emulsifier making your soups, sauces and dressings ultra-smooth and attractive.

You will also need a food stacker. Even though the trend is now to use more natural ways of plating than a decade ago, home cooks can use the food stacking technique to bring height and creativity to their food presentations. A food stacker is a small, inexpensive ring of metal (cut-out PVC pipes work very well too!) that you put on the plate before plating, and layer the different elements of your dish. When all elements are stacked, remove the ring and you have a “tower of food” adding height and elegance to your plate.

For saucing, professional chefs use spatulas, spoons, ladles and pastry brushes to get colourful tadpoles, cordons and brush strokes on the plate. Little squeeze bottles  can be very versatile as they make precise artistic lines and colourful sphere or dots to a presentation.

When it comes to saucing, you want to remember, it is there to maintain the moisture of the dish, primarily of the protein, as well as to provide a concentrated flavor that will balance a dish. You have endless options for saucing a plate: brushing a thick sauce on with a pastry brush, making a cordon of sauce with a spoon or ladle, the tadpole look, which is quite popular in modern cuisine today, and even the age-old pool of sauce on the bottom of the plate.

It may seem like a lot of things to consider, but your plates will improve if you think ahead and keep these points in mind as you plan what to cook and how to present it. Simple consideration of balance in nutrition, taste, texture, color and styling will help you put together a more beautiful plate. Always remember the goal is invoking the sensual experience of eating not just in the way of taste and smell, but also sight.  Beautifully presented food is a true feast for the eyes and turns a simple meal in to a memorable dining experience.

 

 

PRANAYAMA – THE ART OF EFFECTIVE BREATHING

by Chitra Chandrasiri

Yogic breathing, “ Pranayama” is aimed at increasing vital energy in the body and mind. In Sanskrit, “Prana” means vital energy and “Ayama” means control. With regular pranayama practice you can train yourself to breathe more slowly and deeply reducing your breath rate from an average of about 15- 18 breaths a minute to 4-8 breaths a minute. Reduced breathing rate leads to slowing down the heart rate, lowering the blood pressure, relaxing the body and calming the nerves.

There are many benefits of pranayama which can work wonders in improving the overall health and vitality of the body. As a result of deep breathing, all body organs get more oxygen, toxins are removed from body and the immune system is strengthened. Consequently, onset of various diseases is minimized or even prevented.

Practicing pranayama breathing techniques help you to get rid of negative emotions like depression, anger, arrogance and greed. It also helps you become more aware of your breath. When you concentrate on your breath, your mind becomes relaxed providing a peaceful state of mind for meditation.

Therefore, benefits of pranayama are physical, emotional as well as spiritual.

Throughout the day, we predominately breathe through one nostril or the other. In a healthy person the breath will alternate between nostrils about every two hours. When the breath continues to flow in through one nostril for more than two hours, as does with most people, it has an adverse effect on health.

Thousands of years ago, yogis observed that prolonged breathing only through the left nostril over a period of long time caused asthma. They also knew that this disease can be treated by teaching the patient to breathe through the right nostril until the asthma is cured, and then it was possible to prevent asthma recurring by doing the alternate nostril breathing technique.

Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) clears any blockage to air flow in the nostrils and reestablishes the natural nasal cycle. It has a long history in Ayurvedic medicine and yoga where it’s thought to harmonize the two hemispheres of the brain, resulting in balance in physical, mental and emotional well-being. Recent studies have confirmed that Alternate Nostril Breathing directly affects the autonomic nervous system, which governs your digestion, pulse rate and blood pressure. According to a 2008 study by Nepal Medical College researchers, the cardio-respiratory functions of young adults who practiced Alternate Nostril Breathing for 15 minutes each morning improved significantly after four weeks.

Left Nostril Breathing: Relax Activates the Ida Nerve Ending in the left nostril, which relates to calmness and relaxation. Left nostril breathing is associated with the moon energy, which is changeable, feminine and cool. Breathing through the left nostril for five minutes can calm you and lower your blood pressure.

Right Nostril Breathing: Energize Activates the Pingala Nerve Ending in the right nostril, which relates to alertness and activity. Right nostril breathing is associated with the sun energy, which is constant, masculine and hot. Breathing through the right nostril for five minutes can energize you and raise your blood pressure.

Alternative Nostril Breathing: Balance

Creates a relaxed and harmonious feeling as it balances the left and right hemispheres of the brain. It is known as Nadi Shodhana (Nadi = subtle energy channels, Shodhana = cleansing) as it helps to clear out blocked energy channels in the body and release tension and fatigue.

Here’s how to do it.

Left Nostril Breathing: Relax
Sit in Easy Pose or in a comfortable chair. Close your right nostril with your right thumb, your other fingers are stretched straight up as antennas. Your left hand is in Gyan Mudra (thumb pressing the index finger) on your left knee. Close your eyes and focus on your eye brow center. Paying attention to your breathing, begin to breathe long and deep only through your left nostril. Continue for three minutes.

Right Nostril Breathing: Energize 

Sit in Easy Pose or in a comfortable chair. Close the left nostril with the left thumb, the other fingers are stretched straight up as antennas. The right hand is in Gyan Mudra on your right knee. Close your eyes and concentrate at your eyebrow center. Paying attention to your breathing, begin to breathe long and deep only through your right nostril only. Continue for three minutes.

Alternative Nostril Breathing: Balance

Sit in Easy Pose or in a comfortable chair. Your left hand is in Gyan Mudra on your left knee. Close your eyes and focus at your eyebrow center. Breathe relaxed, deep, and full, as you practice the following sequence, for 3 minutes.

  • Inhale through the left nostril (Close your right nostril with your right thumb)
  • Exhale through your right nostril (Close your left nostril with your right index or ring finger)
  • Inhale through your right nostril (Close your left nostril with your right index or ring finger)
  • Exhale through your left nostril (Close your right nostril with your thumb)

While it is important to practice advance Pranayama techniques under the supervision of a trained yoga teacher, you can safely practice these techniques on your own if you follow the guidelines properly. Regular yoga and pranayama practice has lot of health benefits but it is not a substitute for proper medical care. In the case of specific medical conditions, practice pranayama after consulting a doctor.

Do not practice pranayama if you have blocked nose, suffering from fever or any infection. Do not force breathing; keep the air flowing naturally and gently. Always breathe through the nose not the through mouth. Place the fingers very lightly on the nose; there is no need to apply pressure. It is more beneficial to practice pranayama on empty stomach.

 

YOGA – AN EFFECTIVE STRESS BUSTER

– by Chitra Chandrasiri –

Do you find yourself complaining that you have too much to do and not enough time, and it gets worse week after week to a point that you feel burnt out and your creative energy and morale plummeted?

If you ask someone “How are you?” the reply could be anything from “I’m ok to I am so stressed” these days. It is all too familiar conversation that you hear so often and you know exactly how it feels; You’ve felt the same way all too often yourself.

For some of us the stress shows up as insomnia, while others sleep well but suffer from all sorts of other symptoms. Individual stress symptoms can differ, but all have their roots in the psychological and physiological changes that our bodies undergo when we feel we’re in danger.

Stress is a slippery word to define, but we all have experienced it. Stress in any form, mild or severe, arise from our struggle to survive. We experience it when we sense a threat to ourselves. A situation doesn’t have to threaten imminent death to cause stress. We get disturbed by social threats like job security, marital problems and financial woes. One key thing to remember about stress is that a threat doesn’t have to be real to cause it; we just have to believe it’s real.

Short-term (acute) stress evokes physical and emotional responses that activate the body and mind to deal with an immediate threat. When the threat passes, the reactions subside. Long-term (chronic) stress evokes similar responses. When we experience moderate stress repeatedly day after day our bodies activate the same emergency systems although to a lesser degree, usually at a lower intensity, but keep repeating them without respite. When they repeat too often for too long, the life-saving responses that are so helpful in the short run can actually become dangerous themselves. Chronic stress can lead to susceptibility to disease, infertility, poor healing capability, and exhaustion.

Fortunately, there are many strategies that you can adapt to cope with stress: To begin with you can consider changing your situation, changing your attitude, and changing your lifestyle that is the root cause of stress.

Changing your situation – getting a new job, moving to a new neighborhood, or leaving an unhealthy relationship can be very effective, but it’s often not practical or even desirable.

Changing your attitude – Learning to let go can be very powerful, even life-transforming, because it puts you in control. When you realize you can choose how you react, many events you formerly found stressful may lose their power to push your buttons.

Changing your lifestyle – Healthy eating, exercising, deep relaxation, meditation, spending quality time with loved ones and sincere friends, avoiding addiction to alcohol, harmful drugs and smoking help you recover from stress and keeps it from building up again.

I know from my own experience that yoga is an effective stress buster. Yoga directly counteracts both the physiological and psychological components of stress, simultaneously helping you take better care of yourself and change your attitude. The stretching you do in yoga asanas relieves muscle tension. Upside-down poses and reclining poses slow the heart, relax the blood vessels and calm the brain. Pranayama (yogic breath work) slows respiration and breath rate. As you practice being more aware and mindful, you gain a sense of self-control, equanimity, and peace of mind.

With years of study and experiment with different styles of yoga, I have come to understand how yoga truly works as a stress buster. In my yoga programs I include deep relaxation, pranayama, and meditation to give a wholesome experience to my students. Initially, some of my students thought yoga was just stretching. They were blown away when they discovered how yoga helped them to cope with stress, to get more done in their day, and to succeed in their goals in a more relaxed way. They also commented on how their relationships improved. They thought they would stretch, which they did. But they also learnt how to breathe properly and how to change their body and mind to create positive changes.

Perhaps most important of all, meditation and the understanding of yoga philosophy can help you realize that most of the things that upset you just aren’t worth getting stressed about in the first place.

Meditation for Emotional Balance (Sunia(n) Antar

Sunia(n) Antar meditation for emotional balance is an excellent Kundalini yoga meditation especially for women when worried, emotional and upset and don’t know what to do. When you feel like screaming and yelling just do this meditation for 3 minutes.

When depressed, upset or emotional, pay attention to the body’s water balance and breath rate. Humans are approximately 70% water and human behavior depends upon the relation of water and earth, air and ether.

Breath, representing air and ether, is the rhythm of life. Normally we breathe 15- 18 times a minute. But when we are able to slow down the breath rate to 4 breaths per minute, we have indirect control over our minds. This control eliminates obnoxious behavior, promoting calm mind regardless of the state of affairs.

When there is a water imbalance in the body, and the kidneys are under pressure, it can cause worry and upset. Drink a glass of water before practicing this meditation.

How to do Sunia(n) Antar Meditation

Sit in Easy Pose or in a comfortable chair. Place the arms across the chest and lock hands under the armpits, with palms open and against the body. Raise the shoulders up tightly against the earlobes, without cramping the neck muscles. Keep the spine straight and the head in straight line with the spine. Tuck in the chin slightly towards the chest (Neck Lock). Close the eyes. The breath will automatically become slow. Continue for 3 minutes and gradually increase to 11 minutes.

Drinking water, pulling the shoulders up to the ears and tightly locking the entire upper body creates a solid brake that can be applied to the four sides of the brain. After 2- 3 minutes, thoughts will still be there, but one does not feel them. This is an effective meditation to balance the functional brain.

WINES OF THUNDER FROM DOWN UNDER

-By Ranjith Chandrasiri

Australian wine makers have done wonders with the Syrah grape, locally known as Shiraz. The grape seems to thrive in the Australian soil and climate, and it produces one of the most robust and flavourful red wines in the world. The signature characteristic of wines made from the Shiraz grape is a kind of black pepper spiciness, which usually is embroidered with layers of black currants, plum, black cherry, cedar, and vanilla-scented oak.

The hallmark wine that I believe really brought Australian wines to the world’s attention probably is Rosemount Shiraz, which is considered by most to be a “reference wine” for Australian Shiraz. It is consistently well balanced and rich with ripe, intense fruit flavours, but its power and grace are equally proportioned. And, best of all, you can still buy it for under Australian $ 30.

Australia is not a one-grape wonder by any means. It also does well with most of the other familiar grape varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Riesling. Australian wine makers are fond of blending Shiraz and other well-known grapes varieties in just about every possible combination to achieve a wide range of styles. For example, you can find blends of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and so on. An Australian peculiarity is to blend two grapes and name the wine after both, the dominant variety first, for example: Shiraz / Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Sauvignon / Shiraz.

As for white wines, they produce big, buttery Chardonnays that have lots of oak. They like to blend it with Semillion to make a leaner, less rich wine. They have also invented several completely original formulas; Riesling blended with Traminer grapes to give the wine a nice spicy snap. For example, Rosemount makes a Traminer-Riesling blend that is one of the best cocktail wines available, and I highly recommend it.

There are lots of other Australian producers who make great wines that are widely available in Sri Lanka. Look for wines from Lindemans, Hardys, Leeuwin Estate, Wolf Blass, Petaluma, Katnook Estate, Tyrrell’s, Xanadu and Penfolds, to name just a few.

Penfolds has a staggering array of wines available that range from cheap, basic cask or bag –in- box wines to the legendary “Grange,” which has an international following among wine collectors and was named Wine of the Year by the influential Wine Spectator magazine. It is one of the greatest wines in the world that rivals the great wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy in price and mystique.

For most wine drinkers outside Australia, the whole discussion of Australian wine regions is academic. Even Grange, for example carries the broad South Australian appellation, which covers wines produced anywhere in the state of South Australia. Commercial wines such as Jacob’s Creek have even more all-encompassing appellation in the shape of “South – Eastern Australia, which could be used for grapes grown in South Australia, Victoria or New South Wales – three states that, between them, produce over 90% of the annual harvest.

Almost all Australian wineries use the “Bin” labelling system on at least a portion of their wines; for example, Bin 2, Bin 389, Bin 707. I think this a quaint throwback to older times when the term “bin” referred to what is called a “lot.” Therefore, Bin 2 would refer to a specific blend or lot of Shiraz and Mourvedre, and Bin 389 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.

You might also run into another designation called Show Reserve. In Australia the term usually does mean better quality wine. In wine shows it is often stipulated that any entrant must come from a batch of so many thousands of bottles, and this is kept in reserve by the various wineries. They are usually released following the wine’s show career and winning medals. So some of the Show Reserves can be very handsome, not to mention expensive.

Generally, however the Australian labels are easy to understand and are informative. Wines are labelled with the name of the grape variety stating the grape or combination of grapes used which must constitute at least 85% of the wine. It is the taste that you drink, not the place mate.

Australian wines epitomize user-friendliness and are pleasant to drink from an early age. So, if you get bored with what you are currently drinking, take a look at what is coming out from down under. You are sure to find something interesting.

 

 

WHAT COLOUR IS YOUR TASTE?

-by Ranjith Chandrasiri-

There is an important step between knowing how to taste wine and finding the wines that you like. That step is putting taste into words. There are two hurdles here; coming up with the words to describe what you like or don’t like, and then getting the other person to understand what you mean. Naturally, it helps if we all speak the same language.

Unless you want to drink the same wine for the rest of your life, you are going to have to decide what it is that you like or dislike in a wine and communicate that to another person who can steer you in the right direction. Appearance and aroma are not critical in finding a wine you like. If you prefer white, red or pink, it’s because of the way the wine tastes, not because of the colour.

When you first begin to taste wine, you are usually faced with two opposite problems. The wine was so simple that you really couldn’t find anything to say about it or the flavours were so complex that you couldn’t sort them out. Learning to describe the taste of a wine in wine language is the secret.

Wines have flavours, but wines don’t come in a specific flavour- strawberry, chocolate or plain vanilla. While you might enjoy the suggestion of chocolate in a red wine, you wouldn’t want to go to a wine shop and ask for a chocolaty wine. Instead you would refer to “families of flavours” in wine.

Fruity wines – the ones that make you think of fruit when you hold the wine in your mouth.

Earthy wines – These make you think of mushrooms, walks in the forest, dry leaves and so on.

Spicy wines – Cinnamon, cloves black pepper for example.

Herbal wines – Mint, grass, hay, rosemary and so on.

And there are so many other flavours in wine that you could go on and on.

 Sweetness

Beginners sometimes describe dry wines as sweet because they confuse fruitiness with sweetness. A wine is fruity when it has distinct aromas and flavour of fruit. You smell the fruitiness with your nose and in your mouth you “smell” it through your retro- nasal passage. Sweetness on the other hand, is perceived on the surface of your tongue. When in doubt, try holding your nose when you taste the wine. If the wine is sweet, you will be able to taste the sweetness despite the fact that you can’t smell the fruitiness.

 Acidity

All wines have acidity for both its flavour and its preservative quality. Acidity is more of a taste factor in white wines than in reds. For white wines acidity is the backbone of the wine’s taste. White wines with good amount of acidity taste crisp, and those lack acidity taste fat and flabby. The sides of the tongue trigger your perception of acidity. You can also sense the consequences of acidity (or lack of it) in the overall style of the wine – whether it’s a tart little number or a soft and generous sort for example. Classify the wine you are tasting as tart, crisp or soft.

Tannin

Tannin is the substance that exists naturally in grape skins. Because red wines are fermented with the grape skins, tannin levels are far higher in red wines than in white wines. Just as acidity to a white wine, tannin is the backbone that gives the structure to a red wine. Because tannin sometimes taste bitter, you sense tannin near the back of your tongue. Wood tannin contributes a warm sensation on the insides of the cheeks. The cumulative effect of both is a puckering drying sensation. Depending on the amount of tannin, a red wine can be called astringent, firm or soft.

Red wines have acid as well as tannin, and distinguishing between the two as you taste a wine can be a challenge. When you are not sure whether it’s mainly tannin or acid, pay attention to how your mouth feels after you have swallowed the wine. Both tannin and acid will make your mouth feel dry, but acid makes you salivate in response to the dry feeing (saliva is alkaline, so it neutralizes the acid). Tannin just leaves your mouth dry.

Body

A wine’s body is an impression you get from the whole of the wine. It is the impression of the weight, which is usually attributed to alcohol in a wine. Think about the wine’s fullness and weight as you taste it and classify the wine as light, medium or full-bodied.

Good wine should have texture; it shouldn’t be thin like water. It can be subtle or thick and ropey like oil on canvas. It should also have what is called a long finish, which is the lingering sensation in the mouth. The balance of a wine – critical to its quality – depends on having all these factors present in the right amount.

When the wine is in your mouth, the multiple taste sensations – flavours, sweetness or dryness, acidity, tannin, balance, length, body and texture – occur practically all at once and the experience is so sensational that the best you can do is to try to describe it.

 

 

 

 

JUDGING A WINE BY ITS LABEL

(Photo: with Opus One’s Director of viticulture & enology and chief winemaker, Michael Silacci)

-By Ranjith Chandrasiri-

More people choose wines by their labels than anyone would like to admitting it. Novices reach for colourful eye-catching labels, snobs demand famous names. In fact, a wine label reveals a great deal about the flavours in the bottle. You can begin your tasting even before you’ve pulled the cork.

Although each country has its own laws regarding wine labels, basically there are three kinds of labels: varietal-based, terroir-based and sheer fantasy. The information they offer, much of it required by law, overlaps to a large extent, each one reflects a different approach to winemaking.

Have you ever bought a Chardonnay? Then you’re already familiar with the varietal approach; wines named for the grape variety that makes up all (or some legally defined minimum) of the juice in the bottle. California pioneered this method and most of the New World producers have adopted it. However, some European wine regions such as Alsace in France, Friuli in Italy, for example have traditionally followed this approach.

Most European wines, however, use terroir-based labelling. Terroir is a French word that explains all the physical factors – its soil, exposure, microclimate, etc that distinguish a given vineyard or a wine region. These wines may be made from a single grape variety (such as Pinot Noir for red wines in Burgundy) or a blend that may vary by vintage (such as Bordeaux’s judicious mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc).

Some winemakers have found themselves so frustrated by local wine regulations which may dictate certain grape blends or vinification techniques as prerequisites to obtaining labels, whether based on varietal or terroir, they abandon traditional approaches and use labels based simply on fantasy. In Tuscany, producers determined to make new-style wines abandoned the terroir-based Chianti labels for the humble designation vino da tavola (table wine). In California, winemakers working with the grapes and flexible blending approach of Bordeaux have given up some varietal-based labels to bottle “Meritage” wines.

Each kind of label gives different clues to the wine inside the bottle, but all labels include a few basics. For example, the producer’s name is always prominent. Most wineries develop consistent signatures, based on their location, winemaking skills and marketing goals; once you’re familiar with a winery’s profile, the producer’s name is perhaps the most reliable indicator of wine style and quality.

The wine’s vintage is almost always shown, too. If you’re familiar with the vintages of a given region, this can be a telling indicator–red Bordeaux were mostly light and diluted in 1992, but rich and concentrated in 1990. However, even if you don’t know whether a specific vintage was good or bad, knowing how old a wine indicates something about its current state: young, fresh and fruity, or older, smoother and more complex. Most whites, and many reds, are best within three years of the vintage; wines that age well increase in price over time. But beware of old, inexpensive wines that don’t improve with age.

Most labels indicate the region where the grapes were grown and the wine made. On terroir-based labels, this factor is particularly emphasized: The Burgundian appellations of Nuits-St.-Georges and Vosne-Romanée, for example, are more or less homogenous and distinctive vineyard areas that at least in theory, impart recognizable character to their wines, especially since appellation laws generally regulate many aspects of grape growing and wine making. Varietal-based labels also generally indicate appellations (though often in small type), sometimes right down to the name of the vineyard. But in these production areas regulation tends to be much looser so wines from the same appellation tend to have less in common. Fantasy labels often avoid any mention of the origin at all (sometimes the laws won’t permit their indication). Since these wines deliberately break with the traditions of their regions, origin doesn’t mean that much anyway.

What about the descriptions on labels? You will never read one like this: “Due to poor weather conditions this vintage was difficult and the resultant wine is not recommended for cellaring”.

No, you get: “This delicate table wine shows outstanding fruit balanced by natural acid. It may be enjoyed now”. That is not to criticize all descriptions, many producers are reputable and their descriptions are authentic and useful reference especially for the beginners.

Wineries put a lot of effort into dressing up their labels. Savvy wine lovers can decipher what the law says they must say, what the producers want to say and sometimes more than they intend to say. Spend some time studying labels before you buy and you’ll increase your chances of finding a quality wine for your money.

Finally, don’t forget the price tag, stuck right there next to the label. Yes, there may be wide disparities between a wine’s cost and its quality.

If you are spending under Rs 1500 per bottle, the wine is likely to be simple, offering alcohol as its principal virtue. From Rs 1500 to Rs 4000, most wines offer fresh fruit, enough structure to marry well with food and some individual personality. You should be prepared to pay at least over Rs 4000 if you expect complex flavours of ripe fruit and new oak, enough concentration to develop with aging and a distinctive character stamped with the wine’s creator and origin but unfortunately there are no sought-after “collectors” wines available in wine shops in Sri Lanka at the moment.