Month: January 2014

Pilates for Posture

Pilates, originally named “Contrology”, was devised by Joseph Pilates, in the early 20th Century. Its inventor believed that physical and mental health are interrelated and his method aimed to strengthen both the human body and the mind.

Soon after the elaboration of the method, it became popular in New York. Over time, the method spread across the world and became well-known as “Pilates”. It is recognised to be beneficial and effective in increasing the health and fitness levels of anyone, even those who have special conditions.

There are a few basic things to know about this method before hitting the mat or jumping on the specially-designed Pilates apparatus. Let’s see what are the things to know about Pilates to help you start.

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a comprehensive non-aerobic workout system. The focus of the Pilates body system is the core of the body, which is regarded as the powerhouse. This means that the Pilates method is devised to strengthen the centre of the body, to build endurance of the hips, back, abdominals, legs and arms and to improve flexibility, in particular of the spine and pelvis. Additionally, Pilates aims to improve the posture, balance and coordination of the body. The correct breathing technique is key in Pilates, too.

The Pilates method promotes perfect execution of the exercises. It does not demand a high number of repetitions, though. The method believes that less is more in case execution – with focus on each and every movement being done perfectly, with full concentration. Consequently, this method is known to improve concentration skills in addition to providing full physical conditioning.

Pilates can be used at all fitness levels. For beginners and for the unfit, it can be very gentle on the body. Its level of difficulty can be raised though, to intermediate and advanced levels. Once the higher intensity levels are reached, Pilates even challenges generally fit practitioners.

The Six Principles of Pilates 

Pilates has six important principles that every practitioner, beginner to advanced alike, should keep in mind. These are as follows:

  1. Concentration: Concentration and focus are required to achieve precise and smooth movements. The way the exercise is done is more important than the exercise itself.
  2. Control: Muscle control is key in the Pilates method, which must be retained throughout the exercise.
  3. Centre: The centre of the body, (i.e. the abdomen, lower and upper back, hips, buttocks and inner thighs) is always in focus for the method. All movement starts in the centre and flows toward the limbs.
  4. Flow: Pilates aims for perfect execution of each exercise, transitioning smoothly into the next. The aim is to achieve an elegant sequence of movements.
  5. Precision: Pilates promotes correct execution of each and every movement.
  6. Breathing: Proper and full inhalation and exhalation is necessary to cleanse and invigorate the body. The Pilates method promotes breathing to be directed laterally, into the lower rib cage. The deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles need to be engaged for both inhaling and exhaling. Furthermore, the proper breathing practice must coordinate with each and every movement that is executed.

What are the Benefits of Pilates? 

  • Pilates has a number of health benefits. Let’s see how you can benefit from practicing Pilates.
  • Pilates promotes whole-body fitness. While Pilates focuses on strengthening the core of the body, it also perceives it as a whole, promoting full-body strength, muscle development and flexibility. While Pilates pays attention to the harmony of body and mind, it promotes total wellness.
  • Pilates is suitable to all fitness levels, ages and various conditions. Pilates can be effectively used by starters, professional athletes, dancers and the elderly, too. It is a highly flexible fitness regime, which can be tailored to individual needs.
  • Pilates strengthens without bulking up muscle. Pilates strengthens deep muscles of the core and tones the body by creating long and lean muscles.
  • Pilates increases flexibility. Gentle stretching and bending is used to improve flexibility and joint movements.
  • Pilates creates a strong, supple back. It supports the frame of the body and promotes good posture. It also improves movement patterns and balance. It helps you move gracefully and with ease.
  • Pilates boosts energy levels by improving circulation, stimulating the muscles and contributing to better breathing practices.
Pilates -

All of these benefits will contribute to you feeling better and fitter. You will be able to control your body better. So, don’t hesitate to hit the mat or visit the nearest Pilates studio to try the apparatus under the supervision of a well-trained, specialised instructor.

Noodles in Coconut Sauce from Magnificent Malaysia

The cuisine of Malaysia is more than exciting. As the country is a home to people from India and China, Malay dishes are heavily influenced by these cooking traditions, in particular by the Cantonese and South-Indian cooking styles. Also, for historical & geographical reasons, the Arab, Thai and Indonesian cuisines left their mark on the cooking styles in Malaysia. The dishes are typically very flavourful and exotic.

Malaysian cuisine uses lots of rice, noodles, chilies and curries and plenty of coconut milk for sauces, which makes many of its dishes smooth and tender. You will encounter tropical fruits, lots of vegetables and seafood & poultry, too.

Famous dishes include “nasi kandar”, i.e. fish curry served in chill sauce with meat and boiled eggs; “nasi dagang”, i.e. glutinous rice in coconut milk with fish curry and “nasi lemak”, a rice dish cooked in coconut milk served with anchovies, boiled egg, cucumber and peanuts. “Roti canai” is a favourite breakfast item in Malaysia, which is a savoury type of exotic pancake. “Satay” is very popular too if you are a meat-eater. Bite size beef, mutton or chicken marinated in spicy sauce and barbecued over charcoal fire is served on a bamboo stick. It is served with “ketupat”, i.e. rice cake and salad and is accompanied with a sweet & spicy sauce. “Nasi goreng” is the local fried rice, mixed up  with meat, prawns, egg and vegetables. “Char kway teow” is a noodle dish in a soy sauce & chill paste, served with garlic, prawns, bean sprouts and eggs. And there are many-many more dishes in Malaysia that are worth trying if you are in Malaysia, or if you encounter a Malaysian restaurant elsewhere.

In Malaysia, you will find that the dishes vary from region to region. Each area of the county has its own cooking tradition, therefore cooking methods, side dishes and even ingredients may vary. Be prepared for regional variations and explore regional gastronomic traditions with an open mind.

Food tends to be delicious and cheap in Malaysia. You may dine in a restaurant or just grab a plate at a food stall. You will probably find something mouth-watering.

Today, I bring you a vegetarian recipe which is inspired by Malaysian cuisine, by Simon Rimmer, from BBC Food. Nonetheless, I modified it slightly to make it healthier, without loosing the wonderful symphony of flavours of the original recipe.

BBC Food


For the spice paste:

  • 10-25g/1oz fresh ginger, peeled, according to taste
  • 2 lemongrass stalks
  • Half to 2 red chillies according to taste
  • 3 shallots, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 2-3 tbsp vegetable oil

For the sauce:

  • 400ml/14fl oz can coconut milk
  • 250ml/9fl oz vegetable stock

For the noodles:

  • 150g/5oz fresh tofu, cut into small squares, dried on kitchen paper
  • 20 oyster mushrooms, finely sliced (other mushroom types can be used if you can’t get hold of oyster mushrooms)
  • 8-15 sugar snap peas or mange tout, blanched, cut in half lengthways
  • 400g/14oz udon noodles, cooked according to packet instructions

To serve:

  • fresh coriander leaves
  • lime wedges
  • crushed peanuts

Preparation method:

  • For the spice paste, place all of the spice paste ingredients, except the vegetable oil, into a food processor and blend to a pulp (add a bit of water if it does not mix easily).
  • With the motor still running, gradually add the oil and continue to blend until you get a loose paste (you may not need to use all the oil).
  • In the meantime, cook the udon noodles according to packet instructions.
  • For the sauce, place a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the spice paste and fry gently for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the mushrooms to the paste and fry it gently for a a few minutes to release some of its juices.
  • Add the coconut milk and vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for a further five minutes.
  • Add the cooked udon noodles to the coconut sauce.
  • Add the tofu cubes to the coconut sauce.
  • Add the sugar snap peas (or mange tout) to the sauce and stir well to combine.
  • To serve, spoon to the curry into serving bowls and garnish each with fresh coriander leaves, lime wedges and crushed peanuts, to taste.

Enjoy this flavourful, summery Malaysian style dish, as a gentle introduction to the Malaysian cuisine and let us know what you think! 

You Are What You Eat

We are constantly bombarded with health tips, new practices and diets that promise excellent results within a short time span. As the average person tends to lack in expertise in the fields of medicine, biology, biochemistry and nutrition, it is difficult to decide what is credible and what is totally unfounded mumbo-jumbo.

A good example of a controversial weight loss regime is associated with a TV show  aired on the UK’s Channel 4 between 2004 and 2007 and with the associated book, both entitled “You Are What You Eat”.  The programme was hosted, and the book written, by (Dr.) Gillian McKeith, a holistic nutritionist. She came to attention as she delivered excellent results in her above mentioned TV show. She quickly became a celebrity and a best-selling author, whose dietary programme was subsequently scrutinised by medical practitioners and nutritionists. That scrutiny revealed substantial controversies with regard to the science behind her dietary programme and her academic credentials, including her MA and PhD degrees from the already closed down, unaccredited Clayton College in the United States.

You-Are-What-You-Eat_big (1)

For example, Ben Goldacre, a doctor and Guardian columnist extensively criticised McKeith’s regime on the pages of the Guardian and on his web site He even called her “The Awful Poo Lady” referring to her diagnosing methods, (namely analysing stool samples) and referred to her dietary programme as “cargo cult science”. Professor John Garrow, the emeritus professor of human nutrition at the University of London also questioned the scientific claims of McKeith. So did Amanda Wynne, senior dietician with the British Dietetic Association, who suggested that if McKeith’s regime was to be “followed to the limit, her advice could be dangerous” (Daily Mail:

Being only a nutrition enthusiast, not a medical professional or qualified nutritionist, I am not in a position to judge her regime, question her methods or evaluate her credentials. Nonetheless, I have read her book and reviewed some of the criticism against her regime. While I concluded that the science behind her regime may not be well-founded and may be questionable, I do believe in some of her tips and I find some of her advice actually very much helpful for those who wish to lead a healthier lifestyle and wish to lose weight or shape up.

In my opinion, the book is very readable and its presentation style is good, catchy and attractive. It is not too text-heavy, it is illustrated with beautiful photography and is right in its tone to address a general audience.

I like the fact that McKeith gives a review of her personal story which led her from being a junk food eater to being passionate about food and health. In the foreword of the book, she suggests that “it’s simply going to be about changing a few habits and recognising the harm that certain foods are inflicting on you”. As long as one takes this as the core message of the book, uses it as a general guidance and does not get overly concerned about the science behind it, then it is a good and helpful book.

Kristin Hahn, Pinterest

In Chapter 1, we get a review of negative nutrition-related health facts and a calorific overview of the most commonly consumed foods in the United Kingdom. She tells us about the benefits of eating good food and the negative impacts of consuming junk food on our health. In Chapter 2, we are presented with stories of overweight and obese people; and a list of common symptoms of bad eating habits, in a generic sense. This overview, I believe, is intended to provide a tool for a self-assessment and is based on some diagnostic principles from Traditional Chinese Medicine. However, it does not elaborate on the source and principles of the diagnostic tools, so perhaps we should not take these too seriously.

In Chapter 3, we get insights about good and bad foods. We get an overview about the benefits of grains, healthy protein sources, good sweets and the reasons why “the nasties” are bad for us. We also get tips for food combination principles, which may or may not be scientifically founded. Nonetheless, “The Abundant Food List” does contain foods that are definitely from the healthy group, based on general, common knowledge.

Chapter 4 goes through the “Top 5 Bummers”, i.e. conditions that can be improved with healthy eating habits. Nutritional tips are offered for all and a self-help questionnaire is provided too.  This aiming to help the reader find out whether they suffer from any of these “bummers”. Chapter 5 elaborates on the importance of detoxifying the body, offers ideas and recipes and useful tips that help the reader to go through a detox day. Also, it elaborates on the importance of exercise.

Chapter 6 offers specific advice for certain conditions, including acne, stretch-marks, eczema, varicose veins, dull hair, unhealthy teeth & gums and a dull sex life. Again, I am not in a position to evaluate the advice here, but if anyone suffers from these conditions, perhaps the tips are worth giving a go and see whether they deliver any positive change. Chapter 7 offers a 7-day plan to boost the reader into a healthier eating regime. It offers recipes and shopping tips, including how to read labels and what to avoid in packaged food. (If you are interested in knowing more about food labels, check out my previous blog post in this topic: “Understanding What Is In Your Food”).

Chapter 8 offers “20 Super Quick Tips” that are quick fixes for dietary & other habits, while Chapter 9 give an overview on some “superfoods”, including greens, grasses, herbs, sea vegetables, leafy vegetables and sprouts. It also gives a few reasons for eating raw food. (On the topic of superfoods, perhaps you might be interested in checking out my previous blog post: “Superfoods in Action”).

I think the message of the book about healthy eating habits is definitely welcome. It emphasises the importance of eating a balanced diet that consists of lots of fresh and organic produce and fibre. Fresh fruit & veg, complex carbs, whole grains, nuts, seeds, seaweeds and healthy fats are recommended to be consumed in abundance. McKeith’s regime does not exclude the occasional egg, fish and chicken from a healthy diet, either. The book also draws advocates for variety and moderation. Some supplements are also recommended, in certain cases. It is mentioned that a healthy diet must be supplemented with mild exercise that the reader finds enjoyable. I also like the “holistic” approach of the book toward overall health and wellbeing, happiness and fitness.

J Hansen Pinterest
J Hansen, Pinterest

Having read this book, I don’t think it is a hardcore or fanatical health programme. I cannot judge the science behind it, but common sense suggest that its nutritional tips are largely beneficial to the health-conscious reader, who is interested in dropping a few pounds, or managing their weight more effectively. I would recommend trying a few recipes from its jumpstart or from its detox programme and seeing how they work for you. Giving it a go may help you decide for yourself, whether it is something for you to pursue. In order to achieve balanced health and wellbeing by way of choosing to eat healthy food, one may not need to go very deep into the science of nutrition anyway.

Toxic Fumes in the Air

What are Toxic Fumes?

Unfortunately, we are constantly exposed to toxic fumes due to the serious pollution in our environment. These fumes and gases make their way into our direct environments and homes, too. In urban settings, they are everywhere.

Toxic fumes and gases can be poisonous to varying degrees. Sometimes, they are seriously dangerous to human health. Sometimes they are only present in the air in low concentrations, having lower impact on us. Still, the impact is there and it can accumulate, having a quite bad effect on our bodies.

Symptoms of mild exposure to poisonous gases can include mild headaches, wheezing, coughing, vomiting, nausea, fainting, fever, chest pain, etc. Long-term inhalation or more serious doses of toxic gases can lead to lung diseases, heart diseases, cancer and even death.

Shape Magazine Headache
Shape Magazine

Most toxic fumes are the result of man-made processes and products. They may originate from a wide range of places including our heating and air conditioning systems, emissions from our cars and other motor vehicles, by-products of production and manufacturing in our factories, side effects of chemical processes and even from the smoke given off by cigarettes and candles.

We are constantly exposed to toxic fumes generated by our own modern lifestyle. In order to eliminate some of these toxic gases from our lives, or at least to limit their presence, we need to change our lifestyle.

What To Do About Toxic Fumes?

Unfortunately, we have to be realistic and have to acknowledge that we cannot change the industrial, modern world. We cannot live without the use of fossil fuels at the present time. We cannot stop industrialisation and environmentally unfriendly manufacturing practices and the use of harsh chemicals, overnight. As the humans of the 21st Century we depend on these non-ecological substances, methods and practices.

What we can realistically do is to limit our own harmful, environmentally-unfriendly practices, changing our own attitude toward the environment, being more aware of the adverse health impact of our modern lifestyle and trying to lead a greener and environmentally-conscious life.

Toxic fumes

In order to limit our exposure to toxic fumes, we may start to eliminate them from our own direct environments and homes. The following tips may be useful in doing so:

  • Limit usage of chemicals as they generate fumes. These gases may be toxic to the environment and human & animal health.  Some of their impact may not yet be known to us. Eliminate synthetic cleaning products, cosmetics and personal care products from your home and opt for safer, ecologically-friendly products and organic or fully natural alternatives.
  • Limit the use of plastic in your home and in your environment. Plastic always contains phthalates, which are chemicals that may disrupt the hormone system. You may be surprised how much plastic products you may be able to eliminate from your environment, or at least recycle. Let’s start with limiting the usage of shopping bags, plastic bottles, packaging materials and let’s start recycling. Aim to buy products made out of natural materials instead of for a mass-produced plastic version. Even though it is probably going to be pricier, it will be more durable, healthier and kinder to the environment.
  • Ditch artificially scented candles and air fresheners as many of these cheap home scenting agents that emit volatile organic compounds. These may contain formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, limonene, alcohol and esters, triggering allergic reactions. It is a better idea to use organic beeswax candles and pure essential oils to scent your home.
  • Paint can be a problematic substance in your home as it may release toxic fumes. If you can smell the characteristic chemical smell of paint, it is a bad sign that you are and will be exposed to potentially toxic fumes in your own home. Make sure to use a healthier version of paint, which contains no volatile organic compounds.  Alternatively, wax can be used as a finish on wood.
  • Using public transport or a bike instead of going everywhere by car will limit the emission of toxic fumes into the air. It may be a big change in your life to walk or cycle to the nearby shop or use public transport when you go to the office. It may be strange to give up the privacy of your own car for a while, but soon you will realise the benefits both to your own health and to the environment.

Do you have further tips that may limit the release of toxic fumes and gases into the environment? If so, let us know; we would be keen on your tips, too!