amazing ways to start the day

In Greece people use the saying “how your day will turn out is shown from the morning”; personally I’m not a fan of this saying because it suggests superstitious thinking and if believed, can essentially determine one’s mood for the entire day if the morning proves particularly unpleasant. I prefer to think that any moment of the day, regardless of what has passed before, is a moment when we can hopefully start afresh and change its course for the better. However, the positive habits and rituals that we dedicate ourselves to in the morning can indeed help boost our state of mind, mood, physical resilience and flexibility and overall outlook so that the day ahead flows in a more upbeat, dynamic and enjoyable way. The tips I will write here come from years of research – books, websites, interviews and of course tried and tested techniques to which I’ve added my own touches and wanted to share with you. As the mom of a preschooler I’m well aware that there is often little time to spend doing some of these morning rituals, but if you can slip in even a few minutes of some of them or one on different days, or do some after you’ve dropped your kid/s off to school, a little later in the morning, that will still make a positive difference.

So as Maria said in The Sound of Music, “Let’s start from the very beginning!” at the exact point that you wake up (either because your child has decided to tap you on the shoulder and offer you a handful of slime that he has “cooked” for your breakfast or because your alarm clock just rang so you can get your ass to work or because, oh you lucky blessed one, you have had a full night’s sleep and have woken up naturally).

Give Thanks

Whether you can lie in bed for half an hour meditating on gratitude or just speedily run through a quick list in your mind of the top things you are grateful for – even that your little one thoughtfully “cooked you some slime for breakfast”, that you are still here, that it’s a new start to your life, that you have a bed to sleep in and clothes to wear, hot water to shower in or food to eat, gratitude is the highest vibration to connect with at any time, and especially at the start of your day. “Acknowledging the good you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance,” according to Eckhart Tolle. Even if you wake up feeling particularly miserable and disgruntled with life, go deep to findat least one thing that you are thankful for – maybe simply that you are breathing!

Stretch

Whether you do a full yoga session or just a few Winnie The Pooh stretches up and down, or stretch your body out in bed into a star shape and upon sitting up at the edge of your bed let yourself do some backward twists to flex your spine, a little stretching goes a long way to reawakening your body and gently releasing any stiffness from your sleep. After saying good morning to our dog, who in turn taps her tail enthusiastically onto the wooden floor in response, my son and I greet her in a quick downward dog and she gets up to do her own natural stretch to mirror us. This makes stretching fun and easy.

 

Body Brushing


Body brushing, also known as dry brushing, is a fantastic way to exfoliate your skin and open your pores (that’s why it’s best pre-shower) while also activating your lymphatic drainage system and kickstarting your circulation. For vanity’s sake, it has been shown to firm skin and reduces cellulite, while on a more medicinal level it helps release small aches and pains by causing your energy to flow more freely. Starting at the soles of your feet, brush in firm strokes upward along the inside and then all other sides of your legs, then your bottom, then in a circular direction on your belly area, up your back, up your arms and up from above the breasts in the chest area. 

Tongue scraping
While you sleep, a layer of toxins rises and forms on the surface of your tongue. That can indeed make one cringe at the thought of a morning snog (though it may be well worth it and offer other benefits!). Instead of swallowing them all back into your organism again, the ideal thing to do is to use a tongue scraper or even the back, non-cutting side of a knife or a spoon to gently but firmly scrape the sludge off and rinse it away, several times, before even brushing your teeth (because brushing your teeth before doing this will again involve spreading all the stuff from your tongue all over your mouth). I know it’s icky, and several people I’ve recommended this Ayurvedic practise to have told me they tried it once and felt so disgusted they couldn’t do it again. But. Isn’t it better to remove it? I find it far ickier to swallow it all back down! And I can guarantee that it helps – on mornings after a night out when I’ve had a few glasses of wine, for example, as soon as I do the tongue scraping I feel my mind clear (not completely of course, if I’m particularly foggy-headed, but significantly!).

Enjoy your shower

For me, a complete hydrophile, hydroholic and water baby, showering is a wonderful ritual both morning and night. It cleanses us of stale energy, refreshes our mind and, whether you are using soap or not, offers the chance to massage our body. It’s also a great time to repeat your favourite affirmation for the day, or just sing! Make sure to splash a lot of cold water on your face as well, as this activates the vegus nerve, which lifts your mood, clears your mind and strengthens your immune system.

Colon-cleansing drinks
For 10 days at a time every two or three months, I follow one of these rituals, which help cleanse the intestine, which is the basis of our overall health, by reducing the bad bacteria and detoxifying.

  1. Psyllium husk water: In a tall glass of water add a heaped teaspoon of psyllium husk and stir very very well. Drink it all down at once, and then follow that by drinking yet another glass of plain water. The psyllium swells (like linseed or chia) and becomes gelatinous inside the intestines, absorbing toxins, fats, mucus and harmful bacteria which are then released in your stools. This is a good ritual to do for restoring gut health, especially if you are trying to lose weight, as it also creates a sense of fullness. Only do this in the morning, on an empty stomach, and wait around 15 minutes to half an hour before eating.
  2. Apple cider vinegar water: Add 1 tbsp of organic, unpasteurised (fermented) apple cider vinegar to a glass of tepid water and sip slowly. I just take it around with me and take sips as I’m getting ready. This too detoxifies the intestine, balances your pH, decreases blood sugar levels, lowers cholesterol and boosts gut health.

Another common morning drink is warm water with a big squeeze of lemon, and some like to add a teaspoon of organic honey, both of which are packed of nutrients (like vitamin C and antioxidants) and help balance and kickstart the gut.

Power smoothie
There are endless recipes to find online for great breakfast smoothies – from green juices to elaborate fruit and vegetable concoctions, but I’m writing my favourite tried and tested rituals here so these two are the best I’ve tried:

1. For a foggy head and tiredness: a shot of juiced ginger with a big squeeze of lemon and a pinch of cayenne. Fortunately, I don’t need this very often, but it’s definitely a zingy way to start the day.

2. Super-tonic milkshake:
I like my chocolate drinks (chocolate-everything!), but this is the adult, supersonic tonic version, with a few alternate renditions. In a blender add almond, hazelnut or other milk of choice, a heaped tablespoon of raw cacao (high in antioxidants), a heaped tablespoon of adaptogenic powder such as ashwagandha (this is an especially great for women, widely used in Ayurveda as the top health tonic, as it helps reduce stress, balance hormones, offer energy and strengthen immunity – at night it’s great in a warm milk with turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom and honey) or maca powder (energy booster and even a sexual tonic) or astragalus powder (widely used in China as an immune-system booster), a teaspoon of cinammon (blood cleansing, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, boosts digestive health), a pinch of cayenne pepper (if you like heat) for heart health, a tablespoon of crushed linseeds (packed with Omega 3s) and a shot of espresso (wakey wakey!). Blend all the ingredients with a couple of ice cubes and hey presto! Another version is to exclude the cinnamon and cayenne and instead add a few tablespoons of nut butter – peanut, tahini, hazelnut, whatever you like, for extra protein and other nutty benefits. Yet another option is to add half an avocado and a banana as well, both packed with heart-healthy fats, collagen, B6 and other mood-enhancing vitamins and minerals like potassium and magnesium). Mixed frozen red berries are also high in antioxidants and vitamin C and mix well with chocolate.

Prepare your medicinal tea

While pottering around the kitchen preparing breakfast and tidying up, I always make time to boil a full kettle and prepare a large jug of herbal tea that I will refrigerate and sip in an ice-packed glass throughout the day (if you’re living in a cold country you can simply skip the ice and sip at room temperature, or add a bit of boiling water to your cp to heat it up before drinking if you want it hot). The key ingredient is the amazing herb that Greeks have used since ancient times because of its high iron content and mightly antioxidant content, Mountain Tea, called Tsai tou Vounou, which recent global studies have proven is also an amazing preventative herbal medicine for Alzheimer’s and dementia. I usually add fresh or dried mint and lemon verbena in summer or chamomile, linden and a stick of cinnamon in winter.

Another jug you can prepare to refrigerate is with vitamin water – just water (ideally filtered) that has chunks of any well-cleaned, ideally bio fruit and herbs chopped into it. The vitamins and minerals from the fruit and herbs will infuse into the water so when you drink a glass of it you’ll get a healthy, refreshing boost.

Walk your walk

I live in a hilly urban landscape and walk my son to school and honestly, that half hour daily up and down walk makes the world of difference to my day. If I were to start the day by just sitting at my computer I know I would feel completely different (as I mentioned in my introduction, everything I write here is tried and tested!). If you are a parent and your kids take the bus to school, try and find a way to add a half hour walk to your morning – if you are commuting to work get off a few stops earlier, if you work from home push yourself to go around the block a few times or let yourself explore different parts of your neighbourhood. If you have plenty of free time, hop on a bus or metro and get out in a place you’ve never visited and just walk around to discover something new.

Meditate or daydream while you do morning chores

I have around 20 plants on my balcony and as I water them with the hose I stop at each one, really trying to observe its individual beauty with my eyes, and speak my favourite affirmation, which I repeat to each plant as I water it (hopefully the plants don’t get together at night and bitch about me! ;)). This way I’m sharing my wishes and affirming to myself at the same time, by offering the plants their sustenance. I also like to talk with myself (it’s apparently more of a sign of genius than madness, haha) or visualize about my dreams, goals and projects while I’m doing mundane things like washing the dishes, chopping vegetables or sweeping. This is all meditational practice – who said you have to sit in the lotus position and chant Om to meditate? Meditating doesn’t need to have a direct spiritual purpose either – you could be letting yourself zen out while feeling the sudsy lather on your hands under the warm running water while you wash the dishes, and in that moment of sensual awareness your state of tranquility may be the perfect time for a great creative or even hardcore practical solution to pop up.

Try Donna Eden’s Daily Energy Routine
This is an excellent energy medicine sequence that kickstars your organism and clears your mind, while balancing the left and right parts of the brain. Even if you feel too rushed to do it all at once (although it only takes around 6-7 minutes), do parts of it at different parts of the morning. I sometimes do some of the thumps while walking along the street (Ok, first I look around to see there’s no one walking right behind me!). When I was presenting live on the radio I used to do the chest thump and the cross march a few minutes before going on the air. The studio technician started off by pretending not to notice, then asked me one day what the heck I was doing. When I told him he started doing it too!:
Watch Here!

 

 

 

queen of herbal teas

PRODUCT REVIEW: ANASSA TEA

I’ve always been a major fan of fresh herbs – used to season foods, give salads the perfect flavour and steeped in hot water to make a heartwarming tea. Whenever I can, I pick my own, or just buy bunches at the local markets and traditional or bio Greek stores. The soothing quality of a cup of hot herbal tea in winter or iced tea in summer is delightful, and knowing that herbs have so many health benefits just adds to the pleasure.

 

Right now I’m crazy about ANASSA tea. To be honest it was their beautiful packaging that first drew me to their fragrant and tasteful blends. Starting with the outside, I liked see modern, sleek and minimal light grey metal boxes with illustrations of Gods; my favourite blend, Happiness, is represented by Pegasus, the divine winged horse, and contains a lovely and uplifting mix of savoury Mountain Tea (shown to have as many antioxidants as green tea), fine Mint, intense Sage and Lemon balm. Then upon opening the box, you’ll get an elevating whiff of aromatic herbs, and inside see something completely unique – a packet of biodegradable tea bags and a bunch of thin wooden sticks you can thread through them to rest on the top of your cup. And talking of cups they have even designed a glass mug with the word “δες” inside, meaning “see”, which reflects beautifully on the sides as you drink.

Anassa’s creators, Aphrodite Florou and Yanna Mattheou

Anassa (pronounced with an accent on the first ‘A’, and meaning queen in ancient Greek, but, cleverly, also meaning ‘breath’ when pronounced with the accent on the second ‘a’) was the brainchild of duo Aphrodite Florou and Yanna Mattheou, whose motto is: “Live Organic, Pick Greek, Enjoy thoroughly!”. Both with a solid background in managerial positions, they have successfully combined their love of nature, passion for medicinal and aromatic local herbs, and an inherent desire to work with 100% organic small producers around the country on fair trade terms with their marketing savvy and top of the range designers.

The herbs are handpicked and the clearing is done manually so as to preserve all valuable ingredients. They are then dehydrated in the most modern conditions in order to retain the aroma and vivid colours as well as precious essential oils. Apart from the multitude of information gathered about Greek herbs since ancient times in herbal bibles such as the Materia Medica, Mattheou  and Florou also worked closely with a scientific team in selecting the herbs they would be using and the blends they were creating. So here’s to a regular cup of their excellent tea!

DID YOU KNOW… Greece is endowed with 6,500 different species and subspecies of plants, 1,600 of them endemic, found now here else the world.

 

 

 


 

relax & re-green!

In a mere two-hour drive from Athens, we zip past the sprawling seaside town of Akrata and start the steep ascent up curvy mountain roads, past resilient villages that take just minutes to drive through. The landscape is breathtaking, with a massive, imposing wall of mountain on one side, cobalt-blue sea on the other, and lush vegetation abounding.

As we reach the 3,000-year-old village of Seliana we follow directions until we come to a picturesque old church with a giant plane tree swaying beside it and then spot Re-Green’s unassuming entrance – a stone-built, square archway (a reference to the Mycenaean finds excavated on the land).  The place is run by Flery Fotiadou and her partner Christos Alexiou, Athenians worn down by the hard-core urban professional grind and who gladly packed it all in for a simpler life in the country.

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Guests come and go at Re-Green which is a kind of organic farm where people can stay while attending workshops on anything from yoga and botany to bush craft and eco-living but the pair sticks it out at the remote spot throughout the year, hit by extreme weather in winter, and never, ever slowing down on their land-tending mission and on keeping everything running smoothly. After finally finding the exact spot where they wanted to set up home, they studied permaculture to learn how to make the best of what they already had – a small variety of trees and plants – creating a beautiful stone guesthouse, a colorful food garden and several naturally built structures such as an outdoor Jacuzzi, kitchen and steam room.

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Of course studying skills like permaculture, organic and biodynamic faming, gardening and cob building are crucial for clueless city folk venturing to live the nature-based lifestyle, which is why Re-Green offers such courses encouraging others to follow in their steps.

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While briefly there I participated in a two hour singing class with French vocal artist and teacher Claire Bosse, whose group of French ladies of all ages warmly welcomed me to join in on vocal exercises and learning African polyphonic songs. I quickly got over my hot-faced awkwardness from making weird sounds and doing body-percussion on my (complete stranger) partner and plunged into the creative fun.

In their two weeks there the group was also studying Land Art with Aegina island-based teacher Yiannis Psalidakos and yoga with his French partner Laurieanne Felicite. The average day was made up of vegetarian (local, seasonal) communal meals, workshops and free time, the latter offering the chance to explore the rich landscape, visit numerous animals like Maya the fuzzy donkey, chickens, cats, ducks and dogs; spot medicinal herbs, edible flowers and juicy berries growing randomly; and walks down to the river or taking in stunning vistas of the sky changing colour while sitting on a park-bench at the edge of a cliff.

Relaxing in Re-Green’s accommodations is also easy, as the pair have done a great job with the interior decor, combining old traditional restored furnishings and decor items with natural ingredients creating an understated-luxury / country chic vibe, with large comfortable Queen size beds, fireplaces, modern bathrooms and comfy sofas added to the mix.
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Weeks after visiting Re-Green I still felt ebullient from the experience, perhaps because it’s more like a home than anything else, and definitely because its owners make it look so effortless but clearly work so hard to tend to every detail, making the experience really regenerating. The friendly, familial ambiance combined with creative and well-being oriented activities also makes this the kind of place that makes you want to go back, and I have promised myself, some time, I will.

ancient to modern: greek plant medicine

“If only we continue to examine the practices, writings and teachings of ancient Greek physicians and pharmacists, our knowledge can leap ahead by at least 6000 years. But if we prove indifferent to the vast knowledge of the ancients, we will stay behind by 3,500 years,” says pharmacologist Dimitris Kallimanis, whose passionate life mission is to investigate, experiment with and teach about plants and the plethora of sophisticated and fascinating data related to their hundreds of species.

The expert, who sustains that what today is commonly described as “folk medicine, or natural remedies” based on plants is no less than a serious, noteworthy science, states that according to historical documents, the first person to analytically expound on the benefits and uses of herbs was the epic poet Homer (born circa 850BC, although his exact period of existence remains a mystery to scholars). Kallimanis reveals that his globally influential writings such as ‘The Iliad’ and ‘The Odyssey’ are packed with recipes and practices based on herbs: “from Homer we learned, for example, that Achilles used Achillea millefollium – a hemostatic, wound-healing and powerfully antiseptic agent that is still used today – to treat those who fought by his side, or that the family of herbs most favored by the ancient Greeks was Liliaceae.”

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Homer’s The Odyssey

According to history, Theofrastus (372-287 BC), Aristotle’s successor at Athens’ Peripatetic School, was ancient Greece’s “father of botany.” Among a plethora of writings, he is the author of the major botanical treatises ‘Enquiry into Plants’ and ‘On the Causes of Plants’. Kallimanis and many other experts of his caliber sustain that the doctor and apothecary Dioscorides (40-90AD) was the real father of botany.

materiaHis five-volume work ‘De Materia Medica‘, was translated into Arabic and Latin in the 12th and 13th C and in German, Spanish, French, Italian and finally English after the 16th C), emerging as the basis of the world’s botanical knowledge. Indeed, the knowledge of Dioscorides, who followed a holistic and allopathic doctrine reminiscent to that practiced by Hippocrates, continues to startle academics to this day: it was he who first created the systematic categorization of some 500 plants and around 1000 of their medical uses, their varying dosages for treating ailments, and their side effects.

“However, there is a vast time gap between the botanical teachings of Homer and those of Dioscorides,” Kallimanis notes, “and the individual who played a great role in spreading knowledge on herbs within that time is somewhat unexpected; enter one of Greece’s most legendary figures in poetry, drama and creative thought – Aristophanes!” tragiccomicmaskshadriansvillamosaic
In an era when it was widely feared that Greece and its influence would be obliterated by the Peloponnesian War, the bard (444 – 385 BC) cunningly managed to share precious information with the masses. He subtly weaved substantial quarantines of knowledge through the words recited in his highly popular comedies, making one of the lines recited by the chorus in his play, ‘The Babylonians’, especially poignant, when they say that “the author-director of comedies has the hardest job of all.” Kallimanis explains that through both simple terms for the common-folk to coded, more refined information directed at educated viewers, all within the same text, Aristophanes managed to distribute ancient recipes based on herbal medicine to the greater public. Kallimanis says that doing so he “ignited and bolstered the knowledge of common people and all levels of medical practitioners, even some of the information remains challenging to decode to this day.”

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Monks weighing herbs

Throughout the ages, the information and understanding of botanical medicine and its usage garnered from the ancient world was made accessible to the literate via Greek and translated documents that could be found mainly in monasteries, especially those on the Holy Peninsula of Mount Athos. The uneducated, however, spread knowledge verbally, with villagers across Greece developing and transferring further learning and expertise to their communities by combining proven theories and techniques and hands-on experimentation. Making the best of nature’s bounty developed from the profoundly pragmatic need to survive, as throughout the centuries villagers were left to their own devices when it came to individual and community’s healthcare. The main priority in using herbs and plants throughout rural Greece was, and remains, the need to systematically and effectively treat physical and spiritual ailments, from the common headache, melancholy and respiratory disorders to broken bones, madness and heart disease. Meanwhile on the dark side, herbs have also played a significant role in magic and superstitious rituals for breaking spells, clearing the cloying effects of the evil eye and other psychic ‘disorders’.

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Magicians and faith healers carved out a niche for themselves among frightened, mainly uneducated individuals, often over-exceeding dosages and invoking divine powers or satanic entities to bring them into contact with other worlds, and to generate intensely hallucinogenic effects” Kallimanis says, adding that “their favorite plants were mainly those from the Solanacaeae (or nightshade) family, such as poisonous Belladonna and hallucinogenic Mandrake, some of which are highly toxic and can have serious or even deadly results. “Today, these magicians would be able to teach us about a whole host of other-worldly experiences, and we could call them magician-physicians – however, they didn’t have the ethics of a doctor or pharmacist, so I certainly wouldn’t call them that myself.”

* Many thanks to Dimitris Kallimanis, whose Greek-language book ‘Natural Cosmetics and Therapies from Ancient Greece and the Byzantium until the Present Day’ (Afoi Kyriakidi) on the bookstands as of November 2016.

                                                                As first published in Greece Is

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