Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Yoga Tip Tuesdays: How to keep a straight leg without locking the knees

On a previous Yoga Tip, a reader left the following comment: "I'd love some tips on how to keep a straight leg without locking the knees in balance poses."

This is an excellent question! Many of us have probably heard yoga teachers talk about the importance of not locking the knees in standing and balance poses.  Without going into too much anatomical detail, this is important for the following reasons:
  • If your knee is locked in a balance pose, it means that the joint is holding the weight of the body, instead of the muscles. In the long run, this can wear down the protective cushioning around the knee (called the meniscus) and cause wear and tear on the joint, which can lead to pain, injury and possibly conditions like arthritis.
  • If your knee is locked in a weight-bearing standing pose, for example triangle pose, the joint is again at risk, but in addition, because you are now stretching as well as bearing weight, the ligaments and tendons surrounding the knee joint are also at risk of taking the strain of the stretch, instead of the muscles. Since ligaments and tendons are meant to stabilise, not to stretch, this can quickly lead to injury - and a torn or injured ligament takes far, far longer to heal than a similarly injured muscle.
So you might think that we should all just be doing yoga with bent knees all the time and avoid the problem all together. However, if your knees are always bent in standing poses, you are probably not getting the most out of a pose, nor are you stretching and strengthening the body in a balanced way - and you may actually be putting other types of strain on your knee. (**NB: If you are hypermobile or hyperflexible, see note at the bottom of the page).

So, here is a simple 2-step tip on how to keep the legs straight without locking the knee in standing or balancing poses.

Step 1: Build awareness

In the pose you are working with, lift your toes - just your toes! - off the mat.

Yep, that's it - try it! You'll find that it's pretty much impossible to lock the knee while lifting the toes at the same time, because lifting the toes creates muscular engagement, or "hugging in," that brings the weight of the body into the muscles instead of the joint.

Now of course, in the long run, you don't want to be going through your entire practice with your toes lifted up! It's just a "cheat" to get your muscles used to working in a new way.  So once you have built an awareness of what that muscular engagement feels like, you should work towards a techinque called "isometric" or "static" muscular engagement - essentially, engaging a muscle from the inside, without actually moving the body. You might have heard yoga teachers cue this kind of engagement by talking about "hugging the muscles to the bone."

This is Step 2: Isometric engagement of the leg muscles.

To work on isometrically engaging the muscles in your legs, practice this simple sequence. As you move to each step, remember to keep the muscle engagement from the previous step! I find it's best to start practicing this in Tadasana (standing mountain pose), and once you have a good sense of how it feels, then you can apply the same sequence to all your other standing poses.
  1. Begin in a standing pose with a neutral pelvis.
  2. Establish an even weight distribution between the outer edge, inner edge, and heels of your feet, lifting your toes up to do so if it helps. Press strongly through the big toe mound in order to lift your arches.
  3. Keep that engagement and then without moving your feet, try to engage your muscles as if you wanted your toes to lengthen forwards and your heels to draw back.
  4. Next, imagine your shins drawing forward.
  5. Now, engage your muscles as if to squeeze an imaginary yoga block or tennis ball in between your thighs, lifting your kneecaps upwards and drawing the thigh muscles up and back.
  6. Finally, engage your muscles as if you wanted to lift your pelvis away from the tops of your femurs. This one is tricky - just visualise it, even if you can't feel anything happening.
These 6 steps can work to bring engagement to the subtle leg muscles in nearly every standing pose (and even in inversions!), which ultimately will strengthen your standing poses without putting your knee joint at risk.

Here is a quick graphic that you can use as a reminder of the main points:

(and do forgive me the not-so-great alignment of my pelvis in this picture!)

**NB: If you are hyperflexible or have hypermobile knee joints, you will probably need to work with a slight bend in the knee until you can really control the muscular engagement of your legs to fully protect the knee joint. Work with a yoga therapist or a knowledgeable teacher to determine the right way of working for you.


If you've read this far, I'd love your feedback! Was this tip helpful? Is there anything else you'd like tips about? Leave a comment!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

3 weeks away, or, how to fit your life into hand luggage

Let me start by saying that I am not known for travelling light. Seriously. The excess baggage gods of the world must love me, given the amount of tribute I regularly pay to them.

So, as I embark on a 3-week trip to DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) to do some work for UNICEF there, I am particularly proud that this is the entire total of my luggage - all carry on!! Note the ultra-light travel yoga mat, which I'm excited to try out on my travels.

There is something incredibly refreshing about travelling light. It's the feeling of walking off the plane and not having to wait for your luggage. It's the feeling of knowing that you don't actually NEED tonnes of "stuff" in your life: clothes, shoes, accessories, toys. It's so good to release yourself from the material world that we are so heavily rooted in, and practice the yogic concept of aparigrahah, usually understood as non-grasping or letting go.

I'll be scheduling a few posts while I am away, dear readers, but if there is a bit of a lull in this blog I hope you'll understand!

Now, let's see how many bags I come back with... ;)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Thoughts on first led primary practice after a year

Last weekend I was down in Vancouver staying with a friend, and on Sunday morning we went to a led Primary practice at a lovely independent little shala. The practice leader had just returned from 3 months in Mysore where he was assisting Sharath, so I'm assuming we were doing Sharath's count, for those Ashtangeeks out there who are interested in those sorts of details. :)

It was my first full Primary (led or home) since I "broke up" with my Ashtanga practice nearly a year ago, so I have been reflecting on how it felt. Here's a rundown:

  • Sweaty: In a good way! The studio was heated and fairly full, and once I got into the twists (which always generate heat for me), the sweat really started to flow. Compared to my chilly morning practices at home, it felt great!
  • Long: I'm not sure how long actually, a bit under 2 hours I think, but given that I spend most of my waking hours bouncing down a mountain these days, I don't usually practice for more than an hour or 90 minutes. At one distinct point towards the end, my concentration flew out the window and the leader called me out for being a breath a head on the vinyasas. Whoops!
  • Smooth: I thought I would find the practice hard, given how long it had been, but it felt smooth and I had enough energy to carry the practice all the way through. I have to say I would have been hard-pressed to do it all the next day, though.
  • Unconstrained: I didn't do the rolls in Garbha Pindasana (I never liked those), and I didn't even attempt cakrasana (never could do that without pinching my neck... "one day, gurunam" as my first teacher used to say), and I didn't feel "un-Ashtangic" about it, because I have made my peace with being un-Ashtangic, if that makes sense!
  • Same-old, same-old: By which I mean the same old irritations flared up, that led me to stop doing exclusively Ashtanga in the first place: wrist pain, and rotator cuff (shoulder) pain, both on my right side (I'm positive my cakrasana issues are connected to these too, and it's all rooted in my precious curvy spine). My vinyasas are a lot smoother and more controlled as a result of the work I've been doing over the last year, but doing every vinyasa, even carefully, was hard on those weak spots. I'm pretty terrified of injuring my wrist again so I've renewed my efforts to work on those problems with targeted movements in my home practice. 
  • Different: My first Ashtanga teachers learned the practice in the early 90's, so there were some small differences in the practice that took me by surprise. The practice leader, Geoff, emphasised the inner aspect of the practice as opposed to what the body can do, which was great. He also told us that Sharath is teaching a different version of the tristana these days, which is breath, drishti and alignment of the body, with the bandhas being rolled into "breath". My injury-wary inner teacher approves of the latest addition, although I think the young man next to me, sweating, grunting and twisting himself into postures, could perhaps have used some more explanation. ;)
At the end of the practice, the practice leader asked me how it felt, having been away from the practice for so long. I told him it felt great, but mentioned it was hard on my wrists.

Thinking about it afterwards, it felt like going back to a house you used to live in after some time away. It feels familiar, maybe even nostalgic, but it's no longer home and you have a new reality.

NB: The cover image was sourced from Ryan Spielman.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

10 ways to incorporate yoga philosophy into your teaching or practice

Last week or thereabouts, I wrote about my dissatisfaction with the way that I teach yoga as a mainly asana-centred discipline, and haven't really found a good balance of also imparting the philosophy of yoga. (NOT as a religious discipline, as discussed in this post about why yoga is not a religion.)

The post generated a lot of comments, and made me think, a lot, about how to practically incorporate more philosophy into your average asana class. This is a mish-mash of my own ideas, and commenters' suggestions - I can no longer really remember who said what, but if you'd like to take credit for your ideas, feel free to leave a comment!

10 practical ways to incorporate yoga philosophy into your teaching (or your practice)

  1. Speak from the heart, and don't be afraid!  Talk only about things that resonate deeply with you. Don't just throw in a bunch of waffle because you feel you have to - if it doesn't resonate with you, it won't resonate with your students, either.  If you are among those who believe that yoga is more than just asana, know that you are not alone! Take the plunge, and know that you are doing exactly what you are meant to be doing. :)
  2. Tell stories that people can relate to. Tell a story from your own experience, something you learned, or relate a philosophy concept to something everyday. Yoga philosophy is about life off the mat, and this is a nice way to get people thinking about how to apply it to their lives. The best stories often come from our own questions or mistakes, and it lets your class know that you are just a person struggling with it all, too.
  3. Use the yoga sutras as a class theme or as the basis for a pre- or post-class discussion. Take a few minutes before or after the asana practice to have students sitting quietly with their breath, and during those moments, talk briefly through a point in the yoga sutras and allow students to meditate on that concept. If it's your style, weave the theme from beginning, throughout the asana practice, all the way to closing.  There are so many interesting sutras to choose from, you could probably do this for years without ever getting stuck for new material! Possibly best to avoid the ones about levitating, though. ;)
  4. Go back to the basics. Ideas like concentration, gaze, focusing on your breath, listening to your body - these may seem like a given if you've been doing yoga for a while, but for new students the simple things are still new. Don't underestimate the power of going over the simple concepts again and again, even if it's just a mention of how asana is only one part of an eight-limbed practice.
  5. Use concepts from yoga philosophy as the basis for guided meditations. For example, the koshas (sheaths), yamas (restraints), niyamas (actions), prakriti/purusha (ego/true self), moksha (freedom), or other concepts. The koshas work particularly well here, but really, you could script a guided meditation around almost anything.
  6. Market your yoga classes as "asana with a bit of philosophy". Errr, ok, it might need to sound a bit cooler than that. "Roots of yoga?" "Deepen your practice?" Anyway, offer an asana practice with a slightly longer discussion / philosophy time built on. Or, if you are a sequencing genious, sequence the asanas around the philosophy somehow.  You could do something similar with pranayama.
  7. Hold an "introduction to yoga philosophy" session, or regular weekly discussions of yoga philosophy.  Just go for it! Talk to your studio / coffeeshop / wherever about hosting a brief philosophy talk. Make it donation-based, bring cookies, and encourage lots of discussions and questions. Or make it a workshop and get people to actively come up with their own interpretations of things like the yamas and the niyamas.
  8. Keep it non-denominational. Yoga as a philosophy embraces all possibilities and can be accessible to people of all faiths. Since you don't know if your students are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, Pagan, Hindu or any other religious inclination, don't alienate people by speaking from a religious perspective. Always offer non-denominational alternatives so people of all beliefs feel welcome.
  9. Yoga is about self-exploration: empower people to think for themselves! Don't try to tell people what to think or what to do. Use yoga philosophy as a point for discussion and to stimulate thoughts, not as a soap-box. So, instead of saying "ahimsa tells us that to truly practice yoga you have to be vegetarian", say, "ahimsa is about not doing harm with your speech or your actions, think of a few ways hat you could integrate this idea into your life on or off the mat". Empower people to choose for themselves if and how they want to interpret the philosophical teachings into their lives.
  10. Relate it to science. Science is something that most people nowadays, at least those with a modern education, relate to on a very fundamental level. The Dalai Lama has written a whole book on how Buddhist philosophy (very similar to yoga philosophy in many aspects) and modern science are converging in astounding ways. The concept of karma - actions creating similar actions - can be related to the new science of neuroplasticity, the concept of interconnectivity ("OM"...) explained in terms of sharing atoms.  There are more and more studies available documenting the benefits of yoga on a scientific level - even some of those that can't quite be explained!
And I guess, one more that goes without saying: always study, always seek to deepen your own knowledge. Read, talk, write, discuss, and most of all, experiment with living your interpretation of yoga philosophy, and continue to deepen your own journey.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Confessions of a yoga grump

I have a confession to make. You see, I seem to have a problem. Sometimes, I start to frown. I get upset. In fact, I get downright cranky! It makes me feel like I'm a lot like this guy, and just as much fun to be around:

At which point my lovely partner - a truly patient soul - generally says something like "why don't you do some yoga, sweetie?"

Yes, it's true... I'm a yoga grump! By which I mean that when I don't do yoga, I get grumpy! Apparently yoga should come with a warning label: "Highly addictive. If withdrawn from yoga, the yogi may suffer from grumpiness, aches and pains, mood swings, loss of motivation, couch-potatoness, too much TV, and other symptoms of withdrawal."

The only cure: more yoga! Yoga, almost daily, morning, noon or night. 5 minutes, 50 minutes, or an hour and 50 minutes. Yep, a cup of yoga a day keeps the grumpy bear away!

Yogis, does this happen to you?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Yoga Tip Tuesdays: Helpful Hints on Stepping Forward From Downward-facing Dog

I love it when people a) comment on my blog, b) find my blog posts useful, and c) ask for particular things on the blog! Please don't hesitate to let me know if these posts are useful (or not!) to you and just leave a comment if there is something you'd like me to post about!!


On my post about transitioning your toes through the sun salutations, Lynn, a reader, commented: "I am a yoga teacher as well, and have always struggled with both jump to the top of my mat, or to smoothly step forward, do you have any helpful tips for this?"

This is SUCH a good question!! Being able to smoothly move from the back to the front of the mat might look simple, but (as so often in yoga!) it's actually a fairly difficult move for the majority of people. So, whether you are a teacher or a student, it's a very good thing to be able to break down this motion, and to teach it to people of all abilities.

There has been a lot written and demonstrated on the internet about jumping or "floating" forward, and it is a demanding move that I generally don't teach in classes (too much risk of injury when done sloppily) so I'm not going to focus on that. 

Instead, let's have a look at Stepping Forward

If you go to a vinyasa-like yoga class, you will probably hear these words at least 20 times per class: "now step your foot between your hands, and..." Well, for many people, this is easier said than done! If you're not convinced, imagine replicating this move while standing with your palms pressed against a wall! Ok, convinced now?

A little anatomy

Stepping your foot forward from downward facing dog requires a couple of things to happen.  In order for you to lift and bend your knee, your psoas and hip flexor have to strongly engage.  Your psoas is super strong and used to this - it's what it does every time we take a step forward when we are walking!  However, once your hip is fully bent (when your knee comes in towards your body), your psoas can no longer generate any force, which is why we tend to lose momentum half way through. Once you pass that critical point, the weight of the movement must pass from the legs to the arms; with the back, shoulders and core muscles helping to keep lift. Finally, the hamstring has to lengthen and the quadricep engages to bring the bent knee down to the floor and take the weight of the body back to the feet.

The sequence

For this yoga tip, I'm offering a few simple movements that re-create the elements of stepping forward. If we work on those individually, the overall movement will gradually become easier!

1. Nose-to-knee stretch

(click for larger image)

Variation 1

Lie on your back with your hands and feet on the floor. Slowly, without using your hands, bend your right knee and bring it all the way up to your chest. Grab your right knee with your hands, and meanwhile keep your left leg strongly engaged, trying to press the back of your left thigh into the floor.

Next, as you exhale, warm up the core by drawing your nose towards your knee. Try not to use your hands, but instead press the belly back down into the ground and curl up from the core. Inhale, coming back down. Repeat 5 times, optionally holding the last repetition for 3-5 breaths.

Variation 2

This time, try the above exercise with the leg straight.  This stretches out the hamstring, while also bringing an extra stretch to the hip flexor of the grounded leg.

When you've done the right side, repeat on the left.

2.  Cat / cow variation and 3-legged dog variation

(click for larger image)

Come up to all fours. As you inhale, raise your right leg (with the knee bent) behind you. As you exhale, lift your belly button up towards the ceiling, arch your spine, and draw your knee as high as you can towards your chest, and bring your nose in towards your knee.

Repeat this 5 times, and on the 5th repetition try to hold the exhale position for 3-5 breaths. Then do the other side.

The 3-legged dog variation is similar to the cat/cow variation, except in downward-facing dog. As before, on an inhalation lift your right leg up behind you, keeping your hips square. As you exhale, lift up from the core, bring your shoulders over your hands, and hug your knee up towards your chest. Next inhale, lead with the leg and push back.

Repeat this 5 times, and on the 5th repetition try to hold the exhale position for 3-5 breaths.

3. Stepping forward

When the exercises above feel smooth, try stepping forward. Begin just as if you were going to repeat the 3-legged dog exercise, above. This time, when your shoulders come over your hands, use the momentum to lengthen from the hamstring and push from your quad to bring your foot down onto the floor between your hands. If your foot doesn't come all the way, gently walk it to the right place.

As you practice this movement, remember to:
  • Compress the hip flexors on the front leg while keeping the front of the back thigh long and strong, like in nose-to-knee stretch
  • Lift the belly button up towards the spine and the backs of the shoulders strong, like in the cat/cow variation
  • Lift your knee high towards your chest and shift your weight all the way forward onto your hands, like in 3-legged dog
  • Look forward and visualise where your foot should land!! Where you gaze goes, your body - eventually - will follow.
Once your front foot is there, pause, transfer your weight to the forward foot,  and repeat a similar motion with the back leg: lifting up, bending the knee, and gently placing the foot on the floor.  Remember to be patient, breathe deeply, and try not to be attached to the results of the exercise - it's the practice that counts!


If you've read this far, I'd love your feedback! Was this tip helpful? Is there anything else you'd like tips about? Leave a comment!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Why yoga is not a religion



  1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
  2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects.

I am not sure why this continues to be a controversial discussion point, as it is really very clear if you stop to think about the definition of a religion. But in light of my recent post about staying true to the philosophical roots of yoga, and in light of conversations going on elsewhere in the yoga blogsphere, here are 4 reasons that, for me, make it vividly clear that yoga is not a religion.


  1. Does not in any way pertain to the cause, nature, or purpose of the Universe, nor does it propose any theories about how it was created. Wait, isn't that what science does?
  2. Has no specific or fixed theological perspective. It does not specifically recognise a deity, nor does it deny the existence thereof. It's theological openness means that it cannot BE a religion in itself, but neither does it demand that people are with or without religion - basically, you are free to devote yourself to a superhuman force or being, if that works for you, or you are free to concentrate purely on your inner experience, if that works for you.
  3. Does not prescribe one or more fixed paths: it explicitly recognises that different people may take different paths and even proposes many different ways for individuals to try. Much like the scientific process of trial and error, yoga allows us each to find what works for us, and doesn't make any judgements about which way is correct or "better".
  4. Emphasises individual practice and experience, not doctrine or belief.  In yoga, it's not enough to hear or to believe - realisations must be experienced. The individual seeker must cultivate understanding based on questioning one's feelings, beliefs, actions and assumptions, and we are free to find answers to those questions from within or from a divine source or scriptures - or to not find answers at all. There are no prescribed findings - only suggested techniques for inquiry. 

So, let's be clear, outrageously ill-informed online dictionaries: Yoga is NOT a "Hindu discipline". It is a discipline which originated in India, yes. So is Buddhism, by the way, and Jainism, and the Beatles' White Album.  It is a discipline in which you are free to be Hindu, Christian, Athiest, Muslim, Jewish, or none of the above, because it is based on the questions, not on the answers.



  1. the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, esp. when considered as an academic discipline.

Although the yoga tradition can be traced to the Vedantic culture in India circa 3500 BCE (known as the Indus Valley Civilisation), the yoga theory that we know today is mainly based on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which were written around 200 CE. Don't get fooled by the sanskrit name! As discussed above, the Yoga Sutras don't set out any theological principles. Rather, they outline a philosophical problem, and propose a solution. It goes sort of like this:

  • The human experience is characterised by discomfort and suffering. We just aren't happy, which is a bummer.
  • The good news is that this suffering is kind of like seeing the glass half empty: if we are able to overcome the confused states of the mind (the citta-vrtti-nirodhah) that cause us to dwell in suffering, we can shift our perspective and alleviate our predicament.  It's like that scene in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, where Little John thinks he's drowning and yields to Robin, who then "saves" him by telling him to simply stand up - he was so overwhelmed by the fear of drowning, that he nearly drowned in water he could actually stand in.
  • There are two fundamental states in the human experience, prakriti, the "seen", i.e. the ego-self that is basically completely self-obsessed (and likely to drown in misunderstanding), and purusha, the "seer", or the higher self / true self / inner self, that is able to inquire deeply and see things the way they really are (for example, that the water is not actually that deep).
  • People are unhappy because we over-identify with the ego: we live constantly chasing the desires and fluctuations of the ego, chained to the idea that one day, achieving all these desires will "make us happy".
  • Being obsessed with the ego, the true self becomes suppressed, neglected, and forgotten. We subsume the desires of the true self to those of the ego-self, like in a co-dependent relationship, instead of creating a healthy, balanced relationship by nourishing both parts of ourself.
  • When we are living from the ego-self, we act in misguided ways, pursuing self-gratification, bouncing between the extremes of clinging to some things and despising others, and living in a desperate desire to hold onto life. We think that these actions will make us happy, but instead, our unwise thoughts, actions and words plant the seeds of themselves, and lead to more unwise actions, in a vicious cycle.
  • However, if we cultivate things that make our true self happy, if we instead plant different seeds, we can transform our experience, because those seeds will grow and take root instead, and lead to more actions, thoughts and words that make us happy, until eventually they no longer require effort, but become effortless. (Science nuts, see neuroplasticity and habit formation).
  • Yoga proposes the yamas (restraints) and the niyamas (constructive actions) to help guide us towards these positive actions, and away from the misguided or ego-centric ones.
  • To help "awaken" or "liberate" our mind (so that it can realise that the water is actually shallow), yoga proposes a variety of techniques including awakening and focusing the energy the body (asana), breath-work (pranayama), concentration (pratyahara), and meditation (dharanadhyana, and samadhi). Together with the yamas and niyamas, these form the solution to the problem of our self-percieved suffering.
  • Even when you have attained this 'liberated' state, the world continues to be as it is, and you continue to be in the world. You don't evaporate in a puff of smoke or rise up to sit on a luminous cloud. Only your suffering dissolves. You cease to be "tied down" by what your mind believes is real, and you become 'liberated' from the constraints of a limited (ego-bound) perspective. And that is what happiness is - freedom from our own imaginary limitations, by recognising that we are more than our ego-experience.

So, yoga is not a religion. 

Yoga is a TECHNIQUE to reduce our experience of suffering, based on a philosophy about the nature of the human condition.

The technique can be applied against any theological or a-theological background. The only fundamental assumption is that every individual has the ability to reach a state where they are happy and free.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Foodie Fridays: 2 Great Mushroom Recipes, and some Ayurvedic musings

Anyone who has done a bit of study on Ayurveda (the yogic food & lifestyle science) will know that mushrooms are a bit of a controversial food. Classically, Ayurveda  classifies mushrooms as tamasic (err, roughly translating as 'rotten', although the gunas are much more complex than that), advise us therefore not to eat them, and then pretty much moves on. On the other hand, just over the border in China, many edible mushrooms (for instance, shitake) are classically considered to be excellent foods and to have medicinal properties. So what gives?

When I asked my Ayurveda teacher about this, she quipped that, well, they are a fungus and don't grow in sunlight so they can't be considered sattvic, but probably some sage of long ago ate a poisonous mushroom in the forest with bad results, wrote it down, and next thing you know, "no mushrooms". Of course, her anecdote has a definite ring of truth: people today still die of mushroom poisoning, and in the days before supermarkets, the ayurvedic advice to avoid mushrooms entirely was probably excellent counsel for those gathering food in the forests of India.

Thankfully (for mushroom lovers like me, anyway!), modern ayurvedic doctors are opening their minds, and their kitchens, to mushroom consumption. Many now consider mushrooms to be a nutritious and tasty supplement to a vegetarian diet. Mushrooms, being moist and cool, would generally be considered to reduce Vata and Pitta, but to augment Kapha dosha (people of that type should favour the dried varieties to lessen this effect).  Overall they are still tamasic, so they should be eaten absolutely fresh, and considered as an addition to your diet as opposed to a staple. Also their moist and heavy qualities might make them difficult to digest for those with more sensitive systems, so careful spicing and flavouring is definitely recommended.

So, readers, if your mouths are now watering for mushrooms, here are two fresh and delicious recipes that I have enjoyed recently! The best part is they are both super quick and easy!

1. Fresh Mushroom Soup

I found this recipe from Jamie Oliver but it was a bit fancy, so I adapted it as below. With the quantities I used it made about 3 hearty servings and it was unbelievably delicious! The lemon zest really made the soup come alive, so definitely try it!

- Chop 4 large portabello mushrooms and 2 handfuls of brown mushrooms. Also prepare an onion and some garlic, to taste
- Add some olive oil to a large pot, and throw in the onions and garlic; when they are soft, add the mushrooms
- Cook until the mushrooms are juicy and then add 3 cups of veggie stock and a lot of fresh thyme.  Simmer about 20 minutes.
- Blend the soup in the blender and then put it back in the pot.
- Add 2 tablespoons of cream cheese if you want to make the soup creamier
- Combine: the zest of 1 lemon, the juice of 1/2 lemon, and a pinch of salt and pepper

Serve the soup, then pour some of the zest mixture into the centre of each bowl and top with parsley. Stir the zest through, and enjoy - YUM!

2. Herby Mushroom Pasta with Mustard Sauce

This is based on a recipe that we found on BBC Good Food (who knew?!), but I added spinach to the sauce, which was super tasty. Plus, the tri-coloured (gluten free!) pasta made it fun and colourful, AND it only took about 20 minutes from start to finish.

Basically, while the pasta is cooking:
  • Take about 2 big handfuls of field mushrooms or 1-2 portabello mushrooms (the recipe says 250g, however you're supposed to figure that out) and chop them thickly
  • Optionally, chop 1-3 cloves of garlic, to taste (I don't think it really adds much to the recipe, but it does smell good as its cooking)
  • Throw them into a frying pan with about a  1/2 cup of vegetable stock and 2 teaspoons of wholegrain mustard
  • Stir and simmer until the mushrooms are soft and the stock is nearly gone
  • Roughly chop 3 big handfuls of spinach leaves (and stems if you like them) and add to the mushrooms
  • When the spinach is cooked (how cooked is up to your taste!), turn off the heat, toss in the pasta, and add a handful of parsley (or other tasty herb) and the zest of a lemon, and then serve!

Readers, do you eat, or choose not eat, mushrooms? Share your recipes here! :)