If there’s only one South African city you can visit, make it Cape Town.

If you’ve been assiduously reading this blog, and I know you have, then you’ll know we’ve just come back from travelling the garden route in South Africa. (Five reasons why South Africa should be your next holiday destination). But what if you didn’t have time, and fancied an 11 hour flight just to go to one place, which one would it be?

From all the places we visited there can only be one, the magnificent Cape Town.

Cape Town has everything you could need for a foreign trip bundled up in one package. There are even a few bonuses in there.

DSC00069
Mist descending over Table Mountain

It has Table Mountain

First of all the skyline is dominated by the indescribable Table Mountain , Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head mountains stretching around the bay as if they are wrapping the city in soothing blankets. Table Mountain in itself is home to thousands upon thousands of indigenous flora. In fact there are more species of flora on Table Mountain than in the whole of the British Isles !

The top of the mountain can be reached by cable car , or if you are feeling particularly energetic, and have a lot of time on your hands, by hiking. We opted for cable car , unsurprisingly.

It has the views

DSC00060
View from the top of Table Mountain

The views over the bay from the summit are amongst the best I have ever seen. It stretches unhindered in every direction, so camera buffs make sure you go prepared.

It has native wildlife in abundance

In my previous blog Five reasons why South Africa should be your next holiday destination I wrote about our game drives but if you are unable to visit a game park then Cape Town has wildlife in abundance on its’ doorstep. Whilst you are not going to see lions, elephants or rhinos you may well encounter a dassie on Table Mountain which is a small dog sized animal native to South Africa. At the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront you may well see seals swimming around the harbour. Dolphins and whales can also be spotted all year round from the coast looking out towards Robben Island.

It has great food & wine in beautiful surroundings

IMG_0775.jpg
The clock tower at the V & A Waterfront

The V & A Waterfront is a must go place in Cape Town. We had meals and drinks there most days. It has been developed since the 1990’s and now houses a multitude of bars and restaurants serving reasonably priced food and drink.

The wines on offer are from some of the greatest wineries in the world and are just on the doorstep, so those costs are right down. The food too is on whole native to South Africa, you could expect to see delicacies like ostrich and kudu on the menu.

It has the beaches

Due to the city’s unique geography, it is possible to visit several different beaches in the same day, each with a different setting and atmosphere. Though the Cape’s water ranges from cold to mild, the difference between the two sides of the city is dramatic. While the Atlantic Seaboard averages annual water temperatures barely above  13 °C (55 °F), the False Bay coast is much warmer, averaging between 16 and 17 °C (61 and 63 °F) annually. This is similar to water temperatures in much of the Mediterranean.

It has tour guides with first hand experience

DSC00049

Take a trip to UNESCO World Heritage site Robben Island and you will be shown around the island, that was home to Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners, by a former prisoner or guard. During our visit our guide pointed to a corner of the large dormitory we stood in and told us that that was where he slept when he was imprisoned on Robben Island for 6 1/2 years. It brings a whole new level of meaning when the guide asks if you have any questions.

DSC00050
The District 6 Remembrance Museum

Similarly we were taken to District 6 museum which commemorates an area just outside Cape Town which was inhabited happily  by blacks and whites until the authorities declared in the 1970’s that inhabitants were to be forcibly removed and the area was to be bulldozed. Our delightful guide was living in District 6 at that time and remembers the events well.

It has a couple of bonuses

One major bonus is that everyone speaks English and another for us Brits is that they drive on the left.

Its’ unique geographical situation gives it a foot in both camps,so to speak, with an Atlantic and Indian ocean coastline. As a result the city enjoys an unusual and unique mix of flora and fauna some of which is found nowhere else in the world. The soil composition and all year sunshine makes it an ideal spot for wine growing. The mutlicultural society gives the city a fantastic ‘buzz’. Its’ recent heritage and how it has emerged from the dark days of apartheid into the open and welcoming city it is today give credit to those who live there. As it is, accidents of nature combining to make this unique setting and man’s dogged determination and tenacity in the face of adversity have all combined to make Cape Town the amazing and unique city that it is today.

I would love to hear if there are any other cities worldwide that can compare with this one. Let me know…

 

 

 

 

 

Five reasons why South Africa should be your next holiday destination

Last weekend I returned from an unforgettable 11 day trip to South Africa. This was my first ever visit and was to celebrate my wife’s birthday.

I had all the usual concerns before we  went and had no real idea what was in store for us.

So why then, should you choose to visit South Africa ?

Reason 1; The scenery is breathtaking

DSC00068
The mist falls over Devil’s Peak towards the V & A Waterfront in Cape Town

We hired a car and drove the garden Route for most of our holiday and took shed loads of photos but looking back at a two dimensional snap just doesn’t communicate in any way just how immense and spectacular some of the scenery like Table Mountain and the national parks are. Table Mountain dominates the Cape Town skyline in a way that no other landmark could and just a few hours from Cape Town enormous granite cliffs stretch  into the sky  as far as the eye can see and look like they could engulf you in an instant.

Reason 2; The wine is stunning

IMG_0837.jpg

We are big fans of South African reds so to go to a place like this where Stellenbosch is on the doorstep is like a trip to Mecca. We booked a winelands tour with an independent guide , Hein Dornbrack of www.socialtrekking.co.za, who showed us around 4 of the vineyards near our hotel.To put this number into context, in the Stellenbosch area alone there are about 150 separate vineyards all producing wines of the very highest quality. We had to concede defeat at about 4.30pm after tasting, and drinking, some of the best wines we’ve ever had.

Reason 3; It’s very inexpensive

When you live in a country like England you become used to paying £5 for a pint of beer, £6 for a glass of mediocre red and anything from £50 plus for an average two course meal. It’s a real eye opener to sit and eat a delicious three course meal in a restaurant with superb views and enjoy a bottle of great wine and to be charged £30 ! Going out for a drink in the evening costs £4 for a glass of wine and a beer. To fill the car up with petrol cost only £35. Are you listening England ? It can be done !

Reason 4; The people are incredibly friendly and welcoming

I realise that we were tourists and were seeing people in restaurants, hotels, bars and tourist attractions but you cannot feign that friendliness.Everyone we met, from taxi drivers to petrol pump attendants were smiling and accommodating and willing to go the extra mile for us. What was also noticeable was the pride they have in their country and where it has come from since the days of apartheid. Everyone we spoke to was knowledgeable about the history, the habitat, the flora and fauna, the politics and wanted to share that knowledge with us.

Reason 5; The wildlife is unbelievable

DSC00125
Up close with a lioness on our game drive

We were fortunate to go on a few game drives in a private game reserve during our time there so we were pretty much guaranteed to see a wide variety of wildlife. But South Africa is teeming with wildlife everywhere. On our first afternoon in Cape Town we saw a seal taking a leisurely swim at the V & A Waterfront , we saw a dassie ( a small dog sized animal) at the top of Table Mountain, we saw baboons on a rooftop on our way along the garden route, ostriches in a field along the road. We were sadly out of season for the spectacle of whale watching at Hermanus ( September-December) but can only imagine how breathtaking that must be.

DSC00168

South Africa is an immense country and we have merely scratched the surface but what we saw and experienced of the people, the scenery, the wildlife I think we can say with some certainty that we will be back.

First time, ‘Last Exit’

 
Since downloading the ‘ Goodreads ‘ app a while ago Hubert Selby Jr has been on my ‘to read’ list. This month I finally got round to completing his first work ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’.

It’s safe to say that ‘Last Exit’ is not like anything you’ve ever read before. Structurally, grammatically it goes against anything you’ve ever read before. Speech marks are dispensed with and conversations, such as they are, run into one another so you are unsure who is speaking. The rhythm of the language is paramount. Shelby expertly captures the speech patterns and linguistic nuances of the various characters with words you have to read aloud to understand. 

The characters are for the most part the most thoroughly desperate, despicable, vile bunch ever created. They all seem to be clamouring for something that is not there, love, attention, romance, happiness. Whatever it is Selby makes sure they don’t get it. 

Two of the most memorable Harry Black , the strike leader and Tralala the prostitute come to particularly grisly ends. Harry has just come to terms with his sexuality and seems to have found happiness, of sorts, when Selby tears it away in an instant. Tralala is left for dead by her cackling and mocking ‘friends ‘ after a horrific experience.

This world is not for the faint hearted. It is callous and brutal. There is no happy ending. It is inhabited by lying, cheating, self centred, amoral monsters. But what makes it more disturbing is that you can sense that it is real. These characters existed then and they exist now. The world Selby has painted is one that is played out around the world wherever people are trapped and strive to escape but hopelessness drags them back time and time again. 

Did I enjoy it ? Yes, to an extent. Would I read anything else by Selby? Hmmm, not sure. By all accounts ‘Last Exit’ is pretty upbeat compared to ‘The Room’ and others. I love his writing style and his characters not so much the lack of structured storyline…so we’ll see. Watch this space whydoncha.

Why Dubai ?

 

dubai

Wow , wow , and yes, another wow. That’s what it’s like when you arrive in Dubai and are transported to your hotel along the six lane highways.

Get yourself a thesaurus , look up the word ‘luxury’ and then apply all the synonyms to this place. Our suite at The Grosvenor House Hotel was sumptuous. The decor in the hotel reception was opulent. The food in restaurants run by celebrity chefs was magnificent.You soon tire of excitedly pointing at luxury brand cars like Bentley’s , Porsches and Ferrari’s . In Dubai they are as commonplace as Ford Fiestas and VW Polo’s.

In a city that has sprung up from virtually nothing over the last 25 or so years everything has been thought of for your comfort. Air conditioning is the norm. Want to go to a gigantic shopping mall ? A short walk from wherever you are takes you to the simplest metro in existence ~ basically one straight line connecting the whole of Dubai. It is, of course , air-conditioned and spotlessly clean.

The malls are enormous sprawling temples to consumerism and underline the fact that whatever Dubai wants , Dubai gets. Ski slope ? Sure , no problem.Tallest building in the world ? You got it. Fastest lift to get to the 127th floor ? Sure thing. Tell you what , we’ll have a water slide at the hotel but let’s put sharks in a covered tank at the bottom. Dubai is excess. Even five star luxury isn’t enough for Dubai , here, a whole new level of luxury had to be invented for the Burj Al Arab. It has to go one step further than anywhere else I’ve been. Even toilets in the malls are marble floored , touch free , leather sofa equipped and look more like they belong in a five-star hotel than a shopping mall.

burj khalifa

In a city built on tourism , and the most lavish and extreme tourism there is , the service is second to none. We were waiting for a pick up one morning for a trip we had booked and it was 5 minutes late. Nothing too worrying. Within seconds, a member of staff asked us what we were waiting for , got the name of the company , called them and asked why they hadn’t arrived.

But do you know what….

There’s something not right. Not for me anyway. Dubai is sterile. It’s perfect. Nothing happens. Crime is virtually non-existent. Everything is just so. Eating dinner or drinking cocktails in Dubai is like eating or drinking in an operating theatre. It just seems so false.

In a way you can understand the nouveaux riche loving this place so much. It is created out of nothing. There is no substance to it. You want it ? You’ve got it. If you’ve got the money.

We have been to Las Vegas and where Las Vegas is like a friendly old uncle who lets you stay up late watching telly and lets you have a sip of his beer , Dubai is a maiden aunt with a house full of ornaments. You just know  that once your back is turned everything is going to be put back in its’ place and dusted down.

The only time we got a feel for the ‘real’ Dubai was on a trip to the gold souk and the markets. You get there by boat across Dubai Creek on a rickety old dhow with the water splashing onto the floor.

dubai creek 2

 

 

You get a feeling that if new Dubai had anything to do with this then you would be transported across the creek on a solid gold bridge which would emerge from the water at the touch of a button.

Don’t get me wrong. I liked Dubai. I can understand why people go there time and time again. It is a place where , if you can afford it , you don’t need to think of anything. Everything is catered for. Well, I’m sorry Dubai , while I like what you do,  I prefer my holidays with a bit more realism.( A Health and Safety break in Skiathos )

 

 

 

Planning , coincidence or luck ? Whatever it was we had a great time.

the-o2

 

We’d been looking forward to this weekend since March 2016 when we booked tickets to see The Impractical Jokers live at the O2 in London. Just me , my wife and her 24 year old son. The O2 arena , if you didn’t already know is stuck on the end of a massive loop in the River Thames in London. It’s a devil to get to. We booked a hotel in Chiswick which seemed to be very nice and sat and waited for the date to arrive.

As the date drew closer the drivers of South West Trains decided to start having a series of one day strikes which threw travellers plans into chaos. We simply had to sit and hope that they didn’t choose Saturday 14th January as one of their strike days. They didn’t. But we weren’t out of the woods yet. On my way to collect the tickets I was told that the very journey we had planned was subject to engineering works which would add 30 minutes onto our journey. I checked at the ticket office , yes , it was true said the clerk. The train would be diverted around Havant and the trip would take an extra half an hour. This was a nuisance because as a treat we’d booked a very nice restaurant outside the O2 and as the time was already tight getting to London , then across London , then to the hotel we could ill-afford any delays in getting to our booking.To add just a little more spice into the journey that day, the UK had severe weather warnings of massive snow falls due over the weekend which would cause huge disruption for all travellers. Don’t make any plans , they cried. Well, too late , we’ve already made our plans , we’re in too deep. We got up on Saturday morning expecting the worst drew the curtains and saw scenes of……well, nothing really. Just a completely normal day.Not even that cold.

So far , so good.

We got to the station and boarded our train hoping that the engineering works wouldn’t take up too much time. As the announcements were made by the guard during the trip there was no mention of the diversions and it looked like we were going to arrive on time. Strange. The clerk had seemed so sure ! As it was we arrived in plenty of time and caught the tube to the O2. From their we caught a taxi to our hotel , a short 10 minute drive away. As he dropped us off we asked what would be the best way to get back as there was no taxi rank around. With that the driver gave us his personal mobile number and told us to call him in 10 minutes and he’d take us back once we’d checked in. What a star !!

We got the the restaurant ‘Craft’ outside the O2 in ample time for our booking and enjoyed what I can only describe as one of the best meals I have had. Lamb belly to start and pheasant for mains for me and duck to start and lamb for my wife and her son. The service throughout was impeccable and the day was getting better and better.

Still quite early we made our way to the arena and enjoyed a relaxing drink before the show. The one part we weren’t looking forward to was the fact that when we booked we could only get row H seat 665,666,& 667 or something, which by my reckoning was the best part of half a mile away ! We would have needed super powered binoculars to even see the stage  never mind who was performing on it.

However, as we donned our oxygen masks and made our way by escalator to the rarified atmosphere of the upper levels we were stopped in our tracks by a man in a white anorak, one of the ‘O2 Angels’.

” Are any of you 02 customers ?” he asked

As it happened we all are.

“I can upgrade you.” And thinking he meant our phones , we duly produced them.What he actually wanted was our tickets because he was allowed to upgrade 02 customers to better seats and so he gave us there and then three seats about 10 rows from the front and to the left of the stage. Seats which , if they had been available, we’d have chosen anyway.

We settled in and enjoyed a brilliant night of comedy with The Impractical Jokers.

After the show , because we were only a short taxi ride away we managed to avoid the crowds pouring from the 02 and went and had a relaxing drink while the crowds thinned out. We then took a leisurely stroll to the taxi rank and back to our hotel.

The weekend was a huge success , partly because of planning ,we chose a nearby hotel and a good restaurant and we knew how busy the 02 would be , partly because of coincidence , with our 02 Angel and partly because the weather, strikes, engineering just didn’t happen.

And in the end all these things coming together in a perfect storm created a weekend to remember.

 

First light, first skate in NYC

We had visited New York a few times before our visit in December but always during the summer months.We wanted to experience the full new York winter and a part of that was to go ice skating in front of The Rockefeller Centre. As we only had a few days there we decided it would be more sensible to book tickets for the skating so had a look at online booking. It turns out you can’t book any skates except for the ‘first skate’ of the day each day at 7am.

And so it was that on a chilly Monday in December only a day and a half after landing at JFK and seeing the first snow of the year we groggily got up to the alarm in darkness at 6am and headed off to The Rockefeller Centre.

We have never been around NYC this early as it gets light and it is quite a different experience. There are cars , taxis and buses and pedestrians as always but it all seemed eerily calm. The wind was bitingly cold down 5th Avenue as we turned into the Rockefeller Plaza and saw the spectacular Christmas tree.

treeWe were joining 148 other freezing people who all had nothing better to do on a cold morning at 7am than to don ice skates and go skating around in front of The Rockefeller Christmas tree.

We are definitely not Torvill and Dean, more Bambi on ice, and were more than a little concerned that we would feel very inadequate as people sped by doing loops and triple axles and whatever else ice skaters do.

There was no need.

Everyone bar the odd handful displayed the same game ‘I’ve paid for this so I’m going to damn well do it if it kills me’ face as we did and it was great fun. The hour sped by. We didn’t fall over but as my confidence increased I came dangerously close as I tried a crossover turn.

We had booked too late to benefit from the breakfast on offer as part of the package but we did however enjoy a warming and complimentary cup of hot chocolate when we came off the ice and shared smiles and comments with the other intrepid members of the 7am ‘First Skate’ group.

 

The Red Flame Diner vs The Waldorf-Astoria. Like ‘Rocky vs Apollo Creed’.

On our visit to New York last December we had the pleasure of eating at both of these establishments. This was like Rocky Balboa the unfancied challenger climbing into the ring with the the swaggering , classy champ Apollo Creed. We all know how the first one ended but what about this one ?

Round one

The outside of The Red Flame Diner ,down a side street off 6th Avenue near Times Square, is fairly ordinary. A storm porch in clear glass keeps out the freezing temperatures and gives precious protection to the sub zero New York winter. The name is emblazoned on the door and windows. In midtown on Park Avenue sits the imposing and internationally renowned Waldorf Astoria hotel and La Chine restaurant. The challenger takes an early punch and sways a little but holds his own.Round one goes to the champion unanimously.

Round two

Inside The Red Flame Diner are cubicles for groups or families of four or more to sit in comfortable but unfussy seats. The tables have laminated menus listing everything available for breakfast , lunch and dinner and it is quite extensive. At La Chine on the ground floor of The Waldorf  heavy doors open onto supreme elegance and luxury in grey and black and subtle shades of brown. Tables are laid with bone china teacups and heavy silver cutlery. The menu is brought to you by a smartly dressed waiter. This could be all over by the third round, the challenger is in trouble.The champion looks in complete control. Round two to the champion.

Round three

Looking groggy the challenger takes on our breakfast order of scrambled egg , bacon and potato, toast and a coffee. A cup of iced water is brought over to our table before we start.The champion feels confident and takes our order of Imperial afternoon tea and a cocktail. A good and positive fight back from the challenger and the round is drawn.

Round four

Within minutes our breakfast order comes out at The Red Flame and it looks delicious and  there is plenty of it. At La Chine our pot of tea is brought out and also our scones , the first course of the afternoon tea, followed by savoury pastries. At The Red Flame we continue to plough our way through the tasty breakfast while the waiter tops up our coffees for free. At The Waldorf we are then inexplicably left alone for 25 minutes with our tea going colder and nothing to eat apart from the array of  cakes and finger buffet we had before us but have been told not to touch until we had our dim sum.ny dec16 009

The champion is taking a few blows now and looks unsteady on his feet.

We are asked at La Chine if we’d like another glass of water. We do but our waitress disappears never to be seen again. Meanwhile we are still awaiting our dim sum. At that point we are approached by a waitress who asks us if we’d like the cakes and finger buffet bagged up to take home. Through gritted teeth we explain that we are STILL waiting for our dim sum.

The champion is rocking.

At the Red Flame diner the service continues efficiently and effectively. We ask for the bill. And are brought the bill quickly. The cost , 24 dollars. It’s a potential knockout blow.

At La Chine Waldorf we finally get our flabby and fairly tasteless dim sum and eat our cakes. We ask for the bill and it is 200 dollars plus.

It’s a knockout !! For service , food , price and value for money the Red Flame Diner is a clear winner.

The Waldorf Astoria just wasn’t up to the steady tenacity of the contender. I for one know where I would choose to eat next time I visit NYC.

Out walking this morning.

This morning , because I’ve become a little obsessed with doing my 10,000 steps a day, I decided to take myself off for a quick half hour walk.

I set the timer on my phone for 15 minutes and headed off down the main road. This , as you can appreciate is not the most picturesque of walks but what can you do ?

Well , I was about to find out.

After walking for about 5 minutes I saw a small arrow and a pedestrian sign next to a factory that I’ve driven past hundreds of times. This time I followed the path for a walk and what a find it was.

To  my left were the squat , ugly concrete blocks of an industrial estate but to the right was an almost endless view of fields , fern and bracken separated by a gravel pathway.

I felt like the first person ever to walk there , like Alain-Fournier’s ‘Le Grand Meaulnes’ stumbling into the mysterious children’s party. The walk went on for about a mile and for most of it I was alone. It is hard to believe that amongst the industrial units there is such a beautifully peaceful walk.

Along the way the pathway forked in different directions and I’m looking forward to exploring the area some more.

 

 

How to avoid putting on (too much) weight over the festive period

Very soon we’ll be at that time of year when exercise ,diets , calorie counting and being sensible goes out of the window for a few weeks leading to slimming clubs and gyms getting massive surges of members in January as we haul our overweight frames through the doors.

But does it have to be like that ?weight

Of course not.Weight gain over the holidays is normally down to three things ; eating too much , drinking too much and not exercising enough and it’s possible to enjoy the festive season without piling on the pounds and here are a few tips on how to do it.

Have a large glass of water before going out

Drinking water before going out partying will make you feel slightly more full so you won’t be tempted to overindulge on the food.It’s an easy  tip that is based on research. A 2010 study in the journal Obesity found that adults who drank  water before a meal ate less at the meal and lost more weight over 12 weeks than the group who didn’t drink water before eating.

Have dinners on a small plate

By eating off a smaller plate you will still be able to take part in everything with friends just on a smaller scale. Your calorie intake will also be decreased so if you do drink more then the effect won’t be quite so bad on your waistline.

Eat sitting down rather than standing

Sitting down to eat  helps you consume less food and fewer calories, because you eat more slowly and pay attention to what you’re putting into your mouth. A 2007 study of that was published in the “Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics” found that total calorie consumption was lower in those who ate slowly, compared with those who ate more quickly.

Alternate your alcoholic drink with water

Not only will alternating water with alcohol have an impact on your waistline as you’ll be drinking less and so consuming fewer ’empty’ calories it also dilutes the alcohol you drink so you won’t get so drunk and won’t be suffering the next day.

At buffets go for the healthy option

Sounds obvious I know , but if you’re like me you can’t wait to get hold of the cakes.At a lot of parties you’ll find yourself faced with a buffet rather than a formal sit down meal. You don’t need to deny yourself everything but try and fill yourself up on healthier options like vegetables , cooked meats and the like before diving into the cream cakes.

Offer to be the designated driver occasionally

Not only will this go a significant way towards keeping the extra pounds off it will also get you seriously into your friends’ good books.And who knows , you might find that going out on the town and not drinking is quite enjoyable once in a while.

Do your 10,000 steps each day

With so much to do over the festive period one of the first casualties is organised exercise. This gets put on the back burner as there are just too many other things to do.It’s easy to fit your recommended 10,000 steps into a normal day and still do all the other things that need doing like shopping , wrapping , visiting family and so on. Try and chunk your 10k steps into manageable 10 or 15 minute sections so you don’t become too daunted by having to do 10k in one hit. Most iphones now will have a step counter on them as standard , if not then invest in a cheap pedometer for as little as £3.99.

Christmas is a time for fun and family. It’s natural that we let our normal fitness goals slide a little but if you can follow some or all of the tips above there’s no reason why you shouldn’t look forward to returning to your normal routine in the New Year and avoid the dreaded New Year’s Resolution of ‘This year I will lose weight.’

 

Dude, do you even breathe ?

breathing

Breathing is second nature to us , it’s as natural as …well, breathing. But how many of us actually breathe correctly ?

For many of us after years of sitting in offices hunched over desks breathing shallowly into our lungs we have developed dreadful breathing habits and in one of of the most memorable soundbites of recent years Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative coined the phrase ‘sitting is the new smoking’ describing how our sedentary lifestyles have led to increased widespread health problems.

In Eastern martial arts such as karate, kung-fu and tai-chi those who practise are trained to breathe from the diaphragm not the lungs. This type of breathing is based on the ancient Chinese practice of Qigong.

Why the focus on breathing?

Al Lee, co-author of ‘Perfect Breathing’ blames our sedentary lifestyle. From a high-tech engineering background, he developed an interest in the science behind breathing about 20 years ago. He says the body associates the shallow breathing when sitting with the ‘fight or flight ‘response and as a result ‘Blood pressure rises, the blood becomes more acidic and we are more likely to be emotional and emotionally reactive to our situation’.

 Qigong breathing

‘In qigong breathing the emphasis is on abdominal breathing where air is inhaled through the nose slowly and deeply so that the lower abdomen becomes inflated. As the air is exhaled the lower abdomen is contracted slowly so that the lungs may be completely emptied. Breathing should be long , slow and regular.’ ( Gaiam Life , ‘How Qigong Improves Health’) Al Lee recommends the six second breath , 3 seconds to inhale and 3 to exhale , and repeat for 5 minutes for a month. It is the sort of deceptively simple exercise that can be done anywhere , in the car , watching TV,  waiting for a bus , anything.

So what exactly are the benefits of breathing like this ?

Benefits of Qigong breathing

It is common in the West for us to feel warmed up when we are slightly breathless and our muscles are ‘pumped’ through the inflow of oxygen to the blood cells. This makes us feel ready for what is to follow. However, by following the gentle breathing exercises of qigong the muscles are worked quite differently.

Qigong breathing builds effortless power and looseness . The goal should be a feeling of relaxed power when the muscles, rather than straining and fighting just loosen up and allow the energy ‘chi’ to flow through.In the West we have been led to believe that aerobic exercise is necessary to strengthen the heart and lungs.While aerobic exercise undoubtedly does do this then so does qigong. The slow, deep and regular breathing combine to work oxygen deeper into the tissues than regular exercise provided that you stay within 70% of maximum effort and do not overstrain.

Abdominal , slow and measured breathing works to massage and strengthen all the internal organs and to correct blockages or imbalances in the internal energy or ‘chi’ that run through the body and strengthens the immune system , relieves pain and stress and detoxifies the organs.

In addition Qigong breathing can help speed recovery time from injury and illness .The gentle, non-jarring and low-impact movements of qigong can be done immediately following an injury or operation, particularly if the 70 percent rule is adhered to and no strain is applied. This rule is particularly important during healing, as the body is already overstressed.

Applying the rule of no strain helps injuries to heal fully. The 70 percent rule allows recovery to happen gradually and fully. Injuries that are only partially resolved can progressively weaken other parts of the body and set up conditions for major problems in uninjured areas, immediately or over time.

Given that life expectancy in parts of Japan where this practice is commonplace is amongst the highest in the world , is it worth the risk not to give it a try ?