Yoga Panther Tries: SUP yoga

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Low lunge

As I carefully made my way into child’s pose, I let out my first sigh of relief since I’d left the office. Then I heard the sweet sound of chirping ducklings, paddling a few feet away. I just wanted to bottle up this blissful moment. Such a contrast to a few moments before.

I’d planned my journey so that I could arrive 15 minutes early for my SUP yoga class with Active 360, as suggested. But London transport has a way of messing up the most important of arrangements, so I rocked up half an hour late, slightly worse for wear. But as soon as I stepped into the Paddington Basin area, the sight of the calm canal, and the dulcet tones of a man playing acoustic guitar, melted my frustration.

Paddington Basin

Paddington Basin

Luckily a member of staff was on hand to give me a board, and I paddled over to the class. I managed to pick it up quite fast; I’d done SUP thrice before, and yoga for 5 years, so I was doing downward dog – and mooning nearby bar-goers – in no time.

Bottoms up! (downward dog)

Bottoms up! (downward dog)

Not that it was easy. I had to focus all my efforts to balance the poses, and use every muscle in my body to stay afloat. I couldn’t actually believe some of the manoeuvres our talented SUP yoga teacher Jen got us doing, and it wasn’t long before I’d mastered a sun salutation sequence. I just pretended I was back in the yoga studio to make it seem slightly less perilous.

It was ideal being in such a small group. It did make me chuckle when a pink-haired woman announced to her two friends that she was removing her fake eyelashes and sticking them to the board for safe keeping.

Revolved crescent pose

Revolved crescent pose

As we progressed, the poses got more and more taxing. I nailed the devilish one-legged king pigeon pose on the right side, but when it came to the left side, I made one wrong move and into the water I fell. Head under and all.

It was actually quite refreshing on such a warm evening. Thankfully my glasses stayed on my face! The pink-haired lady wasn’t so fortunate when she fell in. Her fake eyelashes were nowhere to be seen, much to her dismay.

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My top tips for first-time SUP yogis

  • Wear old clothes over swimming attire: You never know if you might take a surprise dip in the water. Don’t temp fate by wearing your best yoga pants, glasses or fake eyelashes.
  • Listen to the teacher: Take caution if they say, “This is usually when people fall in” or you’ll end up like me, covered in weeds and funky water. But as long as you follow their instructions and trust you’ll be able to balance the pose, you’ll be fine.
  • Take it slowly: If you usually thrash around the yoga mat, this will be quite a challenge for you, but also good practice as it forces you to move more fluidly and mindfully. Not just for your sake – if you drift into someone else, because an extra wobbly motion could send them overboard too.

Namaste bitches!

Yoga Panther x

Yoga in a Portuguese paradise

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E3D07FAE-8176-4AC7-A96F-A5D9D747558B.JPGMy first yoga retreat in Portugal was the perfect antidote to city living. A much simpler way of life, we woke up for yoga every morning accompanied by birdsong, cycled to quaint villages to peruse local markets, and explored idyllic countryside and coastlines. We even found a good balance between being active and horizontal.

Sintra

After touching down in Lisbon, our taxi driver whisked us through the hilly Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. He whet our appetites for what was to come by showing us the points of interest along the way, such as Pena Palace standing atop the second highest peak, and the charming Sintra tram, which winds its way from Sintra’s hills to the beach and back.

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The Lodge 

On arrival at The Lodge, we were welcomed by the friendly staff and given a tour of its rustic interiors and beautifully maintained gardens. The main building housed a cosy communal area and a dining room where we would have our nutritious complimentary breakfasts. In a separate building was a kitted-out kitchen, complete with fresh herbs, so you could made your own grub.

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The gardens

Speak for themselves…

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The room

We managed to snag the mini suite. Like something out of an Urban Outfitters home photoshoot, it boasted wooden floors and furniture, double sinks in a millennial pink marble top, and a giant bath – not for bathing in, just for admiring. For some reason it had been filled in; the top layer was covered in clay pebbles so that it looked like a tub full of Nesquik. Luckily there was also a fully functioning shower.

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The yoga 

We rolled out of bed at 8.30am each morning to get to our yoga class – an hour and a half of yummy asanas in the yoga shala. We had one session with the weekend teacher, Masha Kovacs, who made sure we got the most out of each pose, while reminding us to pay attention to our surroundings: “Listen to the birds. They’re living completely in the moment. But, as humans, we have to work so hard to achieve even a second of mindful living.”

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The rest of our time was spent with the weekday teacher – super spiritual yogini Madalena. She would begin and end each session by chanting in Sanskrit to the tune of her shruti box – an Indian instrument that uses bellows to create a long droning sound. When she invited us all to join her by vocalising ‘Om’ along to the shruti box, the resonance was something else.

Her ashtanga vinyasa flows really challenged us, and one day we even prayed to Lord Shiva by repeating the mantra ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ 108 times. All of this made for a very authentic experience, and brought us totally into the moment.

The activities

The Lodge isn’t purely a yoga retreat. It also offers surfing, mountain biking and rock climbing. Although we went for the more relaxing option, that’s not to say we didn’t get our fair share of exertion from our daily excursions.

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After a long day out, there were plenty of places to chill – from the freshwater swimming pool, to the spa with a jacuzzi and sauna. Not forgetting the hammocks. We spent a couple of evenings just sat outside in the BBQ area mindfully drinking wine while listening to the birds singing, the bees buzzing and the frogs ribbiting.

Praia Grande

Our local beach was just a 10-minute stroll away, so we spent the rest of our evenings sampling seafood along the sea front, with spectacular views of the sun set.

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Sightseeing: Day 1

Almoçageme

On our first full day, we hopped on the bikes we rented from the retreat and almost instantly regretted it when we were faced with a never-ending hill. Eventually we trundled our way up to the nearby village of Almoçageme and were greeted by a friendly feline. As we wandered the cobblestone streets, we spotted even more cats, a few dogs, pretty Portuguese houses and a pink fire station.

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‘Coolares’ Market

We had a bit of trouble on our way to Coolares Market. Cars kept beeping their horns at us and initially we thought it was because we were two blondes on bicycles, but then one driver shook his finger at us as if we were doing something very wrong. Tired from cycling uphill, and utterly baffled by our ‘error’, we decided to walk our bikes up the final stretch. It was worth the effort; the market was buzzing with locals eating and drinking and enjoying the ambience.

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After perusing the bohemian fashion and jewellery stalls, we tucked into our first delicious pastéis de natas (custard tarts) and washed them down with white wine. This was so satisfying after the treacherous 5K bike trek. As you can imagine, it was an absolute treat on the journey back. We practically freewheeled the whole way. Simply exhilarating.

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Sightseeing: Day 2

We discovered the most amazing garden centre on our way to Sintra, so we stole a few minutes there before our bus arrived. Outside was a sea of bamboo (who knew bamboo grew in Portugal?!), and inside was a floral paradise with exotic blooms aplenty.

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Pena Palace

Two buses later, we were quite relieved to step out on to solid ground. The second bus journey was particularly precarious. I had to close my eyes on several occasions as we hurtled around hairpin after steep, narrow hairpin, and remind myself that the driver had done this a thousand times.

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As the palace is on top of a hill and shielded by trees, it was a slow, impressive reveal as we walked up. We couldn’t help but snap every angle of the striking exterior as it presented itself to us.

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As we got closer, we were even more in awe of the opulent Romanticist palace – once a summer home for the Portuguese royal family.

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If you built a Disney castle in the style of Antoni Gaudí with the colour palette of Wes Anderson, this is what you would get. That’s because it purposefully juxtaposes several styles such as Neo-Gothic, Neo-Manueline, Neo-Islamic and Neo-Renaissance – all the Neos.

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The interior was just as magical as the exterior, with its fabulous tessellating wall patterns and flamboyant décor.

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There was even more to behold in the maze-like grounds. We spotted an out-of-place greenhouse, an Arabian-style gazebo and a few lakes with ‘duck houses’ – even the mallards get their own castles!

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Sightseeing: Day 3

Praia das Maçãs 

Back on our bikes, we cycled north up the coast to this pretty little seaside town, which is also the end of the tram line. After a ‘pit stop’ to sunbathe on the beach and go for a little swim in the sea, we peddled onward along a beautiful coastal road to our final stop.

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Azenhas do Mar

We marvelled at the picture postcard town built on the cliffs, and its peculiar manmade pool. As unique as it was, we didn’t fancy taking a dip in its murky green waters, so we opted for a cocktail in the quirky beach bar overlooking it. Utter bliss.

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Sightseeing: Day 4

Colares Winery

We didn’t plan to visit Adega Regional de Colares. But we ended up getting a free tour with wine included. Here’s how…

After arriving in Colares, we found there wasn’t much going on at all. We were just about to get the bus back when a local chap asked us if we needed help. He informed us we were standing right in front of a world-renowned winery and that he could show us around.

We followed him through a tiny door into the cool, airy building and were met with a truly impressive sight. Humongous wine barrels lined the entire length of the hall, while tables, chairs and candelabras, punctuated the room. We found out that the tram used to run right through the winery. But now they host grand parties with orchestras and lashings of exquisite vino.

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We decided to peruse their wares, but our new ‘friend’ had already beaten us to it. He handed us a carry case of 3 rosés, and said we could only have them if we had lunch with him in his house around the corner. We graciously declined, but he gave us the wine anyway. Win.

Final thoughts

It may not have been your typical quiet-contemplating, gong-bathing, vegan-eating yoga retreat, but I much preferred the freedom we had. Not dissimilar to the Spanish yoga retreat I went to before. After all, what are holidays about, if not cultural immersion, exploration and indulgence?

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Namaste bitches!

Yoga Panther x

 

 

 

Yoga Panther Tries: A mass meditation

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Yoga Panther tries to 'Just Breathe'

I stared into her eyes for what seemed like eternity. A far-off chuckle caused a ripple effect and soon a cacophony of guffaws filled the British Museum – ourselves included. This proved just how contagious laughter is, and that gazing into a stranger’s eyes in a room of almost 1000 people for 4 minutes is bloody difficult!

Now I’m not great with eye contact – I don’t think I’ve even stared into my boyfriend’s eyes for more than 10 seconds. So when spiritual gangster and leader of the session, Michael James Wong, asked us to ‘do a bit of eye-gazing’, I was filled with dread.

But after composing myself, and going through a few more Mexican waves of nervous laughter, I managed to settle in. I noticed my companion’s perfectly winged eyeliner, her neatly applied mascara and finally her eyes themselves. Afterwards a few people spoke out about their experiences, which ranged from feeling like a rock, to bursting into tears.

Not what I was expecting when I came along to the 8th Grand Gathering from Just Breathe London. I thought we’d just receive some wise words and finish with a meditation.

But no.

As Michael explained, we were going to be human for the night. Something we’ve forgotten how to do in this digital age, especially in the city. We were going to connect with total strangers on a deep level. And that meant putting our phones away and getting quite intimate with people we’d just met.

(Spot my ugly mug at 1.03)

“What lights up your life?”

As we walked into the impressive venue, we were asked to write down our answer to the above question. After finding a cushion to perch on, among the sea of fellow humans, our first task was to turn to a stranger and explain what we wrote. Sounds easy, but it’s amazing how fast we defaulted to discussing our day jobs.

“What do you need to let go of?”

Another exercise involved getting into a group of people we hadn’t spoken to yet and talking about what we could do without. A couple of common themes were ‘worrying’ and ‘self-criticism’. We vowed to go more easy on ourselves and chill out a bit!

Just breathe

Finally, we ended with the meditation (what a relief!). We all sat back to back, so we were physically connected with our neighbours. We used the mantra ‘Just breathe’ – which served as both something to focus on, as well as a reminder to pay attention to our breath.

During the evening we were also treated to beautiful singing, gorgeous piano playing – both emphasised by the British Museums’s excellent acoustics – and immersive dancing. All of which brought us truly into the moment. I left feeling very human and connected with the community.

We need more ‘big talk’

After our group discussion, we agreed that we needed to apply our learnings. Life can sometimes be a tide of small talk, so using exercises that get us to share our hopes and fears, our passions and our weaknesses, would make us more open and better connected.

I dare you to ask your friends, family and colleagues, ‘What are your dreams?’ and ‘What holds you back in life?’ and let the human interaction unfold.

Yoga Panther tries to 'Just Breathe'

You can get tickets for the next Grand Gathering at the British Museum on Monday 18 June – I’d book sooner rather than later as they tend to sell out.

Namaste bitches!

Yoga Panther x

 

Top 6 matcha lattes in London

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This guilt-free beverage has been painting Instagram green over the past few years. Those who know me will have noticed I’m partial to obsessed with matcha tea. When I quit coffee 3 years ago, I needed something to fill the void. That’s when this delicious green nectar came along.

If you’re new to matcha or want to know more, read my post 8 ways matcha makes your life better.

Now that’s all cleared up, here are the top 6 places to get your matcha fix. There’s also a handy matcha map of London at the bottom, so you can plot your next latte.

1. The Arty One
Timber Yard: Seven Dials
£3.40

Just look at that frothy masterpiece. TimberYard’s sumptuous specimen has the perfect ratio of matcha to milk and can be quaffed with soya or almond if you prefer. Curl up on a sofa chair of your choice and they’ll bring you your matcha latte on a wooden slab, with a bottle of tap water. The only negative is this cafe is a hotspot for freelancers, so be prepared to sit elbow to elbow at its busiest times.

2. The One of Many Colours
Farm Girl: Portobello and Chelsea
£3.70 (£4.10 for hibiscus or butterfly lattes)

Before I get distracted by all the pretty colours, Farm Girl’s matcha latte is made with organic Japanese matcha powder and tastes perfectly creamy with almond milk. Although not technically matcha, why not try their blue ‘butterfly latte’, made from the dried flowers of a butterfly pea plant? Or their pink ‘hibiscus latte’? The downside of the Portobello cafe is there’s usually a queue (they don’t take reservations), but it’s definitely worth the wait.

3. The Trendy One
Palm Vaults: Hackney Central
£3.50

Palm Vaults do take reservations, and they’re essential. The first time I rocked up to a full house and had to ‘make do’ with a matcha to go – a very respectable latte served in a seriously trendy cup. Palm Vaults is definitely the most Instagrammable on this list, with their retro theme and pink and green colour scheme. The next best thing to their matcha is their Thai butterfly tea named ‘blue moon’. Or if you’re caffeine fiend, try one of their colourful coffees like their ‘red velvet latte’ or ‘violet latte’.

4. The Authentic One
Lagu: Clapham
£2.70

Imagine a Japanese restaurant, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It has a minimalist vibe with an air of calm. The owner of this gem, Atsuko Inoue, was inspired by her father and grandfather who ran a hotel in Tokyo. So of course an authentic establishment such as this would make a mean matcha – and very reasonably priced. Be sure to try some of their matcha ice cream while you’re here.

5. The Specialist One
Tsujiri: Chinatown and Soho
£4 (£4.80 for O-matcha)

If you’re matcha mad like me, Tsujiri is a must. From sundaes to shaved ice, it’s the only place I’ve come across selling exclusively matcha products (and a bit of mochi). Their latte is mouth-wateringly good, as you’d expect, but for a taste of the tea houses of Japan, sample their more traditional option. The ‘O-matcha’ – I can only assume the ‘O’ means ‘original’ – is prepared with ceremonial grade matcha from Uji, Kyoto (the good stuff). There’s no milk in it, so only attempt if you appreciate its bitterness.

6. The One
Tombo: South Kensington, Fitzrovia and Soho
£3.85

This is my absolute favourite. An utterly divine matcha. And you get quite a lot of latte for your money. Tombo’s extensive list of matcha treats rivals Tsujiri’s, but also brings cake to the table. The matcha gateau is something else. You can also enjoy a Japanese take on afternoon tea, with an tantalising selection of sushi and matcha desserts. To top it off, it has a warm, friendly vibe and exquisite Japanese food.


Why are you still here? Go get yourself some matcha…

Namaste bitches!

Yoga Panther x

Yoga Pantha Tries: A 30-day yoga challenge

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Yoga is an education in the human spirit. Yoga is not about the perfect pose. Yoga is about waking up to the truth of who you really are.

– Kino MacGregor

I recently completed the ‘30 day yoga living challenge‘ set by yoga goddess Kino MacGregor. I feel partly accomplished, partly relieved.

The challenge

A healthy habitual task with free yoga? Count me in. It involved 26 online yoga classes from OmStars – the ‘Netflix for yogis’ co-founded by Kino.

She led one session a week, while the rest were taught by a plethora of brilliant yoga teachers on OmStars. The other four days were rest days, which included nutritious recipes and meditation.

As well as the actual yoga, you had to take a photo of yourself in the pose of the day and pop it on Instagram.

Here’s how I got on:

Week 1

It started off nice and easy – there was even a spot of chair yoga. And with minimal plans in January (because Dry Jan) it wasn’t hard to keep up the daily classes. Having a different yoga teacher every day, and focusing on something new every day, really kept things interesting. So far, so good.

Week 2

From yummy yin yoga, to calming the vagus nerve (never heard of it either), things were still fairly gentle. I found the encouragement from my friends and the yoga community on Instagram very motivational. I also connected with as many of the teachers as I could – and some of them even reached out to me too. Such a supportive, soulful tribe are the yogis.

Week 3

Things definitely ramped up. I hit a metaphorical wall during a really hard power yoga session. I wondered how I would keep this going for 2 more weeks. That all changed later in the week; I tried some new poses I never knew I could do, and made great progress with headstand. This was all inspired by Koya Webb on day 19, who said:

Just give yourself permission to go further whenever you’re ready. So you’re always moving forward in your yoga practice…and in your life.

Week 4

The experience level jumped massively with six sweaty days of Ashtanga yoga. Kino eased us in with a shorter session, introducing the concept of ‘one move for one breath’. But as the week went on, the classes got longer, the pace picked up, and the asanas became more advanced. I attempted some of the poses beyond my level, but mainly I just gave up and gazed at the screen, in awe. These ‘encouraging’ words from by David Robson on day 26 really sum up how taxing it got:

1…2…let the suffering in…3…don’t try to pretend, 4, 5.

It’s supposed to be hard…1…no one’s ever died here!…2…but it feels like it might happen right?…3…just stay with that feeling…4…5.

Week 5

I didn’t complete the last few Ashtanga classes. I physically had nothing left. The only session I did this week was meditation. But what an experience it was. Dennis Hunter‘s loving-kindness guided visualisation was so emotional that I had tears running down my cheeks. I still carried on with the photo challenge, despite not doing the classes. For the grand finale, I did a headstand without the wall – for the first time ever!


What I learnt

  • Sticking to one healthy habit helps you stick to others: Throughout the yoga challenge, I also meditated and wrote in my diary every day, got up earlier and ate healthily. The structure helped me develop a good routine, which I’ve managed to keep up since. Self-discipline is just like a muscle – you need to exercise it.
  • Perseverance is key: To begin with, I looked forward to my daily dose of asanas. But when things got harder, and life got in the way, the yoga started to become a chore. But I kept at it. Even if I couldn’t practice one day, I caught up the next. I was so glad I did, because now I feel stronger, more flexible and happier than ever.
  • The importance of listening to your body: During Ashtanga week, I was so achey I just had to give myself chance to rest. And since finishing, my hip has been hurting a bit, so I’ve been a lot more mindful of hip-openers. Even in group classes where I often feel the need to push myself harder, I’ll take good old child’s pose whenever I need to. Yoga is for you, not for anyone else.

Thinking of taking on a yoga challenge?

If you get chance to take part in one, I definitely recommend it. Not only will you improve your practice and reap the benefits of yoga (read 8 reasons why yoga is awesome), you’ll learn a lot about yourself. Much like a yoga retreat, but in the comfort of your home.

Namaste bitches!

Yoga Panther x

 

8 ways matcha makes your life better

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If you’ve never tried it before, I know what you’re thinking…

‘What exactly is this green goo?’

You know green tea? Well matcha is its wholesome, powdered companion. Instead of chopping up and infusing with hot water, the green tea leaves are ground into a delicate powder. When mixed with water, you get the same goodness as you would drinking 10 cups of regular green tea. That’s because you’re ingesting the entire leaf, not just the watery dregs.

Made uniquely in Japan, this miracle elixir has been part of their culture for hundreds of years. It’s no coincidence that the Japanese have the longest life expectancy in the world. Now we’ve caught on, it’s becoming the top superfood across the globe.

Premium grade matcha powder I bought in Kyoto (the real deal)

‘What makes it so special?’

The green tea leaves are grown in the shade, so they produce lots of chlorophyll, giving them their characteristic green colour. That means they’re absolutely bursting with nutrients. The luscious young leaves are picked, steamed, air dried, de-stemmed and ground on stone grinding wheels. It’s a tireless process, which the Japanese have been perfecting over the past 1000 years.

‘Why should I drink it?’

People say you should always eat your greens, so why shouldn’t you drink your greens too? Basically: it’s ridiculously good for you.

   1. Boosts energy

It contains caffeine, but not nearly as much as coffee. Combined with its other nutrients, this makes you feel energised and focused throughout the day. So no jitters or afternoon slumps.

   2. Helps you relax

L-Theanine, an amino acid in matcha, produces dopamine and serotonin. This helps to calm your mind without making you feel drowsy. Fun fact: Buddhist monks drink matcha to help with meditation as it keeps them alert yet calm.

   3. Detoxes

The high concentration of chlorophyll helps flush chemicals out of your body.

   4. Stimulates metabolism

Drinking matcha can help your body burn calories four times faster than normal, with no negative side-effects.

   5. Anti-ages

It’s loaded with antioxidants (137 times more than green tea and 17 times more than blueberries). These reduce inflammation, to help you look and feel younger.

   6. Fights cancer

It’s the best source of catechins (a type of antioxidant), specifically EGCg, which is widely known for its cancer-fighting properties.

   7. Strengthens the immune system

It provides plenty of potassium, vitamins A & C, iron, protein, and calcium. The catechins in matcha have also been shown to have antibiotic properties.

   8. It tastes good

Matcha’s distinctive leafy flavour is tasty on its tod, lovely as a latte, and can even be added to desserts for guilt-free gluttony.

‘Where can I get some?!’

We can’t all go galavanting off to Kyoto for ceremonial grade matcha. But you can buy reasonably priced powder from Wholefoods, Holland and Barratt and plenty of online retailers. My favourites are Clearspring and Teapigs:

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Go traditional and get this 40g pack of powder for £10.99 (whisk sold separately) at Clearspring

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To make a matcha latte, get this kit for £23.20 at Teapigs

Or…you could just go and buy a cup someone else has made. There are plenty of places in London to get you matcha fix – check out Top 6 matcha lattes in London.

Namaste bitches!

Yoga Panther x