Yoga instructor Steve Bracken reveals how to maintain good health naturally

Yoga and movement therapist Steve Bracken is sharing his expertise with guests at Constance Halaveli this month. Here, Steve outlines health tips we can all follow.

Steve Bracken, yoga teacher and bodyworker

Steve Bracken, yoga teacher and bodyworker

Movement therapy
My approach to health, yoga (movement therapy), fitness and bodywork was influenced greatly by the work of KRI Jagadish when I volunteered at his clinic in Mysore, India.

In his clinic people are treated with soft tissue manipulation, massage, yoga therapy and only food is used as the medicine. There I literally saw miracles of recovery on a daily basis and I came to realise the importance of treating health in a holistic manner.

Holistic approach & the health mandala
With the knowledge I gained there, combined with what I already knew, I put together the health mandala – a holistic approach to improving health that looks at the areas of exercise, diet, vitality/energy levels and our attitude. If we want to improve our health we need to look at all of these areas in relation to our health goal.

However, to begin we first must check that we are not coming from a place of self-blame or recrimination for any health or body issues we may have. If we attempt to make war on our body to force it into a healthier state we will ultimately fail. We need to accept but not necessarily like that we are in our present condition due to our unique life history.

Positive thinking
The next step is to focus on positive outcomes and understand the benefits of those outcomes. We can visualise living a healthier life and enjoying the benefits. We also need to have a highest goal that is not dependent on outside validation or an ideal image of ourselves. For example, instead of trying to lose weight we can focus on feeling healthier, lighter and more energised.

This is a goal that is growth orientated and flexible. It does not set us up for failure if we don’t reach our specific goal. We may still aim to lose weight, for example, but it should not be our highest goal. When we feel good about ourselves it is easier to treat ourselves well.

Steve Bracken at Constance Halaveli, Maldives

Steve Bracken at Constance Halaveli, Maldives

Stress relief
Another tip is to learn to listen to the messages of the body. The body will respond to any unhealthy stresses, especially if they are chronic, that are placed upon it in a negative way whether it is from food or drug toxins, nutritional deficiency, harmful physical activity or inactivity, emotional or psychological stress and so on.

The body is hard wired for health and happiness and lets us know when we are going against its best interests. Hence, an awareness of what causes us stresses and a willingness to deal with the cause through this mindfulness will change them or our attitude to them, and guide us to a healthier and happier way of living.

Steve’s holistic health tips

  • Exercise regularly and do something you enjoy but generally work to only 70% of your maximum capacity.
  • Eat less meat and that includes chicken. People generally consume far too much protein.
  • Watch less news and television in general. It is mostly negative, generally not the truth and does nothing for relaxation.
Find out more

Visit his website to find out more about Steve Bracken’s approach to yoga and movement

Get Steve’s expert tuition online with his Simple Mobilisation video 

Read Tanya Kemp’s guide to improving your health through yoga

Marine biologist Robin Aieilo at Halaveli

Marine biologist Robin Aieilo reports on her latest diving adventures at Constance Halaveli.

Octopus at Constance Halaveli, Maldives

Octopus at Halaveli

I can’t believe that my month on Halaveli is already over. How sad! The last week, like all the others, was full of adventure and fun. The diving seemed particularly good with wonderful sightings of sharks, manta rays and, with the full moon, lots of spawning fish.

Octopus sighting
One of the most memorable sightings for me was a very large octopus that gave us quite a show. We found it when it was hiding in a small crevice in the reef. After a few minutes of waiting, it seemed like it wasn’t going to come out and play, so we headed off to continue our dive. But as we started to leave I looked back and saw it start to emerge. So we waited…and out it came.

Parachute feeding
It was a stunning creature, nearly a metre long. We watched as it swam over to a nearby cave, settled down and started to feed. It would position itself over a particular spot on the cave wall and then extend out its long arms, one at a time, and reach into a small nearby hole to grab prey. Sometimes it would launch itself and suddenly ‘pounce’ to one side. As it landed the skin between its arms would balloon out, trapping all small animals beneath it – this is called ‘parachute feeding’.

We must have stayed with the octopus for at least 10 minutes, fascinated by the way it would instantaneously change colour and texture to blend in with whatever background it was sitting on for the moment. It really was a spectacular sighting.

Hawskbill Turtle

Hawskbill Turtle

Communication and interpretation training course
As the time for my departure from the island approached closer and closer, it seemed like I got busier and busier. I was deeply honoured to be asked by the dive team to run a course on communication and interpretation – this is a course that I have been running for the Great Barrier Reef tourism industry staff in Australia for the past 15 years.

We actually had a lot of fun – gathering on the Dive Center jetty after work, and discussing such topics as what is the difference between education and interpretation, what makes a good nature interpreter, and what are the best body language techniques to use to get your messages across.

The Halaveli Dive Team
For me, as an educator, it was especially wonderful to watch the staff use some of these new techniques into action during the following days. The staff of Halaveli Dive Team are the most wonderful group of instructors that I have ever worked with – they are professional, friendly and nothing, I mean nothing, is too much of a hassle for them to do.

And they have incredible eyes for spotting marine life underwater.

Especially turtles. One of the most popular snorkeling activities on offer through the Dive Centre is the ‘Snorkel with Turtles’ excursion. There is a reef nearby that has 7 resident Hawksbill Turtles, so the chance of seeing these gorgeous sea creatures is very good.

Here’s some insight into these amazing creatures.

Creature Feature – the Hawksbill Turtle

Hawksbill Turtle, Halaveli

Hawksbill Turtle, Halaveli

There are two common species of turtles in the Maldives – Hawksbills and Greens. Around Halaveli, we see only Hawksbills.

Why don’t we see Green turtles? Because Green turtles feed almost exclusively on sea grass, and there are no seagrass beds nearby – thus, no Green turtles. However, Green turtles are seen on other reefs that have lagoons full of sea grass.

Endangered
All sea turtles are endangered and in most countries they are fully protected. Sea turtles have been harvested for centuries, mainly for their meat, but in the case of Hawksbills they were also harvested for their beautiful brown mottled shell (carapace) – known as tortoise-shell.

The shell, when cleaned and polished, is made into decorative objects like jewellry, combs and other personal ornaments. Objects made out of Hawksbill turtle shell have been found in tombs and burial sites of many Egyptian pharaohs.

Watching Turtles
Hawksbill sea turtles are beautiful rare, animals. We are lucky that the ones at the reefs near Halaveli Island are very calm and undisturbed around people.

When you see one, the best thing to do is to stop swimming and just float above it and wait. Eventually, they must come to the surface for a breath – remember, these are not fish, they are reptiles, and cannot breathe underwater. In fact, their ancestors evolved on land but returned to the sea about 150 million years ago. They are one of the few species of animals alive today that are so ancient that they were also around before, during and after the time of dinosaurs.

Normally, when feeding, turtles come up for air every few minutes, but if they are sleeping or resting, their heart rate and overall metabolism slows, and they can stay down for many hours. But they always have to come to the surface!

So it is very important that you never to try to touch or grab a turtle – if startled or scared they might drown.

Hawksbill vs Green Turltes
Telling Hawksbill and Green turtles apart is easy – there are a couple key features that distinguish them form one another.

First – look at the head and beak. Hawksbill turtles have long, curved strong beaks for tearing the reef apart to get to sponges, soft coral and corallimorphs. Green turtles, on the other hand, have a very stubby, short beak that it used like a lawnmower to cut the seagrass. Remember, turtles do not have teeth – instead they cut the food with thier sharp boney beaks and swallow the chunks without chewing.

Second – look at the back end of the shell. Hawksbill shells are jagged and serrated whereas Greens have a smooth shell edge.

Male vs Female
It is easy to tell male from female turtle apart just by looking at their tails. Males have longer tails that extend out past the edge of their shell, while females have shorter tails that do not stick out past their shell.

A Final Note
So, the next time you see a turtle diving or snorkeling, take your time and wait. The ones around Halaveli are so used to divers and snorkellers that they do not swim away. In fact, they will usually come up to the surface right next to you. It is an amazing experience to have one of these special creatures so close and so curious. Sometimes they will even approach you and look right into your mask.

Enjoy!

Robin.

Find out more

Top travel photography blogs

Capturing the exact moment the sun kisses the sea, taking photos at night without the glare of a flash or catching a child playing in the waves – it’s sometimes tricky to catch the perfect picture.

Photo by Antonio Garcia Martinez at Constance Ephelia, Seychelles

Photo by Antonio Garcia Martinez at Constance Ephelia, Seychelles

So we’ve rounded up some of the best travel photography blogs offering tips on techniques and equipment to use when taking photos abroad.

1. Aviators and a Camera  is run by photographer and travel writer Kirsten Alana who extols the virtues of using an iPhone to capture spontaneous images on the road. She now runs her own workshops and tutorials on travel.

2. Nomadic Samuel describes himself as a perpetual backpacker but his passion for photography lifts his blog above the crowd. Along with a photo and video blog Samuel also posts advice to aspiring photographers, guest photographers and a guide to the best travel photographers on the web.

3. Unique Travel Photo was created by husband and wife team Kim and David Walker. With destination guides and photo essays their site is a treat for the eyes. Also useful are their equipment reviews and how to techniques guide.

4. Momentary Awe  is the blog of professional photographer and photography teacher Catalin Marin. His stunning photographs and video tutorials make this well worth a visit. Check out his stunning pictures of Madagascar.

5. The Polar Route creator Ed Graham sets out to post one of his beautiful travel photos a day, describing the site as ‘a daily exploration of our world’. His range of photography guides are invaluable covering everything from Photoshop hints to photos with moving subjects. A useful tool.

 

Constance hot list: The best of what’s on in Europe this weekend

Make the most of the long Easter weekend with our list of hot tickets across Europe.

Inside British Museum, London

Inside British Museum, London

London

The Boat Race 2013: Sunday, March 31
It may be cold outside but don’t be put off, the excitement generated by this annual race between Oxford and Cambridge Universities’ rowing teams will warm you up. The entire route is lined with stylish pubs and eateries.

Find out more about the boat race from Time Out London

The Easter Film Hop: March 29 – March 31
If you’re looking for an edgier weekend experience head to London’s hip Shoreditch and enjoy a very different style of movie watching. Retro musicals including Grease and Purple Rain are shown on a massive screen and the audience are given wireless headphones so they can drink, dance and party along with the film. Screenings are followed by a headphone disco.

For full details visit Experience Cinema.

Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum
Opening at The British Museum this weekend, this fascinating exhibition features a collection of over 250 artefacts from the ill-fated towns. Pompeii and Herculaneum were both buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79 and many of these items have never been seen before outside of Italy. The exhibition focuses on the lives of ordinary people and their homes.

For details or to book online visit the website for British Museum.

Pompidou Centre, Paris

Pompidou Centre, Paris

Paris

Festival Cinéma du Réel: Until 31 March
The acclaimed documentary festival traditionally hosted at the Centre Pompidou has this year extended to include venues across the city. With filmmakers from across the world gathering to show their work there is something for everyone.

For details of screenings visit Cinéma du Réel

Julio Le Parc exhibition at Palais de Tokyo
Having snubbed the Musée d’Art Moderne’s proposals for a retrospective back in 1972, founder of the op art movement, Le Parc has remained relatively obscure. But now the Palais de Tokyo has succeeded in persuading the 84-year-old painter and sculptor to allow an exhibition of his work from 1950 to today. Alongside his classic op art pieces are a series of huge installations, paintings, sculptures. A rare treat.

More info from website Palais de Tokyo

Le Festival de l’Imaginaire: 27 March – 13 April
This renowned festival celebrating all forms of dance from around the world kicks off this week with Hayachine Take Kagura, Japanese masked dancing, at the Maison des Cultures du Monde.

Full details on the website Festival de l’Imaginaire

St Peter's Square, Rome

St Peter’s Square, Rome

Rome

Good Friday and Easter Sunday celebrations
Whatever your religious persuasion seize the chance to watch history in the making this weekend as the Vatican celebrates Easter with a new pope. Events include an evening procession and ritual of the Via Crucis on Good Friday in which a huge cross with burning torches lights the sky and Easter Sunday Holy Mass held in St Peter’s Square.

Helmut Newton. White Women/Sleepless Nights/Big Nudes: 6 March – 21 July
A collection of over 200 photographs make up this exhibition at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni with highlights from the prolific photogrpaher’s three volumes of photographs from 1976 to 1981. The exhibition features Newton’s provocative stylish black and white shots.

Find out more from Palazzo delle Esposizion

Tiziano: Until 16 June
The Italian name for the artist Titian, this exhibition at the Scuderie Del Quirinal traces the Italian’s work from his early days in Venice to his great commissions by Charles V. With loans from galleries across Europe this is a rare chance to see the progression of Titian’s work. There’s also an app to download so you can use your phone as an audio-guide.

More info at Scuderie Del Quirinal

Berlin

Auch Heute: until 11 April
The Kunstsaele gallery brings together the work of contemporary artists from around the world to examine the dialogue between different styles. Auch Heute, meaning today, aims to invite the viewer to see similarities in works by artists including Stephen Antonakos, Donald Judd, Sandra Peters and Dieter Kieg.

Full details on the Kunstsaele gallery website.

Dummy – Varieté 2.0: until 21 July
Billed as a futuristic variety show this cutting edge production at the Chamäleon Theatre features a fusion of modern dance, music and technology. A tilting stage, robotic puppetry and video projections by self proclaimed ‘light magician’, Frieder Weiss, this show is truly out of this world. This weekend enjoy a celebration of spring with ice-tea cocktails at the theatre bar.

Find out more at Chamaeleon Berlin

Sergej Jensen: until 17 June
An exhibition at the Berlinsche Galerie (Museum of Modern Art) celebrating the work of this year’s winner of the Fred Thieler Prize for Painting. Jensen uses materials including linen, coarse cotton and jute sacks to paint on to add texture and depth to his prize-winning work. Well worth checking out.

More info on the Berlinsche Galerie website.

Marine biologist reveals what’s underwater at Halaveli

This week’s instalment from marine biologist Robin Aiello sees her come face to face with the awe-inspiring whalesharks in the waters off Halaveli.

Whiptail Ray, Constance Halaveli, Maldives

Whiptail Ray

It has been another amazing week full of beautiful dives, snorkels, lagoon cruises and island walks. The weather has been clear and warm, and the seas so calm that you can do an entire marine biology session from the surface without even getting wet.
I have, in fact, been spending hours on the jetty with guests looking down into the sea and spotting some fantastic animals. We have many harmless blacktip reef sharks that slowly cruise back and forth under the jetty, whiptail rays that look almost like eagles flying through the water, unicorn fish with their long horns sticking out from their foreheads, long slender coronet fish with their huge extended mouths, and bluefin trevallies (also called jacks) chasing schools of small silver fish.

Bluefin Trevallies

The trevallies (jacks) always put on an exciting show for us as they stalk and hunt the small silver fish that form massive schools in the very shallow water at the beach.

Small groups of 3 – 6 bluefin trevallies swim up and down the beach, getting closer and closer to the shore and forcing the small fish to form tighter and tighter schools – it is like cowboys rounding up the cattle on a range.

Bluefin trevallies, Constance Halaveli, Maldives

Bluefin trevallies

They do this for some time, then, without any warning, there is a huge commotion. The trevallies have decided it is time to strike, and change direction at full speed (which is really really fast) and dash through the school, grabbing fish as they go. The small silver fish, in response, take off in all directions like a firework display. They will even jump out of the water and land on the beach in their sheer panic to get away.

But, there is no where for the small fish to hide. Suddenly other predatory fish join the feeding frenzy, and if that is not bad enough, the seabirds and herons fly in from all directions to join the mayhem and pounce on any fish they can. The whole frenzied activity lasts only a few seconds, but what excitement! Sometimes I feel sorry for the poor little fish!

An unplanned evening snorkel

Probably the most unusual thing that I have seen in a long time was spotted one evening from the jetty. I was heading to dinner, all dressed up, and one of the guests asked me what it was – I had no idea – didn’t even know if it was manmade or natural.

Diamondback squid egg case, Constance Halaveli, Maldives

Diamondback squid egg case

So I ran back to my villa and grabbed my snorkeling gear and jumped into the water.

This thing was weird! At first, I had no idea what it was. It was in constant motion, rolling around and undulating, but I soon discovered it was the water movement that caused it to move – it was not actually alive. It was slimy and felt like thick mucous, and to add to the bafflement, there were thousands of little pink/purple balls embedded in it.

Finally it dawned on me that it had to be some sort of egg case – most likely molluscan from either a snail or a squid. After a couple of hours of research I discovered that it was, in fact, the egg case of a very large squid that reaches a size of over 1 metre called the Diamondback Squid. This squid would have laid the egg case out in the lagoon and the tides, currents and waves washed it into the shallows. Very interesting.

Diving with whalesharks

Yesterday, though, was the real highlight of my whole visit – every Sunday the Dive Center offers a day trip to find and snorkel with whalesharks. And what a day we had!

Thanks to our amazing boat crew, and of course the legendary snorkel guide Santana, we had the wonderful experience of swimming with 3 large whalesharks. Amazing! It is no easy feat to find a whaleshark – since they are fish, they do not come to the surface to breath like whales, so the only way to find them is to patrol an area – up and down along the coast. The crew stand lookouts on the roof of the boat looking for a large dark shadow in the water.

Whaleshark, Constance Halaveli, Maldives

Whaleshark

Then, if one is spotted, there is a flurry of activity as we get on our gear and jump overboard. At this point, the race begins. Although these huge animals are barely moving a fin at all, they maintain such a fast speed that we as mere human snorkellers must kick and kick and kick as fast as possible to keep up with them. They do not seem to be bothered by us at all – in fact, on several occasions they appeared to be curious and changed direction to come right up close underneath – within only a few metres of us.
When they are this close, they take your breath away. They really are special creatures!

They are so spectacular, that this creature will be the topic of my Creature Feature for this week.

Creature Feature – Whalesharks

Whalesharks are well known to frequent a spot on the southern part of the Ari Atoll – no one really knows why they ‘hangout’ in this area. But they seem to be mainly young-adult males that are about 6–8 metres in length.

Although this is considered relatively small for a whaleshark (they can reach sizes of over 12m) they are still incredibly impressive. In fact, whalesharks are the largest fish in the world.

Whaleshark, Constance Halaveli, Maldives

Whaleshark

Whalesharks are a type of shark – not a whale. They, like all sharks, have a cartilaginous skeleton rather than bone, have what are called denticles covering their skin instead of scales, do not have an air bladder, but use a liver full of oil for buoyancy, and of course they have ‘replaceable’ teeth rather than only one set like most reef fish. Sharks have hundreds of teeth and can go through as many as 30,000 teeth during their lifetime.

What happens is that teeth that form the ‘front-row’ periodically fall out, and within only a few days another tooth that behind in the ‘second-row’ will rotate into position. It is kind of like a conveyor belt of teeth. In this manner the shark always has fresh, sharp teeth! Whalesharks, although they do not use them, actually have about 300 very small teeth.

How whalesharks feed

So how does a whaleshark feed if it does not use teeth? Well, these giants of the sea, feed on some of the smallest animals in the ocean, plankton, by a method called filtering feeding.

Inside their mouths they have an unique system of filter-pads that trap all the small plankton – a lot like a sieve.

Whalesharks feed in two ways – ‘gulping’ and ‘ram feeding’. If there is plenty of concentrated plankton in the water, these sharks will stay in one place and take in huge gulps of water full of plankton.
If, however, the plankton is spread out in the water, then the sharks will swim at an average of 4km per hour with their mouths open – when they have enough food, they will swallow, then resume feeding – this is ‘ram-feeding’.

To watch them feed is incredible. They have huge mouths – up to 1.5 metres wide and they can filter over 300,000 litres of seawater per hour.

Identifying whalesharks by their spots

Other than the sheer immense size of these fish, the other really noticeable feature is the patterning. They are fully covered with spots and dots, and some lines – really beautiful.

They almost look like a bright starry night sky. In fact, a few years ago a couple of scientists came up with the interesting idea to use a computer program designed for tracking stars to document the spots on individual whalesharks.

Since the patterning on each whaleshark is unique for that individual (much like our human fingerprints are unique to each person), scientists have been able to compile a global database of whalesharks from photographs of their spots.

So, when you visit Halaveli Resort, be sure to take the trip out looking for whalesharks – it is fantastic!

Read more

Discover what happened when Robin Aiello went diving with baby whitetip sharks at Halaveli

Visit our website to find out more about this deluxe resort – Constance Halaveli, Maldives

Diving and underwater adventures at Halaveli

Here’s the second installment from marine biologist Robin Aiello, with tales of her escapades and adventures underwater at Halaveli.

Constance Halaveli, Maldives

Constance Halaveli, Maldives

Some of my best moments this week…

It has been another wonderful week at Halaveli Resort. I’m getting into the routine of diving most mornings, then maybe a snorkel, and every Monday and Thursday night I give a talk on the weird and wonderful marine creatures found here in the Maldives.

The weather has been absolutely perfect with bright sunny days and a slight breeze. As wonderful as the days are, it is the evenings that I really look forward to because of the sunsets. Since I have been here, every sunset has been different. Seriously, no two sunsets have been the same so far – one evening the sky will be lit a vivid orange, then another night the sky will be glimmering yellow, and yet another night the sky will be glowing a soft pink. Incredible!

I cannot describe the beauty of sitting on the beach at sunset with the shifting colours of the skies as a backdrop to the nightly frenzy of dive-bombing seabirds (terns) as they finish their evening feeding session – just perfect.

Diving conditions this week

Diving at Constance Halaveli, Maldives

Diving at Halaveli

The TGI Dive Center has been very busy. This week has been full of great dives, snorkels and cruising excursions. The tides have been perfect, so in the mornings the visibility has been fantastic – we had about 30 metres this morning. And, the currents have also been good.

Current diving

I love current diving for one main reason – the fish life is extraordinary. The waters above the reef become packed full of all sorts of fish. A majority of the fish are the plankton feeders including small neon blue fusiliers, black surgeon fish, red-toothed trigger fish and unicorn fish, which, by the way, love to hover over your head playing in the bubbles.

They seem to get a real ‘kick’ out of the jacuzzi-like blasts of bubbles as we exhale. But there are also the less abundant, but eye-catching predatory fish, such as the giant trevallies (jacks), blue trevallies (jacks), dogtooth tuna, black snappers and, of course, the whitetip and grey reef sharks.

One memorable dive the other day was at a reef where the current was a good ‘medium – plus’ (according to our dive guide). We made our way along the reef to a spectacular look out point, where we hooked in with our reef hooks and looked out into the blue water ahead of us.

Baby whitetip reef sharks

White tip reef shark, Constance Halaveli, Maldives

White tip reef shark, photo copyright Marco Care

There we were – the six divers flying like kites a few feet above the reef. Suddenly, to my left, a motion caught my eye – there was a very young (not more than a few months old) whitetip reef shark hovering right next to me, looking right at me. Just beyond was another one. They were so cute and perfect without a scratch or scar on them – perfect little sharks.

But the funny thing was that they obviously had not quite mastered the skill of swimming in such strong currents. For several minutes at a time they would be hovering just fine, barely moving their tail, but maintaining perfect position beside me. But then, the baby shark would start drifting closer and closer to me, until it was a mere few inches from my face.

Then, suddenly it seemed to realize that it was too close and would try to quickly maneuver away, but it didn’t quite have the skill to do it gracefully. Instead, it would tumble and get tossed by the current and become totally out-of-control -discombobulated – before regaining control, position and composure. It would then take up position next to me again and the whole sequence would start all over again. Hilarious!

Napoleon Wrasse

One of the dive’s highlights appeared without notice, slowly appearing out of the murky distance. The large shadow came closer and it was revealed to be a huge male Napoleon (or Humphead) Wrasse. He was magnificent – about 1.5m long and 1m deep. This dark green giant swam so easily against the current making it seem like there was no current at all. He simply drifted past in front of us and then off again into the distance.

Robin.

Find out more

Read Robin’s first instalment from Halaveli including Creature Feature #1: Redtooth Triggerfish

Read more about check booking availability on our website: Constance Halaveli, Maldives

Coming soon: Creature Feature #2: Starfish of the Maldives