Week 13: The Matcha Challenge (No Tea/Coffee)

Week 13 of My Comfort Zone Challenge, and for 10 days, I replaced all Teas and Coffees with Matcha.

First things first, what on earth is Matcha? Don’t worry, I’d never heard of it either, until we received a staff presentation on it. Matcha is a green tea that originates in Japan, and has been used by Zen Buddist monks as a meditational drink for hundreds of years. It’s only recently that the western world have decided to tap into the ‘superfood’, that some people have described as Japan’s best kept secret.

In doing the research before the challenge, the advertised benefits of this powder are actually crazy. Matcha is very high on anti-oxidants, particularly EGCg, which I’m told is recognised for it’s cancer fighting properties. Matcha increases the metabolism and helps burns calories. Match detoxifies the body due to it’s chlorophyll content. Matcha calms the mind and improves concentration due the to L-Theanine, which boosts the alpha waves in your brain that aid relaxation. Matcha improves the levels of serotonine that the brain has, and therefore improves your mood. Matcha does pretty much everything but turn bread into wine. Read them all for yourself here.

That’s all the science stuff behind it, I’m not sure about you, but none of that means anything to me. Will it make me feel better at work in my day to day working life? That’s all I really care about.

So to give this a fair crack, I decided to do the challenge for 10 days rather than 7. I also decided to remove all other tea and coffee from my daily routine, to make the challenge a bit harder. Seeing as I have roughly 7-8 teas a day mixed in with a couple of coffees, this would certainly make my life tough.

Half a teaspoon of Matcha powder, a squeeze of lemon and hot water were the orders from my Matcha expert Katherine. It’s important that the water isn’t boiled as this kills the nutrients, and the lemon not only helps the taste, it boosts the positive effects. I’d have this twice a day, one first thing in the morning, and one just after lunch. The tough part is getting the little bits out of the bottom, so an electric frother became useful to mixing it all in.

I wasn’t too worried about the taste of Matcha, as I used to hate coffee, and nowadays it seems to be nectar down my throat, despite the taste not changing over the years. For what it’s worth, I actually didn’t mind the taste of Matcha at all.

Matcha

I have to admit, the first 3 days were hard. Whether it was a continued hangover from Berlin mixed with less caffeine in my diet, I did have a couple of headaches. After this little 3 day period, like magic almost, I started to feel good. I had one of the most energetic Mondays I’ve ever had, actually concentrating on work, rather than my usual Monday meltdown, where I plan on packing everything in and moving to the Caribbean.

This stuff works, there’s no two ways about it. I’ve gone in with a completely unbaised opinion of this stuff, and it certainly does give you a feel good factor. I’m a big believer in the placebo effect, so I have no doubt perhaps my mind wanted me to feel good, but if I feel good I don’t really care if it’s placebo or science.

What I have really learnt from this task…. Is I BLOODY LOVE TEA. Nothing can replace the taste of a good cup of tea. Waking up hungover on a Sunday and not having a cup of tea to warm away all my woes was tough. I didn’t think I had an addictive personality, but it’s fair to say I’ve learnt I’m addicted to tea. In fact, I’m drinking a tea as I write this.

Which one is the mug?
I’ll be making sure I drink my Matcha on Thursday, as I’ll be heading on the radio, so I’ll need my mind firing on all cylinders. I’ll be appearing on Juice 107.2 Brighton radio station on Thursday afternoon (3.30pm)… You can tune in via http://www.juicebrighton.com/, I’ll attempt to video it for those who can’t tune in live.

If you want to try Matcha, I would recommend giving it a go. I used OMG TEA from www.naturem.co.uk, you don’t need to give up tea/coffee like I did. Just incorporate it in your daily routine, I’ll be mixing the two from now on.

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Week 12: A trip to Berlin

First of all, I know what you’re thinking… How does a holiday to Berlin with your mates constitute stepping outside your comfort zone? Granted, a fair few elements of this trip weren’t outside of my comfort zone, but there are a few good talking points. I initially planned on finding a ‘one off’ challenge in Berlin that stood out, but I soon realised there were a fair few things to talk about.

Before I start, it must be said what a beautiful city Berlin is. Heaped with years of modern history, amazing architecture and a frightening amount of graffiti (above), Berlin is without doubt my favourite city in the world. Not only for it’s beauty, but for it’s atmosphere. Unlike London or other capital cities in the world, Berlin is in no rush. Everything is so relaxed, you’ll never be caught in the hussle and bussle of Clapham Junction station or Oxford Street. There’s a sense of trust, that is much more apparent in Germany compared to England. There are no barriers at train stations, it is run on an honesty system; there are no closing times in clubs/bars, they simply close “When all the customers have gone”; people smoke in bars; you can drink at football; you can ride around the city on a bike whilst drinking beer. The city oozes creativity and if feels like there is an anything goes atmosphere in the air. My favourite qwerk was without doubt, that no ‘Berliner’ would cross the road unless the green man is showing, even if there’s not a car in sight.

Graffiti
Graffiti

What blew my mind the most about Berlin, is just how fresh some of the history is. The Berlin Wall was only taken down in 1989. There was still a divide between Soviet communist and East German Government and West Germany (USA, UK and France) until this point. That’s less than 30 years ago. The wall is incredible, what’s left of it goes for miles.

Berlin Wall
Berlin Wall

One thing I found fascinating was the Fuherbunker. The place Adolf Hitler eventually committed suicide. A huge moment in world history, yet the today the bunker was now a car park site and is very understated, in fact it was actually very hard to find. I believe this is because Germany don’t want this ever to become a Nazi shrine to Hitler. If you didn’t go out of your way to find it, you’d have never known it was there. I could write for hours about the history of Berlin, I won’t bore you with it, but seriously make sure you visit if you get the chance if you haven’t already.

The Fuherbunker
The Fuherbunker

A visit to Berlin isn’t a visit to Berlin without trying a ‘Currywurst’. This is the food of Berlin, you can’t walk down a street without seeing one Currywurst outlet. Basically, it’s a german sausage, with a curry tomato ketchup all over it. Having not had one before, I didn’t like the sounds of it, but I love sausage, I love ketchup and I love curry. Guess what, I loved Currywurst.

I’m going to take a moment to talk about the nightlife in Berlin. This was probably where I was most out of my comfort zone, believe it or not. The door policy is SO strict. Night one, we try to get into Watergate, as a group of 6 english guys. We thought they’d want our money, apparently not. Split into two groups of 3, the first 3 managed to get in, the second 3, which included me didn’t. The lady bouncer asked me something in German, I replied “Darius” (I was told to say this, as apparently this was the DJ on that night), she turned me away without reason and the other guys had to follow. Berlin is famous for it’s strict door policy, we didn’t even attempt to get into the infamous Berghain (honestly look this up if you’ve never heard of it).

We managed to get into a smaller club called Sky Club, and this may have been the most frightening thing I’ve ever been part of. The entrance was a stone door, without a bouncer, covered in graffiti. We walked in, greeted by 4 tough looking bouncers, pay the entrance, and enter the club. First thing I see, is a guy sitting down just staring at the cigerette machine. Head to the bar, order some drinks, look around. It’s not busy, but there are just a handful of people dancing by themselves, wide eyed, and not talking to anyone. It doesn’t take a genius to work out what was going on in this place. The music was so hardcore, that I started to think what is this noise (am I getting old?). Safe to say, we were very out of place, out of our comfort zones and after having a drink, quickly moved on.

The next day, we went to a few bars, rather than trying to hit any clubs, we got speaking to some local Berliners and asked why it was so hard to get in. They said “Why are you wearing shirts? In Berlin, you need to dress like you are about to dance all night”. I think they were suggesting we looked too smart, which was probably a first time for all of us. It goes back to what I was saying, Berlin is so relaxed. No one cares for dressing up. People are just out for a good time.

With any new city, way finding was tough to begin with, but that certainly was part of the fun. We made sure we found our own way places, and avoided cabs wherever possible. All part of the adventure so they say.

Noel Gallagher
Noel Gallagher

The final night of the trip, I finally saw my musical hero Noel Gallagher and absolutely loved it. 12 000 people singing songs back at him, and not a single flaw. A few people have suggested I do an open mic night as a challenge. I’ve put it on the list, one that really will take some balls to do. I’ve put it in for later in the year, give me some time to practice.

I’ve put in a little video of some of the stuff we got up to below.

Week 10: Reaching out to the ‘elderly’

Week 10 of my comfort zone challenge and this week I would do my best to reach out to the elderly generation. This is something I’m notoriously bad at, often paying little notice to the older generation, whilst getting on with what I believe to be my busy life.

In reading up before this challenge, I knew that loneliness was an issue amongst the elderly people, but I was shocked to read that 5 million older people are affected by loneliness. That’s 1 in 3 of the entire elderly population in the UK. I was also sad to read, amongst many other stats, that 5 million elderly people find television as their main form of companionship. Most of these people won’t have much choice in the matter, often living alone, and potentially widowed.

With these stats in mind, I immediately felt that taking part in the County Ground Cuppa event, ran in conjunction with the Friends of the Elderly, would be something that would be really worthwhile.

The Friends of the Elderly campaign attempts to reach out at those who may feel a bit lonely or isolated. It offers them the chance to get together with a cup of tea and a chat, whilst hopefully building up connections with other local people.

Would you believe it, when I came into the event, I was stupidly intimidated. I thought in my mind, these people aren’t going to want to talk to me. What can I offer them?
Friends of the Elderly
Once I had a conjured up the confidence to sit with them, I soon realised I’d have nothing to worry about. They really did seem to enjoy the company. I ended up sitting with Brenda and Mary, who I seemed to get on with very well. After offering to make them a cup of tea (earning my brownie points), they were very interested in what I did with my life. We got chatting about cricket, which couldn’t be more in my comfort zone, but was a good conversation piece for all of us.

Would you believe it, I ended up playing bingo again! That’s twice in three weeks. AND.. I only went and won again. I’m considering packing everything in, and taking up bingo as a profession. I won getting two lines which, instead of winning me £200,  it got me a packed of biscuits, which I shared with the table (more brownie points). I also was the first to get a full house, but I decided not to call out bingo for this one. I thought I’d let someone else have the winning moment! (I’ve had my fair share recently).

Bingo... Again!
Bingo… Again!

What I have to say, is what a great initiative this campaign is. Everyone seemed to be getting involved, and it was great to see 30 local elderly people interacting with each other.

Having everyday interactions with other people has been proven to combat loneliness and is something that I take for granted. I’m going to make a conscious effort now to at least be more aware of the elderly generation, whether it just be a small chat at the station or helping out where I can. I’m blessed to have an interactive job with amazing friends and family, it only seems right to help out where I can. Fingers crossed, when we are all old, we can receive the same treatment!

 

Week 9: Horse Riding

Week 9 of my comfort zone challenge, and this week I decided to take an interest in my sister’s hobby, horse riding. My sister, Sarah, has been riding horses for 21 years, of which she has had her own horse, Bronte, for 10. Being the terrible brother I am, until this week, I think I have only seen Bronte once in those 10 years. I had been living life so in the comfort zone, I’d never taken an interest in my sisters main hobby. So I gave my sister a text, and arranged a riding lesson.

I arrived at Hyfield Stables, in Crowhurst, and as soon as I got out of the car, the fresh farm smell instantly hit me. It’s like a mix of manure and fresh air up your nose. Strangely, the smell really grew on me.

Being 15 minutes early, I sat by the riding school and watched the lesson that was already taking place. There was a girl, no older than 13, just whipping the horse over jumps, making it look easy. I thought to myself, if a 13 year old girl can ride horses, I should be fine.

The Riding School
The Riding School

Sarah arrived, showed me Bronte and then took me to the horse I would be riding, Oliver. She assured me that Oliver was very well behaved and would be no trouble. I was slightly relieved as Oliver was massive.

Sarah set up both the horses with saddle, stirrups and reins and we were ready to go. I actually thought we may start off in the riding school, but Sarah said she would give me a crash course and we’ll head straight out. Sarah’s crash course to her brother was as followed: “Kick to go, pull back to stop, pull one rein to steer.” To be fair, that’s all I needed to know.

My new pal Oliver
My new pal Oliver

Before we left the stables, Oliver decided he wanted a drink. Who am I to argue with him? He’s bigger than me. Rehydrated, we rode into the Crowhurst countryside, fortunately it was a beautiful day. We slowly went through the gears from walk, into a trott, into a canter. The faster we went, the more fun it was.

I quickly realised, horse riding was all about balance. Sarah would always remind me to keep my heels down. This would help with balance and keeping posture as the horse went faster. It was like riding a bike in a way. You had to kick to move (pedal) and steer with the reins. Without kicking, the horse just wouldn’t move.

The ride itself, was a great mix of relaxation with the occasional adrenaline rush to keep yourself entertained. I was really surprised how much I enjoyed it. On top of that, it was a great way to catch up with my sister.

By the end of the ride, my legs were aching, but there were no ‘pelvic’ injuries that I was previously warned about before. I came out feeling much better for doing something different with my Sunday. Makes a nice change from the usual hungover corpse that lies on the sofa most Sundays.

A special thanks should go out to both my sister, for taking me out, and Sophie North of Hyfield Stables for kindly letting me ride her horse Oliver. Below is a highlight reel of the ride!