Healthy Living in Cape Town

May 5, 2017

by DC

When I moved to Cape Town three years ago from the beautiful and small city of Vienna in Austria, I thought I knew a lot about fitness and nutrition. Turns out there was so much more for me to explore and learn. These two topics are endlessly abundant to anyone who is willing to dive into the wonderful world of treating your body and mind well.

Somehow the combination of moving to another continent all by myself without knowing anyone and Cape Town being the magical place that it is, made me discover who I want to be, or better – who I am.

Being on my own in this new strange place, I had the freedom and motivation to wander. It did not take me long to realize what an amazing place this was for living a healthy and active lifestyle. You have the many beaches to take walks on and the mountains to hike on, which is a luxury that I was not used to and very much appreciate every single day. Besides these natural wonders that Cape Town has to offer, there is a wonderful variety of studios that provide just about any workout that my heart desires. Some activities I never knew existed, until I came across them here.

In Vienna I loved going to the gym, doing weight exercises and cardio. In Cape Town, however, I have not set foot in a gym and I could not be happier. What motivates me the most is keeping my workouts exciting and being able to track my progress. This is the reason why my week consists of a few different workout forms that compliment each other and keep my routine from turning into a rut. After trying my fair share of different yoga and fitness studios, I have found the ideal mixture of yoga, pilates, cardio and meditation.

The very core of my fitness regime is my pilates reformer classes. I never knew how much awareness of my body I lacked before I had my first reformer class. The Reformer is an apparatus designed by Joseph Pilates, the founder of Pilates. It is essentially a carriage that moves back and forth along a frame. You use your own body weight in addition with springs that can be adjusted for the level of resistance that you need. The beautiful (and evil) thing about this machine is the precision it demands as you are constricted to staying along the grids of it. When I used to only do my stretching on the mat, I thought I was quite flexible, the reformer burst my bubble though. With no means to cheat my way to a deep stretch, I had to accept my beginners stretch abilities. I learned so many intricate details about how my my body moves, that I have never noticed before. I use muscles that I never even knew existed. I finally understand what good posture truly means. The best part for me is the huge variety of exercises on the reformer. It is so rewarding to notice how I gain strength and flexibility and therefore am able to add new exercises that used to be too difficult. My studio of choice is the beautiful Core Fit center in Sea Point. I attend private reformer classes every week with my angel of an instructor, Jenna de Beer. Having a background in dance and Ballet she has a vast knowledge about movement and fitness. Training with her with the breathtaking view of the ocean in the background is blissful.

The focus and body awareness that the reformer training teaches me is seamlessly applicable for my yoga practice. There are many definitions of yoga and just as many different forms of yoga. For me the best way to describe it is the connection of everything. It is the connection of the eight limbs of yoga: your ethical standards (yama), your self-observance (niyama), the postures practiced in yoga (asanas), your breath (pranayama), the withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara), your concentration (dharana), the practice of meditation (dhyana) and lastly the merging with the divine (samadhi). Reducing yoga to simply a physical practice, is therefore not doing this beautiful way of living any justice. Personally it is also a way of life. It is learning to use these eight aspects to attain a serenity that is essential to my own sanity. I am a highly sensitive person and being connected to my physical and spiritual body protects me from feeling too overwhelmed by the many different energies that float around us constantly. For some people it is easy to ignore negative energies but if you are sensitive like me it takes a lot of willpower and conscious awareness to be able to differentiate between your own and other peoples’ frequencies. In Austria I used to enjoy heated yoga a lot but I only learned here in Cape Town the importance of breath – a real challenge during heated yoga. I practice Vinyasa, a beautiful flowing sequence of poses which are synchronized with your breath, as well as Yin Yoga. I love treating myself to the very slow and gentle Yin where you hold restorative poses for a longer duration between 2-15 minutes or more. You will not get the usual workout high, but it will absolutely nurture your body because holding the poses for this amount of time activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which is your rest and digest state. After some yoga studio hopping, I have found my personal yoga haven at the Shala on Dunkley square that offers amazing Vinyasa and Yin yoga classes in a serene and calming environment.

To keep my yoga practice playful, I discovered an ingenious way to combine the beauty of nature that Cape Town has to offer with the serenity of yoga. So when the weather is playing its part, and the very strong southeasterly wind named the “Cape Doctor” is calm, I indulge in Stand up Paddle yoga at the Camps Bay Tidal Pool. It is such an exciting way to take your yoga practice to another dimension. The boards by Boga Yoga are broad enough to provide good balance and it has a yoga mat-like surface so you don’t slip. The beautiful Bianca Jade of SUP Cape Town takes the class. We start with a paddle around the tidal pool that’s surrounded by the famous Camps Bay beach and the 12 Apostles mountain range. We then anchor our boards so we do not float away and start the yoga. The postures are modified with a lot of focus on core work to keep your balance. Lying, sitting, standing on the board I let my eyes wander from the blue of the ocean to the distinct shape of Lions Head – all the way to the magnificent Table Mountain. In my mind I am speechless every time I take in these views. After one hour of balancing postures on the board we end it in Shavasana (corpse pose) – I sway gently on the board and tap my fingers in the cool water – if there is anything that will bring up a deep feeling of gratitude, it is this moment.

For a while I got so immersed into my pilates and yoga practice that I never thought about cardio. Since Cape Town is a city where you drive everywhere, there is not much opportunity to get some casual cardio in. As opposed to living in Vienna where I would run all over town to get to places. Luckily through a friend I found an amazingly intense work out that gives you just the right dose of cardio spikes to last you for a few days. Barre body, also called bar method, is a workout that combines ballet moves with core conditioning, pilates, yoga and light weight training. You typically have a bar like in a ballet class which you can use for balancing, some light weights, a squishy ball and upbeat music. The win win is that it fuses cardio with strength training, meaning you are burning fat while building muscle. The Barre Body Studio in Green Point is the perfect spot to sweat it all out in a supportive all female class, that blasts beautifully girly and motivating music. The cherry on top is the super fit power woman of an instructor Jessica Munnell. You can picture her as the drill sergeant of the fit girl world. Doing every exercise with us whilst motivating us with her empowering words through the headset. She makes me endure a whole hour of sweat drenched cardio madness with a big smile on my face. That is close to a miracle.

Engaging my body in all these forms of exercise requires me to also rest and take care of myself properly. Nutrition is therefore extremely essential to my wellbeing and happiness. It took me moving continents to discover all the beautiful and diverse aspects of a healthy diet. In the beginning of my Cape Town experience I indulged in the excellent meats you can get around here but as time passed I grew more and more conscious of my own self and the environment. Finally, I became meat free and around the same time I also stopped enjoying alcohol. Cape Town is a wonderful place if you are a wine loving meat eater but it is even more wonderful a place if you love exploring vegan and vegetarian options. Luckily some of my new favourite places opened just in time to fulfil my new found herbivore cravings. Something I never used to understand was fermented food. In Austria “Sauerkraut” is a big thing and I did not bother to give it a second thought. Nonetheless when Sexy Food, a place serving fermented food and drinks ranging from Kimchi to Kefir, opened I was intrigued. The ancient process of fermenting food preserves it, creates beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, omega 3 fatty acids and very importantly various strains of probiotics. As just about 70 -80% of our immune system is located in our digestive system, supporting a healthy gut is not just a question of wanting good digestion but also great overall health. Eating food that tastes delicious and has major health benefits is a no brainer for me. Spending time at Sexy Food, with its walls cladded with wood and beautiful Himalayan salt blocks, it is always inspiring to learn what is possible solely with mindful nutrition.

Just as delicious, but coming from a different angle of vegan food, is Scheckter’s Raw in Sea Point. Much frequented after my Pilates, for my weekly matcha flapjack fix. The name gives it away – only serving raw food with a few nourishing cooked dishes, which I personally prefer. The owner, Toby Scheckter, has a playful and open minded attitude to food and you can taste and see it in his experimental creations.

Although going out to these amazing restaurants is a treat each time, I do love making my own food. Just being able to know what ingredients exactly were used makes a big difference in how comfortable I feel. Awhile ago I got very fed up with the amount of trash I produced by solely going to a supermarket to by fresh produce. Every little chili was packaged in plastic. Some of it not even recyclable. Interestingly, I feel that the more yoga, mindfulness and body awareness I was integrating in my daily life, the more conscious I grew of my impact on the environment. The answer to my supermarket struggle is the wonderfully magnificent Oranjezicht Famers Market at the Waterfront. Every week on Saturday I shop all my fresh produce that comes from local small farmers. Additionally, I can stock up on groceries like honey, grains, olive oil – anything really that I need to make nourishing meals at home. The best part of it all is that it is all locally made, much tastier and you get to meet the people behind the great organic products.

Cape Town is my paradise in every sense. This special place has helped me transform into the conscious human being that I always wanted to be. I hope reading this might inspire you to come see this magical place for yourself at the very southern tip of Africa.