Mount Royal: An Escape in the Heart of the City

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(Photo Credit: Jogg In)

Although not technically a mountain, Mount Royal is rarely or never referred as anything else by the locals. Nestled between the Plateau, Outremont, Côte-des-Neiges, Wesmount, and downtown Ville-Marie, Mount Royal offers a perfect escape from urbanity. It boasts three summits, a man-made lake, two cemeteries, countless trails through the forest and toward the summits for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing, vast green spaces, a sculpture garden, and an interpretive centre, not to mention seasonal and cultural events. Mount Royal has something to offer for everyone who just needs some time away from the busy city schedule.


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Do you ever watch runners zoom by and wish you could dash around so effortlessly? Do you find yourself a wheezing, gasping mess after only ten steps at more than a brisk walking pace? Do you like British accents? Then NHS Couch to 5k (Ct5k) podcast is for you.

Back in the day, I loathed running. I would go out of my way to avoid running for even a single step. I wouldn't even run to catch a bus, despite knowing that I would have to wait half an hour for the next one. But slowly, after a while, I started wishing I could go for a jog. I would watch people jog past me effortlessly and just burn with envy. I wanted to do it too, mostly because I enjoy the idea of the peace and solitude involved in long distance running, but also because regular running has great health benefits, such as reducing the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke, boosting mood, and keeping weight under control.

Then my sister introduced me to the NHS Ct5k podcast. Now, I know what you're thinking: going from a couch potato to running 5k in only nine weeks? Sorcery! Trickery! I call BS. But hear me out for a bit, and maybe you'll change your mind.

Front View / Photo: Solange Statsevich

For many of us Montrealers, the city can be a big source of anxiety. Trying to get through the slow-paced herds of people at metro stations alone can augment our stress levels, and that's without the irritating noise pollution that the city immerses us in on a daily basis. Give me a break, right?

There's just no better feeling than occasionally retreating from the city's hustle and bustle. Thankfully, you needn't travel far to find peace. Located at 5178 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Montreal's Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre is not too far from Downtown Montreal.

Why Yoga? Because practicing it will significantly decrease your level of anxiety and improve your overall health. If you're a beginner, don't worry about it! The studio offers a free trial class, which is held every Sunday (5:00-6:30 p.m.). But is it worth attending? I tried it out early in March 2015 and it's absolutely worth going. Let me tell you all about my experience.

The Restorative Powers of the Montreal Botanical Garden

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Botanical_Gardens_H.JPGThe main entrance (photo: GarrettRock)

From the Royal Gardens of Europe to Central Park and our own Mont Royal, architects and city planners have developed parks, gardens, and green spaces for centuries. The importance of green space is not lost on any individual that lives around them, as they increase both public health and happiness. Over the past 30 years, studies have shown that green spaces in urban areas decrease crime and stress, and improve self-esteem and attention. Landscape Ontario provides an index on the social benefits of green spaces in urban areas. Montreal's most beloved green space is the Botanical Garden where preserving and educating locals of fauna native to our region is its main goal.

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Until recently, I was overweight and out of shape. I wanted to get in shape, but to gain access to exercise equipment (weights, treadmill, elliptical, rowing machine, etc.), I would have to brave the gym. The thought of walking into a room with dozens of thin, fit people who make exercising look effortless filled me with anxiety and dread, and I would use any excuse to avoid going. I didn't want to face the judgement from all of those fit people who would look at me, sweating and jiggling and puffing after only a few minutes of exercise, silently mocking me. Objectively, I knew that most people weren't doing that, too focused on their own workouts, and even if they were, it didn't matter as long as they kept their opinions to themselves. But tell that to my severe lack of self-esteem.

Today, I'm still overweight and out of shape, but I'm exercising regularly and making great improvements, getting stronger and fitter every day. And yes, I go to the gym.

Allow me to walk you through the steps I find necessary every single time I go to the gym so that I don't feel self-conscious and, occasionally, worthless.

Isn't it Kale-tastic?: A Smoothie Recipe

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Let's face it, Montrealers, not many of us like eating our vegetables, especially for breakfast. Besides, who even has the time to prepare anything more complicated than buttered toast and a coffee to-go in the morning? Indeed, eating healthy does take more time than making simple toast, but--I promise--your body will thank you for it later. Don't forget, breakfast is the most important meal of the day and yet, here we are running out the door with practically nothing sustainable in our stomachs. How are we then supposed to function without a proper source of energy? And worse yet, we risk having everyone around us at school or work hear the growling of our stomachs. Awkward!

My obsession: the kale smoothie. Hold on! Now before you close this window, hear me out. I agree--the media went a little overboard with the talk of kale. And yes, the leafy green's benefits were heavily exaggerated. Somehow, kale has become a fad in the West. Even Beyoncé is rocking a sweatshirt with the word kale on it in a recent music video; however, kale does have its benefits and they shouldn't be overlooked. After all, kale has been cultivated for over 2000 years! It was once the most widely eaten green vegetable until cabbages won the popularity contest in the Middle Ages. Imagine that! So, for those of us who don't like vegetables and have little to no time to prepare a nutritious breakfast, sneaking in kale into smoothies is the perfect way to go about this particular displeasure. Don't worry, it won't even feel like you're eating vegetables with the recipe to come!

Life According to Scott

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It's a beautiful morning in mid-October. My friend, Scott Simcoe, who you may remember from the profile "Meet Scott," has graciously permitted me to pick his brain once again and ask potentially invasive questions about his illness and his personal life to share his experiences with the world. I have offered to meet him anywhere in the city and at any time, and he has chosen "the slope across from the park by the south-eastern edge of the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery" for breakfast. Obscure directions notwithstanding, I know exactly the place he means, which is one of my favourite spots on my way to and from University. He offers to bring pumpkin spice tea and cupcakes, and I am bringing roasted Mediterranean vegetable wraps and a blanket. I arrive fifteen minutes in advance, as is my habit, and am surprised to see Scott coming over the crest of the hill, early in a way I am not accustomed to from my friends. In spite of the cool breeze, Scott is wearing shorts and sandals, as well as a Billabong sweater, his bronze-tinted Ray Bans hiding his eyes. His smile is boyishly charming as we spread the blanket out on a gentler slant of the hill and serve out the food and drinks we brought. Before we can start the interview, there is one thing I need to know.

Get your Facts Straight about Meditation with Montreal's Gen Donsang

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(Photo Property of NKT-IKBU)

"Your age doesn't matter," said the teacher to Gen Donsang once upon a time, "All you need to do is seriously engage in the Buddhist practices and have a good heart." At only 35 years old, Gen Donsang is a Buddhist monk belonging to the Kadampa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. He is also the resident teacher at the Kadampa Meditation Centre in Montreal (KMC Montreal), located not even 5 minutes away from the Laurier subway station on 835 Laurier East.

Gen Donsang was not always Buddhist. In fact, his parents were non-practicing Roman Catholics who allowed their son to explore different types of spirituality. At one time, he was studying social sciences, where he touched upon psychology and philosophy. At first, Gen Donsang wasn't very interested in spirituality. "My interest in Eastern religion philosophies was more of a philosophical questioning," he said. Just like others in their late teens, Gen Donsang found some philosophies quite appealing and started to read about them. One thing leading to another, he eventually met with a Tibetan teacher. "That's the form of Buddhism I'm practicing nowadays," he said, "however, it's not typically Tibetan Buddhism because it's a Tibetan teacher who adapted Tibetan Buddhism to the modern world." He also insisted that they study everything that is presented at Buddhist universities.

Meet Scott

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On the surface, Scott Simcoe is not a very impressive man. At twenty-six years old, he is shorter than average and slender, with reddish-blonde angel curls, soft blue eyes, and a gentle smile. He wears a mishmash of brand-name and vintage clothes that he finds in a variety of second-hand shops. On a warm day, he can most often be found sitting under a tree at the Mont Royal Park, blasting Indie Rock with his earphones on, a pair of light brown-tinted Ray-Ban aviators slipping down his nose.

What people don't usually see, however, are Scott's insatiable lust for life, his inspirational mind, and his incredibly warm heart.

Siddhartha, Who?

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(Image source: Flickr)

Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, that's who! Today, many in the Western world are becoming more and more interested in Buddhism. In Montreal, there are eleven Buddhist temples. In fact, a new Buddhist center called Diamond Way Buddhism, founded by Lama Ole Nydahl, exists in Montreal. In spite of this, when I recently asked several Concordia students at random about what they know of Buddha and Buddhism, I got answers infused with great misunderstanding. When I first asked my victims who Siddhartha Gautama was, none of them could answer me. Then I asked who Buddha was and what Buddhism is. A few answered that Buddha is a God. Someone said that Buddhism demands people to be vegetarians and to practice meditation all day. Out of all these answers, one made me chuckle nervously: someone said, "Buddha is a big-bellied guy seen in almost every Asian restaurant."









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