I can’t even remember what my life was like before yoga. I mean, I remember being a lot less flexible, but it has become such a huge part of my life now that I can’t imagine a life without it. What I’m saying, is that yoga will quite simply change your life.
Lower back pain is such a huge thing for a lot of people, and I get many students asking me what poses I recommend to help ease their lower back tension. I have also experienced it myself, so I know just how de-motivating and challenging it can be.
I have just got back from an adventure that I will never forget.
For the past two and a half weeks I've been in Goa with The Yoga People, studying Mandala Vinyasa, Shamanism and Yin yoga. And, in a word, it's been EPIC.
It all began years ago when, recovering from adrenal fatigue after a very nasty bout of food poisoning while in Thailand, I googled "practise yoga online" and found Yogaglo. Ahh what a life saver this was to be.
I'm starting to track my yoga practice so hopefully I can check back in a year/two years/several years later and look back on the progress I've made! Here goes week 1...
Chaturanga Dandasana aka the yoga push-up or low plank, is that elusive yoga move that beginner yogis feel they’re never going to be able to do.
The rituals we practise can ultimately affect how we set ourselves up for the day or for the night ahead.
Whether you're a fully fledged yogi, or an every-now-and-again sort of yoga person, it's only inevitable that you'll come across a brick wall in your practice at least once in your life.
Whenever I go to a yoga class, there are still predominantly more women than men. Yes, there are about four guys out of a class of 30 which is more than there was s few years ago, but yoga is still largely seen as a woman's practice.
Arm balances are those elusive poses that beginner yogis feel they're never going to be able to do. Believe me, I've been there. I remember the first time I tried kicking up into pincha mayurasana or (forearm balance - pictured above) back in 2014.
My yoga practise has changed a lot over the years. A lot. From 90 minutes once a week when I started practising several years ago, to an hour twice a week a few years later, to 30 minutes to an hour almost everyday currently.
Guess how many bones we have in our spine? 33 vertebrae. Three Three. That’s a lot. And think about it – we spend most of our day sitting or lying down (work, driving, trains, sleep) and not actively using or stretching these vertebrae. Healthy spine? I think not.
New Year’s Resolutions can seem rather like a daunting pledge to overhaul our lives, to change ourselves and those annoying habits that we just can’t seem to break in the space of a year. The easiest part of New Year’s Resolutions is indeed making them, but the hardest part is sticking to them amidst our busy and frequently complicated lives. If you need more persuasion of how hard your willpower has to work to keep your resolutions, these statistics might convince you. A ComRes poll for Bupa in 2016 found that out of 2,014 adults interviewed about their New Year’s Resolutions, 86% admitted to breaking theirs less than one year in, while 43% admitted that theirs didn’t even last a month. I can put my hands up and admit that whenever I’ve made New Year’s Resolutions in the past – ahem, “I will read a new book every month” – I’ve just forgotten about them come February – life got in the way and new challenges cropped up that made my previous goals seem totally unrealistic.
Unfortunately, the beginning of the year is one of the worst times to make a major change in your habits because it’s often a relatively stressful time. It’s right in the middle of the back-to-work mayhem and getting back on track with things like finances, work and health after the Christmas break.
If you’re struggling to stick to your resolutions, if your will power is waning already, or if you haven’t even made any, then these 6 steps are here to help you successfully stick to whatever goals, resolutions or changes you want to make. I’ll be using them to help me stick to my own goals, of which I have 3 positive ones:
- Practice yoga everyday and vary it according to my needs, whether I need a soothing 15 minutes of lying twists or a longer Vinyasa practice to kick my ass into gear.
- End my day with meditation and a book, instead of Instagram.
- Start cycling to work, both to save money and be more active.
Here’s my 6 tips for how to stick to your goals.
- Start small and get specific
If you’ve made resolutions that seem daunting and you don’t know where to start, strip them back. Sit for a few minutes with your eyes closed and just think of one or two things that you would absolutely love to change in your life. One thing that would bring you more positivity, happiness and peace. If you find yourself thinking “that’s totally unrealistic”, your goal is probably too vague. If your goal is to get fitter, what does that really mean? Do you want to get leaner, stronger, more able to run long distance or to lift 50kg in the gym? Make your goals specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART).
- Break your goal(s) into a series of time-based steps
Focus on creating sub-goals that are measurable and time-based. For example, if you set yourself the goal of saving more money, mark down regular monthly points in your diary of how much you want to have saved by then. Keep focusing on how much you’re saving in the run up to that point, so it doesn’t creep up on you and come as a total shock. This is a great way to measure your success throughout the year, and you can edit your savings goal as you go along.
- Anticipate your problems
If you are realistic with the problems that are going to crop up on the way, then you’ll be better equipped to deal with them when they do. For example, if your goal was to start running outdoors, and you know that when you get home from work this is the last thing you feel like doing, try running home from work a couple of times a week instead. Once you’ve identified all the times that will probably be hard, work out ways to cope with them.
- To be more productive, take more breaks
Resolutions are usually based on productivity, for example exercising more or cooking more meals at home. However, doing more can lead to exhaustion and a lack of quality in the things that you do. The best thing to help yourself do more, is to do less. A study in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that frequent, short breaks throughout the day can make you even more productive. Try to incorporate frequent meditation breaks into your day, by finding a quite space to sit and close your eyes for 5 minutes, take some deep inhalations and long exhales and just let your mind and body start to reset.
- Use your environment to help
This is a simple way to help you stick to your resolutions by using your environment to make things a little easier. Re-organise your surroundings to reflect whatever your goal is, both in a way that requires minimum effort for you to achieve it, and as a source of inspiration. Shawn Anchor, author of The Happiness Advantage discovered that just 20 extra second of “activation effort” – the energy it takes to get started – is enough to cause most people not to do an activity. So make it really easy to stick to your goals. For example, if your resolution was to do some form of exercise 5 days a week, pack your gym kit in your bag each evening before work, and follow some Instagram accounts that will inspire your workouts.
- Tell your friends and family your goals
Tell your friends and family your resolutions and ask them to keep you accountable, by checking in with you every week via text or a short phone call. You can do the same for them, so that you’re both encouraging each other to keep going. This is a great way to keep you motivated when you’re feeling stressed or too busy, as you can talk about your difficulties and share advice. Yes, it takes some personal courage and vulnerability to share something that you might actually fail at, but to dramatically increase your odds of success you’ll want support from those around you. It’s easy to break a promise to yourself, but far harder to admit it to a friend.
Whatever your plans and goals are for 2017, don’t place any limitations on them. Make them as small or as life-changing as you like, and go for them. I hope these tips will help you succeed in achieving your goals and I’ll be cheering you on as I work on mine!
Check out the original article here!
When the lovely people at Bare Biology sent me their Lion Heart Omega 3 Fish Oil to review, I'd already been using it for almost two years with great results.
The founder of Bare Biology, Melanie Lawson, became tired of trying to hunt down good Omega 3 supplements that were strong enough to work and also didn’t taste really strong and fishy. Not easy if you’ve tried most fish oil supplements out there, which leave a very strong aftertaste in your mouth. So Melanie made her own, and the result was Lion Heart Omega 3 fish oil.
I’ve been taking this fish oil supplement for almost two years now, and it’s the only one I take, because they contain the highest concentration of long-chain fatty acids EPA and DHA on the market. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are the fats found in oily fish and seafood. EPA levels are under constant demand and low EPA levels in adolescents and adults correlates strongly with development of mental health issues, including depression, dyslexia and dyspraxia, heart problems, joint and bone conditions, as well as neurodegenerative diseases such as MS and Parkinson’s. EPA also protects our genes and cell cycle, as well as helping to keep our stress response regulated, so an adequate supply of EPA throughout adult life can help prevent a range of chronic illness. If this isn’t enough to convince you to take a fish oil supplement, maintaining high levels of EPA and DHA has been shown to lower the risk of developing and worsening cognitive decline and dementia. As well as all this, Omega 3 will help to support healthy skin, eyes and hair, and brain health – so if you don’t take anything else, make sure you invest in a great quality Omega oil such as Lion Heart.
Some other benefits of Lion Heart omega oil are that it is sustainably and responsibly sourced and fished wild sardine, anchovy and mackerel. The capsules are also made from fish gelatin, rather than pork or beef, and have a natural triglyceride form so that your body absorbs all of it. I love the transparency of the company, you really know you’re getting an excellent quality fish oil here. The Omega 3 oil tastes mildly lemony and works really well in my daily green smoothie, but if you really don’t like the idea of taking oil, you can buy it in capsule form too. You can find their products here.
Here's to health!
*This post contains an affiliate link
I always feel super busy around the Christmas period. I've got my group yoga classes and private 1:to:1's, which all need planning, my day job in marketing & advertising which is always fast-paced, as well as planning for Christmas!
I've wanted to try boxing for ages now, so when I saw that the guys at Another Space offer a HIIT class that involves boxing, I jumped at the chance (and dragged the boy with me - working out with a partner is way more fun, right?!). I've tried Yoga at Another Space and really enjoyed it, but had no idea what boxing and HIIT would be like.
So off we trotted, all ready for what we thought would be a standard workout that would leave us feeling good but not that tired - we've all done HIIT right? And how hard can punching a bag be? Enter the studio. Another Space is conveniently smack bang in the middle of Covent Garden, just a short walk from the station. It's got a smoothie bar, where you can pre-order protein smoothies to refuel you post class - I didn't order one as I had zero time before the class started (standard) but I could see that they use Neat Nutrition protein - which is my favourite brand.
Right before 1pm, we were picked up in the reception by our PT Richard, and taken down into the studio. It's a small room, totally dark but lit up with moody lighting, and with punch bags hanging from the ceiling. There's only a maximum of 10 or so in the class and a real mix of guys and girls, so you get to partner up with someone to switch workouts during the class. I veered towards my boyfriend...if anyone's going to see me punching like complete loser around these pros, then I choose him!
After a few laps jogging around the studio, we broke up into two groups. One partner on the floor, and the other as a "fighter" on the punchbags. Floor first for me. How hard can this be?! The music started, and floor people are instructed to do 45 seconds (timed using an app on the wall) of various HIIT exercises, ranging from spiderman pushups (google it - they're gruesome) to burpees, to sandbag squat jumps. The fighters simultaneously are doing various punch techniques as fast as they can - jabs, body punches, side hits, elbows and hooks (yep- I know the terms now!) After 45 seconds (but felt like 2 minutes) of the most intense exercises I have ever done, you switch with your partner. Let me just say that the music really gets you through this. And Richard the PT - he's pretty awesome. The music is fast, fun, think house and heavy beats, helping you push that little bit harder. It gets super competitive (or is that just me?) as you can see everyone in the mirrors, making you want to up your game.
After about 20 minutes, both me and my boyfriend thought that we were dying. Seriously, we were going to pass out if we didn't have a drink. Collapsed against the wall, furiously pouring water down our throats, just a sit down would be nice....but then the buzzer goes and you're back at your punchbag or straight back into those sandbag squat jumps only this time you're instructed to lift them over your head as you jump. No rest for the wicked, eh?!
Bring lots of water. LOTS. One 750ml bottle was not enough. By the end of this workout, I didn't even recognise my face - since when does sweat drip from your eyelashes? And my leggings and top - let's just say that these needed an urgent wash in case they caused someone to pass out. But I felt awesome, and stumbled out on a massive high (and into the shower for a loooooong time - oh yeah). That's what this kind of workout does to you - it gives you such an adrenaline boost, and the team were so friendly and inviting that I'd go back in a heartbeat!
Till next time...have a wonderful, fulfilling week!
Sending health & happiness,
Yin has become one of my favourite things in life. I used to go from a fast pace of life to a fast paced yoga class that was really fiery and challenging. But really, it didn’t give me the space I so desperately needed to find a sense of calm, balance and healing, especially in busy London. Nowadays, even in my yang practices I am finding a much slower grace about the way I move, feel and inquire and it so much more nurturing
So what is Yin?
Yin is a journey that begins from a physical perspective, taking us through the emotional body and deep into the thinking layer. Marrying both meditation with asana, this practise enhances the natural range of movement in the joints by passively lengthening & releasing the connective tissues that wrap around bones, joints and muscles. Yin is a journey of both physical and inner transformation through being fully present & aware within each posture. Yin and Yang go together as opposites and can help you to think about the opposing forces and feelings when you practice an asana. Just like the sun and the moon, winter and summer, cold and heat, fire and rain, so to do our bodies need yin and yang forces in order to be truly balanced.
So when we are practising a yoga pose such as Warrior 1, the embodiment of strength and courage, we can think about bringing a softness to the Warrior's fierceness. Bringing a softness to our face demonstrates we can be strong, yet kind and vulnerable at the same time. Dropping our shoulders down instead of hugging them right up to our ears makes the pose feel much softer, yet we are still focused and steady. Flowing our arms out to the sides with the grace of a ballerina, rather than stretching them so far that we feel ourselves tense up from straining, brings the softness of yin to the pose that we so need to balance the tension and stress in our lives.
Try a yin yoga class with myself, if you regularly do intense exercise, and see if it brings a softness to your body and mind!
I have been working with a student who has recently discovered he has Multiple Sclerosis, still in the early stages. Multiple Sclerosis is a degenerative disease with symptoms of lesions on the brain and in the cervical spine, that causes the individual to experience loss of feeling - a tingling and numbing sensation, in the arms, legs, torso and eventually the face and head. It can affect balance, even walking and cycling skills can become increasingly difficult.
How can people with MS help themselves and put these symptoms into remission, through yoga?
Lyenger yoga is one of the most beneficial types of yoga for people with MS, because it involves lots of props and pose adaptions, making seemingly inaccessible yoga poses accessible. I used the theory and understanding behind lyenger yoga and wove it into a gentle, restorative Vinyasa flow, to create my class plan.
Here are 5 yoga poses and series that I taught, that have been extremely successful and beneficial to my student with helping to empower, support, build strength and increase balance:
1) Bridge arm flows
Gentle back bends are crucial for people who suffer with MS, since the spine is the area negatively affected and needs to be nourished daily in order to keep it as healthy as possible. Gently warm up the spine by raising the hips from the floor, while extending the arms behind the head. Repeat 5-10 times, feeling for a light stretch in the lumbar and thoracic spine.
2) Shoulder Stand (Salamba Sarvangasana)
Inversions are extremely important for the health of the brain and to balance the immune system, provided there are no contraindications. If a shoulder stand is too much for your student, use a chair as a prop. Have the chair facing you, hold on to the chair legs and lean your hips on to the chair seat. Let your legs lie up the back of the chair, above your head. Hold for up to a minute.
3) Legs up the Wall
Don't underestimate this simple but incredibly effective yoga pose! This is great for relieving pain, aches, numbness and stiffness in the legs. Raise the legs above the head against a wall, lie back on a pillow and let the arms open out to the sides. Rest here for 5-10 minutes, watching the breath.
4) Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Shvanasana)
This pose nourishes the spinal cord and the brain, while relieving tightness, pain and stiffness in the legs. If your student finds this pose too challenging to balance in or strength-wise, use your props! A wall is a great prop, so place the hands on the wall and take a large step back, press the hands into the wall and send the hips to the back of the room. Breathe deeply into the upper back, and look towards the floor. Let your neck, face and eyes relax.
5) Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
This pose is really restorative and a great way to open the upper back and tight outer hips and calm down symptoms of MS that have accumulated throughout the day. Lower your back torso toward the floor, and with your hands grip the top of your thighs and rotate your inner thighs externally, pressing your outer thighs away from the sides of your torso. Let your arms relax out to the sides, and hands face palm up.
Re-fueling the body post yoga is especially important if you do a strength based yoga class such as Vinyasa, Power, Rocket or Dynamic yoga. After a sweaty, strong class, your body is crying out for electrolytes, hydration, protein, and carbohydrates.
1. Consume more water / coconut water / green juice than you think is necessary pre and post yoga. Your muscles, when contracted, rotated, lengthened and flexed, cause the body to expel the major electrolytes (mainly sodium and potassium) that your body uses to send electrical impulses throughout the body. It's important to get the right balance of these electrolytes, in order to maintain muscle action, so drinking fluids is essential. It doesn't have to be difficult, and you don't need to go out and buy coconut water for every class you take. Just simple water, with a little lemon slices will do the trick. Or a green juice if you're lucky to be near a great juice store. Remember that water-based foods like cucumber, lettuce, celery and spinach all count towards your daily water intake, so get munching on these bad boys.
2. Eat your protein. Proteins contain amino acids that help with muscle recovery. We are made up of amino acids, so it is an absolute no-brainer that we must consume them. I eat protein with most meals (apart from desert!) - and prefer to get mine from brown rice and pea protein powder, eggs, chicken, turkey, yoghurt, fish and very occasionally red meat. If you're not consuming enough protein, especially after a strong yoga class, you may find yourself getting grumpy and recovering slower than normally - not a good state to be in. Increase the protein and you'll feel a gazillian times better.
3. CarboHYDRATE. Carbs - friend or foe? They've been given a very unfair bad rep, what with the Atkins diet, no-carb and Paleo diets all over the media. I'm not dissing any diet here, I'm just pointing out that there's nothing wrong with carbs. From a nutrient perspective, they are powerhouses, providing hydration, minerals and antioxidants. Brown rice, for example, contains 80% of our daily manganese requirements, the mineral which helps the body synthesise fats, and also contains a host of antioxidants, putting it right up there with the superstar berries themselves. Consume your carbs around your workouts, directly after if possible, to replenish the muscles. Think fruit, porridge oats, brown rice, hummus and starchy veg like sweet potatoes. Now you can understand why you're getting so tired on your low-carb diet...
4. Eat fat to lose fat. Fat is all over the media now as the way to lose weight, and for good reason. Essential fatty acids are vital for recovery from training, since the body can't produce them by itself. Linoleic and Alpha Linoleic acid are the two fatty acids used to create omega 3 and omega 6 fats. The more of these omegas you eat, and remember to get a good balance between the two, the faster you will recover from workouts and yoga classes. They also prevent disease, provide essential nutrients to the brain required for thinking, decision making, and much more. Don't be scared of adding avocados, cheese, coconut, nuts, full fat yoghurt, coconut and olive oil, butter and other fats to your diet - your skin and hair will thank you too.
Here's an example of my post-workout or yoga smoothie, full of a balance of carbs, fats, greens and protein:
- 1 cup almond / Alpro coconut, cashew or soya mylk (small amount of protein)
- 1 stick celery (greens/water)
- 1/4 cucumber (greens/water)
- handful spinach (greens/water)
- 1 apple (carbs)
- 1/2 banana (carbs)
- 1 scoop (20g) of rice or pea protein power (I like Sun Warrios. Whey is also an option but check the ingredient list to make sure there's no nasties) (protein)
- 1 TBS flax seeds (fat)
- 1 tsp coconut oil (fat)
- Optional nutritional extras: cacao powder, acai berry powder, wheatgrass, spirulina, ice to make it super slushy and delish.
Blend in your blender (TIP - Nutribullet is the best!) and drink up.
I chose the classic posture Malasana (Garland Pose) and created a lovely sequence to help open your hips, chest and spine! Warm up your body with a few rounds Cat/Cow and/or Sun Salutations and away you go.
Start standing with your feet slightly wider than hips-width apart. Turn your heels in and toes out, and then drop down into a full squat. If your heels don't touch the ground, try taking a wider stance or placing a block or two under your seat for support.
Dip your chest down as you snuggle your shoulders into the inside of your thighs. Bring your palms together in front of your heart and press firmly as you broaden your upper chest. This action will open your hips and chest.
Maintain the stance of your legs from the first pose. Tuck your thumbs into the centre of your palms and wrap your remaining fingers around your thumbs. Lift your fists up into the air, extending your arms straight and shoulder-width apart.
Engage your core to draw your torso as long and straight as possible to keep your spine long.
Malasana on a block
Use your props! If you have tight hips, place a block on the tall end underneath your seat and use it to rest yourself on. Keep a tall spine and lift through the chest, with the hands in prayer.
Drop your hands back to the ground and extend your right arm straight out in front of your right shin. Extend your left arm straight above you, following the same plane of alignment as your right arm, up and away from your base hand on the diagonal.
Revolve your chest open by pressing your right arm into your thigh, and continue extending the left arm actively. Gaze toward your top hand, or down at the ground if there's strain in your neck.
Stay here or if you'd like a deeper variation, proceed to the next pose.
Internally rotate both of your arms and bend at your elbows. Try to clasp your fingers or hands behind your back, or even grab hold of your right wrist with your left hand behind your right hip.
Spin your chest open, draw the base of the neck down and lift your heart space up.
Standing Wrapped Malasana
Keep the wrap from the previous pose and look down at the floor. Wiggle your feet closer together and then lean into your left foot. Press up onto the ball of your right foot and hold your wrap even tighter.
Continue to relax your shoulders as you press into your left foot to start to stand up. Keep the bound leg tight to your torso and gaze down as you draw your standing leg to straight.
Lift up through your lower belly, elevate the heart and melt through the upper back.
Find a soft gazing point and smile — Spring is finally here!