Last weekend I went on a yoga retreat. I’d never done anything like that before and really enjoyed it. This post is a bit longer than usual because I had such a great time and want to describe it in detail for anyone who’s interested in yoga and/or healthy food. Feel free to bail out at any point!
Many years ago, when I worked in marketing in a big office in Leeds, I had a colleague called Jenni. One day Jenni discovered yoga, decided she didn’t to be on the corporate hamster wheel any more and took herself off to India to become a yogi. To be honest, we mostly thought she was a bit mad at the time – giving up a good job and a nice life to leap into the unknown. But it paid off – Jenni became a fantastic yoga teacher and has worked all over the world, mostly recently at Kaliyoga retreats in France and Italy. At the moment she’s back in God’s Own County for a few weeks, so organised a weekend retreat for friends and family in the Dales.
I’ve had an on/off relationship with yoga for a few years. I do love it, and often attend the flow class at York Yoga Studio. I think the dynamic nature of flow yoga is a great complement to running, building core strength and flexibility – also good for those of us who are getting on a bit and want to stay mobile! But what normally happens is that I go for a couple of months, something happens to make me miss a class and then it seems to take me a few weeks to get started again. I really want to do yoga more often, so signed up for Jenni’s retreat because I thought it might kick-start me into doing just that. It also seemed like a great way to relax and recharge at the end my running season.
So, last Friday afternoon twelve of us (all women) arrived at the Healthy Home on Cononley Moor near Skipton. It’s a fairly remote but apparently quite well-known place – an eco home designed by Gina Lazenby that has even had a book written about it! It’s all totally Feng Shui-ed, with Buddhas and angels in every room. I’m not sure I believe in all that sort of thing, but it’s certainly a very spacious and beautiful place – my bedroom was enormous! We were promised a weekend of yoga, hiking and healthy, veggie food, which sounded perfect. We were also encouraged not to use our ‘devices’, but to cut ourselves off from the outside world as much as possible to gain the full benefit of the experience. Personally I was more concerned about going without coffee!
Following an afternoon tea with some delicious raw cake, we had our first yoga session. All the yoga took place in an enormous conservatory, and during daylight hours we had the most amazing views of the surrounding countryside as we practised. To ease us in we started with an hour of ‘restorative’ yoga, which was really relaxing, and a great way of letting go of our outside lives for the weekend. Afterwards we had a light supper of red lentil and coconut soup with buckwheat flour soda bread and a huge side salad featuring sprouted beans. Feeling very chilled out, we mostly retired to our rooms at around 9pm. Sleep was an important part of the break for some, especially those with small children!
I was slightly disturbed that our schedule for Saturday started with two hours of yoga from 8am, with no breakfast until 10am. I do love my brekkie and wasn’t sure I’d manage without food until that time! But Jenni assured me that once we started I wouldn’t think about food, and she was right. This morning session consisted of a guided meditation followed by some dynamic flow yoga, perfect for waking up the body, and slightly challenging in places. The two hours seemed to whizz by in no time. Our breakfast was worth waiting for: fruit salad, chia seed porridge with goji berries and bee pollen, plus two kinds of fresh juice – beetroot, carrot, orange and ginger, and kale, lemon, banana, hemp, chlorella, moringa, almond and coconut water. Both were amazing! I’d never had chia porridge before, but will certainly be having a go at making it myself.
After breakfast some of us went out for a walk. Luckily the heavy overnight rain had stopped, and it felt good both mentally and physically to be out in the fresh air. It was also a great bonding exercise. I really enjoyed chatting to all the amazing women there, including one who had cycled with her husband from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego – a journey that took four years! The only member of the group I knew before the weekend was Jenni herself, and I had been a bit worried that everyone else would be about 25 and super-bendy, but there were plenty of older women of varying abilities and Jenni was able to cater to us all yoga-wise.
A late lunch was our main meal of the day, and on Saturday it was vegan lasagne made with sheets of celeriac instead of pasta. I absolutely love celeriac, but had never thought of using it in this way before. This was accompanied by sweet potato wedges and another massive salad. Then there was pudding – an amazing confection called Caramel Swirl, which tasted just like cheesecake but apparently consisted mostly of cashews and dates. There’s a link to the recipe here and I’m definitely going to make it soon! In the afternoon I just chilled for a couple of hours, reading, looking at the scenery and watching the sun set. I literally can’t remember the last time I did this, so it was lovely. I had brought some running kit with me (in case you were wondering!) and was tempted to go out, but in the end thought I could run any time, so should focus on why I’d come on the retreat.
At 5pm it was time for yoga again – another restorative session with just a bit of flow in it. I think it lasted for about an hour and a half, but in truth I was so blissed out at the end I can hardly remember! Our supper afterwards was another fab soup – butternut squash, with oatcakes and homemade nut butter on the side. After supper a few people went straight off to bed, but a few of us stayed up to have a go with some Angel Cards. I’m a little sceptical about this sort of new age stuff, but the card I pulled out was the Archangel Michael, which is a coincidence as my birthday is 29th September – Michaelmas Day! Apparently he’s always watching over me, which is good news. I lay in bed later thinking how dark and quiet it was – although the moon was huge and bright and I did hear an owl hooting – then slept like a baby.
Sunday obviously began with yoga again! It was a beautiful day and the sun poured into the conservatory, flooding it with light. I realised it was the first time I’d ever done sun salutations actually looking at the sun, which was fantastic. The session lasted for two and a half hours, but never felt too long or boring. It was great to have so much time to dedicate to practice without having to rush or think about real world stuff. Breakfast today was raw buckwheat granola with yoghurt and fruit, plus another amazing drink: banana, almond, cacao, maca, mesquite, flax, chia and coconut milk – like a healthy chocolate milkshake! Later in the morning I had a fantastic Ayurvedic back massage from Jenni’s friend Maria, who had just undergone the training and wanted bodies to practice on – there were plenty of willing volunteers! Another super-relaxing experience. As our breakfast had been quite late we had a little play with inversion postures in the yoga space before our main meal. I even attempted a headstand – not very successfully, but something to work on I guess!
Our final meal together was a black bean stew with lots of lovely veggies in it, served with quinoa and kale. Jenni had also made us all some raw chocolate energy balls for the journey home, which basically tasted like gorgeous luxury truffles! I’m aware I’ve probably used the words ‘amazing’ and ‘fantastic’ far too much with regard to the food, but it really was. It was so tempting to take photos and Instagram everything, but using phones and social media were off the menu. It was all so tasty, and I felt like I was bursting with goodness by Sunday teatime. There was also fruit and a huge range of herbal teas available all the time.
I left feeling looser, calmer and more relaxed than I have done for a long time – if ever – but also strangely energised. I’m totally inspired to do yoga more often and eat far more raw and veggie food. This might not be easy, living with a dedicated carnivore, but I’m determined to try. I might just have to ask Santa for a Nutribullet! The whole weekend was totally worthwhile. Jenni is the most talented and generous teacher as well as a brilliant chef! I would love to ‘retreat’ on a regular basis, but suspect time and resources will mean it’s more like once a year. I really would recommend this type of thing to anyone, especially if you’re feeling stressed or burnt out.
For more information on Jenni and her work you can read her blog here.
Just recently the world has seemed a bit depressing at times. Terrorist atrocities, mass shootings, lovely people dying, the Brexit fiasco… need I go on? So to cheer myself up I’ve been trying to take pleasure in the little things in life. Each week (probably, time permitting) I’ll share with you five things that have made me feel happy – the Friday Feelgood Five. Probably all quite trivial in the grand scheme of things, but that’s kind of the point. So here are this week’s offerings!
This was a tough event (my review is here ICYMI) but worth it to get this lovely handmade pottery mug at the finish. Of course it’s too nice to drink out of!
I popped into Tesco for a couple of things this week and came out with these. For only £14 they’re great – good length, back knee ventilation, wide/low waistband, key pocket and snazzy design! I love them, and they go really well with an Asics vest I already have.
Specifically these olives I’ve just discovered at Morrison’s with lemon, thyme and garlic – delicious. The only trouble is they make me want a glass of wine!
I only go to Lidl about once a month, but I always discover loads of healthy bargains when I do. On this trip I picked up (amongst other things) tahini, milled linseed (to add to my breakfast), halloumi, dark chocolate, coconut milk and High 5 hydration tabs. They also do really well-priced bags of mixed nuts. Oh, and the wine department is great!
We’re coming to the end of the British strawberry season now, but I’ve really enjoyed the ones we’ve had from our local Pick Your Own farm this summer – sadly now closed for the year. Local, fresh produce always tastes so much better than shop bought.
That’s it! Because living well is sometimes just about enjoying the simple things around us.
Feel free to share your favourite things this week, I’d love to hear about them!
Last week I was invited to the opening of the new Holland & Barrett flagship concept store in York. I was working that day, so was unfortunately only able to pop in for a short time, but it certainly seems impressive! It’s a vast improvement on the old store which, although not very far away, was bursting at the seams and sometimes difficult to get round.
This bright and airy new outlet is one of the largest in H&B’s portfolio, and is certainly the biggest health food shop I’ve ever seen! It stocks a much wider range of products than the old store, and it was good to see lots of healthy foods, some lovely ethical beauty brands and a great variety of sports nutrition products (although not my favourite Clif Shot Bloks!). Everything is on Buy One, Get One Half Price at the moment, so I duly stocked up on magnesium and iron to support my marathon training.
There are some novel concepts within the store such as an olive bar, a fruit/nut ‘pick and mix’ station and a bar where you can create your own protein shake to take away. You can also have a body analysis test to help you decide on health and fitness goals, and there are lots of qualified staff on hand to assist.
Sadly I didn’t have time to take advantage of the pampering treats on offer, but I will definitely be back soon for a proper mooch about when I have more time. It’s a great addition to York’s retail scene and well worth a visit.
Because I’m a runner people often ask my husband Steve why he doesn’t run too. The truth is he’d love to do some running, but is unable to because he has a dodgy ankle. He can cycle til the cows come home – and indeed recently did that quite literally by riding a 178 mile coast to coast route in a single day – but the impact of running on the legs means it’s not really an option for him. He has a problem with the cartilage in his ankle, and despite having had an operation on it a few years ago, which improved the situation slightly, it still gives him grief if he runs or even walks too much. So when the folks at Flexiseq contacted me to ask if I’d like to review a new product that claimed to help with wear and tear on the joints Steve seemed like the perfect guinea pig.
Specifically aimed at athletes, Flexiseq Sport is a product that claims to treat the cartilage in joints and relieve the discomfort caused by wear and tear or injury, improving impaired joint function. It’s applied topically, targeting the affected area directly, rather than simply masking the problem as oral pain relief does. This obviously also avoids the gastro-intestinal issues that some people face when they take strong pain killers. Here’s the science bit: Flexiseq contains tiny lipid phosphospheres called Sequessome vessicles. These are small enough to pass through the skin and into the joint, where they lubricate the cartilage, allegedly reducing friction, stiffness and pain. It’s supposed to be particularly good for osteoarthritis. You can read a lot more about exactly how Flexiseq works here. People generally see an improvement after a couple of days, and the difference is said to be comparable to certain oral pain killers.
So, how did the guinea pig fare? Steve’s now been on the Flexiseq for a couple of months, applying it first thing in the morning and last thing at night, and has found it very easy to use; it just takes a few minutes to dry completely before you can cover it with clothes or bedding. Although it hasn’t taken away his problem completely, Steve has definitely seen some improvement over time, feeling less pain in general – although he does still have better and worse days. I should say that Flexiseq isn’t cheap to buy – a 100ml tube is currently on offer at Treatments Direct for £29.99 – and you do have to keep using it to maintain the benefits, but I daresay if it helps you and you don’t fancy the idea of living on pain killers it’s worth splashing out on. Steve’s keen to keep using it, and coming from a Yorkshireman that should tell you something about its value!
For more information on Flexiseq, including testimonials from athletes, visit their website.
I should point out I was not paid to write this blog post or endorse the product.
I seem to meet a lot of people who suffer with IBS with varying degrees of severity, and they sometimes find it very difficult to deal with. This guest post from Carly Trigg of My Well Being Journal has some great advice on dealing with IBS naturally – including running! You can read more from Carly at www.mywellbeingjournal.com and follow her on Twitter at @MWBJournal.
Who needs supplements, probiotics and tablets when you’ve got the great outdoors, good food and a great mindset? After trialling everything known to man for dealing with my IBS, I’ve found that doing it naturally is always the best way. So take a look at my top 5 ways to deal with IBS and see how easy it is to implement it into your own lifestyle.
1. Exercise early
If you suffer with IBS-C, you’ll notice that your body likes the digest food in your gut continually throughout the day, but the end product is just never there. You might then notice you become a VERY regular person (such that the only time you CAN do anything in the toilet, it’s first thing in the morning). This is because your body is given ample time without food to break down everything eaten in the day, given more time to properly come together and form more evenly. This makes morning my favourite part of the day. So, whilst you’re in high spirits with a great level of digestion going on, it’s worthwhile to fit in your exercise now. If you leave it til later you might find that the foods you’ve eaten have caused tummy problems and bloating and you won’t want to exert your body any more. Get up earlier, go for a run, feel the burn, and forget about the IBS.
2. Eat your breakfast
After your early morning run, you’ll be feeling pretty good. You might not feel that hungry though, or if you may not feel you have any spare time if you’re heading quickly out of the door for work. But making the time, even if it’s a quick 10 minutes, is necessary if you want to start your bowel movements right. You’ve been to the toilet and you’ve done your exercise, and now you need fuel, even if you don’t crave it yet. Otherwise you’ll be ravenous after an hour or so and your metabolism won’t be working half as fast as it does first thing in the morning, or after a workout.
3. Avoid meal-skipping
When you have IBS, a lot of the time you’re suffering with so much abdominal discomfort after food you consumed several hours ago that you really don’t want to do it again. You decide you’d rather skip the meal and let your bowels churn away privately without any interruption. This sounds fine in theory, but the ‘churn’ doesn’t stop. And, although it might usurp your appetite, your body still needs vital nutrients to keep going. Plus, you’ll probably be making up this lost eating time with drinking more, which needs to be digested anyway too. So don’t let the abdominal discomfort put you off your eating three basic meals throughout the day (minimum) and always keep a watchful eye on the ingredients in your foods.
4. Walk more
Because strenuous exercise can be a torturous feat when you have painful abdominal cramps, doing lots of walking can be really beneficial to your digestion, easing your stomach and seeing that you get outside and get moving. Rather than getting the bus, take a brisk walk. Go for a wander on your lunch break. Do it all and get your feet moving!
5. Stretch often
This might sound like a strange one (because who walks down the street, stops, and does a lunge?) but stretching is necessary for IBS sufferers, especially if you’re sat crouched in front of a computer all day. All that’s going in your stomach can continue to feel tight and unpleasant the more the day goes on, so make it a priority to stretch whenever you go to the toilet – this way you’re doing it privately and not provoking suspicion! By simply raising your arms above your head and tensing your stomach, holding your hands behind your back and pushing your tummy out, and twisting from side to side can ease your discomfort ten-fold.
Hands up who’s feeling a bit rubbish after the festive break? I certainly am. I like to think I’m a pretty healthy eater most of the time, but the Christmas holidays are a hard test of anyone’s resolve! Christmas dinner itself isn’t really the problem; at the end of the day that’s just a roast dinner with a few pigs in blankets on the side. It’s all the other food that causes the problem… and the booze, of course! You could just say no to all of it, and I’m sure a few very disciplined people do; but everywhere you go at Christmas and New Year people want to feed you, and it’s usually hard to refuse! Things I’ve indulged in include mince pies, After Eights, trifle, Bailey’s, Pringles and wine. Plus I’ve been for a couple of meals at people’s houses where they’ve been to a lot of trouble and it would be rude to say no. I’m sure most of you will have had a similar couple of weeks. The only thing that’s counted in my favour is that I haven’t stopped runnning – even with a bit of a hangover on a couple of occasions!
The question is, what do we do to get rid of this horrible, bloaty feeling and lose the couple of pounds we’ve all probably put on? The media are currently full of the usual ‘new year, new you’ stuff they always pump out just after Christmas. This mostly seems to focus on articles about radical, expensive detoxes and abstaining from everything. ‘Give yourself a good purge and you will magically become a bright, shiny, thin new person’ is the general message. There will also be a mad rush of people joining gyms in January, planning to go five times a week for ever. But the reality is that most people will only stick to their new regimes for a couple of weeks – or maybe a month – before they revert to their old ways. The change is just too radical to be sustainable. The truth is that a few simple changes will soon have you feeling a lot better – and you’ll save a lot of money too! You don’t need to be a whole new you, just a slightly better version of the current you. So here’s what I recommend for a ‘New Year, Slightly Better You’ approach.
· First thing, there’s no need to ‘detox’ with special powders, juices or pills. Your liver and kidneys are fantastic organs and can actually cope with an awful lot. Unless you’ve been drinking a bottle of vodka a day they’ll deal with your festive excess just fine. Having said that, there’s no harm in giving them a bit of a rest from processing huge amounts of booze and rich food for a little while.
· Stop eating junk now. You may have leftover goodies or foodie gifts such as Christmas cake or boxes of chocolate/biscuits lying around the house. Put them away somewhere out of sight, take them into work, offer them to visitors or give them away. Most chocolates have really long use-by dates, so you could always regift them at some point! Some things, like cheese or panettone, freeze really well. Don’t feel you have to hoover up all the ‘bad’ things in the house before you can start being good.
· Focus on eating simple, healthy, unprocessed foods. Things like chicken, fish, pulses, vegetables and Greek yoghurt. Snack on fruit and nuts instead of biscuits and crisps. You know the score here really, so I won’t ramble on about it.
· Drink lots of water. You may well be quite dehydrated after two weeks of boozing and scoffing sugary/salty foods. If you don’t normally drink plenty of water you’ll be surprised what a difference this makes to how good you feel.
· Do some exercise. If you usually do exercise but have lapsed over the holidays, get back on it. If you don’t, start now but be kind to yourself. No need to crush it in the gym. Go for a long walk on a lovely sunny, frosty day. Have a kickabout in the park with your kids. Go to a yoga or Pilates class. Get that bike out of the garage and have a gentle pedal for half an hour. The more of this kind of thing you do, the more you’ll want to do, I promise.
· Get plenty of sleep. Most of us don’t get enough. Go to bed a bit earlier than usual. Your body will repair and restore itself while you snooze.
That’s all you need to do. That’s what I’ll be doing. In a couple of weeks we’ll all be feeling much better. And if you really want to go to the gym, wait until February – it’ll be a lot quieter then 🙂
They say that the challenge of running a marathon is as much mental as physical… this being the case I recently asked my friend Amanda Hart, a Clinical Hypnotherapist and NLP Practitioner, for some hints on how to prepare my mind for my first marathon. Here’s the advice she gave me. I think this could apply equally to many areas of life, not just running – for example weight loss or professional goals. To find out more about Amanda and her work visit her Life Insight website.
For most people the subconscious mind is very visual. It’s strongly linked to the right brain, so visualisation can be a powerful way to tune your subconscious into what you want. When your subconscious has a goal it will work away in the background to help you get there; but you have to make sure that neither your conscious nor your subconscious mind are working to a different agenda! Focusing too much on what you DON’T want to happen, either consciously or unconsciously, can affect your chances of success.
During your training spend some time every day if you can, doing nothing but relaxing. Get comfy, put some background music on if it helps and sit or lie somewhere you won’t be disturbed. Then visualise a rich image of what you want to achieve – just fantasise about it in as much detail as you can! It may be just crossing the finish line or achieving a new PB, or whatever it is you want! Indulge yourself and imagine all the details… how you look, who is with you, what you can see, hear and smell – everything. It’s like rehearsing for it to happen! Do this often and you’ll create a blueprint for success in your mind. Many successful sports people say that they ‘rehearse’ victories over and over in their mind. As well as imagining the desired end result, it is also helpful to picture the various stages along the way being achieved successfully – such as successful training sessions – as in this way you are not only telling your subconscious what you want, but how you want to get there. It’s a bit like mental planning.
Don’t dwell on ANY negative images of failure, as it will have exactly the same effect as above and will make failure more likely to happen. If you have a setback, ignore it and move on – don’t dwell on it. If there’s anything you’re struggling with mentally – or even physically – see if you can identify any conflicting ‘parts’ within yourself – for example, the part that wants to train every day in all weathers and the part that wants to be lazy! Again, get relaxed and imagine that those two parts of you are actually having a conversation. It’s best to speak out loud and it also helps to name them! Ask each part to state their purpose and aim and how they are helping you. Get them to listen to and comment on each other’s point of view. Then get them to negotiate and find a common ground or aim – something they can both agree to work towards that will help you reach your goal. It may involve one or both of them making a compromise or agreeing to change their role a bit.
To keep yourself motivated, when you find yourself ‘in the zone’, such as when you’re having a particularly great training day, or any day when you feel invincible, allow yourself to mentally turn up all of the feelings as much as you can – really bask in it – then when you’re at your peak create an anchor by associating a physical gesture (or trigger in NLP speak) with the feeling. I usually suggest squeezing a thumb and middle finger together for a few seconds. Do it a few times while focusing all your attention on those positive feelings. After the moment has passed, you should find that you are able to summon the same feelings back instantly when you use the trigger again, which should now be associated with the great positive feelings. This has to be practised a bit, but it works a treat once your mind has accepted the anchor, and after a while it becomes almost automatic and you might not even have to use the trigger at all, but just imagine it to get the same boost!
Lastly, talk to yourself in only positive ways. Any negative self-talk (“I can’t do it” for example) gets imprinted on the subconscious. Even if you’re having a tough day, say to yourself “Well, today’s just one of those days, tomorrow will be much better” or something similarly optimistic. Don’t criticise or doubt yourself. Negative self-talk can be very damaging to our morale and our chances of success. Also try not to speak to yourself using words like ‘should’, ‘ought’, ‘must’ etc. This is not good as it’s harsh and judgemental towards yourself. So instead of “I really should train today” think “I will train today – but maybe later”, for example.
I’ve been practicing Amanda’s advice in training and hopefully there’s something here that will help you too, whatever you goal may be. Good luck!