Review: Level 2 Fitness Instructor Training with No.1 Fitness Education

@no1fitnesseducation

Good news, my Level 2 Fitness Instructor exams are out the way and now just a few weeks away from the Level 3 Personal Trainer exams, both with No.1 Fitness Education.

Having Level 2 under my belt means I’m qualified to work in a gym environment, show people around the gym floor, instruct the resistance machines and free-weights and write generic programmes for clients, advising generally on machines and exercises and helping clients feel more comfortable navigating the gym floor alone.

So what’s the difference between Level 2 and Level 3 certification? As a Level 2 Fitness Instructor I wouldn’t be able to create personalised fitness and nutrition plans – that only comes with Level 3, as you’re then qualified to work as a personal trainer. With that, comes the wider scope to programme for individual needs and specific training or weight loss goals.

What is the Level 2 Fitness Instructor training like?

If you’re thinking about doing a Personal Trainer course then Level 2 is your gateway to get there. I chose No.1 Fitness Education because it’s one of the last remaining classroom based personal trainer courses, which I feel is super important when learning to teach something physical and practical.

There were eight of us in the class and the sessions were every Saturday for seven weeks in London. To complete Level 3, it’s a total of 12 weeks.

  • LOTS of anatomy and physiology – it’s was most definitely school years that I last looked at the inner workings of the body so it was time to brush up and get familiar with the heart, lungs, muscles, nervous system, etc again. I thought I’d struggle but actually the e-learning materials were easy to follow and I found it all surprisingly interesting.
  • I had to organise my time – in between each weekly classroom session there was homework and e-learning modules to complete, which probably took around five to six hours a week. I had to prescribe set hours each week to get this work done and then enough time ahead of the exam to revise.
  • Having real teacher time was invaluable – now I’ve seen how valuable teacher-student contact is on a PT course, I think choosing a class-based course is essential. The collective of tutors at No.1 were so dedicated to our learning it was impressive. We had them on WhatsApp whenever we needed and there were regular checkins throughout the week. Plus, it was more than just delivering the curriculum, as they were continuously imparting personal experience and industry knowledge along the way, which is what made them stand out.
  • We learnt useful teaching techniques – it doesn’t matter how well you know the gym floor, what’s important is being able to relay that information clearly, concisely and safely to a client. So we learnt specific teaching cues and formats. Once you learn the techniques of how to teach, you can apply it to all aspects of fitness instructing so spending the time to get this foundation right it’s super useful.
  • We became very familiar with the gym floor – if you already train in a conventional gym this part will be familiar to you. It’s been years since I’ve used traditional resistance machines in a conventional gym (literally can’t remember the last time I used a leg adductor / abductor!) as I train in a functional training CrossFit box so I was a bit rusty on some of the machines but after spending every weekly class practising our teaching cues on each other, by the time the exam rolled around I felt like a pro.
  • I learnt a few new moves – we spend much of the classroom sessions learning how to plan and instruct a full hour’s session with a client and the practical exam was based on this. This included dynamic warm up stretches and mobility moves so I was pleased to learn a few new moves to add to my repertoire such as the squat and lunge matrix where you take a client through a 360-degree range of motion.
  • The Level 2 exam felt quite scary but worth it – I won’t lie, we were all terrified of doing the exams but it’s a hill not a mountain and once over it, it’s a smoother and more enjoyable ride through to Level 3. Working through past and mock papers was the trick that helped me through.
  • Level 2 is a good foundation for what follows – however uncomfortable it felt at the time, learning the anatomy and physiology at Level 2 has set me up for Level 3 as everything else is layered on top. The teaching techniques are also a good grounding for whatever you go onto do in your fitness career.

So far, Level 3 has been diverse and super interesting. We’ve been learning about all the different training systems, how to programme a nutrition plan to meet a client’s goals, eg for weight loss or building muscle, and most importantly how to have an effective consultation with a new client so that we meet their goals and exceed expectations.

The consultation process at No1 Fitness Education is particularly detailed and multi-layered so it’s an area of learning the tutors take a lot of pride in.

As I write this, we’re currently in lockdown for Coronavirus so our Level 3 exams have been postponed until we don’t know when. On the one hand it’s frustrating as we were just a few weeks away from qualifying but in reality, it’s not so bad as it means more time to revise all those nitty anatomy and physiology details. Those 50 muscles, origins and insertions will be printed in my mind by the time lockdown is over!

See you on the other side with my final Level 3 review.

Thoughtful Tips for Challenging Times

who coronavirus tips
who coronavirus tips

There’s definitely a lot of information and advice being fired out from all places right now to help people during this tricky time with COVID.

But the best advice I’ve read so far comes from the World Health Organisation (WHO), which is not coincidentally, the best place we should be turning to for scientifically-backed, expert advice for how to manage and deal with the situation anyway.

I thought I’d summarise and share their latest notes in case anyone had missed them in the media as they are genuinely useful.

The tips cover basic nutrition (eat a health and nutritious diet, don’t smoke and limit your consumption of alcohol) as well as a few more interesting ones on exercise, working environment, mental health and relationships, which I’ve shared here.

  • During this difficult time it’s important to continue looking after your physical and mental health. This will not only help you in the long term; it will also help you fight COVID if you get it.
  • Exercise. If your local or national guidelines allow it go outside for a walk, a run or a ride and keep a safe distance from others. If you can’t leave the house find an exercise video online, dance to music, do some yoga or walk up and down the stairs.
  • If you’re working at home make sure you don’t sit in the same position for long periods; get up and take a three-minute break every 30 minutes. We will be providing more advice on how to stay healthy at home in the coming days and weeks.
  • Look after your mental health. It’s normal to feel stressed, confused and scared during a crisis. Talking to people you know and trust can help. Supporting other people in your community can help you as much as it does them.
  • Check on neighbours, family and friends. Compassion is a medicine.
  • Listen to music, read a book or play a game and try not to read or watch too much news if it makes you anxious.
  • Get your information from reliable sources once or twice a day.
  • Keep in touch with health alerts via the WHO

4 more tips to help you deal with the cocktail of intensity

A somatic therapist friend of mine, who specialises in treating trauma, has also just shared a few of her own tips, based on Trauma First Aid and the yogic practice of restraint.

Yoga Tara is founder of Isha Institute in Nepal, a centre that promotes personal growth and transformation through holistic counselling (follow on @isha_inspired). I hope you find them as valuable as I did. Please feel free to share with others.

Limit your exposure to information

  • Look at the news or collect information one or two times a day, eg, morning and late afternoon.
  • Avoid looking up information before you go to sleep. This is stimulating and triggering. Give yourself one or two hours quiet time before you go to bed.
  • Limit the amount of time you’re getting your info: 15-30min. Not two hours!

Select your sources of information carefully

  • Choose two or three trustworthy news sources for your updates, such as the WHO, CDC.
  • Avoid spending time on social media. It’s a fascinating study on mass panic/fear response, but not the healthiest place to spend time if you want to stay sane!

Choose with whom you are going to talk to about the situation

  • When it comes to discussing your real concerns, beliefs and decisions in relation to the situation, choose one, two or three people with whom you can share and to whom you can listen. 
  • Not everyone is a steady resource at this time. People you may have thought as calm or even keel, might not be. And vice versa.  
  • How do you know who is right for you? You would feel relatively calm and stable (operative word: relatively) with them.

Simplify your to-do list

  • When we feel under threat or under sustained stress, our brain and body go into life-preserving mode and work in different ways than normal.
  • Functions that tend to get compromised are our ability to think clearly, make decisions, analyse and execute (ie get things done). Our ability to manage emotions can also be compromised. We are not under normal conditions, so we cannot expect ourselves to act perfectly ‘normal’.
  • If you’re working from home, if you have children for home / online schooling, let yourself off the hook and reduce your output or to-do list by 25-30% (at least!).
  • Give yourself and others some extra space and time to get things done. Our brains and bodies are working harder than usual so take the expectation off from ‘normal productivity’.
  • If you or others around you feel fuzzy headed, irritable, tired, please know this is normal.
  • Be gentle with yourself. Be gentle with others. 

Super Easy Breathing Exercise to Help Stress, Anxiety and Sleep

I wrote this post a while ago, long before Coronavirus kicked in, but it’s been sitting in my drafts until now, when suddenly it seemed more relevant than ever to post it.

More than a few friends recently have talked about their stress and anxiety, with levels ranging from I can’t get dressed in the morning without crying, to I feel so overwhelmed at work I can’t sleep properly at night.

So I thought I’d write a few words about a very simple breathing exercise that’s not only helped me drift off more peacefully at night, but has been scientifically proven to help increase relaxation and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

How does it work? Deep, slow and controlled breathing has been shown to activate the body’s relaxation response, leading to changes in the autonomic, parasympathetic and central nervous system.  

I’ve been doing versions of this simple breathwork exercise almost every night for many years as it’s so unbelievably simple but incredibly effective. Once you build a habit, you won’t let this one go.

The best thing is, you don’t need to carve out any extra time in the day to do it – you just do it lying in bed when you’re ready to sleep, so there’s no excuses for not having time. There’s literally nothing else to do apart from try to relax into sleep.

It’s typically the time when thoughts start racing and and stress potentially building, so have this breathing exercise ready in times of need.

Ready? It’s super simple…

  • Start by gently placing the hands on the lower abdomen to help connect with your breath.
  • You might feel your hands rising and falling with each inhalation and exhalation.
  • Breathe in and out through the nose (mouth gently closed) for a few counts of breath.
  • Start to follow each breath as it moves in and out of the body, wherever it might be – it could be in your belly, throat, chest or elsewhere.
  • After following your breath for a few rounds, start counting your in-breath.
  • Breath in: one, two, three
  • Breathe out: one, two, three
  • After a few rounds you want to start making your out-breath longer than your in breath. Do this by consciously but gently slowing down each exhalation.

So the breathwork pattern will look like:

  • Breath in: one, two, three (an in-breath comfortable for you)
  • Breath out: one, two, three, four, five

Regardless of how long your inhalation is, your can promote the relaxation response by slowing down and making the exhalation longer.

Repeat this cycle of counting a longer out-breath to in-breath four of five times. Sometimes I keep doing this until I physically feel my body untangle and unwind and quite often I’m asleep before I reach ten rounds.

An extra note…

Once you get used to extending the exhalation, you can start experimenting with a gentle hold in between the inhalation and exhalation. This is more like an internal pause rather than a forced hold of breath. It should be totally effortless.

This type of breathing workout helps to slow down your heart rate which reduces the effects of stress on the body. As a result your thoughts may calm and eventually bring the body into a quiet stillness.

Once the physical body settles, the mind follows.

Do this breath exercise whenever you feel you’re getting tense, stressed or locked in a whirl of thoughts-on-loop. Not just in bed, but any time.

A word on meditation…

If you’ve tried meditation or keen to try it but not sure where to start, start here, with the breath.

Learn how to find the breath, follow it, listen to it and watch it. This is a form of meditation in itself as there is just one point of focus, the breath. So whenever your mind begins to wander, you just bring it back to the breath.

This is one of the simplest ways to start meditating as the breath is a physical, tangible, active point of focus. Listening and watching the breath is also a great tool if you are easily distracted or find sitting in silence (trying to meditate!) too challenging.

So give it a go. Commit to just a few minutes of deep, controlled breathing every night for a few days or a week and see how it feels.

14 Reasons Why I Decided to Do a Personal Trainer Course

no1 fitness education pt course

I started my career as a beauty and wellness writer for print and online magazines but fitness has always been part of my life, ever since early school years. So it feels fitting to be on a personal trainer course now, a Level 3 qualification with No.1 Fitness Education (one of the leading providers in the industry), which I’m so excited about.

I’m currently two weeks into the course, so here’s why I decided to do it and the journey that brought me here… Maybe it’ll inspire you, too.

I started young… I remember going to the library aged 13 and getting books out on diet and fitness – one was on food combining (it was all the rage in the 80s) and another on callisthenics (another 80s throwback). I ran and did athletics for my school and, after a boozy stint at university, I started running again and doing races in my mid 20s and early 30s. I spent the next ten years dedicated to running, marathons and track training, all of which I loved.

The fitness journey took a new turn… Then I started CrossFit in my mid-30s after meeting another editor who looked super strong, lean and fit. I discovered a whole new way of training and learnt how to move my body in new and better ways. I gradually started building total body strength, something I’d not considered enough before, and this helped me become a much stronger runner, too.

I learnt new skills… What I loved most, though, was learning the new skills in Olympic lifting and gymnastics, which is part of CrossFit, as this engaged me mentally not just physically. There was also all the functional training (that other gyms do, too), that help future-proof your body for everyday life.

Things got serious… What started off as a twice weekly workout is now, five years later, a full time hobby; Last year I did two weightlifting competitions and I’m training for my third. I also do the occasional CrossFit comp. I train six days a week (three-four specifically for Olympic lifts and two CrossFit) and I’ve learnt so much about mind and body strength. You can read more about my weightlifting journey here.

My mindset changed too… What’s also changed is that I no longer kill myself with cardio to keep my weight down, but train for strength and performance goals instead. I’ve found the strong, lean body is a happy by-product of that and it’s 100% changed my mindset into something a lot healthier (and happier).

It was all about goals… There’s nothing wrong with aesthetic goals, and I’ve certainly had them in the past, but in my experience I’ve found working towards challenge or physical goals (like an 80kg back squat or doing pull-ups) is more meaningful and I’m more likely to stick to them, almost effortlessly.

The right expertise is inspiring… All of these experiences have helped me gain a deeper understanding of the training world, what real athlete training is like, and it’s introduced me to some amazing coaches and trainers, whose wisdom has inspired me endlessly. I’m hoping all of this will be genuinely valuable in my own PT training. Last year, I was inspired (mainly by others around me) to take my British Weightlifting Level 1 course; you can read my review here.

My 9 – 5 will benefit… I’m lucky for health and fitness to be part of my job and career and while I’m not planning to pack up my job at Women’s Health, Men’s Health, NetDoctor and Runner’s World at Hearst, this qualification will simply feed into my work as a health and fitness editor there.

I create commercial content for clients ranging from Nike and adidas to Deep Heat and Imodium across print, digital, video and social, and fitness features heavily in this. Whether I’m shooting a workout video or interviewing experts, having a formal training in fitness will amplify my work and give me more credibility as an editor.

Being qualified matters outside of work, too… I know I won’t be any kind of expert overnight but having a formal qualification is so important when it comes to sharing content or advice on my own channels and circles. These days people are too easily self-appointed experts without the right backing, so having credentials from somewhere reputable (another important difference) makes a huge difference.

I might have clients one day… Just because I have no plans to leave my job and become a full-time PT doesn’t mean I can’t be open to possibilities of having PT clients in the future. I absolutely love sharing knowledge, experiences and inspiration so it seems fitting that I might have a client or two one day. In the meantime, I’ll be using my knowledge as an editor.

Choosing the right course is important… Finding an education provider for any kind of course is without a doubt, a minefield. There are so many options, and so many shortcuts. PT or yoga teacher training in four weeks online, without ever having to train a real human? Sure, that’s possible. But how good a professional will you be in the real world?

I choose No.1 Fitness as they came highly recommended from several people I know and their 10-year reputation in the industry is strong. Secondly, they’re one of the only remaining educators with classroom teaching; others have moved entirely online, which seems wrong for something so practical and physical.

It’s comprehensive… My Level 3 course involves a group learning session every Saturday for 12 weeks and on-going e-learning (mainly anatomy) that’s done in your own time throughout. The weekly group sessions are mixture of classroom and gym floor where we are shown how to use and instruct the gym resistance machines, cardio machines, free weights, dynamic stretches and five barbell lifts: deadlift, squat, bench press, overhead press and barbell row. Other providers may not have this level of real-life coaching so we’re so so lucky to have this.

There’s real pride… It’s not just the face to face structure I like but the calibre of the teachers and trainers leading each session is impressive, each one a leader in their field and proud to be working with No.1. There’s also a huge focus, communicated from day one, that this course (unlike others) prepares you fully for the realities of working in the fitness industry, whichever path you choose to take. All the trainers are highly connected and come with decades of experiences and backstories so they are keen to guide, advice and help as much as possible.

I’m obviously excited… having spent most of last year thinking about doing this, I’m so pleased I’ve actually made it happen. I’m the kind of person slightly obsessed with learning and growth anyway, so progressing in an area I’m already passionate about makes it even more valuable and worthwhile; I’m even enjoying the anatomy (although I’ll admit it’s not easy trying to remember it!). I’m looking forward to more knowledge over the next 12 weeks and then finally waving a bit of paper and shouting out that I’m a qualified PT.

If you fancy finding out more about the fitness instructor and personal trainer courses at No.1 Fitness check them out at no1fitnesseducation.co.uk and @no1fitnesseducation

Fitness news: Roar fitness opens new luxury London gym for more amazing body transformations


If you’re familiar with Roar fitness on Instagram you’ll know it’s famous for its jaw-dropping body transformations. The first branch opened three years ago in the City and this week I visited the brand new, sparkling second branch, also City-based, and was super lucky to have a training session with its co-founder Sarah Lindsay @roarfitnessgirl.

Sarah was previously a three-time Olympic speed skater and the British Ladies Champion for nine consecutive years. She talks about fitness and how to achieve certain goals in great detail and with a lot of passion, which I loved. She runs Roar with her now-husband Rich Phillips, also famed for his personal training expertise.

The goal at Roar Fitness? To achieve fat loss and body transformation goals through weight-training three times a week with a personal trainer, and a bespoke nutrition plan. As simple as that.

Clients now include countless celebrities and anyone committed to transforming body and mind. What I also liked about the set up is each bespoke programme begins with the physiotherapist, who assesses your body’s needs, strengths and weaknesses so the fitness program is then built in line with this.

If you’re terrified of lifting or never considered strength training as the secret to losing weight (which it is), then Roar Fitness will speak to you. It’s humbling to hear Sarah admit she’s been surprised how body transformations have changed the minds and emotions of the women she’s trained, not just their bodies. More confidence, greater positivity and a healthier, happier approach to life are all by-products of getting fitter and stronger. Fact.

Here’s a clip of my workout with Sarah at the new luxury gym in Eastcheap, London. I don’t normally train with machines so I really enjoyed being pushed out of my comfort zone with new moves and equipment.

Find out more at roar-fitness.com/

How I lost weight for a weightlifting competition by eating more carbs

When I signed up for Southern Masters WL competition (at Bethnal Green Weightlifting Club) I had six weeks to lose 3kg. Olympic lifting is a weight-class sport and in my first competition in May, I competed in the 55kg category and I intended to do the same this time. 

On the one hand 3kg doesn’t sound like very much but on the other, I didn’t want to crash diet or do any potentially dangerous dehydration methods that would my jeopardise my lifting performance, both on the day and in the run up in training.

In the months after May’s comp (Essex Weightlifting Club Open Series) my weight had crept up, mainly through a habit of unlimited portions of peanut butter and nuts (seemed so healthy and innocent at the time!) so by August I was a clear 58kg, and now that meant a 3kg cut.  

A weightlifting meet (official word for competition) isn’t a bikini or bodybuilding comp where you just stand and flex on stage. I have to be in great mental and physical shape to nail highly technical lifts at heavy weights (in front of a room full of people). Feeling weak from fasting would be catastrophic.

So I sought professional help. I’d met recently Dr. Sinead Roberts, PhD of Feed.Fuel.Perform at a CrossFit competition a few months prior and she was recommended by several people who I train with. One look at her Instagram and I knew she knew her stuff. 

We spoke on the phone and discussed my weekly training schedule so she could work out my fuel and refuel needs for my training load. She then calculated my macros accordingly, which means exactly the amount of carbohydrates, protein and fat I should consume daily to achieve the desired weight loss without affecting training or performance.

sinead roberts nutritionist

My personalised nutrition plan…

This was the fun bit. My daily calories were in a slight deficit (1732 total) but my carb count was higher than I was used to (198g), whereas my fat intake had to be much lower (52g) and protein as high as I expected (122g). So, fewer calories but made up of more carbs and less fat, so that I could fuel and refuel my sport while leaning out 3kg and keeping energy levels up.

So no cutting carbs! What a delight. A weight loss programme where I had to eat more carbs than usual? Awesome. Sinead presented me with comprehensive doc detailing the nutritional breakdown for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and post-workout fuel so I knew exactly how to structure my meals. As a vegan, I’ve always been unsure how to hit high protein counts but read on and you’ll see how I did it.

Higher carbs were scheduled for pre and post-workout and breakfast so I could fuel and refuel sufficiently and then medium/lower carb count for lunch and dinner (36g each). Bedtime snack was low carb but higher in fat to help stabilise sugar levels overnight. 

What a relief to have scientifically backed nutritional breakdown calculated personally for me, to achieve specific goals. No more guesswork, no more trying to figure it out myself, and no fluffing my way through six weeks of attempted weight loss, not knowing if I’d actually get there or not.

Having a professional do the work they’re trained to do is absolutely the best way, for peace of mind if nothing else. 

No more guesswork, no more trying to figure it out myself – having a professional do the work is the way to go

Here’s how I got on and what I learnt… 

  • The first couple of weeks were definitely adjustment phases as I had to get used to a completely different nutritional intakes. Turns out carbs are not the enemy! 
  • I used MyFitnessPal to track my food and with the premium option I was able to see all the nutritional values and meal breakdowns. This was a game-changer as I could instantly see the effect certain foods (and portions!) were having on my daily goals. 
  • I quickly released how my nut habit had contributed to my weight gain – I was probably overeating about 4-600 calories a day over the last few months just through nuts and peanut butter!
  • I put away the kg-tub of peanut butter, stopped free-pouring olive oil over my food (a little bit is fine but my previous habits were out of control!) and found new snacks to buy instead of my go-to brazil and walnuts. 
  • I rediscovered the joys of fruit – previously (for the last 18 months or so) I’d favoured fat for fuel so my fruit intake was quite low. I started stewing plums and apples for my porridge oats and having a banana in my post-workout shake to help aid recovery. Sinead explained that without post-workout carbs the body will dip into muscle mass to take energy from there. For strength building, this would be a disaster. So now my post-workout shake had approx 30g carbs and 20g protein.
  • I surprised myself by hitting the 122g protein target quite easily almost every day. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be as all the little foods, like veggie sides and oats, contain protein too, so it all adds up quite quickly. I made sure to have about 100g tofu or other type of meat substitute daily, a protein shake straight after training then protein poured over my breakfast oats, and maybe a protein shake before bed.
  • Food prep became my daily norm as it was the only way to get all the macro nutrients I needed in the quantities I needed. I became very diligent at prepping my breakfast and lunch every night for the following day, and I still am.
  • I learnt that no/low fat in my post-workout shake was important – as fat is the slowest of the three macros to digest so to get fast energy to muscles, then best to leave the fat until later. 
  • I started eating simple carbs again – because my vegan diet is already high in fibre, Sinead recommended simple carbs like pasta, white rice and bread to add less strain on my digestive system and for fast-release energy rather than high fibre wholewheat options.
  • I had a low-carb, high protein and high fat snack in the evening before bed was often soya or coconut yoghurt with a small dollop of peanut butter and protein powder – this would help regulate blood sugar levels overnight, give muscles something to feed on and help with muscle repair.
  • I thought I’d hate tracking my food (I’ve previously thought it creates a bad, fixated relationship with it) but I actually enjoyed the process and found it quite educational. I think if there are specific goals to reach then tracking can shed a lot of light and insight.
  • Having professional support is really helpful, whether it’s checking what type of snack to have or voicing worries big or small, having someone to call on through the process, especially towards the end, was invaluable. It also helped that Sinead is just so nice to work with – nothing was ever too much trouble for her and all her instructions were simple and effective, which is why I’ll be working with her again for my next weightlifting competition. Can’t wait!

There were loads of other interesting details I learnt – another benefit of working with an expert – and in exactly five weeks I was 56kg on the scales again. Whoop! I’m still so pleasantly surprised that increasing carbs was the secret to losing weight.

Happy to have made weight on competition day

Competition week…

The last kg was lost in the final week / few days before the competition (which is typical for athletes of a weight-class sport to do) and that’s done through a combination of reducing high fibre foods, taking long walks, stopping eating earlier in the evening, fasting the evening before the weigh-in and no food or fluids before the weigh-in. 

I won’t lie, it’s a stressful few days trying to lose that last kg before the competition as some days the scales don’t move at all and you wonder how on earth it will happen. But success finally came the night before!

When walked into the weigh-in room at Bethnal Green Weightlifting Club at 8AM that day, I was 54.6kg, which was just perfect! It’s a fine art getting just below the 55kg threshold but not too low to affect performance, so we nailed it.

Thank you Sinead for helping me get there!

Once the competition was over I had ALL the treats, fat and carbs I could get my hands on. All well deserved and well worth the wait!

If you’re reading this and compete in a weight-class sport I highly recommend getting a nutritional expert to do your macros and help you get there on the day.  Would love to hear your experiences.

Please note: the nutritional macros in this article are individual and specifically calculated for my starting body composition, timeline, training history and lifestyle so readers shouldn’t assume they will be appropriate or healthy for them. Always seek professional advice.

Review: British Weightlifting Level 1 in Coaching

Getting my British Weightlifting (BWL) Level 1 Award in Coaching was not something I ever expected to do. In fact, when one of my friends Sophia Smith suggested joining her course earlier this year, I immediately thought no, I’m not experienced enough.

But, through a coincidental twist of events a few months later, I was invited by BWL itself (the UK governing body) to attend the course at Third Space in Canary Wharf. Spoiler: I found it really useful, had a great time, and passed!

I’m now so pleased to have done it as it’s been so useful and relevant for my training. So even if, like me, you have no plans or intention to coach, you’re still likely to get something out of it.  

Here’s what the course was like, what I learnt and what you need to know if you’re considering it, or if you’re just intrigued to find out more. Maybe you can surprise yourself by getting qualified too.

British Weightlifting  Level 1 in Coaching review

What is BWL Level 1?

A two-day face to face course in a small group environment with highly experienced Olympic lifting coaches alongside comprehensive e-learning modules.

It’s an opportunity to build your knowledge of the two Olympic lifts: the snatch and the clean & jerk, and learn how to apply that knowledge to a class and coaching setting. You’ll also go through supporting lifts such as back squat and front squat.

The Level 1 qualifies you to assist a more experienced coach who is already qualified at Level 2 or higher. 

Who is it for?

You don’t need to be a coach or PT to do this course, in fact it’s designed for people with no coaching experience.

Experience in the lifts isn’t even a prerequisite although it’s advisable. (I couldn’t imagine attending a course to learn how to coach the snatch if you’ve never snatched before.) 

You’ll be introduced to the principles behind how a weightlifting class is put together, how to deliver it so students are safe and how to evaluate the outcomes and experiences. 

Even if you don’t plan to become a coach, it’s a great opportunity to deepen your knowledge of the lifts, which will help in training and progressing. 

What we learnt

>> The key components and cues for each of the three Olympic lifts – the snatch, clean and jerk – as well as accessory lifts such as back squat and front squat.

>> How to teach with minimal talking time – turns out coaching isn’t a continuous stream of instructions. You have to master the art of observation followed by selective, efficient and concise language to cue only the most important thing so not to overwhelm or confuse the student. Less is more.

>> How to plan, deliver and evaluate a weightlifting class and how to effectively assist more qualified coaches (level 2 and above).

>> We even learnt non-verbal instruction eg for the hard of hearing, which was an interesting twist.

>> We had access to the e-learning hub with lots of great video tutorials. The hub also covered off: roles and responsibilities of a coach, safety in the sport, basic rules of the sport, technicalities of the lifts and supporting exercises.

Few things that pleasantly surprised me

I have no sports coaching experience but I didn’t feel out of my depth. I think the years doing these lifts in a group and one to one setting have meant I’m familiar with the cues and instructions, which definitely helped me absorb and apply all the information received. 

Don’t be scared of the assessment – everyone wants you to do well so there’s lots of practice and the teacher breaks down each element so you’re fully prepared. At the end of day one the thought of being assessed the next day felt terrifying and daunting but once you get there it’s actually totally doable and ok.

You don’t need to worry about being perfect at the moves yourself. The most important thing is understand the key points and safety cues and this will help better your understanding of them.

I started applying the knowledge straight away – in the training sessions immediately after the course. I’m now so aware of my positioning and movement through the lifts and mentally use the cues I learnt every time I lift, which is great, a testament to how useful the course was.

Before you book…

Even though it’s not a prerequisite, knowing the moves will help. As mentioned, you don’t have to be a pro Olympic lifter but at least know what a snatch and clean and jerk  is and have some experience of them.

Allocate some time before the course starts to do the pre course e-learning. You’ll need at least two or three evenings to work through it without rushing. 

Don’t make plans on the night after day one as you’ll have day two’s assessment to prepare for. There’s a lot to take in so it’s not worth rushing, panicking and not feeling prepared for the assessment.


If you think this could be for you, let me know! A limited number of exclusive discount codes are available through me, so message for details if you’re keen.

My Story On Metro.co.uk

yanar alkayat weighlifting

I was so excited to be interviewed my Metro recently for an article on the importance of weight training for women: Weight training should be an essential part of your workout routine.

Journalist Natalie Morris asked me to share my fitness journey, how I got into weightlifting, what I love about it, what it adds to my life and why more people, particularly women, should give it a try.

It’s a fantastic article – full of quotes from me! – and some expert tips from others. Hopefully it will inspire more people to pick up a barbell and feel the benefits for themselves.

If you’re still feeling hesitant, maybe intimidated or scared about weights, and unsure how to start improving your strength, then have a read and let me know what you think.

Here’s an extract – my top tips on why you should start weightlifting

Confidence

There is no better feeling than doing something you previously couldn’t or imagined you could do. It will send your confidence soaring.

Coming from zero strength means I’m super proud of my body and my journey –  it still amazes me today that I can do these things. I never forget where I started.

Progress sometimes feels slow and gradual but there are many small wins and milestones along the way.

A huge mental shift in how I view my body

When my fitness journey became about what my body can do, not what it looked like, it became more than just a workout. My mental attitude towards my body is so much healthier now.

The focus is no longer to stay slim and it’s not about achieving a certain aesthetic. My goals and objectives are all related to performance now.

Future-proofing

I decided I had to lay stronger foundations for the future, especially with a family history of osteoporosis and knowing women’s muscle mass shrinks with age.  I was determined to go into my 40s with a stronger physique.

The quest to build all-over body strength led me to CrossFit where I learnt how to move well with weight bearing and bodyweight exercises.

So while I work on my fitness goals, I’m also building a body for everyday life so I can lift, push and pull things without hurting myself, and building stronger bones for later years.

It’s a lot of fun!

Having a purpose is one of the best ways to enjoy exercise so it never feels like a chore. It’s never an effort getting up early or training after a hard day at work when you have goals in mind. And once you’ve finished a great barbell workout, the endorphins are through the roof.

Mental focus

I always have short term and long term goals – whether it’s hitting a certain weight on a lift or working towards a competition – and these keep me locked in and committed.

The people

Being surrounded by people who are also working towards various fitness goals is hugely motivating and that kind of positive, determined, can-do attitude is contagious.

So the cliche of surrounding yourself with the right people is not just a saying, it’s very true.

You’ll break down barriers

I also want women to breakdown their own perceptions of what they think can do and achieve.

What is heavy or seems impossible one day, will be normal some day in the future if you keep at it so don’t get too frustrated with what you can’t do. Focus on learning how to improve it. 

Read more: https://metro.co.uk/2019/07/21/weight-training-should-be-an-essential-part-of-your-workout-routine-10136518/?ito=cbshare 

Follow more of my fitness and weightlifting journey at @yanarfitness

The Lowdown On Yoga Nidra – Yogic Sleep

Photo by Alice Moore on Unsplash

Yoga nidra is an old yogic practice that takes you to a deeply relaxed state between waking, sleeping and dreaming, and can be quite transformative. I’ve been doing yoga nidra as part of my yoga practice for over ten years now and as more of today’s teachers and studios are talking about and offering it, it seems fitting to share the benefits of yoga nidra and how it’s helped me.  

Translated from Sanskirt, yoga nidra means yogic sleep. It’s a guided relaxation technique that leads to a light withdrawal of external senses while connecting to internal awareness and still maintaining full consciousness. Through a systematic sequence of verbal instructions, it helps to release physical and mental tension, relieve stress as well as help with issues such as insomnia and anxiety. 

My teacher, Swami Pragyamurti at the Satyananda Yoga Centre in London treats the advanced classes to a monthly session and beginner classes to one a week, so I’ve experienced firsthand how amazing the practice is.  Now that I’m teacher training and learning to deliver yoga nidra myself, I can share its incredible benefits and see how much people really do love it. 

A tonic for tiredness – and more

You know the feeling after a really hard day when you body is heavy with tiredness and your mind is full of fog. That’s when I reach for a yoga nidra recording. However exhausted I might be, I know it will recalibrate and recharge me. 

A full yoga nidra is 30 mins but even a short versions (around 20 mins) will be effective at settling the body, mind and emotions. I always wake up feeling refreshed, reenergised, and with eyes and mind bright and alert. Over the years it’s helped me feel calmer in mind and has helped to ease physical tiredness. It’s honestly quite magical.

The practice can also work on a deeper level to help heal and transform, making it a tool for some yoga therapists in the treatment of trauma, stress and anxiety. The use of the resolve / sankulpa is also thought to help initiate change in a person’s life as that intension is mentally repeated in a subconscious state.

Studies have shown it can calm the nervous system, increase the relaxation response and act as a powerful tool for coping with stress.

What happens during yoga nidra? 

During the practice of yoga nidra you lie on the floor (it can also be done seated) with back and legs flat against the floor in shavasana (relaxation pose). Something to cover the body  may be helpful as body temperature drops when lying still so it’s important to have appropriate cover so the body can remain warm and comfortable. 

If it’s a full yoga nidra, and one that follows the traditional sequence, the teacher would go through eight stages. Shorter versions, or versions for beginners, might be cut down to three or four. The stages are:

  1. Settling the body – one of the most important stages – by connecting to the physical body and becoming aware of the different senses, such as touch and sound, it’s an effective route to relaxation 
  2. Breath awareness – connecting to the sound, touch and flow of breath through the body 
  3. Resolve – a positive intention or change you’d like to see in your self or life (in Sanskrit this is called the Sankulpa) 
  4. Rotation of awareness – a systematic sequence of verbal cues through the body, starting on the right side. The teacher will go call out each body part and you follow, visualising or repeating each one mentally  
  5. Pairs and opposites visualisation – describing sensory opposites, such as cold and hot to facilitate deep imagination and visualisation  
  6. Visualisation story – a creative journey that might have some symbolic meaning 
  7. Resolve – returning to your resolve, mentally repeated three times again – this is like sowing the seeds of transformation
  8. Externalisation – the teacher will externalise your senses and bring awareness back to the physical body so you awake safely and comfortably 

All you have do is listen and follow mentally. Each stage sends you deeper and deeper into a relaxed state and if your teacher has the right tone, pace and intonation, you might fall quickly into sleep or drift in and out of sleep. This is completely normal! Staying awake and aware is the aim but a good yoga nidra often ends up with a few snoring heads. 

How to do yoga nidra 

Yoga nidra is always delivered and guided by a teacher so if you read descriptions online about how to do yoga nidra yourself (I’ve read a few, worryingly high up on google searches) these are incorrect and seem to be describing relaxation in shavasana (corpse pose), which can be done on your own but is a totally different practice.

To do yoga nidra you need a teacher to deliver it or a recording. Online recordings (there are many now on YouTube) can be a bit hit or miss so I have a few good ones from teachers I like bookmarked on my iTunes and on CDs. A classical version for beginners can be purchased and downloaded here and another traditional version on YouTube here.   

There are several schools and traditions offering yoga nidra sessions (as well as teacher training) now but the Satyananda tradition is the most well known for bringing this ancient practice into the modern day over the last 40-50 years. You can read more about this in the well known text Yoga Nidra from the Bihar School of Yoga. 

So, if you’re struggling to find ways to deeply relax, you want to feel well-rested, and release physical and mental fatigue, try yoga nidra. Would love to hear what you think.

 

My journey into weightlifting and what it’s like to be a beginner weightlifter

vintage split jerk

I never set out to do weightlifting. A few years ago I didn’t even know what Olympic lifting was, but I’d started CrossFit and a whole new world of fitness had opened up. The killer combinations of Olympic lifts (snatch, clean & jerk, power clean, etc), gymnastic / bodyweight moves and functional training challenged me physically and mentally.

I was hooked on the adrenaline and intensity of the workouts – heavy weights, fast paced and fierce. Plus, I was learning all these new barbell and gymnastic skills so the journey didn’t stop there…

 

The prequel

During the first few years of CrossFit training I was still running marathons.

The deadlifts, back squats and cleans and functional training such as box jumps and kettle bell swings, all helped me to develop more strength and more power through my hips, glutes and core, which translated really well to stronger running. I could run faster and for longer, and without any sight of injury.

I ran Snowdon Marathon in July 2018, coming in the top half of women (I’m usually trailing at the bottom of the pack) and felt elated not be defeated by a mountain.

However, I decided to park marathon running for a while and spend the next 12 months focusing on bodyweight and barbell skills, particularly pull-ups, toes-to-bar and the snatch, as I was still lagging behind in these. And you know how the saying goes, work your weaknesses, so now was the time.

I found a great weightlifting coach – John McComish, an ex-national champion (for England and Ireland) in Olympic lifting – at Peacock’s boxing and weightlifting gym, which is a local community place but known for its competition training, and I immediately felt in good company.

 

Being a newbie all over again

When I started having weekly one-to-one session with John, in October 2018, all I wanted was to improve my snatch and gain more confidence getting under the bar. At that point, I hadn’t even heard of a weightlifting competition, but by February 2019 my numbers were all going up and John started seeding the idea of entering one ‘some time this year’, which of course, sounded ridiculous to me.

Entering a comp was a bit like how running a marathon feels like something impossibly out of reach for a new runner. The distance feels enormous and you have no concept of what the training or the event is like.

Because I still remember those days, all those years ago as a beginner runner, and also as a beginner CrossFitter, I can recall that feeling of being new to something and how it can feel a bit intimidating at times.

That’s why I always like to remember my journey and where I’ve come from – from super slim, no-upper body strength, serial runner in my 20s and early 30s, to now being able to deadlift 100kg and clean and jerk 55kg (my body weight). It makes me feel super proud.

So I try to cut myself some slack when I’m frustrated that I’m not performing or improving, as I’d like to. It takes a while to build strength and technical skill and I respect that I’ve only been focusing on this for six months.

 

When it sparks joy (and when it doesn’t)

There’s no better feeling than hitting PBs (or PRs if you’re reading from the US). I felt mighty high and floated around with a new confidence when I hit a 40kg snatch (which I used to think was a far-off distant goal) followed unexpectedly by a 42.5kg snatch the following week, and felt totally euphoric for hours that evening.

I’d never experienced the bar riding up so smoothly before, and then catching the weight within seconds and standing up with it strong above my head, and I just wanted to do it again and again.

But of course those big weight PBs don’t come all the time so with the highs there are also lows. I’m currently missing a lot of lifts and it’s hard not to feel like I’m doing something wrong or that maybe, I’m just not right for this. Imposter syndrome definitely springs to mind!

My inner critic might occasionally try and whisper that I’m not a natural lifter and that I’m forcing myself into this sport but I just have to gently shut that voice down and get on with my training. At the end of the day, even if I don’t make huge gains, I’m doing it because it’s fun and hugely rewarding.

Learning something tough that pushes your limits toughens you up, and the confidence and strength I’ve gained has carried over into other parts of my life, so the joy it all ‘sparks’ as had a domino effect.

 

Sharpening the tools

In my mind, I regularly visualise each lift and each part of it and sometimes fall asleep replaying the sequence over and over. It’s great to have something so positive to focus on but it’s also frustrating when the lifts don’t happen in reality.

Powerlifting, which is made up of the deadlift, back squat and bench, is different as the bar doesn’t have to travel overhead or fast so the skillset needed is quite different.

Olympic lifting, particularly the snatch, is highly technical – you need mobility, strength and speed, as well as the mental focus to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. I think the combination of mental and physical skill really appeals to me.

The snatch is performed fairly fast but to make it happen several tiny adjustments have to come together perfectly, and if or when, one tiny element is out of synch then the lift just doesn’t happen. Failing lifts is part of the practice, which is why training can be really frustrating.

I surround myself with a gang of super positive fitness friends who motivate me to work hard and stick to it. And, for all its faults, Instagram can be a motivating place too – I follow small but mighty women, such as 55kg weightlifter Allie Rose (@livlaflift58) and CrossFit queen Jamie Greene (@jgreenewod) as well as CrossFit athlete turned weightlifter Jocelyn Forest (@jocelynforest).

 

What next

I absolutely love spending time, effort (and money) on this new fitness goal. While it can take over your life (in the same way CrossFit or any other sports training can), I’m trying to see it as just a very healthy hobby. I love seeing myself get stronger, not just physically but mentally too, and love learning and drilling the skills.

I still run – little and often, although no long distance this year – and I still do one or two CrossFit classes a week as I have a lot of friends there, and I enjoy it, so I haven’t given up the fast and furious workouts just yet.

I have no idea where this weightlifting journey will take me – just like how I had no idea that starting CrossFit four years ago would lead me here – so I’m excited by that unknown too. I trust I’m on a road that’s positive and empowering so I have no worries of what may come.

 


 

Are you a beginner, or experienced weightlifter? Have you nuggets of experience or wisdom to share? Have you also transitioned from CrossFit or maybe you just want to give it a go? If so, let me know! Keen to hear more on this topic…

What’s Your Why? Inspiring Video All Runners Need To Watch

It’s that time of year again – marathon season – with biggies such as Paris, Brighton and London all within a few weeks of each other. I know marathons happen up and down the UK and worldwide all year round but April always feels more like marathon-month than others so now’s a great time to share this great video, The Why: Running 100 Miles.

I watched this last year when I was training for Snowdonia Trail Marathon and grappling with training that was mentally, emotionally and physically challenging. It was my sixth marathon but my first mountain event (where we would summit Snowdon at mile 23) and throughout the six month training block I was riddled with self-doubt, worry and lack of confidence.

Living in flatter-than-flat east London was not conducive to mountain training, and my inner critic was having a ball by putting me down through every training run and prep-race. I was losing motivation, finding all the training sessions so hard, not enjoying myself and couldn’t understand why.

Exploring why

Luckily, my running coach Luke Tyburski is a phenomenal ultra athlete who has done some crazy big events (such as Morocco to Monaco 12-day triathlon, an event he created himself) so he was great at helping me get to grips with the mental side of things.

I’d ran several marathons before so I was used to the long distance training but CrossFit had come into my life a few years earlier and this had definitely become flavour of the day. So I was fighting conflicting desires and needs and I had to reevaluate my relationship with running. That’s when I wrote Help, I’ve Fallen Out Of Love With Running post.

Like any relationship, dynamics change and evolve over time and that’s part of the joys. And there’s no better time to explore your relationship with a sport, activity or hobby then when you have to tick off big miles on a Sunday morning.

I also kept in mind one of my favourite quote from Luke: ‘It’s only at reaching your limits where you’ll catch a glimpse of your true potential’.

Digging deeper

With long distance events such marathons, 50km, 100km and 100 milers becoming more popular, it makes sense to dig deep and find the sticky or meaningful reasons why we run.

I started reading more about mental side of athletes and sports performance – I had How Bad Do You Want It? on my bedside table – and stumbled on this mini docu film by Billy Yang on why ultra runners do ultramarathon events. Why do they put themselves through so much physically, mentally, emotionally? What’s the pull, the lure and enjoyment in something so seemingly gruelling?

Billy also goes beyond commonly cited reasons such as self-improvement and challenge to bigger questions about our need to seek out situations where we’re challenged to the point of extreme, in a way our modern day lives don’t require us to.

Not only is The Why beautiful and humbling to watch but it helped me see things in a new, fresh light. Suddenly I realised others also suffered in similar ways (with anxieties, self-doubt, fear) so it no longer felt like there was something wrong with me as a runner or that I was failing.

‘When reaching your limits, it’s only there you’ll catch a glimpse of your true potential’.

I realised the conversation of why is one all long distance runners, endurance athletes and probably all athletes have to answer, not just to others but really deep down to themselves. After all, it’s the why that feeds the endless drive and determination needed to smash through these incredible feats.

Watch the film

I watched it a few times before my race as it was so inspiring. I hope you enjoy it and get something out of it too, whether it’s your first marathon or you’re a regular on the ultra trails. It might fire up your own why to help you power through your next event or inspire you to book one. And if you’re running London next week, good luck and enjoy it!

Would love to hear what you think!

My three fitness goals for 2019

1000 KM challenge medal

Every year I have a few big fitness goals to focus my time on. For a goal-orientated person this is what gets me out of bed (usually at 5:30AM to train!).

Last year I ran Snowdonia Trail Marathon in July which was an amazing ultra event on really challenging terrain and where we summited Snowdon (around mile 23) and then hobbled downhill to the finish line. I’ve done many marathons but this required specific work on muscle endurance and to get comfortable on hills and elevations so I spent the first six months of the year training for that with running and endurance coach, Luke Tyburski.

snowdonia trail marathon finishers
The finish line Snowdon Trail Marathon @yanarbeauty

After a lovely long summer break with almost no running, the rest of 2018 was spent doing Park Runs (although not sure what’s harder, running fast 5Ks or marathons!) and enjoying being back at my CrossFit gym building strength and working on my olympic lifting skills.

The snatch is my nemesis so I’ve been really trying to crack that with coaches at Royal Docks CrossFit as well as oly-lifting coach and ex-British champion, John McComish, who I’ve been training with at Peacock Gym in east London for the last few months and will continue next year.

I’ve always liked working with coaches for the expertise and accountability they bring so that’s something I highly recommend if you’re serious about a goal.

What’s in store for 2019?

The 2019 goals are in place. I usually start thinking about these in the last few months of each year so I have enough time to mentally prepare and plan ahead.

This quote by Seth Godin which is one of the ways I approach goal setting. It has to be something difficult and scary enough to keep you on your toes but not completely out of reach. I also like it to involve a mix of physical and mental.

If it scares you quote seth godin

Yoga

From January to July I’ll be spending most of my time and energy on my yoga teacher training course, which finishes with two weeks of assessments in July. The coming months will involve lots of practice teaching friends and family, assignments and homework and a big end of year project.

To squeeze this in to my already packed schedule (and because I don’t want to cut back on my training) I plan to basically cull my social life for a few months to carve out the extra time I need. It’s only temporary so I’m sure my friends and family will understand and won’t mind. I did the same last year for the marathon training so they’re pretty used to it now!

CrossFit

To keep making improvements I have booked a CrossFit competition in May – a pairs fitness competition called Inferno Series, which I did last year. It will be great to try and beat our 2018 scores and ranking and give us something to work towards. After that I’d love to do a singles CrossFit competition (Rainhill Trials in Manchester is one of the most popular ones) but as this is is a ballot entry I’ll have to wait and see.

Running

I’m trying something different this year so instead of one big event I’ve signed up to do the 1000KM challenge with Pow Virtual Running, which simply involves running 1000KM within 12 months, from January 1st. I chose this for the aim of being more consistent with my running rather than doing a massive push for six months and then nothing for a few months.

I’m definitely motivated by numbers so by splitting the challenge into weekly and monthly goals (it’s around 20K a week or 80KM a month) I will have something very tangible to keep me on track provide me with a more regular running habit. Plus you get a really fun-looking medal at the end of it :)

1000 KM challenge medal

So there we have it. Three key focusses for 2019 which should definitely keep me busy, motivated and excited. What are yours??

3 Yoga Moves to Help with Running

wanderlust festival london yoga
wanderlust festival london yoga

 

Anyone sticking to just one form of exercise may soon experience the impact of over-training the same muscle groups and the potential risk of injury.

 

I only became a stronger runner after taking up CrossFit (almost ten years after I’d first laced up) and I quickly discovered how functional workouts and barbell training improved all-round body strength and cardio fitness. Not only that, the Crossfit workouts also helped build a strong midline and core – essential for running – and propelled my hip power and mobility, particularly useful for the trail and hill-races I’ve been doing recently.

 

In a similar way, integrating yoga into a weekly routine can be just as beneficial. Runners are notoriously stiff and this can cause strain on joints, muscles and tissues. Flexibility and mobility can help prevent injury and help runners perform better.

 

I’ve also valued my weekly yoga class for the last gazillion years for its deeply calming effects. It’s the one time in the week I can stop and let my breath, mind and body settle, which work its own kind of magic too.

 

Here are three tips from yoga teacher, Jaime Tully, on how yoga can help runners with a few tips from my own experience:

jaime tully yoga teacher

1.

‘Just five to ten minutes of yoga before and after your run will improve both your mobility and recovery.’
TRY: sun salutation to warm up your whole body and loosen all the key muscle groups before you run.

 

2.

‘Spinal poses such as twists are a great way to ease the lower back which gets impacted by tight hamstrings and glutes.’
TRY: A simple pose such as Meru Wakrasana (spinal twist) can help relax the spine. With eyes closed and breath awareness in the spinal pathway for five rounds of breath can enhance the practice.

 

3.

‘Swap a run for a Vinyasa class. It’s the best style for those who crave movement and can still have the intensity of a run. You’ll burn calories, get lost in the movement and restore the areas of your body that could be perhaps damaged by repetitive strain.’
TRY: For an alternative to a Vinyasa flow class, you can incorporate a more gentle and relaxing yoga session into your weekly routine as I have done. This can help calm the nervous system and act as an antidote to any high energy workouts you do.

 

Jaime Tully is one of the many leading yoga teachers and fitness experts at Wanderlust Festival in London on Saturday 15th September. A day festival of running, yoga and meditation – three of my favourite things!  Check it out – tickets still available.

Is yoga an exercise?

Is yoga an exercise blog

Is yoga an exercise blog

It’s a common misconception that yoga is an exercise. When people hear or talk about yoga it’s almost always referred to and understood as a form of exercise. But is it? Well, not really. So what is the difference between yoga and exercise?

While exercise and yogic postures (asana) share similarities in that they both involve movement, (most) exercise works on the sympathetic system and yoga (when done correctly) works on the parasympathetic system which is why it can be useful for people suffering from stress and anxiety. Both contribute to physical health but yoga relates to so much more than the physical. 

Evolving slowly by ancient sages all over the world, yoga has it roots in early civilisation as people developed an awareness of spiritual capabilities. Its origins are also found in the Vedas, the oldest collection of Indian spiritual scriptures for personal and spiritual development.

This ancient discipline works on all aspects of the person: the physical, mental, vital, emotional, psychic and spiritual self. This is done through a practice of asana (posture or pose), pranayama (control of breath), mudra (hand gestures), bandha (energy locks), shatkarma (cleansing and purification of the body) and meditation. These are a few of the Eight Limbs of Yoga written in the scriptures that help to remove mental and physical obstacles.

Today, mainly in western cultures, yoga classes tend to embrace asana more than any other aspect of traditional yoga which may result in a one-sided development. Engaging with all ‘limbs’, can help to expand our connection and understanding of inner ourselves and outside world.  

Physical asanas are usually people’s first experience with yoga. Not just movement though, asanas tap into energy points in the body with the potential to release energy blocks from wherever energy flow is suppressed, which is why people can feel good after a yoga class.

Moving on from the physical, yogic practices can help develop an awareness of connection between emotional, mental and physical body and how an imbalance in one of these can affect the others.

We are a combination of body, emotions, intellect and psyche and through the practices and experience of yoga – by actually living it, not just reading about it – we can develop and balance all of these, to become a happier and more integrated person.

 

I’ve fallen out of love with running – here’s how I’m going to fix it

homer_running falling out of love with running

It happens. There I was, not so long ago, running like nothing in the world compared to the freedom and joy of hitting the road on a run and bam! It couldn’t be more different now. Legs feel like they’re wading through mud, ankles like they’re strapped with lead and the mind split in two having the most almighty wrestling match. One half wishing it could be anywhere else but out there on a Saturday morning and the other half willing and coercing it to keep going.

It’s been a mental and physical battle like this every time I’ve run for the last few months, so me and running are currently going through a bad patch.

sports running giphy

This change of head and heart has been a little untimely to be honest as I’m exactly half way through a six-month training block for Scott Snowdon Marathon on July 15th. So with just three months to go before I am literally on a mountain and having to run up it, I have to sort my head out, fast.

So what do you do when you no longer want to run (but you have shit loads of training to do before a big race)?

What do you do when you’re half way through an 18 miler and there’s an overwhelming feeling to just stop and call it a day.

What if something else is flavour of the day? In my case weightlifting and Crossfit? I find these two activities waaaay more fun right now but I have this mountain race looming over me so now is not the time to spend Sunday afternoons at my Crossfit gym perfecting my snatches.

In the last few weeks and months I’ve been riddled with non-stop negativity, before, during and after the trainers go on. This negative mind-set became so bad and loud that on my last 20-miler I gave up at mile 11, sat down at the top of Greenwich Park (not a bad place to pack it all in) and refused to get up and get going again. My head wasn’t in it and no mind game or visualisation trick was going to work this time. I had officially fallen out of love with the run.

I’d been trying to deal with this alone for several weeks with no progress so I finally consulted my coach Luke Tyburski. (Big plug here for Luke as he’s so much more than just a running coach but super experienced in the mental side of challenges too).

‘It happens. And it happens to more of us than you realise,’ he says over our Skype consultation. From what I understand from Luke and reading about others, running without joy happens to everyone from elite athletes to novices. It happens to people who have been running and racing for over ten years like myself and to people like Luke who run phenomenally long ultra races around the world. But there are ways around it.

So he gave me three bits of good advice:

> Grab a cup of tea and have a long serious chat with yourself. Really ask yourself why you’re doing it. What’s your motivation, why do you want to run this race? And even once you’ve answered it dig deeper and find out more. If you say you love trail running ask why, what does it do for you? What will completing this event mean?

> Look ahead into the future and see how this fits into longer-term goals. Will this race be a stepping-stone to other challenges? Will it make you stronger for other goals in mind?

> Find your happy place again. Take the weekend off long runs and go out for a casual run instead: no watch, no time, no pressure or expectations and run for as long or little as you want (say, up to one hour) to regain your confidence and find your happy place again.

So I’m working on the above.

To combat negative periods when out on the ground, ultra runner Debbie Martin-Consani, who I met on a press trip for Montane and Polygeine (which is a clever anti-odour technology used sports clothing) and she recommend counting while running to help calm the mind.

‘Count to 10 over and over again. It’s like a temporary distraction.’ It sounds a bit nuts but I’ve been doing this and it genuinely works. I just keep counting 1-10 in time with my strides, a bit like an insomniac, and eventually find a quiet place in my mind again. A bit like falling asleep.

Luke also recommends switching the point of focus when we are in a whirl of negative thoughts during a run.

‘When you’re being internally negative (e.g. thoughts about painful muscles or discomfort) focus on the external e.g. the weather, the scenery (enjoy its beauty), or the fact that you can run/train/lift etc, and there are millions of people who cannot.

– this has actually been very useful as I realised running the same route for months on end has been slowly feeding my boredom. As soon as I changed routes last week I started externalising and not internalising. The run was so much better. Sounds obvious but sticking to a route we know usually helps with getting the miles in without too much thought but after some time it seems like this familiar route has a counterproductive effect.  

‘When focussing on the external (bad weather, hard hills, heavy weights etc) move your focus internally. Do you feel strong, have you done this before? Did you survive it last time? Positive self talk is a cliché but it goes a long way.

‘Finally when you’re on a tough part of a race or run and it’s physically demanding, accept this is your ‘new norm’. Don’t fight it. Acknowledge the negative thoughts and say I hear you but you are not helping me. I will not let you drag me down.’

This is not the first time running has lost its spark for me – after my second marathon I didn’t run for two years and hung up my trainers again for another year when I started Crossfit in 2015, but then had a comeback with two marathons 2017 – so I know we’ll get through this; like any relationship we will reconnect again. Let’s just hope I find my happy running place before I’m on the side of that mountain.

Would love to hear if you’ve been through the same and any of your negative-fighting tips and tricks please!

X

13 Holiday workouts, no equipment needed

best holiday workout no equipment needed blog

best holiday workout no equipment needed blog
My own holiday workout completed in a sweaty time of 13 minutes 22 seconds. Can you beat it?

I know working out on holiday isn’t top of most people’s agendas but occasionally you might feel like sweating it out to balance out the cocktail calories and clear away the cobwebs. If you don’t have access to a gym – say you’re doing a villa or apartment rental – it’s handy to have an arsenal of drills to dip into. That’s why I’ve collected and compiled this list of workouts that can be done any time, anywhere, quickly (because there’s a holiday to enjoy) and most importantly, with no equipment needed (so there really are no excuses). They are also accessible for any level of fitness which is also great.

The sequences on this list targets the whole body, strength, mobility and cardiovascular power in one swift session and mixing up high intensity and strength makes it super efficient. Most have been taken from CrossFit programming so for time means as fast as possible to get your best time – this definitely lends more intensity, as does the higher volume of reps. You can even then repeat your workout another day to see if you can beat your time.

AMRAP means as many rounds or reps as possible which also creates a sense of urgency. Having a rep scheme to work to – rather than simply working for 30-seconds – contributes to a more effective session as you have a specific volume of work to get through which creates more focus. This combination of time and reps pushes you further. Most of these are short, sharp and sweat-pouringly effective.

I recently did #2 and it took me 13 minutes 22 seconds. Can you beat it? Have a go and let me know!

TIP: When you see 100 reps, break it up which ever way want. So I did 10 rounds of 10 for workout #2. Five rounds of 20 is also doable, although you might find you slow down on the burpees if you have to do too many in a round.

13 best holiday workouts

#1. For time: 100 burpees

#2. For time:

  • 100 push ups
  • 100 squats (hip crease below knee)
  • 100 burpees

#3. 10 rounds for time:

  • 10 pushups
  • 10 sit-ups
  • 10 air squats

#4. As fast as possible for time: – this is a great warm up workout

  • 21 air squats (hip crease below knee)
  • 21 pushups
  • 15 air squats
  • 15 pushups
  • 9 air squats
  • 9 pushups

#5. 8 rounds for time:

  • 10 situps
  • 10 burpees

#6. For time: 

  • 75 air squats
  • 50 pushups
  • 25 burpees

#7. 10 rounds for time:

  • 10 air squats
  • 10 pushups
  • 10 situps
  • 10 dips

#8. 20 minute AMRAP (as many rounds/reps as possible):

  • 20 walking lunges
  • 20 situps
  • 20 pushups
  • 20 squats

#9. Go as fast as possible for time: (another great warm up workout)

  • 21 squats
  • 21 burpees
  • 15 squats
  • 15 burpees
  • 9 squats
  • 9 burpees

#10. 15 minute AMRAP (as many rounds/reps as possible)

  • 5 push-ups
  • 15 sit-ups
  • 30 squats

#11. 3 rounds for time:

  • Run a half mile
  • 30 burpees

#12. 4 rounds for time:

  • 20 burpees
  • 20 push ups
  • 20 sit ups
  • 20 squats

#13. Stabilisation / core work 

  • 30 second or 1 minute plank hold
  • straight into 25 sit ups
  • repeated 3-4 times

 

Are your long runs making you fat?

marathon-training-tips-stressfree-marathon-healthista1

Next weekend I’m running London Marathon, which I’m really looking forward to. It will be my third marathon but my first in London (Brighton and Edinburgh previously). I had never planned to run but was offered a last minute place by Lucozade Sport via Health & Fitness magazine who I write for, and seeing as London is so difficult to get into (oversubscribed ballot entry and expensive charity places) of course I said yes quicker than I can send the email reply. But I had just under three months to train so it’s been tight to say the least – a bit like cramming before a huge exam.

Interestingly, a year and a half of weight training and CrossFit has made me stronger than I was for my previous marathons so I’ve been able to tackle the long distances without too much risk of injury. All those deadlifts have luckily come in handy!

But long steady runs have had a surprising effect on my body. At the start of the training when I was building up from eight, nine miles to 15 and more I got leaner and noticed some excess weight fall off pretty quickly. However, during the weeks where I was running 18, 19, 20 and 21 miles I noticed things change – I was no longer feeling light or lean but quite the contrary, I felt like I’d filled out a bit despite doing big mileage every weekend.

I’d cut back on CrossFit (from four sessions a week to three) but I didn’t think that was the cause. Could I be imagining it? A quick step on the weights at my parent’s house confirmed I was right as I’d gone up a kilo but endurance training requires good fuel so I put it down to the extra calories I’d been consuming.

Turns out there’s more to it than that. When I saw my sports massage therapist – the brilliant Uju Eze, who is actually a movement specialist because she’s definitely more than just a sports masseuse – she confirmed there is science behind the gain.

“When you run at around 65% of your maximum heart rate for a long, sustained period the body goes into a catabolic state (muscle-wasting) which means it adapts and starts to store fat and use muscle as as fuel instead because it thinks something is wrong and it needs to get ready to survive.”

This, and a number of other reasons are why low intensity steady cardio (otherwise known as LISS which is the opposite of HIIT – high intensity interval training) can actually be the wrong choice of exercise if fat loss is your goal. Here are a few reasons why the body is not in a fat burning state:

  • the body adapts to low intensity steady state cardio and eventually doesn’t need as much oxygen or energy to do the workout so it becomes easier and consequently less effective. To keep reaping benefits you’d have to increase the intensity e.g. by either training faster or increasing distance.
  • Increasing volume however, could have a detrimental effect in the long run because of a loss of muscle mass (the catabolic effect) which in turn leads to fewer calories burned by the body at rest (the metabolic rate) because muscle burns more calories than fat, and if there’s no change in diet it will eventually lead to fat gain.
  • too much cardio can also lead to increased hunger and additionally, fuelling for long runs can often involve high glycemic foods before, during and after the workout which actually suppress fat loss and fat burn.
  • long steady state cardio only burns calories during the activity rather and doesn’t change your metabolism. To make changes to your metabolism and experience calories burn up to 24 hours after exercise, studies show HIIT training works because it produces mitochondria (cells where respiration happens) and increases mitochondria activity so your body increases its oxidative capacity.

So it wasn’t all in my head, I was indeed actually holding onto weight. There are more explanations and studies shared about this in this article, Does Cardio Make You Fat and following that, check out this article which compares HIIT vs LISS and explains why high intensity interval training is a better option for fat loss and toning up than low state cardio.

I’m now looking forward to the end of this marathon when I can go back to short, sharp and strength based interval training. However, research shows that some steady state cardio can be good as a means of recovery from high intensity strength training so I won’t be giving up on the steady state cardio just yet – it just won’t be as long as it is now.

And I almost forgot! For those friends and family wishing to donate here’s my marathon Just Giving page which a friend kindly set up for me. Even though I don’t have to raise any money for my entry we thought it was only fair to put a few pounds in the pot as a show of gratitude for my place – I’ll be donating to Parkinson’s UK. Thanks all!

x

 

 

Yoga for balancing hormones

yanar alkayat tenpilates yoga for hormones
Me and yoga teacher Danielle Willemsen at Ten for Yoga for Hormone Balance class

A few months ago I attended the launch of Ten Health & Fitness’ new class, Yoga for Hormone Balance. Designed to support and strengthen natural hormone function as well as to relax and rejuvenate the body and mind, after trying it out it seemed like the perfect antidote to a fast-paced life that puts a strain on the nervous system and hormones.

“When the sympathetic nervous system is constantly over-active, the adrenals are churning out adrenaline and cortisol to keep us going” says Dr Annaradnams of The Marion Gluck Clinic in London.

A little bit of this is ok when we need to kickstart ourselves into action but when the body is constantly in red alert mode there’s a knock on effect. Without sufficient downtime health and hormones will suffer.

The Ten Yoga for Hormone Balance class is two hours long and created by yoga teacher and movement expert Danielle Willemsen. It focusses on poses that open up the hips, elongate the spine and encourage the four key hormonal glands – pituitary, thyroid, adrenal and ovaries – to behave more harmoniously.

So much of modern yoga is fast-paced and dynamic and on top of an already stressful day and hyped up nervous system the results can be over-stimulating on the body so this new hormone-balancing class is a welcome change of pace.

Yoga was not originally designed to be a workout – in my opinion, if you want to sweat do a cardio class and choose to do yoga to slow down your breath, soften the mind and create more balance, physically and mentally.

Hormone doctors even agree that slow movement can benefit hormone function as it taps into the parasympathetic nervous system to settle the body and in turn, the nervous system.

After trying this Ten Pilates class at the press launch it inspired me to check out what classical yoga says about hormone balancing. For the last seven years I’ve been practicing a classic hatha yoga (Satyananda yoga) which is super slow and meditative and calms everything right down – mind, body and breath. My weekly Wednesday class is like a natural tranquilliser – there’s nothing quite like it – and I leave fully grounded and deeply relaxed.

The Bihar School of Yoga which I’ve been reading recently has an extensive library of books and in Yogic Management of Common Diseases I found a whole chapter on thyroid function. Here are a few extracts if you’re looking for more inspiration on yoga for hormones:

Yoga for the thyroid gland

“Long before medical science knew about the existence of thyroid glands, the yogis had devised practices that maintained healthy glands and metabolism. The good health of the neuroendocrine system was understood to be vital to higher awareness.” (pg. 24-45)

Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) is the most well recognised asana for the thyroid gland. An enormous pressure is placed on the gland by this powerful posture. As the thyroid has one of the largest blood supplies of any body organ, this pressure has dramatic effects on its function, improving circulation and squeezing out stagnant secretions.”

“The most effective pranayama (breathing work) for thyroid problems is ujjayi breath. It acts on the throat area and its relaxing and stimulating effects are most probably due to stimulation of reflex pathways within the throat area which are controlled by the brain stem and hypothalamus.”

“One of the most prominent precipitating factors in states of thyroid imbalance is long-term suppression and blockage of emotional expression. Balancing the emotions and giving a suitable outlet for their expression is an important part of yoga therapy for thyroid disease. Kirtan (signing of mantras collectively) is one of the most useful means. Another is ajapa japa meditation in conjunction with ajjayi breath.”

 xx

How not to get a cold #2

avogel-echinaforce-throat-spray-30ml-review

Brrr.. it’s baltic! Surviving winter without getting ill is no mean feat. The Organic Pharmacy Immune Tonic (which I previously blogged about here) is brilliant for supporting health and wellness over a period of time but for on the spot defence do not leave home without A. Vogel Echinaforce Sore Throat Spray. 

avogel-echinaforce-throat-spray-30ml-reviewAt the very first sign of a tickling throat (you know that feeling when you might be coming down with something) or if you already have a sore throat, or people around you are coughing or contagious just whip out this mean machine herbal tincture and spritz three to four times.

With a few sprays to the back of the throat (I’m warning you now it’s got a crazily intense taste that will shock your taste buds but a few seconds later most people love the sage-hit) it instantly attacks gristly germs trying to bring you down.

It’s probably the one product I recommended the most and everyone who’s bought it at the back of my recommendation now swears by it. I love it even more because it’s a combo of natural, herbal and botanical ingredients: freshly harvested echinacea purpurea herb and root and sage leaves. The back of pack also says it contains sorbitol (407mg), ethanol (370mg), soy lecithin (20mg) and sucrose laurate (5mg).

It rarely leaves my side November through to March and even throughout summer I take it with me on travels, especially if I’m on a plane where the air is rife with germs. Even my editor, Anna Magee at Healthista love it- here’s her raving about it on Instagram:

healthista instagram avogel echinaforce throat spray

I’m already on my second bottle this winter because this stuff really works!

6 Best Natural Sleep Products 

Viridian Cherry Night best natural sleep products

If you’re stressed out by sleepless nights you’re not alone. Apparently 56% of adults say lack of sleep is stressing them out*. April was Stress Awareness Month so here are my favourite natural sleep and relaxation products from supplements to sprays that I use, recommend and often write about.Wishing you a calmer and more peaceful night…

1. A.Vogel Dormeasan

When I’ve struggled to sleep in the past, this has been my favourite way to nod. Made from organically grown valerian root and hops. Simply add 30 drops to a dash of water, 30 minutes before bedtime and swig it back. You may not like the taste but it’s short and sharp, works beautifully and worth the restful night. avogel.co.uk  

A.Vogel Dormeasan

2. Viridian Cherry Night

A powder mix of magnesium, red date, cherry extracts and the amino acid glycine. Add one teaspoon to water or juice and drink half an hour before bed. A friend of mine swears by this and was surprised how quickly it brought on sleep and how deep that sleep was. Viridian.co.uk

Viridian Cherry Night

3. Potter’s Nodoff Plus Mixture

This has the consistency of a cough syrup which makes it super convenient to take. You can easily reach for a teaspoon and jump into bed. Contains passionflower, hops, valerian and skullcap, all clinically proven to aid sleep. pottersherbals.co.uk

Potter’s Nodoff Plus Mixture.jpg

 

4. Pukka Night Time

If you prefer popping a capsule pill then try Pukka Night Time. Containing valerian too but also the ancient Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha root which aids relaxation. The outer capsule shell is vegetable based / vegan and all the herbs are harvested from highly fertile organic soils via Pukka’s fairtrade programmes.  Contains no dairy, wheat, gluten, added sugar or soya and no GMO ingredients. pukkaherbs.com

pukka herbs nighttime.jpeg

5. This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray

I was sceptical about a pillow spray at first but after diligent testing night after night, I became a total convert and dare I say a bit of an addict. I loved spritzing my pillow and duvet edges with this and letting the aromatherapeutic scents drift around and work their magic. You don’t need to suffer from sleepless nights to experience this product – if you’re prone to endless thoughts before falling asleep this gently relaxes and unwinds. thisworks.com

best natural sleep products This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray

6. Fushi Passion Seed Oil

For an alternative to tinctures, supplements and sprays I’ve also tried a calming natural body oil. This maracuja oil by herbal health and beauty brand Fushi is obtained from the the passion flower, known for its calming and stress relieving properties. Harvested from Uganda and supporting over 200 families via a women’s cooperative. I recommend adding a few drops to your bath or applying it as a body oil before bed. I also found an impressive array of Fushi night time tinctures here – can’t wait to try them!

Fushi Passion Seed Oil

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that since adopting a regular breathing practice before bed I’m now able to nod off fairly calmly without help from herbal remedies. This has been a transformative habit and highly recommend it as a way to de-stress the body and mind. You can read more about my bedtime breathing practices here.

Let me know if there’s a product or practice that works for you!

*Research conducted by the Henry Potter Advisory Committee on behalf of Potter’s Herbals.

Victoria Beckham and I try out the treadmill desk – and why sitting down all day is bad for you

Yanar-Alkayat reviews the treadmill-desk at-beautyMART-for Healthista

A few weeks ago Lifespan Fitness sent a press release about a treadmill desk – a health-fanatic’s upgrade to the standing desk – I was hooked. A slow-moving treadmill connected to a height-adjustable desk, a novel way to workout while you work I thought. I buzzed my editor at Healthista.com, knowing she would absolutely love it, and before I knew it my ordinary desk, where I also work at BeautyMART HQ, was whipped away and this mean-machine was put in place instead.

Yanar-Alkayat reviews the treadmill-desk at-beautyMART-for Healthista

Walking and working became my daily grind for a few weeks, with the lulling sound of the treadmill in the background. The girls in the office found it hilarious and loved making videos but I was knackered.

Then Victoria Beckham tried it and tweeted about it. We’re so on the pulse! Although VB and I don’t share the same taste in footwear (see her sky-high stilettos below) we certainly know a good health craze when we see one…

Health benefits of a treadmill desk – it’s meant to be used as an office hot-desk so if you persuade your boss to introduce one, everyone will feel the health benefits. The treadmill is capped at a very slow speed so no chance of flying off and makes multi-tasking more simple than expected. Hop on and off throughout the day and it will wake up all the muscles that have been sitting sedentary for hours and lengthen the spine again. A half-hour burst certainly helps to bust away a mid-afternoon energy slump and minimises a hunched back from sitting at a desk all day. It’s thought just two hours on the treadmill desk, interspersed throughout the day, can counteract the damaging effects of a desk-life.

The downsides – because it was my actual desk for this review, I was literally walking for hours on end which had a knock-on effect on concentration levels. I wasn’t really able to focus on anything more taxing than being on the internet or posting on Facebook.  By 4pm I was crawling to our office sofa, feeling grouchy and losing concentration.

But my legs had turned to steel (I hailed it the secret to red carpet legs on the BeautyMART blog), I felt lighter and I’d zapped away countless calories, although my appetite had tripled. For my Healthista.com review I spoke to Max Henderson, co-founder of Hot Pod Yoga about why sitting at a desk is bad for us and what we can do about it. 

“Hunched over a desk will lead to bad posture, which is intrinsically linked to back and spine problems. Our central nervous system runs alongside our spine, which the spine protects. A curved spine prevents the muscles from protecting the nerves which can cause huge problems for the main trunk of the nervous system,” explains Max. “Plus a sedentary life can lead to wider health issues related to the pancreas and heart.”

So is it worth it? Check out my review in Healthista.com here for the full verdict!

Give up the January diet blues

Give up the January diet blues

It’s January so once again everyone’s been talking new year, new you, diets, detox, cleanses and weight loss. Boring? Maybe. But interestingly for me it’s my job to put these (sometimes ridiculous) diets to the test and report back. If all you seem to do is diet-eat-diet-eat-diet-eat then you must have had enough. Why not ditch the diet and read on for some easy tools to transform your eating habits year-round, not just for January. And if you’re struggling through a ‘dry January’ then you need to read Give Up Giving Up by Eva Wiseman. Had me chuckling in agreement!

Give up the January diet blues

I personally don’t think it’s a good idea to detox or do a diet-overhaul in January as the winter chill naturally makes us want to cosy-up and hibernate. For that reason most ancient traditions such Ayurveda, yoga, and Traditional Chinese Medicine suggest the end of winter/beginning of spring as the optimum time to detox, renew and rejuvenate. 

However….as most of us want to remedy a festive blow-out, there’s no better time to share this post. These are my five easy wins to promote a fresher, healthier and more enlivening way of eating without a single calorie-count or craving in sight (hoorah!) and without having to buy expensive super-foods. Ready to say no to the January diet blues? 

1. Buy a bag of lemons – one lemon is simply not enough. Buy a bag so there’s a stock of alkalising goodness in the fridge at all times. I wrote about why lemons are good for you here so now it’s not just the mornings when I reach for a lemon, I squeeze them onto food throughout the day. Particularly good at helping to digest, metabolise and alkalise heavy foods too, so it’s a brilliant weight loss-win without cutting back on a single food. Eat what you like, just add lemons!

2. Eat avocado – another staple in my daily diet that helps keep weight down. Eat one for breakfast and the good fat content and its ability to stabilise blood-sugar levels will mean you stay full until lunch, with loads of energy and no snacks guaranteed. I’ve got all the girls in the office onto avocado on toast, rice cakes or pitta in the mornings and they love it. It’s also a natural way to reduce cholesterol and strengthen skin.

3. Try coconut oil – this is my favourite discovery of recent years. I have a tub in the bathroom to moisturise skin and one in the kitchen for spreading onto toast as ‘butter’. After reading extensively about the benefits of coconut oil and its unique fatty acid make-up that keeps blood sugar levels down, I’m hooked. Amazingly, the body uses it as instant energy rather than storing it as fat and it also helps to increase the metabolism. Basically it’s like a nutritional powerhouse that’s not far off losing weight while you eat!

4. Bitter is better – the ancient practice of having a bitter tonic to aid digestion is back, hoorah! I’ve been using Viridian Digestive Elixir first thing in the morning or before food and it basically helps to support the enzymes necessary for digestion. It’s a great one for holiday health or before eating out.

5. Go more raw – last year I completed a 7-day raw food challenge for Healthista.com and discovered a whole new world, culture, and way of eating – challenging as much as it was enlightening though. It’s not about eating carrot sticks but being creative and adding more raw foods to everyday meals for more nutrients, goodness and most of all, energy – something we all want!

Go more raw - Raw slaw salad

How-To: Raw slaws. These are so easy to make and instantly add fresh, live vitamins to your meal. Add three of your favourite vegetables into a food processor (a good combo is courgette, carrot, tomato but experiment with kale, onion, green beans, and even parsnip) and add your favourite herb or two with seasoning. Blend. Serve. This makes an easy accompaniment to pasta, rice, tofu, grains or anything you want really.

Tip: the more you blend, the finer, mushier and wetter the concoction gets so you can create almost pesto-like consistency from some combinations of foods or keep the mix quite dry and slaw-like with less or no tomato and less blending.

If your interested in more raw diet tips I wrote a part-two blog post for Healthista.com on my experiences with a dehydrator oven – the ultimate raw foodie kitchen gadget.

What’s next? 

Well, this week I’m coming to the end of a juice detox, reviewing for Healthista.com and in partnership with with Philips and Jason Vale for the World’s Biggest Juice Detox. Want to hear my verdict? Stay tuned, all will be revealed!

Holiday health

Christmas holiday health dream team on brighter shade of green

Christmas, health, diet and wellbeing don’t usually go hand in hand, which is why I’ve taken away a dream team to help me through the festive period in a slightly better state – let’s call it damage control. Not only is it Christmas but I’m on holiday too so double trouble.

These health favourites are nothing fancy, and nothing complicated, just products that are natural, simple to use or take, easy to incorporate into a daily diet (however overindulgent it might be) and will hopefully mean the damage-remedy in January will be less of a mammoth task to manage.

Christmas holiday health dream team on brighter shade of green

From left to right:

Viridian Equinox Elixir – with nasty air con blasting, you’re lucky to get off a flight without sneezing or coughing so I take this herbal tincture with a bit of water when I’m in the air to ward off any bacteria or germs. Antioxidants are my number one in-flight essential and because Viridian Equinox is helpful for boosting the immune during a change of seasons, it’s perfect for travel too.

Viridian Digestive Elixir – I’ve made it a daily habit to take 20 drops of another great Viridian tincture, Digestive Elixir, after learning about the benefits of morning bitters from the experts at Grayshott Hall. This one supports the enzymes necessary for digestion and I’ve taken it every day without fail this holiday. I’m eating extraordinary amounts of food this holiday, some of which I’m not used to, so setting myself up on the right path first thing in the morning helps my tummy get through the day!

VeryWise EnergyWise – this is a new kid on the health block so I’ve taken it away to try. There are six oils in this new range of Omega 3 ‘shots’ by VeryWise, as Omega 3 is thought to be the cornerstone of heart, brain and joint health. Each variety is specially formulated for a different health focus and this one, EnergyWise, is the only one that’s vegan (the others contain fish oils). It’s got a lovely mixture of B vitamins, some caffeine (75mg) and the medium chain fatty acids (MCTs, as found in coconut oil) that support balanced blood sugar levels and metabolism. It tastes like a caramel espresso shot (yum!) and gave me a noticeable boost of energy. My only gripe is that the bottle and cap gets messy, reminding me of the way children’s medicine does, so don’t throw away its cardboard container.

Nosh Detox Raw Boosters – as I can’t take away my green veg and blender on holiday, these little sachets of health containing raw, organic, freeze-dried super powders are a portable substitute. A power-mix of alfalfa, kelp, chlorella and other greens for a quick way to balance any acidity from overindulgence; bread, wine, dairy or meat are the biggest culprits for an over-acid stomach and that means one thing: bad digestion, low absorption of nutrients, bad skin and weight gain. One of these green shots (pictured) can help rebalance the alkaline in the tummy, even with festive over-eating. Lemon water first thing in the morning also helps.

Nosh Detox Raw Boosters Brighter Shade of Green

I thought mixing with water rather than juice would taste terrible but it wasn’t bad at all and I’m definitely going to buy some the next time I go away.

Pukka Organic Coconut Oil – I’m a huge fan of coconut oil and use it practically every day so I wouldn’t dream of going away without it. Most tubs are huge but this one from Pukka Herbs is the perfect size for holidays, trips and overnight stays. Delicious on bread or toast, on skin and generally for health, coconut oil is a powerhouse for health and diet: its slow-release energy keeps you fuller for longer, it’s used by the body as instant energy rather than stored as fat and has an amazing power to increase the metabolism – not far off detoxing while you eat!

The Organic Pharmacy Detox – after reading my Raw Food Diet Challenge, founder of The Organic Pharmacy, Margo Marrone, kindly sent me her Detox capsules to try, telling me they’ll keep my tummy flat without having to slave in the kitchen for a raw food diet. I’ve taken them meticulously as instructed (three capsules 30 minutes before food in the morning and three caps in the evening after food) and I have to say my tummy would not be as well behaved and un-bloated for the copious amounts I’ve eaten this holiday, and with all the baklawa I’ve eaten, there’s no way my skin would have remained so clear.

I’ve tried a lot of detox and cleanse supplements over the years and this one is also gentle, as it says it is, i.e. no sudden rushes to the bathroom. The blend in the vegan capsules contains burdock root, alfalfa, chorella, slippery elm, psyllium husks, barley grass and other fabulously detoxifying herbs. Highly recommended as a supplement to any festive food and drink blow out.

Happy eating!x

Image

The next big thing in beauty: Vitamin Infusions

Nosh Detox Vitamin Infusion

Yesterday morning I discovered one of the biggest secrets to sparkling celebrity skin and it certainly wasn’t from a £1000 pot of promises. I was taped to a drip in a plush address off Harley Street in London, with thousands of milligrams of pure vitamins pumped into my blood intravenously. This was a Nosh Detox Vitamin Infusion and it’s far better than it looks or sounds, I promise, so stick with me!

I guarantee Vitamin Infusions are set to be the next big health and beauty treatment to hit the mainstream. Forget creams, forget supplements and don’t even bother with regular smoothies from the supermarket. What the celebs have been booking before red carpet appearances is a course of vitamin infusions.

What’s a Vitamin Infusion? It’s when vital nutrients are administered directly into the body (by a nurse), bypassing  the digestive system. Vitamins supplements taken orally are usually rendered useless due to ineffective absorption in the gut – I’ve heard the body can only absorb around 40% maximum of a supplement pill anyway which doesn’t sound like very much. Through IV nutrition you literally absorb 100% of the minerals and vitamins right before your eyes – that whole bottle of liquid you see in the picture above was gone within 30 mins.

What’s it for? Great skin, great health, energy, vitality. Even if your diet is great and you feel relatively healthy, you may not be at optimum health. You might feel tired or run down, have dry or dull skin or be getting ill regularly. Having a massive infusion of vitamins not only boosts the body back to health (especially after a spell of illness) but can also be great as a form of health maintenance . The PR girls who’d had the treatment a few days earlier looked incredibly well with enviously great skin so I was sold just by looking at them.

How do I feel now? I felt great after I had it and while I didn’t notice any instant glow on my skin, I did feel absolutely full of beans until the early hours. I definitely couldn’t sleep and woke up super easily the next day. I’ve heard the red carpet crew have these infusions regularly – either a short course before a big event, to get back on track after a period of stress or top-ups ever fortnight, month or even week.

But it doesn’t come cheap. Let’s just say you have to be comfortable with money. The infusion I had was Fit-Amin for immune and energy boost and cost a few hundred pounds. It contained: 2000 mg vitamin C, all the Bs, magnesium, calcium, zinc and selenium and several other vital nutrients.

Is this just another fad or is it the future of health and wellbeing? I say future, and most definitely one for health and beauty geeks like me…

Stress-busting aromatherapy and massage

NYR aromatherapy massage course emma robertson

NYR massage aromatherapy course

Did you know the quality of an aromatherapy oil is affected by the quality of the soil and where/how the plant is sourced? Did you also know rose oil was once used as a hangover cure as well as a way to heal a broken heart? And, in addition to relaxation and sleep, essential oil of lavender can also soothe and heal cuts, bites and burns.

I soaked up these fantastic facts and more at the Neal’s Yard Remedies Introduction to Massage course which I was lucky enough to attend last weekend. With it being National Stress Awareness Day last week, alleviating stress was the focus of the day.

I highly recommend this one day course that runs twice a year, especially if you’re excited by the therapeutic benefits of essential oils and wish you could get more massage into your life. Led by Neal’s Yard Remedies Head of Massage, Elaine Tomkins, it’s relaxed and informative with oil blending in the morning and basic hand, neck, back and head massage techniques in the afternoon. Take a partner you like or love and you’ll have a giggle too.

Here I am with beauty freelancer Emma Robertson attempting to give a relaxing head massage but judging by the look on her face I could be causing more pain than pleasure!

NYR aromatherapy massage course emma robertson

How to cure stress with essential oils and aromatherapy:

Rose – it’s one of the most healing (for skin) and anxiety-relieving oils you can choose. Just a few drops with water in an oil burner can calm the mind and prepare it for sleep. My rose oil is burning now as I write…

NYR aromatherapy rose oil burner

It takes 60-100 rose petals to make just one drop of rose essential oil – this fact always makes me wonder how sustainable it is to produce natural rose oil, which is why it’s important to buy from brands that grow organically and show a commitment to the livelihood of growers and farm workers.

Neal’s Yard Remedies has a history of building impressive relationships with its raw materials suppliers and works with a cooperative in southern Turkey for its rose extracts, using organic farming methods and ensuring fair living wages.

Bergamot –  this oil is extracted from the rind of a small (inedible) pear-shaped fruit from a tiny citrus tree (commercially grown in Italy). Bergamot is apparently great with gin (I’ll be trying this) as well as being the distinctive flavour in Earl Grey tea. The scent is uplifting and refreshing with a subtle spikiness.  Blend it with rose in a burner to help soothe nervous anxiety, create a harmonising massage oil or mix it with two drops of lavender for an uplifting bath oil. Along with rose, this was one of my favourites we sniffed.

Frankincense – this ancient oil has been used for religious ceremonies for thousands of years and might remind you of wintery, festive seasons. Its earthy, warm aura feels slightly uplifting and if you blend it with black pepper or citrus oils feels even more powerful. Interestingly, it enhances deep breathing making it great for meditation.

Clary Sage – from these five essential oils we smelled this was my least favourite. The strong muskiness didn’t agree with me at all, however, once blended with bergamot and rose it was far more attractive. This oil is said to help lighten a heavy state of mind, sadness, fatigue or fear. That’s sold it to me.

Holeaf – tipped by our trainer, Elaine as the next oil-to-watch, she predicts more beauty and fragrance brands will be using holeaf to lift their products to life over the next five years. Extracted from a Chinese evergreen tree (the wood of this same tree produces Camphor oil), it can enliven a low mood and low libido. Also good as a post-exercise massage oil to relieve fatigued muscles. Or add to your bath to help with flu, coughs or colds – perfect for this time of year.

If like me you’re fascinated by essential oils and desperate to get some of this vapour energy into your heart, body and mind then here are a few ways Elaine described to drip, pour, mix and burn oils for emotional and physical wellbeing…

1. Burn a few drops with water – inhaling the vapours can have a great effect on mood and emotions.

2. Use as a bath oil – apparently best mixed with full-fat milk to disperse into water more easily or mix with Epsom salts.

3. Apply neat to skin  – please note, not all oils are safe to do this with.

4. Blend with a carrier oil – such as almond or jojoba for a therapeutic massage/body oil.

5. Add to floral water – try orange flower or rose water to make a refreshing facial toner.

6. Combine with unperfumed moisturiser – to nourish and enhance skin.

7. Add a few drops to hot or cold water – to make a healing compress.

…and a few I found searching online which I might try too:

8. Mix 3-5 drops of essential oil to unscented clothes detergent.

9. Mix two teaspoons of tea tree oil with two cups of water in a spray bottle for an oil-purpose household cleaner. (I love this one as I absolutely loathe all the chemical cleaning sprays everyone buys).

10. Soak a cotton ball with patchouli and/or lavender and place in closets to keep moths away from clothes – I’m definitely going to be trying this one as I’m so paranoid about moths eating my clothes.

So there we have it, a very long post about amazing essential oils! I’m off to buy a life-enhancing wardrobe of essential oils, so please pass on any tips you might have too, would love to hear them…

Find out more about Neal’s Yard Remedies courses here. 

Why coconut oil is good for you

Pukka Herbs coconut_oil

Pukka Herbs coconut_oil

Coconut oil is my hot-product of the moment – as a spread for toast and oil for cooking – but a friend recently said it’s not good for us as it’s saturated fat, i.e. a heart health and weight-loss no-no. Yes, it’s a saturated fat but no, it isn’t bad for us, it’s actually very very good. So off I went to consult the powers of Google and I came back with some very very confusing answers. Luckily, health journalist Anna Magee, in her brand new book The De-stress Diet, explains why this is a wonder oil for our health and wellbeing, inside and out…

“Not all saturated fats behave the same. Plant versions like medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) in coconut cannot be stored as fat and so act thermogenically, raising fat-burning and metabolism. These are the antibacterial and anti-inflammatory fats like lauric acid caprylic acid, also found in human breast milk, pumpkin seeds and butter.” 

Even more interesting, she says: “High dietary coconut is associated with low obesity and heart disease in culture that eat it a part of their traditional diet, showing abilities to regulate insulin, prevent metabolic syndrome, reduce heart disease risk factors and as a healthy addition to a weight-loss diet.”

So there you have it, a secret powerhouse. It comes as a solid in a jar or tub but turns liquid in warmer temperatures so it’s very versatile. I’ve also heard it’s great for applying straight to skin – I met a woman once who lives in Thailand (think of all the wrinkle-causing sun rays) but honestly she looked about ten years younger which she said was down to using only coconut oil on her face. I’m sold.

So, thank you Anna for the fab explanation that’s helped sort out the bad from the good. Now go forth and get coconut oil into your life! And please check out the exceedingly good health, diet and wellbeing book for an insightful (and seriously easy) way to live a healthier and happier life without stress and weight-gain: The De-Stress Diet by Anna Magee and Charlotte Watts (£12.99, HayHouse). Buy it. Now. You won’t be disappointed.

A berry vitamin boost

Perricone Super Berry Acai

Perricone Super Berry Acai

A belated Happy New Year! Just a quick one to tell you about a great vitamin-boosting drink I tried the other day that helped prop up my weak January immune – Super Berry Powder with Acai by Dr. Perricone – a good winter supplement perhaps?

It contains a blend of a zillion berries – raspberries, blueberries, bilberry, goji and others – as well as acai, a Brazilian berry containing lots of antioxidants and essential fatty acids.  (Although I have to say at this point the nutritional information on the pack isn’t so detailed so I couldn’t tell how effective it really is).

I double-dosed and poured two sachets into one big glass (not sure if you’re supposed/not supposed to do that!) but I needed a mega health boost.

It’s a bit pricey  but just thought I’d tell you about it anyway as I’m a bit of a Perricone fan – currently reading his latest book Forever Young. Let me know if you’ve tried other vitamin-boosting drinks that you’ve liked – always on the lookout for more.

Hope you’re having a great and healthy start to the year – there’ll be more health-related posts this month including info on The De-stress Diet – a fabulous new book, that’s just out, by one of my editors so stay tuned!

x

Tried and tested: New Year's day massage in Zanzibar

Local flowers at Mrembo Spa, Zanzibar

Me at Mrembo Spa, Zanzibar

Local flowers at Mrembo Spa, Zanzibar

Having just returned from my big Tanzanian adventure, I couldn’t wait to tell you about my New Year’s day massage by a local, blind therapist on Zanzibar (island off Africa’s east coast). This turned out to be an unbeatable way to see in 2011!

After a few too many drinks the night before in Stone Town – a sleepy tourist town with hundreds of years of Arabic and Portuguese history – I woke up to a wonderful invite by my friend, to go to Mrembo Spa – ‘mrembo’ meaning a woman who loves to pamper herself, in Swahilli – for a massage by Aisha, their blind therapist. An offer I couldn’t refuse as I’ve many massages but never one by a blind person.

Each appointment starts with a relaxing drink of ginger and lemongrass tea, while feet are gently washed in warm, flower-infused water. Local Taarab music (melodic and Arabic in origin with sweet vocals) plays in the background (no rubbishy windpipe music here!) reminding you you’re in one of the most exotic islands in the world.

The massage itself was perfectly gentle for my partied, safaried and travelled-out limbs. After weeks on the go, this was just what I needed. Traditionally, Zanzibari girls indulge in a full body flower scrub before their wedding day, made up of lots of crushed local flowers, cloves, sandalwood and geranium oil and rosewater. Delicious.

Local handmade crafts, Mrembo Spa, Zanzibar A big barrel of lemongrass at Mrembo Spa in Zanzibar

All the products are handmade and natural, using plants and ingredients from the local area, and they’re all available to buy in gorgeously presented bottles and wrapping. The spa also sells locally-made clothes using the famous ‘khanga’ – large, beautifully coloured, printed scarves used by Tanzanian women to make clothes and head scarves. Many of the spa’s furnishings, and even the knickers, are made of this so there’s less waste and more reuse.

Mrembo Spa, set up by a Dutch lady, has embodied so many elements of Zanzibari life, the females and their beauty rituals. On top of that, the staff have a very warm and gentle way about them.

If you ever find yourself down Stone Town’s eccentric, narrow and windy streets be sure to seek it out.

More info about the local traditions on the Mrembo website http://www.mtoni.com/mrembo/

Winter health – how not to get a cold

The Organic Pharmacy Immune Tonic

The Organic Pharmacy Immune TonicThe snow caught up with London today and it was freezing! So I thought I’d introduce you to my secret weapon for warding off a winter cold. Something we could all do with at this time of year. And this little saviour is the business when it comes to keeping away aches and pains, and it’s completely natural.

It is The Organic Pharmacy Immune Tonic.

This special tincture is a blend of herbs such as Cat’s Claw (great for kidney health), Elderberry and Thyme (great for fighting infection) to strengthen the immune system and keep you feeling fit against the raging elements outside.

Add a few drops in water (I recommend juice as it doesn’t taste sweet) and down it quick! Keep this up all winter and you might have a few less sneezes than expected.

I love it. Tell me what you use against the winter chill…

£10.76 from The Organic Pharmacy

Review: Divine Retreats, Italy

Fattoria Mansi Bernardini, Tuscany Italy

Fattoria Mansi Bernardini, Tuscany Italy

Fattoria Mansi Bernardini Italy

Lucky me, I’ve just returned from a beautiful few days in the rolling hills of Tuscany, Italy on a Divine Retreats yoga holiday. The setting was unbeatable – a 16th century estate restored but still seeping with history and original antique furniture, with several villas and farmhouses, vineyards and 200 acres of land. Welcome to Fattoria Mansi Bernardini.

The week-long retreat consisted of gentle, mood-enhancing yoga twice a day (with Francis D’Angelo from Special Yoga Centre in London) and sessions with holistic practitioners, such as Journey Healing (with Sandra Ferreira), Theta Healing (with Lorena Granata), Remedial Massage (with Krisztina Karanyicz) and Art Meditation (with Dalia Zermon). I also met Yogi Malik from Yoga Magazine, and Miss Eco Glam.

My visit was brief but it was enough to enjoy the fantastic food whipped up from the family kitchen every night as well as local cheese, biodynamic wine from the neighbouring vineyard and olive oil from the estate’s own olive trees. Amazing.

Look out for a more in-depth review in Natural Health magazine next year.

Thank you Divine Retreats!

The next trip will be in Spring 2011.Visit www.divineretreats.co.uk for more details