ClassPass diaries – aerial yoga at Skylab Studio

Skylab Studio in Camden is probably the cutest fitness studio I’ve ever seen. Set up in the attic space in instructor Astra’s home, it offers lessons in hoops, silk and rope as well as aerial fitness and yoga in a really friendly and cosy environment.

I went along to an aerial yoga class on a Saturday morning together with seven other early risers and it got my weekend off to a great start.

Like with all good drop-in classes the exercises and positions could be tailored to different levels so that everyone who attends feels challenged, whether they’re a beginner, intermediate or advanced.

I thought that having done a fair bit of pole fitness in the past would be to my advantage here, but it was still pretty tough going! If you head along to aerial yoga expecting something chilled and yin-like you’re going to have an unpleasant surprise – it was a really active hour and we worked up a sweat in no time.

I felt like the class worked almost every muscle in my body – we did TRX-style pull-ups for the arms and shoulders, inverted sit-ups for the abs, and single-leg salutations for quads and glutes. I’ve got aches all over today, which is always a good sign!

In the second half hour we had a go at some tricks, like the star and a pike-type move where you lie horizontal supported only by the hammock underneath your hips. Astra has been a circus performer for ten years so really knows her stuff and you feel more than safe in her hands.

There was a return to traditional yoga moves at the end of the class when we finished with a Shavasana, or corpse pose, but with our entire bodies inside the hammock like it was a cocoon. This would have been very relaxing, if I hadn’t been worried that I was going to accidentally either kick or headbutt one of the others as my hammock rotated!

As I have a weird thing about being upside down (it’s not just me – Kerouac used to start every day with a headstand), I absolutely loved this class and will definitely be back again. I’ve been desperate to try aerial hoop for ages so plan on giving that a go once I’ve worked on my pull-ups… watch this space!

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The ClassPass diaries – Music Video at FRAME

IMG_0719When I left my last job in December, my truly lush colleagues got me the best leaving gift a fitness fanatic could ask for – a one-month ClassPass.

A ClassPass allows you to try out a whole range of crazy classes at gyms and studios across London, offering everything from barrecore and burlesque to kick boxing and krav maga.

Seeing as December is inevitably a month of indulgence, I decided to wait until January to activate my pass and am hoping that it will help me to kick start 2016 in style.

First up on my list was a visit to FRAME, a dance studio that’s made a name for itself by offering themed classes teaching you how to werk it like your favourite pop stars.

The Music Video class which promises to show you how to ‘move and groove like they do on MTV’ seemed like a good shout, and I wasn’t disappointed!

We learnt a routine to Blow by Beyonce and, although I know I definitely can’t dance like Queen B, I still FELT like I could by the end of the class.

Instructor Alexus teaches the same routine three weeks in a row, ramping up the difficulty level each time, and I’m pretty glad that the week I went happened to be a ‘beginner level’ week – otherwise I would have struggled to keep up!

No one took the class too seriously though – it was much more about having loads of fun. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves hugely while unleashing their inner sassiness. It was awesome – I’d definitely visit again!

What can crystals do for you?

I recently attended a Stress Free Sunday event put on by my favourite yoga brand, Yoogaia (who’ve recently been named one of Apple’s top 25 apps of 2015 – pretty cool, huh?)

As well as a fantastic yoga session and deliciously healthy brunch, we got to meet Bunmi of Crystal and Rox, a yoga/lifestyle clothing range with a twist. Each item in the Crystal and Rox collection has a concealed pocket for holding crystals – the idea is that the benefit of your yoga practice is amplified by wearing the right crystal close to your heart throughout the exercise.

Now I consider myself a fairly sceptical person but I’m always open to being proved wrong, so I really enjoyed having a good chat to Bunmi to find out a little bit more about the concept. After hearing her story I was motivated to give crystals a go. Bunmi was kind enough to gift me four to try out for myself:

  • Amethyst, which is said* to relieve stress and its physical symptoms (e.g. headaches and migraines) as well as help you make good decisions
  • Blue lace agate, which is said to calm anger and allow you to speak truthfully without causing drama
  • Rose quartz, said to encourage unconditional love towards both yourself and others, and help attract your twin flame (note: I was particularly keen on this one…)
  • Smokey quartz, the stone of serenity, said to transform bad energy into positivity and help overcome negative emotions about your situation

For the past three weeks, as a bit of an experiment, I’ve been choosing one or two crystals to carry with me almost every day, dependent on the kind of day I anticipate I’m going to have. So, if I knew I was going to have a stressful time at work I would take the amethyst and the smokey quartz. If I was feeling a bit down on myself I’d choose the rose quartz.  (As I don’t have an unlimited supply of Crystal and Rox clothing I’ve been keeping them in my bra, to the amusement of my friends and colleagues who have to deal with this kind of oversharing from me on a regular basis…) And honestly… I think it’s helped.

Now I’m not saying that I’m convinced the crystals have special powers. What I think has happened is that the act of consciously choosing a stone based on the way I want to handle a situation has helped me to actually handle it in that way. For example, on a day when I needed to have a difficult conversation with someone I’m close to, I chose the blue lace agate. I was able to say my piece without reacting in a disproportionate way to what had happened, essentially because by choosing that stone I had acknowledged that the best way to approach it (for both parties) was calmly and without drama. 

So does it really matter whether you believe crystals have innate properties, or whether they just remind you about the best way to behave to cultivate happiness? Are you a bit of a fraud if you don’t buy into the whole idea, but you like the fact that crystals prompt you to act a certain way? Personally, I don’t think so. Who cares if you’re only experiencing the placebo effect if the outcome is positive?

As for me, I remain intrigued, and pleasantly surprised, by the results of my little experiment – and grateful to Crystal and Rox for introducing me to the idea!

*All info about the properties of crystals provided by Crystal and Rox.

Seasonal superfoods

If you’re reading this in the UK, you might have spotted a new title on the shelves of your local supermarket or newsagent lately – Superfood, a magazine dedicated to eating well using ingredients that are naturally nutritious.

We hear a lot about superfoods, and sometimes information on the topic can be confusing or contradictory. Even the term itself is much debated and hard to define, so I really hope that this magazine helps clear things up!

The first issue is a Christmas special, so I thought I’d share five wintery fruits and veggies that I’ll definitely be incorporating into my seasonal celebrations.

  1. Cranberries. A rich source of vitamin C and greatly valued for their anti-inflammatory properties, cranberries were even used by Native Americans to treat arrow wounds!
  2. Sprouts. I LOVE sprouts, and have done since I was a baby. Maybe it’s because they’re low in carbohydrates and a 20g serving contains more vitamin C than an orange?
  3. Sweet potatoes. One of the most versatile superfoods around, sweet potatoes are also one of the best sources of vitamin A. Plus, they’re linked to cancer prevention and the maintenance of good eyesight.
  4. Beetroot. Research suggests beetroot can help lower blood pressure, boost performance when exercising and prevent dementia. Even better, it’s a hangover cure! The beta cyanin that gives beetroot its colour is an antioxidant which helps your liver flush alcohol out of your body.
  5. Onions. Do not underestimate the humble onion! It provides many vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, beta carotene and folate, but almost no fat – no wonder we use it in everything!

Thanks to Superfood magazine for the facts. If you’re keen to incorporate more of these natural goodies into your Christmas feast, check out the first issue which has plenty of recipes to inspire you – from a traditional cranberry sauce to a colourful winter slaw. 

  

Stressing out on social media

Last Wednesday (4 November 2015) was National Stress Awareness Day. To mark the occasion Just Park created the Stress-O-Sphere, an interactive tool that explores what stresses people are taking to Twitter to talk about, divided by topic and presented in real time.

Surprisingly, health is the second most tweeted-about cause of stress, behind partners/families/friends but ahead of work and money. I say that this is surprising, although perhaps I shouldn’t be so shocked as much of the pressure to look a certain way or be a certain weight (which, let’s face it, is what many of us think about when we hear the word ‘health’) comes from social media – largely thanks to celebrities sharing altered images of themselves and giving the rest of us unrealistic ideals. So it makes sense that we’re expressing our concerns about it there too.

Stressful stats

Here are some of the key findings of the Stress-O-Sphere:

  • 50,000 tweets about stress are posted every single day – that’s one every two seconds 
  • Health is the second most tweeted-about cause of stress, with a post on the topic being shared every 10 seconds
  • Body image and sleep are the most tweeted-about health worries, featuring in 3,000 tweets per day
  • Eating is a bigger source of stress for Twitter users than smoking, drinking and drugs combined
  • More people tweet about health-related stress than anxieties over work, money or marriage

Wellbeing woes

Delving deeper into our wellbeing woes, Just Park found that the top 10 most tweeted-about health stresses are:

  1. Body image
  2. Sleep
  3. Diet
  4. Pain
  5. Hair
  6. Depression
  7. Skin
  8. Drinking
  9. Smoking
  10. Exercise

Obviously many of these are genuine causes for concern (although I’m not sure about number five…) and it’s upsetting to realise that insecurities about body image are so widespread, but I do have a little tip for anyone who’s ever posted about being stressed out over exercise. Instead of posting something negative about falling off the wagon, try sharing something positive, such as “I’m going to go to the gym three times this week and nothing is going to stop me!” Even if only a handful of people see your tweet, it’s a public declaration that you can hold yourself accountable to. If you’re stubborn like me it works like a dream!

Oh, and if you’re wondering why I’m posting this now instead of last week, it’s because last week I was too stressed about work to look at emails about my blog! Me stressed is not pretty. It usually looks something like this… 

 

Vegan peanut butter muffins

I’ve tried out a LOT of different vegan bakes in my time, and I have to say that they can often be disappointing. It’s easy to find delicious sounding recipes online, but sadly the end result doesn’t usually taste as good as it looks in the pictures. Which is why I wanted to share these yummy peanut butter and honey muffins from Nutritionist In The Kitch – a rare exception to the rule!

They’re super easy to make, don’t require any exotic (and therefore extremely hard to track down) ingredients, and they certainly won’t disappoint! The texture is somewhere between a cupcake and a muffin… I like to call it a ‘cuffin’…

So, start by heating the oven to 180, then whisk together a cup of flour (preferably whole wheat), a teaspoon and a half of baking soda and a pinch of salt. Next, add three tablespoons of peanut butter and two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, and mix everything together until crumbs form. You should probably use a fork, but I used my hands because it’s more fun!

To this, add 3/4 of a cup of almond milk and three tablespoons of honey. You’re supposed to have little clumps of PB in there, but make sure they’re not too big as you don’t want mouthfuls of powdery flour left in the mix. Spoon into paper cases and bake for about 15 mins.

When you’re serving them (or just eating them yourself!), drizzle some honey over the top. I also added some chopped Brazil nuts, because I think the crunch brings out the PB flavour in the muffins.

Here’s the original recipe – hope you agree that it’s one worth making!

Yoogaia – my top three picks

So after extensively trialling the amazing Yoogaia website over the past week, I’ve learnt an awful lot about the different types of guided yoga sessions available. If you’re a beginner it can be tricky to choose, so here are my top three picks!

1. Yin

When I visited Yoogaia HQ in Helsinki*, studio manager Katja told me that yin was the most popular form of yoga practiced in Finland – and I can understand why. This is a really mindful and slow paced yoga, with poses being held for three to five minutes each. The aim is to open up the body and sessions often focus on particular areas. Through Yoogaia I learnt that many yogis believe the hips are the key to unlocking pent up emotions – apparently people can even unexpectedly burst into tears or laughter when doing poses that target the hips. I haven’t had this experience myself, but I have felt amazingly calm and content after every session.

Instructor Heidi Poon reminds us that patience is love, and yin yoga creates a moment for you to love and appreciate the incredible machine that is your body. Many of those who practice yoga see it as a way of taking care of yourself before you can take care of others, and this practice helps you become aware of any areas of your body which are tight or ache or need to be looked after a little better. The required physical stillness leads to a mental stillness which enables you to focus on all the things you have to be thankful for, starting at the most basic level with the physical body that allows you to experience life, and this unity of mind and body in the moment is what yoga is all about for me personally.

2. Glute Max

At the other end of the spectrum is Glute Max with Linda Torbet. Anyone who has ever asked me about my gym routine knows I’m all about booty exercises – I cannot get me enough deadlifts and hip raises – so I was bound to love this class! And it wasn’t just a gentle workout, oh no. My glutes were genuinely aching by the end so I knew it was doing me good. Some of the exercises felt a bit silly so it’s really nice to be able to do this one from the privacy of your own home rather than in a crowded yoga studio, but then again if you like training glues you’re probably used to doing exercises which look / feel weird…

Also worth a mention here is Michael Musch’s Abs Express – another genuinely tough workout which is more ‘turbo charged’ and less ‘chill out’. Eat right and do that on the daily and your six pack will soon be making an appearance!

3. Morning Flow

Somewhere in between these two is Morning Flow, a vinyasa session designed to energise. Vinyasa is a faster paced practice so it warms the body and gives you a chance to move and stretch – particularly good if you’re facing a long day that will likely be spent sat at your desk. The practice closely links your breath to the movements, which is both invigorating and grounding.

Yogis often talk about setting an intention for your day, and allowing yourself a half hour of vinyasa when you wake up gives you the opportunity to cement a good feeling that you can draw on long afterwards. I’ve done yoga every morning this week and whenever I’ve felt stressed I’ve reminded myself of the promise I made myself to have a positive day. You might well be feeling cynical reading this, but try it – it works!

Do you practice yoga regularly? What kind? I’d love to know, as I’m sure there are types I haven’t discovered yet!

*This was an all expenses paid trip courtesy of the lovely people at Yoogaia.