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.

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… 

 

Scoliosis and me

I’ve talked several times on this blog (and on my Instagram and to anyone who will listen to me bang on about it in person…) about the mental health benefits of exercise, but I’ve never really talked in depth about the physical benefits I’ve experienced.

When I was about 14 I was diagnosed with scoliosis – an s-shaped curvature of the spine. A slight scoliosis is pretty common amongst girls and develops during teenage years, coinciding with growth spurts. When it was first noticed by my GP it was only about 12 degrees, so it wasn’t significant enough to cause me any real problems, but by the time I was 18 it had developed to over 30 degrees. My skull, shoulders and hips were all out of alignment and my ribcage had started to twist on one side, meaning the lung on that side had less room to expand. It caused me a lot of pain and, because the weight of my head was unevenly distributed, it looked like the curvature and rotation would continue to get worse. 

I went into hospital the day after my last A Level exam to have the corrective surgery, during which they essentially forced my spine straight with a giant pair of pliers, inserted two metal rods either side and attached the rods to my vertebrae with screws and a bone graft. The length of my spine is now pretty much entirely fused together and I have a 16 inch scar that runs down my back.

After the surgery I spent a week in hospital, almost motionless for the first three days. I can’t even tell you how painful it was. The other patients on the osteo ward, who were all old ladies having hip and knee replacements, told me I cried in my sleep, but I hated being in the hospital so I stopped taking morphine so the nurses could release me.

At home, my bed had been raised so that I could get in and out more easily, but I spent the majority of the next month just lying flat on my back, reading a lot. I was taking eight Cocodamol every day for about eight weeks so developed a dependency. Codeine withdrawal symptoms include feelings of depression, so it felt like a massive setback to have to come off it just as I was getting back to normality.

After that, it got better. I was able to go to university in September as I’d wanted, and just got on with things. The pain never fully went away, though, and I did a couple of courses of physio to try to sort out the cause, which was that the muscles in the middle of my back had been weakened by the whole experience so ached awfully if I had to hold my body in the same position for any length of time. The exercises were boring though(!), so I didn’t keep them up, and in my final year it was so bad that I had to sit my exams in a separate room so that I could lie down for a break whenever I needed.

I’d just accepted that I would have to deal with it for the rest of my life, until my friend got me to go to pole dancing classes for a laugh. We kept going and gradually, as I stuck with it, I got stronger. I ached in the days after a class, but I noticed that it was a different kind of ache. The more progress I made in lessons, the less pain I would be in on an ordinary day, and when I realised the connection it seemed so obvious. My doctors had tried to help by referring me to a physio, but I couldn’t believe no one had suggested I took up a sport or hobby that would strengthen these muscles before. 

I still have weeks when I get pain, and this is usually when I’ve been stressed and tense, spending too many hours hunched at my desk and not enough time moving my body. But I’ve never really looked back. 

I recommend exercise in a lot of situations, but it’s always because I genuinely believe it will help. I thought it was about time that I shared my personal story to explain why.

Work off your Wimbledon faves

Who doesn’t love watching a bit of tennis with a glass of Pimms and a punnet of strawberries?

With Wimbledon just around the corner, Central London Apartments has put together this fun infographic showing how much of the sport you’d actually need to play to work off the treats traditionally associated with it.

Serious message: the infographic is based on calories and we should all know by now that one calorie is not like another – what’s way more important than the number is where the calories are coming from (i.e. protein, carbs, fats), but regardless this is an entertaining guide for tennis fans visiting the city this June/July.

I’m rather partial to a cream scone myself so the news that I’d need to play for an hour and a half to make up for it is rather alarming, although 15 minutes for a g&t seems reasonable…

What’s your Wimbldon weakness?

Infographic

A new stomping ground

You may have been wondering why I’ve been a little quiet on here lately. Okay you probably haven’t but humour me… The reason is that I’ve just made the big move to London for a new job, and I know that an hour’s exercise is only 4% of your day and all that but things have been so busy over the past month that I’ve barely found the time to work out let alone blog about it! 

However now that I’m settled in it’s time to turn that around, especially as summer is around the corner and it’s all about those ice cube abs! The slight spanner in the works is that the crazy prices mean I don’t even know if I can afford a gym membership in London, never mind a PT, so I’m going to have to work pretty hard to keep myself motivated and get a little creative with my workouts.

The upside of being in London is that the fitness scene is huge so there’s a tonne of cool/crazy classes to try and I’m going to have a bash at as many of them as possible. Come at me, barrecore, anti-gravity yoga and hydrospin! 

I’ll be finding and writing about as many of these as I can fit in, but in the meantime I’ll be relying on running for my endorphin hit. I was lucky enough to find an amazing flatshare in Maida Vale so there are lots of lovely places to run to nearby (whilst pretending you own one of the magnificent, palatial properties you’re likely to come across). This morning I headed in the direction of Little Venice and here are a few pictures to show how pretty it is!   

       

February fitness tips

As we’re now well into February and those New Year’s Resolutions seem like a distant memory, Fat Face asked me to share some of my tips for staying on track with your fitness goals. So here goes:

1. Be a tortoise, not a hare

With fitness, you have to play the long game. It takes one month for you to notice a difference, two months for close friends and family and three months of hard work for everyone else to see the results. If you’re struggling now, concentrate on how great you’ll feel come the summer when you’ve put all the grind in and are reaping the rewards.

2. Don’t give up on giving it all a go

Exercising is just like studying or working in that you won’t succeed in it unless you find something you love. For me that’s weights, but for you that could be horse riding, roller skating, trampolining, squash, archery or any number of things. Hell, you could be an undiscovered heptathlete! Don’t stop searching for the thing that will make you fall in love with fitness.

3. Write a food AND mood diary

This is one that I learnt from my PT, Leigh. If you’re struggling to stay on track with your diet, don’t just write a food diary – also make a note of how you’re feeling through the day and have a look at the relationship between the two. Today, in the middle of yet another stressful week, I gave in to temptation and had a chip butty for lunch. With butter. And ketchup. AND CHEESE!! Half way through I stopped enjoying it, but I finished it anyway and felt gross all afternoon. This brings me on to my next point…

4. If you slip up, tell someone and laugh about it

Feeling guilty doesn’t do anyone any good. It can actually be quite harmful. It’s far better to confess, have a giggle and just move on. I have already told Leigh about the chip butty incident. He made me repeat “I must not eat chip butties” after him in between burpies so now it’s out there, it’s been dealt with and we never have to speak of it again. (Except he’ll probably tease me about it for ages.)

5. Treat yourself to a new gym outfit

Fat Face’s Activ88 range is perfect for helping you stay active in this cold weather. My top picks are the Overhead Hoody* and the Moonshadow Running Leggings*. I wore the hoody to the gym this evening but I imagine it would be ideal for winter runs too – it’s cosy while also being light and breathable and has those little thumb holes that I love! I also really like the neckline, which is high enough to keep you warm but loose enough that you don’t feel like you’re being strangled while you work out, and the bright detail on the stitching.

2015/02/img_0174.jpgThe leggings have a really pretty pattern of flowers and leaves and are high waisted, which is great for warmth and also for hiding the evidence of accidental chip butties. My only criticism is that they’re a little on the thin side, which can be a cause for concern if you’re big of booty and love deadlifts. The flat lock stitching does mean they’re extra comfy, though.

2015/02/img_0170.jpgFinally, here’s a picture of me rocking the look because, you know, I love a fitness selfie. What are your tips for staying on track? I’d love to hear what motivates or inspires you.

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Getting back in the game

I’ve been extremely lax for the past month. I haven’t prepped lunches for work, I’ve eaten everything in my path and there was a week when I only went to the gym once. And I’ve been hard on myself about it. And I haven’t been able to blog in that time because I’d have felt like a fraud.

There are a few contributing factors. My diet hasn’t been on point for a while so just over a month ago I did three gruelling days of Green Face, only to fall ill the following week and erase any good it did with Heinz tomato soup and chocolate muffins.

Then there’s the weather. It’s been really warm, which means bare legs, shorts and dresses, and I hate my thighs. I know it’s absurd but instead of thighs I see massive hams and catching a glimpse of them makes me think ‘Oh what’s the point?! What’s the point in training hard if they’re always going to look like enormous milky jellies?!’

But the truth is, I know they’re not as bad as all that and this weekend I’m telling myself to get real. Most of us have a touch of body dysmorphia about something and that just happens to be mine. If I was super super strict about diet and training I’d see improvements, but I have to be honest with myself and accept that I’m not stricter because I don’t want to be. Being 100% shredded isn’t my priority – being happy and healthy is.

This weekend I remembered that the reason I train and eat well is because I love it – who doesn’t want to feel like the best they can be? Plus I love food, and the great thing is that training does allow you to eat more. So as long as you eat well the majority of the time you can have afternoon tea at the Hilton at 4.30pm followed by Atomic Burger at 6.30pm on the same day if you want to (believe me – I’ve done it).

So I’ve made a couple of changes, mainly switching gyms to one that’s in town so it’ll be easier to get there more often. I’m also going to try a few of the classes out, to mix it up, although I won’t ever replace weight training as my main squeeze. My meal prep for the week is done and I’m feeling ready to get back on it.

I once heard someone give a motivational speech with a message that really stuck with me, which is that if you’re not doing something it’s because you haven’t made it a priority. Forget the excuses – you make the choices about what’s important to you. So I’m choosing to get my head back in the game and train a minimum of three times a week because it makes me feel awesome, but I can also choose to have a big slice of cake whenever I want because it’s all in my hands!

I wanted to finish off with some of my favourite posts from my super inspirational new Instagram fitness crush, Amber Crol… I hope they make you smile as much as they did me!

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