New Year’s Habits

a lit red candle surrounded by darkness

Have you ever, ever kept a New Year’s resolution beyond – oh, about 3rd January? Maybe 1st February, if you’re really pushing it? That’s because New Year’s resolutions are often completely unrealistic goals. Going to drop three dress sizes. Going to walk five miles a day. Going to give up chocolate completely. (Were we MAD???) 

 

But what actually works, we find, is to focus instead on getting into good habits. And when you sell it to yourself like that, there’s an implicit sense of forgiving. Fall off the wagon for a day, or eat a Twix, or forget to drink those two litres of water, and it doesn’t feel catastrophic at all. You can just gently nudge yourself to do better tomorrow, rather than feeling like you’ve blown it.

 

Good habits don’t happen overnight, of course. 21 days is often quoted as the minimum, but often it’s longer than that. The average is actually two months – 66 days, to be exact (according to the most famous study into the subject, by University College London health psychology researcher Philippa Lally). But don’t let that put you off. And don’t aim ridiculously high; honestly, it’s the small changes that can make the biggest difference, because they’re achievable. 

 

So, here are our top recommendations for little habit shifts that could pretty much change your life – and your wellbeing levels – by the time 2020 rolls around…

 

Eat every few hours. (Don’t wait till you’re ready to gnaw your arm off.) It’s such a common misconception that skipping meals helps you lose weight. In fact, that’s going to impact on your blood sugar levels, making you ravenously hungry – often turning to caffeine or a sugar hit, as an antidote, keeping you on that rollercoaster. Sometimes, we might feel we need to skip meals because we’re working to a deadline, or because we’ve got a big dinner coming up – but far better to snack healthily. Keep a power bar (not one of the sugary ones), a banana, some almonds or other nuts in your work bag, so that you’re never without something healthy to nibble on. 

 

Make enough dinner to take leftovers to work. It’s so easy to grab a sandwich (always unappetisingly chilled) for lunch, when we really could do better than that. We’re not sure about the concept of meal-prepping on the weekend for the week ahead that is sometimes suggested – we’d rather spend our weekends out there in the fresh air, yomping the hills or planting bulbs, thanks, but what is perfectly realistic is to cook a little more supper and bring the extra to work next day. (Team Beauty Bible does this and Jo’s fridge is home to many a healthy Tupperware-d leftover waiting to be re-heated for lunch!) 

 

Put your workouts in your diary. Think of them as an appointment with your healthier self. We are great believers in the power of self-care. It’s not selfish; whenever we have to take care of anyone else, we need to take care of ourselves, first. (The analogy is that in-flight message which tells you to put the oxygen mask on yourself, before helping anyone else.) It can feel hard to squeeze in a workout, or a walk. But if that’s a fixed point in your diary, it’s easier to plan around it. (We generally find that our energy levels are boosted by a power-walk or a yoga class, and that work goes much more smoothly afterwards when we’re back at our desks. So it’s a win-win.)

 

Buy yourself a big water bottle, and keep it on your desk.It’s now possible to get very generously-proportioned water bottles to keep water cool and encourage day-long sipping. You probably wouldn’t want to carry this size around with you (we like the Chilly’s 750ml bottle, BTW), but get through one in the morning and one in the afternoon and you’re two-thirds of the way there with your daily water goals. And whenever you feel stressed, take a glug of water. It’s amazing how it cools the brain as well as the body.

 

Set a limit on social media. We find the new ScreenTime social media limiting app pretty scary, actually, in terms of how quickly we can ratchet up half an hour of scrolling through Instagram pics or watching daft Facebook videos. (We find it much easier to avoid Twitter. Fact: nobody is ever, ever going to go to their grave wishing they’d spent more time on Twitter.) But for 2019, we’re really, really going to try to stick to our self-imposed limit – and maybe even reduce it over time. It’s way, way too easy to get lost in social media – so what we really find helps is having a book or a Kindle or a glossy magazine with us at all times, so there’s no risk of mindless scrolling because there’s nothing else to do. If it’s hard, switch your phone off. You really have to think twice about how important seeing someone’s latest ‘selfie’ is, before switching it on again just to look at that.

 

Above all, be kind to yourself. See above – but you should never, ever feel guilty about carving out time in a busy life just for you. Maybe for a massage. Or a class of some kind. Or even for a nap. We live in incredibly stressful, uncertain times and it’s only by charging up our batteries that we can be expected to cope – so never feel bad about doing the things that help you do just that. And above all, try really hard not to beat yourself up if habits do sometimes slip. Don’t throw your hands up and go, ‘Well, that’s that, then. I’ve failed.’ Just get back on the horse (as Sarah would definitely say), and re-establish your goal. No biggie. 

 

And have a wonderful, healthy 2019, won’t you?

How To Maximise Your Fitness Routine

Exercise Routine

‘Getting fit’ is one of the most popular new year resolutions and it’s also one of the quickest to be broken. While there’s always an onslaught of new and inventive ways to encourage us to workout in January, few of us make it past February before we give up the early morning run or lunchtime gym sessions.

Yet, research continues to highlight the health benefits of working out. Recent research suggests that working out three times or for a total of 100 minutes per week could help reduce your brain age by a whopping 10 years when you pair it with a balanced diet. A study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine also suggested that exercise, including walking, jogging, swimming and cycling, could be just as effective as drugs at lowering blood pressure.

The biggest fitness trends for 2019 are more attuned to our hectic lifestyles and easier to slot in, so whether you’ve got a full hour or just 15 minutes to spare there’s some form of movement that will work for you.

The top fitness trends for 2019

On demand

If you struggle to slot a 45-minute spin class into your schedule twice a week, then it’s worth exploring the world of fitness streaming. Plenty of gyms and instructors offer live streaming sessions or short videos that you can do at-home or from a hotel room if you’re a frequent traveller. ClassPass has recently launched its version of live streaming called ClassPass Live.

Slide and glide

For A-list fitness trainer Dalton Wong, 2019 is all about the glider. Not only does it give you a full body workout, but it’s also low intensity, so you don’t have to worry about putting extra strain on your knees, hips and back. Following the success of his Mini Band Workout last year, Wong has just launched his Glider Workout. ‘It’s designed to improve posture, tone and shape the body, and the workout actively targets the main problem areas – core, hips, thighs, bum, triceps and back – for total body conditioning,’ says Wong. The kit comes complete with two gliders and a 60-page manual that’s packed full of exercise routines. 

Versatile yoga

With self-care, or total wellbeing as it’s being dubbed for 2019, still resonating with most of us, the practice of yoga has become more prominent. Expect to see yoga and meditation hybrid classes rolling out across the country. From restorative yin practices to more vigorous power and flow yoga, the classes are designed to work on a physical and mental level to ensure you switch off and feel fully zen before you step off the mat. 

Functional fitness

It’s a trend that has been around for the past few years, but functional fitness is going to be just as big in 2019 and will be readily available everywhere. Generally speaking, functional fitness is anything that helps improve your balance, coordination and strength to support the movements and motions we do on daily basis without even thinking about them. For example, a squat would fall under the functional category because it strengthens your core and back, which makes bending down in day-to-day life easier.

Team work

Sociable workouts are on the rise. It’s less about solitary sessions on the treadmill and more about coming together as part of a class. Whether it’s a running club or signing up for a group spin class where you’re heart rate is on show and you cycle as a pack to hit a specific target, this year is definitely about working together to reach our fitness goals. 

How can you maximise your exercise routine?

Whether you’re a regular runner, keen cyclist or just about to dip your toe into the world of fitness, here are some tips to get the most out of your workout:

AM or PM

It’s often assumed that exercising in the morning is better for your body as it sets you up for the day ahead. However, if you’re more of a night owl and would rather spend an extra hour in bed, you’ll be pleased to hear that a recent study suggests that it doesn’t matter when you workout. Exercising in the evening won’t affect your ability to fall asleep – especially if it’s a relaxing yoga session.

Stretch it out

Sometimes it’s tempting to skip the last five minutes of your cardio class or not bother to stretch out your muscles after a long run, but pretty much every fitness expert strongly advocates some form of stretching following a workout. Not only does it improve your posture by loosening tight muscles and reduce the risk of injury and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), but stretching will also help calm your mind.

Relax your muscles

If you’re someone that always suffers with DOMS a couple of days after working out, it’s worth booking into a yoga class the following day to help stretch out your muscles and flush out any lactic acid or enlist the help of Magnesium Oil Original Flakes by Better You. A 20 minute soak in the bath with these can help soothe sore, tight muscles and leave you feeling fully relaxed. If you don’t have a bath, it’s worth considering the Magnesium Body Butter, which has the extra benefit of leaving your skin feeling soft and smooth too.

Treat yourself

It’s easy to go into any new exercise routine with the ‘good hard or go home’ mindset, but don’t forget to give yourself some leeway every now and again. ‘Still enjoy the odd beer, wine or your food of choice- it’s not meant to be a miserable process!’ says fitness trainer Matt Roberts.

How To Cope With Anxiety Over Christmas

Festive Anxiety

It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but for at least a third of Brits the festive season can be tarred with high levels of stress and anxiety. It’s not just the stress of Christmas shopping and higher workloads that stresses people out, it’s also social anxiety over the endless festive get-togethers and parties. Read More…

Yoga: What’s Your Style?

yoga outline

In the age of the Insta yogi the ancient Indian art of practicing of postures to enhance our health and wellbeing seems to be ever more accessible. Yet there remains a mystical air about it and the Sanskrit names of the different styles can be baffling – the yoga schedule at one of London’s popular studios has a roster of around 300 teachers and roughly 30 styles of yoga to scroll through. On offer are tongue twisting classics such as Kundalini, Iyengar, and Astanga, as well as Westernised modern hybrids Forrest, Acro, Jivamukti, which, even as as a teacher with 500 hours of training under my belt, feels overwhelming when it comes to choosing which class to go to for myself.

So how do we find our own yoga style? Technically speaking, whenever we strike a downward facing dog, warrior or tree pose, we’re practicing Hatha yoga, which is just one aspect of a vast body of knowledge which encompasses all sorts of life enhancing practices, wisdom and teachings with the overarching aim of helping us become happier, healthier, calmer versions of ourselves – and maybe even a glimpse of bliss (known as Ananda).

Yoga’s evolvement into the modern styles we know today began in the 1930s when physical culture became popular in the West and began to merge with Indian yogic techniques. One legendary yogi of that era named T Krishnamacharya is widely credited as being the catalyst for making these practices accessible to us. His star pupils included Indra Devi, cited as the first Western female yogi who went on to teach the post war Hollywood elite including Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson. Also, BKS Iyengar whose eponymous, rehabilitative form gave us the now ubiquitous foam block and strap; as well as Sri K Pattabhi Jois – his athletic Astanga practice inspires the vinyasa flow classes so many of us love today.

That we now have such a choice of styles is a positive thing, and beyond the bendy hipster yogis on Instagram, there is a class for everyone – regardless of age, gender, faith, body type, flexibility and fitness level. Follow our guide below and most of all trust your instinct and try out the styles which inspire you the most.

Flow with it

Vinyasa styles are great if you want to get moving. It’s all about linking postures with the breath an idea which stems from Pattabhi Jois’s gymnastic, twisty Ashtanga. It can be physically challenging, like rock star-esque yogi couple Sharon Gannon and David Life’s Jivamukti fusion, so look for beginner level if you’re just starting out.

Rest deeply

Yin yoga is a restorative practice to deeply relax – a much needed counterbalance to our 24/7 switched on lives and full-speed activities including running, cycling and vigorous yoga styles. Classes involve very few postures held for several minutes and focus on letting go into connective tissue and stretch deeply.

Realign yourself

To improve posture, it’s hard to beat Iyengar’s millimetre precise alignment method. It makes even complicated yoga postures available to all through the use of props such as foam blocks, straps and wall ropes to hang off. Iyengar teacher training is most vigorous of all styles – good if you’re working with an injury or a particular postural imbalance. Also look out for Scarivelli – a softer take created by one of Iyengar’s first female students, Vanda Scarivelli.

Be playful

Sometimes yoga practice needs an injection of something new or daring to push the limits, and there are plenty of experimental styles to try. For example AcroYoga (where yoga meets acrobatics) is the one to challenge your fear trust issues as moves are performed with a partner. Challenge your fear by hanging upside down in  AntiGravity where postures are performed in a parachute silk hammock.

Go beyond

Self transformation is at the heart of all yoga, and Kundalini is one of the more ‘out there’ styles to take you out of yourself. A spirited system of meditation, chanting, and breath exercises developed by Yogi Bhajan, it became popular when its founder Yogi Bajan brought it to the US West Coast in the late 60s. No need to be put off by the white turbans! It’s a great way to uplift and energise.

Embracing Change

torn lined paper

‘A change is as good as a rest,’ we’re often told. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say that; nothing quite rivals a good lie-down (preferably for two weeks, right around now, with a stack of books to read). But over the years I’ve learned to embrace change in a way that I never would have expected when I was growing up. I loathed change. I wanted everything to be the same, always and forever. As disasters unfolded (my mother’s death, my father selling our beloved childhood home, other relationships unravelling), I realised: change was pretty unavoidable. But I can’t say I came to like it much, even then.

You might have heard me share my love of yoga on VH in the past – but I do think that it was when I seriously started to practice that I truly learned to go with the flow. One of my favourite yoga teachers (hilarytotah.co.uk) has a wonderful saying, which I truly subscribe to: ‘Flexible spine, flexible mind.’ And I do honestly think that yoga enables me to deal with everything the universe throws at me, and adjust to the ever-changing landscape of my life.

Recently, I’ve had a couple of changes to deal with – one small, one more impactful. Someone who worked for one of my businesses landed her dream job – and was leaving pretty quickly, to take up her new role. I wouldn’t dream of trying to change someone’s mind when they make an announcement like that; by contrast, when someone’s decided to move on, they’re mentally half-way into the new job and I’ve learned to let them go as soon as possible. Nevertheless, it was going to leave a hole which everyone else was going to have to work that big harder to fill, short-term ­– including me.

We’d been all bobbing along quite happily, taking the status quo for granted – and suddenly, it was change-a-go-go. But after 24 hours wondering how to fill her job, I had a flash of realisation. We didn’t have to find someone to sit in an office in London – which in turn meant I had to trek up from the seaside for a few days a week, mostly to make that person feel motivated and ‘loved’. Before launching this venture, I’d always run my businesses close to home – and suddenly, the possibility opened up to do so again. (Infinitely my preferred option to spending a lot of time in bustling, polluted, overcrowded central London.) By staying calm – largely thanks to yoga and meditation, I’m 100% convinced – rather than run round like a headless chicken, in panic mode, I was able to see that this change really was a golden opportunity to do things better. And so often, I’ve discovered, that’s the way it turns out – if you embrace the change, rather than fight it tooth and nail every step of the way. When you become stressed and angst-y, it creates a type of mental paralysis – and you can’t see beyond the here and now.

The other change was pretty trivial, by comparison. It involved a tree. Or half a tree, laden with plums, that broke off when it got weighted down in a torrential rainstorm a couple of weeks ago. Trouble was, I’d built my much-loved shed under the shade of that tree – the only flat, shady place in my garden. Suddenly, there’s no shade. If I want to lie and read a book (are you sensing a theme, here?), then I now have to do it in sunshine. There’s something about losing a tree – or even half a tree – which, while it’s nowhere up there with losing a human being, is still incredibly upsetting. It makes a garden look like its two front teeth have been knocked out. (Old enough to remember the hurricane of 1989? There were countless homeowners and park-lovers who suffered from a kind of PTSD after all those trees blew down.)

I could’ve cried. I could’ve got hysterical. I could’ve raged. (Against the eternally unpredictable elements.) But instead, I decided once again to embrace the change. Look on it as the universe’s way of telling me to get a bit more vitamin D. To appreciate the way it opened up a view I hadn’t had before. To give that bit of the garden a little makeover (while also being grateful that the half-a-tree had missed my shed by millimetres).

What I’ve definitely learned about change, though, is that in order to be able to deal with it, I have to have in place a fundamental routine – my ‘wellbeing’ building blocks, if you like. Taking my supplements, every day (as advised by Shabir, of course!) Walking daily. Doing somewhere between 10-15 minutes of meditation every morning, while my Rare Tea Speedy Breakfast brews, in preparation for powering me through my morning. Yoga, at least every Friday (and more, if I can manage it). I also need to spend an hour a week in the aforementioned (and now sunlit) shed, writing letters and cards to friends (and feeling grateful, as I do so).

These are things that fuel my body, my soul and my mind – and knowing I will be doing them day after day, year after year, not only helps to ensure that I’m as healthy as possible, but sets me up for dealing with the other, way more unpredictable things in my life. Only twice in my life have I experienced a can’t-get-off-the-sofa depression (both after broken hearts) – but I’m convinced it was by establishing a routine every day that I could depend on that got me through it, when life felt deeply rocky and uncertain.

We never know what life will throw at us – and we’re often told that what matters isn’t what happens to us, but how we deal with it. I couldn’t agree more. But it was Stephen Hawking, no less, who once simply said: ‘Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.’

I’ll take that, Professor…