Thurs 9 August
Me filming a side plank (or looking like a plank, whichever you prefer). Note how my lips stop moving half way through but I miraculously still talk; yoga ventriloquism at its best...
Tues 24 July
Boringly, the last few weeks have been all about the 'shoulder'. I've been keeping up the arm strengthening work on the Powerplate (tricep curl ups with a pilates band), doing pilates to keep my core strong, and dabbling with only a couple of yoga classes so as to keep off my arm (although in one, I couldn't resist doing my first cartwheel in 15 years; strangely addictive when you don't deck it during the first one).
Having an injury is annoying when you're in the swing of something like yoga – a downward dog is more tiring than it's been in ages because I haven't done many lately, and you don't feel like you're improving at as fast a rate – but it's worth it to make sure I don't get ongoing problems, and I can feel my arm slowly getting better. The focus now is to increase my muscle strength instead of going into my joints, utilising my core instead of pushing poses to the extreme with my limbs (ex gymnasts like me do it a lot) and to work on my sagging shoulders.
Nahid's shown me the following exercises to do daily to combat dreaded 'desk neck and shoulder' - 1 & 2 are great to do during breaks in the day and No 3 ideal for at home post-work (unless you have a very understanding office)
1. (above) Face a wall, place one arm up like a palm tree, then slowly twist your body the opposite way and move away from the wall until you can really feel the stretch
2. (above) Roll your shoulder back (rather than yanking it back) and hook your arm round your back like you are reaching into an opposite jean pocket. Then drag the other arm down towards the ground, so that the opposite shoulder is rolled back even further.
3. (above) Lie with your whole body against a wall, then pivot your feet up and nestle up against the wall so that your bottom is directly underneath it, and your legs stretched tall. Place both arms on the floor (palm tree shape again) so your shoulders open fully and just hang out there for a few minutes. A great thing to do after a long day at work once you're home.
Mon 13 July
So after my shoulder injury, I took last week off to rest it and – instead – ventured to the Oskia Skincare spa (which is handily right above my yoga studio at Good Vibes fitness; oskiaskincare.com/spa/; 0207 978 0207) for a healing massage with head therapist and treatment designer Abigail James.
Clearly VERY knowledgeable – and very nurturing - Abigail assessed my posture (my shoulders slump forward, even when I lie down; probably thanks to years of proofing features bent forward in my chair, which I’d spookily never noticed before) and worked through my muscles to identify what is causing me pain and how I can correct it.
Above: One of the treatment rooms at Oskia, Covent Garden. Not black and white in real life obviously, but it has got a swanky waterbed
“Being elegantly long limbed and very flexible has its benefits and can make for a great gymnast, but over-stretched ligaments can play havoc with posture and cause us great discomfort which is what Susan is currently suffering from. Susan's mid back is fairly weak, and with tight pectorals and a tendency to over extend the neck, which leaves the upper back muscles long and weak. This is causing a lot of neck and shoulder pain and a compromised rotator cuff. I did some deep muscular work within her range of comfort, and also some mayofascial release, which can be very painful but is highly effective.”
Going forward, Abigail has advised me to build up muscle with specific exercises; to look at my daily posture, and to have more massage to release deep-seated muscle tightness. So I’m going to be working on building up strength with my yoga teacher Nahid (mostly on the Powerplate), as well as avoiding all tricep presses, press ups and overhead stretches in my yoga and pilates over the coming weeks, until my shoulder improves.
It’s all fixable, but it's been a bit of an eye-opener in terms of learning which areas of my body are weaker, or tighter, and which parts are overcompensating for others. It's not just a case of resting my shoulder; I'm going to have to work on changing some long-rooted habits. So if you’re reading this and are feeling a few twinges in certain positions on the mat, get it checked out just in case there's more to it than meets the eye.
Thu 5 July
As promised, some more yoga tips and insights from the other teachers at my studio…
Nahid de Belgeonne, 45, Director of Good Vibes Fitness
Has been practising yoga for: 13 years
Style first practised: Ashtanga in a gym; it was awful and I never did it again. But one day - having left a stressful job - I booked a yoga holiday. Because the teacher Simon Low was SO knowledgeable about anatomy and how to find your own level, I’ve been practising ever since. Now my style is a fluid continuous yoga flow, taking from all movement disciplines including Pilates, martial arts and Feldenkrais.
Does yoga: Every day, even it if is only 10 minutes. Everyone should do something mindful, it might not be yoga but people need to manage their energy being up and on all the time.
Other exercise: Power plates and walking - and spincycle when I need to get into a bikini!
Yoga has… Totally helped me cope with stress. I have 35 staff and two new studios but yoga helps me to sleep like a baby and relax when I am not at work.
Favourite pose: Twists, twists and more twists – it’s great to twist the whole spine mindfully
Trickiest pose: Freestanding handstands - but I will get there.
Top tip for people starting out in yoga: Choose a teacher who is compassionate and really understands the body; one who has had a two-year training with a strong anatomy component as part of their course. Choose a teacher who has had a few injuries - it stops them from showing off in class and pushing their students too hard. And choose a teacher who moves at a pace where you can breathe to your breath. I am not a fan of strong adjustments; if your breath and gravity can’t take you there, you probably don’t need to go there.
Ruth McNeil, 34, yoga teacher and co-organiser of The Yoga Garden Party, an annual event to raise funds and awareness for The Hope Foundation
Has been practicing yoga for: In a formal sense since I was about 14
Style first practiced: I first learnt yoga from watching my mum practice – then going to her classes that were broadly Hatha in style. After years dabbling in lots of different styles (ashtanga,Iyengar, vinyasa flow) and disciplines (ballet, Pilates), I trained to teach yoga with Simon Low at the Yoga Academy
Does yoga: Every day. Sometimes I only get ten minutes on the mat but it works for me. Opportunities always arise for a more luxurious practice on another day
Other exercise: Some cycling, a little dancing
Yoga has… Allowed me joy, freedom, steadiness, quietude and deeper connection with others and myself
Favourite pose: Supported Reclined Bound Angle Pose
Trickiest pose: Peacock Pose
Top tip for people starting out in yoga: If you have a high-stress job or are a total gym bunny, look for a yoga class that calms you down rather than amps you up. Good classes to look for are Yin or Restorative yoga as they will soothe and rebalance you as you will be stimulating and nurturing the parasympathetic nervous system. You’ll come away with a profound sense of relaxation and renewal after being taken through carefully constructed series of poses that allow the body to open, the mind to become still and your connection with your breath to deepen
Ruth teaches Core flow and the GlowYoga Bliss at Glow Yoga
Holly Warren, 32, yoga teacher and personal development trainer
Has been practising yoga for: Over 20 years
Style first practised: A more restorative form (breath-work combined with gentle stretching), then I became a professional dancer, which led me to a more physical and dynamic practice that’s rooted in Ashtanga. Having an understanding of both styles helps in my teaching.
Does yoga: Daily for an hour and a half or two hours in the morning. I think as a yoga practitioner it is also important to do retreats - intensive periods of time away where you can really focus on deepening your practice and then take your new insights back into the world. It doesn’t hurt that these are often in nice sunny locations too.
Other exercise: Currently, nothing. I did recently go snowboarding though and love the water.
Yoga has… Brought awareness to my life and a sense of inner spaciousness that provides a softening in the relationship between myself and the stress that daily life can bring. It gives me time to re-boost and cleanse.
Favourite pose: I am a bit Pigeon crazy. Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana (one foot King Pigeon pose) - single, double or dead. These poses are suitable for intermediate practitioners – it stretches the groin, thighs and Psoas, as well as stimulating the abdominal organs and opening chest and shoulder region.
Trickiest pose: Utthita hasta Pandangusthasana. It’s a balancing pose on one leg similar to a tree pose, except the extended leg draws all the way to the torso. You need long hamstrings!
Top tip for people starting out in yoga: Take it one breath at a time and keep on smiling :)
Holly teaches Glow Sports at Glow Yoga
Clare Dobson, (“I stopped ageing at 24 and thanks to yoga I don't particularly look or feel any different!”), head of marketing
Has been practicing yoga for: Around 13 years on and off
Style first practised: Basic Hatha. There wasn't much to choose from when I first started, yoga was just yoga!
Does yoga: Depends on my schedule, but my yoga practice goes beyond the physical so in truth I practice every day!
Other exercise: I cycle when I can and also love going to the gym once in a while to giggle in crazy classes or have a swim
Yoga has… Occasionally added sanity to what could otherwise be a crazy life, but in truth it just adds happiness to my life and makes the daily grind easier by changing my thought processes, actions and reactions. I am, by far, a better person for it.
Favourite pose: Nothing beats savasana, you could change the world with that pose! And I love Upavistha Konasana, which is a wide-legged seated forward bend. I love it so much that I'll even watch TV in this position sometimes.
Trickiest pose: Baddha Konasana or bound angle pose as it's commonly known. My hips and feet just don't want to open that way! It used to infuriate me but now I appreciate that not all bodies want to go everywhere
Top tip for people starting out in yoga: Don't look at everybody else in the class and try to mimic their poses. Every body is different and no two people are ever going to look the same in their postures because we're all built differently. For example, I look like the most flexible person in the world in a forward bend but the truth is that although I am pretty supple I only look so good because I've got short legs. Also - when buying leggings be sure to do a downward dog in the mirror to check out how thin they are! If some students knew what they were showing off through their tights they would be truly mortified!
Clare teaches dynamic flow and Glow Fire at Glow Yoga
Wed 4 July
So I've been yoga-ing hard in the run up to the end of the challenge – a few weeks ago, I did four classes a week – and on Monday Stylist filmed me doing my side plank. BUT with the end in sight, I now have an injury.
I first felt a judderish sensation in my left shoulder a few weeks back but – stupidly – didn't stop my classes and carried on so I've aggravated it. My trainer Nahid thinks I've been travelling down from plank in my tricep press wrong, and putting too much pressure on my upper arm and shoulder. Suspected injury = my rotator cuff. So this week's sessions so far have, disappointingly for me, been about seeing what my shoulder is and isn't comfortable with rather than indulging in any flow or proper workout. This morning Nahid had me on the Power Plate, doing strengthening exercises using all the arm and back muscles around where I've hurt – some which I can practise with pilates bands at home. We also revisited the weight distribution in my hands and fingers for whenever I am on the matt. As I've got more used to certain poses, it's been easy to forget the basic foundation and really press into the floor with all parts of your hand, which then in turn triggers the connection with all your other muscles to enable you to do strong (and safe) poses. I have learnt my lesson! Tomorrow – off to the physio….
Tues 12 June
Vinyasa yoga is – while not repetitive – does have a certain structure to it that, once you've been doing it a few months like me – gets easier (but no less challenging I might add!) to follow as you go. The style of the teacher can change a class dramatically though, even if you're doing the same poses, and I've been slowly working my way round all the ones at Good Vibes Fitness. Having envied all their toned arms and sculpted bodies for a while now, I asked them all for some background to their yoga practise and their top tips. More to follow!
Sophie Mayhew, 26, full-time yoga teacher
Has been practising yoga for: Regularly, it's been eight years.
Style first practised: Ashtanga. I signed up for an 8-week course at University and fell in love with it. It was both fun and demanding and helped me take time out of my studies. When I graduated, I took a year out to travel around South East Asia, India and Nepal, and there began a deeper interest in yoga and the spiritual traditions in the countries I visited.
Does yoga: 5-6 times a week, for 2 hours a day
Other exercise: I cycle every day to and from work, but that’s about it.
Yoga has… Healed and transformed my life in so many ways, but the biggest effect is allowing me to see the positive in almost anything, letting me smile at the simplest things in life. It's my goal to bring that smile to my students' faces even its just for an hour a day.
Favourite pose: I absolutely love backbends - king pigeon (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana in Sanskrit). It’s the most amazing heart opening pose combined with a lovely shoulder and hip opener - just what I need when I'm feeling grey!
Trickiest pose: Seated wide-leg forward fold. I find this pose impossible, especially after years of horse riding the muscles in my inner thighs are rather tight!
Top tip for people starting out in yoga: Decide what you want to gain from your yoga practice - whether that's getting toned, relaxed or both! There are so many different types of yoga out there that it's important to know what you would like to achieve and then try a few different styles and a few different teachers - all of them vary so much and a good teacher makes a big difference!
Once you find a style you like, it is also a great idea to do a beginner’s course in the style you wish to learn. This will teach you slowly and safely the correct alignment and transitions from posture to posture so that you ready to approach and open class with knowledge, safety and confidence. But my biggest tip of all is just go for it - go to a beginner's class and get on the mat and try it out.
Sophie teaches Dynamic flow, Glow Fire and beginners at Glow Yoga goodvibesfitness.co.uk
Choi Kok, 40 (going on 15), part-time yoga teacher
Has been practising yoga for: 17 years.
Style first practised: None particularly – I went everywhere and anywhere with no preference on a 'style'. Initially I just wanted to find something for myself, having come from a sporty family. I've stayed on the mat ever since and it feels like home.
Does yoga: Every day. It changes and evolves based on what I need at that particular moment - it might be posture based, breath work, meditation or self study. Whatever I practise it always involves a sense of core – it's my focal point in meditation, where I initiate my exhalation and where I develop the stability required for all postures.
Other exercise: I used to do martial arts in my early 20s (pretty badly) but got tired of being kicked in the head. I played badminton (I was even worse) but chasing a shuttlecock at over 160mph lost its appeal. Sometimes I still pick up a racquet, it's a great workout for the core, glutes and hips.
Yoga has… Become a life-long friend which guides me through the good times and supports me through the tougher times.
Favourite pose: The 'Plank' family and 'Boat' family of poses. Both great for strengthening/stabilising the core and can be done with a variety of modifications so that everyone can participate. A strong core makes us more resilient both physically and when we need to stay centred in the chaos that life can surprise us with. For gentler days 'Knees-to-chest' - sometimes the simplest things we do are the most beneficial. This is a wonderful pose for releasing tension in the lower back and assists in massaging the abdominal organs.
"HA!" breath - exhaling with a "ha" activates the transversus abdominis and is excellent for releasing tension.
Trickiest pose: Anything where I end up in a face-plant. But sometimes that's the fun of it too… to laugh it off, not to take myself too seriously and to be open to the possibilities. However, I can find the challenge in all poses if I'm fully engaged.
Top tip for people starting out in yoga: Infuse your practice with a spirit of playfulness - don't worry that you might not get a pose right away. Yoga is a progressive practice, you practice in order to progress. Start from where you are today, don't be in a rush to get to that super advanced pose, just enjoy the ride. This is also true for the breath but with practice that too will flow as freely as your postures - keep at it. Lastly, don't forget to listen to your body and gut instincts - if it doesn't feel good it probably isn't.
Choi teaches Core flow, Glow Fire and dynamic flow at Glow Yoga goodvibesfitness.co.uk
Wed 6 Jun
While the Queen's been flotilla-ing down the Thames, I've been away on my holidays.
First to Cornwall for a friend's wedding (she's the Deputy Ed of Cosmopolitan and blogged her very impressive pre-wedding training), for which as well as eight pairs of shoes, I ACTUALLY PACKED MY YOGA MAT. And it got rolled out. Both on the floor of my St Ives cottage and in a very sunny garden in Switzerland which was part deux of my trip.
Switzerland: Yoga with a view. Although I did get a funny look from the neighbour in the chalet next door
I probably did about 5 sessions of 20 minute yoga in the 11 days I was away – just enough to feel the benefit while I was eating lots of gruyere and drinking pink fizz. Mainly I've been practising a simple flow, and also practising the transition from plank to upward dog and then back to downward dog.
I found it quite tricky to master at pace in class, so I've been breaking it down slower and also fixing a yoga strap around my arms, which forces you to keep your elbows in and focus on your core to be able to lower yourself down and slide your feet back. Top tip for anyone wanting to hone this move too!
For the most part, I no longer have to look up / crane my neck now in class as I either recognise the name of a pose or know where the routine is headed.
Here's just a few common terms and phrases that you might hear as you start out in training…
Anjali mudra – the hands come together palm to palm at the centre of the chest, fingers pointing up. This gesture symbolises the coming together of the right and left hemispheres of the brain, the divine and the worldly, the meeting of logic and intuition. Sometimes referred to as “hands in prayer”
Namaste – traditional greeting said with the hands in anjali mudra and a bow of the head. It can be translated as, “may the light in me bow to the light in you”
Ujjayi breath– a breathing practice with a slight closure of the glottis at the back of the throat. The breath has a gently audible sibilant sound with the purpose of extending the breath and focusing the mind
Samasthiti – the foundation for all standing poses. This pose promotes equilibrium and optimal alignment throughout the whole body. Your weight is balanced equally and your spine elongated but relaxed
Tadasana – Mountain pose – similar to Samasthiti but the feet are hip distance apart
Chataraunga – Four limbed staff pose; a low press-up position with upper arms parallel to the torso. Head & hips remain in a straight line
Vinyasa – to place in a particular order, which is why this is often used to describe a sequence of flowing postures
Sun Salutation/ Surya Namaskar – a flowing series of postures co-coordinated with the breath to open and awaken the whole body
Downwards Facing Dog/Down Dog – The body makes an inverted V shape, hands and feet root to the earth, hips are lifted. A key pose in sun salutations
Yoga/belly breathing – deep yet easeful breathing down into the base of the lungs (as opposed to chest breathing that is confined to the upper chest). This results in the movement downwards of the diaphragm on the inhale; pressing on the lower abdomen so the belly rises. On the exhalation the opposite action occurs as the diaphragm moves back up, the belly draws in and breath leaves the body smoothly. Predominant breathing practice taught in yoga classes that honours the body’s natural rhythm
Dristi – a fixed gaze point often used to aid balance
Chakra – vortex or wheel of energy located in the subtle body
Savasana – Corpse pose; lying supine or semi supine and becoming still for final relaxation at the end of a practice
Check out my side plank. I'm not saying I could stay there all day but it's a (pretty strong) start
ABOVE: Low lit side plank - so you can't see my grimace
I’ve had two more yoga sessions on the Power Plate to build up my strength – holding a plank across two vibrating Power Plates, and then moving from there to downward dog and back again. It’s a lot tougher than on a mat but it works (my muscles ACHED the next day).
I’ve also had a lot of classes where we’ve been lowering down to the floor from plank and then back up – like a paltry press-up – which I find challenging (especially with one foot stacked on top of the other) but I’m not collapsing and I’ve managed to hold side planks for about 10-15 seconds. I have also tried – and failed – a crow pose for the first time.
ABOVE: Crow Pose. I'm not sure I will ever manage this without breaking my nose but hey, I'm game
It has been a long-standing joke among my friends that I have weak wrists. My friend Vicky has told me that I’m a weakling who would never have made my teens if I’d been born in an earlier century and my friend Sally once bought me wrist weights as a secret santa gift (which I couldn’t lift, incidentally).
Which brings me onto the topic of this entry – strength.
Last week the Stylist team had motivational expert and personal trainer Dax Moy to come in and, erm, motivate us. This is because some of us – I mention no names, but obviously feel free to check out their empty blogs – are doing NOTHING. With me (somewhat smugly) attending my 2-3 a week yoga and pilates sessions, I skipped Dax’s session. So I was pretty surprised – read miffed – when my Stylist colleagues reported that he’d told them I’m “doing the wrong things” to complete my 1-minute hold of a side plank.
Confused, I emailed him for more details. Did he think my yoga training wasn’t giving me the strength I needed? Should I be focusing on weight training to build up my upper body? Do I need ‘Arnie arms’ to complete my challenge? (if so, I am doomed).
ABOVE: Don't worry, this isn't me. But how much strength do you need to hold certain poses in yoga?
His reply was as follows: “I wasn't suggesting it's about upper body strength (though that IS important too!) but rather that 'core strength' is not a generic quality. It's a specific set of measurable variables, which, in turn, require specific conditioning. For example, you can crunch, crunch, crunch all you want but may never get good at bridging/planking. The plank requires a specific period of training in actually holding the plank, specific periods of 'anti-rotation' work through isometric activity and training. Yoga will add some general core conditioning but is not specific to the plank.”
Still a little perplexed, I asked Nahid, my yoga teacher, to wade in to the debate. “You are doing the right things because you are the only one with a regular practice! Yoga and Pilates as well as the Power Plates all engage the core AS WELL AS build strength in your whole body. In yoga you are shifting your body weight in 3 dimensions, working with a wide variety of movements which in turn activate and strengthen the groups of muscles that make up the “core.”
The integrated approach of yoga where you work with the whole body in movement rather than isolated muscle groups means that you will see an all round improvement in balance, mobility, flexibility core engagement as well as strength. Twisted lunges, balances, revolved positions as well as the Pilates exercises we do in class all involve anti- rotational movements, which, dare I say, are a lot more satisfying than limited movements with weight machines.”
Having digested both sets of advice – and it’s interesting to see how different the approaches of a personal trainer is compared to a yoga instructor – I’m sticking with what I’m doing (and enjoying). 100 press-ups before bed just will never be my thing – wrist weight or not.
Today three things happened that have never happened before...
1. I got out of bed at 6.08am with relative ease. Does this mean – despite my birth time of 12.04am and being a renowned night owl - that yoga is helping me to become a morning person at last???? I have my doubts.
2. I teamed wide legged tracksuit bottoms with my Whistles waterfall coat. Don't try this look at home.
3. I did a side plank. On a Power Plate (well, a lazy version of one anyway - see below).
ABOVE: Could I look any more serious? Could it hurt anymore?
The merging of yoga with Power Plate is something new I'll be doing once a week for the next few weeks to really build up my strength so that I can hold poses for a period of time, rather than just flowing in and out of them. This morning I spent 25 minutes on the Plate, doing tricep dips, half press ups, the plank (front on hands; side on forearms) and balancing on one knee and hand from all-fours – different to a normal power plate routine and focusing purely on key yoga poses.
ABOVE: And the other side… Grinning, although I'm not sure why
Finished off with 30 mins in the studio moving in and out of poses on the mat. And now my arms hurt.
Hmm. Attempted a side plank this morning (NB this is my 'target' move – to be done for 1 minute on each side by the end of June) for the first time and crumpled in an undignified, weak-armed heap on the mat. Oh. Dear. On the bright side, I can now flow rather nicely from downward dog to plank and back again. But yes, there's work to be done on the SP. And on my breathing. As sometimes I forget to do it
For fellow beginners or for those thinking about taking up yoga, I asked my trainer Nahid de Belgeonne for a few starter tips... If you have any other specific questions you'd like answers to, leave a comment and I'll come back to you with her advice.
ABOVE: My trainer Nahid de Belgeonne
- What to wear: loose clothing that you can move around in, you probably don’t want to wear too tight underwear or anything that constricts breathing.
- Try not to eat at least an hour or two before a class, lying on your stomach or twists can feel awkward if your belly is full.
- Try a range of different types of yoga to find one or a few to suit you and your moods. All physical yoga in the west derives from hatha meaning forceful. Vinyasa flows synchronise movements with the breath, Iyengar is very focussed on alignment of static poses often with props, Ashtanga is a set series of poses always performed in the same sequence at a dynamic pace. Power Yoga is a fast paced yoga with no set series. Restorative yoga is often holds, stretches and releases supported by the floor. Choose a different class to suit your energy levels on different days.
- Yoga is different to “exercise” as it’s led by the breath. Don’t get overly concerned about how to breathe or where to breathe - just breathe!
- Generally, you inhale as you lengthen and exhale as you contract back into the body, although there should be no rules! Play with your breath in different poses and see how it feels.
- If your breath becomes restricted in a pose, you are trying too hard. Bring it back a little and allow the breath to flow freely. Use the exhale and gravity to allow you to deepen into a pose rather than muscle strength and force.
- NEVER lock out knees or any other joint - give joints space which in turn will allow for juicier movements
- Use your muscle strength to keep space in the joints, and keep a little bit back. Don’t go 100% for the full pose from the get go, ease your way into and keep registering how it feels.
- Don’t focus on making the right “shape”; really feel every part of your body as it evolves with care and attention from one pose into another.
- If Sanskrit confuses rather than enlightens go find a teacher who speaks the same language as you.
- Find a range of teachers that you love. I am great believer in the cult of good teaching rather than the cult of the teacher. Learn from a range of good teachers to benefit from their different teaching styles and language.
Thanks to West Coast jetlag and a lovely bit of food poisoning, I haven't done any yoga in the two weeks since I returned from my holidays. BUT I haven't been a total slacker and have done two sessions of glow pilates to build up my core and one session of Power Plate - something I haven't tried since my first (and very ache-ridden) attempt back in January.
Above: The mighty Power Plate. Please be gentle...
For those of you who haven't tried it, the PP is a vibrating device that activates nearly all of a person's muscles. In the 25 minute session (so really easy to fit into your lunch hour and STILL have a shower and put your make-up back to how it was...), you basically do lots of stretches and squats and repetitions while standing or sitting on the Power Plate. The vibration of the plate does feel odd at first but you get used to it quickly. Your legs also feel really wobbly afterwards, especially going downstairs, and sitting down is a little 'ouch' on your thigh muscles for a couple of days when you're a beginner but it feels effective almost immediately (for promised benefits, see here). I really recommend it to do alongside yoga to build up strength and muscle.
Above: A (rather steely faced) me before we start the class. In the after photo I'm a little redder and knackered looking
Hypothetically speaking, if I was in a YA* meeting, right now I'd have to stand up and declare: "My name is Susan Riley and I've not been to yoga for 2 weeks".
That's because for the last 10 days, I've swapped my 3 times a week sessions of vinyasa flow yoga in a heated studio in London's Covent garden, for snowboarding on the 1600-metre high (and very powdery) slopes of Whistler, Canada.
For ski/board enthusiasts, if you haven't been, PACK NOW! Over the two huge mountains that make up the resort (Whistler and Blackcomb), there are over 200 trails, 37 lifts, 16 alpine bowls and absolutely no queues or rude nationalities (who I won't name and shame here) pushing and shoving you to get on a chairlift. They even have sniffle stations to blow your nose and whipped cream at café tills for your hot chocolate (key I find). Oh yes, and the apres-ski snacks are basically all the oysters you can eat.
Anyhow, after 7 days back to back boarding, my legs were pretty shot – particularly my right thigh – but I did find generally that my legs had a lot more strength (thank you, 'horse' pose), and that my posture was better as sat on my board. Proof for me that yoga can help me in other sports. As for me, my Burton Feather is back in the cupboard and it's back to the mat…
On the slopes of Whistler… not a suitable location for a downward dog
I’ve been getting jip (retro 80’s word for you) from the rest of the Stylist team that I have the easiest challenge. EXCEPT I seem to be doing more work than anyone else. Just counted and I did 13 yoga classes in Jan, with today being my 14th. Progress-wise I didn’t break a sweat (for the first time) in a beginner’s class and am now ‘flowing’ – flowing from one pose to the next and this week have gone from downward dog to plank and back again. Get. Me.
Here’s a shot of where I’m bending and flexing, the very cosy Glow yoga studio....
My trainer Nahid shows me what I WILL be doing in a few months - side plank for 1 minute
My downward dog...
What a downward dog should actually look like - by Nahid
Sport aficionado as I now am (cough), I’m in New York for two nights with Nike for the launch of their new, well, something (such has been the secrecy that none of us know what exactly until we’re ushered into the event in the Meatpacking district).
Turns out we’re there to try out their nifty Nike+ FuelBand – a stylish wristband that records all activity: walking, netball, boxing etc. and translates them into daily fuel points (for full story, click here)
ABOVE: From my seat at the launch of the Nike+ FuelBand. Left to right: pro athletes Kevin Durrant, Carmelita Jeter and Lance Armstrong. And… Jimmy Fallon. Bizarrely.
I ask if the band successfully measures more controlled activities like yoga, and how my results would compare to action sports like running or basketball… It’s not good. The FuelBand responds to hand movements, so it’s automatically biased to certain activities (even cyclists are at a disadvantage); great for some sports, but not for yoga/me.
However… I did have a great time testing the band out on some more suitable (read arm-waving) pursuits, including a very cool hour practicing my backhand on the swankiest tennis court in Manhattan (www.vanderbilttennisclub.com). Tucked away above Grand Central Station – you get there via lift - with a window that overlooks Park Avenue, execs pay up to $210 per hour for the pleasure. Me? I felt like I was in Gossip Girl just being up there.
ABOVE: Snapped: the tennis court hiding above Grand Central Station. Wimbledon, I think you've just been trumped
For the non ‘Chuck Bass’ activity, we also tossed pizzas at Roberta’s in Brooklyn www.robertaspizza.com. Bit out of the way but the pizzas are AMAZING if you’re after an authentic and delicious detour next time you’re in town
Two weeks in and I've now done eight classes - four 1-2-1's with Nahid, one bliss class, two foundation classes with alternative teachers and a Powerplate class that left me walking like John Wayne. For me, this is a LOT of exercise and I've felt delicate (and faint) a few times, so have started to look more at my fluids and what I eat before class. Aside from getting fit, what I am finding nice is actively scheduling my work commitments around some 'me time' as opposed to the other way round and my classes are becoming the framework for my week; a first for me! Next session is Monday at 8.30am - pics and tips to follow...
Signed up for a half-hour Powerplate class at lunch to complement my yoga as it's great for muscle toning. I've never done it before and for half an hour kept catching my (slightly vibrating and worried looking) reflection in the mirror. Great class but ouch - afterwards I can't walk down the stairs without clutching my thighs like an old lady. Also discovered - thanks to those stretchy band things - that the Queen probably has more upper body strength than me.
'Are you okay?' - this is the question my colleagues Lisa and Alix greeted me with today 20 minutes after my second 1-2-1 with Nahid ( my instructor) - scheduled regularly, I might add, at 8.30am. The comment was followed by a lot of laughter. Was it the flush in my cheeks? The fact I was still wearing trainers in our meeting as I'd dashed from the studio? Or simply because I'd set my alarm for 6.30am and they were just gobsmacked I'd successfully not hit snooze (my aversion to early mornings is a well-known office fact).
Either way, this - my third session (I also squeezed in a bliss class on Friday night; a more restorative affair with dimmed lights) has been the toughest yet as I'm stretching and utilising bits of my body that have laid dormant for years. This time we focus on keeping the moves I've learnt so far fluid - with flow - and Nahid introduces me to some new standing poses (horse, balancing warrior, chair - next week I will post some pictures up of me doing these! Maybe...) which really work your leg and thigh muscles which - until now - have spent the last two and a half years sat on a chair in the Stylist office. To them I cheer: welcome back.
I'm just going to get it out there; never before have I exercised on January 4. Yet here I am, in a toasty infra-red lit, panelled-floored studio having my first yoga session ever. I'll admit it, I'm smug.
Above and below: Good Vibes Fitness, Covent Garden: my home for the next 6 months (gulp)
Nahid my instructor is giving me some 1-2-1's before I unleash myself - new head-to-toe Nike kit and all (psychologically it's making me feel more up for it than my old joggers ever did) - on the foundation classes for beginners. We start with the basics: sitting and resting stances (child's pose); some basic poses (downward dog, lunges) and generally getting me acclimatised to the practise of yoga itself (sometimes I concentrate so much I forget to breathe; handy). At the end of our session I don't feel knackered - Nahid has been gentle with me! - but I do feel refreshed and a lot more aware of my body as I go about my day.
“Why’ve you picked the only sport you can do sitting down?”
This is what my husband John said to me when I told him that, out of all the physical activities in the world, I’d selected yoga for my Stylist challenge. Not the enthused words of support I was hoping for. He’s a gym man you see (one of those types that occasionally ‘spot’ weights for other puce-turning men) and I think he thinks I’ve chosen an easy option.
Regardless, I’ve wanted to get into yoga for a while. Ever since – and this is not a highbrow reference – I saw Jayne Middlemiss stretching and bending by the pool on Celebrity Love Island with a very taut figure (she was vying for the attention of Boyzone’s Keith Duffy if you recall). I’ve even had a Stella McCartney yoga mat and carry case waiting to go ever since asking for one for Christmas four years ago which – finally – will be dug out from under the stairs.
Above: My (very pretty) Stella McCartney / Adidas yoga mat. Given to me for Christmas 4 years ago by my brother-in-law James. Rolled out and looked at once (sorry about that brother-in-law James).
To give some context, my sport history is a chequered one. At school I was flexible but, er, mildly asthmatic (cross country was not my friend) so stuck to sports I could breathe while doing like gymnastics and karate which I gave up age 14 - the age your parents introduce free will and you ditch all your hobbies to hang around the park swings with your friends. Since then I have been to about three exercise classes (I’m not a ‘joiner’) and sporadic gym visits but have never exercised consistently or found an activity – snowboarding aside - to call my own.
Which is what I’m hoping for here; to discover something I can enjoy; learn something new from; escape work and de-stress with. As well of course to become one of those people that can wear exercise leggings without feeling the need to accessorise with a long top...
My mission – which I’ve chosen to accept, God help me – is three sessions a week of Glow Yoga, something recommended to me by my in-the-know friend Emma (Elle magazine’s Beauty Director so quite a good source!). Not as hardcore as Bikram, Glow Yoga is basically a form of Vinyasa flow yoga that’s done in a studio heated with infra-red panels (it’s very cool - the first of its kind in Europe; see goodvibesfitness.co.uk).
As for my target, my instructor Nahid (who owns Good Vibes and has absolutely no need to wear long tops with leggings let me assure you) has recommended we – make that me - aim for a “side plank with raised leg for 1 minute on each – it is strong, looks impressive and is a real test for strength and whole body integration”. Ok so it’s no weightlifting contest, but for a person who can’t carry two loaded dinner plates without buckling under the strain, the challenge is ON.