Podcast episodes to enjoy while you are…

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that the discovery of the Serial Podcast a couple of years back changed my listening habits for good. I was training for the Paris marathon at the time and found myself chain listening to episode after episode on my long runs. From that point on, podcasts rapidly replaced music during runs and gym sessions, while my at home listening switched from exclusively Radio 4 to an array of podcasts covering everything from sports to true crime and from love to politics.

Three years later, podcasts have become an integral part of my life. Whether I listen for extra motivation while running, relaxation while in the bath, entertainment while cleaning or inspiration while cooking, I’m rarely without the dulcet tones of one of my favourite podcast hosts.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve discovered a few new podcasts and like any evangelical listener I wanted to pass these recommendations on. Of course, if you have been living under a rock for the past few years and haven’t yet heard the first series of Serial, this is the gateway drug I would recommend to start you on your podcasting journey. From there you could do worse than to delve into the archives of This American Life, (one of my favourite episodes will always be ‘Our Friend David‘), or continue down the Serial path with S Town (from the makers of Serial and This American Life).

But if you have already enjoyed these series and are looking for something new, or else, you would like something a little different in tone, the below may be for you.

Podcasts for while you are…walking

Happy Place Podcast with Fearne Cottone: Kirsty Young
Hosted by Fearne Cotton, Happy Place explores the experiences and shares the advice of guests on how to find joy every day.
I only discovered this podcast a couple of days ago but have already walked over 50,000 steps, eschewing buses and tubes, so that I could keep listening! I’ve just finished the episode with Gok Wan, which I loved, but I think if I was to recommend a single episode it would have to be the Kirsty Young interview. If you love Desert Island Discs you will really love this episode: thought provoking, engaging and calming, what more could you want from a podcast? I’m really excited to mine the Happy Place back-catalogue of episodes to find some more gems.
The Rich Roll Podcast – Finding joy in simplicity with the Happy Pear

Regular readers will know that I’m a big Rich Roll fan. I find his interviews inspiring, motivating and great for getting me through long runs (not least because he takes the ‘long form’ format to the extreme with interviews running, in some cases, over 2 hours!). While sometimes this sort of time investment can seem a bit of a daunting prospect, and I have found myself losing momentum with some of the seriously long episodes, this relatively snappy episode with The Happy Pear, (Dave and Steve, the Irish, plant-based, sporty twins behind The Happy Pear food product, cafe and book brand) really made my day.

I love these guys so much; they are two of the most charismatic and emphatic advocates for healthy living that I’ve ever encountered. Their philosophy: ‘if you’re happy with really simple things, it’s a lot easier to find joy every day.’

I can guarantee this episode will make you smile and the enthusiasm from Dave and Steve for healthy living, their dedication to family and their attitude towards keeping active will certainly rub off.

Podcasts for while you are…in the bath

Love Stories with Dolly Alderton: Emma Freud

I discovered the wonderful author and journalist Dolly Alderton through the podcast series The High Low (see below), and when I found out that she had released this solo podcast I immediately jumped on the bandwagon.

In this series, Dolly talks to guests about their most defining relationships: the passion, heartbreak, longing, familiarity and fondness that have formed who they are.

My favourite episode has to be this interview with broadcaster, writer and script editor Emma Freud, the woman behind the man that is Richard Curtis. If anyone is well-placed to talk about love in a sincere yet lighthearted way, it is the partner one of the biggest names in romantic comedy.

The High Low with Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes: The Dangers of Self-Deprecation; & A Deep-Dive Into ‘Nanette’

The High Low came to me as a recommendation from one of my great friends, Helen, and after a car journey of episodes together I immediately got home and downloaded the back list. I’ve subsequently got a whole host of other friends hooked and post-episode debriefs always result in some really interesting conversations.

It pitches itself as a ‘news and pop-culture podcast’, which translate as a really nice mix of high- and low-brow culture, from issues of race, gender and politics to reality TV, romance and celebrity. Whenever I pass this recommendation on I always feel like I have to caveat it with a note that the hosts, while amazing, are incredibly posh (perhaps not something I need to point out given that one of them is called Pandora). While they are hyper-aware of this and don’t shy away from it, it is something that strikes you the moment you start listening and could put some people off without giving it a chance.

There are lots of episodes that I could recommend, but this recent one about ‘Nanette’, a stand-up show by Australian comic, Hannah Gadsby, provides a lot of food for thought. From comedy to the dangers of self-deprecation, I hope this episode gets you thinking and as hooked on The High Low as I am.

Podcasts for while you are…cleaning

Ear Hustle – Left Behind 

I discovered Ear Hustle via the Radio 4 Extra Podcast Radio Hour, when they played a short clip from one of the episodes. I was immediately intrigued and after listening to the previewed episode in full, quickly caught up on the entire first series. The podcast presents stories of life inside San Quentin State Prison, shared and produced by those living it. The hosts, Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods, are a visual artist employed by the prison and an inmate respectively. The stories they explore are honest, funny, difficult and thought provoking and offer a new and nuanced view of people living within the American prison system.

The episode I would recommend you start with is called ‘Left Behind‘ and is about prisoner Curtis Roberts, who was sentenced to 50 years to life for stealing under the three strikes law for committing three non-violent robberies. The story explores how he ended up becoming a thief and how has has struggled to maintain a sense of hope during his years in prison. It is really moving and will certainly start to make you think differently about the people incarcerated in the US as well as the American judicial system.

30 for 30, Bikram: Arrival 

Recommended to me by friend and fellow podcast addict, Anna, this series of 30 for 30 explores the life of yogi Bikram Choudhury, from his rise to fame and fortune to stories of scandal and sexual assault.

If you have heard of Bikram yoga but know nothing about the man behind the moves, then this podcast is definitely for you. I knew nothing of how Bikram took Beverly Hills by storm, using his Hollywood connections and rags-to-riches origin story to build a devoted following and lay the foundation for a yoga empire. Nor did I know about the seedy underworld of this empire and the mental and physical abuse suffered by many of his followers at his own hands.

For this series you will need to start at the beginning with the first episode, ‘Arrival’, but you will soon find yourself at the end!

Podcasts for while you are…working out

Running for Real with Tina Muir: Colin McCourt

I migrated over to the Running for Real podcast with Tina Muir after she left another podcast favourite of mine, Run to the Top. As a presenter, I find her relatable and easy to listen to and she always has interesting guest on the show. I know I’ve mentioned this episode with Colin McCourt on the blog previously, but it is so good it bears repeating. McCourt was a middle distance runner who competed at the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and was on track to race in the Olympics in 2012. However, when at the age of 27 he didn’t make the 2012 GB team he stepped away from running for what he thought would be for good.

During the years that ensued he struggled with his mental state and with his weight until one day, when he saw an old photograph of himself running, he decided to seriously rethink how he was living his life. By reintroducing running and structured training, as well a by improving his diet, he regained control of his life.

If you need a little motivation to get you out of the door for a run or to the gym, or if you need something to spur you on while you are running, this is the podcast for you.

Fit and Fearless: How to be Healthy when Hectic with Alice Liveing 

I discovered Fit and Fearless via my friend and fellow fitness fanatic, Sophie. She had spotted an episode on pre- and post-natal training and sent me a link and I started listening from there. The episodes are short and easy to digest. They are good for shorter runs or gym sessions rather than longer slogs.

As a starter, this episode with fitness guru Alice Liveing is great for tips on how to be healthy when you’re snowed under, but as I think I’ve mentioned this before, I will also recommend this more recent episode with dancer and singer Fleur East.

Podcasts for while you are…cooking

Table manners with Jessie Ware: Yotam Ottolenghi 

In this podcast, singer-songwriter Jessie Ware and her mum, Lennie, host a series of guest from the worlds of music, culture and politics, for dinner. Discussions centre on food and family with a soupçon of oversharing. I first head about this podcast a few months back when it was mentioned on High Low by Dolly Alderton, but I only got round to listening this week.

I really loved this episode with one of my favourite chefs, Yotam Ottolenghi. In it they discuss Yotam’s children, husband and their surrogacy process, as well as his new book in which he will be (finally!) simplifying some of his dishes. Perfect listening while you are cooking up a storm in the kitchen.

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Fit friends: My secret weapon for winter training

When it’s cold, dark and rainy in the winter months it’s really easy to let your motivation for exercise slide. A lunchtime run suddenly seems less appealing when it involves getting soaked through, and the pool seems less alluring when it’s subzero outside. What I find makes things even trickier is the running routes I frequent during the summer become more difficult to navigate in the winter. I don’t like to run home alone along the canal in the dark, many of the parks I like to lap close at 5pm and the off-road routes become so muddy underfoot that I end up walking sections to avoid slipping over.

IMG_2840 (1)While I could use all of this as an excuse to bed down until Spring, I’m making the effort to dig deep and keep going with my training, allowing my fitness routine to take a slightly different form to account for the season. And although my weekly mileage is down, my yoga hours, pool and gym times are all up and I’m focusing on building strength and flexibility alongside a toned down version of my usual cardio.

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Each evening, my good intentions see me packing my swim/run/yoga kit ready for the following day, but what has been really helping me to get out of the door for an exercise session is having training buddies on hand, who are already kitted up and waiting for me outside.

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It’s so much easier to get to the gym or out for a run when you have someone to go with. I’m so lucky that my friends at work are also keen to keep fit throughout the winter and we can all head from the office to the gym/pool/yoga class, or else enjoy a lunchtime run together. And we have a mutual understanding that once we are working out we all follow our own programmes, so there’s no chatting by the water fountain or long rests in the weights room!

Fitfluencers

If you haven’t got fit friends at the ready to keep you on the straight and narrow, I also find following ‘fitfluencers’ on social media really helps. I find it hard to see other people leading an active life and exercising without being taken over by the urge to exercise myself!

On Instagram I love Alice Liveing, Shalane FlanaganCharlotte Kalla, Samantha Gash, Kaisa MakarainenA Pretty Place to Play, The Runnerbeans, Running with Mo Yogi Bare, Tina Muir, Alex Puccio and Shauna Coxsey.

Podcast persuasion

Another great way to make sure I get out for a run is to download a podcast episode I really want to listen to, but only allow myself listen while on a run. Running and fitness podcasts, such as Run to the a Top from Runners Connect, Marathon Talk and Rich Roll are great to stay focused, but I also love escaping run chat with the High Low, This American Life or Reasons to be Cheerful.

Strava stats

Accountability and a little healthy competition with myself also helps keep me going, which is why I love tracking my runs on Strava. It’s a great way to keep an eye on my mileage and gauge how I’m getting on, but I’m also aware that my  running data is public so I can’t slack off too much in case my stats become conspicuous by their absence!

Home workouts

I love at-home, early morning workouts and during the winter these really help to get me going for the day. YouTube is a cornucopia of great yoga videos – I love Sarah Beth Yoga, Yoga with Adrienne and Boho Beautiful – but workout apps are also great for short, focussed fitness sessions. I’m currently using Power 20 Prenatal fitness app, but before this I loved the Weight Loss Fitness app – both free to download.

If you are struggling with winter workouts, or if you have other hints and tips to keep on track when it’s wet and cold outside do let me know.

Now I just need to go out for my Sunday run…

Until my next, happy running.

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Why ‘me time’ matters

Try to do one thing each day that nourishes you.

This was the takeaway message from a yoga event I attended this week at the Shard in London. The event, sponsored by California Walnuts, saw me and my good friend Sophie getting up at 5:30am to join a group of yogis for a 7am yoga session with Mandy Jhamat from Yogasphere, a wellness talk by Julie Montagu and delicious breakfast, hosted high above the city on the 69th floor of the Shard. It was the perfect start to the day: a relaxing vinyasa flow class suspended above the hubbub of the city below, followed by a feast of smoothies, mini pots of overnight oats, fruit kebabs and vegan flapjacks, all enjoyed from a room with a spectacular view.

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Image with thanks to California Walnuts

The event finished at 9:30am and we left with a free yoga mat, a bag full of goodies (including a big jar of delicious California Walnuts!) and that warm fuzzy feeling that I can only describe as the post-yoga glow.

While I’ll admit that I found myself reaching for the coffee by 3pm (I’m a morning person but even I concede that 5:30am is that bit too early) the feel-good factor from going to the class and spending some time with Sophie stayed with me until bedtime.

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Image with thanks to California Walnuts

While this was an exceptional day, the message from the speaker, Julie Montagu, was that you don’t need a special event to feed your physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. Instead, we should find a little space every day for those acts that make us feel more like ourselves and contribute to our overall sense of wellness. Whether it be a 15 minute yoga practice, a short walk or lunchtime run, curling up with a good book, wandering around an art gallery, taking a hot bath, going for a cup of tea with a friend, calling your mum, listening to a podcast or baking a cake, it’s amazing how just a little act can quickly change your mood and the course of your day.

While (as regular readers may have gathered!) I find my greatest sense of self through exercise, another very different area in which I have found nourishment is while drawing. It’s amazing how taking the time to really look at figures and forms and then attempt to replicate them in graphite on paper, can be so meditative. To this end, a friend and I recently established a life drawing class as part of a wellness initiative. It is amazing how quickly the two hours of the class pass as we work on a series of 5, 10, 15 and 20 minute poses, working in silence, looking, sketching and being present in the moment. While I’m not the greatest artist, I’ve learnt to use the lessons from my yoga practice of leaving my ego at the door, focusing on my easel and working within my own parameters. When I began drawing I found the process more frustrating than therapeutic, but now I have evolved my practice, making it a much calmer space for engagement and self development.

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Image with thanks to California Walnuts

It is so easy to forget to spend that little bit of time feeding your mind, body and soul and to find that you’ve spent a day racing around with little to show for it. I’m now taking the message of this week’s yoga event and aiming to dedicate a portion of each day to self-nourishing acts as I know that by feeding my own soul I feel stronger, richer, fuller and more able to give back to those around me.

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Festivals and the fashioning of identity

This August, in a bid to finally overcome my festival virginity, I packed up my tent, hand sanitiser, wellies and dry shampoo and headed off to Wilderness. It was the most fabulous few days, camping out in the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside with my lovely pals and so many fun activities on tap. I knew it would be my kind of festival when our itinerary included archery and wild swimming alongside quaffing champagne and dancing, and when I spotted not one but two tea and crumpet stands. Our days were filled with everything from comedy and cricket to political debates and yoga, all topped off with a heady mix of delicious food and drinks, lots of glitter and of course, plenty of amazing music.

While I had such a fun few days, something struck me as I mooched amongst girls dressed in little more than sequinned-leggings and glitter: in my denim dungarees and wellies I suddenly felt incredibly conservative and strait-laced, a feeling at odds with the person I believe myself to be.
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While much of my identity is tied up in my liberal left-wing views, my veganism, an interest in the environment and sustainability and my love of the outdoors – running, yoga, hiking and climbing, swimming in lakes and sitting by campfires – the realisation dawned on me that my outer appearance isn’t necessarily reflective of these elements of my personality. I started to see that my tendency to err on the side of caution in my clothing choices has meant that while I’m pretty hippy on the inside, I’m definitely more preppy on the outside.

As a result, I started to examine the question of whether our inner- and outer-selves necessarily have to match up; are our personalities and sartorial decisions intertwined, or can they be mutually exclusive? Does a sensible polo-neck sweater and a pleated skirt preclude skinny dipping and a love of tofu and preempt quiet evenings in with a book and hot chocolate? Do I really need to don the festival uniform of a sequinned leotard and little else to prove to the outside world that I’m a fun-loving tree-hugging, left-leaning yogi?

There is definitely something about dressing in a certain way that makes you feel part of a tribe and gives you a firm sense of both self and community. There are times when this draw towards the ‘uniform’ of a tribe is particularly heightened, and a festival is one such occasion. I have to admit, having never before considered adding anything with sequins to my wardrobe, suddenly at Wilderness I found myself coveting them. But using dress to align yourself with a certain lifestyle or political outlook isn’t just about frivolously opting for a one style of shirt over another, it can also act as a creative means by which you can construct a visual representation of who you are.

This week in a BBC Radio 4 programme about identity, the speakers emphasised the role that coherence and consistency plays in establishing a firm sense of personal identity, and I suppose coordinating your inner and outer selves adds to this sense of coherence. Yet while for some people their look is part of a unified package, for others, like me, it’s slightly more scatter-gun and perhaps not as considered as it might be.

All of this got me thinking about my identity, both from the point of view of how people perceive me, and from the perspective of how I want to be seen. Would a more careful curation of my wardrobe give me, as well as those around me, a stronger sense of who I am?
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During my run on Thursday I was listening to a podcast interview with the skier Lynsey Dyer and something she said really threw all of these thoughts into focus. She observed that, as a teenager, she had fallen in love with the idea of surfing having seen the Roxy girls in various surfer magazines. However, later, when she realised that the women she had admired were just models who couldn’t surf it made her see that what really mattered wasn’t so much looking the part but living the experience.

In another podcast episode, Rich Roll explored the concept of authenticity and truth to oneself. He asked the question, who am I at my core, and do my actions align with this authentic sense of purpose and self? This drilling down to our core values and living in a way true to them is also something examined in Greg McKeown’s book ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less‘.

For me, these speakers highlighted a more important element of identity, that of asserting and living in a way true to your core values. In this way, the focus is on substance, not just style and it becomes more than just about veneering yourself in the tropes of how you feel certain values should look, or slavishly imitating those around you, without imbuing that aesthetic with an authentic piece of yourself.

So while I am reviewing my outward appearance and considering more carefully the messages that my choice of clothing may send out, I’m also auditing my inner self, digging deeper to establish what truly matters to me and how my behaviours in all elements of my life convey this message.

I want to finish with a quote from Rich Roll on the question of dress and aligning yourself with a particular look or brand:

If it’s authentic to who you are; if it’s a natural expression of what you would be doing or wearing ordinarily, then it’s ok. It’s when it becomes artifice and there’s some other agenda that’s built into that, where it become something else entirely, that’s where it becomes problematic.

Until my next, namaste.

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5 Little changes that could just make your life that little bit better

I often find myself naively drawn in by articles promising the secret of an infinitely better life: 5 steps to total mindfulness, 3 intense fat burning workouts, 10 steps to the perfect relationship, that sort of thing. Unsurprisingly, what I regularly find is that these articles just offer a series of commonsensical points, which often align with the things I’m already doing, and I’m left a little disappointed that I’m no closer to secret of perfection in mind, body and spirit.

So rather than promising 5 revolutionary hacks that will give you the ultimate life, I’m offering a series of little adjustments and lifestyle tweaks that I’ve found work for me, and which have made my life just that little bit better everyday.

1. Morning yoga

IMG_3576I’m not really sure how I got into my morning yoga routine, but now I can’t imagine starting my day without it. It’s amazing how getting up and showered and then spending between 15 and 30 minutes on my mat can transform my mood and the way I approach the day. I’m certainly no bona fide yogi, but spending some time stretching out my limbs, syncing my movement and my breath, doing a bit of core and arm work and playing around with headstands, bridges or shoulder stands wakes me up (even if I’ve had a glass of something I shouldn’t the night before) and puts me in the right headspace for the day.

Some days I’ll listen to classical music and follow my own yoga flow routine, other days I’ll watch Yoga with Adriene on YouTube and follow her, but either way, no matter what my day holds, I try to corner off at least 15 minutes of my morning to dedicate to my practice.

2. Lunchtime exercise

IMG_5074The realisation that I could kick the 3:30pm slump by just going out and doing something physical at lunchtime was a revelation. My lunch run often negates my need for that dangerous afternoon coffee, which I know will play havoc with my sleeping patterns, or for the 4pm mindless snacking, often undertaken out of boredom or a need for a distraction rather than real hunger.

I know that I’m really lucky in this regard – that my boss and colleagues are very understanding of my need to get out in the fresh air and run off any stresses – but I also know that getting the oxygen circulating around my system makes me so much more productive in the afternoon and in a better mental place to respond to those emails that require a bit more thought or diplomacy.

Moreover, on the days I get to meet my running pal Lou for a quick dash around Kensington Gardens it’s a great opportunity for a catch-up or a space to vent and, come 6pm I’ve already done 5 miles and I can take the evening off guilt-free if I fancy.

While I know running isn’t for everyone, taking a lunchtime walk, or making the most of the summer sunshine and doing some yoga outside are also great alternatives. If you have a work gym you might even sneak a quick HIIT session between meetings.

3. Walking or running part of my commute

IMG_4349About a year ago I made the decision to add 4,000 steps to my day by walking to and from the tube station, rather than jumping straight on the train that leaves from practically outside my house. A year on and I’m still doing it, now less for the extra steps and more for the pleasure. In the morning getting just ten minutes of fresh(ish) air (this is London after all!), natural light and, in recent weeks, a vitamin D hit in the sunshine, really sets me up for the day. In the evening, having chance to decompress after a day at my desk is invaluable and strolling back the long way through the park rather than cramming myself into a train is definitely the best way to do this.

On the days I want to sneak some extra exercise, especially while the weather is good, I’ll walk the full 4 miles home, or, if I’ve not had chance for a lunch run, I’ll jog home, either directly or via Regent’s Park to add an extra 3 or 4 miles to my route. It’s not just the exercise but the benefit of being outside in the world that never fails to boost my mood and allows me to arrive either at work or at home smiling.

Living in the city where we are set up for walking and cycling a commute I know this is easier, but even elsewhere you could consider parking your car a little further from your house or office, or using public transport for part of the trip and walking or running the rest. Making exercise a functional part of your day – i.e. a means of getting from a to b – makes you more likely to do it on a regular basis and it also means that you have plenty of free time to spend with friends and family rather than squirrelling yourself off to the gym.

4. Tuning into my appetite

IMG_1619Like many people, I’ve been through phases of eating too much, not eating enough, eating through stress, through boredom and through sadness. However, recent GI issues have forced me to take a more careful approach to eating and there have been many benefits to this.

Slowing down my eating, selecting foods mindfully, with an eye to what will nourish me without causing stomach upset, pain or sluggishness, and eating in line with my hunger, rather than unconsciously nibbling throughout the day, has vastly improved my approach to and enjoyment of food. I now focus on three meals a day, or two on a Sunday/my long run day, without snacking in between (if I can help it!). If I’m doing a double workout – a lunchtime run followed by an evening swim for example –  I might add a banana or nectarine in the  late afternoon to keep me going until I get home, but otherwise I hold on until supper.

Following this routine I’ve found that I will naturally feel hungry at around 7:30am once I’ve finished my yoga, and again between 1 and 2pm in the afternoon. Evening hunger usually strikes around 6:30–7pm so I know if I’m going out for supper later than this and don’t want to over-eat because I’m famished I’ll have a more substantial lunch or eat a little later. I also make sure I stay well hydrated throughout the day so I don’t confuse thirst and hunger. I have moments of weakness of course – on weekends I could keep on munching through oats, granola with berries, avo on toast, smoothies and coffee indefinitely if I don’t make a conscious decision to stop and in the evenings if there are nibblies in the house, like grapes or cashews, I am often tempted to them. But knowing when these moments of weakness come I’m learning to avoid, resist or keep them at bay.

5. Accepting I’m not a night owl

IMG_3388I’ve spent years in denial and harboured a lot of guilt around this point, but the fact is, I like my sleep, and I like it at night. I tend to rise early regardless of my time to bed, which means late nights leave me exhausted and grumpy.

Accepting that I’m not going to be the last man standing on a night out, or that I’d rather head home than out to a night club without feeling guilty has been a long time in coming, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve become increasingly at peace with this fact. I’ve started scheduling breakfast dates and lunches over late-night drinks and I try to arrive early to longer events so that if I duck out before last orders I’ve still had plenty of time to catch up with my pals. Just like not everyone gets up at 6 to fit in a pre-work yoga workout, breakfast and blog writing session, not everyone can keep their eyes open and enthusiasm up past 11pm. And that’s ok.

Accepting yourself doesn’t have to just relate to sleeping habits and I’m sure we all have traits that we try to fight against. Just take a moment to reflect on how good or bad these elements of your personality really are and if they are essentially harmless maybe it’s time to embrace them.

A good influence?

Like many health and wellness bloggers I try to surround myself with positive and inspirational people and media, not only to stay abreast of the latest fitness and diet trends to report back on here, but also to keep me motivated, optimistic and to try to help mould me into the best version of myself (or a slightly better version at least!).

Occasionally I find that something I read, hear in a podcast, or glimpse on social media resonates with me in a much more profound way than the usual interesting, but less effecting, information. While so often the latter type of nuggets will have an instant impact, their effects are, more often than not, only short-lived – a magazine article that pushes me out of the door do a workout, or an Instagram picture that drives me to make a healthier meal choice. However, on the occasions that I read or hear something which has a deeper influence, I find it seeps into my subconscious in a way that goes on to shape the way I think, behave and interact with others well beyond the initial point of impact.

This was of course the case when I switched from a vegetarian to a vegan lifestyle some ten years ago now after learning more about the dairy industry and realising the effects that dairy products had on my body. Once I was equipped with this knowledge the fact of veganism seemed an obvious conclusion.

In recent weeks I had my eyes opened again in this regard as I listened to an interview with Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn, makers of the documentary film Cowspiracy. While this documentary had been on my radar, I hadn’t prioritised watching it as I had thought it would just be a case of preaching to the converted. However, what the interview revealed was how little I actually knew about the detrimental effects of animal agriculture on the environment and why grass-fed meat is not the often vaunted ‘sustainable’ solution that many meat eaters claim. Again, equipped with the knowledge that the animal agriculture industry is responsible for more of the ‘human-produced’ greenhouse gasses than all means of transport combined, or that whole ecosystems are disrupted by the land requirements for grazing cattle, and that this is the leading cause of species extinction, habitat destruction and wildlife culling, reaffirmed in my mind my lifestyle choices and made me want to share the message with others (with almost evangelical zeal!).

My attitude to exercise has also taken a positive turn in recent months and this was further solidified by a excerpt in Adharanand Finn’s new book,The Way of the Runner, which I read this week.

After a series of hip issues and my decision not to run the marathon this year I had felt my relationship with running sour somewhat. However, once the pressure of training for an event was removed, and I was able to let my body recover without the anxiety of missed training sessions, I found that I was able to reconnect with the real reason I go out running: just because.

Finn voiced these sentiments perfectly in his book:

I know some people run to loose weight, to get fit, or maybe they’re running to raise money for a charity. But for me…these are just by-products. Running itself has its own raison d’être…[W]e run to connect with something in ourselves, something buried deep down beneath all the worldly layers of identity and responsibility. Running, in its simplicity, its pure brutality, peels away these layers, revealing the raw human underneath…[I]f we push on, running harder, further deeper into the wildness of it all, away from the world and the structure of our lives…we begin to float…Our minds begin to clear and we begin to feel strangely detached, and yet at the same time connected, connected to ourselves…

In this modern world we need excuses…The world is set up to cater for the rational, logical mind, which needs to see tangible reasons and benefits behind any effort. We need to dangle the carrot of marathons and best times in front of ourselves to justify this strange habit of getting up, running around outside, coming back having not actually gone anywhere…And this, on some superficial level motivates me to run. But really, deep down, I know it’s just a front. What I really want to do is get away from all of the structure, the complexity and chaos of my constructed life, and to connect with the simple human that lies buried under everything else.

I don’t doubt that this is a message that will resonate with many other runners.

Finally, with my daily practice of yoga and discovery of the wider mindfulness and meditation movement, I can feel another shift taking place. Partly responsible for this greater sense of connectedness and peace with myself is my recent discovery of Rich Roll. Roll’s podcast is full of interviews with inspirational ‘paradigm breakers’ in different fields from business, music, fitness, meditation, sleep and nutrition, and his unapologetic approach to health, wellness and veganism (the tagline to his bio is ‘a life transformed by plants’), have all served to motivate me to feel more at peace and proud of my lifestyle choices, while also compelling me to strive for more in work, exercise, wellness and diet.

You need only to listen to his interviews with Ariana Huffington, John Joseph, Light Watkins, Jedidiah Jenkins, Mishka Shubaly, or indeed any of the other motivational interviewees he has had on the show to realise what an incredible resource this is.

There are some really powerful lessons to be learned: Roll is a recovering alcoholic turned ultra-athlete and he is pretty frank that to make a change in any element of your life you already know what to do:

There is no secret bullet or life-hack that is going to help you to accomplish what you want to do, it’s simply a case of stopping what you doing and switching to take the actions that will move you closer to your goal. It’s tough to hear because people want to hear that there is an easier, softer way. The short-cut is to make that goal your absolute one priority and do anything you can to achieve it.

The podcast makes me think about life in a holistic sense: in an interview with Jason Garner, Garner highlighted the problem of compartmentalising different aspects of our lives and how ‘we talk about work life balance as if work isn’t part of our life’, something which really struck a chord with me. In another episode our engagement with social media was brought into question and the focus was placed on the importance of ‘being’ rather than ‘appearing to be’, a shift that would serve many of us.

At it’s essence is the message that life, success and happiness is all about perspective – two people can have the same experience and perceive it totally differently, so what you have to ask is how much responsibility are you prepared to take for your mindset and approach to life?

I will finish with a Viktor Frankl quote that I particularly like, which Roll cited in an episode I was listening to this week:

Between stillness and response there is a space and in that space is our power to choose our response and in our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Happy inspiring.

 

 

One of the world’s best yoga retreats is hiding in the North Yorkshire hills

This weekend I went on a detox yoga retreat at The Orange Tree Relaxation Centre in North Yorkshire with my friend and sister-in-law-to-be, Ruth, and two of her lovely pals, Sophie and Laura.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the itinerary promised plenty of time dedicated to yoga and relaxation, delicious ayurvedic, vegan food, a lounge with a log fire, and a jacuzzi-hot-tub overlooking the Yorkshire Moors; what more could a girl want?

The preceding week we had been told to go meat, alcohol, sugar and caffeine free. The first three of these things I found relatively painless – I’ve been vegetarian for 22 years and vegan for eight of those, making box one an easy one to tick. Moreover, R and I had already decided on a ‘dry January’, not least as after the excesses of Christmas I’m still struggling to look at a glass of Prosecco without feeling slightly amiss, so box two, tick! Luckily, with the exception of the odd date or Nakd bar, I don’t have a massively sweet tooth, which made taking the majority of sugars (I still ate fruit) away from my diet reasonably ok too, tick. However, giving up my 4-5 coffees and countless cups of tea a day was a little trickier, to say the least. I struggled with some serious headaches, haziness and an awful fit of the grumps on Monday and Tuesday (sorry work team!), had to battle the 4pm work slump without a shot of coffee to see me through, and promptly fell asleep on the sofa at 9:30pm (my rock and roll lifestyle knows no bounds!).

However, by Wednesday I had turned a (little) corner, and although still sleepy and with a dull headache, the grumpiness of not having my caffeine had subsided, and I actually felt pretty energised on my run that day, clocking 13km in my lunch break. By Thursday the need for caffeine was less acute and I found that supplementing my herbal tea and hot water and lemon with some decaf Yorkshire tea took the edge off a bit too!

By Friday I was feeling confident about a caffeine-free weekend and wasn’t even tempted by a post-run Starbucks at Kings Cross station on my way to meet the others.

Herbal infusions at Filmore and Union to start our detox weekend
Herbal infusions at Filmore and Union to start our detox weekend

I arrived at a very chilly York station not long before 4pm, where I met Sophie and Laura, and we enjoyed a turmeric, lemon, ginger and agave infusion at Filmore and Union in York, before heading to meet Ruth from work. The four of us piled into Ruth’s Mini with all of our bags and we headed off into the dark, snowy countryside in search of the retreat.

We arrived just before 7pm and were immediately welcomed by the lovely, smiling face of the owner, Edward. He helped us with our bags, showed us to our rooms and gave us a quick tour. The fire in the lounge was roaring and there were lots of smiling, welcoming faces awaiting us. It felt like such a warm, safe space, filled with so many kind-hearted people. It’s hard to describe the feeling, but entering The Orange Tree felt a lot like coming home and being welcomed by old friends.

Supper was served not long after our arrival and we had a chance to chat properly with the others. It soon transpired that we were the only ones at the table who hadn’t been to the retreat at least once before; some of others had been countless times over the years, for detox, relaxation and silent retreats.

The food was as delicious as promised and we never went hungry. Every meal was so flavourful and hearty; I’ve eaten my fair share of vegan food and this was truly some of the best I’ve tasted. It was also blissful to be cooked for and to be served such good, wholesome food. I liked having any decision or anxiety over what to eat totally taken away, reassured in the knowledge it was all lovingly-home-cooked healthy, vegan fare.

The view from our bedroom window at The Orange Tree
The view from our bedroom window at The Orange Tree

Over post-supper herbal teas Claire talked us through the itinerary for the weekend and took our bookings for our treatments for the next day. There was a wide array of choices from reiki and reflexology to massages and manicures. Everyone had time for two 30-minute treatments and I booked in for reflexology and a back and shoulder massage.

That evening we had a meditation and relaxation session in the attic yoga studio. During the session we were asked to set an intention for our practice – an objective to work towards over the weekend and one that we could take forward with us into our lives post-retreat. This was a really useful process for me as it gave me a focus and something to come back to during each practice.

I was new to both meditation and mindfulness, which played an integral role in the weekend, but I came to them both with an openness and desire to learn more. I took a lot from using both alongside my yoga – converting my yoga practice from a primarily aerobic routine, to a calming, healing and nurturing space to really re-connect with my body. I also found that for the first time I was really letting my breath act as the metronome for my practice; letting my inhale and exhale sync with and fuel my movements.

I had been listening to a Runners Connect podcast interview with the yogi Cara Gilman during the week before the retreat, in which she talked about taking the ego out of your practice and making the most of restorative and more gentle types of yoga. At The Orange Tress I found that for the first time was really able to implement this theory in the new physical and mental space I found myself in.

When it came to meditation, Edward suggested a really helpful technique. He advised that when various thoughts or emotions enter our minds that, rather than getting annoyed with ourselves for getting distracted, we label them, acknowledge them and then gently let them go. So, for example, if you find your mind drifting to your to-do list, you recognise it as ‘thinking’ and then just let it drift away as you come back to your focus.

Mindfulness is a term that is banded around a lot and has gained various connotations over recent years, but over the weekend I put aside any preconceptions and began learning the value of coming back to the present and absorbing the value of the now. I learned a lot about myself in this regard and how I spend a lot of time in my head, lost in my thoughts. I learned how I can work towards being more grounded in my physical self and more present in the moment. While I recognise that this is something that I will have to practice and will probably struggle with for some time, I have become more conscious of my mind wandering and feel more able to nudge it back on course.

In terms of the day-to-day running of the retreat, wake-up calls, yoga classes and meals were indicated by series of gongs, making life incredibly easy and decision free. We practiced from 7:30-9am each morning before breakfast and then from around 10:45am-1:30pm until lunch. After lunch on Saturday we had our treatments and time in the hot tub and sauna, as well as snuggled by the fire with our books, fresh detox juices and vegan cashew nut cookies, baked by Claire.

I not only learned a lot from Edward, our teacher on the retreat, but also from the other people there. Two of the ladies had met over 30 years previously while on a yoga retreat, and had been firm friends ever since. It was interesting speaking to them and listening to their thoughts on all of the latest fads and crazes in yoga. They made me recognise how commercial yoga has become in some areas and how important it is to be able to distinguish the true essence and teaching of the practice from all of the extreme positions and expensive kit that pervade the modern idea of the yogi. They also made me realise that yoga is a lifelong practice and that I have plenty of time to develop and grow, both in the way I practice and in my mind, body and breath connection, and can afford to be more gentle and kinder to myself in this regard.

I have taken so much from my weekend at The Orange Tree and still have a lot of thoughts and information to process after the weekend. The most marked immediate benefit is that I feel so much calmer in myself and so much happier in my own skin. I am filled with a warm glow and an inner peace that I don’t think I’ve ever felt before.

I only hope that this feeling can last now I’m back in the hectic city!

Until my next, namaste.