Happy Belly Happy Heart

A blog dedicated to nutrition, wellbeing and happiness. I believe the key to a good life begins with what you choose to put into your body. A happy belly = a happy mind = a happy heart.

“Those who can’t find time for exercise will have to make time for illness.”

woman running on sandI remember when I first heard this quote I felt it resonate quite strongly, and that hasn’t changed a bit. In fact it’s probably only got stronger. I simply don’t understand people who don’t exercise. To me it’s up there with eating, sleeping and even breathing. It’s part of normal, everyday life and I know that if I didn’t do it there’d be serious consequences.

I don’t think I’ve always felt this way. I mean I’m not a fitness freak or anything, but I guess when I look back I’ve always been a pretty active person. My Dad was in the bike trade for years which means my sister and I always had decent mountain bikes. I enjoyed cycling and would sometimes go out on bike rides, but ultimately it was just a more interesting way to get around town than walking. I guess I’m lucky to have always lived in a city where you could walk or cycle everywhere.

I used to go swimming a lot when I was younger, but not for exercise. It was just a lot of fun: splashing about, having races, learning to dive and swim underwater. At one point I was a keen trampolinist too, getting my first 3 badges when I was 16 or 17. But mastering the simple somersault seemed enough for me and I was put off by the idea of having to do backwards somersaults, piked somersaults, triple twisted somersaults, etc., etc.

kids runningI also used to play outdoors a lot as a kid. In the playground, in the street, in the parks: Hide and Seek, Squashed Sardines, Kiss Chase, British Bulldogs, 44 Save All – you name it, we played it! So maybe having such an active childhood accounts for some of my attitude towards exercise today. I know that if I didn’t exercise I’d feel tired, sluggish, more hungry, more bloated, I probably wouldn’t sleep as well and my brain probably wouldn’t function as effectively either. Plus I’d just feel downright lazy.

As we develop through life we take on more and more responsibilities. Like work. And chores. And work. And family. Oh and work of course. So being active undoubtedly requires a little more effort and planning. (Unless you’re a PE teacher or a gym instructor or a ball boy.) But only a little. And the best thing is, it can be fun! I think that’s part of the issue nowadays: that many people see exercise as another chore, another task they have to try to fit into their ever-demanding day or week because they feel they “should”. But the key here is finding something you enjoy doing.

Over the years I’ve done a lot of cycling and swimming, not because I felt I “should” but because they’re activities I really enjoy. I love feeling the wind in my face and the sense of freedom as I dart through the traffic or down a country lane on my bike. And I love the sense of achievement I get from cutting through the water, stroke after stroke, and beating my previous lap time. And part of the reason why I continue to enjoy these activities is down to how they make me feel. Which is no coincidence. Exercise decreases stress hormones like cortisol, and releases the feel-good chemicals endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine. So when we’re already doing something we enjoy it just gets better and better because we produce more and more feel-good hormones which keeps us coming back for more.

Even going to the gym can produce this effect. And I say that from experience. I know many people don’t enjoy pounding away on machines for hours, but if you set yourself personal goals, or go with a friend, it really can be enjoyable. And when you start to see results, even if it’s just that you notice you’re less tired after the same number of reps, or you can run a bit further than the week before, it can be such a good motivator.

ashtangis doing headstandsI’ve been lucky enough to find a form of exercise that not only keeps me fit, strong and flexible, but also has countless other benefits, and even has a spiritual side too. For me, Ashtanga Yoga is the ultimate. It’s become the single most important activity in my life (apart from connecting with friends and family of course). It satisfies my desire to keep active, it works on keeping my mind calm and focused, it gives me an inspiring reason to get out of bed in the (very early) mornings, it helps me sleep, it helps me concentrate, and it’s even helped to sort out my digestion. Because it’s a daily practice and you repeat the same sequence of postures every day, you get to see the results of your progress very quickly, which I find very motivating and inspiring. In fact I couldn’t live without it now.

However, I know it’s not for everyone. So I think the key here is to find something that keeps you active that you really enjoy. We’re so lucky in this day and age to have a gazillion different activities to choose from – and new ones are being discovered all the time. From base jumping to wake boarding; from zorbing to wingsuit flying; from spinning to zumba; and everything in between. Find something you love, go and enjoy it and watch those endorphins fly!

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Ashtanga Workshop with Joey Miles

Joey in various posesLast weekend (6-7 April 2013) I attended an Ashtanga workshop organised by Ashtanga Brighton and led by authorised teacher Joey Miles. This was the 2nd Brighton workshop of his I’d been to (see my post about his Sept 12 workshop), as well as countless classes at Buddhafield Festival where uneven ground, leaking tents and copious amounts of mud all add to the challenge!

Saturday am: Ashtanga Yoga Asana Techniques Class

In the first session we broke down the postures of Surya Namaskara A and B (sun salutations) and the standing sequence, grouping these into similar types of asana, i.e. forward bends, lateral poses (sideways bends), twists and balances. By grouping them together and practising them out of sequence we were able to gain a deeper understanding of how interrelated the postures are. For example, the setup for Parshvakonasana is the same as the setup for Virabhadrasana B (Warrior II).

He also impressed upon us the importance of levelling the spine and squaring the hips in the standing postures and we did some useful partner work to explore this further.

Saturday pm: Jumping Back and Through – HandstandsJoey doing a handstand

After a light shared lunch we went on a journey of exploration into techniques for learning to jump back and through. Joey showed us different variations for both and suggested we find the way that works best for us. But one of the most important things to remember, according to Joey, is to make yourself as small as possible by curling your chest and thighs together, as this will make it easier to fit through the gap formed by your arms.

The second part of this session was the bit I’d been dreading ever since I booked the workshop! Handstands. My nemesis it seems. Memories of frustration and inadequacy flooded back from the last time I tried to do these with Joey, when I was the only person in the room who couldn’t kick up against the wall. I still couldn’t do that this time, but I did manage to get up with someone holding me, although only after a couple of fearful shrieks and a few tears were shed.

I was determined to keep trying though, as my fear seems completely irrational and surely the more times I try the easier it will get…? I got over the fear of dropping back a long time ago and can drop back and come up with ease several times in a row these days. But for some reason the fear of falling forward whilst inverted seems to have a much tighter grip on me than falling back.

joey miles meditatingSunday am: Love – Acceptance and Easefulness

In this contemplative session we were encouraged to bring a sense of enquiry into our practice by considering the question “What is the true purpose of your yoga practice?” through meditation, journalling and discussion. Joey suggested keeping a practise diary as a way to reflect on our thought processes around our practice and to be able to look back over time to see how these change.

He invited us to answer questions such as “What attitude do you bring to your practice?” and “Does practice make you more or less identified with the bodymind?” We practised a short meditation around the concepts “I am not the body” and “I am not the mind” and also a Metta Bhavana (loving-kindness) meditation.

One of the recurring themes was around our reaction to meeting resistance. This could be resistance in the form of a physical pain or injury, or resistance that we co

me up against generally in our lives outside the practice. Our natural tendency is to meet it with more resistance, e.g. expressing frustration and annoyance when something doesn’t go our way. But a much better reaction would be to meet the resistance with space. So we need to create space around the issue or resistance, be friendly towards it and treat it with kindness. Then it is far less likely to escalate and far more likely to dissipate quickly and, hopefully, turn into a positive.

Sunday pm: Primary SeriesJoey in standing posture

In the final session we put everything we’d learnt over the weekend into practice during a very strong led primary class. It was great to try out all the tips and techniques Joey had been showing us, although I did occasionally experience moments of thinking my teacher wouldn’t like this! It had been a while since I’d been to a led primary class and I was reminded how useful they are for avoiding laziness in your practice, following the correct count and building strength.

My thighs and shoulders were certainly feeling a lot stronger, albeit very achey, the next day. But with fluey symptoms having arrived as well, it was difficult to tell what was making me ache the most – the flu or the yoga!

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Is Health the New Wealth?

adidas-by-stella-mccartney

Last week I read a fascinating article in The Times claiming the latest craze amongst the rich and trendy is keeping fit. Designer clothes and accessories are being exchanged for eye-wateringly expensive gym memberships at exclusive clubs, and cocktail-fuelled beach holidays are being replaced by 5-star Indian yoga retreats.

minnie-driver

Rather than women obsessing over being a size zero or trying to cut any traces of carbs/gluten/wheat/dairy from their diets, these days, so Farrah Storr suggests, it’s well-toned arms that are the envy of every fashion-conscious female in the country:

“Today, if you want to make a real statement to the world, you get fit. Seriously fit. Health is the new wealth. Women now spend thousands of pounds looking after their bodies (a recent survey by Women’s Health magazine suggested that, given a grand, 78 per cent of its readers would rather drop it on a fitness holiday than a designer bag).”

Cameron Diaz

The great thing about this is it takes effort. It’s easy to go out and buy the latest Jimmy Choos or Louis Vuitton handbag (excuse me if I’m wildly behind the times here): all you need is a credit card. But to have a fit, healthy, toned body takes time, effort and commitment. And doesn’t have to cost the earth.

It can surely only be a good thing that more and more celebrities are getting involved in this craze – apparently Cameron Diaz is releasing a health and wellbeing bible; Minnie Driver attended the opening night of Kensington’s US gym Equinox; and Stella McCartney has produced a range of sportswear for Adidas.

Healthy living is such a good precedent to be setting for our younger generations and if it results in a fitter, healthier, less obese nation with less time being spent in front of TV or computer screens, then I say it rocks!

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