Don’t Forget to Breathe

Fitness
Photo Credit: Wari Om Yoga Photography

Photo Credit: Wari Om Yoga Photography

Starting a new exercise that you’ve always wanted to try, is not dissimilar to asking someone you’ve fancied for ages to go out with you. It takes confidence and you need to build up the courage to make the first move. You are leaving yourself totally exposed, treading on unknown territory and you probably put it off for quite a while. For me, my date was yoga.

Yoga is an exercise I had wanted to try for many reasons but never knew how to go about it. I had always felt intimidated about making the first move, how would I know where to start? What would people think of me? What if I couldn’t do it? I looked up classes and stumbled across different types, which of course, meant nothing to me, so I freaked out and retreated back to my comfort zone. When my friend and I set off across South East Asia last year, yoga was on our bucket list. I finally lost my yoga virginity in Indonesia, in a small bamboo outhouse in Yogyakarta, just me, my companion and a fellow traveller were led by a beautiful french instructor. Finally taking a class made me feel silly for all the worrying and deliberating I had put myself through, I was completely defying the point of yoga. The atmosphere of the class was calm, relaxed and not in the least bit competitive, in fact it was so calm I actually nodded off at the end (this is highly embarrassing and I wouldn’t recommended it, but apparently it happens all the time.)

Now, in slightly different circumstances and certainly a less exotic setting, I have found a yoga class in my hometown and I am a convert. I am only on my second class, so am by no means an expert, but already I feel like a yoga enthusiast.

We practise two different types of yoga in each session, Yin and Yang. Beginning with Yang, which involves more movement and is more strenuous on the muscles, and finishing with Yin, for relaxation. That does not mean however, that the Yin is easy, it can involve holding positions for up to five minutes, which in practice is actually pretty tough.

Two classes down, I have learnt the importance of focusing on breathing and that this may be the best life advice I have ever received. When holding a position, particularly in Yin Yoga, it’s inevitable that wandering thoughts will sneak their way in, this is where you learn to patiently put them to one side, and return back to concentrating on your breathing. Breathing is the only bodily function we are able to control, and it will always be there, taking a moment to reconnect with it is something we should actively practice, and obviously not just in terms of yoga.

What I love about the class is that our instructor drums into us throughout, that every body is different. The more yoga you practice, your body will get used to the stretches and you will find you can push yourself further, but there is no competition.There is no right way to look when you are holding a stretch and there is no shame in not being able to push yourself as far as the person next to you, each of us is made up differently and we all have our own limits. Yoga is individual and unique to each person.

For me, this is what yoga is about, taking time out to feel calm, be myself and absolutely not think about anything else. In turn, I’m hoping this will make me happier, healthier and more productive in other – less calm – aspects of my life.

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If This Girl Can, so can you

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Sport, a word that instantly fills me with dread and conjures up uncomfortable flash backs of desperate attempts to get out of P.E lessons, which involved disgusting maroon hockey socks, chin pads and the girls changing room. This changing room has made such an impression in my memory that despite not being subjected to it for at least seven years, thinking about it now I can almost smell the sweat and mud as we peeled those hockey socks off our legs. I can practically feel the shame and embarrassment sweep over me as I wrestled to change my shirt in the corner without anyone catching a glimpse of my stomach or my M&S AA-cup. Obviously I know now that these feelings were much exaggerated by puberty and the fact I was a 13 year old girl in a room packed with other 13 year old girls. The shame I felt then was totally unnecessary, but due to my severe lack of self-confidence I spent six years of my school life not just dreading, but going to extreme lengths to avoid sport.

For this reason, I am not at all surprised to hear that there are 2 million fewer women partaking in sport than men in the UK. I am finally free of it, why would I put my self through that again by choice? And for enjoyment?

Although my issues with sport are deeply rooted, most women are familiar with the fear of judgement that comes hand in hand with exercising. Whether it’s when getting changed at the gym, making the walk from the changing rooms to the poolside or your thighs jiggling when you run past someone in the park.

The “fitspiration” that plagues the internet is just as damaging as the “thinspiration” found on Pro-Ana sites and has made exercising about being thin, ripped, tanned and flawless. It might not be perfect, but Sport England have done their research and recognise that something positive needs to be done. The campaign is their attempt to encourage women to get involved with sport – and it works.

Playing sport is about teamwork, friendship, stress-relief and enjoyment, which is why I think the This Girl Can campaign is great. It does exactly what it claims to – watching it made me
want to get active, it made me want to play sport, a feat which I never thought possible. The women in the advert look happy, healthy and they’re doing it because they love their body, not because they hate it. They look like women I know and if they’re doing it, why can’t I?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=toH4GcPQXpc

Running for Colour – Color Run UK

Fitness

A Color Run had been on my bucket list since they first hit the UK, and exploded all over my social media sites, last year. I had wanted to sign up to a fun run/race to keep me motivated in my running, so when I saw the Color Run was coming to Sunderland this July, I rallied some friends together and signed up. As it happened, I shortly after disappeared travelling for four months and returned home just a couple of weeks before the run took place and I wasn’t anywhere near as prepared as I wanted to be. Even though the run is only 5K, I was anxious about my lack of practice but the only person who was bothered about my performance not being good enough, was myself.

Arriving in Sunderland and seeing the swarms of ‘Color Runners’ heading to the start line in their temporarily white T-Shirts I felt the buzz of excitement and any unnecessary anxiety was diminished. Aside from the gallons of coloured powder thrown over you at each Kilometre, the most refreshing thing about the event was that it encouraged everyone to take part. All ages, all sizes and all abilities can revel in the truly unique experience without worrying about how fit you are or the pressure of winning. The race isn’t timed, and no one is judging whether you run, walk or dance your way to the finish line but you still get that sense of achievement and rush of endorphins as you cross the finish line. It’s the ‘happiest 5K on the planet!’

Until next year, here’s a taster of the day’s colour!

IMG_0122 IMG_0123 IMG_0136 IMG_0145 IMG_0160 IMG_0162 IMG_0163 IMG_0178 IMG_0184 IMG_0187 IMG_0188 IMG_0158 Photography by Same Page Arts – www.samepagearts.wordpress.com @samepagearts

Fit Not Thin

Fitness

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This summer, The Sunday Times gave a hashtag to what many women out there already knew. Being thin is no longer sexy, being fit is. The campaign ‘#fitnotthin’ for which Daisy Lowe is an ambassador, encouraged women to tweet photographs of themselves in their workout clothes, in order to show their support. Although I, personally, can’t see how sending in Instagram photos of your Nike’s is helpful in any way, to a fitness regime, it is great to see that the message is finally being acknowledged. Society is finally beginning to glamourise something other than starvation and size zero, the women we aspire to be a strong, healthy and confident. What is even better is that we aren’t suddenly grabbing our running shoes because Vogue told us to, we’re doing it because it makes us feel good.

Although plenty of people will believe that this is just another body image pandemic, and  ‘#fitnotthin’ has even been labelled ‘as bad as thinspiration’ but as far as I’m concerned, there is one major difference. Food restriction isn’t healthy, exercise is.

Exercise doesn’t just improve physical health, it is also a key factor for having a healthy mind. Running, in particular has been proven to help combat symptoms of depression, releasing endorphins and making you feel happier in other aspects of life. Running can be a focus, a release and a personal challenge and once you overcome the initial hurdles it is – actually – really good fun.

As well as all of the obvious positives, exercise helps to curb a healthier attitude towards food, and some women who have recovered from eating disorders even find that running is a good way to become fit again, and means they can eat a healthy balanced diet, without feeling guilty.

While the physical changes will be come, the most important change will be to your confidence. Feeling fit feels a lot better than feeling thin, so what are you waiting for? Get running!