Outdoors yoga in Athens Greece

This weekend I hosted the first of many sessions of outdoors yoga in Athens. I love practicing yoga outdoors, it’s so different from being in a studio or at home. Both of these are valuable too but there is something about moving and breathing outdoors in the fresh air that takes it to the next level! Especially in beautiful surroundings like the beach, the mountains or a park where you have the sounds of nature as the backdrop. It leaves me feeling relaxed, refreshed and energised every time.

Since I moved to Athens last year, it has been difficult to set up a regular face to face class due to COVID restrictions. Now we are heading into the second winter and it doesn’t look like it will get any easier. So for now I think teaching outdoors yoga in Athens is the way to go. My intention is to set up outdoors Yoga in the Park sessions in different parks around Athens. Partly I am writing this post for anyone reading to let me know about any beautiful parks in the city that would be suitable for practicing yoga outdoors.

First session of outdoor yoga in Athens

The first session was last Sunday in Alsos Papagou park, close to the metro station Ethniki Amina (Σταθμός Εθνική Άμυνα). It was so lovely to have three ladies show up on a Sunday morning to practice together. The outdoors yoga session was held in the public gym area with beautiful greenery around and other active and motivated people walking, running and playing sports.

It was a beginners level yoga class with the theme of finding balance. That is balance between the masculine and feminine or yin and yang energy. Also the balance between rest and activity, movement and stillness, pushing forward and sitting back. We all felt stretch out and mentally clear and calm after the class. What a great way to start our Sunday.

Afterwards we went for a nice hot tea or coffee to warm up and a group of other ladies joined us for a brunch at Piu Verde cafe. It was so lovely to meet like-minded people and connect in these challenging times. I love living in Greece but life as an expat comes with it’s challenges and stresses. Yoga and especially outdoors yoga is a great way to release some of that pressure and tension to be able to enjoy all of the joys of living in this beautiful country.

If you are an expats or a local interested in yoga, why not join me for future outdoors yoga in Athens sessions!

Future sessions of outdoor yoga in Athens

I have another Yoga in the Park session planned, this time in Galatsi park. Also on the cards is a Yoga in the Mountain session at Ymittos which I am so looking forward to! This one needs a bit of planning and a nice weather day but we will make it happen. I am also very excited to host Yoga on the Beach sessions in Athens once to spring rolls around again.

Head over to the Yoga Classes page to read more about my yoga practice and teaching style as well as to see the current class schedule. You can also contact me directly by email at lovemoonlife.mail@gmail.com or message me through Facecook at Moon Life Yoga and Nutrition if you have any questions.

If you are interested in joining future outdoors yoga in Athens, Greece, leave me a comment here and join my Facebook group Women’s Wellness Greece. I will share information about future sessions as well as run polls for times and locations for those who are interested. I also run weekly online yoga classes on Thursdays at 8.30pm Greek time for those who like to practice from the comfort of their own home. Again, see the Yoga Classes page for more information and to sign up.

You can also follow my blog here to be updated when I post a new article. I regularly share posts about holistic health, nutrition and yoga for women and hormonal healing. So if you are interested in any of those, stay tuned! I look forward to connecting with you and seeing you at a future outdoors yoga in Athens session.

Over to you…

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Staying active during the colder seasons

This month in the UK has been really lovely. I have been making the most of family time and enjoying the outdoors as much as possible. It is getting colder and darker by the day though and honestly, I am looking forward to getting some sunshine when I return to Greece! Today I want to share a few photos from my active weekend and my top tips for staying active during the colder seasons.

During the colder and wetter months in the UK it can be more difficult to stay active. Even with the best intentions, chilly mornings and short days mean a little more motivation is needed. As someone who prefers to exercise outdoors, it is definitely more challenging to stay motivated during the autumn and winter. But I know that movement makes me feel so much better and so I make it a priority to get outside every day.

This weekend I went for a walk at Crosby beach with my family. It was 11°C with 37 mile an hour winds. According to the Met Office that is considered a Near Gale and it says ” Inconvenience felt when walking against the wind”. Hah! We definitely felt some inconvenience walking along the beach with sand whipping our faces and the crashing waves soaking us through..

The photos actually look quite peaceful but trust me it was pretty wild! It was a lot of fun though and my brother’s dog loved running around on the sand. There is something about the sound of the waves and breathing salty sea air that boosts your wellbeing. Unfortunately a lot of plastic had been washed up to shore which is really sad to see. Even one of the buoys had been lifted out of the sea and blown into the dunes the wind was that strong.

We were surprised that we weren’t the only ones out and about. Actually we saw lots of other families walking with their dogs and even a brave cyclist speeding along the slippery coastal path. When you live in a country like the UK, you have to be willing to brave the bad weather otherwise you can end up stuck at home for weeks at a time.

Still, it is not always easy to find the motivation to exercise during the winter, even for us Brits. So I wanted to share a few quick tips for staying motivated to exercise during the colder months:

1. Wear the right clothes

The right clothes are so important when you are exercising in the cold. Proper clothes can turn your outdoor run, walk or cycle from a hellish experience to an exhilarating one. For cold days, layer up with breathable fabrics so that you don’t feel uncomfortable if you break a sweat. Hats, gloves, waterproof coat and boots. Whatever you need to protect yourself from the cold and the rain. As the quote by Alfred Wainwright goes “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”!

2. Get an exercise buddy

It is so much easier to motivate yourself to get outside and exercise if you are with others. Having someone to talk and laugh with makes it so much more fun and makes the time pass quickly. Find an exercise buddy then make a plan and commit to it. This is something my Mum and Auntie do to keep themselves motivated to run during the colder months. It’s much harder to let others down than yourself, so use this to your advantage!

3. Remember your why

I find that reminding myself of my “why” keeps me inspired and motivated to exercise during the autumn and winter. This is a combination of short term and long term benefits of getting outside and moving my body. There has to be a reason to get you off the couch or why would you bother? For some people, knowing that exercise is good for their long term health is enough motivation. However, we are inclined to prefer short term comfort over long term benefits so this doesn’t always work.

In this case, it is important to focus on the short term why’s such as:

  • Helps me to feel more relaxed and at ease
  • Burns off excess physical energy and lessens anxiety
  • Physically I feel less stiff and more energised when I move
  • Sunlight and fresh air clear my mind and boost my mood
  • Spending time with friends and family
  • Exploring new places or visiting places I love

4. Keep to an exercise schedule

Sometimes, remembering the why is not enough and you just have to get on with it. This is where sticking to a regular exercise plan throughout the colder months can help. If you habitually exercise at the same time each day or on the same days each week it takes the decision making out of it. Rather than having to decide each day what to do and when to do it, you have already committed in advance which can help you to be more consistent. Combining this with having an exercise buddy helps a lot!

5. Remember your limits

Having said all of that, I am not about pushing yourself to the extreme during the autumn and winter. It is natural to need more sleep and rest during these months, in sync with nature’s rhythms. So don’t beat yourself up if you feel less motivated and energetic when it is cold and dark outside compared to during the summer. Listen to your body and flow with your environment. If it is freezing temperatures or there is a storm outside then definitely look for other ways to move your body indoors and save the outdoor activities for the warmers seasons.

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Why (and how) women should approach health and fitness differently to men

Ladies, ever wondered why it seems so much easier for your boyfriend or husband to stick to a diet or fitness plan and get results? Why some weeks you are full of energy and others you hardly want to drag yourself out of bed? How you can go 2 weeks eating healthily then all of sudden all you want is chocolate and ice cream? If you’ve found yourself questioning whether you just have less motivation or your body just doesn’t function as well then you’re not alone. The answer is simple and something that we live every single day, often without even being aware of it. Can you guess?

IT’S

OUR

MENSTRUAL

CYCLE!

As women we are simply not the same from week to week. Our hormone levels are continuously shifting which has a huge impact on our energy levels, mood, cravings, sleep and so much more. This can make it hard for us to stick to a routine and often feel like a failure for being inconsistent. We can think of men as being like the sun and women more like the moon. The sun shines consistently day by day, sometimes there might be some clouds in the sky or even a huge storm that affects how brightly we see its rays but behind all of that it keeps on shining just the same. The moon however moves through it’s lunar cycle from the new or dark moon where the sky appears empty to the full moon where it shines big and bright.

The lunar cycle is such a good metaphor for our menstrual cycle. The new moon represents menstruation, the time of the month when we are much less energetic and physically need to rest. The full moon represents ovulation when our energy levels are at their peak and we are overflowing with creativity and physical energy. Don’t get me wrong though, just because the moon appears dark at the new moon, it doesn’t mean there is no light, the light is just on the other side so we don’t see it. This is the time when lots of inner work is being carried out including physical and mental healing and the seeds of inspiration for creative projects are being birthed.

Because for men, the hormonal shifts are much more subtle and occur mostly on a 24hr basis, they can more easily stick to a daily routine that works for them week in week out whereas us women have both our daily and monthly rhythms to take into account. Our bodies are also more sensitive to stress from working out or not eating enough food as they are constantly trying to maintain hormonal balance and fertility. We can choose to see this as a weakness or we can see it as a super power that we can work with. There are times of the month when our strength and stamina can feel unlimited and we can surprise ourselves with what we can achieve and there are other times when we can push ourselves through a grueling workout and actually cause ourselves more harm than good because our bodies have to rely on stress hormones and adrenal reserves to make it through.

Of course we all know this on some level but we often think of it as something we have to work against rather than work with. Often we feel like we are “normal” for a couple of weeks and then BAM our hormones come along to ruin everything and we fall off the wagon. But what if we became more aware of how our bodies change throughout the month and actually build this into our health and fitness plan? What a game changer that would be! No more beating yourself up because you got so hungry before your period that you ate a large bar of chocolate every day. No more dragging yourself through intense workouts on your bleeding says when your body is crying out for rest. Instead using self-awareness and self-compassion to create a health plan that truly works for you.

What could this cyclical approach to health and fitness look like? When it comes to nutrition, this would be truly trusting your body and allowing yourself to eat intuitively. This doesn’t mean allowing yourself to eat a large bar of chocolate every day because, “PMS”, but it does mean loosening up on the diet rules, understanding why those cravings might be there and making sure that you are well fed and nourished during the day. The quantities and types of foods you crave will likely change throughout your cycle and this is ok, in fact it is essential. Your metabolic rate and nutrient requirements shift with your hormones and so the foods that will support your body also change week to week.

The simple overall guideline for a healthy diet of eating mostly whole, unprocessed foods applies throughout the cycle but the amount of energy, macro-nutrients and the ratio of raw vs. cooked foods can definitely change. It’s much better to tune into your body to find what works for you, but if you’re struggling with getting started I did write a series of posts on how to eat for each of the phases of your menstrual cycle.

With fitness and exercise, again it is very individual. Some women need to fully rest during their period otherwise they will feel like they are dragging throughout the month ahead. Others, me included, need a bit of easy movement to help manage painful cramps. I’m sure there are some women who can exercise intensely during their period without any issues but I think this is the exception rather than the rule. If you do workout during your period, ask yourself whether you are doing it because you feel like you should or whether it is what your body is genuinely asking for. In general, during your period and the few days before it’s a good idea to at least slow down, decrease the intensity of your workouts and create space for some more restorative activities like yoga, stretching and gentle walking to help your body recover and restore energy.

On the other hand, the rising energy and stamina in the couple of weeks after your period (the follicular and ovulatory phases) are a great time to really get out there and move your body. This is a good time for more intense cardio workouts as you can get all of the benefits of getting your heart rate up and sweating without feeling totally drained. Movement can also be a great way to boost your mood and reduce PMS symptoms as you approach your period, but our energy levels tend to start to drop off towards the end of the pre-menstrual phase so it’s good to be aware of this and be prepared to take it easier without feeling guilty for not performing at your best.

In general it’s about understanding and accepting that as women we are not the same everyday and we can’t expect ourselves to show up, robot-like, in the same way every day. That is a recipe for disappointment, hormonal imbalance and burn out as I’ve learned the hard way!

Over to you

I hope you found this post interesting and it gives you a new perspective and understanding of why a traditional approach to health and fitness might not work perfectly for you as a woman. If you have any questions or want to share your experiences, let me know in the comments below! If you’re interested in health and wellness for women, follow along with my blog and please share to support my business!

If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on your holistic health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and health coaching packages I offer. My specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting but I also help anyone who is looking to improve their overall health and find the perfect balance for their body. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!

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Keeping active in the Greek winter lockdown

One of the things I’ve committed to throughout this second lockdown to look after my health and wellbeing is keeping up with my daily walks. If any of you have been following my blog for a while you’ll know that walking is my number one recommendation to keep fit and healthy. Walking is such a good way to stay active without stressing out your body and it does wonders for your mental health too. Whenever I am feeling suffocated or anxious, I head out for a half an hour walk and listen to some music or an inspiring podcast and I feel so much better! Walking at a moderate pace gets your heart rate up enough to boost your circulation and burn fat without depleting your energy and leaving you exhausted. It’s the perfect exercise for beginners as it’s low impact and you don’t need any equipment. If you are looking to improve your fitness and don’t know where to begin, just start walking daily and take it from there.

I love walking outside in nature and being in Greece this winter, we really have really experienced the extremes that nature has to offer. Only last week we were walking along the coast in the south of Attica enjoying the 20°C sunshine and dipping our toes in the Mediterranean. A few days ago I was out and about when it started raining and blowing a gale. Then yesterday we had a real snow day and we were fully kitted out in our coats and boots to hike up the local hill. And I don’t just mean the kind of sleet that turns to mush as soon as it hits the floor, we’re talking 20cm of powdery white snow. It was like being a kid again waking up to this magical winter wonderland. I love it! We walked through the park and saw some pretty impressive snowmen plus all of the destruction where the heavy snow caused huge tree branches to come crashing down. All the cars were buried under a foot of snow and it was like the world came to a standstill. There was even that eerie silence you get during when the snow dampens out the white noise.

Apart from walking of course I have been keeping up with my yoga practice. Yet another thing that’s keeping me (relatively) sane and able to cope as we move into our fifth month of lockdown.. Yoga really is an amazing way to look after your health during these challenging times. You can read my post about the many physical and mental benefits of yoga and how to start a home practice here. I’ve practiced yoga for many years but once I started teaching regularly, I found that my personal practice took a back seat so this year I have really dedicated myself to a regular practice. It’s really easy to fall into the routine of doing similar routines and not progressing so I decided to try out some different styles from the slower paced, alignment focused hatha yoga that I teach. I’ve experimented with different online teachers and right now I am building my cardio fitness through faster vinyasa flows and my flexibility through deeper, yin practices. Combining different styles of yoga really gives you that all round fitness of strength, agility and flexibility as well as helping you to be more calm and connected to yourself and the world around you.

I’m also working on some more advanced poses like forearm stands and deeper backbends. I think it’s so important to keep challenging yourself and moving out of your comfort zone to improve your fitness and keep things interesting. But the most important thing for me these days is to have fun with it! Gone are the days when I push myself through exhausting high intensity intervals or long distance running for the “results”. If I feel like it I will do those things but I know that you don’t need to do that to be fit and healthy and pushing yourself too hard can cause more harm than good. I learned the hard way years ago that chronic over-exercising leads to your body fighting back with injuries, fatigue and extreme hunger. Not fun!

Nowadays I know it’s important to live an active life but I will never let exercise take over my life. This is something I recommend to all of my health coaching clients too. Keeping it simple with a workout routine that feels achievable and enjoyable is the best way to ensure you stick at it in the long term and don’t give up as soon as life gets in the way. What used to be considered “extreme” with fitness is now seen as normal. We are made to believe that we aren’t fit unless we are running marathons or squatting 100kg in the gym but in truth, our bodies weren’t designed for these unnatural movements or to be pushed to these extremes. Yes we can go for it if we want to challenge ourselves but it’s not necessary to be healthy. It’s much better to live an active life, focus on moving your body in an enjoyable way and keeping mobile and agile.

So, now that that rant is over.. some news! Apart from keeping physically active, I am also keeping mentally active with a big project I am working on to be launched on this site very soon. Hint – check out the new page on my site menu. This is something I’ve wanted to create for a long time and I finally have the time and the resources to do it so watch this space! I’m hoping that the project will be live in a couple of months time and I’ll be offering it at a great value for early birds. If you’re interested in learning more drop me an email at lovemoonlife.mail@gmail.com

Over to you…

I hope this post inspires you to keep active during the winter, where ever you are in the world. Let me know in the comments below what your favourite ways to keep fit at home during the winter/lockdown!

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The healing power of nature (plus our Greek lockdown adventures!)

We are heading into our 4th month of lockdown here in Athens and it’s getting pretty tough! Being forced to stay at home for so long has made me realise just how important nature is for our health and wellbeing. We go for walks around our local area every day but it’s just not the same as getting out “into the wild”. If we haven’t escaped the city for a week or so I start to feel suffocated and I crave fresh air and expansive landscapes. Being enclosed in a house, staring at a screen is definitely not how humans are designed to live and I’m sure we are going to start seeing the negative impacts of this type of lifestyle even more over the next few years.

But why is nature so good for our wellbeing? There have been many scientific studies proving that nature helps to reduces stress levels, calm anxiety and improve your mood. Fresh air in your lungs and sunlight on your skin can sometimes be just the medicine you need to recharge your energetic battery (plus the vitamin D boost of course!). I know whenever I leave my phone at home and head out for a hike or sit by the sea for a few hours I feel like a completely different person. There’s something about the natural beauty and slow pace of nature that makes me feel relaxed and at peace. My breathing becomes deeper and slower and the tension in my body melts away.

I become much more present and mindful of the world around me instead of being focused on my to-do list, the latest news alert or my own worries. When we leave technology and the constant influx of information behind, our minds are free to wander, daydream and process things on a deeper level. When I was writing my first research paper, my most creative times were when I was out walking by the river or at the local nature reserve. The beauty and mystery of nature is inspiring and helps you to see things from a new perspective when you feel stuck. Nature truly is healing on so many levels. I think it’s so important now more than ever to try and get out in nature as much as possible.

So I wanted to share some of the beautiful places I have been able to visit during this lockdown. Partly as a reminder to myself how good it makes me feel and to motivate me to get outside whenever I feel low. Also hopefully to inspire you to explore your local area and find some hidden gems too! Our lockdown rules say we have to stay within the region of Attica which is pretty annoying as I can’t wait to get out and explore the rest of Greece. Nonetheless I feel lucky to live in the area we do as it is pretty green compared to central Athens and we have access to the beach and the mountains within an hours drive. But where ever you live you can find your piece of nature whether it’s the local park or even your own garden.

The view of Athens from the top of the hill in our area..

And a couple of photos from our hike at Mount Parnitha in December..

Playing on the beach at Saronida on the South coast of Attica..

Same coastline, a much sunnier day..

And a couple of weeks later snow! (a hike isn’t complete without some the yoga poses)

Finally what would nature be without some cute lil’ animals?

And I can’t leave out my own crazy fur baby who is always keeping us smiling

It makes me happy looking back at the fun adventures we’ve had over the last few months, even if we are stuck at home 90% of the time. The only thing missing is family and friends to share it with which saddens me a lot. I think this lockdown is harder for everyone, partly because of the winter but also because it’s gone on so long now. I just can’t accept the idea of the “new normal”. But I am staying optimistic, hoping that this passes soon so we can all get back to enjoying our lives. And for now we will continue to make the most of things and escape to experience the healing powers of nature as much as we can!

Over to you…

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the problem with fitspo

Fitspo and fitness influencers, helpful or harmful?

I actually wrote this post about 5 years ago for my first ever blog! This was before fitspo and fitness influencers were a huge thing, or at least they weren’t really on my radar. However, I think it is more relevant than ever today. I’ve updated it a little but the core message is still the same. Enjoy!

This morning a friend posted this image on Facebook..

fitspo

I know she had the best intentions behind the post but it really got me thinking about the “fitspo” trend, fitness influencers and their effects on viewers’ body image.  

What is fitspo?

The Urban Dictionary definition of the word fitspo is:

“Images of active, strong, and fit women that promote proper exercise and diet. May also include images healthy foods. Much like thinspo (images of dangerously thin women used by people with eating disorders to motivate) but healthier.”

From the definition it sounds like a great thing. Replacing the horrible trend of “thinspo” with “fitspo” and encouraging women to be healthy and active. Both of those things get a great big YES from me. However, what can’t be escaped is the fact that images like this still encourage women to focus on their body shape and size. They still provide a body ideal, a goal for women to aim for. They still encourage women to base their self-worth on their appearance and attach morality to food and exercise. And this results in the same feelings of unworthiness and disappointment for those women who don’t follow the rules and don’t look like the picture-perfect Instagram fitness models.

The image above does an amazing job at showing us that the number on the scale is, well only that really. A number. The point here is that body weight and BMI are pretty meaningless and bodies of the same weight can have completely different body shape and composition. That’s all well and good, but what does the image imply? That we should be focusing on getting lean and toned instead of skinny? That it’s much better to be heavier and look like the photo on the right? Yes it may be successful in shifting the focus away from the scale and obsessing over how much you weigh but to what… the way your body looks in the mirror or a photo?

The dark side of fitspo

Lots of women (myself in the past included) have fallen into the trap of shifting their health and fitness goals from trying to weigh as little as possible to eating clean and looking lean and muscular. Maybe it’s getting abs or building a booty. But what the fitspo images like the one above don’t show is how the woman is feeling in each photo and what her life really looks like. What kind of behaviours is she engaging in to maintain her body? What is her overall health like? How are her relationships and social life? Is she following her passions or is she spending every waking minute obsessing over eating healthy food, exercising and comparing her body to others online?

There could be a whole range of things going on behind the scenes. We often assume that just because someone looks “normal” that they are not suffering and this is not always the case. Disordered eating can take on so many shapes and sizes. Bulimia and exercise bulimia, orthorexia, food fears, laxative abuse, binge eating, compulsive exercise. All of these can often go unnoticed as people can maintain a normal BMI and not end up looking like the skeletal eating disorder stereotype.

I am not saying by any means that the girl in the photos is suffering from any of these issues. Rather what I am trying to say is not to take photos like this at face value. Images mean nothing unless we know the full story behind them. I have shared before how I recently followed Stephanie Buttermore’s “All in Journey”. She is a fitness influencer who decided to share the true story behind her ripped physique. It was great to see someone opening up to their audience about this and I found her story inspriational!

My experience with fitspo and fitness influencers

For me personally, looking extremely lean and fit came at a great cost. Every day I did all of the healthy things. I worked out daily, ate clean and drank plenty of water. But I didn’t feel good and I didn’t know why. I wasn’t healthy. My periods were totally absent. I started to wake up in the early hours of the morning for no reason. Not only that, I felt fatigued all of the time and had to rely on more and more caffeine to get through the day.

I know not everybody will have the same experience. But I am sure I am not the only one! It took a lot of effort to unlearn all of the so-called healthy habits I had developed and get back to focusing on feeling good. Finally after going back to university to study public health nutrition, diving into my yoga practice and becoming a qualified teacher I found a balance where I could feel good and maintain a slim, healthy body without taking it to the extreme or letting it take over my life.

Summary and take aways

For those of us in the health and fitness world, food and exercise and shaping our body can easily become the focus of our life. Yes it is fun to experiment with food and of course moving your body feels great. But it doesn’t have to be your sole purpose. It is very easy to get caught up in the social media bubble and forget that there is an outside world. Real life connections and meaningful relationships where you can be yourself can do so much more for your health and wellbeing than following some online fitness guru and feeling connected to others by the restraints of whatever lifestyle they preach.

My point in this article is to let you know that you don’t need to idolize anyone and your body is perfect whether you feel more like the “before” photo or the “after”. Remember to focus on the things that keep you feeling happy and healthy above all! I hope you enjoyed this article from 5 years ago Amy. I would say my opinions haven’t changed much since then. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on fitspo and fitness influencers, do you find watching them uplifting and motivating or does it make you feel bad about yourself and like you need to change?

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How to enjoy exercise and healthy eating

Today’s topic is how to enjoy exercise and healthy eating and make getting healthy fun. It will be a short post today as it’s Saturday and we have been out all day enjoying nature. It’s getting late and I am tired and hungry. We drove down to Saronida this afternoon and went for a walk on the beach even though it was pretty cloudy and windy. We just needed to get out of Athens and get some fresh air. This lockdown has been loooong! Even though we managed to get out for a hike and to see some friends over Christmas it is really starting to drag now and there’s still no end in sight.

Anyway, I thought that today is as good a day as any to remind you to have fun as you work towards your health and weight loss goals, in case you forgot! And give you some tips on how to enjoy exercise and healthy eating so that you can stick to your healthy lifestyle and reach your goals. Wherever you are on your health journey. Whether you are just starting out changing your lifestyle or you have been focusing on health and fitness for years.

Don’t forget that the purpose of improving your health is to enjoy your life more. Getting healthy really doesn’t have to be a chore. If you hate your diet and your workout routine feels like hell, try something different. If you hate yoga and meditation, you have to don’t do it! There isn’t one road to health so experiment and find what works for you. Find how to enjoy exercise and healthy eating and make getting healthy fun and it will be much easier!

I used to believe that controlling everything from restricting the foods on my plate to sticking to the same, high intensity workout regime was what I needed to do if I wanted to reach my health goals. I never really thought about whether I actually enjoyed it or not it was just something I had to endure. Nowadays my approach is definitely more fun! I practice yoga because I love it and dance because I love it. And I eat in a way that I genuinely enjoy. If I’m not enjoying something and my body is sending me a hell no signal, I listen rather than push through it.

Of course I still challenge myself. For example, right now me and my boyfriend are working up to running 5km in 30 minutes. But if we had planned a run and I am feeling exhausted on the day, I won’t feel like a failure if I skip it. I know when to push and rest. And I remember how to enjoy exercise and healthy eating!

I always recommend to focus on building healthy, sustainable habits that you enjoy rather than a quick fix. You don’t want to lose weight and also lose your sanity. Even if your goal is to lose weight, focus on health first and your body will find it’s happy place. If you focus on weight loss alone and you just might lose health in the process. Remember that health doesn’t always equal weight loss. On that note, here are a few of my tips on how to enjoy eating healthy food and how to make fitness fun!

How to enjoy eating healthy food

  • Get creative and take the effort to make your plate look pretty, even if you’re eating alone
  • Have plenty of variety in your diet
  • Try out a new food or recipe at least once a week. Even more if you have the time and the energy
  • Get your family involved and share your healthy meals with them so that you don’t feel left out
  • Don’t feel like you have to deprive yourself of all treats, remember the 80:20 rule!
  • Remind yourself that your taste buds adjust over time and you will genuinely start to crave healthy foods

Fun ways to improve your fitness

  • Try out a dance class, learn salsa, street dance or ballet
  • Experiment with gymnastics, acro-yoga or rock climbing
  • Get fit with friends, join a running group, cycling club. Or try out group exercise classes (as long as you can social distance)
  • Mix things up, if you normally exercise in the gym then get outdoors or vice versa
  • Listen to music or a fun podcast as you walk
  • Try out a yoga or fitness challenge at home to keep you motivated

And finally, remember that even though things might feel difficult and impossible to enjoy at the beginning, it does get easier! Once you start to eat healthier foods on a regular basis, your taste buds will change over time. I promise, there will come a the point where you actually enjoy and even crave them. As you improve your fitness you will start to enjoy moving your body more and more. Keep things simple, have fun and be kind to yourself.

Today’s challenge: Reflect on your own health regime

I hope you enjoyed these quick tips on how to enjoy exercise and healthy eating. Your challenge for today is to reflect on your own “health regime”. Ask yourself whether you genuinely enjoy the things you are doing. If not, how could you make it more fun?

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Benefits of yoga for health

Benefits of yoga for health and starting a home yoga practice

The benefits of yoga for health are endless! Of course, as a yoga teacher I am pretty biased but I honestly think that starting a yoga practice is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health. In this article I want to share the top benefits of yoga for health that I have experienced over the last 10 years of practicing yoga.

Benefits of yoga for health (physical body)

The practice of yoga has so many health benefits for people of all ages. A daily yoga practice, even just 10 minutes, is a great way to get your body moving, get your blood flowing, loosen up your joints, improve your flexibility and strength. Physical health benefits of yoga include:

Cardiovascular health

Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of heart disease. Like any other type of exercise that gets your body moving, the health benefits of yoga include improved cardio-vascular fitness. Unlike many other types of exercise, yoga is low intensity and not stressful on the joints so it is a great way for those new to exercise to start out. Vinyasa and other types of “flow” yoga can be especially good for improving your fitness.

Blood pressure

Lowered blood pressure. Practicing yoga regular can help to lower your blood pressure, reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke. There are certain yoga postures which specifically help to lower blood pressure including standing forward fold, downward facing dog and legs up the wall pose. Practicing yoga daily along with a healthy diet can lead to huge improvement in your blood pressure readings.

Lower tension

Reduced muscular tension from prolonged sitting and sedentary lifestyles. Now more than ever we are spending increasing amounts of time in front of our computers and phones. Especially with COVID19 restrictions, many of us are working from home and sitting for long periods of time. Yoga helps to counter-balance habitual tension in the neck, shoulders and hips creating a sense of ease and wellbeing in your body.

Improved flexibility and mobility

Improved flexibility, balance and joint health. One of the most well-known benefits of yoga for physical health is improved flexibility. Remember you don’t have to be flexible to practice yoga but practicing yoga will help to improve your flexibility! Yoga practice improves mobility in all of the main joints in the body including the spine, knees, hips and wrists, helping you to stay fit and mobile as you get older and improving your quality of life.

Boost strength

Stronger, more toned muscles. Many fitness enthusiasts see yoga as “not challenging enough”. Then you get them on the mat and watch them struggle! A yoga practice can be a full body workout where you are challenging and all of your muscles in a holistic, functional way. Of course, the intensity of a physical yoga practice varies a lot. Nevertheless, practicing yoga can definitely be a great way to strengthen and tone your upper body, core thighs and glutes.

Better sleep

Improved sleep quality. Yoga helps to calm and relax both the body and mind. This can definitely help you to get a better nights sleep. Practicing yoga in the morning helps you to stay calm and relaxed throughout the day and sleep more soundly at night. A gentle bedtime yoga practice is also an excellent way to wind down. Yoga helps to let go of the stress of the day and prepare your body for sleep. Better sleep has all sorts of health benefits including better blood sugar control, improved energy levels and lowered inflammation.

Benefits of yoga for health (mental and emotional body)

As well as the physical health benefits of yoga, there are also many mental health benefits of yoga. In today’s busy world, most of us feel some level of pressure, tension and stress on a daily basis. As a result, cases of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues are also on the rise. The benefits of yoga for mental health include:

Anxiety and stress

Reduced anxiety and stress levels. Getting yourself onto your yoga mat to take some time for yourself and close out the outside world is a great way to reduce anxiety and stress levels. Unfortunately life will happen and no matter how we try. We can reduce the external stressors in our life the but the fast pace and pressures of modern society will always cause us some level of stress. Practicing yoga helps to reduce this stress and the anxiety that going with it.

Nervous system

Improved nervous system health. Because of the high levels of stress, adrenal fatigue and burn out are becoming more and more common. If you have a stressful job or busy family life, drink a lot of caffeine or spend excessive time on the internet or social media it’s highly likely that your nervous system could do with some attention. Yoga practice, especially breathwork and meditation but also physical asana practice is a great way to nurture your adrenals, activate your parasympathetic nervous system and and strengthen your capacity to deal with the stress of daily life.

Improved wellbeing

Feelings of calm and wellbeing. Regular yoga practice helps you to tune into your body, notice habitual patterns of tension and gripping. Also to learn to let go into deep states of relaxation. Often we hold on tightly to life, feeling like we need to control every little thing. Yoga invites us to surrender to the flow and accept what is, creating a sense of peace and wellbeing in your body and mind

Self-awareness

Improved self-awareness. I wrote an article on yoga and self-awareness recently. I think improving self-awareness is a key benefit of yoga for mental health. Yoga helps you to listen to your thoughts and feeling. Over time you become aware of patterns that may be hurting you or holding you back in life. Through practicing yoga regularly, you can learn to rewire these patterns. This is the first step to changing the way you think about yourself and the way that you approach life.

Connection

Greater connection with others. Yoga classes have been an amazing sense of community for me over the years. From the huge gym classes I took when I started out my practice to the intimate group in my teacher trainings. I have always found yoga to be a gateway to deep connection with others. I’m not sure if it’s because people who are more emotionally open and vulnerable are drawn to yoga. Or whether it is yoga that cracks people wide open. But either way, I’ve always found this sense of connection and community amongst yogis. For those interested in embarking on a spiritual path, yoga is also a great way to connect with your surroundings, higher self and something greater.

How to start a home yoga practice

I started practicing yoga by going to face to face classes. I always recommend this as the best route for beginner yogis. But a home yoga practice is a great way to complement teacher led classes and deepen your practice. The way that I started my home yoga practice and still continue to learn more about yoga is through reading yoga books. You can find books on the foundations of yoga, yoga philosophy and history, yoga anatomy and physiology and meditation and pranayama (breathwork).

Yoga book recommendations

Some of my favourite yoga book recommendations are:

Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness by Eric Schiffman
Yoga for Women by Bobby Clennell
Light on Life/Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar
Thrive through Yoga: A 21 day journey by Nicola Jane Hobbs

These yoga books will give you different perspectives and techniques and highlight the health benefits of yoga. They will talk you through the basics of connecting with your breath and quietening your mind. You will also learn the alignment of the asana which will form the foundation of your home yoga practice.

Online yoga classes

Also with the internet and social media it is now easier than ever to find information. You can find a yoga huge variety of classes and practice in the comfort of your home. There are endless yoga tutorials on Youtube from beginners foundation classes to crazy advanced ashtanga sequences. Whatever level you are at, you can find an online class to suit you. Some of my favourite online yoga teachers are Yoga with Adriene, Yoga Upload, The Mindful Movement and Cat Meffan. You can check out my Youtube channel Moon Life Yoga. I am planning to upload more guided yoga classes this year!

I am also offering 3 online yoga classes a week during the COVID19 pandemic.

Absolute Beginners – Tuesday 1pm UK/3pm Greece

Beginners/Intermediate – Thursday 4pm UK/6pm Greece

Yoga for Women – Sunday 4pm UK/6pm Greece

You can find out more information about current class schedule and sign up for a class here.

Today’s challenge: Feel the benefits of yoga for health

Your challenge today is try try out this yoga practice for beginners by Yoga with Adriene. Focus on connecting with your body during the practice. Reflect on your experience afterwards and share any comments below!

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  • Comment: What benefits have you experienced from practicing yoga?
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best exercise for weight loss yoga in nature warrior 1

Best exercise for weight loss and health?

January is a time when lot’s of us decide to start a new fitness regime. We want to lose that holiday weight and feel healthier. But what is the best exercise for weight loss and health? In the online fitness world you see endless photos of “influencers” doing crazy workouts and high intensity training. They get millions of likes when they share photos of their toned thighs and shredded abs. But is it really necessary to train like an athlete to reach your goals? And is intense exercise for weight loss truly healthy?

The answer is, it depends! When it comes to weight loss, it always comes down energy out vs. energy in. Simply put, to lose weight, you need to burn more energy (calories) than you eat from food. In other words, your net energy must be negative to lose weight.

best exercise for weight loss energy balance

But the catch is that our bodies are far from simple machines. This makes the picture of weight loss much more complicated. To understand this, you need to realise that changing one part of the weight loss equation has an impact on the rest. And this is why more exercise doesn’t always result in faster weight loss. Your body like nothing more than staying balanced or in homeostasis. Therefore, it will use every power it has to keep things as they are. Especially when you use extreme tactics such as intense exercise to lose weight. You body will resist and fight back.

How your body responds to exercise for weight loss

I’ll give you some examples of how your body tries to compensate when you exercise intensely. Your body:

  • Minimises your natural movements throughout the rest of the day – aka the “active couch potato” syndrome
  • Ramps up your hunger hormones and decrease the hormones which make you feel full and satiated to make you eat more than usual after your exercise. Familiar with that bottomless pit hunger after working out intensely?!
  • Makes your metabolism efficient and learns to survive using less energy. This could look like a slowing of your heart rate, reducing body temperature and blood pressure
  • Slows or shuts down unnecessary functions like hair growth, cell repair and menstrual cycles

Does this mean that intense exercise is not the best exercise for weight loss and health?

Yes, intense exercise it is not necessarily the best exercise for weight loss. Challenging your body through cardiovascular exercise is a good thing. If you want to improve your physical fitness, moderate to high intensity exercise is great a few times a week. But slogging it out in the gym for 1-2 hours every day to burn as many calories as possible is more likely to be a stress on your body. This won’t help you to reach your health goals!

Athletes who train at this level for their job have a whole team to take care of them. It’s a full-time job to get the right nutrition, rest and rehabilitation to keep their body healthy at this level of activity. Nowadays it seems like everyone is training like an athlete for the sake of achieving a perfect physique. And your average Joe doesn’t have this level of support! This can result in injuries and chronic illness in those that over-excercise. I always say to stay aware that things you see online may not always be as they seem. People that you admire or compare yourself to might look healthy and fit on the outside. However, you never know what is going on inside.

I recently enjoyed watching the journey of Stephanie Buttermore. She is a well known fitness influencer who admitted that behind the scenes she was struggling with extreme hunger, fatigue and hormonal issues. She decided to go “all in” to recover her health as I did when recovering from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. Her issues were around restrictive eating and not eating enough to support her level of training. Restrictive eating and over-exercising can have very similar impacts. Extrememes in both can create too large an energy deficit for the body to handle. This creates a stress response and can lead to a cascade of other issues.

So what is the best exercise for weight loss and health?

To start with, I’d say any exercise that you genuinely enjoy and will stick to. It’s much better to build a sustainable habit of working out for 30 minutes three times a week that to go all out and exercise every day then give up after a week. With exercise for weight loss and health, consistency is key! Everyone is different and we all like different things. Some people really enjoy working out at the gym, others prefer running or cycling outdoors. You might like taking your dog on long walks or walking in the park with a friend.

For me, dancing and yoga are the two ways of moving my body that I really love. These activities don’t feel like exercise at all! I also love walking outside whether that’s a stroll around the area or a long hike in nature. The best exercise for weight loss is one that doesn’t feel like exercise but is a fun part of your life.

Walking is the best exercise for weight loss

In my opinion, walking is one of the best exercise for weight loss. Why? Let’s go back to the weight loss equation. Walking is a low intensity exercise which gets your heart rate up into the fat burning zone. However it is not usually to the point where you are out of breath or struggling to speak. This means it is a low stress type of exercise. Walking won’t cause your body to freak out and try to conserve energy or send you signals to over eat to compensate.

Going for a walk is a way of moving your body that can fit into your every day life. It doesn’t have to labelled as exercise or a workout. You can walk to work or to the shops, or you can meet a friend for a lunch time walk. Walking doubles as time to relax and to move your body too. You can listen to music that you like or a podcast or chat on the phone while you walk. Walking is suitable for all levels of fitness from absolute beginners right up to experienced athletes. Plus, it’s completely free!

If your goal is to lose weight, start by walking for 30 minutes every day and see how you feel. You can then add in other exercise that you enjoy to mix things up and have fun. Moving your body should be enjoyable and afterwards you should feel tired but not completely exhausted. If you are feeling totally depleted after your workouts then it’s probably a sign that you are over doing it for your current level of fitness. This is a sign to tone it down or you could risk burn out or injury.

If you are also trying to change your diet to eat healthier, go easy on yourself! It’s much harder to make healthier food choices when your body is starving after an intense workout. Often we can fall into the trap of binge eating on energy dense foods such as sweets and processed food. We want to be gentle and work with our bodies rather than against them. So always check in with how you feel after a workout and go from there.

Daily challenge: Go for a walk!

So your challenge for today is simply to go for a mindful walk. It doesn’t matter whether it’s for 10 minutes or an hour. Just be sure to pay attention to your surroundings and to how you feel in your body and mind afterwards. Notice whether you feel fatigued or energised and whether your stress levels have increased or decreased.

best exercise for weight loss walking in nature

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Hatha yoga for hip and hamstring flexibility

Here is a short hatha yoga asana practice to stretch and open the hips and hamstrings. Great for when quarantine has you sat on your butt all day 🙂

Move slowly and mindfully focusing on your breath and alignment in the postures. Hold each pose for around 5-10 breaths. Use props to support you if you need and feel free to ask in the comments if you want specific advice.

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Start in downward facing dog. Aim for a straight line between your head and tail bone – bend your knees if you need to. A straight spine is more important than straight legs.

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Walk your feet towards your hands into forward fold. Relax your spine and release tension from your neck and shoulders. Hands can be on the floor, ankles or shins. Again bend your knees as much as you need to to relax into the pose.

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Step your left leg back into low lunge. Keep your core muscles engaged and focus on rotating your pelvis backward so that you feel the stretch in your thigh and front of your hip.

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Raise your arms above your head and side bend to the right to increase the stretch on your hip flexors and side body.

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For a deeper quad and hip flexor stretch, lift the left foot and catch hold with your left hand (or use a yoga strap if you can’t reach). Gently pull your foot inwards still keeping your core tight and pelvis tilting backwards.

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Move into a hamstring stretch by sitting back onto your left heel. Focus on engaging the right thigh muscle and keeping your spine straight to protect your knee and back.

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If you want a deeper hamstring stretch you can work on your splits practice – use blocks to support your weight and try to keep your torso as upright as possible.

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Stretch back into downward facing dog and move your feet and hips to loosen up.

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Lift your right leg into three-legged dog. Focus on keeping your weight even in both hands and shoulders aren’t shrugging up by your ears.

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Swing your right leg through into half pigeon pose. Keep your foot flexed to protect your knee and place a block or cushion under your hip for support. You should feel a deep stretch in your outer thigh and hip but no sharp pains!

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To deepen the stretch, relax your torso forward and rest your forehead onto your hands. Breathe deeply here, this is an intense stretch but try to relax any tension or resistance you feel in your hip and find ease in the pose.

Now repeat all of the above on the other side 

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Come to a seated position and place the soles of your feet together into cobblers pose. You can press down gently on your knees using your elbows to open up your hips further.

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Bend forward from the hips and relax your torso over your thighs. Rather than head towards your feet aim to move your chest towards your feet to help keep your spine straight. Relax into the pose and breathe deeply

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Move into a wide leg seated position. Reach your right hand to your right foot and raise your left hand over your head to feel an intense side stretch. Repeat on the other side.

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Move into a seated wide leg forward fold. If you have a big cushion or bolster you can place it in front of you to rest your torso and relax deeper into the pose.

Finally (and most importantly!) move into savasana, corpse pose. I didn’t take a photo but it is pretty self explanatory..

savasana

Stay here as long you like, the longer the better. As a minimum take 20 deep breaths in and out and allow your muscles to let go and release any remaining tension. If you feel tempted to get up, imagine roots growing down into the earth from your ankles and hands.. you couldn’t move even if you wanted to so you might as well let yourself relax and be supported by the ground.

I hope you enjoy the practice! Namaste.