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..

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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.

The pre-menstrual power of losing it

Right now I am in my pre-menstrual phase and I have been struggling a lot with difficult emotions. I am feeling unsettled, sad, angry, lost and confused. Luckily because I track my cycle I know that this is the time of the month when things like this are most likely come up. As women we are so good at hiding how we really feel and getting on with things, often trying to keep others happy at the expense of our own wellbeing. This ability to override our darkest emotions is much stronger in the first half of our cycle when estrogen is high. And it’s not like its a conscious decision, our bodies do this automatically so we can actually experience it as feeling fine one week and then crazy the next.

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So what should we do when these feelings come up shake our sense of self? It can be tempting to squash the feelings down through distraction or coping mechanisms such as emotional eating or to dismiss them as PMS or just “being hormonal”. But if we take the time to listen we can really learn something about how we feel about our lives and use it to make positive changes. Something I have been trying to do is to sit in the stew of emotions, just letting myself feel whatever comes up without judging or trying to change things. If I am feeling depressed one day letting that be and not using any of the “make yourself happy” techniques like fake positive affirmations which never really worked for me anyway. Every emotion is valid and is just a signal from your body trying to tell you something.

Another GREAT thing to do is just allow yourself to lose it. Some women, myself included, tend to be pretty controlled with their emotions on a daily basis. At work, many of us are in male-dominated environment and we don’t want to come across as weak or over-emotional. At home, we don’t want to offend or upset our partners or families with our anger or sadness. But actually letting go of control and just letting it all out is exactly what we need. Its better to do it consciously rather than being hit by an emotional outburst out of the blue. Scream, shout, cry, punch a pillow, dance like crazy.. anything to get that energy moving up and out of your body. Maybe you feel embarrassed and don’t want to look stupid? Some of my favourites are screaming as loud as I can whilst driving on the motorway, letting myself lie down and cry even if I don’t know exactly why I am crying and putting on music and just shaking my body.

If you aren’t comfortable with any of these try writing it out in a journal or making a video-diary but honestly I think the physical aspect is super important. When put our emotions to one side, they don’t go away but stay in our bodies as tension and stress. Eventually we have to release them otherwise we will manifest sickness and disease. Many conditions that are common today are influenced by chronic stress as a factor including diabetes, fatigue and auto-immune conditions (which affect women much more than men!). Our cycle provides us with the pre-menstrual phase as the perfect time to have this energy release so that we can go into the deep resting and healing menstrual phase with a clean slate.

So try it out if you’re interested. If you are tracking your cycle then from day 21-28 (or around a week before your period is due to start if your cycle is less/more than 28 days) create some free time in your schedule to just do nothing and see what comes up emotionally. If this is the first time you are doing this don’t be surprised to feel some pretty intense emotions. Sometimes tension can be stored deep in the body for a long time and it can be overwhelming to have a wave of old emotions hit you. But trust that if you practice this monthly ritual of processing and releasing what has come up that cycle then it will become much easier over time and will become something to look forward to as you shed what is no longer serving you and create space for new energy to come in.

5 day reset – day 3 & 4

Almost at the end of the 5 day reset! I didn’t post yesterday as I didn’t have much to say and I basically ate the same as the day before so nothing exciting there either. I am feeling ok but my sleep hasn’t improved which is really annoying. Despite that though my energy levels have been pretty good once I got over the first couple of hours. I am doing a much better job of balancing my blood sugars now, it has really helped to have a higher fat breakfast and not overdo it with fruit first thing in the morning. But I am still waking up around 2-4am then several times after that before my alarm goes off.

I am guessing my sleep issues are mostly stress related as I am super busy at work and I have gone through a huge life change recently. It’s strange though as I don’t feel anxious during the day but at night it’s as if my mind won’t switch off. It’s not really worry or panic its more that my brain decides that now is a good time to start planning for the next day.. or week or month! Maybe this is anxiety, I guess I don’t really know but it’s different from how I have experienced it in the past. I have learned a lot about adrenal fatigue over the last year and I do think that cortisol levels being out of whack can really affect levels of alertness during the night. I am employing allll of my sleep improving tips and nothing is helping at all.

The other thing I was hoping to improve during this cleanse was my skin and I have to say it has gotten worse! I had some hormonal acne that I wanted to clear up before this weekend and I thought eating lots of fruit would flush out my system and help to clear my skin. However.. the first day or 2 I got a few new spots, painful cystic ones that are deep under the skin. I haven’t had any more since then but my jaw and chin is still inflamed and red which is definitely not the look I was going for. I never promised that this would be the perfect cleanse with amazing results it is just my own experiment and honest results! On a positive note, my hair looks great although I doubt 4 days of a cleanse could really have made a difference there 🙂

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I have been doing yoga and meditation every day and I’m really happy with how this is affecting my mind and body. I’m sure that this is keeping me going and smiling despite the lack of sleep. I feel light and flexible (well for me at least) and focused during my practice which is really helping to pay attention to my body and find my edge during poses to slowly open up. I have noticed several areas of tightness and clenching in muscles in places that I tend to hold stress, especially my left hip and right shoulder. I have really been trying to breathe into these areas and let go of some tension, physically and emotionally as I know I tend to hang on tight and find it hard to surrender.

So tomorrow is the final day. I am sticking to my higher fat diet still with lots of fruits and veggies but also including coconut milk and olive oil, nuts and seeds to keep my blood sugar stable. I have a lot of driving to do for work and actually I don’t think I chose the best week for this reset at all but I didn’t expect it to be so chaotic. I am ready for the weekend already! For now I am enjoying playing my guitar as it’s freezing outside and I don’t feel like going anywhere. I’m coming towards the end of my cycle and definitely feeling that inwards turning introverted feeling rising. 

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Learning to listen – intuitive yoga

It was my 26th birthday yesterday and unfortunately I was pretty unwell. I had felt myself coming down with a cold over the weekend and the last couple of days I have been pretty much stuck in bed all day with a box of tissues and hot cups of tea. I’ve been craving extra time in bed for weeks but this isn’t exactly what I had in mind!

I knew this month would be tough as I decided to do a yoga teacher training course alongside my full time job and my nutrition degree. But it was my decision as I didn’t feel ready to take a huge risk and quit my job and I do still think it was the right one. Getting sick did give me time to reflect and I realised that I have been pushing myself so much the last few weeks it’s no wonder that my body isn’t on top form. It’s like that with anything, you can use will power and motivation to say no to your body’s needs for a while but eventually it will fight back. It is exactly the same as dieting. When I did crazy restrictive diets in the past I would squash down my hunger and cravings for days, weeks or even months at a time but inevitably the drive to eat would take over and I would empty the cupboards.

My friend Angela, who is a colon hydro-therapist, talks about this as saying “no not now” to your body. It has become a habit to ignore our bodies’ signals whether it be hunger, tiredness or going to the bathroom. I went through a phase of getting recurring UTIs and the nurse told me that it’s pretty common in women because we often delay peeing when we are in the middle of something. Angela said a similar thing, that many people are constipated because they ignore the urge to go to the toilet because when we are busy or because of embarrassment in a public place.

I think it’s pretty common to be living in our heads and neglecting our bodies. One amazing benefit I have found from practicing yoga is that it brings my attention down into my body. In my physical asana practice my focus is on the alignment of my body in the poses or finding stillness and balance. I feel like I am much better at listening to my body, knowing where my strengths and limitations lie. I sometimes get frustrated that I seem to be getting ill more often since I started to transition to a healthier lifestyle but actually I think I am just becoming more aware of issues that were already there but under the surface. Even though it is annoying in the moment I think learning to listen to your body and adjust your actions is a pathway to long term health.

So here are some photos from my practice this weekend. I have really been working on foundation poses for the last couple of years as a sort of rehab for my body after illness and injury. Now I am slowly starting to move forward with my practice and get some flexibility back. It’s disheartening at times when things I used to do easily seem so far away for me now but I am seeing improvements and getting stronger so I am really happy and proud of myself! As you can see I am incorporating lots of props into my practice – yoga blocks and straps are a great way to challenge yourself and improve whilst staying in tune with your body as it is in the present moment.

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An imperfect beginning

I have put off starting this blog for a while now. Partly because I wasn’t exactly sure of what I wanted to write about but mainly because I wanted it to be perfect.

I thought that I needed to know everything before I shared what I have learned.
I  wanted to have perfect health before I wrote about my journey.
I was worried that whatever I wrote wouldn’t be good enough.
I was waiting for a less crazy time in my life when I could give 100% to every post.

But let’s be honest, if I waited for the ideal moment then I’d never start.

“Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal. Additionally, perfectionism is more about perception – we want to be perceived as perfect. Again, this is unattainable – there is no way to control perception, regardless of how much time and energy we spend trying.”  
Brené Brown

There is never going to be a perfect time or perfect topic or perfect story. Now I realise that if I’m not writing this blog for anyone else then why does it need to be perfect. Chances are no one will read it anyway amongst the billions of blogs out there so I am doing this for me and if it ends up a complete mess that’s just fine.

But as you are reading this, welcome to the imperfect beginning to my imperfect blog! I’m feeling pretty lost with my health right now struggling with insomnia, exhaustion and generally not myself. I am becoming reacquainted with my monthly cycles after struggling with hormonal issues for most of my life and woooooww this stuff is fascinating. I am convinced that paying attention to our monthly cycles as women is key to feeling happy and fulfilled in life.

If you are interested in learning more about how to embrace and live in flow with your hormonal cycles and experience your best health feel  free to follow along and learn from my wins and struggles as I go. And please send me a message as I’d love to start a conversation with like minded people 🙂