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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Real health #25 How meditation can help you to change your mindset and your habits

We are long past the days where meditation is seen as something completely hippy or “out there”. Meditation and mindfulness are becoming every day terms understood and practiced by students, parents and business executives alike. We are starting to understand the impact of rushing through our lives in a half-conscious, distracted state is no good for our health and happiness and embracing meditation and mindfulness as tools to help us to become more present and aware. Yesterday I wrote about how to change your habits you first need to change your mind and today I want to explain how meditation can help you to create this mindset change.

Most of us spend our days operating from our conditioned mind. Our sub-conscious has a huge set of stored thoughts, beliefs, emotional responses and programmed actions that we play on repeat and these conditioned patterns define the way that we show up in the world and our identity. If we want to change our habits we have to consciously think different thoughts which enable us to feel differently create new pathways in the brain. But this can be hard to do when we are constantly bombarded with the familiar thoughts and feelings that tell us who we are. If we try to think differently, we will be greeted with a barrage of opposing thoughts and intense feelings because we have moved outside of our familiar comfort zone. This can make changing your thoughts very difficult!

How can meditation help you to get past this and change your mindset? Firstly, meditation helps you to become aware of your current habitual thought patterns. Yes all of those annoying intrusive thoughts when you are trying to meditate can actually be a good thing. Pay attention to them and you will see where your mind is probably wandering throughout the rest of your day too, without you even realising. Maybe you are distracted by things you should be doing instead or maybe you find yourself criticising yourself for not being able to empty your mind and meditate “properly”. Maybe your mind tells you that you can’t do it, you are uncomfortable or that you always fail. Whatever it is, take note! This is your first glance at your natural state of being from the point of view of an observer.

You can also use meditation as a way to practice disrupting these unhelpful thoughts and letting them go. When you aren’t paying attention, one thought can lead to another and before you know it you can spiral down the rabbit hole of negative thinking. Our thoughts affect the way we feel and those emotions then affect the way we think. We can easily become stuck in unhelpful loops of thoughts and emotions without noticing. Maybe you have a memory of being left out at school and the thought brings up emotions of sadness and loneliness. Those feelings then trigger other memories where you have felt alone and the feelings of isolation grow and become overwhelming. Over time of thinking these thoughts and feeling these feeling you can start to identify with the state of being as a lonely, unloveable person and this becomes your identity. Meditation offers you the opportunity to become aware of these patterns and break the chain.

When we have negative thoughts about ourselves, there is usually another voice present in our mind which knows better. For example, I’m sure many of you have experienced body image issues at some point in your life. That voice that tells you you are not beautiful enough or thin enough is probably loud at times but there is always that quiet voice underneath which says you are good enough as you are. Meditation slows down your thoughts and allows this alternative voice to have it’s say and become louder. In other words you are able to observe a thought and how it makes you feel then choose to think a different one. Of course you can do this through out your day but the focused attention state of meditation makes it much easier to observe your thoughts and engage your conscious mind.

How to start a meditation practice

There are many different meditation techniques but as usual I suggest to keep it simple if you are starting out. All you need is a quiet place, a comfortable place to sit and a timer. You can practice in your living room, on your bed, in your garden or out in nature. There are no rules, just find a place where you feel safe to relax.

  1. Set your timer for anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes (tip set it on vibrate or on quiet so you aren’t jolted out of your practice)
  2. Sit comfortably in a cross-legged position or sit on a chair with your feet planted on the ground
  3. Close your eyes and start to become aware of your body sensations, noticing areas of comfort or pain, tension or tightness, hot or cold and the contact points between your body and the surface beneath you
  4. Bring your attention to your breath. Notice the sensations associated with the inhale and exhale, the rhythm and depth of your breath, whether you feel it deep in your belly or high in your chest
  5. Hold your attention on your breath. You can count your breaths if it helps you to concentrate or continue to focus on the sensations
  6. As thoughts arise, notice the emotions they trigger. Note whether they are helpful, unhelpful or neutral and then let them go. If you find yourself distracted, at the point you realise, let the thoughts go without judgement
  7. Continue like this until your time ends and then slowly open your eyes and start to bring movement back into your body
  8. Try to keep this relaxed, focused awareness with you as you go on with your day

With practice, meditation can also help you to access your sub-conscious mind and change your beliefs. I especially like combining meditation with affirmations by starting with a full body and mind relaxation and then listening to repeated phrases that reflect the new way I want to think. I have recommended them before but my absolute favourite guided meditations for changing your mindset are from The Mindful Movement. They have so many free videos on Youtube on all sorts of topics from healing your physical and emotional body, improving self-confidence to releasing fear and worry and letting go of the past. The video below is a great one if you are embarking on a new healthy lifestyle and trying to change your habits. Listen to the meditation before bed a few times a week and watch your confidence and belief in your ability to succeed soar!

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts experiences with meditation, especially if it has improved your life and helped you to build healthier habits.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again!

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Real health #8 Benefits of yoga for health and how to start 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 on the body

The practice of yoga has so many health benefits for people of all ages. A daily yoga practice, even if it is 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:

  • Better cardio-vascular 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.

  • 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.

  • 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, 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.

  • Stronger, more toned muscles. Many fitness enthusiasts see yoga as “not challenging enough” but 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 but practicing yoga can definitely be a great way to strengthen and tone your upper body, core thighs and glutes.

  • Improved sleep quality. Yoga helps to calm and relax both the body and mind which can 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, 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 on mental health

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 and cases of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues are also on the rise. The benefits of yoga for mental health include:

  • 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 to reduce the external stressors in our life the past pace and pressures of modern society will always cause us some level of stress but practicing yoga helps to reduce this stress and the anxiety that going with it.

  • 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.

  • Feelings of calm and wellbeing. Regular yoga practice helps you to tune into your body, notice habitual patterns of tension and gripping and 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 but yoga invites us to surrender to the flow and accept what is, creating a sense of peace and wellbeing in your body and mind

  • Improved self-awareness. I wrote an article on yoga and self-awareness recently but I think improving self-awareness is a key benefit of yoga for mental health. Yoga helps you to listen to your thoughts and feeling and over time to 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, changing the way you think about yourself and the way that you approach life.

  • 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 and 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). 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, quietening your mind and learning the alignment of the asana which will form the foundation of your home yoga practice.

Also with the internet and social media it is now easier than ever to find information and learn how to do things at 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 as 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.

Yoga for Absolute Beginners – Tuesday 1pm UK/3pm Greece

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

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

You can find out more information and sign up for classes here.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on the health benefits of yoga and how your yoga practice has affected your physical and mental health.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post, check out the recommended posts below and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

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yoga for relaxation and letting go - twist

Yoga, relaxation and letting go

Last night I taught the last online “yoga for women” class of 2020 and the theme I chose was letting go. It seemed appropriate as we are coming to the end of the year and what a year it has been. I feel like the whole world is emotionally charged right now.. we have all been cooped up indoors, barely able to see friends and family for nearly 10 months now. I know I’m feeling a complicated mixture of frustration, anger, sadness, confusion most days and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that. Of course there are good moments too and we are making the best of things, and I am so grateful that my loved ones haven’t been affected by the virus but still, these are testing times!

But back to the theme of letting go.. the end of the year is a great time to reflect on our lives and our inner world. How are we feeling? Are we living a life we love? Are we on track to reach the goals we set for ourselves? What patterns are we ready to break? The new year is a perfect time for a clean start, for us to let go of any habits which are no longer serving us, to let go of any heavy emotional baggage we have been carrying and to let go of any unhelpful self-judgement or criticism which is holding us back. Like that feeling of your body warming up and relaxing after you have been outside in the cold, tense and shivering to keep warm, letting go allows you to release tension from your body and mind and find comfort and relaxation. Sometimes we don’t even realise how some things are affecting us until they are gone.

Some things that I am ready to let go of are:

  • Comparing myself to others. This is a habit that is hard to break! I used to compare the way I look to others a lot and feel less than. Now it’s more about how my business is growing and feeling that I am “behind” somehow
  • Excessive screen time. I don’t use my phone too much but I’ve definitely noticed myself spending more time on my computer during the lockdown and I know it makes me feel tired and dazed. I want to at least have a couple of hours totally screen free in the mornings and evening
  • Negative self-talk and limiting beliefs about my physical fitness. I recently started to exercise again after being recovered from HA nearly 4 years and I am feeling a bit disheartened about my loss of fitness. I know I am improving and it takes time but it’s easy to fall into the trap of criticising myself

Yoga and letting go

So how can yoga help us to let go? Yoga encourages us to be present with ourselves and bring our awareness to what is happening in our body and mind. We are encouraged to notice any areas of tightness or tension and to use our deep, conscious breathing to let it go and relax, creating a sense of softness. Often when we arrive on our yoga mat and check in with ourselves, we find we are holding tension in our neck and shoulders, our jaw and face or our hips which we weren’t even aware of. As we move through yoga asana (physical postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises) we can learn how to let these things go and over time this ease within the body and mind becomes our natural state.

A yoga practice for relaxation and letting go looks like moving slowly, finding ease in the poses and allowing your body to open up in it’s own time rather than fighting against it, trying to force yourself into painful positions. To help with letting go, practice longer holds, anywhere from 1-5 minutes, and really stay present and focused on the sensations within the poses and the steady rhythm of your breath. You can practice scanning your body for any resistance to the pose, maybe a feeling of clenching or gripping in your muscles and try to surrender into the posture, melting deeper with each exhale. If this feels difficult you can even try purposely clenching your muscles on an inhale and releasing everything on the exhale.

I find that seated or lying poses help the most with letting go and relaxation, any pose where you are close to the ground and can really feel supported by the mat beneath you. Poses like extended child’s pose, sleeping pigeon pose, supine twist and butterfly pose are all great for finding peace and relaxation by opening up the shoulders, lower back and hips. For an even more relaxing practice, you can use props to support your body in postures, especially forward folds and reclining back bends (like in my yoga sequence for your period). Supporting your body with yoga blocks, bolsters or cushions can help you to find the comfort that allows deep relaxation and true letting go.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this quick post on yoga for relaxation and letting go. Let me know in the comments if you have a favourite pose or sequence to help you relax and let go.

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yoga for increasing energy - runners lunge

Healing fatigue through yoga and self-awareness

I shared a couple of months ago about my experience with insomnia and fatigue and my path to healing. I can honestly say I feel like a new woman and I am grateful every day to feel “normal” again and not like a half-woman-half-zombie like I did for most of the last few years. Since we moved to Greece and I took a break from my full-time job, things have just got better and better. I am sleeping at least 8 hours most nights, waking up feeling energised and motivated to work on my blog, my health coaching and to teach my yoga classes and I finally feel like I can enjoy my hobbies again and conversations with loved ones without feeling like I am just going through the motions.

Today I taught an online yoga class with the theme of “self-awareness” and it really got me thinking about the role of self-awareness in healing from fatigue. As well as a lack of self-awareness as part of the cause of fatigue. Not paying attention to how you are feeling internally, both physically and emotionally, makes it extremely easy to cross your own boundaries. To not know when you are over-doing something or when something is lacking in your life. It’s easy to keep giving and meeting the demands of others or to keep striving towards a goal and not even realise your cup is empty until you totally crash and burn and are simply unable to do all of the things you used to. In my case, crashing and burning didn’t even stop me. I continued trying to keep up with my work and it was my social life and other fun things that suffered instead.

Self-awareness in healing fatigue

Self-awareness can mean lots of things but in the context of healing fatigue I see it as:

  • Paying attention to your energy levels throughout the day and noticing which activities boost your energy and what depletes you. Getting honest with yourself about any habits that you have which are stealing your energy, maybe excessive use of social media, drinking too much coffee or not going outside all day and seeing if you can gradually let these go. Then consciously including energy building activities such as yoga, deep breathing and meditation into your day.
  • Tuning into your physical body sensations. Listening to what your body needs whether it’s something as simple as being cold, hungry or thirsty or whether you need a break, to rest or move and stretch your body. Not sitting in front of your computer ignoring all the signs from your body because you are “too busy” or “there’s not enough time” but giving your body what it needs to feel good in the moment and working in partnership with your body rather than against it.
  • Being aware of your mood and emotions and asking what you need to bring yourself back into balance. Finding ways to express any emotions that come up and release any stuck energy, especially anger or sadness as these emotions can really drain us if we don’t acknowledge and express them. I find dancing or just shaking my body like crazy is a great way to get energy moving and to release stuck emotions stored as tension within the body.
  • Observing your thoughts and mental state. Noticing any unhelpful thought patterns that send you into a spiral of anxiety, fear or stress. Often we play out the same patterns that come from the same root wound such as a fear of not being good enough or not being liked by others. We tend to over-think things, catastrophise and think of the worst case scenario (including when it comes to any fatigue symptoms we are experiencing!). Becoming aware of our thoughts and questioning whether they are true and helpful is the first step in creating a more healing mental state.

How yoga helps to develop self-awareness

My yoga practice has helped so much with building this self-awareness and eventually being able to get on the path to healing my fatigue after years of drifting around and jumping from one thing to another. Yoga gives us that safe space to shut out the world and turn inwards, to really get quiet and pay attention to what is going on inside. Yoga encourages us to be with our breath and body, to move at our own pace and rest whenever we need to. In yoga we learn not to push and force ourselves into postures but to keep a beginners mind and know that we are gradually moving along the path and we will get there in our own time. Getting on the mat every day (or at least a few times a week) helps us to observe the changes in our body and mind over time. We can notice if we’re feeling more tired or energised, more anxious or calm, if we have any areas of tension or tightness in our body and we can listen and learn what to do to feel better.

How yoga helps with fatigue

Unlike other types of exercise, yoga can actually increase our energy reserves rather than leave us feeling more fatigued. After a class people talk about having that “yoga glow” where you feel blissed out and super chilled. Well this is also a really healing place to be! It puts our body into the parasympathetic nervous system state e.g. rest and digest rather than fight or flight. Certain yoga postures are great for improving circulation, gently stimulating the nervous system and boosting energy levels. When I’m feeling sluggish, some twisting postures, back bends and inversions really help to wake me up and get energy moving in my body again. When you are feeling run down or exhausted, it’s better to go for the more supported postures where you can really relax and let go help to calm the nervous system and build energy reserves (see my yoga for your period sequence for some examples of relaxing postures for when you are feeling fatigued).

Over to you…

I hope this article helps you whether you are struggling with fatigue or if you just want to boost your energy and feel better. Leave a comment below and share your experience or tips if yoga has been helpful on your journey to healing from fatigue.

  • Like this post and follow my blog for more posts on dealing with fatigue and how to recover and regain your health and life. And please share with anyone you think might be interested
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Inversions and the menstrual cycle

Today I am on day 9 of my menstrual cycle. I finished bleeding on day 5 so I am now into the follicular phase or “inner spring” of my cycle. For the last few days my yoga practice has included lots of inversions which is an amazing way to rebalance the body after your period.

What exactly are inversions? Inversions are any yoga pose where your hips are lifted higher than your head. This includes bridge pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana), downward facing dog (Ardo Mukha Svanasana) and more advanced asana such as plough (halasana), headstand (Sirsasana) and shoulderstand (Savangasana). There are also supported versions of these poses using yoga blocks, bolsters or a wall to make the postures more accessible for beginners or for days when you just need that extra bit of support.

Why are inversions beneficial for the body? Inverting the body boosts blood flow to the head, bringing fresh oxygen and nutrients into the brain. This promotes optimal function of the thyroid, parathyroid, pineal and pituitary glands and helps to balance and strengthen the entire hormonal system. Inversions also counter-act the effects of gravity on the body which can have anti-aging effects and prevent varicose veins forming in the legs by improving flow of blood and lymph. They improve circulation throughout the body, relieving fatigue and improving digestion and elimination. When practiced with presence and focus, inversions can super charge the brain, eliminating fatigue and nervous exhaustion and bringing a sense of stillness and peace. Including inversions as part of an evening yoga practice helps to calm the mind, reducing stress and promote restful sleep.

What are the pre-cautions for inversions?

  • You shouldn’t practice inversions during menstruation (aka the bleeding days of your cycle). This is because it disrupts the natural downwards flow of energy or “apana” in the pelvis and lower abdomen which promotes elimination of blood from the body. Practicing inversions during your period can cause backflow of blood into the uterus which can increase the risk of endometriosis. This is questioned by modern science but in my opinion it is safer to go with the natural flow of your body and not take the risk.
  • Do not practice inversions such as headstand or shoulderstand if you have neck injuries or eye/sinus issues such as a detached retina or ear infection as you are putting excess strain on these areas. You should always listen to your body and if you want to include inversions in your practice you can choose alternatives such as downward facing dog, bridge pose or legs up the wall (I always recommend this one for any severe condition) which still bring most of the benefits of the more advanced postures.
  • I do not recommend inversions if you have a headache, nausea or diarrhoea. These poses can help to balance the body and act as a preventative but if you are actively suffering from any of these issues you should wait until you feel better before practicing any strenuous yoga and particularly inverted poses.
  • Finally, you should always make sure you warm up the body properly and practice preparation poses to allow the body to open up before moving into more advanced postures. Always listen to your body, be kind and work within your limits, challenging your body to improve over time but without forcing and risking injury.

When is the best time in the cycle to practice inversions? Inversions can be practiced any time during the menstrual cycle except during your period. For maximum benefits, your yoga practice in the few days after you finish bleeding should be focused on inverted postures. This will stabilise and rebalance your bodily systems and help the nervous system recover from menstruation. It will boost circulation around your reproductive organs, support relaxation of your womb after it has been working hard, contracting to release blood during your period. Inverting the body during this time will also stimulate the pituitary gland which controls the release of FSH (the hormone responsible for maturing eggs in your ovaries) and after several consecutive cycles can help to regularise your cycle and support fertility. You can then include inversions as part of a balanced yoga practice throughout the month to improve strength and flexibility in the body and mind.

Example sequence including inversions (for intermediate students)

Opening sequence: Warming up and awakening the body

  • Extended child’s pose (30 seconds)
  • Cat cow tilts (explore for 1 minute)
  • Downward facing dog (30-60 seconds)
  • Standing forward fold (1-2 minutes)

Main sequence: Supporting menstrual rhythm

  • Supported headstand using wall (1-5 minutes)
  • Supported headstand – Wide legs variation (10-20 seconds)
  • Supported headstand – Butterfly legs variation (10-20 seconds)
  • Extended child’s pose (30 seconds)

Finishing sequence: Recover and calm the mind

  • Bridge pose with arm variations (1-2 minutes)
  • Plough pose (1-3 minutes)
  • Supported shoulderstand (1-3 minutes)
  • Legs up the wall and wide leg variation (5 minutes)
  • Reclining butterfly pose (1-5 minutes)

In the video below I summarise the information on inversions and the menstrual cycle and demonstrate the sequence above. Let me know if you try out any of these postures or if you are already including inversions in your yoga practice and noticing the benefits. If you are interested in 1-2-1 or group yoga sessions (currently online only) you can send me a message through the “Work with Me” tab at the top of this page ♥️

References
The Women’s Yoga Book by Bobby Clennell (2011)
Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness by Eric Schiffmann (1996)
Yoga Sequencing: Designing Transformative Yoga Classes by Mark Stephens (2012)

Yoga and the menstrual cycle / Yoga for women

Today I decided to post my first video on Youtube – eek! I really wanted to share how yoga can benefit women and how we can modify our practice to align with our hormonal cycles. I’m not very confident with speaking in front of a camera but I’m sure that will improve with time and I hope you enjoy the video anyway. I have summarised the main points underneath the video too for anyone who wants the short version.

There are so many benefits of yoga on a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level. For example yoga:

  • Increases strength and flexibility of muscles and joints
  • Strengthens bones to reduce risk of osteoporosis
  • Reduces tension from the physical, mental and emotional bodies
  • Calms the nervous system and the mind
  • Boosts mood and reduces anxiety and depression
  • Helps to connect with something larger than yourself through meditation

Practicing specific yoga asana and pranayama throughout the different phases of the menstrual cycle can also help women specifically by:

  • Regulating cycles or bringing back a missing cycle
  • Normalising menstrual blood flow
  • Reducing pain in the pelvis, lower back and thighs during menstruation
  • Creating emotional and mental stability especially during the pre-menstrual phase
  • Reconnecting with feminine nature and yin energy
  • Boosting creative and sexual energies

There are 4 main phases of the hormonal cycle to be aware of which can be referred to as the “inner seasons”.

Menstruation (inner winter) – A time to rest and recharge. Focus on gentle yin and restorative postures and meditation rather than intense standing poses or dynamic sequences. Use props to support the body and conserve energy. Avoid standing backbends and inversions (where the hips are raised higher than the head) as well as intense pranayama. Focus on abdominal or yogic breathing instead

Follicular (inner spring) – Time to rebalance the body. Bring in some inversions in the days following your period. Pay attention to your energy levels and start to increase the intensity of your practice as you move through this phase. Include flowing vinyasa sequences if you have this in your practice and enjoy moving your body more dynamically.

Ovulation (inner summer) – Focus on building strength in the body. Now is the time to experiment with more challenges asana to find your edge and increase fitness and flexibility. Use pranayama breathing exercises to calm down the nervous system if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or frazzled by this high intensity phases.

Pre-menstrual (inner autumn) – Time to slow down again. Notice when your body sends the signal that it needs more rest and adjust your practice accordingly. Towards the end of this phase start to shift the balance of your practice towards more seated and lying postures, in particular the few days before you start your period. Make sure to reconnect with your meditation and pranayama practice if you have been distracted during the busier first half of the cycle

Masculine vs. feminine approach to yoga

Yoga means something different to everyone. There are so many lineages, teaching styles and practices to choose from that one person can have a completely different experience to the next. Now there is the debate about “modern yoga” and whether it fully reflects the depths of the ancient yoga teachings but this isn’t what I want to talk about today. I want to open up a conversation about masculine and feminine approaches to yoga. Credit to Uma Dinsmore-Tuli, author of Yoni Shakti, for sparking my thinking about this topic.

The history of yoga in the East began in a very masculine way. Only priests known as Brahmans were allowed to teach yoga and this was only to males from higher caste families. It was only later that the Upanishads enabled lower classes and women to access the teachings of yoga. Nowadays, at least in Western yoga, it is a completely different story with the majority of yoga teachers and practitioners being women. I know from my own experience, the classes I have attended have been 90% female and the two yoga teacher trainings I have been a part of have been all women expect 1 token male in each (shout out to Mark and Phil if you’re reading).

Masculine approach to yoga

Why does yoga mostly attract us women? In my opinion yoga is the perfect antedote to the very masculine world we live in today. Often we have to “man up” and push ourselves to make it in the male dominated society that we live in. Most women work these days and the typical jobs where we are expected to show up and perform at our best each and every day is totally against the cyclical nature of our beings. But a yoga practice can be that space in our lives where we can totally let go of the pressures of life and be ourselves. Practicing yoga regularly is great for our physical health and vitality but also helps to meet our mental, emotional and spiritual needs. Yoga classes can also provide that feeling of community and support that is so important to our wellbeing.

But even with this new wave of women in yoga there are still masculine undertones in certain types of practice. Traditionally, yoga schools are hierarchical in structure with gurus acquiring followings of students who dedicated themselves to moving along the yogic path. Examples that are common today in the West are Iyengar, Bikram and Ashtanga yoga, both highly demanding physical practices although in different ways. Why is this a masculine approach? Well often these practices are very rigid. They teach a specific practice and often other forms of yoga are disregarded as “not real yoga”. The practice is goal orientated, trying to achieve a specific posture or state of mind. Ashtanga and Bikram yoga in particular also follow a fixed sequence of postures making the practice more repetitive and less intuitive.

In terms of yogasana there are “perfect postures” with the thought being that every body can get there in the end with enough dedication and persistence. This can be seen in the meticulous way that Iyengar teaches alignment in poses with props and similarly Ashtanga yoga is a very strict practice where the same sequence of poses is practiced each time, working towards more advanced postures. Now I am not criticising either of these yoga practices. They have huge benefits, enabling the practitioner to open up physically, emotionally, energetically, mentally and spiritually. However, the strict nature of these practices leaves little room for individuality and listening to the body. The practices are designed by men, for men and therefore do not take into account the cyclical nature of the female body.

So what  does a feminine approach to yoga look like? There are many types of yoga available today which specifically incorporate the softer, graceful, intuitive aspects of feminine energy including Yin yoga and Shakti yoga. But the key point is encouraging students to use their practice to become aware of the rhythm and cycles of their bodies. Instead of forcing the same practice, allowing some space for the body to speak about what it needs. This could look like adapting the practice based on where she is in her menstrual cycle or in the cycle of life, whether it be motherhood, pregnancy or menopause. This could still include yoga practice based on traditional teachings but also incorporating less conventional practice to compliment this.

When it comes to asana practice, feminine yoga also opens up to enable variations on the “traditional” postures which better suit the body. Whether this is bringing softer, more graceful energy into the poses rather than an angular, straight lines or modifying poses to allow for our curvier female bodies that have bellies and breasts to consider. Pranayama and meditation practice can also be adapted to match the different energetic and emotional states women experience with the tides of hormones in their bodies. Particularly around menstruation, women can access levels of spiritual connection almost effortlessly when practicing menstrual cycle awareness throughout their cycle.

The majority of the yoga teachers I have learnt from have been women, and conversely to India it is true that the vast majority of yoga teachers in the West are female, however I have had a couple of male teachers too. I respect and admire both but there was definitely a different energy about the practice. I love to feel that nurturing, motherly energy when I am in a yoga class so that I feel safe to fully let go and feel deeply during the practice. The classes I have been to with male teachers have felt more structured and masculine energy compared to the more flowing feminine energy. Of course that’s not to say all male yogis teach this way, it’s just been my experience so far.

Right now I try to take aspects from each and change up my practice throughout the month, both in classes and at home, to suit where I am at in my cycle. I really want to start a teaching a yoga class where I can incorporate this cyclical aspect to the practice and help women connect with their bodies and cycles through their yoga practice. Developing this idea is my intention for this month, I’m not sure yet how it will look but I’m planting the seed that will hopefully grow into a beautiful creation I can share with other women over the next weeks. Its the new moon today and I am also embarking on a new chapter of life, moving to a new country so it’s the perfect time.

If you’re interested in this you can follow my blog here or find me on Facebook @moonlifeyoga where I’ll post once I set up the yoga sessions (online only for now).

My experience with insomnia and fatigue

Fatigue is such an awkward topic to discuss. It’s one of those conditions that people who haven’t experienced just don’t understand. It isn’t visible so unless you go around complaining about it all of the time, people assume you are fine. Or if you do try to explain to others they think it is the same as just being tired after a bad nights’ sleep. You go to the doctor and if blood tests come back normal, they tell you you’re healthy and act like you are making it up. Maybe fatigue is “all in your head” in a way as often it does have a psychological root but that doesn’t mean the physical symptoms aren’t real and often debilitating.

My experience with fatigue started 5 years ago. In my final year of university, after 4 years of too much stress, caffeine, partying and terrible eating habits, I developed gastritis. This is a painful inflammation of the stomach that would plague me all day but be even worse in the middle of the night when my stomach was fully empty. The pain would be so bad I’d wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to get back to sleep because it was like someone was stabbing me in the belly. The sensation was like the peak of the hunger pangs you get when you are really starving, except it wouldn’t come in waves it would just stay at that intensity. Horrible.

So I started getting only 4-5 hours sleep a night and from 3am I’d be awake trying anything to ease the pain and relax so I could get back to sleep: herbal teas, dry snacks, gentle yoga, guided meditations. This continued for months and at first it was manageable but after a while I started feeling like a total zombie during the day. I went to the doctor and he put me on PPI medication for my gastritis which didn’t help and actually made my fatigue worse because it affects absorption of certain nutrients so I came off it after a few months. I remember being at work during that first year after graduating and nearly falling asleep during meeting on so many occasions. Looking back I probably should have been off sick but it was my first job I was so determined to keep going and find a solution.

Over the next few years I did find things that helped and eventually managed to cure my gastritis fully. I still have a sensitive stomach so I can have a flare up if I drink too much coffee, alcohol or fried food but on the whole I don’t have symptoms. However, my sleep patterns still didn’t improve much even after the gastritis faded. I would still wake up during the early hours and not be able to get back to sleep or if I did sleep through the night I would still feel exhausted the next day. I look back at photos of myself from that time and it’s pretty emotional to remember how I felt. And I struggled to understand how people couldn’t see that I was suffering when it was written all over my face!

It’s crazy for me to think now how I kept going for years like that but I did. I barely had the energy to maintain my social life but I still managed to work, enjoy my relationship and my family. I remember going on trips or days out and enjoying them but feeling like I wasn’t fully present, like I just couldn’t fully immerse myself in the moment. I felt like I was dragging myself through every day doing things because my mind wanted to make the most out of life, even though my body just wanted to lie in bed all day. I couldn’t engage in conversations and being with people often felt draining.

Last September we moved to a new city and I think this is where I hit rock bottom with insomnia and fatigue. I started a new job and I was completing my research project for my nutrition degree alongside. I was so depleted and still couldn’t sleep. It was like my body was on alert mode all of the time. There were a couple of nights where I didn’t get any sleep at all and by the next day I would be feeling so out of it and delirious. You’d think that by the next night I would be so exhausted that my body would make up for it but I’d still have that “wired but tired” feeling. I would pass out at 9pm only to wake up again at 2am. I had so many mini break downs and emotional outbursts. The weekend would come and I would be crying all of Saturday morning. I felt like a 2 year old not able to control my emotions at all.

Fast forward to 2020, this is where the real healing began. I actually think being in lockdown helped a lot as working from home full time meant I could take breaks and naps during the day when I needed to. I also managed to cut out coffee completely for long periods which I had never been able to do before. I was definitely leaning on it as a crutch, especially when I needed to show up for something and wanted to do my best. But being stuck at home with no schedule no social obligations was a blessing in disguise for the first few months. Finally I realised that it was ok to be tired and that instead of fighting my body I would just have to listen to what it was telling me.

I ate really well, building up some nutrient stores that had been depleted through lack of sleep and stress. I went for walks in nature every day and really got back into my yoga practice. I focused again on menstrual cycle awareness and living in tune with my cycle as best as I could. I spent alot of time reading, reflecting and journalling, trying to weed out some of the old mental and emotional patterns which were causing me stress and keeping me stuck. And finally I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I started to get 6-8 hours sleep most nights (even though I was still waking up at 5am it was a big improvement!). I had days were I felt energised and had waves of random happiness that I hadn’t experienced for a long time. I felt my silliness and playful start to come back which I didn’t even know was missing.

Even though I have come so far I still feel like I am on a healing path with this. I don’t feel like my energy levels are as high as they could be and I am still sensitive to stress. But I have learned through all of this how to manage it and to look after myself when I have low days. And I trust that things are only going to continue to improve. Recently I have been really busy at work and preparing to move house and I have felt the fatigue coming on again in the last few days. Actually that is what motivated me to write this, to remind myself how far I have come and that overall things are getting better! I have the energy to pursue my passion for writing again and to help others through my nutrition and health coaching which I’d only dreamed of doing a year ago.

Over to you…

I hope that by sharing my story I can give hope to anyone who is suffering with fatigue for any reason that things can get better! I am so grateful for all of the people who supported me in my life during this time (especially my parents, my nan and my boyfriend) and I want to do what I can to help others in a similar situation. Please leave a comment if you feel like sharing your experience or can relate to any of my story. I think one of the hardest things about insomnia and fatigue is the deep loneliness that you experience when you feel like everyone around you is free whilst you remain trapped in this cage. But that is the beauty of online spaces, you might not know people in “real life” going through similar things but you can find others to relate to and connect with from all over the world which is amazing 🙂

  • Like this post and follow my blog for more posts on dealing with fatigue and how to recover and regain your health and life
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

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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.