Bend over backwards to fit yoga into your life

Love that yoga feeling (photo by
Love that yoga feeling (photo by

You have three hours a week to exercise. If you want maximum bang for your buck the chances are yoga would not be your first choice. I know that I’m guilty of this mindset, despite having practiced yoga on and off for all of my adult life.

However having recently been fortunate enough to spend a week at fitness retreat The Body Holiday, I have been reminded about the virtues and power of yoga, and of the fact that it should have a place in every fitness schedule.

Who should do yoga?

Although yoga can be gentle enough that those who are new to exercise should be able to hold their own in a class, it shouldn’t be underestimated. Give a crow or headstand a go and you’ll see why. It is great for newbie exercisers but it is equally, if not more, beneficial to those who regularly partake in taxing workouts.

Cardiff-based yoga teacher Cathryn Scott agrees, “Yoga can be so beneficial for people who are already committed to practicing another sport or fitness discipline. I often get hard-core exercisers coming to my classes, as well as cyclists, surfers, rugby players, people who do MMA [mixed martial arts] and so on, and they have all noticed a big difference in their primary discipline since taking up yoga.”

Yoga is great wherever you do it (image by
Yoga is great wherever you do it (image by

Why should I do yoga?

If you don’t regularly exercise it’s a great starting point, because it doesn’t require high levels of cardiovascular fitness or strength in order for you to reap the benefits. If you are already blessed with these skills however, they will definitely payoff in a yoga session, and can also be improved.

Three of the biggest benefits to be gained from yoga, for olympic athletes and newbie yogis alike, are flexibility, concentration and improved breath control.

Better flexibility can lead to improvements in an athlete’s main discipline. Cathryn Scott agrees, “Often these people are physically fit and very strong – but they lack flexibility. Becoming more flexible can aid their strength and help them improve on techniques they have been struggling with or take them to a new level.”

Equally, improved breath control and concentration has pay-offs that carry over into many aspects of life, including other sports. “A lot of people notice their concentration improves through yoga, which can help their focus in their prime discipline,” says Scott. “The breathing techniques we learn in yoga can also help with other disciplines. Runners and cyclists, for example, often find good breath control and an increased lung capacity can help their stamina,” she continues.

How can I fit it in, my life’s busy enough as it is?

You struggle to make it to the gym three times a week though. How are you supposed to make it to a yoga class as well?

The beauty is, you don’t have to. There are brilliant yoga apps and YouTube channels out there, offering yoga classes aimed at particular disciplines, fitness levels, specific aches and pains or particular mental improvements.

My favourite is Yogamazing, a podcast which I’ve been using regularly since the hubster and I went travelling seven years ago. Each of instructor Chaz Rough’s episodes is put together in response to a request that he has been sent.

Rough is not a condescending yogi but a regular guy, who tells you to, “Leave your ego at the door, and to go when you can go.” His sessions are rarely longer than 30 mins meaning it is easy to fit one in before or after work, during your lunch break or while your baby naps or children watch CBeebies (often mine end up joining me when I do this.) Best of all, it’s totally free.

Of course once you’ve been doing yoga a while you will have a selection of favourite poses up your sleeve, which you know your body and mind respond well to. You can do these whenever you like, and actually it’s hard to think of a better way to end a workout than with a few yoga poses, especially if coupled with some controlled breathing exercises and relaxation. In fact I often throw a few poses into cool-downs with clients and class participants.

Yoga teacher Scott agrees to the benefit of yoga relaxation post workout as well, “The relaxation techniques yoga teaches helps the body’s autonomic nervous system switch off, taking us out of that fight or flight mode that the adrenalin from exercise can often leave us in.”

So roll out a mat, relax your mind and give yoga a few moments of your time. You’ll be glad you did.

Cathryn Scott has been teaching yoga for seven years and runs the Yoga Sundays Cardiff classes. Find out more about her and her classes on Facebook.


Pack your bags, jet set, go!

beach run
Discover beautiful new places (pic by

Summer holiday season is well and truly underway, thank goodness as I have had to get my gillet back out today it’s so cold.

Holidays are no doubt good for the soul but sometimes the body doesn’t fair too well. A week or two of indulgence coupled with a exercise regime that generally consists of a quick dip to cool down, and a wander to a restaurant normally help to undo months of hard work we’ve been doing leading up to the dreaded “B-Day” (Bikini Day).

Sure holidays are there to be enjoyed, and I’m not for a second suggesting otherwise. However there are little tweaks you can make that mean you come back feeling revitalised and energised, rather than guilty and disheartened that all your hard work so quickly became undone.

Here are a few tips for keeping fit and healthy while away, without reducing your enjoyment:

  • Pack your trainers. Even if you’re not a regular runner a little plod in a new place is much more fun than pacing around familiar territory. It’s also a really good way to explore the place you’re visiting, and if you go straight after waking up you will feel like you have it to yourself.
  • Suspension training
    Suspension training is fun and versatile (pic by

    Buy a suspension training kit. There are loads available at various prices and they’re really versatile. Strap them up to a tree, door frame etc and you have a multitude of exercises on offer, at any intensity you choose.

  • Swim. Choose the hotel pool or sea and challenge yourself to a certain distance or time, increasing it gradually throughout the holiday.
  • Plank. No equipment needed. Just hold it for as long as you can.
  • Try something new. Check out locally available activities such as paddle boarding, diving, climbing, mountain biking and try something new. You’ll be so busy concentrating and enjoying yourself that it won’t feel like exercise. You may even find you make new friends or find a new hobby.
  • Allow yourself treats but also try to be healthy. A 80/20 rule is good to follow (80 per cent healthy, 20 per cent treats that is, not the other way round). If you’re staying in a hotel this can be hard, especially if you’re all-inclusive but allowing yourself treats you really love you should find it easier to make healthier choices the rest of the time.
  • Think drink. Drink loads of water, especially in intense heat. Choose clear cocktails that aren’t packed full of cream, or juice and when drinking wine alternate with water.
  • Limit the ice-cream. Ice lollies carry fewer calories but better still is iced water, served with a twist of lemon, lime or orange to make it more refreshing.

Most importantly have a good time. Life is hectic most of the time so chilling out and enjoying yourself with your nearest and dearest does your soul and cortisol (stress) levels the world of good.

If you’re going away and would like me to put together a plan to do while you’re away then get in touch.

‘Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us’ by Michael Moss

Salt, Sugar, Fat bookThis is something of a book review but also a reiteration of something I read and talk about a lot. That is the simple fact we as individuals are not as responsible for our own waistlines as we might think. The food manufacturers have got a great deal to answer for, as it is due to their addictive products, savvy marketing and the scientifically planned food shops that are actually largely to blame.

The people behind all the fattening and sugary products out there know full well that human beings are hard-wired to seek out the most delicious and fattening foods available. This harkens back to our caveman days when sweet foods meant the occasional berry bush you may stumble on, and fattening meant the fat of the animals you had hunted down with your bare hands. Of course food gathering is very different these days but our biology hasn’t changed. So the tastes and macronutrients (fat, protein and carbs) we were only supposed to consume sparingly, can be consumed as much as we like, and we do. As the book says, “They’ve discovered that the brain lights up for sugar the same way it does for cocaine, and this knowledge is useful, not only in formulating foods.”

And the people behind the products know this, as pointed out in the book with a quote from the former CEO of General Mills, the company behind Cherrios, Lucky Charms and the Betty Crocker products: “Don’t talk to me about nutrition,” he said, taking on the voice of a typical consumer. “Talk to me about taste, and if this stuff tastes better, don’t run around trying to sell stuff that doesn’t taste good.”

Some of the top food execs have had more of a conscience than others and tried to make changes to the nutritional profile of their companies’ products, but generally these execs have not lasted long when they have tried out this approach. Their companies are there to make money after all, and therefore the more people like the products the more they will buy, and the more money they’ll make. Duh!

The book talks about the various diet trends we go through, and how the food manufacturers cash in on this. All those “low fat” or “sugar free” products attract people to their products who would usually avoid them. But the loss of fat or sugar comes at a dietary cost. In order to make up for the removed element, a long list of additives are usually added to make up for the loss in flavour. As I’ve said in previous posts this makes for foods that our body is not designed to process, which leads to all manner of problems for the human body. It is very telling to me that the book points out that a great many of the people who work for the big companies avoid all processed foods.

I could go off on one because this is a topic that really riles me, but if you are in anyway interested then I urge you to read the book. The reason that I wanted to blog about it is because I want people to realise that the products that cause us to pile on the pounds have been painstakingly created so that you can’t resist buying and eating them, in order that you make the companies behind them lots of money.

We all beat ourselves up when we indulge and blame our lack of willpower but the reality is that in this day and age it is extremely hard to rise above all the salt, sugar and fat that is out there to tempt us. Once you know what the food manufacturers are up to however, you can see through their marketing strategies and consequently get much better at resisting their products. And when you do and realise how much you feel much better for it and it is strangely liberating.

Buy ‘Salt, Sugar, Far: How the Food Giants Hooked Us’ on Amazon.

What are chia and quinoa?

If you even so much as flicked through a health magazine or book in the last few years then no doubt you’ve seen quinoa and chia seeds mentioned. The chances are you know you should be eating them but aren’t sure what they are and exactly what benefits they offer. I thought it was time I offered some answers as lots of people ask me these questions a lot.

Photo by Larry Jacobson (
Photo by Larry Jacobson (

Chia seeds

Originating from Mexico and Guatemala chia seeds are tiny but packed with nutrients meaning that you get lots of benefits without having to eat loads of calories.

28 grams of chia seeds contains:

  • 11 grams of fibre
  • 4 grams of protein – this relatively high protein content is what helps them suppress appetite and therefore help those who are trying to reduce their weight
  • Nine grams of fat, including five of the important Omega-3 variety
  • A high quantity of calcium (great for those who don’t eat dairy), magnesium, zinc and some B vitamins
  • Lots of antioxidants
  • They absorb up to 12 times their own weight in liquid so once ingested absorb make you feel more full. This property also means they can be turned into puddings which vaguely resemble rice pudding without much bother.

The other great thing about chia seeds is that they are really easy to add to your diet as they are flavourless so can be added to a wide variety of foods including:

  • Fruit and yoghurt
  • Smoothies
  • Breakfast cereal
  • Baked goods
  • Curries
  • Salads
  • Puddings

And those are just a few ideas to get you started.


Photo by Jennifer (
Photo by Jennifer (

Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) heralds from South America and in technical terms is a pseudograin. What this means is that it can be used in place of things like couscous and rice and offers very different nutritional benefits:

  • Gluten-free so is a great alternative for coeliacs or others wishing to avoid gluten
  • High in protein so great for vegetarians and vegans
  • High in some B vitamins
  • High in minerals such as iron and zinc
  • Reasonable offering of calcium so good source for those who can’t have dairy

You cook quinoa in the same way as rice, boiling for 10-12 minutes. Here are a few ideas of how you could eat it:

  • In place of rice when eating curry
  • As a substitute for couscous
  • Cold sprinkled over salad
  • You can buy quinoa flakes to which you add a little water and then can be mixed in with yoghurt and fruit for breakfast (I have this every morning actually)
  • Can be served with meat and fish
  • Can be used in baking

So I hope that answers a few questions. If you have any other health, fitness or nutrition questions that you’d like me to answer please email me on

Don’t let the scales get you down
“I don’t believe it”

Now before I start let me say that I know only too well how disheartening it can be to step on a set of scales after a day/week/month/lifetime of starving yourself and sweating your socks off at the gym to find that the arrow hasn’t gone down at all. I also know how it can feel even worse finding that after all that effort the blummin’ thing has even had the nerve to creep up slightly.

If you too have been in this position I have a little challenge for you: loose the scales. Hide them in a cupboard, pack them off to a remote island somewhere or take them to the tip. They are dragging you down.

The thing is, muscle weighs more than fat. So stepping on the scales does not reflect the changes your body is undergoing. It is of course extremely normal to want some proof that all your efforts are paying off. But instead of jumping on the scales though take measurements of your waist, hips and chest periodically. Alternatively get a personal trainer or fitness instructor to do a body fat test on you.

There is no secret to having a healthy body but here are a few hints:

  • Exercise and eat nutritious food and you will have a strong and healthy body and mind.
  • Be honest with yourself about whether you have the balance right. Deep down you probably know whether you do or not.
  • Cut back on sugar, salt, alcohol, excess fat and smoking.
  • Some fats are good and vital for your body to function so don’t eliminate them all. Not all fats are created equal.
  • “Low fat” and “reduced fat” foods are pumped full of chemicals your body isn’t designed to process. Swap them for clean foods in their purest form, organic if possible.
  • Vow to never go on a fad diet again. They are temporary solutions that generally see you depriving your body of a vital macronutrient (fat, carbs and protein) that your body needs in order to function properly. You may loose a little weight but you can pretty much guarantee that you’ll put it back on, with a little extra, once you go back to your old eating habits.
  • Give up cereal. Almost all contain some sugar and most low GI so set your body off into a serious of sugar spikes at the start of the day. The box it comes in is probably more nutritious. Swap it for the toast with nut butter, porridge, quinoa flakes or eggs.
  • Drop the fizzy drinks. There is startling evidence that shows a direct correlation between soft drink correlation and a rise in obesity and type II diabetes. The calories in them not only slip into your body undetected due to their liquid form, but they also trick your body into thinking it needs more food than it does. There’s a reason cinemas and restaurants serve such gigantic servings of the stuff.

Loosing the obsession over the scales will free your mind to be honest with itself, and will allow you to focus more on whether you truly feel better for the changes you are making. The chances are when you find what it is that really revitalises you, a stronger and healthier body will follow.