5 Things I Have Learned About Yoga

This month I have started practising yoga every day, and sometimes more than once a day! I am doing Yoga with Adriene’s Revolution – 31 Days of Yoga programme and I am also learning a lot about yoga thanks to Cat Meffan’s #Yoganuary videos. I first started yoga about 2 years ago, but last year I got a bit distracted with fitness and tennis and I let my practice slip. I am going to try and be more disciplined this year, as I know that practising yoga will be important for my tennis progress. So here are 5 things I have learned about yoga which I will use as a reminder to encourage myself to stay committed, and cultivate Tapas (which translates as ‘discipline, austerity, burning enthusiasm, fire/heat’ as Adriene taught us on Day 23).

1. You don’t have to go to a yoga class

Living in Italy, I didn’t really want to go to a yoga class as I wanted to practice in English (I do speak fluent Italian, but I just felt that I would connect better with yoga if it was in my mother tongue). I first started after I downloaded an app on my iPad called Yoga Studio. Although it was very easy to follow, with a voice over explaining the postures (asanas) shown on the screen, and I certainly learned a lot, I did feel it was a bit dry and not very personal. I then discovered the Yoga with Adriene YouTube videos. Adriene teaches us (in her own personal and unconventional style) that we don’t have to be ‘yoga robots’, but we can introduce movement into the postures, and ultimately ‘find what feels good’ to each of us. There are hundreds of other great yoga videos on YouTube, and you can find videos of yoga for bedtime, yoga for runners, yoga for healing, yoga for weight loss, and even yoga for tennis players (more on that at the end of this post).

2. Stretching is much less boring when it is part of a yoga flow

We all know how important it is to stretch to avoid injury (especially for older tennis players like myself), but it can be a bit of a chore to work through a set of stretches every day. When these are part of a yoga flow, it can make them a bit more challenging and I find this keeps my mind active and I am more likely to return to the mat.

3. Yoga teaches you how to breath properly

A few years ago I was stressed at work and I held a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders. Apparently I also developed a tick that I wasn’t even aware I had – I found that very disturbing! I’ve been told that I am much better now, and I think this is both due to my increased physical activity and improved breathing. Yoga teaches you to focus on diaphragmatic breathing so that you no longer take shallow breaths but fill your belly with elongated inhalations and exhalations.

4. It requires a lot of strength and flexibility, but also helps you to develop it

I still remember the amount my body shook those first few times I tried yoga and I was shocked by how difficult I found it to hold a simple warrior pose like the one at the top of this post. Even though I am a lot stronger this year than I used to be, I am still noticing improvements in my strength from my daily practice. Yesterday, during one of our fitness trainings, I discovered that I was able to hold a side plank with my leg raised for much longer than my partner. I haven’t focused enough on my flexibility over the past year, however, and so I am excited to see the improvements I will make this year from consistent practice. You shouldn’t be worried about not being strong or flexible enough for yoga, as most of the more difficult asanas can be adapted for beginners.

5. By committing to consistent practice, it forces you to carve a space in your life to focus on your well-being

I have a much more relaxed life nowadays and I find it easy to introduce daily yoga into my routine, but I wish I had known all of the above 5 years ago when I was working 7 days a week and travelling around the world. It is when we are experiencing the most stressful periods of our lives when we need yoga the most, and so my advice to anyone who thinks they don’t have time for yoga is to put it in your agenda and give it the same importance you would to work meetings or emails. Even just 15-30 minutes a day before going to bed with some ‘yoga for bedtime’ videos will allow you to quietly meditate, switch off, relax, and turn your thoughts inwards.

If I still haven’t convinced you to practice yoga regularly, but you are interested in stretching and preparing your body for playing tennis, then take a look at this yoga for tennis practice YouTube video by Yoga with Olga. I like this video because Olga wears a tennis skirt (way to go Olga!) and you don’t need a mat (as they are all standing exercises) and so you can do the routine (or parts of it) on the court before a match. I’ll be on the lookout for more YouTube yoga flows that are good for tennis players, and I’ll keep you updated in future posts.

My Dry January Progress | Week 3

Much like last week’s progress post, this isn’t really going to be about alcohol, as I have found it fairly easy to avoid alcohol so far this Dry January. I think this might be because I know that there is an end to this ‘alcohol ban’? The thing is, I don’t want to go back to drinking too much alcohol when January is over. I keep wondering if I should just continue to avoid alcohol, or whether I will be able to introduce alcohol back into my life in a balanced way.

As I mentioned last week, I want to be able to drink the odd alcoholic drink when I feel like it, without getting back into the bad habit of drinking half a bottle of wine each night. In the same way, I want to be able to eat a pizza or a chocolate brownie when I feel the need, but I don’t want to mindlessly eat foods that don’t make me feel good. I tend to move from one extreme to another: either being strict on myself or letting myself eat and drink whatever I want. In preparation for introducing alcohol back into my life in a more mindful way, I spent this week trying to find a balance between eating wholesome food, but also allowing myself what I felt I needed or wanted to eat.

If you are from the UK you probably know that ‘Clean Eating’ has been a hot topic this week thanks to the BBC Horizon documentary Clean Eating – The Dirty Truth. Unfortunately, being in Italy, I wasn’t able to watch it, but I have followed various discussions about it on social media. Most people seem to agree with the sentiments I included in my post from last week – the best approach to living a healthy life is to find balance, and any diet that encourages you to ban a food group, or uses terms such as ‘cheat foods’, is not good for your mental health (and possibly even your physical health) and is unlikely to be sustainable in the long term.

So this week I ate chocolate protein bars, had more bread and a pizza on Friday night, but I spent the majority of the time still making all of my meals and introducing different types of green vegetables, lean proteins, oats, nuts, seeds, etc. I felt I had more energy on the days I played tennis or trained, but I continued to feel less bloated than usual. The only thing that didn’t really work for my body was the pizza, and I woke up during the night feeling thirsty with an acidy stomach. Now, that’s not going to stop me eating pizza, but I think I will wait a while before I have another one. And to think I used to often eat more than one pizza a week! This process is all about listening to my body and finding out what makes me feel good (Find What Feels Good!), but that also fulfils the need I have to sometimes indulge without feeling guilty.

Next week I am going to London and then back home to visit my mum for a few days. This will be a good way to finish off Dry January as I usually drink (and eat) a lot more when I’m in England, so I know it will be more of a test than the past two weeks have been.

My Dry January Progress | Week 2

So it turns out I used to spend a lot more time thinking about drinking less alcohol than I do now about drinking more – who’d have thought?! Hence this was a surprisingly easy week in terms of my Dry January. Being at home every evening without chilled white wine in the fridge certainly helped, and the only fairly challenging day was Tuesday when I flew to Rome for a meeting. Usually I would enjoy a glass of Prosecco or Aperol Spritz in the lounge on the way home, but I managed to resist the urge and got myself a Crodino instead (not sure if this is only available in Italy but if not, I recommend it to anyone looking for a bitter non-alcoholic aperitif).

I suppose the ease with which I have been avoiding alcohol is the reason I decided to further test myself with my diet this week. Yes, I spent this week trying to eat ‘clean’ (though I really don’t like that expression as I wouldn’t say my diet was ‘dirty’ before – I would prefer to call it ‘wholesome’). So my wholesome diet focused on eating home-cooked food and home-made snacks – you can see the type of things I was eating here. This also wasn’t so difficult and I faced it in the same way as giving up alcohol – I had made the decision to make a change and I somehow clicked a switch in my mind to change my behaviour.

After eating more proteins, less sugar and refined carbs, only home-made snacks, and drinking lots of water and no alcohol this week, I ended up losing 1.5 kilos in weight and an inch around my waist. I am sure this was mainly water weight, as I tend to store a lot of water when I eat carbohydrates (and probably also when I drink alcohol), but it has made me feel so much better. I no longer finish the day looking 5 months pregnant so my body must like something about this diet!

However, whilst I will keep up the alcohol ban for the rest of the month, I think I will start to modify what I am eating as I didn’t feel I had enough energy during my tennis and HIIT sessions this week. I need to experiment to understand what I can eat to give myself enough energy, but that won’t leave me too bloated. I also don’t want to get too obsessive about what I’m eating as I did when using MyFitnessPal and I want this exploration to be more about what I can do with my body rather than what it looks like.

Ultimately I want to turn that on/off switch in my mind into a dimmer switch, where I can still allow myself the odd glass of wine, pizza or ice-cream when I feel like it, whilst still paying attention to the wholesomeness of what I eat and drink the majority of the time. It’s all about getting that balance right in my body, much like the Tree Pose (Vrksasana) I have been practising this week during my daily yoga with Adriene. So that’s my challenge for the next week – begin to find the right balance in my diet so that at the end of the month I can enjoy a glass of wine without drinking the whole bottle! Come back next week to find out how I get on.

My Dry January Progress | Week 1

One of my goals for 2017 is to drink less alcohol. For the past few months my partner and I have been enjoying a bottle of Prosecco or white wine between us almost every night and it has become a habit we are both keen to break. So I have decided to attempt Dry January, and possibly even February, March, April…but we’ll see about that once I get through January! I really hope that by sharing this experience on my blog it will help me stick to my goal.

The first day was very easy, given that I exaggerated on New Year’s Eve and my body felt so weak the next day. Whenever I have a few glasses too many my sleep is very disturbed, and in the morning my legs are tired and throb slightly and I have all the usual dehydration symptoms (despite always trying to drink lots of water with my wine). So on New Year’s Day my partner and I had some simple Portuguese comfort food (bacalhau mashed together with boiled potatoes and a side dish of broccoli) and lots and lots of water.

On the 2nd January we travelled to Porto in Portugal to visit my partner’s family, and this meant that already on the second day I found myself having to turn down the local wine his parents were keen for me to try. This was difficult as I didn’t want to offend them, and I almost gave in out of politeness, but I still did not feel like having any wine and so, with the support of my partner who made the sacrifice to drink for both of us (!), I managed to stick to sparkling water.

On day 4 my partner’s mum was again very keen for me to try the local Port wine. I was still not interested in drinking alcohol, as I was enjoying sleeping well and waking up feeling refreshed (even though I was waking up a bit earlier than usual needing to go to loo with all the water I was drinking!). But again, I felt awkward refusing to try the wine, and in the end I took a few sips to be courteous (and because I thought it might help with a sore throat that I was developing). Although this was strictly a failure of my Dry January, it didn’t feel like one, as I hadn’t actually given in to a craving to drink and I didn’t really enjoy it. In some ways it strengthened my desire to not drink alcohol and to not have to apologise or feel uncomfortable for not drinking.

On day 5 I started to develop a headache which I was not expecting as I typically only get them after drinking alcohol. Perhaps it was due to my body detoxing, or it could just have been my brain complaining after spending many days trying to understand Portuguese! That evening we went to a dinner party at a friend’s house. Again, I was tempted to drink so as not to have to explain why I was not drinking, but not because I actually felt like it. I realised that on many past social occasions I was probably drinking more out of habit than real desire. I was so pleased to end the evening with a clear head and a stronger mind.

This is only the first week, and I am sure it will get more difficult as I get further into January, but at the moment I feel I am developing more strength, mindfulness, and awareness. In order to better connect my body and mind during this month, I have also spent every day this week practising Yoga With Adriene (I am following her latest Revolution program – 31 days of Yoga), and I even started meditating thanks to the guidance given in one of Cat Meffan’s Yoganuary YouTube videos. I’m hoping that all of this will also have a positive impact on my tennis this year.

I’m on my way back home now, and back to work, so next week will test my ability to eliminate drinking from my everyday routine. Also, after a week in Portugal (the home of pastry!), I am looking forward to cleaning up my diet and so I will be following the 7-day plan I saw in one of Carly Rowena’s YouTube videos.

Please do come back next week to find out how I get on during my second week without alcohol (but instead with lots of yoga, meditation and a healthier diet). And if anyone reading this is also attempting Dry January, let me know how you are getting on in the comments below.

Run Alone, Work Out Together

I have come to realise that for the sake of maintaining peace in my relationship, I need to run by myself. My partner has been so supportive since I have started getting fit, and at the beginning I would ask him to come running with me. However, I could never quite cope with his words of encouragement, with the suggestion that I was perhaps slowing down a little and should pick up the pace, when in fact I felt that I was already giving everything I had. I thought I was pushing myself more than enough when running, but it turned out that according to his standards I really wasn’t! On more than one occasion we would finish the last couple of kilometres in a moody silence, each vowing never to go running with the other again.

But I am happy to say that we feel the complete opposite about working out together. We do lots of training sessions to stay fit for tennis, to improve our core, arm and leg muscles, as well as our explosiveness and footwork on the tennis court. I find it reassuring that he is there by my side, going through the same pain and difficulties (though admittedly to a much lesser extent than me!). We concentrate too much on the task at hand to talk, and I like the companionable silence (interrupted only by the odd grunt or shout of suffering on both sides).

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• 2017 Fitness Goals • After overindulging 🍕🍧🍷🍾🍪🍝 in the whole lead up to Christmas, and all the travel to see family in UK and last-minute work trips, my partner and I hadn't worked out together for some time. So we decided to get back to it on Boxing Day. This is the first time I have videoed our workouts and I'm a bit disappointed by my tiny jump 😊 it felt so much harder than it looks! Now, this was taken during the third round of a set of 6 exercises, but I still know I can do better and I want to improve that jump, so that's one of my fitness goals for 2017. What are your fitness goals for 2017? #fitness #tennisfitness #tennistraining #tennisgirl #tennisplayer #fitnessmotivation #trx #medicineball #jumpsquats #2017fitnessgoals #fitnessgoals #fitnessgoals2017 #circuittraining #hiit #workouttogether #workout #traintogether

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• Jumping into 2017 🐸 • Here is another clip from our Boxing Day training. Again, this was the very end of the third set of exercises, but I'm not trying to make excuses, and of course I wouldn't blame the fact my partner knocked down one of the little hurdles as the reason for me slowing down, of course not!.. And I would never complain that his legs are longer than mine, so it is easier for him to jump laterally to the hurdle – wouldn't even cross my mind! 😊 #fitness #tennisfitness #tennistraining #tennisgirl #tennisplayer #fitnessmotivation #jump #2017fitnessgoals #fitnessgoals2017 #littlehurdles #jumping #tennisaddict #hiit #workout #traintogether #circuittraining #personaltrainer

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I’m happy to run by myself, as I have finally started to take it easy and enjoy it much more, and it gives me time to think about life, work, blogging, tennis..and I have even managed to write a blog post in my head whilst pounding the pavement. And as we move into 2017 we will continue to work out and train tennis, which will allows us to spend quality time together whilst we encourage each other on our journey to getting fitter and playing better tennis. Hoorah!