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The Most Common Mistake with Back Bends

Yoga is wonderful but it’s easy to get carried away with wanting to achieve a particular shape or push into depth, rather than what is the best fit for the body. There are a few things people often overlook when working on back and spinal flexibility but the most common in my experience is…

Bending the back.

I’m serious.

Hear me out – when someone is trying to “bend back” this usually involves approaching the pose by tipping back and dumping the bend into the lower spine. It’s a really common thing – you’ll often see a backbend with a sharp angled pinch into the lower back. This is because the lumbar spine is REALLY flexible compared to the rest of the back, plus it already has a natural curve in the direction we are aiming for.

So what happens? People bend from here. The great majority of the bend being concentrated into a small section of the lower back – doing this alot can cause a whole host of #back problems and discomfort.

The upper back is like the opposite. It’s much less flexible and it curves the opposite way! But it’s your best friend when it comes to finding flexibility.

How so? Bringing a focus on spreading the bend into the upper back is not only going to be safer and feel better, but also benefit the body much more!

Give it a go yourself. Try something like Camel pose or a standing backbend start small then focusing on BREATHING INTO THE RIBS. Think of the spaces between each rib, fill your lungs with glorious breath and feel the front of the body and heart open up. In doing so we increase the length of the front line of the body, and the bend of the upper back. Give your butt a little brace and try to smooth out the backwards curve of the back a little.

It’s something I am still working on myself and like everything, it takes us time. But knowing a trick or two definitely helps the journey.

TLDR “Breathe into your ribs, to bend the upper back” ☺️

Empower your practice by understanding your body.

Namaste x

Going Vegan – 5 Quick and Easy Food Swaps!

These days there is so much going on to encourage individuals to take the leap and switch to a vegan diet and many people are worried because it just seems so hard. Ever heard the phrase ‘I could be vegetarian but not vegan’ or ‘but what about bacon’? Because I can tell you I’ve heard them TOO many times! The most efficient way to go vegan is to make small swaps slowly and not throw yourself straight into it as that can seem slightly overwhelming. Here are a few easy food swaps that you can make as you gradually change your diet for the better. 

First stop – milk! 

Most of us have been raised to use cow’s milk in our coffee and pour it on our cereal but the reality is that cow’s milk is called cow’s milk for a reason! Just like any other mammal, the mother produces milk after her baby has been born as they require their mothers milk in order to grow into an adult. Think about it, it’s cow’s breast milk. The same way that a human mother breast feeds her baby, that’s what cow’s milk is produced for. The same as dogs, cats, pigs etc. but we wouldn’t dream of drinking their milk would we? It’s a bit of a strange and unnatural habit that we’ve grown into, so let’s stop taking what’s not ours and try some of the many delicious plant based milks that are much healthier and taste incredible! 

The most commonly known about milks are soya milk and almond milk (which I know quite a few people who don’t like it so they get put off) but there are so many more! 

My personal favourite is hazelnut milk (tastes like Nutella and I drink it on its own it’s so good!) and oat milk for sure. One that I tend to have day-to-day is soya milk because it’s quite cheap from the supermarket and I go through it so fast! 

Here’s a list of plant-based alternatives (though I’m sure there are more!): 

– Soya 

– Rice 

– Hemp 

– Hazelnut 

– Oat 

– Almond 

– Coconut 

– Pea 

– Peanut

Next stop is SAUSAGES! – because who doesn’t love a sausage sandwich? 

I admit, some supermarket brand vegan sausages are not my favourite, however Richmond Vegan Sausages and BEYOND sausages are to die for! I’m not even joking when I say that they taste exactly the same. Honestly, you won’t even know there’s no meat in them, they taste just as seasoned and yummy as the original! If you’re making a sausage sandwich, sausage and mash, toad in the hole, sausage casserole… USE THESE!! Try them for yourself and see. 

Fancy a healthy snack that’s not just an apple? 

Some of us like to enjoy a healthy snack now and then that isn’t just a piece of fruit and I have found the perfect solution, Nakd bars. They’re small snack bars that are raw fruit and nut ‘smooshed together’ and they are so yummy! They come in all different flavours and some of them really taste like cake which settles all the cravings. A personal fave is Blueberry Muffin because trust me when I say that they are delicious. Curing the cravings and fuelling the body with what it actually needs at snack time all at the same time, fab! More of my personal fave flavours include: 

– Bakewell Tart 

– Cashew Cookie (only two ingredients!) 

– Salted Caramel 

– Cocoa Orange 

– Lemon Drizzle 

There are so many more and they’re all mouth watering, even including their breakfast bar range. Enjoy! 

The not so healthy snacks… go on, treat yourself. 

We all love an accidentally vegan treat and it just so happens that there are quite a few out there that lots of us didn’t know about. Here are a few examples: 

– Oreos (not the chocolate covered kind) 

– Party Rings 

– Lotus Original Caramelised Biscuits 

– Bourbon Biscuits 

– Crawford’s Pink Wafers 

– Mr Kipling – Apple & Blackcurrant Pies and Treacle Tart 

– McVitie’s – Ginger Nuts, Fruit Shortcake, Fig Rolls, Hobnobs, Chocolate Chip Hobnobs 

– Skittles 

– Starburst 

– Millions 

– Love Hearts 

– Turkish Delight 

– Bournville Dark Chocolate 

– Tesco Dark Chocolate – mint and orange 

– Fry’s Chocolate Cream 

– Hula Hoops (original, salt and vinegar) 

– Pringles (BBQ, original, paprika, smokey bacon) 

– Sunbites (original, sweet chilli) 

– Doritos Chilli Heatwave 

…and so many more! 

How do I bake without using eggs? 

As a fan of baking myself, this was definitely a question I needed the answer to promptly. Truth is, there are lots of alternatives you can use to make your cakes stick together and no one will ever know the difference! Some of the easiest ones are: 

– Avocado 

– Plant-based milk 

– Mashed banana (will add flavour obviously) 

– Flax seeds 

Give these a try and see what works for you, happy baking! 

The best advice you can take when starting your journey to becoming a fantastic vegan is to do your research, read and learn about what the human body needs to survive… for example, all the different types of protein and where to get them from (hint: vegans are not protein deficient as plants are what make protein, I know, crazy!). Oh and TAKE YOUR TIME! Creating lasting change can be challenging for anyone – setting small goals and living with them until they feel normal is a reliable way of progressing the way you want to without burning out.

Don’t give up if you find something that doesn’t work for you, there are lots of options out there and it’s all about trial and error. Hope this helped! 

P.S. You’re doing a great job and your actions are having positive effects for people and animals all over the world, even if you can’t directly see them <3 x

Mind Strengthening

It wont come as a shock to most of you that strengthening your mind is just as important as strengthening your body, although strengthening your body may seem like the obviously more important factor. 

Going through every day activities such as going to work, working at home, organising your life and being a positive and supportive asset to other people’s lives can, without you realising, put a strain on your mental health. There are more than enough stresses that we all face day in and day out so it’s incredibly important that we keep on top of it and give our mind a break. 

I have dealt with (and still do occasionally) anxiety and depression, illnesses that have effected me on and off all my life. At times, everyday activities can prove too challenging and it can crush your mood and make everything feel too difficult. But the thing is, those challenges are 100% achievable and to be able to master and overcome your demons is a real strength and strengthening your mind is a beautiful and rewarding skill to have. 

There are many ways you can strengthen your mind, some more effective than others but all are worth it. Some that I’ve tried and personally found useful are. 

– Reading ‘Rewrite Your Anxious Brain’ by Catherine M. Pittman, PhD and Elizabeth M. Karle, MLIS. A book to help you understand the neuroscience behind anxiety, what causes it and how to help overcome it or make it easier. (It’s incredible, they really know their stuff. 10/10 recommend) 

– Downloading ‘mindfulness’ apps. This was recommended to me by a doctor when I inquired about depression and how to overcome it. They help you to realise that you are doing a really good job and that you should be aware of and recognise your achievements more often. 

– Creating ‘To Do’ lists for each day and ticking things off as you go. This is small but it helps you recognise each achievement you make during the day, however big. Learn to mentally reward yourself for being productive and getting things done. 

– Eating healthy and strengthening your body. During physical exercise a chemical called endorphins is released which triggers a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. This positive feeling overlaps in your mind and gives you a sense of accomplishment and self love (which is incredibly important). Equally, eating healthy foods fill your brain and body with the correct nutrients in order to function properly and allowing you to think straight, making everything else in your day seem more positive. 

– Always having a safe and tidy space to come home to. It may seem really obvious, but keeping your home tidy and clutter free makes space for a clearer mind (pun intended) because when thoughts build up in your head it can prove very difficult to think straight, but being in an organised environment helps your brain deal with things step by step and not jump the gun. 

– The day is only as good as YOU make it. Start the day by waking up and saying to yourself that you are going to be the positive vibe to everyone whose life you walk into that day. Communicate calmly, think before you speak, listen to people and see the positive or solution in the situations you come across. This will make interactions and jobs a lot easier. 

– Smile often. Even if you’re alone and doing some jobs at home, just smile to yourself. Your brain will recognise that you’re making an effort to be happy and make it harder for negative vibes to intrude. 

Love yourself a little more each day and life will become just that little bit easier. 

Anonymous xxx

Veganism Taking Over the Supermarkets

If you were to walk into a supermarket FIVE years ago, you would struggle to shop vegan when it comes to meat substitutes and creative eating. But NOW you can go to any supermarket and find so many options to make your meal times yummy and eco-friendly. 

It always excites me when I find new vegan foods, especially in shops I don’t expect it from. Walking into Lidl and Aldi with my (non-vegan) grandparents and unexpectedly discovering vegan sausages, burgers AND christmas party food such as vegan sausage rolls, hoisin ‘duck’ spring rolls (pulled jackfruit) and spicy cauliflower bites. I was incredibly impressed (and slightly smug) that veganism has successfully fought itself into most supermarkets I visit often. It also makes me laugh when I see all this party food and think about people asking me ‘what do you even eat as a vegan?’ and how I’m getting to eat all this yummy food. Proves people wrong, I’ll tell ya! 

I haven’t had the chance to check myself yet but after my grandparents went to Tesco to stock up on party food I noticed they had also bought vegan goodies from there too, as well as their own ‘Free From’ turkey and stuffing tortilla chips which are in the shape of christmas trees. I could eat a whole bag of those and not even realise I’d done it, they’re THAT good. Sainsbury’s vegan cheese platter is a massive YES from me as well, they do their own ‘Free From’ brand which is very nice and also sell Violife – my favourite vegan cheese to date, it’s delicious 100% recommend. 

Ready meals and vegan meat substitutes are now being featured in the meat aisles, taking up space that would normally be occupied by animal flesh. This is a massive win for vegans as, not only does it restrict the amount of meat that can be put out in those aisles, but it also allows non-vegans to see these products without actively looking for them and making it more likely that they will ‘try them out’ and realise they’re actually really yummy. 

If you’re looking for a sweet treat for yourself or to give as a little gift to someone else, Candy Kittens are vegan and vegetarian sweets (not all flavours are vegan unfortunately but the majority are) and can be found in Waitrose. As is the Percy Pig and Colin the Caterpillar sweet range by M&S, most are gelatine free and they even have a christmas collection to make it feel a bit more festive. 

The point is, veganism is now everywhere and to those who say ‘veganism is so hard’ or ‘I could never be vegan’ really don’t know what they’re talking about because the chances are they’ve never looked into it and don’t have enough knowledge on the subject to make the statement that they ‘can’t do it’. Remember that for every meal you eat that is animal product free, you’re saving lives, your own health and the planet so keep being a wonderful human being and don’t let others tell you otherwise. 🙂

Mental and Physical Wellbeing Go Hand-in-Hand

Something that not everyone is aware of, physical health is equally important as mental health, in fact they happen to be best friends. When you’re working out, be it in the gym, at a fitness class or outside for a run, if your mind isn’t acting as your best pal and throwing positive vibes your way then your workout is going to suffer because of it. Your brain acts as a control room in your body and basically tells everything else what to do, whether you’re aware of it or not. So if you’re having a day when your brain is asleep, upset, or just not in the mood to work with the rest of your body, then the rest of your body just isn’t going to co-operate. 

Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with having a ‘down day’, everybody has one now and again because we’re all human and the stresses of life can sometimes get too much. For most people, exercise is a powerful release of stress from these ‘down days’ so going to the gym is their personal coping mechanism for this frame of mind. However, as much as some people want to work out to release this stress, sometimes it can hinder their performance, and that’s ok just take it easy, both on your mind and your body. (Don’t add to your negative feeling, just breathe! Tea helps too :)). 

Down days are simply a bump in the road NOT the end of your journey. Getting you and your mind over this bump is more of an achievement than it seems, so just remember that you are capable of making it through challenges and don’t forget to give yourself credit – you’re doing great! If you feel that you need a day off, have one. You can make it up another time, it’s not the end of the world, and your mental and physical wellbeing takes priority. However, if you feel as though going to the gym is going to pick you up and aid in your positivity, go take that feeling out on the weights! You might impress yourself 🙂 

It’s also very easy in this day and age to forget that you’re working out to make your mind and your body healthier and happier, it’s extremely common for working out to be fuelled by the social requirement to look a certain way and when you’re struggling to reach that particular goal, it can put a strain on your mind. Little thing to remember – every individual body is different, and equally beautiful. So if you’re worried about the fact that you don’t look exactly like your friend or a celebrity or the guy over in the free weights that looks like he could lift a thousand kilos with his little finger, then stop, take a look in the mirror and appreciate what and who you are. Because trust me, there are most likely lots of other people who look at you the way that you look at those above and wish they were more like you (because you’re incredible and you should give yourself way more love than you do). Also, you’re an expert at being you. No-one else can do that like you can, so go and show them what you’re made of 😉 . 

Every day, week or month, set yourself small goals. These little hills are more achievable than a huge mountain and by successfully completing one of these challenges more often you will feel a greater sense of achievement and inspire yourself to carry on the journey for longer (it’s a marathon not a sprint, remember). 

Lastly, DON’T FORGET that eating right has more of an impact on your physical and mental wellness than you think. Fuel your mind and your body with nutritious foods that will help program you to become a positive version of yourself. I know from experience that it’s very easy to be having a bad day and think ‘I’m just going to get a take away’ or ‘I’m just going to eat that chocolate bar instead of my lunch’ or ‘I’m just going to skip breakfast today’. It’s ok to eat small amounts of ‘bad’ food once in a while, but don’t make a habit of it, have a balanced diet and all that jazz. Trust me, ‘bad’ food has such a negative impact on your mental health. It can make you feel less energised and less motivated to get other things done, which then leads to a snowball effect of feeling gross in lots of ways. It’s not worth it. Tell yourself that eating wrong will only make you feel worse, have a healthier snack instead! I recommend a Nakd Bar, they’re vegan, super healthy and most importantly YUM. Reprogram yourself to be kinder to your body. It will help you in your mental wellbeing and your time in the gym. 

Remind yourself now and again to throw as much love at yourself as you throw at other people because you deserve to be the best version of you that there could possibly be 🙂 x

The Myth of the Mash

When someone mentions potatoes, there’s normally some kind of negative association (putting aside the fact that they’re delicious!). I doubt that you’re new to hearing that ‘potatoes make you fat’ or ‘I look like a potato today’ or ‘so high in carbs I can’t afford to eat them because I’m trying to lose weight’. Well, today I’m telling you that these nightmarish sayings are MYTHS. (How awesome is that?!) 

Both sweet and white potatoes are actually very good for you and can be a great aid in weight loss. White potatoes contain a little amount of every nutrient that your body requires to remain healthy and functioning, so eating the right amount of potato in your diet is actually very beneficial. This includes both micronutrients AND macro-nutrients, and they’re especially very high in fibre so that’s taken care of one issue! Lots of people worry that because potatoes are very starchy this means that they are particularly high in sugar. The starch does convert to glucose however when you consume potatoes, because they are so dense and packed with nutrients, it takes a long time for the body to digest all of it. The glucose assists in fuelling the brain and body in it’s activities for a long time and because it takes so long to digest, the glucose doesn’t aid in rapidly rising blood sugar. Also due to the time it takes to digest, it keeps you full and high in energy for longer. 

Just when you thought there couldn’t be any more positives to your old pal the potato, let me tell you that there are! Potatoes are high in water and it is often advised that you EAT the water in your diet. Veggies and potatoes are high in water so eating large amounts of these foods in your everyday diet helps keep you happy and hydrated. As well as this, they are incredibly low in saturated fats and cholesterol, so basically… just eat potatoes! (absolutely joking, as much as that would be awesome). 

These cheap and easy to find heaps of happiness are obviously vegan and 100% natural which is probably the reason that they’re so healthy and full of goodness! #vegansforthewin What’s awesome about them is that you can eat them in multiple forms, they mould to your mood! Roasted, boiled, baked, steamed, mashed… you can’t lose. They only become unhealthy when you add lots of oil and fry them to make chips or hash browns etc which you don’t have to do to make them yummy (as we’ve just found out). 

I started thinking about this blog when making mash potato for my lunch the other day. Before going vegan, I added cows milk or butter to my mash to make it creamier and I thought – how can I make my mash creamier now I’m vegan? POTATO LIFE HACK – add roughly 50ml of Alpro unsweetened oat milk to a portion of mashed potato, it’s AMAZING!! (You’re welcome ;)) I wish you a lifetime of perfect potato meal times 🙂 

Yoga for Flexibility Yoga for Strength

The Power of Three – Why You Should Mix Yoga, Pilates & Tai Chi

There are three main Branches of the Holistic Trinity as I like to call it. Chances are you’ve heard of one – if not all of them. Every day millions of people practise Yoga, Pilates, & Tai Chi – Seldom all Three. Here are the main differences and why you should embrace their practises collectively.

YOGA

I was once told that there are as many types of Yoga as there are People on Earth; whilst there are many different styles, I’ve boiled it down to 4 primary approaches the physical practise takes:-

Slow Yoga (Slowga?!)

The slower styles allow you to learn what the heck you’re doing! These classes tend to be fantastic for beginners and Intermediates alike – whether in a slow flow or a static posture; teachers have more space to guide you through each asana (pose).

Athletic

These classes are generally for the workout and the SWEAT! Classes are geared more towards the athletic side of things as they cycle through series of poses. Beginners may struggle more here as the faster pace can be difficult to keep up with without a pre-existing foundation to work from. 

Meditative

Restorative classes develop a deeper understanding of oneself – body & mind! Breath focus is more pronounced here; as students are encouraged to internalise their practise more whilst holding asanas for longer periods of time. Most classes generally focus on passive stretching, extended Pranayama (Breath Practises) and of course a good ol’ OM/AUM. These classes often focus on the more spiritual aspect of Yoga practise.

Gymnastic/Explorative

These classes are for the more energetic, well-practised, insta-hungry students. With a solid foundation of experience, strength and flexibility, these classes work on “the flashy stuff” that pops up on your feed. Think Crow is tough? Try this One-Arm-Handstand-With-Your-Eyes-Closed Variation! Okay that might be pushing it – but there are some truly fantastic opportunities to explore with a teacher who knows their stuff.

*BONUS* – WEIRD Yoga

Beer Yoga. Goat Yoga. Naked Yoga…Need I Say More?

Whilst the focus may differ between approaches, Yoga is based on Poses or “asanas”. Breath is taken through the nose; the inhale mostly being used to open and lengthen the body – creating space, the exhale is mostly used when closing/deepening/grounding. It can also be a point of focus for meditation or a practise in itself as there are numerous Breathing Exercises one may work on with Yoga. Of the three, Yoga has the most emphasis on FLEXIBILITY.

PILATES

A much younger approach to exercise and wellbeing than it’s Indian & Asian Counterparts. Western in Origin & founded by Joseph Pilates; This approach was initially created to rehabilitate people with special considerations such as injuries or conditions – famously many ballerinas within New York.

Depending on who you ask there are NINE Principles to the Pilates method of Contrology:

  • Breathing
  • Concentration
  • Control
  • Centering
  • Flow
  • Postural Alignment
  • Precision
  • Relaxation
  • Stamina

Class Styles?!

Whilst every class with every teacher is different, there are pretty much 3 ways of doing it:

Repertory/Classic

Based on the pure, original sequence of 34 Exercises developed by Joseph Pilates himself. In any good class, exercises can be modified depending on ability level (many of them are pretty tough!) however the sequence stays the same. The repetition of exercises allows students, in their familiarity with the work, more awareness and focus on the principles listed above. This also ensures a balanced practise engaging the whole body through controlled movements – often with the use of some equipment that wouldn’t look out of place in Vlad the Impalers Basement.

Modern Variations

Most Pilates nowadays blend the traditional exercises, with other conditioning methods found in a multitude of fitness approaches. Using props to add extra elements of challenge such as resistance and stability. Class structure varies widely – whilst many classes are balanced in approach, teachers have the autonomy to focus on specific ares if they wish so don’t be surprised to have an entire class focused on standing exercises, or lower body flexibility training for example.

Non-Traditional Pilates

In Pilates – the method is everything. Whether performing a Monkey Squat, challenging roll up or a simple Posture Alignment; without applying the principles it’s just normal exercise! Many classes focus more on creating a fun, tough workout than adhering to all of the “rules”, instead taking inspiration from the method and sequence to create something new.

Pilates is most well known for its breathing techniques, core & pelvic floor engagement, and emphasis on CONTROL through each exercise. And again whilst every class is different; Pilates has the greatest emphasis on STRENGTH out of the three – particularly Core Strength.

TAI CHI

Based on the Ancient Philosophy of Yin & Yang – Tai Chi is an internal Chinese Martial Art known for its Defence Training, Health Benefits and Moving Meditation. It often focuses on precise, whole body movements and control of the body internal energy or “Qi” (pronounced “Chee”). There are 5 traditional styles of Tai Chi:-

  • Chen Style
  • Yang Style
  • Wu Hao Style
  • Wu Style
  • Sun Style

Each of them have their own approach but all draw from the original Chen style. Here are a few differences between classes you may encounter here in the West.

Health Focused Tai Chi

The Chen and Yang styles are the most popular form of Tai Chi practised Worldwide. Most classes focus on learning and developing sequences of whole body movements linked together in order such as the famous 24 Form. This approach to Tai Chi is suitable for people from all walks of life from the frail to the athletic as quality of movement and internal connection is encouraged more than physical exertion.

Martial Arts Application

Tai Chi at its core is a martial art. It teaches how to control an opponents energy force based on their attack or recoil. Some classes focus more on this aspect and even pair students up to practise movements together. The fundamentals are the same, but the practical application has more presence here.

Meditation Focused Tai Chi

Some Tai Chi approaches are much more subtle in their physical movements and instead focus largely on the internal energy control of the practitioner. This style of practise can also link with the Health Focus as it’s an excellent choice for the elderly and the frail with classes such as Chair Tai Chi with the smaller movements being simpler than other styles.

Tai Chi is widely known for its beautiful movements and Yin/Yang Philosophy. Each inhale is used to gather the body’s “Qi”, each exhale to deliver it. Of the three holistic approaches Tai Chi generally has the strongest meditative focus and is widely the most physically suitable for people from all backgrounds.

MAIN DIFFERENCES

In terms of the physical practises; Yoga is about postures, Pilates is about exercises & core work, Tai Chi is about flowing movements. Breath in Yoga is used to open and close the body, in Pilates it’s used to maintain posture and activate the core, in Tai Chi it’s used to collect and deliver ones energy.

Traditionally, students of one style have different ability levels to students of another. People who practise Yoga tend to be more flexible, Pilates practitioners tend to have better core strength and Tai Chi students have the best level of concentration and attention to detail in practise. When we draw upon all three styles in our practise, we are harnessing the strengths of each for the best effect and benefit for our bodies. Importantly all three have a different Origin, History, Culture etc and being open to them all allows us as individuals to be more mindful, aware and open in general.

ODYSSEY was created to bring us together in our practise – whatever our background. It introduces new styles and approaches as well as a different perspective on any existing practise we have.

If you’d like to learn the combined power of Yoga, Pilates & Tai Chi then sign up with our special offer today at https://vefitofficial.com/product-category/subscriptions/