• Finding Balance

    Posted in health and fitness on March 28, 2013

    Yoga instructor Erika Shapiro talks about the importance of finding balance in our lives and offers a few tips to help ease the pressure.

    We live in times when we tend to be constantly wired. Work generally demands a lot from us and we are forever on duty with smartphones and technology.  We try to conciliate and balance other aspects of our lives such as families, friends, and hobbies.  Ultimately, this leaves very little time for ourselves.

    Erika Shapiro

    This means that our nervous system is constantly on alert. Ideally, we would like our nervous system to be balanced, with on one side the parasympathetic system (our calming response) and on the other our sympathetic system (our fight and flight response). We need both to function and to be able to intervene when needed. If there is a real threat to our safety, it is important that our sympathetic nervous system is able to kick in, creating adrenaline. When, we have been in overdrive, it is important that our parasympathetic system responds, bringing us back to balance. However, in modern life, our sympathetic system is often overactive, leaving us depleted and searching for balance.

    We can also think of this balance as the yin and yang of the daoist system. The two are in constant flux with each other, like a pendulum.

    Below I offer a few little self-care tips that can help us achieve more balance in our busy and pressurized lives:

    • Take time out from external stimulus. Switch off the phone and make yourself unavailable for 10-15 minutes on a regular basis (2-3 time per week to start with). Find a comfortable seating position (a chair or a sofa is fine), making sure that your spine is straight and upright, and that you are sitting on your sitting bones.  Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. Thoughts will come to your mind: just watch them come and watch them go, bringing your attention back to the breath when you drift. Imagine that you are watching your mind activity from a camera, with a lens and that you are zooming out, watching from a distance.  Stay with the breath;
    • Set time aside for something deeply nurturing, if you are feeling depleted. Try and resist the temptation to unwind with a glass of wine or in front of the TV (or both!) once in a while and choose something that feeds you in a more holistic way. Book a massage, surround yourself with art or music, go for a walk in nature, book a meditation, yoga class or do something creative (drawing, painting, sculpture….). This will help you reconnect with your deeper sense of self. It is important that we learn to practice kindness and compassion not only with others but also to ourselves;
    • Have an early night. The body needs to rest and restore. We often confuse adrenaline for energy and are unaware of our fatigue. If you have trouble sleeping, try breathing deeply, lengthening your exhale to calm your nervous system;
    • If your diet has been erratic, make the time to prepare a homemade meal with lots of organic vegetables. Our modern diets tend to be rich in acidic content. Vegetables are mostly alkaline and help us rebalance our PH levels. There is something deeply soothing and nurturing in chopping and preparing lots of multicolored vegetables. Make a nice soup, salad or just some oven-roasted vegetables.  No need to be a chef!;
    • Breathe deeply! Our breath tends to be constricted, especially when we are in overdrive. Learn a few basic breathing techniques that you can practice when necessary. They can be deployed at any time; before an important meeting, to help you get through a deadline, or to just help you reconnect.  A recommended book is “The Breathing Book” by Donna Farhi.

    Erika Shapiro

    By practicing deeper awareness and becoming more attuned to our rhythms and needs, we can lead healthier and more balanced lives. Yoga helps us develop this internal awareness and inner insight. It is not just limited to what we practice on our mat; the awareness we carry with us off the mat is just as important. It is easy to confuse adrenaline for energy and deplete ourselves even further, increasing our stress levels. By getting to know ourselves better we will know which is which and when it is necessary to intervene and practice a bit of self-care.  This will lead to better balance and deeper harmony in our lives.

    You can book a  yoga lesson with Erika here.

    Erika truly grateful to those who have helped her find deeper balance in her life: Linda D’Antal, Alex Filmer-Loch, Joanne Avison, Deborah Grant, Bo Forbes to name a few.


  • Keeping in shape while on holiday..

    Posted in health and fitness on July 20, 2012

    Holidays are a great time to relax and unwind but can sometimes be written off as a time to be unfit… good news… it doesn’t need to be that way! Obviously it is difficult with all that great food and drink on offer, and the sun lounger is always very tempting! So with this in mind we’ve asked some of our Personal Trainers to look at 3 different areas that will help all of us come back from our holidays without fearing the first bit of exercise on home soil:

    – David Perks looks at the best exercises to do shortly before you go.

    – Kate Rassell advises on what to eat while you’re away.

    – And last but not least Ray Conway gives us his favourite exercise to do whilst on holiday.

    Getting in shape before the off…

     David Perks, a personal trainer based in Soho (meet him in his new video here), gives us his advice on how best to get in shape before heading off on that well-earned break:

    • Increase the intensity of your workouts as the departure date gets closer, remember the more you put in at home the better you’ll feel about yourself when you’re away. Interval training is a particularly effective way of toning all the right areas.
    • If you’re looking to burn fat before going away it’s all about the legs. They are the biggest muscle group in the body so need the most fuel. Work lots of lunges, squats and deadlifts into your routine.
    • Look at increasing the amount of reps and reducing the weights you use. 60% less weight is a good starting point and then do 30 repetition sets.
    • Some studies have suggested that leaving a longer gap between evening meals and breakfast can help to you to burn fat, so try to eat your evening meal a bit earlier and your breakfast a little later. Use water to stave off any snack cravings!

    Eating while you’re out there…

    Next up we speak to Twickenham-based PT Kate Rassell. Kate’s background is in Biology and nutrition so she’s given us 5 useful tips to help you avoid those traditional holiday pitfalls of over-eating, over-drinking and under-hydrating:

    • Try Local delicacies and eat as fresh as you can. Go colourful and eat seasonal fruits and vegetables – the more rich vibrant colours you have on your plate the more nutrients your body will get.
    • Eat slowly and savour your food. Give your body a chance to digest! Try to include some protein and healthy fats (nuts, avocados, olives etc) with each meal with a mix of wholegrains and carbohydrates.
    • Peppermint tea is a great to boost your metabolism and digestion. It’s also a good combat for dehydration – something to consider if you’ve been out in the sun a lot (or been on a heavy night out the evening before..).  Take some with you as they can be difficult to get hold of!
    • Water is SO important, drink lots, keep hydrated to make sure your digestion system is working at its optimum level.
    • Lastly (and most importantly) Enjoy yourself -Be active, make the most of what is on offer- walk – explore – swim. Everything in moderation!

    And finally, a simple holiday exercise… 

    Ray Conway, based at City Golf in the heart of the ..City, gives us his favourite holiday exercise. Bonus points for a great use of Hotel towels!

    “Firstly, find a towel and a shiny floor and ensure your feet are shoulder-width apart, you have hands on your hips and you have a strong, stable base”

    “Next, extend the leg on the towel backwards, until your stationary leg bends to 90 degrees. Ensure your knee of your stationary leg stays over the tongue of your trainers”

    “Then return back to your starting position, using your quads to power you up. Repeat for 10 reps on each leg and try to do 3/4 sets a day”

    We hope you found Ray, David and Kate’s advice useful and remember it when heading off on your holidays! Finally, a big thanks to our instructors – you can find them, and others, here.

  • Triathlons coming up this Summer

    Posted in health and fitness on May 11, 2012

    Triathlons have seen enormous growth in both popularity and availability during the last decade, which has been great to see. This year’s line-up of events looks better than ever, so we thought we would take a look at some of the best ones happening in and around London.  With there now being so many types of triathlon to participate in, you will be able to find one that suits you no matter your age, fitness or ability (so no more excuses!).

    Blenheim Palace – 9th and 10th June

    The Bleheim Triathlon has always managed to attract marquee participants to its elite level race, with Jenson Button posting a very impressive time in last year’s event. This year is no different with the Palace managing to secure the Brownlee brothers and Helen Jenkins as competitors in the elite race. The circuit itself certainly makes the most of the amazing setting with the swim in the Palace’s lake, the transition area in the royal courtyard, and the run and cycle taking in much of the sprawling manicured gardens that Blenheim is famed for. Competition takes place over two days and there are different lengths and relay options available. Hurry though, as today is the last day to get your ticket! Here’s their website for more info.

    The Blenheim route

    London Triathlon – 22nd and 23rd September

    The London Triathlon takes in lots of the famous sites that dominate the city’s skyline with the main action happening in the docklands stretch of the Thames. The event usually attracts large crowds so if you like to have people cheering you when you are struggling to finish that final 100m run this could be the event for you! There are lots of different entry options available including a seniors option and a relay event if you would prefer to do it with friends, so there should be something for everyone! The date also means there is still plenty of time to sign up and get into shape, plus the Thames will be at its warmest (NB still v.cold!). For more info head over to their website.

    Shock absorber women-only Tri – 10th June

    If you would prefer to participate in a triathlon in a ‘girls all in it together’ kind of environment at the Olympic sailing event location then look no further. The Shock Absorber event on the 10th June offers 4 options; the novice, sprint and challenge plus a relay option. Prices start at £62 and the closing date for entries is on the 4th June. The event offers a very flat run and cycle plus calm water for the swim, which should make it ideal if you are still finding your feet in the triathlon world. For more info please go to the human race website.

    Chantilly Triathlon – 26th August

    The Chantilly triathlon, as you would expect from the name, located slightly further a field just outside of Paris (map). This is part of the Castle Triathlon series which turns some of the UK and Europe’s finest historical buildings into great triathlon locations for the weekend. More suited to the more proficient triathlete, prices start at £50 for adults but there are obviously other logistical costs to take into consideration. The views, beautiful gardens and amazing architecture will really make this a sports event to remember and *almost* take your mind off the pain your are in! There are a huge number of options for taking part, including a family event with 2 adults and 2/3 children making up a team, which could be a great way to get the kids into a great sport at an early age! For more info here is the Castle Tri Series website.

    Honourable mentions

    Jenny Clark Try a Tri – 17th June: Catering exclusively for the novice and first-time triathlete. More info here.

    The Olympics triathlon event – 4th and 7th August: We couldn’t finish without mentioning the big triathlon event of the year, where GB are in a good position to win at least a couple of medals. There are just over 80 days to go and we are already very excited!

    We also thought you might enjoy this video which made us laugh, and will hopefully be recognisable to anyone who has had friends/relatives who have become slightly obsessed with triathlons…

  • Spring has arrived; after work outdoor fitness returns….

    Posted in health and fitness on March 28, 2012

    The clocks going forward this weekend, although painful at the time, means that winter is now officially banished. It also means there’s plenty of extra time for evening workouts in the glorious sunshine – that we’re hoping will last until September….

    So for some ideas to kick off your Spring fitness routine, here are our top spots around London to get an evening outdoor fitness fix.

    We’ll be featuring plenty of park based personal training sessions and bootcamp listings in the future so remember to keep checking back on the site.

    The big three:

    Hyde Park

    Hyde Park’s location and lack of undulations make this an ideal starting point for those looking to ease their way back into shape.  It’s also ideal for those people who like to be in the company of other like-minded people when working out with Hyde Park being a magnet for fitness enthusiasts from across the city.  For a great route to see the park and take in some of the famous sites that surround it the Serpentine Running club have put together this great running route.

    Battersea Park

    If you prefer a bit more solitude when trying to be active Battersea Park is an ideal venue for your evening fitness regime. And there’s a bit more variation in flora and fauna to keep the mind off the pain of your first run of the year! There are also plenty of nice open areas to do your static stretches and exercises. Battersea Park have put together a nice and easy 4ker to get you started here


    Richmond Park

    If you’re looking to open up your legs or get the bike out then Richmond Park is the one for you. Great scenery and wildlife (Fenton!) coupled with some challenging hills make this an ideal place to up a gear in your training. Can get  busy during peak times on weekends but weekday evenings are usually fine. A lap of the park is around 7 miles and is particularly undulating as can be seen below:

    Hidden gems:

    Queens Wood

    Situated near Muswell Hill and the quieter neighbour of Highgate Wood this is a great spot for a long challenging run taking in plenty of hilly pathways.  Easy to get to from Highgate tube station but you will soon forget how close you are to central London.

    Morden Hall Park

    Set within the  grounds of Morden Hall, which provides a great backdrop to any activity, there are fewer peaceful places across Greater London. Particularly with the river Wandle meandering through the park, bringing in lots of interesting wildlife to look at while you complete your latest punishing set of burpees. (Car park open 8am – 6pm)

    Dulwich Park

    This 29 hectare park feels ready-made for early evening fitness with plenty of leafy paths and some recently installed fitness equipment. There are also free of charge tennis courts to use along with several table tennis tables if you do tire of your exercise regime. Check out Southwark council’s website for more information.

    Got any better suggestions? Add to our list in the comments below…