Summer fitness goalsOver the past couple of weeks we have talked about getting the most from sunny holidays and dealing with the winter doldrums. Both posts are very topical for this time of year, but this week let’s start looking ahead to any physical activities or fitness goals you’re aiming for. If you have decided to challenge yourself to a 10k run or tackle a munro in the coming months, then here are a few things that will help you get a head start on reaching your summer fitness goals.

Bad habits holding you back?

Preparing for a race or cycling trip isn’t just about doing a bit of training in advance. You also need to take a look at the big picture and see what habits or lifestyle choices could stand in the way of your success. Training is a given but bad habits like a poor diet or lack of sleep can impede your progress. You can have a great workout session, but you won’t see the full payoff for your hard work if you follow it up with a pack of crisps for a lunch on the run.

Focus on one thing at a time

If you do have a few bad habits to break, then your initial summer goal can quickly become an overwhelming list of things to work on. Instead of tackling all those changes at once, and quickly failing at them all, try focusing on one thing at a time. Make a plan for how you’re going to build up to the end result by tackling one small goal at a time. You might start by drinking two extra glasses of water each day. Then next week, you can swap a few sandwiches with salads, or add in some 15 minute workouts into your mornings. Check back on your plan often to keep yourself on track and also to see your progress building. It might feel like you’re moving at a tortoise-pace to the finish line, but that’s why we’re starting now. And the tortoise is a lot more likely to cross the finish line than that hare who likes to brag on Facebook about their wild fitness fads or abrupt, but doomed, lifestyle changes.

Reward yourself

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg describes a behavioural process that MIT researchers began working with in the 1990s called “The Habit Loop”. The cyclical process has three touch points that shape our behavior: cue, routine, and reward. The cue is what triggers your routine action, like how the theme song to your favourite TV show prompts you to grab an evening snack and settle into the couch every week. The reward is that little bit of enjoyment that tells your brain that the routine is a good thing to remember. So, if you’re trying to reshape your habits, then make sure your brain understands that this new routine is a good thing. Make an effort to be aware of your cues and to close your Habit Loop with a reward that you enjoy. An alarm goes off on Saturday morning to remind you to go for a run and then you come home and devour a bowl of deliciously sweet strawberries. Repeat that enough times and it becomes a habit instead of something that you have to force yourself to do.

With the right approach, a better awareness of yourself, and a good balance of goals and rewards, that dream you’re toying with for this summer might be well within your reach. And won’t that hare on Facebook be envious!

Love and blessings,

Chris Blagdon

Edinburgh SADIf nothing else, Edinburgh is known for it’s warm, sunny winters. Well, we can dream, can’t we! And dreaming about warm weather and sunshine is often what we have to resort to at this time of year. By mid-February, we’ve had about enough of the dreary days that our climate treats us with. For many people, it’s not simply an impatience for brighter times but a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

There are still many unknowns about the condition but it seems to affect adults more than than young and there appears to be a link with hormone imbalances like unusually low serotonin and melatonin levels. Serotonin is a “feel good” hormone whereas melatonin helps the body prepare for a sleep. Genetics may also play a role as individuals with a family history of SAD are more likely to experience it themselves.

What are the symptoms?

  • Fatigue and lethargy (low energy levels)
  • Oversleeping
  • Sadness, anxiety, irritability or depression
  • Changes in appetite with cravings for sugar and carbohydrates
  • Weight gain

SAD is also more prevalent in women than in men, with some researchers believing that it can be up to nine times more likely for a woman to be diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder when compared to her male counterpart.

People who live in northern regions of the world (lucky Edinburgh!) are also more likely to experience symptoms of SAD because of our short days and stormy winters. Long, days often cause individuals to feel low energy levels and an overall gloomy mood.

What can we do?

  1. Light therapy has been proven to be one of the most effective options. Exposure to specialized lamps for around thirty minutes each day helps to rebalance your hormone levels and many people report a noticeable increase in mood and energy. 
  2. Another means of combating SAD is through physical activity and healthy eating. Exercising regularly and providing the body with wholesome nourishment is one of the most effective ways of alleviating a depressive mood. A diet filled with a balance of whole grains, fruits and veggies, dairy, and protein sources can help the body feel its best and avoid a sluggish feeling. When it comes to physical activity, hitting the gym is not the only option. Effective and beneficial methods of exercise include meditation, yoga (regular and hot yoga), and pilates.
  3. A great way to beat those winter blues is by getting in touch with your body through practicing pilates, which focuses on breathing, strengthening muscle groups, balance, and correcting posture, all of which are contributors to a feel good attitude and higher energy levels.

If you feel that these options aren’t quite enough then it may be a good idea to have a chat with a healthcare professional. Edinburgh is a wonderful, caring community and there are many different ways we can help one another though these last weeks of winter.

Love and blessings,

Chris Blagdon

 

winter sun getawayIt’s that time of year where Edinburgh, beautiful as it is, is easily traded in for a few precious days of sunshine and lazing around at a pool or on a beach. Winter sun getaways were made for a bit of guilt-free indulgence and don’t you dare tell me that you’re working out every day. But here are some healthy habits to sneak in just so come home feeling full of all the energy that the sunshine should give you.

Hydrate

It’s hard to drink enough water at home but when traveling, your body is actually being thrown out of the routine it’s used to so hydration is even more important. You’re probably enjoying a lot more heat and sun or you might be using more energy than normal. Make sure to keep some water handy at all times. Throw a bottle into your handbag or sneak a glass of H20 in between other beverages.

Pack Probiotics

It might sound funny but your immune system depends quite a lot on a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut. Travel brings about loads of opportunity to upset that balance and wreak havoc into your digestion and your overall health. It’s a good idea to stock up on probiotic supplements to take with you and enjoy foods like kefir, kimchi and yogurt with live and active cultures.

Take Advantage of Fresh, Local Produce and Seafood

Some of the most delicious dishes in many sunny destinations are made with ingredients that are far more fresh than what we can get at home. Eat all the tasty fruit, vegetables and seafood that you want. Your energy levels will flourish and you won’t be worrying about the calories after.

Following some of these tips will help you land home as fresh as a daisy and ready to take the rest of the winter.

Love and blessings,
Chris Blagdon

ActiveAs another post in our life challenges series is all about energy. It is the source of how you approach everything in your life- family, relationships, work, hobbies, health and social life. High energy levels can mean you enjoy each moment in every area of your life, or if your energy levels reduce what was once enjoyable becomes yet another exhausting commitment. And slowly, oh so slowly, you do less, and less of what you enjoy, and active ageing is about doing what you enjoy.

There are the simple ways to increase energy, such as drink less caffeine and alcohol, reduce or cut out sugar, eat a diet rich in vegetables and fruit, but there are many other ways to develop your energy- the challenge lies in committing to them.

1. Ditch the screen. Are you guilty of reading on your phone in bed? The blue tinged light emitted by smartphone screens are known to upset your circadian rhythms. If you can’t say goodbye to your phone, try downloading an app like Twilight, it harmonises your screen with the cycle of the sun.

2. Exercise. It is the unfair rule of energy production, when you have none, you must exercise to gain more. As I’ve said in the past, you don’t need to throw yourself willy-nilly around a gym at high speed to gain energy. Pilates, yoga, tai-chi, tennis or even just committing to a daily lunchtime walk will boost your energy levels.

3. Drink more water. Lethargy can be linked to dehydration, but it is incredibly easy to get to 6pm with a litre bottle of water, undrunk, glaring at you from the depths of your bag. The Plant Nanny app is a water reminder app, that sends you little reminders to drink. Every time you take a drink, you water an adorable little plant, and if you forget, the plant shrivels.

I’d love to hear your suggestions on what has worked for you? What changes did you make in your lifetsyle that helped you feel more energetic as you tackled your day?

Love and blessings,
Chris Blagdon

mindfulnessThank you so much for joining me here today. As part of our Life Changing Challenges Series, I thought cultivating mindfulness would be the perfect addition.

Mindfulness is, simply put, focusing the entirety of your attention on the present moment, with regards to any activity.

As you’ve no doubt heard, countless times over the news and in the day to day of your life, we live a frantic existence in this day and age. We scroll through Facebook while we watch TV after a hard days work, and work can still email us while we’re trying to make dinner. Throw in the pervasiveness of social media, responsibilities at home and in professional life, it can sometimes feel like there are increasing demands on your attention. All together it makes focusing more challenging and unwinding a seemingly impossible task.

The process of mindfulness has many positive benefits- greater focus, greater depth of relaxation, reduced stress, improved health and reduced anxiety. Find out more about the benefits of mindfulness, with empirical evidence here.

There are many ways to practice mindfulness, often the most popular practices are yoga, tai-chi or meditation, but in reality, your options are so much wider.

  • You can practice mindfulness by reading literature, in silence, with no other distractions, in as small amount of time as fifteen minutes.
  • By practising Pilates, as you must focus 100% on precision and control of the movements, to the exclusion of all other thoughts.
  • By cooking. Mindfulness is cultivated by focusing solely on methodical chopping, sautéing, meditatively stirring the food, experiencing the aromas and flavours in the present.
  • By taking up a craft such as knitting, crochet, painting or even adult colouring books. All give you an opportunity to practice mindfulness by focusing only on the task at hand to create feelings of relaxation and peace.

Love and blessings,
Chris Blagdon

time, money and prioritiesSometimes when I tell people my rates, they’re surprised at how much a one-to-one style pilates studio session costs.
I’ve found that people are often less prepared to invest in things for their own wellbeing than they are for other ‘essential’ costs.
“You spend much more on that every month on your car,” I’ve said in the past.
“But I need my car!” is often the reply I hear.

To which I always think… don’t you need your body just as much?!

My point is, it’s important once in a while to take a step back and look at what you’re investing (in time, money, effort, energy, whichever resources you may have) into different things, and if you have decided these things should be priorities. We all have limited resources, and a finite amount of time on this earth. Shouldn’t we spend them on the things which really matter?

One thing I’ve found useful is this tip about changing your language about your priorities:

Instead of saying “I don’t have time” [or “I don’t have the money”] try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels. Often, that’s a perfectly adequate explanation. I have time to iron my sheets, I just don’t want to. But other things are harder. Try it: “I’m not going to edit your résumé, sweetie, because it’s not a priority.” “I don’t go to the doctor because my health is not a priority.” If these phrases don’t sit well, that’s the point. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently.

Our priorities are not the things we claim are important, but the things which we actually prioritise (ie. we value them enough to sacrifice other things for their sake).

The proof is in the pudding, and in deeds, not words.

Taking good care of our bodies and minds is one of the easiest things to get lost by the wayside. Instead of saying ‘I don’t have the time or money to exercise and look after my body’, how does it sound to say ‘exercise and looking after my body isn’t a priority’?

Especially when stacked in contrast against some of the less ‘essential’ things we might be spending a significant amount of our time and money on? Eating out a few too many times a week, a nicotine habit (pretty expensive these days!), vegging out in front of yet another DVD. Buying things we don’t need just for the sake of shopping. Getting a piece of clothing that doesn’t even fit very well just because ‘it’s on sale.’

Do these priorities hold their water against doing the grown up things we can do to properly care for ourselves and our bodies?

Something to mull over this week!

Love and blessings,
Chris Blagdon

Hello, dears!shoulder posture
Hunched or rounded shoulders are one of the postures we see most often in the studio (and once you see it, you’ll start noticing it everywhere on the street, too!)
Lots of people know that hunching down with your back and shoulders curved inward isn’t good posture, but have no idea how to fix it (or if it even can be fixed).

Causes of Rounded Shoulders

  • Desk and computer work
  • Bending, lifting and carrying things
  • Wearing a heavy backpack
  • Slouching habits

Simply put, we end up in this posture from posture habits, and imbalanced exercise. None of us should have to sit and stand up straight as a bolt all the time, but most people end up slouching often because they don’t have the core, upper back and shoulder strength to sit or stand straight for any great length of time. And when left to our own devices when it comes to exercise, many of us don’t even know that we’re neglecting certain areas. These areas get weaker and weaker, and cause imbalanced postures like rounded shoulders.

Feel free to take a look at some examples of common imbalanced postures in this NHS guide.

Is it bad to have rounded shoulders?
People often say ‘my posture is terrible’ but are stuck not knowing where to go and how to deal with it. Rounded shoulders and similar imbalanced postures can be improved with targeted exercises – this is exactly what we do in Pilates! A properly trained Pilates teacher will assess your posture and ‘prescribe’ exercises to improve on it, helping you to strengthen weaker areas, and be more comfortable in your own body. They will be able to teach you the exercises in a way that you understand, correct your form where necessary, and help identify the specific causes of your shoulder posture.

There’s no such thing as a WRONG posture, but certain ones can put undue strain on particular areas (ever stand up after sitting at your desk for a while and remember you have a back and realise it’s stiff and achey?), and balancing these can reduce everyday pain and discomfort, strengthen us for daily tasks and help us wear our bodies that bit easier. You might not even notice the small ways that rounded shoulders or imbalanced back posture has been affecting you until you start seeing the benefits of improving it!
Rounded shoulders compresses your diaphragm, which can lead to shallow breathing, so improving your posture here can make it easier to breathe… more easily!

And of course there is also that little selfish, slightly shallow voice on our heads that tell us we look better when our back and shoulders are tall and straight. Body language matters, and it’s true that standing straight is associated with confidence and capability.

If you’re in the Edinburgh area and would like to get an assessment or details on Pilates classes, feel free to give us a call on 0131 652 1904.

If, for whatever reason, you’d like to work on your back and shoulders a little but you can’t make it to see a Pilates teacher at the moment, I’ve included some foundational exercises below.
In this video I demonstrate three great exercises for rounded shoulders – which work on improving your upper back and core.

Further Reading
If you’re interested in some more information on shoulder posture, I recommend checking out a few posts by Pilates with Priya. When Priya started pilates, shoulders were one of the core things she worked on, so her advice comes from direct personal experience.

Lots of love,
Chris Blagdon

new year's resolutionsHello, dears!

It’s common knowledge at this point that New Year’s Resolutions just don’t work for most people. The very nature of them makes them hard to keep, a recipe for disappointment.
Refreshing your life and habits in the New Year is absolutely worthwhile – but most people set huge, unrealistic goals for themselves and leave themselves feeling disappointed and low when they can’t achieve them.

I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions, but I do believe in little changes which lead to huge ones! That’s why I’ve put together this list of four small, achievable ways to be a little healthier and happier in 2017.

1. 🍏 Eat SOME healthy food
If you’re unhappy with your eating habits, it’s just not realistic to change them completely in 2017. If you have a weakness for biscuits you’d like to curb a little, swearing off them completely will be incredibly difficult. Instead, I recommend just trying to eat healthier things more frequently. When in doubt, more fresh fruit and veg can’t hurt. Sliced apple with peanut butter is tasty and good energy for the morning, and you can jazz up an ordinary shop bought hummus with lime, spices or fresh herbs – it makes a great lunch along with some oatcakes or crackers and rocket leaves.

Eating one more healthy meal a week is a noble and achievable goal. Or maybe you just want to make sure you’re including some vegetables along with the kinds of meals you’re already making. Maybe instead of letting half-empty bags of veg in the fridge go to waste, maybe your goal is to cook the whole thing at once and eat more of it in one portion instead of bulking out a meal with more rice, potatoes or pasta.

Achieving small goals like these will make you feel good and give you more energy to go further with them – rather than putting too much pressure on yourself and feeling rubbish when you fail. You can eat better if you want to, it’s not futile! But it’s not going to happen overnight either. You need time to adjust and develop your skills and knowledge. Slow and steady wins the race!

2. 🏋️ Find activity and exercise in SMALL ways
New Year is the busiest time of year for gyms. Memberships go through the roof, and then are cancelled or go unused in the following months. Instead, think small and realistic. And if you’ve had ‘exercise more’ on your To Do list for months or years and still haven’t managed to achieve that – make an effort to try different forms of activity or exercise.

Everybody’s different! Maybe your best friend loves to run but it bores you to death – it’s easy to think ‘I’m just not good at exercising!’ when you try something and it doesn’t work out the way you hoped it. The truth is, it can take years to find what works for your body and your lifestyle! But it takes a lot less time if you decide to try different things with the intention of finding something which works. Maybe you jog those two flights of stairs every day instead of walking them. Maybe you borrow a bike and try cycling to work a couple of days over the week. Maybe you want to do pilates every week.

Only you can find those little ways to be more active and physical which work for you, and the more you experiment, the quicker you will!

3. 🌿 Be gentle with yourself
Stop beating yourself up for not being PERFECT. You are human – and that’s allowed! If you often think things like ‘I’m rubbish at this’, ‘I’m not doing enough’, ‘I’m such an idiot’, ‘I can’t be bothered’ – that’s going to have a big effect on your happiness. Now I’m not saying you should convince yourself everything is amazing and you’re the best person in the world when that’s not true, replacing negativity with blind positivity isn’t a good idea. But approaching things in a balanced way is healthier than defaulting to negative.

If you notice yourself thinking negatively like this in the moment, try to stop and take a moment to say – is this actually true? Is this a useful thing for me think? Am I making things harder for myself by thinking and believing this?

If you’re thinking about something you have to do and your first thought is “Oh, I just can’t be bothered” – you’re not going to feel like doing it! Try reminding yourself “I’ll feel better when it’s done and it probably won’t take that long.”

4. 🌤 Recognise your achievements
It’s extremely easy to keep looking forward at all the things you haven’t done, and completely ignore everything you’ve achieved. 2016 was a tough year for losing actors and musicians, and full of turmoil in politics too, but what happened in your life?

Take a moment to think about all the things, big and small, that you achieved in 2016. Take a moment to look at how far you’ve come, instead of always focusing on how far you have to go. (This is the reason I like to keep a list of things I’ve done instead of things I have To Do!) Did you move house or change jobs, or improve your skills in your current job? Maybe you created some better habits, or finally saved up for that holiday you’d been planning for ages. Maybe you caught up with an old friend you missed, spent more time with family or helped someone through a difficult time.

Whatever you achieved in 2016, remembering you did will help you 2017!

Share one tiny change you’re making for the better this year with me on Twitter.

Love and blessings,

Chris Blagdon

1650_cepcHello, dears!

Again, I’m going to continue the Life-Changing Challenges series. Because I think new challenges are good for everyone – they can introduce us to a new and rewarding activity or skill, and (mostly importantly) show us we’re capable of amazing things (because we are, you know!)

When we get stuck in a rut, or bored with our routine, we tend to hear the same sorts of advice. Join a pottery class, or a walking group, or a bridge group. These new, sometimes forced, hobbies often don’t stick, or really engage us enough to want to continue them.

Sometimes we know we need something new and exciting in our lives… but we have no idea where to start! Where do we find that new focus and passion?

Today I want to talk to you about the transforming effect of big, crazy, exhilarating challenges. It’s very easy to never really take big, fat risks, which means we cheat ourselves out of ever getting to enjoy those big, fat rewards. These are the kinds of things which if you dive into them headfirst, could change your life. If you give them the effort and commitment they deserve, they will pay you back tenfold in excitement, creativity, endorphins, new friendships or strengthened relationships and of course that wonderful sense of achievement and pride in yourself if you succeed!

There’s no age limit on adventure. So what will your next life-changing challenge be?

5 Curious Challenges to Do Just Because

If you look hard enough, the world really is rather weird and wonderful, isn’t it? Today I’ve collected a bunch of odd and interesting challenges that *I* hadn’t even heard of until recently. So far we’ve covered challenges in exercise and for your body, and some more to flex those brain muscles, here we’re looking at the weirdness in between!

1. Become a Treasure Hunter – Geocaching

Those of you who know me might be surprised by this one! It’s a bit new fangled and technical for me, but I’ve also heard it’s an amazing way to get outdoors, explore the area and get a little thrill when you find buried treasure (also called a cache). So here’s a quick, 75 second video which explains it all.

Geocaching by itself is flexible – you can do it whenever you want. If you want to really get the most out of it, I recommend roping in some friends or family to do it with you – got some family up North or down South? Why not compete to see who can find 10 caches first? Or challenge yourself to find 10 in a month! If you’re already thinking ‘goodness, I don’t know if I have time for that’ – good! A challenge which doesn’t test you, which doesn’t make you find time and resources you didn’t think you had, isn’t a challenge at all! And that’s why we’re here, isn’t it? (If you like the idea of using an app or phone game to get you out and exploring, there’s also Pokemon Go)

2. Become a Chef or Baker – Enter a Cooking and Baking Contest

If you’re obsessed with the Great British Bake Off and watching Nigella is your idea of a Christmas tradition, maybe it’s time to take your love of food further! There are lots of cooking and baking contests which stretch across all skill levels which could be great fun. Look for local contests, or enter a recipe contest over the internet. Here are some ongoing cooking contests. / And some recipe contests with deadlines.

3. Become a Detective – Taggart Team Challenge

This challenge is a little different from the others in that it’s a team challenge, rather than a personal one, but it just looked so interesting I couldn’t leave it off the list! Whether it’s a team-building exercise for you and your colleagues, or just a fun challenge for some family and friends, you and your team are tasked with solving a murder on the streets of Glasgow. You’ll have to track down clues and interview witnesses to solve the case.

4. Become a Storytelling Master – Dungeons and Dragons

This one is particularly close to my heart, and geeky centre! Dungeons and Dragons isn’t just for comic book nerds – it actually has a ton of benefits. Don’t believe me? Check out this Ted Talk in which Ethan Gilsdorf “shows us how this groundbreaking game involving communal storytelling, dice-rolling, and imaginary adventures in lands filled with dragons, quests, elves and evil wizards actually gives us powerful tools to combat the perils and challenges of reality. I also love this list of 10 Good Reasons to Play D&D.

So my challenge to you is: put away your ‘but it’s Dungeons & Dragons’ inner voice, and challenge yourself to play a few games and become a Dungeon Master! The Dungeon Master (or ‘DM’) is the ‘architect’ of the story, they organise the word, create details and decide the challenges of a given adventure, and maintain continuity. It’s a great exercise in organisation, creativity, storytelling and can lead you to researching some crazy and fascinating things for your games. A little ‘googling’ can help you find D&D games and groups in your area, this site will help you find one in Edinburgh if you’re local or of course you could jump in together with friends and family. Here are some tips on how to get started. / Get started with the paper handbooks. / Get started with the digital ‘handbook’ (wiki).

5. Survive the Zombies – Rundead

Yes, this is a real thing. You can survive the zombie apocalypse in this city-wide zombie chase game. Can you believe things like this exist? Us humans know how to pour time, effort and passion into the strangest pursuits. (Pursuits? Get it? Oh, never mind!)

Believe it or not, there are other zombie chase games out there (like 2.8 Hours Later), Rundead is happening in Feb 2017 Glasgow, so you’ve plenty of time to prepare. Here’s what it involves:

RUNDEAD is a live-action, zombie chase event that promises a screaming good time. This is not your usual five-kilometer zombie feeding fest. But there are two similarities… you have to RUN and you will be chased by hungry zombies.

Survivors will be grouped into teams and asked to complete several tasks by looking for survivors, performing challenges and uncovering clues around the course.

Each choice takes the team to different tasks that bring them deeper into a post-zombie apocalypse world. And the ending depends on the decisions they make while trying (and screaming) hard not to be zombie food.”

I hope you found something in there which gets your blood sizzling and fills your stomach with butterflies!

 

The Complete Life-Changing Challenges Series

1648_cepclifelong learning

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Lots of love,

Chris Blagdon