metime, mindset

Find time for self-care during lockdown

I don’t think I have ever craved me-time as much as I have during this lockdown.

Yes, it’s really lovely to get to spend lots of time with my family, enjoy meals together and time out in the garden.

But I’m someone who also really loves my own company. I love switching off, and not talking to anyone.

It’s been hard to get that downtime at the moment as it feels like every waking moment is filled with “Mummy, can I…?” or “Mummy, you need to…” and “Mummy, where’s my…?”

The first few weeks were especially hard trying to adjust to this new normal, and I felt like I was completely losing myself. Doing the bare minimum for myself when I could, exercise. But I was missing other things,like doing my hair and nails, and seeing my friends.

So over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been trying out some things to promote self-care, help me with my mental health and also lift my mood.

1. Get up, exercise, shower and get dressed.

This might sound really simple, but also very hard when you’re a mum. It already seems impossible to shower and get dressed, and now I’m also asking you to exercise. Exercise is great for the mind as well as the body. It’s a great way to tell your body that you are honouring it and respect it enough to move.

After your workout, have a quick shower and get dressed for the day. You’d be surprised how much your outfit can set the mood for the day.

2. Put some makeup on.

For the first 3 weeks of lockdown, I didn’t see the point of wearing any make up. I wasn’t going anywhere. And then we had a glorious weekend of hot weather and we decided to have a BBQ at home and spend some time in the garden. I decided to put on a colourful jumpsuit and put some makeup on. I was in such a great mood that day. So much so, that I did the same thing the following day. And I’ve decided that where possible, I’ll put on some form of makeup everyday, even if it’s just eyeliner and mascara.

3. Work on your skincare routine

Now is the time to catch up with some beauty bloggers on youtube and find out how could take better care of your skin. You know those products you were worried about trying because they might cause your skin to look really red or break it out in spots? Well, now is the time to try those, since we’ve nowhere to go! Most online retailers are still delivering, so why not have a look at some places like Cult Beauty or Look Fantastic.

4. Go out for a solo walk/run

I have to run a couple of times a week. I started running because I was going to do a half marathon, which got cancelled due to coronavirus. But I’m still going because I really love it now. There’s no better way to get an endorphin release. I also love it because I get to turn on my favourite podcast or audiobook that I wouldn’t be able to listen to otherwise, and just tune out the world. It’s my time to focus on me and my running. You don’t have to run though. You can just go out for a walk. Speak to your partner and ask them to watch the kids so you can have some time out by yourself. It’s a great way to get energised and lift your mood at the start of your day, especially if the rest of your day is going to be hectic, like it is for many of us.

5. Have virtual hangouts

We don’t know how long it’s going to be before we can physically see our friends and extended families again. Thankfully we have so many tools now at our disposal to connect with our friends and families online. Lots of people are hosting parties via zoom and other online streaming platforms. So many events have had to be cancelled, but thanks to these platforms people have been hosting quiz nights, baby showers, live workouts, and even live concerts! If you haven’t already had a virtual date with your friends, then get planning!!

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mindset, movement

Exercise after Baby

Giving birth is such an amazing thing. I was in complete awe of what my body was capable of after I gave birth to my daughter.

I remember during my pregnancy I had said to myself that after giving birth I wanted to become stronger and fitter than I had ever been.

I’m sure like me you were probably itching to start your postnatal fitness journey as soon as you could. But there are definitely some things that I wish I had been made aware of that I know many mums still do not know now.

Recently, I went live on Instagram with Claire Johnson from Alpha Fit Female, a pre and postnatal trainer, nutritionist and mum. We discussed what some key things are to know when you are planning your return to exercise after giving birth.

Be kind and give your body time to heal

See the first 3 months as the 4th trimester. So although you’re no longer pregnant, your body has gone through some much giving birth whether you had a vaginal delivery or a C-section. Give your body time to heal. Rest as much as you can. Your only job is to take care of yourself and the baby and get used to this new normal. You don’t need to worry about jumping straight back into exercise as your body probably won’t be ready for anything for at least the first 4-6 weeks.

The only things I would recommend to do in this period are your pelvic floor exercises, some gentle core strengthening exercises and walking. After 6-8 weeks if you feel better and you’ve been to see a women’s health physio (they will advise when it is safe for you to start exercising again) you can start introducing some light weights and bodyweight exercises.

See a Women’s Health Physio

These physiotherapists specialise in pelvic floor health for women and men. They are trained to assess your body internally (with your permission) and externally to see how your body has recovered from giving birth. The earliest you should see one after giving birth is 6-8 weeks, but don’t worry if you gave birth many years ago, it is never too late to pay one a visit if you have any issues.

Your women’s health physio will give you advice on how to strengthen your core, how your pelvic floor is functioning and what exercises to do to keep it strong. 

The internet is great for general advice, but when you actually see a physio the advice they give you will be relevant to you and your body.

Work on your core strength and don’t forget those pelvic floor exercises

You don’t realise the importance of your pelvic floor and core muscles until you’ve given birth.

I was shocked when I couldn’t hold in a wee and had to run to the toilet. I was also shocked when I tried to do a plank at 8 weeks post giving birth and found I couldn’t hold it for more than 0.5 seconds!

There are now many great resources with tips and exercises (check out this video on my page) to do at home to help with these.

Before you try to get back to lifting, running or any type of physical activity, please work on getting your core strong again.

Your pelvic floor supports all your pelvic organs and also stops you from having accidents (if you know what I mean). If it’s not strong or functioning properly, you won’t be able to do the things you love; you won’t be able to run, jump or even squat. You might feel like you need to run to the toilet every time you need to go.

So again it comes back to seeing a women’s health physio who can assess you pelvic floor and teach you correct breathing techniques to work your core and pelvic floor and show you how to correctly exercise to get both strong again.

Return to running guidelines

I’ve met many mums who loved running before they became pregnant and their first question is usually about when they can return to running.

It really depends on the individual as each person and each birth is different.

Again, a great way to get personal guidance on this is to see a women’s health physio. But if you can’t afford to do that, then there are some great guidelines that were recently released by 3 physios to help mums return to running safely.

These guidelines are fantastic as they give you guidance on how to assess yourself to make sure you are ready to return to running after giving birth. There are a number of tests and exercises they advise you are able to do before signing yourself off to start running again (all included in their free download)

You can use these same tests to also assess whether you are ready to return to HIIT classes or anything else that produces high impact.

You’ll find a link to download a free copy below.

Check out the below resources to support your postnatal journey:

The Mummy Mot: A database on Women’s Health Physiotherapists based in the UK

Bumps and Burpees: A database of personal trainers around London who specialise in pre and postnatal fitness

Mum Hood by Frame: Postnatal classes in studios around London

Mumshape: A database of pre and postnatal classes and trainers in London

Return to Running Guidelines: Click here to download the free Return to running guidelines published in 2019.


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menu, mindset, movement

My journey to health and wellness – getting fit and becoming a yoga teacher at 41.

I’m Claire – a forty something working-mum who has, over the past 5 years, gone from overweight, unfit and burnt-out to starting a side-career teaching yoga and wellness. Sometimes I look back and think ‘how on earth did I get here?!’ 

Fitness did not come easy to me and I have never ever been sporty, but in my 20’s I took-up yoga (mainly because Geri Halliwell got skinny af) and walked everywhere, mainly to save money. But seriously, I loved my weekly yoga classes and I loved getting the music on and power-walking through the streets of London everyday. I didn’t think particularly deeply about my body image, self care or any of these things – I was a young woman in London, social media didn’t exist and life was buzzy and fun.

Fast forward to my 30’s and having a baby – I was still working but had moved to the leafy green suburbs. As many mothers will tell you, those first few years with a child are completely exhausting and completely absorbing. The baby weight fell-off when I was breastfeeding but after 5-6 months it started creeping back on. I barely noticed – the bigger sizes purchased during pregnancy stayed in my wardrobe and became my everyday wear. 

I was also bringing up my husband’s teenage son which could be both wonderful and challenging. Life in a house with a toddler and a teenager plus balancing a career was taking its toll. Then one day, a friend posted a picture of me on Facebook and I hardly recognised myself. I looked tired, pasty-faced, drab and overweight. I looked like I had given up. By the time my child reached 3 years and my step-son 16 I had stopped doing all of the things that I once had loved and felt like I had completely lost my sense of identity.

I can’t quite remember the day that I decided to take back control. I do remember setting up some basic fitness equipment in the spare room and starting my workouts at 5:45am. Initially I took online classes, like the Body Coach but soon found that high intensity training was not a friend to my fragile pelvic floor! Undeterred by yet another reason my body was giving me not to exercise I joined a local gym and took classes there – hiding at the back. The real turning point was finding Kayla Itsines BBG and the online community that came with it. Gradually my body changed and so did my mindset – it became about training, fuelling and posting – with plenty of calorie deficit and macros thrown in for good measure.

Now this period was great in so many ways – I loved the online community aspect and I started organising meet-ups for women who were into fitness. There were so many like me that had gotten the fitness bug but didn’t have immediate friends who were into the same things. Together we did BBG meet-ups, various fitness festivals, Barry’s Bootcamp and more. It gave me a taste of something bigger – a peek into an industry and a lifestyle so very unlike my life in the Civil Service!

Around this time I was posting my workouts, protein-heavy recipes and regular ‘transformation Tuesday’ progress pics on Instagram. Photos generally featured me getting smaller. When I returned from a holiday, I did one challenge where I drastically cut my calories and trained hard for 10 weeks. The before and after was really something to behold, abs and all. But instead of feeling proud, I felt depleted and exhausted. What would I post next? Where did I go from here? I had reached my goal, I was the fittest and lightest I’d ever been – but that 10 weeks had been really hard work around my job and kids. I was hungry all the time, I was snappy and moody. 

That was when things changed. I recognised the lure of becoming smaller and smaller…the esteem in which society holds thinness was seeping into my own sense of self-worth. I didn’t want to glorify continual fat-loss dressed up as #fitness so switched my focus to wellness, taking a much gentler and more holistic approach. 

I dialled back the strength training and cardio and returned to yoga, which felt like coming home to my first love. The wonderful thing about yoga is that it’s all in the practice, awareness in the body, working on those limitations gradually. Conscious movement and breath. Alignment of the body leading to alignment of the mind. There is no emphasis on achieving a particular size or shape, no ‘shred’ or ‘cut’. At about this time I went to a pensions talk at my workplace… and it dawned on me that I didn’t want to be locked into my profession for another 26 years. I walked out of that talk and started researching yoga teacher training. By the weekend I had found the perfect course and booked it. 

For someone who is (by nature and profession) a bureaucrat, this kind of rash decision making was very out of character – but my sense of intuition at that moment was so strong that I made the leap with my heart instead of my head and never looked back. Now I’m teaching 2-3 times a week and it’s been amazing. I get to help people in a very real and immediate sense. My launch event sold-out, I built my own website (so proud of that) and there are lots of exciting opportunities and collaborations on the horizon.

It just goes to show that you never know where that first-step will take you – I could never have guessed that those early morning workouts in the spare room would lead to a new second career as a yoga teacher at 42 years old! As the late BKS Iyengar said ‘ yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel like you are constantly trying to fit broken pieces together’ – he’s completely right – and now I get to share that gift with others.  

Sign-up for my newsletter at www.alignandthrive.co.uk for classes and events, special offers and blog posts. Follow me on Instagram @thewellmother_  and at @alignandthrive

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mindset, movement

Exercising during pregnancy

You’ve just found out you’re pregnant! Congratulations! What an exciting time you have ahead of you.

Growing a baby is a wonderful thing and your body goes through so many changes internally and externally to help with that.

One of the biggest concerns for expecting mothers is whether or not they can exercise during pregnancy, what type of exercise they can do and how often.

Labour is like an athletic event, so like any athletic event you want to get your body ready for it by training for it.

As long as you have a healthy and normal pregnancy, you should be able to exercise regularly right up until you give birth.

Exercising during pregnancy is safe for you and the baby

The NHS guidelines state that exercise is good for you and your baby as it helps you maintain a healthy weight and prepare your body for labour.

It is recommended to do 150 minutes of exercise per week. Of course, everyone’s pregnancy is different, and some expecting mothers suffer from bad sickness, nausea or low energy levels. So, it is important to listen to your body and rest when you need to.

On the days you feel that you have more energy, you should take advantage and aim to do something for 30 minutes, even if it is just a walk.

Add strength training in a couple of times a week

It still seems to be a strange thing to find a pregnant woman in the weights area at the gym, but resistance training is one of the best things you can do during pregnancy.

You do want to be mindful of how much you are pushing yourself though as this is not the time to try to lift your heaviest squat or deadlift.

Your aim here is to keep your body strong, help it as it goes through its changes and prepare it for labour and beyond.

Maintaining muscle strength has been shown to help with coping during labour and a better recovery after giving birth. Keeping your body strong can help alleviate some of the aches and pains that come with your body changing during pregnancy.

And don’t forget, once baby arrives, you’re going to be carrying a heavy car seat, pushchair, baby bag, and an ever-growing baby, so you really can’t afford not to be strong!

Seek help from a personal trainer if you are unsure

If however you have never done any type of strength training before, or you just want to have a bit of guidance, then book in with a personal trainer who is qualified to work with pregnant women. Be sure to let them know everything about you, so any injuries, any pains you have been getting, how you are sleeping etc, so they can make sure to take those things into account when training you.

A personal trainer can show you how to use weights correctly, check your form and advise you on the best exercises for you at each different stage of your pregnancy.

We don’t ever want you to stop training, so if something doesn’t feel quite right, we would rather modify exercises for you than stop them altogether.

If you are in and around London, then check out Bumps & Burpees to find great qualified pre and postnatal trainers near you.

Be mindful during HIIT and spin classes and avoid contact sports!

You should stop any exercise or sport that has a risk of falling or being pushed.

HIIT and Spin are great classes to take pre-pregnancy but might not be ideal once you are pregnant if you struggle with taking the intensity down. HIIT and spin tend to push your heart rate to near 100% of your maximum heart which would normally leave you breathless. This is not ideal during pregnancy.

If you still want to attend these classes, then you need to make sure the instructor knows you are pregnant and is happy to modify exercises for you. You should remove any high-impact moves during HIIT classes, extend your rest periods and make sure to drink lots of water.

During spin class, the best thing is to go at your own pace. You want to be able to talk, so be sure to check in with yourself regularly and reduce your speed/resistance if you are getting too breathless.

You also want to avoid overheating, so make sure wherever you are taking your classes has windows and/or air-conditioning.

Seek out prenatal fitness classes

Working out with others is always much more fun than doing it on your own.

Prenatal classes are becoming more and more popular and if you want to exercise in a safe environment whilst also meeting other expecting mums, then be sure to check out mumshape.co.uk. You can filter for your area to find classes near you.

If you live in London, then also check out Mumhood as they have studios in various London locations with lots of prenatal class options.

Yes, exercise is really good for you during pregnancy, physically and mentally, but it’s important to listen to your body. Some days you’ll feel great and have lots of energy. On others, you might feel quite tired and will just want to rest.

This is completely normal, so don’t feel bad if you have the desire to exercise but simply don’t feel up for it.

On the days you do have more energy, doing something even just for 20 minutes can be enough to make you feel great.

Listen to your body- if all you can manage is a walk, then do that. Want to do a little more? Then grab your weights or resistance bands and do some resistance training. There are no hard and fast rules!

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mindset, movement

Exercise has been my saviour

Exercise is not only about aesthetics, it is also about mental health. Exercise has been a huge saviour for me, and I wanted to share the reasons why.

A little bit about me….

I am an inspired, passionate life living proud single mother born and bred in South Africa. My father was Hungarian and my grandparents are from England.  I grew up always dreaming and wanting to achieve more in life, however circumstances like poverty, abuse and trauma changed my life and I ended up taking a different journey than the one I wanted. This journey has taken me through various paths in life and has allowed me to be the person I am today, and I am proud of that person. My suffering has become my strength.

It’s my passion to help and inspire others simply because I know and believe that no matter what kind of life a person has had in the past, the present and future can be modified.

I am a mother of an amazing teenage daughter who has a diagnosis of ADHD and General Anxiety disorder, OCD and various other mental health concerns. My daughter is one of my inspirations in life and my ‘WHY’.

My motto is #NeverGiveUp. I have learnt that no matter how hard a person’s life can be or how many obstacles you face, the words “Never Give Up” are inspiring.  They inspire me; these words give me meaning and make me realize that I can’t give up no matter what. It is linked to the reason WHY I wake up in the morning

I used to be relatively healthy in South Africa but when I moved over to the UK I experienced a lot of stress and anxiety. My friend and companion became addictions like smoking and drinking and simply living an unhealthy lifestyle. 

The last few years I have been making changes and living a healthier life in order to become a better person, not only physically but mentally and emotionally. Personal and physical development is key to a successful and happy life. I also realized that life does not have to be hard and no matter what life throws at me I can make the best out of it.  I am a survivor and not a victim any longer.

I worked in the automotive industry for almost 15 years until I made a career change and decided to follow my heart and passion and live the dream I had when I was a young girl.

I am a qualified Level 3 Personal Trainer, Nutritional Adviser, Inspirational blogger and Life Coach practising daily gratitude, wellbeing and mindfulness.  I am a dream chaser and have a passion for life and travel. 

Now that you know a little bit about me I want to tell you why exercise is so important to me and the reason it saved me from a mental breakdown recently. 

About 3 years ago I started my fitness journey and was able to lose an incredible amount of weight, mostly around my stomach. After losing the weight I felt like I really did not want to gain it all back so I continued exercising and moving my body. I mainly wanted to avoid the weight gain, but also realized that it was a necessity for my health as both my parents passed away at a young age; one from diabetes and the other from heart failure. Their deaths were related to an unhealthy lifestyle and a huge amount of stress. I was determined to try and continue with my newfound healthy lifestyle.  

Aesthetics was a big contributor towards my daily exercise regime and my life as I feel and look good and have accepted and now love my body the way it is and I am also comfortable with the way I live in my body.  We all try to get to this point at some stage of our life and it is an amazing feeling. 

However, I have realized that exercise now to me is so much more than just having a six pack or a toned butt. It’s so much more than this.

My daughter as I mentioned has various mental health concerns and she recently had a relapse with her anxiety and mostly what they call separation anxiety which resulted in OCD. Basically it was like I had a 2 year old that did not want to leave me and go to nursery and cried when she left my side. Take note, she is almost 16. 

This was extremely challenging as at one point everything was perfect and she was so independent and the next moment everything came crashing down. From me being able to move around freely and visit friends and see potential clients to feeling like I was locked in a prison and could not breathe. Sadly she was not even able to go to school during the day, she turned from being my happy daughter to this girl that was depressed and someone I did not know. 

She was constantly worried about me and did not have the strength or courage to be away from me even for 10 minutes.  Don’t get me wrong, I adore my daughter and want her with me but every human needs their space. I was suffering and did not have the answer to help her or fix the situation.  I felt broken, desperate, and alone and wanted to give up but knew this was not an option. 

All I had every day was between 30 mins to 1 hour where I was able to exercise, while she was in the house with me.  I was able to switch off from everything that was going on and focus on that amazing thing called movement, the use of one’s body, the privilege to use your muscles in ways that astound you, the miracle of a body that can move and connect with your mind and make you feel incredibly awesome. 

That feeling when your heart races and the sweat trickles down your face or back. The feeling that you are a new person. You feel so powerful, happy, restored and full of life. This has been my saviour each day. It helps me get through another day and face the struggle of not being able to help my daughter and make everything better and make her life whole again. Exercise has been my release and my saviour and has helped and prevented me from having a mental breakdown. 

Don’t get me wrong, there have been other tools and things in my life, like my faith, mindfulness, friends and my daughter’s therapy and doctor that have helped every day. 

But there is just something about exercise and movement.  Mental health is real, it’s a huge concern in today’s world with all the stresses of life.  I can vouch for this as when my daughter is anxious and depressed I feel it too, and I also have suffered with anxiety and depression. I have a tool that I know can change my state in a matter of minutes.  This is why I am sharing it with you today. Movement and exercise is so much more than the way you look it’s about the way you feel.

Give it a go, move your body today. I can guarantee it will make you feel phenomenal.

My daughter is now on medication and we are walking the journey together each day to rebuild her confidence and strength. I continue to focus on exercise daily to help me with my mental health and the stresses of single motherhood.  

Statistics have shown and proven that exercise helps with mental health. Below are a few links for further reading. 

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-to-using-exercise

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/physical-activity-and-your-mental-health/#.XhMSd0f7TDc

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/wellbeing-in-mental-health-applying-all-our-health/wellbeing-in-mental-health-applying-all-our-health

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woman in gym looking focused
mindset

Creating good habits

Actually creating good habits that you’re able to stick to takes a lot more than some people realise. The ones who do realise just how much have either tried and failed, or are the ones who have found some great ways that work for them to do this.

I personally still struggle at times to keep up with all my good habits, or getting through my to do lists, but knowing that I am making it part of my everyday life means that if I fail one day, I just try harder the next day.

I have spent some time reading and listening to lots of different people in different industries to find out what they do to help them with routines and how to make long lasting changes in their lives. Podcasts and blog posts are really good to hear and read about people’s different perspective on these things. I have summarised the tips below that I have found useful:

ABOUT HEALTHY EATING HABITS:

Instead of removing all the bad things from your diet and telling yourself you have to only eat “clean”, start by adding things to your daily diet. So when you want to eat your pizza for dinner, why not add a side salad and eat that before you start eating the pizza. You may not end up finishing it as you’ll be full from your salad.

Lots of people want to eat a more plant based diet and whilst for some of us it’s easy to just switch in one day, others really struggle with it. So again, instead of going cold turkey (excuse the pun), try adding more fruits and vegetables to your meals and reducing the amount of meat and fish you eat each time. Or try to have only one meal a day that has meat/fish and make the rest vegan or vegetarian. Little changes can amount to big results.

ABOUT EXERCISING:

You don’t have to do a full hour of cardio 5 times a week or spend 2 hours lifting weights if you don’t like it. You don’t have to follow a 12 week bikini guide if it’s making you miserable! The best way to exercise is to do what you enjoy.

You may have to try a few different things to see why you like. Maybe try out some classes or even a personal trainer who can tailor programmes specifically to you. But the best way for you to stick with something is to make sure you enjoy it, not because you feel like you have to do it.

ABOUT YOUR TO DO LIST:

Do you find yourself always ticking off the easiest things first and leaving the big, daunting tasks until the end? Only to find that you’ve come to the end of the day and not tackled any of those big items? Why not try actually doing some of the big things first? Sure, it might take a few hours to do, but once you’ve managed to get it out of the way, you’ll feel so proud of yourself and realise it probably wasn’t as bad as you thought before.

Batching: You may already be familiar with this term, but batching is something busy people do to help them keep on top of things as they have so many things to juggle. So what is it? You look at all the things that you do on a weekly basis, emails, blog posts, cooking, shopping, taking phone calls, the list goes on. So instead of spending every day doing a bit off all those things sporadically and as they come, you set aside time each day to do a certain task for a few hours.

So Mondays, for example, you’ll spend 10-1 doing all your emails and 3-5 doing your meal prepping for the next few days. On Tuesday, you can spend all morning doing blog posts, while you spend the afternoon dong emails. Later in the week, you’ll have a day where you do your photo shoots with all your different outfits, ready to use for your blog posts the following week.

ABOUT PRODUCTIVITY:

Some people are great in the morning. They wake up full of energy, ready to take the day by its horns. That’s me I find I can whizz through stuff much quicker and efficiently in the mornings! Others are a bit slower to start and can’t really get into things until they’ve had a coffee and some breakfast, but can stay up really late to do work. We’re all different and have different levels of energy throughout the day. So, find the time when you have the most energy and mental clarity and use that time to do important and big tasks as you’re less likely to procrastinate.

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