The glow-down on Yoga

It is very vogue to be ‘into yoga’. The first question from peope is: ‘do you do Bikram Yoga?’ to which my answer is always  ‘no, sounds awful’. Any exercise where it is advised to stay in the room, to avoid throwing up or collapsing outside, doesn’t bode well.

But I do ‘do’ Yoga. Hatha Yoga apparently. And while it definitely hasn’t turned me into Gwynth Paltrow, I am grateful for the ‘gifts’ it has brought (if we are going all yogi).

Yoga

The big news is I can now touch my toes. And even more impressive, for an hour one evening a week I focus on something that isn’t electronic. My mind wanders. There is a bit at the end when we sit in eerie darkness, staring up a stained glass windows and our instructor tells us, in her slow, amazing voice that we must ‘let go of all emotions that no longer serve us’. What a fantastic phrase hey? I think she should make audio books or something. I once fell asleep in class and she had to wake me up. That was awkward.

There will be people who are expert on this ancient art, who can convey exactly how the body, working in harmony with itself,  benefits circulation, flexibility, muscular function and well being. But all I can say is I love it. Not because I know what I’m doing, not because I’m any good, not because my arms now look like Geri Halliwell’s when she released that DVD looking ‘worryingly toned’ (they don’t).

But because I leave feeling much lighter, rejuvenated, unburdened and  peaceful. I think everyone in the class does. Its nice to do something that doesn’t matter for a while – and somehow that becomes one of the most important rituals of the week.

My yoga instructor, the amazing Kasia Steyn’s 12 week yoga course has restarted now – but she will no doubt be offering courses again in April in Belle Vue Village. Check her out!

Namastay x

Why you have to chill out, to chill out at the spa

There are some things that perhaps shouldn’t be examined too closely. Facial pores in a magnified mirror, the sugar content of basically anything…and the ultimate weirdness of spa days.

What do you think about about when you are supposed to be thinking about nothing? Good question. Once the dead skin on the surface of the jacuzzi catches in the light, I can only think one thing. ‘I am sharing bathwater with a tattooed stranger.’

Not so awkward jacuzzi

Not so awkward jacuzzi

The relaxation sabotage continues. When the haze in the steam room clears to reveal three adult men, its hard to silence the thought that you are all averting eyes, basically sweating in your pants. Awkward.

It gets weirder. Especially if you are having a treatment and are ushered to a relaxation room with a fake planetarium ceiling and an immersive ocean music. Admittedly the room is weirdly therapeutic…until you spot a couple pressing into each other as if water birthing. So Gross.

I have been spending an uncharacteristic amount of time at spas recently, because well, it was the end of the year……so the season for ‘chilling’ and ‘me time’ and dropping £65 for a stranger to massage every inch of my body fat, as a present to myself for surviving the year.

I knock it, but there’s a lot to be said for spas – as long as you chill out first.

Local London Christmas cards

I love the idea of sending Christmas cards. To the point that I think my friends slightly resent me for creating ‘Christmas Card Reciprocation Obligation/Guilt’. To be fair  it does take a bloody long time to write them – it has somehow taken me ALL DAY. (But don’t worry guys, I’ve also watched Home Alone 2, the Outnumbered Christmas special and eaten half a chocolate log, so its not been a completely wasted Sunday).

I found these cards in the Trinity Hospice charity shop in Wandsworth and really liked them because they feature some of my favourite places in London, which look especially beautiful at Christmas  – Albert Bridge, Sloane Square and Clapham Common.

IMG_5766

If you fancy sending a more personal card and donating to a good cause (all of the profits go to the local Trinity Hospice) these cards might make the idea of sending loads of Christmas cards more worthwhile.

Anyway – I need to crack on – another ten cards to go and we are getting to the juicy part in Home Alone where Kevin starts torturing Harry and Marv (when you watch it back, Kevin McCalister is actually pretty sadistic).

Merry Christmas x

London’s secret wine club

I have been wine tasting too many times for someone who persists in knowing nothing about wine.

But I do know this.  A dry crisp white with a good friend can take you far away from November in London.  To tasting the first of summer or filling up crystal glasses on Christmas Eve.

Take someone wine tasting and you get a proper conversation. So going with a great friend was the perfect gift.

We went to Bedales in Borough Market. It’s one of those cozy, special places – lit up with candles and small wooden tables  – made for rescuing people from dark winter nights.

Bedales wine bar

Casual but classy, our expert host – Angelo van Dyk – was very knowledgeable and took a small, intimate group of us through a combination of unusual wines in a session called ‘The Lost Grapes’.

We tasted:

And the last one? By that point I can’t remember or read my writing, which says it all

If anyone goes…please find out and tell me!

x

On the rink: Curling in Kent

‘Random’ can be an overused word – particularly by teenage ‘guyz’ who think everything is weird – but a trip to England’s only dedicated curling rink could justifiably be called random.

Did any of us ‘need’ to try curling that weekend? No. But a brilliant friend had a weird birthday wish that just needed to be fulfilled. Afterwards all of us were richer individuals for having shared the experience at Fenton’s Rink in Kent.

England's only curling rink

England’s only curling rink

Curling is an odd sport (but no odder than any other when you think about it). Its quirkiness and Team GB’s success adds up to the fascination it generates. It turns out curling should also not be underestimated – tiring on the thighs (and the mind) and you even have to watch a safety video.

Curling stones are ONLY made in Scotland, out of granite

Curling stones are ONLY made in Scotland, out of granite

Once everyone has the proper training, you are let lose on the ice, with groups getting full use of the rink and two coaches for support. Most people start off cautious and it is lovely to see everyone’s confidence and competitiveness grow.

Picture of people curling

The flags definitely fuel the competition

Kind of like bowling on ice, you have to get the shoes right. This aint no fashion show folks…

Image of black curling shoes

Ice shoes

To add to the quirks and charm of Fentons, it is set right in the heart of the Kent countryside and with a retro feel that transports you back to the time of Torvil and Dean. As they say, a change is as good as a rest, so while a trip curling might feel random, it might just make your weekend

The farm yard frontage adds to the mystery

The farm yard frontage adds to the mystery

So retro. So random.

So retro. So random.

Fentons Ice rink is open seven days a week and can be booked for two hour group sessions.

London Carols: Best places to sing your little christmas heart out

Christmas isn’t Christmas unless someone has plugged in the carol singers.

Specifically I’m talking – little boys with haunting beautiful voices, baritones with big wool coats like the Dad in Home Alone and a soprano singing in the candlelight, making everyone feel like they understand the meaning of life for one tiny instant.

A lovely friend of mine is behind the organisation of Maggies first Christmas concert at St Paul’s Cathedral, which promise to fulfill my  actual Christmas wishes with the extra special bonus of seeing London’s iconic St. Paul’s like a proper VIP.

Not only will there be performances from St Paul’s Consort Choir, but also solos and readings by famous faces including tenor Toby Spence, mezzo-soprano Dame Ann Murray, the Manning Camerata Orchestra and  Dominic WestSimon Callow, Jeremy Paxman and Maggie’s Patron Janet Ellis.  WHAT A CHRISTMAS DREAM COME TRUE…If you need more convincing we will also be treated to WARM CHESTNUTS and HOT CHOCOLATE. I know right?

Christmas Carol Concert at St Paul’s Cathedral

Maggies Christmas Carol Concert at St Paul’s Cathedral – 16th December 2014, 19.00-20.30

The concert takes place on Tuesday 16 December 2014 at 19.00 with all proceeds going towards growing Maggie’s Centres in London, including its centre at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. Tickets are available from £25 (but selling out fast!) and can be booked online through the Barbican box office. See Maggies website here.

If you are not free on 16th or fancy something different, I’d also recommend these other truly awesome carol concerts to get in the real spirit (versus having a nervous breakdown on Oxford Street, which is often the alternative):

Is it too early to say Happy Christmas?

The London stress test

There is a particular kind of ‘London Stress’. Background white noise, which builds to silently flip its lid.

…And then you’re f-bombing people as you force onto a tube, or freaking out with Google maps in Soho, lost and late, or questioning the meaning of life after working until midnight, your taxi driver stoically ignoring your tears.

Picture of a tube carriage whizzing by

Attributation – Old Street London Underground Station by Annie Mole

Londoners don’t necessarily have more stress than people elsewhere, and we certainly have it better than many. Stress is prevalent even the smallest, most scenic locations, just listen to The Archers.

But London stress – which exists within the bubble of this city – is specific to life here. It can burn you out, makes you lose perspective, even lose yourself.

Why is London so stressful? The relentless pace, the competition, maddening crowds, the aggressive transport system, the stretched housing, the pressure of companies demanding that extra inch of excellence, of growth. Technology that keeps us wired up to global expectations 24-7, set against the fact that we all arrive here, fresh young things, thrilled by the prospect of a phone conversation with NYC at midnight to make us feel like we belong.

I always remember talking with two strangers on a train to Manchester, the summer before I moved to London, about (mostly their) concerns for me in London. One said: ‘Just remember, you don’t have to become like everyone else’.

But I did. I became one of the worst.

I’m not alone. Palpitations, eye-twitches, migraines, tears at work, and more serious stress aggravated chronic conditions and anxiety are worryingly common just among the people I know, if you lift the lid a little.

What can we do about it? I haven’t got much of a clue, or I wouldn’t be experiencing a tightening neck-vein at the mere head-on confrontation of the issue. But something must be done.

Some meditate. Others medicate. A lot swear by running. I’ve heard great things about Mindfulness. Dale Carneige’s ‘How to stop worrying and start living’ has helped a friend of mine, while another swears by Andrew Johnson’s relaxation recordings. The School of Life is a fabulous urban retreat that I love. We all know massage can help.

Burning rose oil apparently instills a sense of calm, yoga is amazing, as is chamomile tea and Classic FM at the end of a long day. A walk in the park can help you ‘get away’ when a holiday isn’t an option.

Me? I try some of these things. I mostly talk to friends and drink wine. I also write this blog.

I wonder if these small management strategies are a sustainable answer though, I wonder how much rose oil can actually make a difference.

When I first moved to London it all felt so temporary, I looked at the old-timers and wondered how they hacked it. A work colleague told me that the answer is to find the London you can manage, to create it for yourself – job, house, lifestyle. Apparently its possible. Maybe that’s our answer.