I’ll be honest, I wrote this list for myself. It’s my “go to” list of things that make me feel better, and I’m sharing because maybe some of them will help you too. And yes, I know that there’s a lot to be said for letting yourself feel sad, and not fighting it, but there’s also a lot to be said for doing something proactive. I reckon taking action to help yourself feel better is usually preferable to dissolving in a puddle of self-pity/ wine/ vegan mint chocolate chip ice cream (been there). So here goes:
Write it out. Journalling helps us to process what’s going on in our heads. I write what I’m thinking until I’ve written my way through the confusion, and have settled on a course of action.
Make a gratitude list. Some of mine seem ridiculous: “I am grateful that at least being stuck here means I have time to meditate,” etc, but it doesn’t matter. The act of focusing on gratitude changes your thinking.
Reach out to someone. Call a friend, send someone a message, send 15 people a message if necessary. Human beings are social creatures. Connect with more of them. It helps.
Exercise. Walk, run, dance, do whatever, but get yourself moving. The key is getting out of your head and into your body.
Watch some Tony Robbins on Youtube. I find him super-cringey, but I cannot watch him talk without feeling more positive. Weird, but it works.
“Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick and pull yourself together.” This one’s courtesy of Liz Taylor, and who am I to argue?
Another confession – this list was going to be 10 items long, but I ran out of ideas, and besides, 7 seems like a good number. But by all means, make your own list and make it as long as you like. Please share your ideas in the comments below… I’ll probably need them at some point too.
Cold showers are something I’m used to as a traveller. Reliable hot water is a luxury, not a given, in a lot of the places I stay. And sometimes cold showers aren’t that bad. In Nepal, the water was never heated, but the temperature outside was very warm and the water was never really cold, so it was fine. In cooler places, I’ve perfected the art of showering as quickly as possible, with as little of my body under the water at any one time as I can get away with, while still ending up passably clean.
Suffice to say, cold showers are definitely something I’ve endured rather than enjoyed.
So why would I voluntarily choose to start taking cold showers during March in Portugal, in a house where the lack of heating leaves it chilly at best, glacial at worst?
Well I was intrigued by a program on Ekhart Yoga called “Core Strength and Radiant Health.” Both of those sounded like the sort of things I wanted more of, so I decided to give it a go. The only trouble was, the program included “an invitation” to take cold showers.
The idea of the program is that you start each morning with pranayama or breathing practice. Next you practise yoga – alternating between all-round yoga classes and core-focused practices. Then, it’s cold shower time. To make it more bearable, it’s suggested that you start with a hot shower, then for the last 30 seconds or so you dial the temperature down and blast yourself with cold water.
Showering in this way is apparently called a “Scottish shower” and incidentally, if you’re needing further motivation to try it, it’s the way James Bond showers. I don’t think you can get a better endorsement than that…
So how have I found it? I must admit, the first morning, I probably only managed 7 or 8 of the 30 seconds I was meant to do. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and wondered why I would put myself through something so horrible. Particularly after my recent thinking about promoting self kindness, this seemed to go against the grain.
But, as soon as I stepped out of the shower, I felt amazing. A hundred times more energised and awake than I usually do first thing in the morning. And that feeling lasted all day. Weirdly, I also struggled less with feeling cold during the morning. Whereas usually I sit and write huddled under three blankets with a succession of cups of tea to keep me warm, I was down to just one blanket. It was as if the cold shower had woken up my own internal heating system.
So I’m definitely carrying on with the challenge. Let’s see how it goes when I’m back in the even cooler UK…
If you fancy joining me in the challenge, give it a try, at least for a day and see what difference it makes. The full information is here.
After finding life in Morocco a little challenging, it was with some relief that I found myself in the beautiful town of Cascais, Lisbon. Although I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Portugal, I had never managed to visit Cascais, and this was a mistake. However, in March 2016 I rectified this, with a stint teaching yoga at Perfect Spot Lisbon.
Cascais is a gem of a beach town. It’s bustling and popular, without being too touristy (ok, it is super-touristy, but not in an obnoxious way). The beaches are beautiful, and there are plenty of them. The town itself is quaint and sweet, full of quirky cafes and shops.
Visit Cascais For Yoga
I took a class at Yoga Cascais, where they offer yoga classes twice per week in English (always helpful, as my Portuguese is limited to being able to order wine…) These classes are great if you want to explore yoga beyond the postures – pranayama, mantras and meditation.
The Portuguese really know how to cook (and eat!). An afternoon trip that I went on involved not one, but two picnics in the space of three hours. Amazing.
And for eating out, perhaps because of the bohemian surfer-y vibe in this part of Portugal, there are unexpectedly good veggie and vegan options in the cafes and restaurants. The supermarkets also had veggie choices to rival those in the UK – a real bonus after my time in Spain (where I was told the Spanish word for vegan translates as “crazy vegetarian”) If you’re a fan of fresh fish or seafood though, Cascais is the place to be.
Visit Cascais to Explore
Lisbon and Sintra are both less than 45 minutes from Cascais by public transport. Lisbon is amazing – creative, cosmopolitan and colourful. I’m a little bit in love with it. You can easily spend hours wandering the cobbled streets, and without even intending to, every corner seems to lead to another panoramic vista point. The bonus of all the walking is that you work up an appetite for the gourmet food market Mercado da Ribeira (I know – more food…).
Sintra is another magical place. It has it all – castle ruins, grand palatial houses and stunning natural scenery.
Visit Cascais for Surfing
Surfing and yoga complement each other perfectly, or so they say. If you’re already a yogi, your core strength, flexibility and body awareness will help you to find your feet quicker on the board, and for surfers, yoga is the perfect way to warm and release your body before and after surfing.
Now, I’m editing here for honesty, because as much as I’ve tried, I haven’t fallen in love with surfing. For me there is too much getting hit in the face, and saltwater up my nose has never been my idea of a good time.
However, if you’re more of a surf baby than me, then the surf is another thing to love about Cascais. I felt duty-bound to mention it here as the waves are a highlight for many tourists. You can get up, practise yoga before breakfast, then head to the beach to catch some waves, before chilling later in the day. If you’re not, fear not, there are alternatives. I absolutely loved the free (yes, free!) bicycle hire on offer in Cascais. You can hire a bike from the council and cycle all the way along stunning coastal paths to Guincho Beach.
Visit Cascais To Chill
I’ll be completely honest, my time in Cascais wasn’t nearly as action-packed as this blog makes it sound. I basically practised yoga in the garden, caught up with writing, walked along the beach and ate delicious local food. It was such a great opportunity to take a step back and lead a simpler life in a beautiful place. So if that’s what you’re looking for (and really, who isn’t?) visit Cascais – it’s dreamy.
I wrote recently about the power of self-love. That’s a different concept to being kind to yourself, although the two are intimately linked. But it occurred to me as I wrote that how hard it can be to do the little things that show yourself compassion and love.
I don’t 100% believe the idea that you can only be as kind to yourself as you are to others. I know plenty of people who care unremittingly for others while really struggling to be kind to themselves. BUT, I do think that without also being kind to yourself, this constant giving is hard to sustain. Sometimes, consciously or otherwise, we wait for others to show us the kindness we aren’t showing ourselves, which can lead to disappointment and even resentment if they don’t.
10 Easy Ways To Be Kind To Yourself
Do yoga. Regular readers may have seen this one coming. I’m a big advocate for yoga as an act of kindness towards yourself. But, make sure it is yoga that makes you feel good, not something you tell yourself you have to do. Give yourself 10 minutes to move in any way that makes your body feel amazing. Stretch, rock, lounge – whatever works for you. Luxuriate in it.
Give yourself time off. This can be time off anything that you feel like you “should” do – work, studying or training. Throw away the to do list and the “shoulds” for an hour, an afternoon, or a whole weekend, and let it go. The world won’t fall apart.
Plan something nice for yourself. Here’s some news – you don’t need to wait for someone else to book tickets to a show, or plan a trip, or choose a holiday. Do it for yourself. Schedule it in your diary and give yourself something to look forward to.
Give yourself some great advice. Whatever it is that’s troubling you, have a think about how you’d encourage and support a best friend/ child/ loved one in this situation, and follow that advice. You’re wiser than you know.
Write some positive affirmations for yourself and repeat them regularly. It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe them, or if it feels cringey and awkward. Just do it. No one said being kind would be easy. Oh wait – I did. Sorry about that…
Prepare (or buy!) and enjoy your favourite meal. Let go of the diet/ detox/ nutrition program for one meal and allow yourself to just enjoy it. Seriously, no one will die if you eat what you want to for one meal. Chocolate brownies for dessert, anyone?
Give yourself a massage. Spend 10 minutes massaging your feet, shoulders or scalp. Coconut oil is my favourite. This is especially good if you do it just before Number 8.
Go to bed 30 minutes earlier than usual. It doesn’t matter whether you actually fall asleep early or not. Switch off your mobile phone, turn off the TV, get away from all your electrical distractions and relax.
Take a dance break. Put on your favourite music and dance like no one’s watching. If they are watching, you get extra points for this one.
Treat yourself to something you want, but you don’t need. This doesn’t have to be super-expensive (unless you want it to be!). It can be as simple as stopping for a latte on your way to work, or buying yourself a new T-shirt just because you want it.
If the thought of doing these things makes you feel a little uncomfortable, that’s ok. Do them anyway. There’s no need to wait for other people to do kind things for you, or to give you permission. You already have permission. Commit to trying at least one thing on this list today and show yourself some of the kindness you cultivate for others. It will be life-enhancing, I promise.
You might have come across the hashtag #yogaeverydamnday, which could seem funny, or inspiring or motivating. But if you’re new to yoga, or you’re very busy, the idea of practising yoga every day can be intimidating. So do we really need to do yoga every day? And how much yoga is enough to feel the benefits?
It depends on your goals. This means working out what you want from your yoga practice. For example, if you want to learn to handstand, you need to put the time in. It takes consistent practice and training drills to strengthen and open your body, and increase your body awareness and balance. Having a go as part of your weekly yoga class will help, but if you’re doing nothing in between, it’s going to take a long time to progress. On the other hand, if you have a very active lifestyle and you use yoga to reconnect with your body and mind, your needs will be different. Spending just 5 minutes at the end of the day doing a restorative posture like legs up the wall pose followed by meditation will have a huge impact.
Daily practice is a non-negotiable. I appreciate this is a controversial one, but for me, to function at my best, I need some kind of yoga every single day. If we think of yoga as a tool we use to checking with our bodies and be present, then I would argue it probably is something we all need every day. However, this doesn’t have to be a vigorous hardcore yoga practice. Some days my self practice is just finding 5 minutes to meditate. I can even do this on the plane if I’m travelling. Other days I might do 10 sun salutations, some core strengthening work or some joint mobilisation exercises.
Fluctuations are normal, and natural. One thing I’ve learned is that my own yoga practice ebbs and flows, depending how I’m feeling and what I’m doing in the rest of my life. I used to panic if I couldn’t fit in an hour to practise every day, but now I try to be more responsive to my situation. During my Advanced Yoga Teacher Training, I practised yoga for 3 hours every day (at least!) and meditated for 1 hour. I felt amazing, but that amount of practice isn’t realistic for me most of the time. That’s ok. The way I think of it is I still carry with me all the benefits of having spent that amount of time practising yoga. So now, even when I just do a mini yoga practice, or a short meditation, I know I’m reconnecting with all the good that I cultivated during that time of intensive practice.
It’s worth saying that the more I’ve practised yoga, the more I realised that yoga is everything. From noticing my impatience while I wait in a supermarket queue to remembering to relax my shoulders when I run, it’s all about mindfulness, and it’s all good yoga practice. But I still prefer to have some dedicated part of each day where I consciously and deliberately set aside the time and space to do yoga.
How much yoga is the minimum?
For me, I’ve found the lowest I can let it go is 5 minutes per day. I feel like I miss out if I don’t spend at least 5 minutes per day connecting with myself. Usually if time is as tight as this, I don’t do yoga postures at all, I just sit and meditate for the 5 minutes, because I find that’s the most effective way to drop into the mindful awareness I am looking for in such a short space of time.
I’d love to know what you think of this and how much yoga you need? What works for you? Let me know in the comments below!