Yoga for my (real) life

I spent yesterday at the OM Yoga Show in London, a massive festival and trade event, and I usually make the trip each year to network, touch base with my yoga contacts and stock up on new clothes and products to try. It also offers a vast programme of free classes, so it’s a great opportunity to practise with new teachers. I took a great workshop with Katy Appleton a few years back and got a fabulous hug from Tara Stiles, too!

My visit usually prompts reflection on my own practice as well as on my teaching, which are two quite different things. Teaching group yoga sessions is one of the most enjoyable parts of my work. Creating a space for people to feel safe, relax and feel confident in their practice is the essence of my teaching. My home practice is probably not as much as you think.  My sessions can be quite short and often focus on meditation and breath work, rather than on gut busting vinyasas or trying to nail a fancy new pose.

And that’s where my approach to yoga has changed so dramatically since my first visit to the Yoga Show more than five years ago. I went back then as someone with a long standing home practice, not a keen class goer, and not only felt like a bit of a fraud but was a bit too impressed by all the green juice-drinking contortionists. Now I go as a teacher and a well trained fitness professional with a nose for bullshit and a lack of tolerance for a lot of the nonsense that comes with the yoga world. I have met some horribly aggressive people there as well as stalls peddling totally useless products ‘guaranteed’ to change your life. The yoga industry, like any community, contains a cross-section of humanity, with all the good and the bad and the greed that entails.


(My own teacher, Sally Parkes, leading a session at this year’s OM Yoga Show London.)

These days, my focus on yoga is very different from that first visit. I used to want to be ‘good at yoga’, whatever that means, whereas now I prioritise it as self-care, which means gentler practices and a lot more regular meditation. My priority for teaching is now based much more on the wealth of anatomical knowledge I have acquired in the last three years and is focused completely on client safety. The idea of correcting and adjusting people to fit the preconceived idea of a perfect pose (if such a thing can exist) leaves me cold. I am far more interested in clients working with what their bodies allow them to do and ditching a pose completely if it doesn’t work for their anatomy. Again, meditation is a key part of my teaching, as is reflecting on how we live yoga outside the studio. You can be all sweetness and light on your funky Lifeform mat, but if you’re rude to staff on the way out then you ain’t no yogi, no matter how many turmeric lattes you drink.


If you want to expand your practice, think about living your yoga, going deeper into your practice and not just throwing shapes, as fun as that is!

Great books to read include:

Donna Farhi – Bringing Yoga to Life

Judith Hanson Laseter – Living Your Yoga

Deborah Adele – The Yamas and Niyamas

Richard Rosen – Yoga FAQ

Sally Kempton – Meditation for the Love of It

If you would like to practise with me, you can find my current Bristol teaching schedule here. You’ll be well looked after in a friendly group with lots of laughter and plenty of personal attention for a safe practice. Beginners are always very welcome.

You are also invited to join myself and Jenna Freeman at Foundations Cafe, Baldwin Street, Bristol at 10am on Sunday 26th November for our first yoga brunch: one hour of a relaxing flow plus protein oats or waffles and coffee for just £15. Places are limited and booking is essential so email me at to pay for your place with YOGABRUNCH in the subject box.

Looking forward to seeing you soon!



What I’m thinking as a trainer while I’m working with your body

My own personal trainer is a lean, mean, muscled machine, as is my boxing coach. Both are very fit and experienced competitive fighters who can look pretty intimidating. Was I nervous when I started training with them? Absolutely! I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of being trained, worrying about knowing nothing about lifting weights or throwing punches and feeling distinctly underpowered in the cardio department while they both run rings around me during padwork drills.

There’s always someone fitter, stronger and more knowledgeable out there than you, and that’s why I have my own coaches to keep me challenged and progressing and accountable; it’s why most people sign up for personal training and I also feel that every trainer should have their own coach to push them on. We all need someone else to motivate us. But we start where we start, and it’s the responsibility of a good trainer to meet the client where they are and not pass judgement. I know that when I train with my coaches, I’ll be getting valuable feedback on my skills and not on the size of my thighs.


(Training my client Helen at Powersports.)

I think worrying about being judged as weak/fat/clumsy can put people off signing up with a PT, and that’s a real shame. A good trainer isn’t the same as a shouty military  instructor who motivates through humiliation (unless you like that sort of thing, in which case be my guest and find someone who isn’t me). A skilled personal trainer is an empathetic listener, an excellent coach and flexible according to the needs of their client. If someone arrives fighting off the flu, then the tough HIIT session I planned is going to be dropped in favour of light training and a stretch-based session. Working 1:1 on fitness is about far more than writing someone a programme full of sets and reps. You can be someone’s agony aunt in times of trouble, you will be asked for a lot of advice on areas well outside of health and nutrition, so be prepared to go way beyond what you think is required if you are thinking of becoming a personal trainer!


(Working with Ella and her arthritis at Sweaty Betty Bristol – training isn’t just for the athletic elite.)

My client base is predominantly female (I have three male 1:1 clients and a handful more in my yoga and HIIT classes) and I have been very conscious about how I speak in my work about women’s bodies. There’s enough shaming going on across social media; I want everyone who comes through my door to know they are not judged. Just being in a class for the more anxious members of my client base is a big achievement, as is training in front of other people in a shared space. For many people who have not exercised for some time, are injured, experiencing personal problems, are pregnant or carrying a lot of weight, training is a matter of getting through it, and I commend my clients for their efforts. People’s lives and their motivations are often far more complicated than we can appreciate.

We talk about form and technique in my classes and 1:1s, not about being skinny. My clients literally applaud each other’s efforts and we have fostered a reputation for being one of the most friendly and welcoming groups around, of which I am very proud. I know when someone new arrives, my fitness tribe will make them feel comfortable and motivate them through the class, whatever their size, whoever they are and whatever they can do.


(With Pearl and Shirlee, left, and Meg, right, at my group classes. We’re a friendly bunch!)

And when I am watching my clients working out, what goes through my mind? To be honest, it’s very technical. I’ve been trained through my studies to look at the body in terms of balance, form and alignment so I’m absolutely focused on how you are performing a movement and nothing else. I’m looking for the best, safest form you can achieve, and then working out ways to modify something you may be struggling with or progressing an exercise if you are looking strong. I will notice your mood and your energy and how that is affecting your training, and I might ask you some questions to see how I can help if you seem a bit off. I’m looking at your static posture as well as your dynamic movement patterns to see if something needs correcting, not because it makes me feel clever but because incorrect information is being fed to your brain and central nervous system when something is out of alignment. That’s a potential injury waiting to happen and it won’t get you closer to your goals.

I pay my clients compliments on their form and give praise where it’s due. I’m honest if I think you need to work differently or you could try harder on your nutrition, because that’s my job and I would be doing you a disservice as a coach and maybe even compromise your safety if I don’t speak up or call bulls**t where necessary. Telling someone they are not ready to perform a certain exercise or why they not losing weight isn’t fun, but I will always explain what you need to do to get there over time and with practice.

Am I thinking you look fat/thin/too muscly/too anything? Nope. I really am a dispassionate observer trying to help you achieve what you told me you want to do. If I pay you a compliment, it’s because you’re working hard to get closer to where you want to be, and you deserve it. I feel that my yoga teacher training and practice makes me a more compassionate trainer, but I also feel that is an essential quality for any decent trainer working with clients putting their mental and physical wellbeing in their hands. It’s a matter of basic respect and helping someone feel better about themselves. If you’re not willing to be motivational and take joy in your client’s gains, no matter how small, then it’s not the job for you.

If you’d like to read more about how I think trainers should responsibly coach their clients, then have a look at this article I wrote for the Personal Trainer Development Centre.

If you are interested in working with me 1:1 or coming to my group classes, then visit my website – link below. We also have a fitness half day event coming up on October 14th where you can get a taste of several areas of my work: HIIT, yoga and coaching.

I’m always happy to see a new face looking for a warm welcome! My episodes show me in group training and with 1:1 clients.

Recovery: an essential aspect of a balanced training programme

So I fully expect this post to be met with howls of laughter from my friends and clients. Only last year I was commissioned to write an article on the importance of holidays to people’s health, only for everyone to pitch in along the lines of  ‘you never take time off, you big hypocrite’… Anyway, I’m starting to draft this on the eve of a full seven days off work, I’ll have you know, so I feel perfectly justified in pointing out the added value of rest and recovery as part of your training schedule. Ahem…

As much as some of my clients find getting off the sofa and into my classes a tough call, others I find hard to dissuade from exercising every day, and sometimes more than once. I’m not a fan of the ‘yoga every damn day’ thing. Everyone’s body needs at least one rest day a week, and that includes from playing pretzel.  Make it a meditation practice instead, and just give yourself a break. There’s a mental stress involved in making yourself achieve every day without respite, not to mention putting your hard earned physical gains at risk by overtraining.


(Don’t. Really. Everyone needs a day off, even yogis.)

Fundamentally, we make improvements to our bodies by putting it under controlled stress when we train. This encourages growth of lean muscle tissue as well as gains in strength, power and endurance. Cardiovascular fitness will also be improved, depending on the nature of your training; it is possible to get cardio into weight training with the use of explosive movements and short rest periods, but you need to slow down and lift heavy to build muscle.

Putting our bodies under this stress means we need to give it time to recover, which can be a day spent relaxing    away from the gym as well as planning our training to avoid exerting the same muscle group or energy system on consecutive days. For example, you wouldn’t gain anything from two leg days in a row as your muscles would be too tired to perform well on the second day, and we also don’t recommend HIIT more than two to three times a week either, as it is so intense when performed correctly. Programme to get the most out of your body. Here is my typical week:

Monday: yoga and weight training

Tuesday: boxing-style gym session with skipping, bag work, kettle bells and body weight exercise

Wednesday: maybe yoga and a walk, sometimes a 5km run

Thursday: boxing lesson and yoga if time allows

Friday: weight training

Saturday:  no training

Sunday 5km run and yoga.

For me, this is a good mix of cardio, weight training, stretching and the boxing conditioning that I love. I also teach eight hours of group yoga and fitness classes, 16 hours of 1:1 personal training and walk up to 100km a week, so I get a lot of incidental exercise in addition to what I schedule specifically for my body.

I sleep well, feel tired when I should and, until I wrecked my right tensor fascia latae while dancing  (not training!) I’d also not experienced any physical problems, so I feel okay with this balance. What I need to do more of is be ready to take a ‘deload’ week more regularly, where I decrease the intensity of training and let my body recover (roughly every six to eight weeks), as well doing more foam rolling and get regular massages. This would definitely improve my overall physical maintainance. I have a happy home life, excellent friends and a yoga and meditation practice for my mental well being. I also love what I do for a living, obviously, so I feel pretty balanced.


(Me, this week, on holiday: no sports kit and a big chocolate milkshake! Bliss…)

If you are experiencing the following, you may be overtraining and are due for a deload:

– experience regular niggling injuries

– never seem to recover completely from training

– are always tired but get poor quality sleep

– feel guilty if you take a rest day or feel that you need to ‘earn’ your food. Neither of these are healthy approaches to fitness.

To maintain balance:

– always take at least one day a week off from training. Active recovery is fine, such as walking, but skip the tough vinyasa yoga class for something more relaxing.

– vary your training and avoid the same activity or working the same muscle groups on consecutive days.

– prioritise sleep. If you are very active, you may well need an extra hour nightly and certainly not less than seven.

– eat well to fuel your recovery, including quality sources of protein and plenty of vitamin-rich vegetables. Don’t e restrictive.

– ease off the ‘I must’ attitude. A day off won’t hurt if you are genuinely needing a rest, have to work overtime or life gets in the way Frankly, if Tom Hardy asked me out for dinner, I wouldn’t give the gym a second thought before running into those tattooed arms. I digress…

Ultimately, unless you are a pro athlete being paid to look and perform in a specific way or are a serious competitor, remember to take time out and be kind to yourself. You don’t need to push so hard. Even those athletes have an off season. Training regularly still puts you in a very small percentage of the population that performs vigorous exercise routinely. Be proud of that fact in a week in which we learned that most adults over 40 aren’t getting as much as 10 minutes of brisk walking a MONTH!!

Be proud of your prowess, but also know when to stop.




The 40+ body in the fitness business

I am, apparently, recognisable by my shoulders. This is according to the film crew at Troy TV who drove up behind me on the way to a shoot and spotted me by this rather well developed part of my anatomy. People usually recognise me by my bum but, hey, things change…

As a personal trainer, I’ve realised that people comment on my body more than they used to. I wasn’t offended by the point about my shoulders: in fact, even my clients are becoming recognisable by their unique shoulder definition! However, in an age where body comparison and paranoia  is rife thanks to social media – see my earlier post on this one – I feel even more under scrutiny being a fitness professional, especially being over 40. I guess people see the body of a trainer as a useful point of comparison for their own development, although I do occasionally get people asking how the ‘bodybuilding’ is going, with a bit of a smirk,  or men telling me that having muscles is ‘unfeminine’. I thought we were beyond all of that, but apparently not.

It’s my job to be fit and have a body that looks that way; I have to be a good advertisement for my job. Instagram is full of photos of young trainers baring their six packs, vascular thighs and bulging biceps, but are they the appropriate criteria on which to judge how well they can train a client, and not just themselves? Can they adapt their training to suit someone with far less ambitious body goals? I don’t have a six pack but am in good shape for a 45 year old. However, part of me still remains a little pressured by the fitness industry norms to get leaner so that I ‘look like a trainer’.


With the right lighting and from a good angle, I can Insta with the best of them but I have to remind myself of two things when I start all the negative comparisons: one, I’m 45 not 25, and two, being a good personal trainer is more about being a good coach than having a great body (and who decides what a great body looks like?) and that coaching is what I do best.

Personal trainers and fitness models are not the same thing, although social media may convince you otherwise. My body helps to sell my business but what keeps my clients with me is my ability to build a strong working relationship with them. My goals are not your goals. Training myself is not an indicator that I can also train you.

My job is to help you identify your fitness targets and motivate you to achieve them with my skills and knowledge base. My formerly unhealthy past of being chronically ill and a bit chubby actually helps me work more effectively with my clients, as I know how hard it is to make a change. And being older? I’ve been around the block many times so when clients need to unload about their personal life (if you’re thinking about becoming a trainer, sharpen up your counselling skills because it’s not all about reps and sets) I’m sympathetic and pretty unshockable.

I’m already planning ahead for my future career as I have a limited time frame as to how long my body will be able to work at such physical intensity. I have an appointment with my physio this week to sort out a range of aches and pains. Switching to a more coaching-led practice is one way forward, as is specialising in working with an older age group. I’ve also just started a course that will qualify me as a specialist in corrective exercise, as I want to deepen my anatomical knowledge and I enjoy the challenge of working with clients with postural issues and injuries – that would be most of you!

For now, I’m working on myself to stay healthy and fit so that I can enjoy my job, and to make progress with my own strength goals. We have to look inside and focus on what we want to achieve for ourselves, not to fit other people’s conceptions of how our bodies should look. So for anyone who has been called unfeminine, too muscly, too skinny, too big or too much of anything – screw ’em. Do the best for you, right now, to get yourself one step closer to whatever you are trying to achieve: a pull up, a Parkrun, a walk around the block without getting out of breath. And, if you need a motivational trainer with a sympathetic ear who’s already been there, you know where to come…