Y is for… Yoga

I love, love, LOVE yoga.

My first experience of yoga was when a yoga teacher called Cath came to my office to teach a taster session, as part of a staff benefits scheme. I remember going along with the pre-conception that yoga would a nice, gentle exercise class;  I was keen to lose a few pounds and I’ve always been a bit of a hippy at heart so I thought I’d try it out with my colleagues. All I remember about that class was being in fits of giggles with my colleague Rosie, as we tried to walk in figure-of-eights on our hands and knees, on yoga mats.

Fast forward around five years and I’ve just signed up to my second yoga retreat. I attend yoga classes regularly and I’m currently on day 98 of a journal I’ve been keeping this year, to document how I feel during my own daily practice which I do at home. I set my alarm for 6:00 every weekday (8:00 on weekends) to roll out my mat; if the weather’s nice I practise in the garden and I hate it if I have to forgo my daily practice for any reason.

I’ve had several different yoga teachers during the last few years. Ellie, Ray, Sharon and, most recently, Claire are all wonderful and have taught me many different things. I’ve met them all through my original and lifelong teacher who got me hooked on yoga to begin with – Cath Kelleher, who owns Yogafever. I have a lot of love for this lady, not least because she caused me to fall in love with yoga in the first place through her fantastic teachings but because she is a huge part of Cardiff’s thriving yoga community and a totally inspiring person. In December last year, Cath organised Yoga for the Philippines, within a fortnight. She managed to fill City Hall, Cardiff with people participating in mass yoga practices and workshops, bringing together an entire yoga community and raising over £4,000 for the people of the Philippines following the hurricane disaster in the process. She’s one cool yogi.

The Great Hall, City Hall, Cardiff during Yoga for the Philippines

I’ve tried many different styles of yoga: vinyasa flow; hot yoga; power yoga; restorative yin yoga; kundalini yoga; yoga nidra. I’ve even attended a laughter yoga workshop (hilarious – thought I was actually going to die of laughter!). The class I attend at the moment is a mixture of flow, restorative poses and pranayama (breathing exercises), run by my teacher and friend Claire.

Yoga is not an exercise class or a hobby; it’s a way of life and it has changed mine completely. Yes, I’m bendier. I hang out in Downward-Facing Dog. I can breathe in for the count of ten and my shoulders and arms are toned from doing countless planks. Yoga is great exercise and a lot of fun however the main purpose for me will always be to strengthen and still my mind, to shut off all the chatter going on in my brain and to reconnect with my body, with the ground and with the universe. It makes me feel alive. And so happy.

Within yourself is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.

-Hermann Hesse

Yoga is completely accessible and beneficial for anyone and in my opinion, anyone who says they tried it and didn’t like it went to the wrong class. If anyone in Cardiff would like to give yoga a go, I can recommend lots of different classes.

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V is for… Vegan

I became a vegan on the 5th of May, 2012. I don’t necessarily like the label ‘vegan’; what I’ve actually tried to adopt is a whole-foods, plant-based diet but that sounds complicated (not to mention pretentious!) so the ‘V’ label is easier to use when explaining what I eat to others.

Tofu, Veg, Vegan

Most people are surprised to learn that before the above-mentioned date, I was a meat-eater and not a vegetarian. The last time I ate meat was a hog roast at a friend’s wedding, on the 4th of May 2012!

Over the last few years I’ve changed my lifestyle quite a bit (just wait until we reach ‘Y is for… Yoga!), with health and happiness in mind. Part of this has involved considering what I eat and drink, as I’ve suffered from mild IBS symptoms for years as well as feeling tired all the time. I consumed a lot of online content about wellness and one day, on one of my go-to wellness websites, I came across a documentary called Forks over Knives, which drastically challenges the Western diet of consuming meat and dairy. I ordered the DVD from the USA and watching it changed my outlook on food completely. I decided to try out a vegan diet until Christmas that year, to see if I felt any better.

By December I’d definitely noticed some benefits (not to mention feeling smug – how do you know if there’s a vegan at a party? They’ll tell you!) and I didn’t miss my old diet so I decided to continue. While my ailments haven’t disappeared completely, I generally feel much healthier and I’ve surprised myself with an overwhelming love of vegetables – I’ve been ordering organic veg boxes from Abel and Cole for over a year now and I still get excited when my box arrives!

Vegbox, Abel & Cole

I’m not zealous about my food choices by any means. While I love animals, I’ve chosen to do this for health reasons and not as a moral decision (otherwise I would’ve already been vegetarian), although doing so has definitely raised my awareness of animal welfare and sustainability issues.

Veg, Kale, Salad

I’ve had a few ‘vegan holidays’, most notably on an all-inclusive holiday in Lanzarote last year, where I started out admiring the array of salads that I could enjoy all a week only to be found by day three tucking into the fresh fish and Camembert!  I eat shellfish now and again in restaurants, but infrequently.

Eating out as a vegan is challenging. There are a few food establishments in Cardiff at which I love to eat – Milgi being my favourite – but in general the options for vegans can be poor, if not non-existent, especially when it comes to British fare.

vegan, Milgi Lounge

Vegan brunch and fresh juice at Milgi. They do awesome cocktails, too!

I intend to post more about my experiences eating out as a vegan once I’ve finished this A to Z Challenge.

S is for… Singing in SUPERCHOIR!

For today’s A to Z challenge, I was torn between SUPERCHOIR and my cat, Spike. Spike’s somewhat of a legend and her escapades simply must be documented at some point, but I really want to share the magic of SUPERCHOIR today, so that half-feral, Aussie moggie will have to wait a bit longer for her moment of blog fame.

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I am a proud member of SUPERCHOIR and have been since the day it formed, just over two years ago. SUPERCHOIR started out as a Cardiff-based initiative (there’s also a Swansea version) run by Sing and Inspire, who are a wonderful, infectiously happy bunch of musical geniuses. Their vision is to inspire people to make a positive difference. They do what it says on the tin and then some, all through the medium of song!

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“Feel amazing, sing fantastic music and network with other, like-minded individuals in a fun, relaxed atmosphere” is how SUPERCHOIR is advertised. While this is indeed an accurate description, it means so much more to me. I wrote an open email last year to Andrea, Director of Sing and Inspire, explaining exactly how I feel about SUPERCHOIR, which you can read on her blog if you have two minutes. If you just want the short version, being part of SUPERCHOIR has changed my life for the better.

Singing makes me passionate, energised and joyful, which can only ever be a good thing and when this is done in a fun environment with a crowd of amazing people the results are magical. We gig quite a lot and have recruited lots of new members over the last two years, people who happened to see us perform and wanted to become part of the magic. People often think that we’re a professional, paid choir when this is actually something we do for fun after work on Wednesdays…

Superchoir, Sing and Inspire

We sang at a wedding on Saturday and I was so excited to be gospel-clapping in a church – it was straight out of Sister Act. We’ve got some flashmobs coming up in the next few weeks which are top secret…

Fancy a sing-along? Here’s a wobbly video of us singing Adele’s Skyfall, at a fundraiser in Porter’s Cardiff last summer:

And our signature song, Jackie Wilson’s Higher and Higher: