Helen Clare in a yoga warrior 2 pose

“A goal is a dream with a deadline.”

Why do 88% of New Year’s Resolutions typically fail? Probably for several reasons:

  1. We are still in the middle of Winter, when it is harder to get up early and crack on with our goals.
  2. A year is too long a time frame for most people to actually visualise and realise a goal.
  3. A ‘resolution’ is often more of an idea or a dream. In order to make it happen, we need to turn it into an actionable goal.

Let’s use the example: “I want to get fit and healthy this year.” The future tense makes it sound too distant, so change it to: “I am/ feel fit and healthy”. Then, break it down into 3 realistic, yet challenging, progress targets that show you are on track, such as: my skin is clear and glowing, I am my ideal weight, I feel strong and flexible. For each of these sub goals, give yourself 3 tasks, that you can begin to action immediately, to achieve your goal in 3 months. So, the whole approach, when written out, may look like this:

Result (Start with what you want): I feel fit and healthy.

Target (How will you know when you’re there): I am my ideal weight of _

Actions (What you will do to get there): I run 3 miles Wednesday after work and 6 miles Sunday morning (after getting my technique checked!). I go to yoga on Monday and Thursday nightsI switch processed foods with freshly made whole-foods (this can be more specific, such as switching a lunch time pasty for soup).

Target: I feel strong and flexible – my Sun Salute feels easier.

Actions: I go to yoga on Monday and Thursday nights. I get one private yoga session a week, so I can practise yoga for 20 minutes at home, 4 times a week. I sit on the floor instead of the sofa when watching TV.

Target: My skin is clear and glowing.

Actions: I switch diary for plant-based alternatives. I switch coffee for green tea and alcohol for sparkling water. I drink 2 litres of water a day.

Some actions might appear more than once, as they are all contributing to the end result!

Have a go! This process of breaking down a goal/ dream into visible trackable targets and actionable tasks can be done for anything! Give it a try and let me know how you get on in the comments below. We all need to set goals in order to live the life of our dreams. If you’re not sure where to begin, start by envisaging what you actually, really want. Brainstorming everything you want, will reveal at least one life-enhancing goal. Write it down, as above, tell someone else at home to keep you accountable and track all your actions.

If you would like one to one coaching on reaching a goal, with private yoga, nutrition plan and mBit coaching (enhanced decision making), then check out my Best You plans and get in touch for a consultation.

How can yoga help us live longer?

Have you heard that yoga can help you live longer?! Well, there is science to prove that it can – when practised properly ; ). I’m not talking about doing the postures ‘perfectly’, I mean practising with complete focus and awareness.

Only when we are completely focussed when we practise, are we practising yoga – otherwise it would just be a series of stretches and movements.

What yoga can in fact give us, is the benefit of the flexibility enhancing stretches and the strength developing movements, plus focus, clarity and mental peace. The first of the Yoga Sutras is: Yogas Chitta Vritti NirodahaYoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind, and although we may initially start doing yoga for the amazing physical benefits it gives us, when practised in the right way, you will find exactly this: a calm, still mind.

So, back to the science and living longer. It has been discovered that mindfulness strengthens our telomerase, the enzyme which maintains and repairs the caps of our chromosomes. The telomere caps deteriorate with the ageing process but if they are stronger, they naturally last longer, hence a longer lifespan.

This really comes down to the fact that, if we are living mindfully, ie. living with complete awareness of the present moment, we do not feel any stress, fear or anxiety – only peace. When we reside in the calm and relaxed state of the para-sympathetic nervous system our brains function optimally, our muscular tensions ease and we feel calm and happy.

Now, ideally this is our natural state if being but we all know that modern living causes multiple stresses! Yoga can be your way back to the natural calm state, and a longer, more relaxed, life.

Equipment versus Body

Dougie gave me the inspiration for this blogpost, as he is the only surfer on the beach that I ever see doing any kind of warm up or cool down stretch. Recently he made the observation on the number of surfers who frequently buy new performance surfboards but are not taking the time to improve and optimise their own physical ability, hence are slow to get to their feet due to being so stiff and are therefore unable to get the most from the shiny new board.

Many of us who practise a sport or activity find great pleasure in buying new equipment, be it surf boards, bikes, running shoes or yoga mats – especially when the chosen sport can’t be played or practised at that moment in time but you can prepare by going shopping online! Why? Not only does it gives us the instant gratification of an exciting new purchase and the anticipation of receiving and getting to use the new board/ bike/ shoes, it gives us the sense that it will enhance our abilities and performance.

When the average cost of a new surfboard is £650, and with the majority of surfers buying at least one a year, they could be investing in 100 yoga classes for the cost of one board. There’s no denying that good quality equipment is essential in any sport, but can continued investment in toys and equipment take priority over investment in long term physical health ie. strength, flexibility and mobility? Thankfully yoga is becoming more and more sort after by athletes, and is practised by almost all professionals, but there is still a resistance from many amateurs in caring for their long-term health and physical functioning.

The development and enhancement of our natural bio-mechanics obviously allows us to optimise the use of our equipment but when amateur athletes are over-relying on their equipment and neglecting taking the time to improve and maintain their physical functionality, is it the pleasure of having new fancy equipment, and having it instantly, that appeals more than spending regular time, consistently on physical health and functionality?

Where we live, surfing is obviously a huge part of life, where some surfers are buying multiple boards each year. Could they be ‘sacrificing’ one of these extra beauties to invest in going to yoga? Why? Surfers commonly suffer with tight hips and hamstrings, which yoga can help to release tension from and maintain flexibility – enhancing mobility and the ability to turn on the board. Lower back ache from muscle tension is also a frequent complaint that yoga can alleviate. Then there is the enhanced lung capacity, balance, coordination and strength that can all be developed. Just look at Gerry Lopez, who is nearly 70 and still surfing like he was 50 years ago!

Similar things can be said for biking and running, on which I have written plenty before!

What to do next:

Buy a Class Pass, £65 for 10 classes, and commit to regular yoga classes. Or try a one to one.

Come on Yoga Retreat Portugal where you can get into the habit of practising yoga twice a day, plus enjoy the surf or the trails.

Invest in your technique and come on a Yoga Flow Running retreat.

Surfers who do yoga – Dave Rastavich, Jamie Sterling, Tia Blanco, Gerry Lopez, Greg Long

5 Ways Yoga Benefits Trail Runners!

1. Strengthens muscles around joints – reducing risk of injury.

The standing and balancing poses within your yoga practice are fantastic at safely and naturally building strength around the structure of the joints of the ankles, knees and hips. Running itself may be building strength in the legs but if you’re running with bad habits you could be increasing misalignment, muscle imbalance and inflicting repetitive impact, resulting in injury or chronic pain! Yoga is a weight bearing exercise, without the impact, that allows you to identify your imbalances. Strengthening the feet properly (finally released from the confines of shoes!), and evenly strengthening both legs and hips. Doing poses on each side really gets you noticing those imbalances and learning how to correct them!

2. Increases flexibility – lengthening muscles, reducing risk of injury.

Yoga is all about creating balance – a balance of strength throughout the body, plus a balance of strength and flexibility – this equals power. The more you run, the more tension is built up in certain areas and the more tension that builds up, the more likely an injury to the muscles is to occur. Yoga carefully re-lengthens the muscles through mindful stretching, gradually releasing the muscular tension. Longer, more elastic muscles have a greater range of motion, whereas tight muscles are much more restricted and can easily be injured. Moving with complete awareness in yoga allows you to identify the depth to which you should be going into a stretch at any particular time.

3. Strengthens your core – improving alignment and posture.

Many runners suffer with less than optimally strengthened core muscles – yet, these are the muscles (including transverse abdominus, obliques, quadratus lumborum and rectus abdominus) that hold you upright! As soon as a runner begins to bend at the waist due to a lack of core strength all alignment is lost, severely negatively impacting running form, efficiency and pace. There are many hugely effective core strengthening postures that we can include within a yoga practice. You will start to feel the difference almost immediately in moving from the strength of your core centre and in the ease of standing and sitting tall – no sit ups required!

4. Improves your posture – and works the whole body.

Not only will stronger core muscles enable you to maintain proper alignment whilst running, but the range of yoga poses you move through will reverse the negative effects of the forward motion of running: hunched shoulders, rounded back, tight neck and shoulders. A common mistake amongst runners is that, if they  stretch, they only stretch their legs. A good yoga practice should work on all areas of the body, from your feet to your head. Our fascia links everything together, therefore each part is just as important as the rest. The forward bending poses are amazing for re-lengthening the hamstrings but the backward bending poses as equally as amazing at drawing back the shoulders to release tension in the pectorals and lengthening the spine to relieve common lower back ache.

5. Enhances lung capacity – enabling you to take in more oxygen and run for longer more easily.

Breathing should be a large focus of practising yoga, both as you move between the poses and whilst you remain in them. This focus on conscious breathing will naturally begin to expand your lung capacity, as when we take our awareness to our breath, it naturally becomes longer and deeper. An experienced yoga teacher will also be able to guide you through breathing techniques that will further enhance your lung capacity. Eventually, you may be able to run by only breathing through your nose, as your breathing rate remains slow and calm and your oxygen and energy levels remain high, enabling you to keep going for longer and faster.

Helen Clare is a yoga teacher based in Cornwall, where she loves to run the coastal paths. Helen leads regular classes, attended by many local runners but also offers several Yoga Flow Running weekend retreats throughout the year. Yoga Flow Running is a concept designed by Helen, applying the principles that she has taken from her yoga practice into her running: promoting running more naturally, with proper alignment, using core strength, enabling efficient and injury free, fun running.

5 boosts to your morning yoga practice!

I’m just home from an incredible trip to India, where I spent a month practising with and learning from a new favourite teacher of mine, Matthew Sweeney. His teaching consolidated my belief that, although led classes are fun, inspiring and motivating, everyone needs an individual practice that really suits them, to focus on their real areas of need. Matthew highlighted the importance of a self-practice, in addition to led classes, as the time when you really get to work on what you personally need to improve on physically/ mentally.

Beginning a self-practice takes dedication and guidance from a teacher, you need to be given a sequence that is appropriate for you and regularly checked. But there are a few things that we can all do to kick-start our mornings and begin to develop a morning practice, which can then be built upon with the help of a good teacher.

5 tips to help a morning self-practice

1. Get up early, at the same time each day! Set your alarm early enough to give yourself enough time before your working day begins, and look forward to getting up! Get into the habit of rising at the same time each day, for enhanced energy.

2. Start with silence. Once you’re up and re-hydrated, just sit. Your mind will not have fully woken up yet so it is the easiest time to feel calm. Enjoy being awake but not rushing and set yourself up for a positive day… take 12 breathes, on each exhalation think of something you are grateful for.

3. Consider your breathing, learn 1 – 3 simple pranayama techniques from your teacher. The best thing you can do in the beginning is just to watch each breath come in and out. Notice how it feels, sounds and what moves, allowing it to deepen and lengthen comfortably.

4. Warm up and protect your core, using the most suitable techniques for you. My students regularly practise a variety of core strengthening exercises in class – many of which you can find on my social media feeds. Not only does this warm you up, it helps to protect against back pain and injury.

5. Learn and practice a sequence that is suitable for you and the time you have. It can be anything from 20 minutes to 90 minutes. This is where one to one sessions are so useful, as a good teacher will set you a sequence with the poses and modifications that will benefit you the most.

There are so many benefits to a morning routine – from increased energy, motivation, physical health and mental clarity, plus more time in your day. See if you can make a start on your self-practice morning routine. If you are joining me on retreat this year or if I see you privately, I will be giving you plenty of help!