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Tag Archives: Motivation Monday
  • Posted on April 4, 2016

    Active April: Stretching with Ease

    You might remember that we introduced our recently-published book, Stretching With Ease, with a #MotivationMonday blog post back in January? Well since several of us in the office are training for various races and events (including a couple of brave souls running the London Marathon at the end of this month), we decided to launch an #ActiveApril blog series. Join us each Monday for a new post, starting with a few more of author Linda Minarik’s stretches. These aim to improve your post-workout routine and help you avoid any pesky injuries. Linda suggests mixing up the stretches in our first post with the stretches below to improve your running performance.

    1. Upper back (flexion): backward pull, standing

    The Setup: Stand with your feet comfortably apart, about the width of your shoulders. Keep your knees slightly bent throughout the stretch. As you move into the stretch position, let your neck relax and your gaze drop.

    For this stretch, you will be leaning backward against a support that doesn’t move. Some possibilities in your home may be (a) a doorway with mouldings on either side that extend out from the wall and form convenient finger holds; (b) a floor-to-ceiling stationary pole; or (c) two doorknobs on either side of an open door. Even a stretching partner holding the other end of a towel can work, if the person leans back and counters your pull.

    The Stretch: Grasp your support firmly at approximately shoulder height, and slowly lean away from it, rounding your upper back and letting it expand backward. You are creating a “hollow back.” To get in touch with the widening feeling of this stretch, just keep imagining that you can feel your upper back getting broader. You may need to try the position several times, perhaps on different days, to allow your body time to learn how to execute it well.

    Don’t be too concerned if you feel your lower back responding to your commands for your upper back. Just keep concentrating on what’s happening in your upper back.


    Begin thinking about being able to tuck and tilt your pelvis. When you can do that, the next thing is being able to tuck and tilt your pelvis while keeping your ribs stationary. Of course these are movements for your body to do, but the first step in your ability to do a movement is a clear understanding of what that movement is.

    2. Lower back (flexion): hug and release, seated

    The Setup: Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet in front of you. Hug your elbows around your thighs; grab each opposite elbow with your hands. Pull your chest right to the thighs. Bend your knees as much as you need to in order to feel your chest actually touching your thighs. You may already be experiencing the lifting-up feeling in your lower-back/sacral area. Relax your head forward so you do not tax the neck muscles.

    The Stretch: Very slowly, begin to straighten your legs. As you do, concentrate on keeping your thighs against your chest. Take as much time as you want to in your progress towards straightening your legs. At some point—farther away from the floor if you need more flexibility work, closer if you are more flexible to begin with—your chest will come away from your thighs. This is okay. Continue your slow descent toward the floor. When your legs become so straight that you have to release your arms from behind your legs, gently place your arms by your sides without disturbing your position.

    Stay in your final position a bit longer, reaching for the feeling of new length in your lower back and sacrum. This stretch works well when you perform it twice.


    Keep thinking: lift up, up and forward, up and forward. Be patient with your mind–body connection. If you discover that, when you gave the signal to lengthen your lower back, you have cricked your neck instead, then you know your body computer does not yet have a program for the thought you are sending it.

    Take a breath. Start again; repeat the signal. Leave it for the day; try it again the next day. You are educating your body to interpret the signals your mind sends it. You may be surprised at how much your body learned the next time you try this.

    3. Quadriceps: heel to buttocks, prone

    The Setup: Lie face down on the floor, with your legs at full length. The stretch will involve one leg and one hand, so you can either rest your chin on the other hand, or turn your head sideways and rest your cheek on your hand.

    The Stretch: Reach back with your right hand and grasp your right foot. Slowly bring your heel in toward your butt. The stretchy feeling will appear in the front of your right thigh (which is resting against the floor). Gently press your hip bone to the floor, taking away any bend in your hip. The right side of your body is now a straight line from shoulder to knee.

    When you first practice this stretch, you may be unable to reach your foot with your hand. You can hook a towel around your foot (either small or large, depending on the length you need) so that you can still pull your foot toward your butt. With practice you will gain more range, and the towel will become unnecessary. The stretch is at its maximum when your knee touches your butt. Repeat the stretch on the other side.

    Make sure your legs are together. The knee of the stretching leg should be right next to the knee of the straight leg—not winging out to the side. Also, check that your foot comes straight toward the butt—not to the outside or inside of it. Correct alignment will make sure you have no joint problems as you practice.


    You can get a subtle increase of stretch in this position by feeling into the front of your thigh with your mind. Take a couple of breaths to eliminate mental distractions. Imagine that your thigh is getting longer because it is separating from the hip joint and creating more space there. As you think this, gently send your right knee away from your right hip along the floor. If you are really tuned in to your muscles, you can feel greater space in the hip joint and greater stretch in the thigh.

    Stretching With Ease by Linda Minarik is available here. Happy #ActiveApril!

    This post was posted in Featured, News, UK, What's new and was tagged with mind body spirit, running, healthy, Motivation Monday, 2016, exercise, fitness, Active April, Stretching With Ease

  • Posted on March 14, 2016

    Mindful Movement

    Remember our #MotivationMonday posts earlier this year? We know that a lot of you are taking on some big challenges as spring creeps ever closer and the weather becomes a little warmer so we decided to bring them back! Whether you’re training for one of the many marathons on the horizon, doing something exciting for Sport Relief or looking to reach your next fitness goal, these posts are here to support and inspire you.

    Today’s post on Mindful Movement comes from our recent book, A Year of Living Mindfully by Anna Black. A perfect introduction to mindfulness and a great way of being in the moment whilst you exercise, this simple practice can improve your breathing, help you recover from a poor workout or better your workout routine.

    Mindful Movement

    Movement practice is a great opportunity to inhabit the body and explore what we are capable of (or not) in this very moment. Usually we move with a particular purpose in mind—to get from A to B, to become more flexible or burn calories, or perhaps to swim or run a particular distance. Mindful movement practice provides the chance to let go of striving and instead settle into where we are in the moment. When we practice “beginner’s mind” we become open to the possibilities of this moment, regardless of how we “performed” previously.

    The instructions are for a walking practice, but the same principles can be applied to any other activity, such as running, swimming, or more traditional meditative practices such as yoga, tai chi, and qi qong.

    When doing an activity as a mindfulness practice, experiment with the breath. Notice your relationship to it: are you holding it? Does it feel quick and panicky? Explore the “edge” (that place that feels as if you have reached your limit) with your breath. Pay particular attention to the out-breath and noticing how the body softens as you breathe out. Remember always to take care of yourself, never push through pain, and respect the limits of your body.

    • Begin by making an intention to walk mindfully, that is, intentionally become aware of your experience as it arises, without judging.
    • If you can, take a moment to stand still and connect with the sensations of your feet in contact with the ground. Then form the intention to begin peeling your left heel off the ground, noticing how you feel as the foot lifts, shifts, and then is placed on the ground as you take a step.
    • Then, taking your attention to the opposite foot, begin peeling the heel off the ground, lifting, shifting, placing …
    • Continue in this way, at first keeping your attention focused on the feet on the floor.
    • Experiment with walking at different speeds. If you are walking very slowly you might prefer to do this in the privacy of your home to avoid raising comment with friends or neighbors!
    • From time to time, widen your beam of awareness to include the whole  body, becoming aware of sensations within the body and perhaps the environment around you: sights, sounds, and smells.
    • You may also like to stop and stand still occasionally and notice what that feels like in the body.
    • Be curious about the experience of walking.
    • Let go of any agenda, goal, or seeking a particular outcome. Simply be with the experience as it is.

    A Year of Living Mindfully by Anna Black is available here. You can read all our #MotivationMonday posts here.

    This post was posted in Featured, News, UK, What's new and was tagged with mindfulness, mind body spirit, 2015, healthy, Motivation Monday, mindful exercise, exercise, fitness

  • Posted on January 18, 2016

    Motivation Monday: Stretching with Ease

    Did you decide to take up running in 2016? Perhaps you’ve got a specific goal distance in mind? Maybe you’re starting from the absolute beginning with a Couch to 5k running programme? (We know a good one…) Or even just want to get running for 20 minutes a couple of times a week? Whatever your ultimate goal, you need to make sure you’re stretching properly before and after your run, which is where today’s #MotivationMonday comes in. Taken from our new book, Stretching With Ease by Linda Minarik, these stretches are designed to help ensure that “your gait becomes fluid and easy; you move with efficiency and confidence”.

    1. Back: Spiral

    The Setup: Lie on your back on the floor, using a carpet or mat for comfort. Place your arms by your side, palms down, forming an “A” shape (fingers reaching away from you at 45 degrees to your torso).

    The Stretch: Bring both your knees as far in to your chest as you can. Drop both knees over to the left side and let them rest where they fall. Keep your right shoulder down on the floor. The stretch here is produced by your knees pulling away from your shoulder, causing your spine to form its characteristic spiral shape. Repeat the stretch on the other side.

    2. Side hip: lying on side

    The Setup: Lie on your right side with your legs stretched out, one on top of the other. Place a rolled-up towel under your right hip. The placement of the towel is important: it goes between your pelvic bone (iliac crest) and your thigh bone (greater trochanter). Get familiar with both these bony landmarks on your side before you place the towel. You don’t need to know anatomy: just feel the bones that come to the surface at your hip and thigh.

    The Stretch: The stretch appears in the side of your hip facing the ceiling. In other words, the towel lifts your bottom hip so you can experience greater range in the top hip. Gently brace yourself with the open palm of your left hand. You can rest your head either in your hand (elbow bent) or on your straight right arm. Repeat the stretch on the other side.

    3. Hip Flexors: kneeling lunge

    The Setup: Kneel with your right leg forward and left leg behind you. Adjust the width of your stance for balance: for more stability, move your forward leg a little farther to the right. Your right toes should line up in front of your heel—make sure they are not rotated outside your heel. Your front knee can be a little behind the ankle—just not in front of it. This protects your knee from strain. For more support, kneel between two chairs, and place your hands on them if needed. Otherwise, place your hands lightly on your front thigh. Hold your neck in a comfortable position—neither too lifted at the chin nor too bowed toward your chest. Just comfortable, without strain. Looking straight ahead helps to accomplish this.

    The Stretch: Gently tuck your pelvis. The stretch will appear in the left leg—the back leg—at the hip-flexor level in front. When you experience the stretch in the right spot, you can intensify it by moving your front leg a little more forward. Ultimately, and with practice, your back hip will be much lower to the ground. On your way there, you will have moved your front foot forward in many small increments. Now comes an important point, which cannot be stressed enough. The hip-flexor stretch contains the beginning of a lovely back extension—also called an arch. Whenever we practice developing the back extension, we always encourage length: spine goes up as well as forward, to avoid scrunching the lower spinal vertebrae together. Repeat the stretch on the other side.

    4. Thighs: hamstrings

    The Setup: Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart and shoulders relaxed. With your knees bent, roll your spine slowly downward, beginning at the top of your head, tucking your chin, and slowly rolling down through all your spinal vertebrae. When you pass your waist with your head, pull in your belly button to support your lower back as you continue to descend toward the floor. Stop when you are at the full extent of your present hip flexion range. Your head and neck remain relaxed. Your view is of your own legs. You may already be feeling a stretch. Note how far your fingers are from the floor, so that you can compare their distance after you execute the stretch.

    The Stretch: Slowly straighten your legs. Take all the time you need. If you can straighten your legs without lifting your back up at the same time, you will achieve a deeper stretch. Here we emphasize stretch in the hamstrings. But keep in mind that, if your back is more in need of stretching, that is what you will feel. Any stretch that addresses the hamstrings will also lengthen the back. What you feel is determined by the area you most need to stretch.

    5. Calves: floor, leg straight

    The Setup: Stand facing a wall with your left foot forward and right foot back.

    Your left knee is bent; your back leg is straight. Place your hands on the wall for support at about shoulder height. Make sure your hip bones are even, that is, our pelvis is not rotated sideways in either direction. Place the heel of your right foot directly behind the toes: make sure the toes are not “winging” outside the heel.

    The Stretch: Move your right foot gradually back, until it is as far back as you can move it without lifting your heel from the floor. You will feel this stretch in the “fat” part of your calf, below your knee. Repeat the stretch on the other side.

    5b. Calves: support, knee bent

    The Setup: Stand on a step with your hand on a support, e.g. a stair railing. Your feet are about shoulder width apart. Your left heel hangs off the step, with your weight on your right foot. Find a secure spot on the ball of your left foot where your foot feels stable as you hang your heel comfortably off the step. At this point your left leg is straight.

    The Stretch: Slowly sink your left heel down off the step. Now gently bend your left knee, while still sinking your left heel down as far as you can. The stretch is still in your calf, but it now shifts to the lower part, nearer to the ankle and Achilles tendon. Repeat the stretch on the other side.

    Stretching With Ease by Linda Minarik is available here, and don't forget to check out our other #MotivationMonday posts. Happy stretching!

    This post was posted in Featured, UK, What's new and was tagged with january, New Year, mind body spirit, 2015, healthy, Motivation Monday, exercise, Stretching With Ease

  • Posted on January 11, 2016

    Motivation Monday: Colour Yourself to Calmness

    All this month, we're sharing #MotivationMonday ideas and inspiration to keep you focused and on track for your New Year's Resolutions. So whether, you're eating healthier, taking up new challenges, or wanting to live a little more mindfully, we're here for you! With regards to mindful living, we're aiming to take a little more time for ourselves in 2016, and what better way to do so than with our colouring pencils. Today we've got a brand new colouring sheet for you to download and print. Just click on the image below to open the printable PDF, take 5 and grab your pencils. Bliss!


    This colouring sheet is taken from our Colour Yourself to Calmness Postcard Book, with original artwork by Sue Coccia, available here.

    This post was posted in Craft Projects, Featured, News, UK, What's new and was tagged with january, mindfulness, quick, mind body spirit, Motivation Monday, colouring books, 2016

  • Posted on January 4, 2016

    Challenge Yourself in 2016

    January is the perfect time of year to set yourself goals. Whether it's eating that little bit healthier, taking up a new craft, or a new fitness goal, we're here to help! All this month, we'll be sharing #MotivationMonday posts to inspire and encourage you so make sure you keep an eye out!

    So, is your resolution to see the world, push yourself further than ever before and achieve something truly great? Ever thought about an ultramarathon? How about swimming to France?  (She says, ever so casually.) Well, Up For the Challenge? by Dominic Bliss is packed full of ideas to push you to your limits! Here, he tells us all about the Channel swim.

    The English Channel Swim from Up for the Challenge?



    TOUGHNESS FACTOR: ✖✖✖✖✖✖✖✖✖✖



    The English Channel may be just 21 miles (34 km) wide at its narrowest point (on a clear day you can see all the way across), yet it has proved far too mighty a challenge for many an unwary swimmer. The lion’s share of swim-powered crossings are attempted northwest to southeast, from Shakespeare’s Cliff or Samphire Hoe (in between Folkestone and Dover on the English side) to Cap Gris Nez (in between Boulogne and Calais on the French side)—a stretch of water known as the Strait of Dover.

    As well as the 21 miles (34 km) of sea to plow through, there are added hazards. First off, swimmers must take into account the very strong currents, often pushing them well over the official distance by the time they reach the French shore. The water can be cold, even in summer, with waves sometimes reaching more than 6 ft (2 m) high. The Channel Swimming Association (the official body that governs this rather eccentric sporting feat) also warns that “jellyfish, seaweed, and the occasional plank of wood” can put you off your stroke.

    If you want your effort to be recorded as an official crossing, then wetsuits aren't permitted. Instead, swimmers smear their bodies with grease. And grease offers little protection from either stinging tentacles or planks of wood. Bear in mind, too, that the English Channel is one of the busiest shipping channels in the world, with more than 600 tankers and 200 ferries negotiating its waters every single day. For safety reasons, all swimmers need to be accompanied by a pilot boat. It’s that or risk being swamped by a passing 500,000-tonne supertanker.

    The first recorded cross-channel swim was all the way back in 1875 by a certain Captain Matthew Webb. On August 25, on his second attempt, he swam from Admiralty Pier, in Dover, to Calais in 21 hours and 45 minutes. Despite being helped by three support boats and a generous all-over smearing of porpoise oil, Webb was forced by sea currents to zigzag his way across the channel. He swam 40 miles (64 km) in all, and picked up a fair few jellyfish stings for his troubles, but ended up one of the most famous sports celebrities of his era. A Victorian Michael Phelps, you might say. After his sporting feat he was in constant demand for swimming exhibitions and galas. And all sorts of Captain Matthew Webb official memorabilia—books, pottery, matches, dinner sets—were made available for his adoring fans.

    Webb’s last ever stunt, and arguably his most audacious, was an attempt in 1883 to traverse the treacherous rapids of the Niagara River below Niagara Falls. Shortly after embarking on his swim he was pulled under. His drowned corpse was found four days later downstream. A memorial in his home village of Dawley, in the English county of Shropshire, simply says: “Nothing great is easy.”

    Ever since those initial Victorian toes in the water, hundreds of different swimmers have successfully crossed the English Channel. At the time of writing (according to the Channel Swimming Association) there have been more than 1,900 solo crossings made by over 1,400 people. The record time is held by Australia’s Trent Grimsey (six hours, 55 minutes), while the record number— a staggering 43 crossings—is held by Dover resident Alison Streeter, aka Queen of the Channel. “It has a unique fascination,” she says of the watery gap between England and France. “It is a living thing. You never know what sort of conditions you are going to meet out there.”

    Up for the Challenge by Dominic Bliss

    Photo courtesy of Channel Swimming Association, Steve Hadfield and Michael Read.

    Find out more about Up for the Challenge? by Dominic Bliss here.

    This post was posted in Featured, Interviews, News, UK, What's new and was tagged with New Year, Dominic Bliss, Motivation Monday, sport, 2016, challenge

  • Posted on January 12, 2015

    Motivation Monday!

    Mid-January already?! Where does the time go? It’ll be Christmas before you know it (just kidding!) So how are those New Year’s resolutions holding up? If you’re anything like us, the intentions are probably there but the motivation might be just a bit lacking. But this week’s Book of the Week is here to help! Up and Running by Julia Jones and Shauna Reid is the newbie runner’s best friend. The 8-week running plan is ideal for beginners or someone who wants to give their workout a bit more of a structure, but there are also loads of hints and ideas about things like where to run and how to look after your feet, as well as advice on what gear you need and runners’ profiles and tips too! So, with those resolutions in mind, we thought we’d share Julia and Shauna’s tips for Getting Out the Door...after all, that’s practically half the battle!

    Why does getting out the door for a run feel like a monumental task to you? You push the snooze button one too many times. The phone rings and the conversation (deliberately?) eats up your workout time. You sit on the couch after work for just one moment, only to wake a few hours later and it’s dark outside. You’ll try again tomorrow. Promise!

    Despite appearances, even seasoned runners can have a difficult time convincing themselves to lace up their shoes. They’ve just cultivated clever tactics to squash any resistance.

    Here’s how to make it easier:

    Do your workout in the morning. You’ll have a much better chance of getting your run finished if you head out before anyone else is up, demanding your attention, and before work takes your head to another place. This usually works best if you’re already an early riser, but if you’re not, try a few morning runs—you may be surprised at how good it feels to be out and about while the rest of the world dozes on. Set the scene to make it more enticing: have your coffee ready to percolate or lay the breakfast table for when you return.

    Lay out your clothes in advance. You can waste a lot of time making sartorial decisions or searching for the perfect pair of running shorts. If your running clothes are set out ahead of time, there’s no scope for procrastination. Once you’re dressed and ready to run, you’ve won half the mental battle.

    Avoid electronic distractions. No checking your e-mail or announcing your run to your online friends—you’ll inevitably disappear down the Internet rabbit hole. Leave social media until after your workout and post a triumphant sweaty selfie.

    Connect with a positive feeling. What do you love most about running? Maybe it’s after the workout is done and you’re taking a hot, steamy shower; or that moment while you’re running and realize, “Hey, I’m doing this!” Tap into what gets you excited about running and let it carry you out the door.

    Make a running date with a friend. You may let yourself down but we bet you’d never dream of doing that to a friend; especially if you’re meeting in a park at the crack of dawn.

    Do not ask questions. While you’re driving home from work don’t ask yourself if you feel like running. Be robot-like: put on those running clothes and get out the door. We guarantee that after the first 10 minutes, you’ll start to feel better, energized and in the mood to move. You may even get one of those running smirks on your face, too.

    Up and Running by Julia Jones and Shauna Reid is available here.

    Good luck with those resolutions and happy running!

    This post was posted in Featured, Featured, UK, US, What's new, What's new and was tagged with january, New Year, resolutions, 2014, eat clean, Book of the Week, running, healthy, tips, Motivation Monday

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