Yoga 2

I fully admit it, I’m a yoga convert. I bloody love yoga but never thought I would. A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog about the app Headspace and mentioned that to destress I had used every app/CD/recommendation under the sun. One thing that was recommended time and time again was yoga. Exercise is a big help to stress and anxiety, it has so many benefits and a particular one is chilling you out. So yoga, with it’s special unwinding properties goes one step further.

When first deciding to embark on a yoga journey at the beginning of January, it was cold and dark and miserable. I used to be a dancer but haven’t danced since I was 18 and I was terrified I wouldn’t be flexible enough for yoga. I decided I just didn’t want to attend a class. It’s so hard to fit it in after work as well, as most classes are either too late for me in London or too early at home in Surrey. So instead I joined the post-Christmas craze, succumbed to Amazon advertising and bought a yoga DVD.

 

I went for the Elements of Yoga: Air & Water with Tara Lee DVD after reading some really good reviews about Tara Lee’s DVDs and liking the areas it covered. Its focus was on calmness, almost meditating, and also flexibility which was an area I really wanted to improve. I currently run about three times a week (blog post coming soon!) so that’s my main form of exercise, I just wanted yoga to supplement this. To sit alongside running, with the dual benefit of de-stressing and also helping improve my core and flexibility.

On this DVD there are three 20 minute workouts. 20 minutes is really the perfect amount of time for me as I can easily fit that into an evening when I get home from work, I also liked that you could combine the three workouts to create an hour long one perhaps for the weekend. The first part is quite a calming warm-up section which focusses on the mind and introducing simple yoga poses, this is quite a nice one to do at the end of the day if you’re feeling stressed and want some easy exercise to calm down and unwind. The second part is a little more intense, with some harder poses. I like to do this section when I’m feeling a little more energetic and wanting a good stretch, it’s less meditative so good for when you’re in the mood for real exercise rather than chilling out. The third section combines the first two, with some difficult stretches and poses but also lots of reflection and meditating.

For me, yoga is the perfect exercise to slot into your routine, particularly if you want something casual which can fit in whenever and wherever. I know there are definitely downsides to using a DVD, particularly that you can’t be corrected in your poses, and I would like to also go to a class at some point. But the reality was that I had no time to commit to a class, so it was more a choice between doing yoga or not doing it at all, then between a DVD or a class. It’s also a super cheap way to exercise, the DVD is only £10.99 and then you just need a yoga mat which you can pick up very cheaply. It’s a great exercise to do to develop your core muscles, help your flexibility and also unwind at the end of the day, I would recommend it to all.

Queen

It’s so easy to take those who brought you up for granted once you become an ‘adult’ (inverted commas definitely needed!) But now you can actually have real, grown up conversations with them, they’re more fun than ever. So for this challenge, I decided to spend some real quality time with both my Mum and Dad and treat them to trips they would never usually make themselves.

It all started back in January when some cheap tickets went on sale for Billy Elliot in the West End. Knowing my mum had been dying to see this for ages, I decided to buy a pair of tickets for the two of us. I really loved being able to treat my Mum to a night out together, before getting a full time job this was nearly impossible without saving for months and months. I honestly do prefer buying to receiving gifts, there is just such a thrill in watching someone open something that you think they will love. My Mum took the train up to London and met me after work, we shared a McDonalds in Victoria train station (so classy!) and then headed to the theatre. It really was such a lovely evening, enjoying the performance and chatting about how late the little child actors would have to stay up! I always rely on my mum to give me advice and she’s always there to help me everyday, especially as I live at home still, so I think it’s important that I do something for her every now and again. Also Billy Elliot was amazing, such a great show with really clever staging and some beautiful dancing. When Billy sang Electricity, I genuinely got goose bumps. That doesn’t often happen for me.

Parents

I thought I should probably do something nice for my Dad too. For some reason I find it even easier to forget all the things he does for me. So I booked something which really couldn’t get any better for my Dad: the chance to see Queen with Adam Lambert. A love of Queen is something my Dad taught me from the age of 0. It’s always been our thing to know all the words to every song and to sing them all at the top of our voices on every car journey we ever go on. When I was 16, I performed in my school musical We Will Rock You as a Gaga kid (one of the dance troupe), I was so proud for my Dad to come and see me perform and enjoy it more than ever before. I always felt he had been dragged along to my dance shows until this point, although he’d never admit it, I know he didn’t really enjoy sitting through loads of kids doing ballet just so he could see my 2 minute dance. But I knew he loved coming to this one and I was so happy to be in it. To go and see the real Queen perform all their hits in one night though, that was something else and I was over the moon to have the opportunity to take him (even though it slightly broke my bank account!)

Queen 2Queen 3

The whole night was amazing, we constantly had it in our heads that it was quite likely this would be the last ever opportunity we had to see Queen, which made it pretty special. Adam Lambert was incredible, there’s just no other words to describe him. The energy and stage presence he brought was something I have never seen before, and his voice was quite simply something else. It was always going to be an impossible task to try and take the reigns from Freddie Mercury but it felt like a tribute to him rather than anyone trying to steal his limelight. Adam constantly honoured him and you felt like he was a fan just like you who had happened to achieve the job of a lifetime. Personally I would have gone to see a gig of Adam’s even if it didn’t involve the rest of Queen, that’s how good I thought he was!

I know my Dad had an amazing time too, both of us were standing up out of our seats and singing along to every song. He knew every single word to every single song and, luckily, he loved Adam Lambert too. He also enjoyed how much attention was paid to Brian May and Roger Taylor as both took instrument solos and sang solos themselves (although a little hoarsely). Overall it was the perfect Dad and daughter outing and 100% worth the crazy amount it costs.

I don’t want this post to sound preachy at all, I’m as guilty as anyone at forgetting to take into account those two people who have made me who I am today. But it really made me feel so good being able to treat them both to something that they absolutely loved, and it made me so happy. Obviously if you’re still at school or can’t afford anything like the West End or a Queen gig then don’t stress, just making your parents breakfast in bed or even just watching a film with them can easily make their days. Let me know what you decide to do and how it turns out…

budget

Where to start? Faced with the impossible task of gaining control of my finances this year, I really didn’t know where to begin. I have been employed in a full time ‘real’ job for a year now, earning a salary and having to make proper grown up decisions about what to do with my money. For the first 6 months of this, I simply relished at the position I was in for the first time in my life. I was no longer living off student loans, I was no longer living off the little I earned from a Saturday job, I was no longer living off my Mum and Dad. I was self-sufficient, and as I still lived at home and only paid a little bit of rent to my parents, I was actually pretty rich. Not real-life rich, but rich enough to shop in Topshop on occasions rather than H&M or Primark, and that felt very rich. So far, so good. Then after about 6 months of spending and smiling, I realised that I should probably start to think about that other ‘s’, saving. Well, turning 23 was on the horizon, and 23 sounds like a proper, grown up age. The age where you should really think about moving out. And suddenly I didn’t feel so rich anymore. Especially as I was still stuck very much at the bottom of the food chain in my job, and I kept hearing about friend’s promotions and salary raises. I decided I’d keep having fun and not worrying until 2015, and then I’d start being a real grown up.

2015 came rather quickly and being a real grown up, to me, definitely involved a budget. Ugh, what a horrible word. Budgeting sounded boring and limiting and just no fun at all. I googled ‘how to budget’ and millions of different, equally horrible sounding, systems appeared. So, I decided to invent my own. I believe that to stick to a budget, it can’t be too limiting. It has to involve the horrible word ‘saving’, as much as it involves the brilliant word ‘spending’. Below I’ve outlined the system I now use. It won’t be for everyone and it definitely risks becoming just another of those horrible budgets on the internet I discovered when I first googled ‘how to budget’. But I do believe that it’s a budget for all the young people out there, it won’t work if you need to factor in your children or your mortgage, however if like me, you’re simply earning proper money for the first time and want to save as well as enjoy it, then this might work for you. It has taken me a good 2 and a half months to perfect and I’m sure it will continue to evolve as circumstances change for me throughout the year. I think that’s the most important thing about a budget, that it can evolve as you and your life does too.

Step 1: Work out how much you are actually spending, it might be a lot more or a lot less than you think! Give this a really good amount of time as spending can really vary week by week. I began recording absolutely everything I spent on Monday 5th January as that was the day I returned to work after Christmas and my routine fell back into place. I then recorded absolutely everything I spent for 4 straight weeks. I did nothing about my spending, to be honest I didn’t really look at it. I simply wrote it all down in a note on my iphone, just like the below.

Budget 1Budget 2

It may seem hard and you might forget, but it’s really important, firstly, to get to grips with what you are actually spending your money on. Otherwise you might set a budget which doesn’t take into account what you actually need. You might forget, for example, to factor in that once a week you have to buy breakfast before work (I definitely would have forgotten this). The way I found easiest was to simply note it down immediately after I made the purchase, but you could keep receipts and go through everything at the end of the day. Just remember to record everything.

Step 2: Analyse the above. Work out what it is you are spending your money on and when. Break it down week by week and put your money into categories, yours will completely vary depending on your lifestyle but mine were: rent, travel, work lunch, trips, activities, treats/luxuries, clothes, food (not at work) and misc. Always have that misc category because there will always be things that don’t fit within a category, for example in week one I bought a hairbrush and had no idea where to place that – I mean it was a bog standard one so certainly not a treat/luxury! I use a spreadsheet to analyse everything, it easily totals things up for you so you don’t need to get the calculator out and it’s easy to find lots of different totals; totals for categories, for days, for weeks, for months etc.

Step 3: Set your budget. Now you know what you spend your cash on, it’s time to set your budget. I can’t really advise you on what exactly it is as it will completely depend on your income and your estimated outcomes. After analysing what I spent my money on, I set the following budget: £500 of savings a month, £60 per week on lunch/treats/trips, £100 extra cash per month. This about equals my earnings when I factor in my rent and travel payments. One thing which I’ve done and which I think is really important for sticking to a budget like this is to set up a standing order of £500 transferring from my current account to savings every month, that way I can’t over spend. Ta da!

I’ve also kept up with recording everything I spend every day, it keeps me in check and I’ve found I’ve really got into the habit of it. It might not suit you all but it really suits my list-obsessed personality and it helps me stick to my budget whatever happens. I also think that setting a monthly ‘extra’ budget is very useful, it means that you can still treat yourself if you see that coat you’re desperate to buy in Zara(!), you can just only do it once a month! If I didn’t have this, I’m sure I would have thrown aside my budget long ago.

Let me know in the comments what sort of budget you guys stick to and whether you’re thinking of trying a similar system to mine? Good luck with learning to keep your finances in check! It really is worth the initial stress.

Headspace

I thought I’d try a bit of a review post today because over the last few weeks I’ve discovered an app that I really think helps you lead a happier life. I’ve struggled with anxiety and stress from a really young age. When I was around 15 it got really bad, my Mum would have to buy me books and books of sudokus because if I ever had a minute when my mind wasn’t occupied I’d stress and cry or have a panic attack. Life got really dark, I constantly imagined something huge and bad was going to happen anytime soon and couldn’t work out how I could enjoy life with this cloud hanging over me, I really thought I’d never get over it. Luckily as I’ve grown older I’ve started to learn how to keep my anxiety under control, although it’s definitely still there and I’ve got a long way still to go.

Over the years I’ve tried all the apps or, before apps existed, CDs and even tapes there are to try and get a bit more control over my mind. I do genuinely believe that is what I need, a bit more control so my mind doesn’t have space to spin out on it’s own and go a little crazy. Last year I had quite a stressful time, I had just started my first full-time job, moved back home from university and life suddenly changed forever. I wasn’t at all prepared for it; add to that a high-pressured job and some extra reasons that made me really unhappy in that job, and as you can imagine, my anxiety resurfaced with a vengeance. I tried lots to calm myself down, eventually learning to try and adjust my way of thinking about things and of thinking about life. I’m sure there will be more posts on this in the future. But one thing that was recommended to me, time and time again, was meditation. I’ve always loved the idea of meditation, I like to think of myself as quite a spiritual person and I’ve always dreamed of one day going to a yoga and meditation retreat on the edge of a mountain somewhere in Asia (much like in Eat, Pray, Love or, one of my favourite books, Shopaholic Abroad!) but I’d never seriously thought meditation was compatible with my busy working and commuting life. That’s when a friend recommended the Headspace app to me.

As mentioned, I’ve tried all the calming apps under the sea so I was definitely not adverse to giving this one a go. I was already keen on the idea of it only being 10 minutes a day. One thing I will say immediately is that I WISH I had stuck to the 10 minutes a day, everyday suggestion. That probably would have made the app even better. The thing is this, everyone says (including the app) that it’s easy to find 10 minutes in every day. But actually for most of you, like me, I’m sure it is harder than you think. I leave the house at 6.45am and I don’t get home from work until half 7, then after that I have to fit in dinner, a run or some form of exercise, a shower or bath and at least an hour of chilling before bed. Ten minutes is harder to find than I thought so I didn’t quite keep up with the 10 minutes a day. I think it took me more like a month in the end to complete the 10 day programme.

So how does it work? it’s very easy to use which made me love it immediately, a lot of calming apps are confusing and this immediately turns me off. Often you’re coming to these apps with a stressful mindset so you want to literally be able to just hit play and get going. This is what Headspace does. The free part of the app allows you to complete the 10 day programme Take 10, this is 10 minutes of beginners meditating a day for 10 days. Andy, who created the app, is the voice and he takes you through all 10 days. I liked that feeling of familiarity, it made me feel comfortable and safe every time I took part. He actually sounds like a real human too, not like a recorded voice which has been recorded so many times that it’s lost all human quality and instead sounds like a robot. That’s Headspace’s first main difference to a lot of the calming apps I’ve tried in the past.

The main reason I enjoyed the app is it’s not judging, Andy repeatedly reminds you that if your mind wanders during the 10 minutes, that’s okay, that’s normal even. A lot of apps I’ve tried in the past ask you almost immediately to ’empty your mind’ which I find impossible and I’m sure most others do too. In the whole 10 days of the programme I’ve never been asked to do that and everything they do ask you to do is achievable. You run through a number of exercises in the 10 minutes including deep breathing, focussing on the body, counting your breaths, scanning the body etc. All whilst being reminded that if your mind wanders (which inevitably it often does) then that’s fine, just bring it back and continue. My favourite part of the daily meditation is right at the end when you’re asked to allow your mind to do whatever it likes, in the words of Andy, if it wants to think let it think, if it wants to be still let it be still. For some reason, and I’m still not sure how or why, a handful of times when doing the meditation my mind has gone completely blank during this part of the exercise. With all the apps I’ve ever done, that is the first time I’ve ever felt that amazing feeling of pure emptiness and peace. For that alone, I would recommend Headspace.

There are also some animations that go alongside the daily meditation teaching you about the brain and thinking about different ways of looking at it and at the meditation. Certain ways include thinking about thoughts and worries as passing cars which you should let go by rather than jump on board with, and thinking of the aim of meditation as achieving clear blue sky in the head, clear blue sky which is always there but sometimes just covered in dark stormy clouds.

I’ve started to look forward to my Headspace sessions, although I am yet to find a regular time to fit them into my routine which I think is important. So much so that when I finished Take 10 I decided to download the full app which costs £4.99 a month for a year. Pretty hefty and I can’t judge yet whether it’s worth it because I haven’t begun the full programme. But if it does bring greater peace and calm to my life then I think it’s a pretty small price to pay. I think I’m going to try and do 10 minutes every morning on the train on my way to work. It’s recommended that you do Headspace in the morning, but definitely not recommended that you do it on the train! I’ll keep you updated on my progress but until then, if you’ve ever been interested in meditation or if you do feel anxious or stressed regularly than do give the free Take 10 programme on the Headspace app a go, I genuinely think it will help you lead a calmer and happier lifestyle.

Box 4

Ooh it’s time for unlucky challenge 13! I’ve always been quite superstitious so this genuinely does worry me a little – silly I know. This post is about the Valentines present I made for my boyfriend, but I thought it made quite a good present you could make anyone, a friend or even yourself, at any time of the year. It’s a DIY survival box. You can tailor them to all sorts of different situations, the one I made was a chill out box because my boyfriend’s had a bit of a tough start to the year and the box was designed to be filled with all sorts of things to calm him down and make him feel happier. You could make a pamper box (I’ve got some ideas for one of those) or perhaps an indulgence box, full of naughty things! I just thought it was a nice idea to either give to someone you know who perhaps needs a bit of cheering up or make one yourself. Either way, it’s going to make you feel happy and better about yourself.

The idea is very simple; grab yourself a box – a cardboard box, a shoe box or a decorative box if you want to make it a little more special – and fill it with things you know the person you’re making it for will like. I’m going to tell you all about the one I made my boyfriend but the best thing about this DIY is that it’s going to be personalised so yours might be very different to mine. Also note that this is a present for a boy (!), I’ve made a girls version at the bottom of this post too in case you’re stuck for ideas.

Box 1

So firstly, this DIY really doesn’t have to cost much money. I think altogether mine came to about £20 but you could easily do it for even less. I wanted my ‘Chill Out Box’ to have lots of things for the perfect chill out evening, but that’s a lot harder to find for a boy! In the end I went with the following:

  • Badedas Shower Gel – I know he loves the Badedas scent so I went for the shower gel, shampoo and conditioner for a nice, calming shower.
  • Selection of tea – I put together a selection of calming green teas including the two Pukka teas in the photo above.
  • Cuddly toy – It’s a Westie because my boyfriend has his very own real life one in his family home which I know he misses like crazy. This is his fluffy, soft toy version for cuddles when he’s feeling lonely.
  • Chocolate – Chocolate is always needed for a chill out evening, everyone knows that!
  • Lush bath bomb – Perfect for a relaxing bath but for some reason not something my boyfriend would ever buy himself. So I bought him his favourite bath bomb.
  • Shearer’s Candle – Shearer’s candles are my favourite and my boyfriend’s favourite scent in the whole world is fresh clean towels so I chose this one for the box. You can’t have a chill out night without a candle.

I bought some blue paper stuffing for the bottom of the box and then stuffed it full of all the things I bought. Unfortunately the toy Westie didn’t fit, when I ordered I thought it would be a mini toy about the size of my hand. When it came, it was a lot bigger than that. Unfortunately Angus the Westie had to be on top of the box rather than inside it!

I also made a little ‘Chill Out Box’ sign for the top of the box so it looked prettier, to be honest I’m not the most artsy so it wasn’t particularly amazing but I think the personalised approach always means more anyway.

Box 5

Here’s my example of a girl’s box, I actually made this destress box for myself ready to delve into when I’m next feeling anxious and unhappy. Of course put your favourite things in, but if you need some inspiration this is what I filled mine with:

  • Nails Inc nail varnish – A pink mini varnish and a glittery pink one too, painting my nails always makes me feel relaxed and happier (especially if it’s pink and glittery!)
  • Veggie Percy in a Twist – I absolutely love everything Veggie Percy Pig from Marks & Spencer and these sugary laces are my favourite. You might notice a bit of a pink theme going on…
  • Lush Mint Julips – Hmmmm this lip scrub is yummy, which of course is not the only reason I use it!
  • Skyn Iceland Hydro Cool Firming Eye Gels – Often I get pain around my eyes if I’ve had a stressful week at work, I’m not sure if it’s looking at the computer screen all week or if that’s just where I feel my stress but it’s not nice. I’m yet to try these eye gels but they’re supposed to soothe stressed eyes so I’m excited to use them.
  • So White Lush Bath Bomb – This bath bomb is super moisturising and when I’m feeling stressed I find that more important than a pretty sparkly bath bomb.

Whatever occasion you make your survival box for and whatever you decide to fill it with, I guarantee it will cheer you up every time you go to it. If you instead decide to make one as a present for someone else, it will definitely make that person happy. I love personalised gifts for any occasion and you don’t need Valentines Day to show someone you love them, any time of the year is fine.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin