Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Review: Barrecore and Reformer Pilates

As many of you know over the last year (or two) I have really found my love and motivation for fitness and exercise. Going from not even owning a pair of trainers to working out 5 times a week I am now trying to settle into a manageable routine that I can enjoy without feeling time deprived, while keeping my new found level of fitness and shape. With working long hours alongside a host of other commitments I do sometimes struggle to find balance. I know many people say they feel guilty if they do not exercise, but since I have learned to enjoy it I genuinely miss it if I don’t and have to confess that I have turned down social invitations in favour of a gym class… honestly I find Zumba on a Thursday night a much better stress reliever than a glass of wine (or 3) in a cramped City bar and it definitely leaves me with a much clearer head on Friday morning.

So with this in mind I have tried to expand the type of exercise I do, especially now we are in the depths of winter and going outside is just not an option for me (although I have signed up for my first 10k in Feb... madness). Often if you do a particular exercise repetitively your body does adapt so you may no longer feel the benefits. I definitely noticed this when going to the same weekly gym classes so I am trying to change up my routine to keep it effective, challenging and fun. In the last week I have tried both Reformer Pilates at Klinik  (Liverpool street) and a barrecore class at their new Chiswick/ Turnham Green studio.
Barrecore – Having heard so many fantastic things about barrecore (if it’s good enough for VS models!) I was super excited to be invited to their new Chiswick studio to try out one of their classes with Niki the founder. Barrecore is an innovative type of class that integrates the fat-burning format of interval training with static stretches after each major muscle is worked. The changes seen through barrecore are the results of working and exhausting all muscle groups and subsequently stretching the muscles for relief. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect as my ballet training finished pre teen (being 5’10 definitely didn’t help), but I knew that it wouldn’t be easy as I am extremely inflexible and often struggle with touching my toes, let alone anything more acrobatic!
Before I share my experience I have to confess that this class was more challenging than I had envisaged, but I absolutely loved it as it was such a different way of exercising and a huge eye opener! The class concentrated on very small, repetitive movements to try and exhaust specific muscles. It is a sheer case of determination in those last few minutes, and definitely as much of a mental exercise as a physical one, as your muscles start to burn while you have to carry on ‘pulsing’. A lot of the exercises are done with a small rubber ball to help you really squeeze and tone. One of my particular favourites was what I would call a reverse sit up where you use your core to push back into a ball placed midway under your back, rather than curling and pulling yourself up. It felt quite strange, but I could definitely feel my stomach muscles working in a completely different way to regular crunches. Some of the exercises done at the bar were fun, but also very challenging, such as attempting a standing split while balancing one hand on the ball on the floor and pulsing your raised leg outwards. I have no shame in admitting this was not one that I came even close to achieving, but it was fun trying and I imagine it would be extremely rewarding to see how quickly you can progress after a couple of classes!
(Niki and me after our class)
Niki was a fantastic instructor and to my amazement did all the exercises with us while also correcting us if we got a little tangled along the way. She looks absolutely incredible, toned yet very feminine, which is exactly what barrecore hopes to achieve. I definitely felt the burn throughout many of the exercises, but though I was a little sore the next day it was not at all debilitating and I felt that I had worked areas that many regular gym visits don’t target (such as the inner thighs). I will definitely be returning to barrecore in the future as it is such an effective exercise that perfectly compliments my existing routine.
Reformer Pilates – I had tried reformer before many years ago at Bootcamp Pilates in Fulham. However, this was before I had any fitness capability and to say that I struggled was a major understatement. As I have a variety of back problems keeping alignment and balance is a real challenge for me. I therefore decided to concentrate on my stability and having now done mat based Pilates once a week for the last year and a half I felt I was ready for the challenge. Plus the first class at Klinik is free so there was nothing to lose! 
I found the beginner class at Klinik really fun as it had quite a slow pace, but still let you work specific muscles well. Many of the exercises were similar to those in regular Pilates, but of course with movement on the machine, which used the muscles in different ways. I also loved the fact that some exercises that I wasn’t able to do well because of my back were doable on the reformer due to the counterbalance of the springs. It was a good way for me to practice without having to hold my whole weight (eg. while lowering your legs straight down and keeping back flat in the supine position).  It was also a great way to stretch and I particularly felt it in my hamstrings, which are always super tight.
While I enjoyed the reformer class and will definitely try to progress to the more advanced classes in future I would stress that the best way is to start with Pilates on the mat, work on your core and stability, before moving on to the reformer. I discussed this with the teacher and he was very clear about his views following the many beginner classes he had taught. If it is your first time trying this kind of exercise you may find it near impossible to get the correct alignment while moving using the pulleys and therefore may not get the intended benefits. He said that it wasn’t about strength or fitness, but mostly core stability and just knowing how to keep your back in certain positions, which takes some practice. However, if you are familiar with Pilates and have a good base to work from I think Reformer is a fantastic addition to your routine. It’s such a fun and dynamic class and I can’t wait to try it again! Frankly I always feel that if I can do a class with my lack of coordination and horrendous back problems anyone can!
 
What are your favourite ways of keeping fit and healthy? Have you ever tried barrecore or Reformer Pilates? I would love to hear your recommendations of new classes to try!

Friday, 17 October 2014

Review: Cowshed Anti-Ageing Perfecting Night Serum and Skin Perfecting Facial

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of popping down to Cowshed’s Carnaby spa to sample their new Anti-Ageing Perfecting Night Serum in a mini facial. After an early start and a long day in an air conditioned office my skin was looking far from its best and I was definitely in need of a few quiet moments to let the day melt away. The new Cowshed Skin Perfecting Facial (£85 for 75 mins) is a gem. While it keeps true to the usual routine of a facial (cleanse, steam, exfoliation) the yoga style massage that is performed using the new Anti-Ageing Perfecting Night Serum is absolutely fantastic. While being extremely relaxing it works hard to bring out your facial contours, get rid of any puffiness with lymph drainage and stimulate blood flow while firming and tightening the skin. Divine! I would love to book in for the full treatment soon.

Cowshed’s Anti-Ageing Perfecting Night Serum itself is the ultimate all in one skincare treatment. I have recently tried to simplify my skin care routine (to save time and in the hope that if it’s simple I will be more diligent in doing it every day). I have always struggled with my night-time routine as by the time I’m finished with my day I am so ready to crawl into bed (probably having already fallen asleep somewhere beforehand… on the sofa, on the tube, but hopefully not at my office desk). However, as I wear makeup regularly I know how important it is to have a thorough cleanse and make sure my skin can recover overnight and stay hydrated. Therefore, I have been sticking with a micellar water for makeup removal, a cream cleanser and then an eye cream and an oil left on overnight. The Cowshed serum- oil hybrid is absolutely perfect for this and fits into my routine really easily. It has a beautiful, calming scent, is lovely to apply as it feels smooth, but not too ‘oily’ and is packed full of botanical actives and essential oils.

The Anti-Ageing Perfecting Night Serum is designed to address multiple ageing concerns such as loss of radiance, fine lines, pigmentation and dry skin. It is infused with brightening, tightening ingredients such as the Actiscent complex, which not only gives the serum its dreamy scent (combining natural extracts of Sandalwood, Green Tea and South American Copahu), but also works to stimulate cell renewal and turnover. VC IP is an extract derived from Vitamin C, which is added tp help strengthen skin’s antioxidant abilities. Matrixyl 300 Lipo Peptide stimulates skin’s repair process to improve skin tone and elasticity, reducing the appearance of wrinkles. Juvenity is a complex anti-ageing lipid, that works inside skin cells to protect, restructure and thicken the dermis and epidermis, encouraging the production of healthier skin cells. It also features natural compounds such as of Rosehip oil, Evening Primrose oil, Jojoba oil, zinc and vitamins B and E.

I have been trialling this oil serum for the last 2 weeks and have to say that I am really impressed. I am sometimes wary of oils as some I have tried in the past have had a slightly unpleasant scent and have been a little heavy, taking a long time to absorb into the skin making it feel greasy. This serum is very light and smells beautiful. It sinks into the skin leaving a light layer of oil on the surface so that you feel your skin is protected through the night, but not suffocated. It definitely plumps and smoothes while keeping skin nourished and hydrated, which is particularly important in the harsh, cold months of winter. I adore it.


Cowshed Anti-Ageing Perfecting Night Serum (£48.00) is available from all Cowshed UK Spas, shops and www.cowshed.com

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Browgraphy at Browhaus

Like many a teenager I was guilty of over plucking in my school days, but since realising that my natural shape suits me best I have kept my brows pretty low maintenance. Other than occasionally removing strays ‘outside the lines’ and filling in sparse areas with a brow powder I rarely give my eye brows much attention. Though having found my shape I am also hesitant to take any unnecessary chances in the hands of those who think less is more. With eyebrows… more is always more!
Before: filled in with brow powder, but not as neat as I would like!
 
However, when I was offered the chance to try out one of Browhaus’ signature Browgraphy eyebrow treatments I was really excited to have the full works! Having visited Browhaus before for a little tint and eyelash extensions I knew they were very professional, well trained and above all experienced. When I saw the perfectly groomed and full brows of the lovely therapist coming towards me I knew I would be in safe hands and had no fears.

After assessing my eyebrows we decided to make them a little neater, enhance their shape and add a bit of colour. My brows are naturally much lighter than my natural hair colour and because I dye my hair I usually powder them to add depth. My therapist therefore mixed a rich brown colour that was a little darker than my brow hairs, but still soft enough so as not to look harsh against my pale skin. She then set about threading the brows. I haven’t had a huge amount of experience with threading and while I absolutely loved the clean looking result I did find the experience painful, though fortunately it was over quickly. I would definitely do it again, but I would struggle to be in public as my eyes were watering so much. I always see people in shops/ shopping centres having their brows done and I am a little envious of their pain threshold. I can barely pluck one brow hair without bringing on the full water works. Does anyone else have this reflex?
 After: No makeup on brow area, about 3 hours after treatment.

Following the threading my therapist used tweezers for ultimate precision to remove any remaining stray hairs. She then also trimmed a few hairs that were not quite standing to attention. My brows were then dyed, which took just minutes. As I have many very light and fine hairs around my brows I absolutely loved the results after the dye was wiped off. The blonde hairs at the top of my brow now became visible as part of my eyebrow and gave the arch an extra little lift. The result was very subtle, but really helped with the symmetry of my brows and enhanced their shape.
As my skin is very sensitive I have to be honest and admit that it did look quite red for about 3 hours after and there were a few sore areas, but this was completely expected. As with all hair removal treatments I have learned to do them in the evening as my skin always reacts so I was not at all surprised. The following morning the area was absolutely fine and I was very happy to be able to save a few precious seconds getting ready by skipping brow products as my eyebrows no longer needed any maintenance.
 After: the following day with no brow makeup

Overall I was very happy with the results. My brows looked clean, polished and very neat without being overdone or too striking. I would definitely recommend the Browgraphy service at Browhaus for anyone looking to groom their brows – whether you are confused about what shape would suit you best or are suffering from patchy areas the combination of threading, tweezing and dye makes sure that the hairs that need to be seen are enhanced and those that need to be hidden are quickly and efficiently removed. I will definitely be going back in the future!

Monday, 15 September 2014

Our Honeymoon - Sri Lanka - Part 1

The first stop on our honeymoon was beautiful Sri Lanka! I had spent months planning our whirlwind trip to make sure we could see as many sights and sample as much culture as could comfortably fit in one week.
However, flying on the Sunday following our wedding we were both utterly exhausted so spent the first two nights in Negombo. We stayed at the Jetwing Beach which was absolutely perfect for relaxation. Great service, a chilled atmosphere, an olympic sized pool, spa, gym, beach and very affordable room service. In fact we were so lazy that other than buffet breakfast we only ate out once! If you are prone to jet lag or are going straight from work I would really recommend staying in Negombo for at least a night as it is a little paradise just 30 minutes up the coast from Colombo airport. A perfect way to start your trip!
After attempting to book all our hotels and logistics myself I soon realised that it was very difficult given the long distances we had to travel. There is very little public transport and many places are not set up on the internet. I therefore put my pride aside and after speaking to about 15 different tour operators managed to negotiate the itinerary I had already planned with Kuoni. I honestly hate using tour operators as I often feel that I could do better (lol) and don't want to pay commission, but Kuoni were absolutely fantastic! Our tour included a private driver who acted as our tour guide for 4 days. In retrospect I would say a local presence is definitely a huge advantage as many places do not let you in without a local guide anyway!

Our first transfer was a 5 hour drive to Dambulla in the centre of the country. We had a quick stop midway and met some local wildlife... if you are scared of snakes look away now!
In Dambulla we visited the beautiful Cave/ Golden temple filled with ancient sculptures and paintings dedicated to Buddha, dating back to the 1st century BC.
The caves were spectacular, but after the long climb the views over the surrounding landscape were also stunning!
 
We also met the oldest, wisest soul reincarnated as a monkey who lived in the temple. You can see a whole other life in his eyes. I love animals so to spend a little time with him in such close proximity was amazing!
We then took a little detour and visited an elephant sanctuary where we got to ride an elephant around a small lake and even have a little elephant shower. When I was first researching places to see elephants I came across Pinnawala, which I believe is the largest, but after speaking to a few agents I was told that the elephants didn't have the best treatment there, so we decided to go with a much smaller, family run sanctuary. Our elephant Raannie was an absolute sweetie, though so hungry for bananas we ran out of them in minutes, despite purchasing two huge bunches for the short trip! 
The last stop was an amazing Jeep safari through Minneriya National Park. This was a once in a lifetime experience as we came across 2 families of elephants and were able to spend as much time with them as we wished!
The views in the wildlife park were just stunning! 
After a long day we made our way to the most special and unique boutique hotel I have ever seen! I was beyond excited to stay in one of their amazing paddy field dwellings, even if it was only for one night. Vil Uyana has been named as the best eco luxury hotel in Sri Lanka and it is not difficult to see why. Jetwing Hotels created a private nature reserve consisting of a wetland system with lakes and reed beds. Jetwing Vil Uyana was built within these environs with rooms which have been placed within the paddy fields itself. Our hut was incredible! We had our own little plunge pool, two terraces and some very romantic decoration, as well as a bowl of fruit and chocolate cake! They made such an effort to make us feel special on our honeymoon!
Vil Uyana is one of the most magical and tranquil places I have ever visited. I really wish we had been able to spend more time there!
As well as our amazing 'dwelling' the main areas of this hotel were also stunning. As we arrived quite late when it was already dark we went straight to dinner. The food was delicious and we had the most romantic evening.
The next morning we got up extra early to explore the hotel as we had to leave at 8am to climb Sigiriya. We found a little open air library/ chill space next to the restaurant which was perfectly serene and took a few minutes to take in our beautiful surroundings.
I hope you enjoyed coming along on our honeymoon in Sri Lanka! Please stay tuned for the next instalment! xxx

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Wedding Series: Update!

I am so happy to say that, just like me in the photo below, our official wedding photos are finally ready and are on their way! 
Though I was a little bit disappointed to have to delay the wedding series posts I promised you, due to our photographers having a backlog of photos to edit after the busy Summer season, I hope they were worth the wait! Here is a sneak peak of two of my favourites...

Please let me know if you have any particular requests. I can't wait to get started on the posts and I hope you enjoy them! xxx

Monday, 1 September 2014

Italy

A few weeks ago we escaped to beautiful Italy for a long weekend to celebrate my mama's bday. Being back at work after the excitement of our wedding and honeymoon was very depressing so it was great to have a little break to look forward to!
I have such a special place in my heart for Italy and particularly our tiny village in Umbria. It's so secluded from the world and the perfect antidote to our crazy London lives - fresh air, sunshine and even our own little organic garden and mini orchard.
There is nothing I love more than popping down to the garden in the morning to pick fresh berries and fruit!
The blackberries had just ripened in time for our visit and were so delicious!
 Perfect juicy pears and apples for fresh juices! Definitely beats my usual juice cleanses and detoxes!
Who knew pomegranates started their lives as such stunning flowers? I can't wait till these ripen!
 
We also made an amazing soup using beautiful butternut squash.
I'm always trying to get the cleanest food at home and try to buy organic whenever I can so it was such a treat to use wonderfully fresh ingredients.
 Obviously my husband's photo skills still need a little bit of work!
 And here's one we picked earlier ;p.

We had such a lovely relaxing time eating good food, going for hikes (although mama and I got lost in the forest hills for 2 hours, which wasn't so much fun) and generally enjoying the simpler side of life! I am the first to admit that I get too wrapped up in the every day and let things get on top of me, but I am making a real effort to make sure I slow down and take time to appreciate life and all the things I am thankful for. :)