6 London Lakes to Visit this Summer

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London is a city that contains many worlds — including some incredible bodies of water. Step out of your routine during these dog days and visit some of the beautiful lakes and ponds that add a cooling sparkle to our capital.

Outdoor spaces are ideal for meditation, Pranayama, or simply taking the time to disconnect and immerse yourself in the restorative power of nature.

Hampstead Bathing Ponds

Take a cooling dip in some of London’s most beautiful, historical bodies of water: the Hampstead Bathing Ponds. There are separate men’s and women’s ponds, as well as a mixed bathing pond. You can get the full opening times and fee schedule here.

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Photo by Matthew Waring on Unsplash

Regent’s Canal

According to the Canal and River Trust: “Visiting the Regent’s Canal is like stepping into a hidden world. From the colourful collection of narrowboats at Little Venice it runs on through Regent’s Park, where it is overlooked by London Zoo’s vast aviary. In Camden, it passes the craft stalls and quirky clothing shops of the famous market, a centre for London’s alternative culture.”

Walthamstow Wetlands

Don’t miss the largest urban wetlands in London. An easy walk from either Tottenham Hale or Blackhorse Road, Walthamstow Wetlands is free to visit and easy to get to. According to its website, it provides a home to many important wildlife species and is an important resting point for migratory birds. The nature reserve encompasses 10 large reservoirs, with nature areas, a jogging/cycling path and more.

The Long Water

Did you know the Serpentine was only half the story? It is long, narrow western half of the Long Water, which is the name of the large recreational lake in Kensington Gardens. It is a great place to enjoy culture, such as the classical statuary and sculpture in the Italian Gardens at its northern end, and nature — it is a designate bird sanctuary.

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Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash

Lee Navigation

Fancy a really long walk by a river? The Lee is a great option. According to the Canal and River Trust, “The River Lee is a natural river that has been improved for navigation, with straight sections added in to shorten the route. The Lee Valley Park follows much of the river, providing green open spaces, nature reserves, Lee Valley Park Farms and facilities for a variety of sports and watersports….A new riverside walkway has been created at the A11 in Bow, the towpath improved for walkers and cyclists.”

Brent Reservoir

A surprising oasis in the heart of North London — Brent Reservoir is a great place for bird-watching, or simply unwinding away from the constant buzz of the city. It is managed by the Canal and River Trust. You can visit its website for more details on activities including sailing and canoeing.

Where’s your favourite London watering hole? Share in the comments!

Should Yoga be Competitive?

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I read an interesting blog the other day about competitive yoga: “Oxymoron, abomination, or just a thing?” it asked.

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Strive for unity, not competion

The competitive side of yoga

It got me thinking about what yoga means, what competition means and whether the two are compatible.

Yoga, literally, means unity — which doesn’t sound very competitive. In fact, it sounds like the opposite of competition, which is a struggle between two opposites.

On the other hand, when two contrasting things meet and engage — or compete — there is an opportunity for them to influence each other. Perhaps, in the end, for unity.

Without getting too philosophical, I think there is a way in which yoga guides, or encourages us to compete with certain aspects of ourselves. If our natural inclination is to sleep in till the last minute, then rush frantically to work, without breakfast, yoga encourages us to challenge that behaviour with a more positive set of actions.

When negative thought patterns or habits emerge, yoga is a tool to compete with those impulses, to help us get back on track.

When not to compete

However, there are definitely areas in which yoga should not be a competition.

First, it should not be a competition about looks, flexibility, or how long you’ve been practicing. Everyone’s journey is unique, and comparison or competition in this respect is counter to the true spirit of yoga.

Second, yoga should not be used as a tool for self-judgement or deprecation. We often compete internally, constantly measuring ourselves in terms of outside markers. This is not the purpose of yoga. It should open us to greater awareness and self-compassion, not an attitude of impatience or pressure.

There are no winners or losers in yoga. The achievement is the practice. 

Seasonal food: Blueberries

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Summer is the time to indulge in beautiful fresh fruits in all their forms. Right now soft fruits and berries are in season, including blueberries.

Now, blueberries are one of those fruits that can be a disappointment if you get them out of season. They are delicate and only really rewarding when they are ripe and fresh. The good news is, you can cheat a bit by buying extra now and popping them in the freezer to be savoured on a rainy day.

Blueberries are packed with vitamins and antioxidants, making them a great health boost for your summer routine, however you enjoy them.

They are a great addition to smoothies and an integral part of that American classic breakfast: blueberry pancakes.

BBC Food has a simple American Pancake recipe that you can modify by adding a few handfuls of blueberries — or a mix of berries. BBC also has – brilliantly – a vegan American Pancake recipe that has just six ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, sea salt, non-dairy milk and salt, plus oil for frying.

It’s so simple, there’s no excuse not to try it!

Share your favourite blueberry recipes in the comments.

Manolo Blahnik at the Wallace Collection

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Speaking of feet — don’t miss a chance to see the work of one of our era’s most celebrated and fabulously creative shoe designers: Manolo Blahnik at the Wallace Collection.

The wonderful Wallace Collection is hosting a free exhibition of the Spanish shoe guru’s work, co-curated by Blahnik himself, and it runs until 1 September.

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Blahnik’s flights of creative fancy have captivated his fans, and made him a household name — thanks in no small part to Carrie Bradshaw’s Blahnik fetish in Sex in the City.

If you’ve ever doubted that shoes can be art, an hour or two browsing this exhibit will convince you otherwise. Infused with colour, texture, humour and, of course, sex appeal, these shoes are more than just foot-coverings. They are masterpieces in their own right.

According to the Wallace Collection’s website: “The exhibition features a personally selected edit of shoe designs from Blahník’s private archives set amongst the masterpieces of the Wallace Collection. This exciting venture juxtaposes an icon from the world of contemporary fashion with Wallace’s outstanding collection.”

The Wallace Collection is open from 10-17:00 daily, at Hertford House, Manchester Square, London W1U 3BN.

Sneak a peek at the Blahnik exhibition guide here.

Four Ways to Treat Your Feet

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The heat of summer can play havoc on your feet, which in turn upsets the stability of your whole body. Sweat and swelling can lead to blisters, unwise sun exposure can cause painful burns. And when your feet hurt, it is hard to concentrate, much less practice yoga, dance, walk through the park, or do any of the things that make summer so great.

During the dog-days, it is worth taking the time to give feet some TLC. Here are 4 ways to treat your feet.

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Photo by Nirzar Pangarkar on Unsplash

Take a cool (foot) bath

Sometimes the old ways are best. A simple foot soak of cool water with epsom salt is incredibly refreshing and helps ease strain. Alternatively, add a generous splash of white vinegar for an invigorating cooling rinse that also helps fight fungus.

Roll your troubles away

Foam rollers are a terrific tool to relieve stress, soothe aching feet and reset your lower body muscles. Relax with a few minutes of foot-rolling after a long day on your feet, or recharge during the day by doing a quick few minutes under your desk at work.

Get a medical pedicure

What’s that exactly? A medical pedicure goes beyond prettying your nails. It involves soaking, scraping away dead skin, massage, moisturising and an exceptional pedicure. It helps combat uncomfortable problems like calluses and ingrown nails, and it gets your feet fabulously beach-ready!

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Turn your world upside down

Inversions are a fantastic way to give your feet a break while aligning and energising the rest of your body. Shoulder-stands, head stands, or simply putting your feet up against the wall are all good ways to decompress your lower limbs, invigorate circulation, and give your tootsies much-needed relief from the demands of gravity.

Read more: Yoga for Barefoot Running3 Grounding Yoga Poses,

 

 

 

Chill! 6 Tips to Cool Off

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Apparently, July is on track to be the hottest month ever recorded on earth.

With August around the corner, it is definitely time to think about strategies to keep from boiling over. Start with these six tips to cool off.

Divide your day

Other parts of the world have long embraced the afternoon siesta. While the UK might not be quite ready for that, it makes sense to be strategic about your routine. If you’re out and about, hit the shops early, or wait till evening, rather than bustling around in the heat of the day. If you’re working, timetable your day so you can work at a more relaxed pace during the hottest part.

Dress for success

Now is the time to break out the light, cool, natural fabrics and colours. Tightly woven cotton, linen, hemp and even silk are great options. Think loose tops, trousers and skirt.

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Photo by Jose Soriano on Unsplash

Drink up!

Hydration is absolutely key to getting through a hot day. Be sure to increase your water consumption but also add some beverages with electrolytes, such as coconut water or diluted natural fruit juice with a pinch of salt. Beware excess caffeine and alcohol.

Dine wisely

Lost your appetite to the temperature? Remember, it is important to get the nutrients your body needs. If you can’t face a big meal try a glass of chilled soup, whiz up a smoothie, or a meal-in-a-bowl salad. Eating veg and fruit helps you stay hydrated.

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Photo by Form on Unsplash

Decompress with yoga

Heat can be physically and mentally stressful so don’t skip yoga! If your practice is vigorous, perhaps choose a more meditative class that will calm your mind and body. Or, simply get in and do your regular class, gathering all its energising and uplifting benefits. Even doing some sun salutations or pranayama is a good way to restore your vitality.

Dive into your city

It might be tempting to hide at home with the air-con on (assuming you have it) but there are better ways to ride out a heatwave. There are loads of sociable, eco-friendly activities in our great city, so get out there! Grab your cossie and get to the lido for a cooling swim, visit the library, go to a gallery, or meet a friend for an iced coffee.

Read more: How to Sleep Through the Heat, Four Ways to Beat Heat Bloat

 

4 Ways to Make a Bad Day Better

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Bad Days. We all have them occasionally. It might be illness, work, the weather, returning to routine after a sublime holiday (ahem!) or even for no particular reason.

When we wake up on the proverbial wrong side of the room it’s easy to stay grumpy. After all, aren’t we entitled to feel rubbish? We’re having a bad day!

While we are entitled to feel what we feel it is important to distinguish between things that help and things that hinder. Making space for unpleasant emotions is a positive, necessary step to moving through them; wallowing for the sake of it is not.

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Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Here are four ways to make a bad day better (without faking it)

Check your expectations

A lot of times, when we perceive something as negative, it is simply that it doesn’t match up to our expectations. When you’re feeling out of sorts about something, stop and reflect on whether you are demanding too much of the situation. Sometimes, a simple acknowledgement that the world doesn’t run to our schedule is enough to help us lighten up and let go of our unhappy mood.

Slow down

The constant rush of daily life can create a feeling of anxiety and discontent — even when nothing specific is wrong. If you are irritable or frustrated for no reason you can put your finger on, slow down. Instead of hurrying to get all of it done (whatever it is) take a few minutes to move deliberately, noticing your breath and heart rate. Spend a few minutes doing Pranayama breathing to calm your body.

Play a tune

Music is a great way to calm our minds and boost our mood. Upbeat styles like pop and dance will lift your spirits almost despite you — even more so if you spend a few minutes bopping along! Reflective soul or chilled out sounds can soothe the stress of a bad day, helping you regain perspective.

Be grateful

Gratitude increases happiness. No matter how sideways your day is, there are always reasons to be grateful. Sometimes it’s tempting to sulk for a while but truly, we are all blessed, and taking the time to acknowledge it tends to shift those self-pity tendencies. If you can’t think of anything big to be grateful for, be grateful for little things: friendship, good food, safety, shelter.

What are your best tips for overcoming the blues? Share in the comments!

Yoga for Memory

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We know from experience that yoga can improve our concentration and mindfulness in the moment. Can it also improve our memory?

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Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash

A recent study published in Integrative Medicinesuggests it can. The research involved 43 people who attended a six-week yoga class.

The participants did five tests of working memory and a mindfulness questionnaire, the study found that “four of five memory tests showed a statistically significant… improvement; mindfulness scores also improved.”

Other research shows how yoga enhances kids’ attention and visual-motor precision.

Taken together, this suggests something we yogis already feel: yoga is a tool that can sharpen our mind and strengthen our body at any age, no matter where we begin.

Activate your mind

Tapping into the mental benefits of yoga can be as simple as doing sun salutations in the morning, or practicing Pranayama during your lunch break. The key is to connect with your mind and body in a deliberate, mindful way.

Here are two great practices to get you started:

Sun Salutations

 

Pranayama

In yoga we use Pranayama to warm up our bodies, expand our lungs and prepare for practice. It puts us into a mindful rhythm with the body and helps us focus.

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Read more: 5 Yoga Poses for Kids, Mindfulness for the Greater Good

Breathe Cleaner with Plants

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Despite our best efforts to do what’s right for our bodies there are some things we can’t control — like air pollution.

Returning to London after Yoga Holiday With Paul in the Algarve I noticed the huge difference in air quality. Obviously there is nothing I can do about the big causes like traffic congestion and industrial emissions — apart from ride my bike, which I do.

There are small things we can do, though, to make a difference in our own space. House plants, like all plants, actually help purify the air. They are nature’s own detox machines!

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Photo by Andrew Spencer on Unsplash

I am not a plant expert so I looked for someone who was and found Patch — an urban garden company that designs and delivers plants for all seasons and situations.

They have a whole section dedicated to air-purifying indoor plants. According to its website, “house plants are also pretty nifty air purifiers. This is big news for city dwellers, since we spend more than 90 percent of our time indoors. Toxic chemicals drift into the air from furnishings, upholstery, building materials and cleaning products, making indoor air quality less than squeaky clean.”

Their recommendations include:

  • Weeping fig
  • Golden pothos
  • English ivy
  • Ficus elastica
  • Anthurium

If you’re pressed for time, like most of us, Patch hand-delivers plants to your home and offers ongoing care advice.

Getting started with house plants might sound intimidating. But when you think about the pollution coming in the windows, and from every day household objects, it definitely seems worth the effort of buying a watering can!

Read more: Breathe Clean – Natural Air Fresheners, Breathe In, Breathe Out

 

 

Culture Under Attack @ IWM

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One of the many fantastic things about London is that it offers so many opportunities to expand our minds and engage with other people and cultures.

Right now, at the Imperial War Museum, is a fascinating series of exhibitions and events called Culture Under Attack that looks at the relationship between culture and war.

This might sound gloomy but in fact the exhibition is celebration of the power of music, art, photography and dance to resist the horrors of war.

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Photo by Austin Prock on Unsplash

According to the IWM website:

Culture Under Attack is a season of three free exhibitions, live music, performances and talks at IWM London that explore how war threatens not just people’s lives, but also the things that help define us. Telling stories spanning 100 years, Culture Under Attack reveals why some try to erase or exploit culture, while others risk everything to protect, celebrate and rebuild it.

Among the exhibitions, is Art in Exile which shows how cultural treasures in British museums and galleries were evacuated and protected during the Second World War.

There is also an exhibition called Rebel Sounds, focused on music:

Discover artists who have risked their lives in times of conflict for the music they love in Rebel Sounds, our powerful new exhibition at IWM London.

From Hitler’s persecution of swing and jazz groups to the ban of music in Northern Mali under Islamist rule in 2012, oppressive regimes have tried to erase forms of culture and expression. In spite of this, there have always been those willing to risk everything to protect their threatened culture.

Culture Under Attack exhibitions are free and run from now until 5 January.

More information at the Imperial War Museum’s page.