This January, our fitness experts tell us why it’s time to focus on you

Denise Clarke-Williams runs Yugo Yoga in Cheshire. Photo: Senem Peace

Denise Clarke-Williams runs Yugo Yoga in Cheshire. Photo: Senem Peace - Credit: Archant

Embrace this New Year with a little more you time, whether that’s through dance, yoga, workouts ...or simply having a better relationship with food, say our experts

Denise Clarke-Williams promises that yoga is for everyone, and knows from experience that it is neve

Denise Clarke-Williams promises that yoga is for everyone, and knows from experience that it is never too late to start. Photo: Senem Peace - Credit: Archant

Yoga: Denise Clarke-Williams’ mantra is: yoga is for everyone and knows from experience it is never too late to start. The benefits are many. The downsides none.

‘I’ve lived in Cheshire almost forever, with four children and my dog. I was widowed suddenly, and found yoga was a powerful tool through an incredibly tough time, improving both my mental health and physical fitness. It was as simple as stretching after my workouts, but I found the meditation really helped.

‘Yoga means the yoking or unity of mind, body and breath, and regular meditation has been proven to extend your life by up to seven years. Breathing properly can be used to calm our nervous system, and be beneficial in helping with hot flushes, ‘meno-rage’, sleep and anxiety.

‘I knew yoga was my future and resolved to bring yoga to help others, as it helped me, and in the 10 years since I started practising, have achieved my teacher training in hatha yoga, yin yoga and menopause yoga. My yoga classes and one-to-one coaching in Bowden, Altrincham, Macclesfield, Chelford, Wilmslow and Alderley Edge are for anyone – yoga isn’t a soft option; it can be a real workout.

‘Menopause yoga is a recent addition because after all, it is something that affects 50 per cent of us. Menopause is not a joke, or a minor inconvenience – it can be debilitating and depressing, even painful. It can even lead to the dangerous bone-weakening condition, osteoporosis.

‘The symptoms can last several years and be anything from annoying to unbearable – and hormone replacement therapy drugs simply aren’t an option for everyone. Menopause yoga can help: first, to educate, then to enable. Ultimately, women need to be able to embrace the changes and work with them, and yoga brings a therapeutic approach to managing that.

‘Some postures can help hormonal levels; others reduce stress and anxiety or aid sleep. Different styles of yoga can help women cope and deal with the different seasons of life. Yoga is for everyone who wants to embrace it.’

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3 tips to help you through the menopause: Try restorative poses to help calm adrenal glands and help hormonal balance, boost memory and concentration with downward-facing dog, improving oxygen circulation in the brain and enhancing alertness; practise inversions before bedtime or upon waking up to aid sleep and avoid insomnia.

Rachel Maffei says dance has become a freedom: it is a chance to let go and forget about any worries

Rachel Maffei says dance has become a freedom: it is a chance to let go and forget about any worries you have. Photo: Senem Peace - Credit: Archant

Dance: Rachel Maffei is a professional dancer and teacher, currently working within the arts industry. She co-directs a contemporary dance company in Manchester alongside teaching at local dance schools.

‘I have been involved in the arts my whole life, and I constantly see the connection between mental health and physical activity. Keeping the body and mind active is a great way to disconnect from those day-to-day stressful experiences.

‘As a freelancer, I constantly jump from job to job and although dance is my line of work, I still find so much enjoyment in just letting go and grooving to some great music.

‘I am extremely passionate about bringing the joys of dance to those I teach, in the hope that it may one day become an important part of their life and something they can turn to as a distraction.

‘I admit, over the past few months it has been difficult at times to motivate ourselves to move, let alone dance, but we should not be afraid to step out of our comfort zone and find that ‘bubble in the belly’ feeling that dancing can provide.

‘Dance has become a freedom; it is a chance to let go and forget about any worries you are currently experiencing. Many people think that dance has to look good, but this simply isn’t true.

‘Sometimes it is about finding an energy from within and enjoying that feeling no matter how it looks.

‘We all know the phrase “dance like no one is watching”, and this is exactly my point. I recommend finding your ‘go to’ stress-free thing, whether that be dance, or a different form of exercise that encourages you to let go. This is where we can find happiness in some of the most challenging times.’

3 ways to de-stress through dance: Put your favourite song on and close your eyes. Focus on the beat, feeling or memory that comes with this particular track. Begin to move the body and allow the mind to wander; try yoga and get used to connecting into the body through breath and mindfulness; go out into nature and take inspiration from what you see and hear. The crunch of the leaves or the stillness in the air can help you to find new movement in your body.

Ex-international athlete Martina Nezbedova runs The Fitworks in Alderley Edge. Photo: Senem Peace

Ex-international athlete Martina Nezbedova runs The Fitworks in Alderley Edge. Photo: Senem Peace - Credit: Archant

Workout: Ex-international athlete Martina Nezbedova runs The Fitworks in Alderley Edge, alongside an organic food company to encourage and support her clients.

‘The amount of stress, worry and anxiety the pandemic has caused has resulted in people getting caught up worrying about the future, where the next pay cheque is coming from and less on themselves.

‘Sometimes I feel like a shoulder to lean on. Because to focus on yourself and keep fit is the one thing we all must do.

‘I was selected at a very early age to attend an elite sports programme in the Czech Republic, limited to just 30 people. My specialism was running middle distances, and I was competing at national and international level at an early age, but a freak accident shattered both my ankles.

‘I wasn’t going to let my love for sport slip away, so I completed a master’s degree in sports science while doubling as a sports journalist. I moved to the UK 10 years ago and decided to become a personal trainer.

‘My unique approach is to combine yoga with fitness, doing things at quite an advanced level. Exercise is about mental stimulation, and the endorphins that are released to make you feel more positive, make you more effective at work and give you something to look forward to.

‘It is not about running for five hours, or lifting 200kg weights. It is about little and often; any form of exercise is better than no exercise at all. You will feel better, and it will help to build your immune system. This year has been very tough, but when you put your mind to it, you can do anything.

‘Without sport, I don’t think I’d be saying the same. It is in my blood and will always be.’

Dr Rangan Chatterjee's new book Feel Great, Lose Weight was published on December 31st 2020.

Dr Rangan Chatterjee's new book Feel Great, Lose Weight was published on December 31st 2020. - Credit: Archant

3 easy workout moves to boost your energy: Exercise little and often, and set your alarm 15 minutes earlier to do five forms of exercise; involve family or friends to help keep you motivated; take progress pictures: the first on day one, and one every week.

Diet: Dr Rangan Chatterjee is a GP, author and podcaster in Wilmslow. His new book Feel Great, Lose Weight was published on December 31 and his Feel Better, Live More podcast is the biggest health podcast in Europe.

‘It’s a bit of a cliché every year that in January, we are all suddenly looking at our lifestyles and at what we can do to feel better, get more out of life.

‘The truth is we can buy any health book, any plan, and if we follow it for 21 days, we are probably going to feel better, lose a bit of weight. But after 20 years of seeing patients, I am not convinced that is what people want. I think what people want is a life transformation, to make sustainable changes that don’t result in a yo-yo.

‘It is a well-known consequence of diets. Not only are people heavier in March than they are in January, there is another problem. They feel like failures.

‘We talk about relationships with food, and the best way to sum this up is to look at 2020. Chocolate sales in the UK have gone up £50million.

‘We used to eat to fill a hole in our stomachs, now we eat to fill a hole in our heart. We don’t need to beat ourselves up, we need to look at ourselves with compassion and realise food was my way of coping with the stress. Maybe I need a different way?

‘We are not weak – we are not lazy – food is a natural response to stress. The freedom exercise is great for everyone, whether you want to lose weight, quit alcohol or reduce the time you spend scrolling on social media.

‘There are three Fs – feel, feed and find. 1 Next time you have a craving, take a pause and think about what you are really feeling. It may be hunger, or is it boredom? What has gone on before? Become self-aware. 2 Now that you understand the feeling, how does that bowl of ice cream help you feed that feeling? 3 Can you find an alternative behaviour to feed that emotion? It could be having a bath instead, doing a 10-minute yoga class or going into another room and reading a book.

‘The point is that food is serving a role for us. It is not about deprivation and punishment and restriction. It is about enjoyment, compassion and energy.’

Dr Rangan’s 3 daily habits: Lift something every day. I have a dumbbell in my kitchen and every morning while I’m waiting for my coffee to brew, I just do a little 3 to 4 minute workout in my pyjamas; connect with another human being meaningfully every day; have some daily reflection. Each evening I ask myself two questions: what went well today and what can I do differently tomorrow?

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