Monday, 31 March 2008

Vitality Show 2008

Thursday March 27th 2008

Vitality Show, Olympia, London

Emma is currently back with us from University for her Easter break and stumbled across a Vitality Show flier in one of the back issues of the many fitness magazines that she has been ploughing through since she got back. A quick look on the internet threw out a whole series of classes and talks that she was interested in attending, so I travelled up to London with her for the day, while Linda would be going with her tomorrow.

The venue is the same as for the "One Life" show that we went to a few weeks back - the Grand Hall at Olympia, one of my favourite buildings. Today's times are a late opening but a later finish than most shows, so we arrived at lunchtime and have time for one of Pizza Express's yummy thin crust pizzas before we go in.

It is Emma's first time at such a show and she is actually really excited by going round all the exhibitors. We are soon firmly settled in the food section trying out lots of fruit juice and little samples of various fitness foods. For the next couple of hours we looked round the stands in some detail before Emma decided she'd like to try a hypnosis session to help relaxation. While she did that I watched the Dru yoga demo.

Soon after, there is a demo of belly dancing on the "Zest stage" and Emma rather surprises me by decided she is going to do this class. The teacher (Mia Serra) is really good and she soon has a pretty good crowd doing the class with her. Afterwards Emma is really pleased with this and buys her belly dancing dvd.

We next attend a lecture by Matt Roberts on fallacies related to getting fit. He doesn't pull any punches and tells everyone that it is a hard task to get really fit. Apparently at least twice a week we should be reduced to total breathlessness by our exercise. But his comments on the longer-term metabolic effects of hard interval training are really interesting. I, for one, have been doing too much yoga and not enough intense cardio.

Emma then has another class she wants to do and I go for a wander round on my own, pausing for a 15 minute Shiatsu neck and shoulder massage which is really good. Emma's last class finishes around 8:30 by which time I am slumped on a bean bag reading a fishing magazine.

But a good day out and Emma seemed to really enjoy herself.

And on Friday it was more of the same. Linda and Emma both did the belly dancing sessions and Emma did a further couple of classes. I, meanwhile, visited LSE, where I am hoping to do a further degree starting this October, if they'll have me

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Yoga Teacher Training course

Saturday March 15th 2008

Yoga Teacher Training Course, Victoria, London


As usual, I don't arrive at the course feeling I have done enough preparation despite this being one of the most important days - 8 hours of practical tests. I managed about one full day's work on the course over the past week or so, so at least that is something. But a month or two back I was vowing to do 45 minutes a day of my own practice and other course work and, of course, that hasn't happened.

But it does feel like we are on the last bit now. Just about all the posture labs are finished, and most of us are more or less up to date with homeworks. I finished my last yoga philosophy homework last week and now just have the elective and final asana coaching notes to do. But with Well Being now getting increasingly close to commencement, time is getting squeezed a little.

The day gets off to a poor start when I forgot that I had the roof box on the land rover and hit the maximum height sign as I entered a car park. Then I discovered that I could have parked outside the yoga course centre for just a few pounds rather than the £18 it ended up costing to park where I did. So not in a good mood to start the day.

So today is 8 hours of practical tests on all manner of subjects. Perhaps the toughest day of the course and very important as it is being marked. Today's morning session is with Elena and has a strong emphasis on assisting and adjusting. As usual, there is a huge amount to take in and a number of innovations introduced that I find difficult to blend into the knowledge I already have. But overall it seems to go ok.

After lunch, Camille takes us for our last session of the course with her. Four more hours of practicals focused on backbends and twists. My backbend asana demo is one of the hardest we ever do, Urdhva Dhanurasana, the wheel pose. Only myself, Romana and Tracy can do this one - in fact Romana is really good at it. For me it is also a great deal of effort and so it is not one that I expect to teach going forward. My twist asana is also a tough one, Parivrtta Trikonasana, so I have a tough time with my postures demos today!

It is pretty clear that everyone is worn out by all this so Camille lets us out 15 minutes early tonight!

Tonight I stayed at a rather poor hotel near Victoria station. After a short trip across town to collect the car, I was pretty much done for the day. An early night was very much in order, especially as I hoped to wake up in time to see the Grand prix from Australia!


Really tired today from the day of testing yesterday. A call from Emma first thing and we agreed that I would try and leave early from today's course so I could get to Cambridge before it gets too late.

I did 30 minutes of so very gentle stretching this morning based on some current reading I have been doing (Mark Evans book "Easy Yoga Stretches") and then rather spoilt it all with a cooked breakfast at a greasy spoon cafe near Victoria.

Our teacher today is Nita, who I have really enjoyed the previous sessions with. Most of the morning is taken up with a technique lab on restorative postures - something that I need to pay close attention to as the evening Well Being classes are aimed at being very restorative. This is then followed by a lecture on Ayurveda which I found surprisingly interesting. We had all had to prepare a questionnaire to identify our body type and I am a very clear "Pitta" type.

But I missed the afternoon sessions while on my way to Cambridge. Emma had tried to see if she could leave her stuff in her room as it isn't needed over Easter, but the cost truned out to be too high. So we have the full pick up - 20+ trips up the three flights of stairs carrying heavy boxes. After the weekends intensive yoga, this is quite a challenge and I am forced to have a break and a restorative meal before we set off for home.

Emma now has five weeks at home and goes back just before we travel to Spain for the first of this year's breaks. She is also planning to work on 9 of the weeks over the summer (all of France and Italy) which should be good.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Achieving a personal goal

Wednesday March 5th 2008


I think it is important for everyone to have some idea of what their personal goals are at any time - even if they are poorly defined or are wholly unrealistic at the moment, they still provide some motivation in the long term. I have sometimes seen it suggested in Life Coaching books that long-term goals should be formally written down and reviewed every so often, perhaps once a year. I have done that on occasions and keep a little file in my desk with my current and past lists in it. Sometimes I would delete something from the list and add something else, but more than half my list has been unchanged for quite a number of years.

Perhaps this suggests that my goals are unrealistic, but in many cases they were things that I thought of as very long term goals that might not be feasible to target for many years. So, for instance, my goal to climb a mountain over 20,000 feet has been on my list for 20 years and is currently pencilled in for November 2010. My goal of returning to University to do an MSc might happen this autumn.

Yesterday I achieved one of the goals that I've had for over ten years. This related to fishing and my quest to catch a chub weighing over 5lbs from my local River Evenlode. In the past 10 years or so I have caught loads of 4lbers including 5 weighting a tiny fraction under 5lb. Yesterday I caught one weighing 5-01. My other fishing target - to catch a barbel over 10lbs - has not been under any threat for some years. So my new chub target for the Evenlode is 5 1/2 lbs, my target for any river remains 6lbs.

These are perhaps not goals that will inspire many people but are 2 of the 20 or so things I would like to achieve long term. Challenging, but not impossible.

My Evenlode chub of 5-01 - hopefully I'll catch it again in a year or two's time when it will perhaps weigh 5-08+

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Masterchef competition

Tuesday March 5th 2008


Like many people, I have grown rather hooked on the current series of "Masterchef" which finished last week. It is a curious competition in respect of some of the ways the show is set up. For instance, there are only a few really good chefs in the show and yet they occasionally come up against each other in the early rounds and so one is lost - one of the very best was lost in this way in the first round I thought. On other days the contestents can be relatively poor. The initially elimination round is quite a good test, but the professional kitchen test rarely seems to matter much in the final assessment. And so on. . . . . .

Last week was the final with the three finalist going through various challenges, some of which seem to bear little relationship to what might be required of a materchef. And these do reveal that part of the problem of the show is that it is unclear what it is really seeking. It could address a variety of different questions and these are hinted at by the presenters at different times.

For instance, they might be looking for "someone who can make it as a professional chef" in which case the only real relevant test is the professional kitchen test as most work by professional chefs is the consistent preparation of identical dishes and does not require any sort of creativity. That was definitely the case when I worked in a kitchen years ago. No creativity, just consistent quality produced at the right time.

Alternatively, the question could be "who is the most creative and interesting amateur cook?" where the aim might be to see who could really wow a series panel of judges. Or maybe the question is "who could be a Michelin-starred chef in the future?" or "who has the greatest potential for greatness?"

And as the standard of the show has got better each year, the precise question being asked becomes more and more relevant. This year's final showed exactly this. James was clearly a very good cook and could turn out food of an exceptionally high average standard. But he was already in his 30s and most of the very best chefs have already been practising their craft for years by then. And he didn't produce anything that was completely amazing.

By contrast, Emily, the 18 year old, probably had a lower average quality but the range between her highs and lows was much wider. Hence she produced probably every one of, say, the best six meals. At 18, this suggests an extraordinary potential for absolute greatness and, to my mind, is more what would be looked for in such a competition.

I can see why the judges did go for James in the end but it seemed an overly safe choice to me and results in the rather odd circumstance, in my view, that the producer of all of the most amazing food didn't win. This seems a mistake to me.

Still I did learn a lot from the show - especially about presentation. Well Being Breaks doesn't aim at fine dining, it provides full-flavoured peasant food, so much of the cooking content is not directly relevant. So no subtle sauces for us, no complex ingredients, no strange flavour combinations, no small portions, and so on.

I had a dream the other night in which I was cooking for Gordon Ramsey and I prepared a complex dish of warm tomato sauce, oven cooked haricots, served on a grilled slice of bread with a butter dressing. It was on the plate with the swirls of sauce that often grace fine-dining plates but was, despite the presentation, just baked beans on toast.

One Life - Live show, London

Saturday March 1st 2008

One Life - Live Show, Olympia London

I went to this show last year - in fact it was the one where I met Teach Yoga and decided that there teacher training course was the one that I wanted to do. This year we had the added incentive of trying to appraise whether we might have a stand there next year. It features a lot of stuff that is very relevant to us. Psychologies Magazine, with whom we have a lot of our advertsing, is a major sponsor of the show and there are lots of the stands based on the sort of things we are trying to do. But it is odd to attend a show when you are mainly trying to appraise how good the various stands look, rather than the detailed content. Some stands are pretty poor, it must be said.

There were a few speaker that we had thought of seeing, so while Linda attended a life coaching session, I watched the talk by Tom Hodgkinson, author of "How to be Free", one of my favourite books of the last few years. His talk was partially on the historical circumstances that generated the "Protestant work ethic" as distinct from the "merriment" enjoyed by the non-Protestant countries of Europe. The last 25 years or so have seen a very large shift in day-to-day living conditions, but it is hard to see how many people can opt out. From a game theory point of view, modern life has an "arms race" character in which people as a group end up with outcomes which they probably wouldn't want on a case-by-case basis, and it is very difficult to avoid this outcome. But Hodgkinson has and did share some details of his day-to-day life now. Overall though, I would have though that most people would have found the lecture a little above them, what with the many literary references, and so on.

Tom Hodgkinson at the One Life show

There were one or two promising leads from the show that we will be pursuing over the next week or so. But the decision of whether to have a stand of our own next year was not clearcut and we'll have to leave it till we get to the end of the current holiday year before we can really assess it properly.