Author: Alison Ingleby

Review of the Down Dog App

Woman in yoga posture

I’ve practised yoga on and off (admittedly more off than on) for the past twelve years. Every time I start getting back into it, I remember why I love it, but lack of time and easily-accessible classes has prevented me from doing a regular yoga practice for several years. Until I discovered the Down Dog app.

I work from home, sometimes spending up to 14 hours a day on my computer. By anyone’s standards (including my own), that isn’t healthy, but hey, I love my job! But years of computer work are starting to take their toll, and recently I’ve been suffering with RSI. I’m sure that part of the problem is down to not doing enough stretching and strength work to support my core, back and neck. I’m carrying out some short-term interventions to help with the RSI, but long term, I believe regular yoga practice will help me be a healthier writer.

I’m sure there are many of you out there who, like me, would love to be able to do a regular yoga class, but feel like you don’t have the time or money. That’s what makes the Down Dog app so great. It’s free and, from my limited experience to date, a brilliant alternative or addition to an instructor-led yoga class.

The Benefits of Yoga

Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that originated in India. It focuses on strength, flexibility, balance and breathing and has both physical and mental benefits. On the physical side, it can help increase muscle strength and tone, improve flexibility and help reduce the likelihood of injury from participation in other sports. Mentally, the concentration and breathing techniques are a type of meditation that can improve mental wellbeing and reduce stress.

There are lots of different types of yoga. Some focus more on specific aspects of the practice, such as breathing, or physical movement and strength. The Down Dog app features Vinyasa flow yoga, which emphasises the transitions between postures and a continued flow of movement.

What is the Down Dog App?

It’s a highly-rated yoga app that you can download to your smartphone to guide you through yoga practices at home. You get step-by-step verbal instructions and can also follow the instructor on the screen. Each practice has an accompanying music playlist.

There’s a pro membership which gives access to additional features and content, such as the ability to tailor your practice to a specific body part or practice area, to slow down or speed up the practice, and to access additional playlists. If you’ve used the app for a while then these features may be of interest, but in my opinion the features you get for free are more than enough for most people.

Down Dog App Review

I’ve downloaded a fair number of apps to my phone and deleted almost as many. The Down Dog App is hands down the best app I’ve come across to date. The features and flexibility you get are nothing short of amazing, given that this is a free tool.

To start with, you have a choice of four sequence types:

  • Full practice – this is a full routine including warmup, a range of standing and seated poses and a cool down. You can choose a practice length from 20 minutes to 100 minutes (the default is 30).
  • Short practice – a condensed version of the full practice with options as short as ten minutes. Perfect for a quick work break in the middle of the morning or afternoon.
  • Quick flow – this skips part of the warmup and is designed to keep you working throughout the duration of the routine.
  • Restorative – this option focuses on stretching and relaxation and is great for winding down before bedtime.

There are five different levels: Beginner 1, Beginner 2, Intermediate 1, Intermediate 2 and Advanced. So far I’ve only tried the beginner levels, but I’ve really enjoyed all the practices. None have been too difficult, but they’ve been perfect for remembering the different poses and getting back into yoga after a break. The best thing about the app is the variety – every practice you do is different.

If you’ve never done yoga before, then I’d recommend taking some instructor-led classes before using the app. The benefits of having a physical instructor present are that they can check you’re carrying out the poses correctly and adjust your posture if necessary. They will also help you push yourself, so you know how far you can stretch into the pose.

Once you’ve got used to the different positions and sequences, then the down dog app can be a great way of complementing your classes, carrying out a daily practice or as an alternative to instructor-led sessions. As you become familiar with the Sanskrit and English names for the poses and get used to typical sequences, you’ll get to a stage where you can just follow the verbal instructions and don’t need to look at your phone during the practice.

Unlike many free apps, there aren’t any annoying adverts or pop-ups that interrupt your exercise. You’re asked to rate different practices and there is the occasional reminder of the benefits of the pro membership, but it’s pretty hands off in terms of pushing the paid version. If you’ve been meaning to get back into yoga or want to carry out some extra sessions between classes, then I definitely recommend downloading the Down Dog app.

10 Tips for Trail Running in the Dark

Running at night

Trail running in the dark can be an intimidating experience if you’re not used to it. The countryside landscape looks different at night, distances seem longer and it can sometimes feel as if there’s someone hiding behind every bush just waiting to jump out at you. But, with a bit of practice, trail running at night can be just as enjoyable as during the day. And it definitely beats an hour on the treadmill or pounding pavements.

What’s more, learning to run in the dark can improve your trail running technique. You learn to become a more instinctive runner and allow your feet to adapt to obstacles in your path, both of which can help improve your speed on different terrains when running in the daylight. If you’re new to running off-road at night, here are some tips to help you enjoy running in the dark.

1. Start on Easy Trails

It’s best to ease yourself into night-time running by starting off on easy trails, such as forest tracks or wide path without too many obstacles. Allow your body and mind to get used to the different experience of running in the dark without having to worry too much about where you’re placing your feet.

2. Get a Bright Head Torch

A head torch is the one essential piece of kit you need for running at night and the brighter it is, the better. Your old head torch you use for camping may look bright enough when you’re standing in the house, but out in the woods, it’s a different story. A bright head torch helps you pick out obstacles and the route ahead and makes you less likely to put a foot wrong. If you’ve been put off running in the dark by previous experiences with a dim torch, then invest in the brightest one you can find. It’ll transform your running experience.

3. Choose a Route You Know

Navigating in the dark is hard. I consider myself a relatively competent orienteer during the day, but I never fail to get lost at night. Small footpaths through woodlands are particularly easy to get lost on, especially when covered in leaf litter. Choose a route you’re very familiar with for your first runs in the dark so you don’t have to worry about losing your way.

4. Shine the Torch Ahead of You, Not at Your Feet

When running in the dark, you want to shine the torch a few metres ahead of you. This may seem slightly counterintuitive, but you need to be looking out for obstacles ahead and trust your feet to deal with what’s underfoot. If you look down at your feet, you’re bound to trip over.

5. Embrace All Your Senses

When you lose part of your sight, your other senses become amplified. You may notice things you don’t normally take in when running. The rustling of animals in the forest, the footfall of your running companion or your own breathing. Don’t be afraid of the strange noises, but embrace the sounds and smells of your environment and the touch of the ground underfoot.

6. Go Running with a Pal

Going running with a friend is more likely to get you out of the house and helps if you feel at all nervous about running on your own at night. If you can’t persuade anyone to go with you, then join a local running club.

7. Be Prepared for Emergencies

Running in the dark isn’t any more dangerous than running in the light, but when the weather is cold, you want to be prepared for any eventuality. It’s worth carrying a phone in case of emergency and consider packing an extra layer and a small first aid kit to be fully prepared.

8. Make Sure You Can be Seen

Your heavy breathing and bright torch may give your presence away to the odd dog walker you encounter, but it’s worth wearing reflective clothing, particularly if any part of your route is on roads.

9. Focus on the Run

Running at night requires greater concentration than running during the day. You’ll find you return home with your brain tired as well as your legs. This need to focus can make the run more exhilarating, but you may need to rethink some of your summer running habits. Leave your headphones and music at home and try not to let your mind wander too much or else you may find yourself tripping up.

10. If You Feel Unsafe, Carry a Personal Safety Device

just to reiterate, even though running in the dark may not feel as safe as running in daylight, often that’s more about perception than fact. But if you want an extra bit of security, then a device such as the Run Angel may boost your confidence. You wear it on your wrist and can set up ‘guardians’ who will receive a text message with your location if you activate the alarm. The alarm itself is ear-piercing – useful if you want to ward off any unwanted attention.

Why I Walk

Me hiking in Scotland

I walk to feel the warmth of the sunshine on my skin. To feel the rain and wind lash my cheek, the elements batting me around as if I‘m a small toy in their giant game.

I walk to hear the birds chattering in the hawthorn bushes and calling to each other across the woods and moors. I walk to catch glimpses of hidden creatures. Voles and field mice, stoats and deer, and occasionally, at night, a fox or badger.

Sometimes I walk with purpose, to reach a destination. The top of a hill or mountain, most likely. A viewpoint from where I can survey the world or what little of it I’m allowed to see. But a walk does not need a destination and sometimes I just let my feet carry me where they will.

I walk to give myself thinking time. To mull over a problem or reassess my priorities. It’s as if the movements of my legs turn cogs in my head that power my brain to find a solution to whatever’s bothering me. The answer does not always come on the walk, but the walk is part of the process of discovering it.

But, there are also times when I’m content to think about nothing. To just let thoughts flow through my mind like water trickling down a beck. This too, is what walking is all about.

When I get angry or frustrated, I can feel trapped in the house. This place where I should be doing this or should be doing that; where I haven’t done this, or have failed at that. Walking is my escape. A chance to walk away from the anger inside and be calm again. To return to work with a fresh state of mind.

I walk to forget about the problems of the world. To put aside worries and cares, particularly those that I have no control over. To realise that I don’t have to change the world, I just have to do my bit.

I walk to feel the ache in my muscles and the pain in my feet. The focus that comes after you’ve been trudging for hours. How your world narrows to focus on just one thing: putting one foot in front of the other. It’s almost like a meditation. Left, right, left, right. There is just you and the footpath in front of you.

But, perhaps most of all, I walk to be outside. To breathe fresh air and walk in the beautiful countryside that we’re blessed with in the UK. Whether it’s a stroll through my local woods, a walk up over the moors or a hike up a remote Scottish mountain, walking makes me truly appreciate how lucky we are to have these beautiful landscapes. And why we must protect them.

Walking outside makes me feel alive. It reminds me of why life is precious. It makes me happy.

That is why I walk.

The Best Winter Cycling Gear to Keep You Warm on the Bike

Winter Cycling Gear
Here in England, the clocks have gone back and the evenings are dark. And the last few days have been cold. It really feels as if winter is well and truly here. I really struggle with motivation to get out on my bikes in winter, particularly my road bike. But if you’ve got the right winter cycling gear to keep you warm and dry then there’s no excuse for not getting out and making the most of whatever weather winter brings.

If (like all the best people) you have a birthday in November or you’re looking for ideas for Christmas presents then here’s a selection of the best winter season cycling gear to carry you through the wind, rain and snow to spring.

Winter Cycling Gear to Keep You Warm

Kalf Club Thermal Jersey

Kalf Club Thermal Jersey
I love the new autumn/winter range from Kalf, particularly the toned-down colour palette (burgundy or blue for ladies) and stylish design. The Kalf Club Jersey (available in men’s and women’s fit) is a warm mid-layer with a soft, brushed inner that you can wear on its own or over a base layer on colder days.

Buy the Kalf Club Thermal Jersey (£75)

dhb Aeron FLT Roubaix Bib Tight

dhb Aeron FLT Womens Roubaix Bib Tight
One of the things I worry about cycling on the roads in winter is not being seen. dhb have addressed this with their Flashlight Technology (FLT) – careful positioning of reflective materials that look subtle until you position them in a car headlight. The Roubaix fleece fabric is perfect for cold weather use and the coloured dots on the legs are a snazzy addition.

The only disadvantage is there’s no consideration for loo stops. You’re going to have to take your jersey off. Brrr… But as these tights retail at £85, that’s just me being picky. Also available in a men’s version.

Buy the dhb Aeron FLT Roubaix Bib Tight (£85)

Stolen Goat Bandido

Stolen Goat Bandido
It seems “Bandido” is the new word for “buff”. (I actually thought it meant bandit, but I am obviously not down with the cool kids.) Whatever you call it, it’s one of those indispensable tubes that can be worn in ten different ways to keep your head and neck warm. This one from Stolen Goat is a snip at £9.99. If you can’t get enough of blue polka dots then you can get the matching arm warmers. (Yay!)

Stolen Goat Bandido in Polka Blue (£9.99)

Castelli Tempo Women’s Glove

Castelli Tempo W Glove

I have small hands which can make finding gloves that fit a real challenge. One of the best pairs of gloves I ever bought was a pair of kid’s sailing gloves that I used for handling climbing ropes, cycling and lugging rubble around. Anyway, I digress. Finding a pair of gloves that keeps your fingers warm (or at least not numb) and gives you enough movement to be able to switch gears and use your brakes effectively is a bit like searching for the Holy Grail.

Which is why I’m interested in the Women’s Tempo Glove from Castelli. It’s fleece-lined, with a thin layer of insulation and a windstopper outer and doesn’t look at all bulky. It’s not waterproof, but the fabric will keep your hands dry in a light shower. And the gloves have the all-important touchscreen inserts on the fingertips, so you can tweet on the move. (Well, not actually on the move. We don’t condone phone use whilst cycling – safety first, people!)

Buy the Castelli Tempo W Glove (£60)

Queen of the Mountains Iseran Climbing Socks

Iseran climbing socks
I love the mountain pattern on these cute socks. They’re soft, quick drying and long enough to tuck up under your cycling tights. Perfect for keeping your feet warm.

Buy the Iseran Climbing Socks (£16)

So, there you go! Plenty of motivation to brave the cold. If nothing else, you’ll have earned your mince pies come December.

10 Reasons to Love Autumn

Trees in autumn colours

1) Cool, crisp mornings

Many people associate autumn with the start of wet winter weather. But you also get some beautiful days when the air is clear and crisp and the dew hangs on every blade of grass. It’s still light enough in the mornings to enjoy a run before work so get out and make the most these magical autumn days before winter descends.

2) Vibrant autumn colours

Spring flowers have their place but for me, the vibrant fiery hues of autumn can’t be beaten. Whether it’s the golden yellow and russet browns of deciduous woodland or the rich orange shades of bracken-covered fells, the English countryside is at its most beautiful at this time of year.

3) An extra hour in bed

By the end of October, it can be pretty hard to get up in the dark mornings. Fortunately, just when you’re losing despair, the clocks go back and the mornings get lighter. This also means you can trick your body into thinking you’re getting an extra hour in bed in the morning – a feeling which lasts for all of a week before things revert to normal. Make the most of waking up early and fit your training in before work. That way, when you get home in the dark, you won’t have to feel guilty about curling up on the sofa in front of the TV.

4) The return of comfort food

Even if summer is a washout, you still feel as if you should be eating healthy salads and cold dishes. But now, the cold weather is officially here! Which means it’s perfectly acceptable to start eating tasty warm comfort food again. Bring on the soups, stews and sponge puddings.

As there’s still a good variety of vegetables in season, there’s no excuse to equate “comfort” with “unhealthy”. Pumpkins and squashes are bright and colourful and can be used in lots of different dishes. This week, we were the recipients of a large pumpkin fresh from my mother-in-law’s garden. So far, we’ve had pumpkin soup, pumpkin pie and pumpkin chilli, and we’re planning on roasting the rest of it for dinner this week. And don’t throw away those pumpkin seeds – they’re great toasted with a bit of salt as a snack or soup garnish.

5) Roaring fires

Since the dawn of time, humans have gathered around fires. There’s nothing quite so comforting as sitting around a crackling fire gazing into the hypnotic flames. Sipping a mug of hot chocolate around a wood burning stove is the perfect way to end a day spent hiking in the cold.

If you don’t have a stove of your own, it’s not long to wait until bonfire night when you can wrap up in a warm coat and winter gloves and suck a toffee apple while basking in the warmth of the bonfire.

6) Mud!

Okay, I admit this may not be everyone’s reason to love autumn. But if you’re one of those crazy people who loves nothing more than getting covered head to toe in mud while struggling around a 10 km course, autumn is the perfect season for mud races.

And if you’re tired of slipping around on your local footpaths, I was quite excited to discover that you can buy studded wellies!

7) It’s apple season

The apples seemed to ripen rather earlier than usual this year, but I still associate autumn with apple season. From mulled cider to Dorset apple cake and apple and blackberry crumble, there are so many apple recipes, you’ll never run out. If you’re swamped with fruit, wrap the best apples in newspaper and they should keep until Christmas. Freeze the rest, either in slices or as a purée, or if you have a dehydrator create some apple rings for hiking snacks.

8) Autumn leaves

And I the only one who loves walking through rustling piles of autumn leaves, kicking them up in front of me as I go? Thought not. And dry autumn leaves are perfect for adding to the compost bin or creating leaf art.

9) Hot drinks rule

As if I needed an excuse to drink hot chocolate … But here it is! I’m always at a bit of a loss as to what to drink in hot weather. (Water gets a bit boring after a while.) But when it’s cold there are so many choices! If you’re looking for a gift for a tea-drinker or want to treat yourself, I love Kusmi teas almost as much as the tins they come up. A warm glass of mulled cider or mulled wine is one of my favourite drinks for a cold autumn evening. And if you’re starting to sniffle, head off a winter cold with a hot mug of lemon ginger and honey (whiskey or brandy optional!).

10) The smells of autumn

Smells can evoke strong memories. The smell of smoke on an autumn day instantly transports me back to childhood holidays in the Lake District. It sums up what I love most about autumn weekends. A long walk or run in the hills followed by a hot cup of tea and a hearty meal in front of a roaring log fire. Is there any better way to spend a day?