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Before I go too much further with this post I should point out that I wasn’t some yogic saint during my two weeks in the States! Yes I made it to some classes, managed to fit in a couple of gym visits and wolfed down some green juices and acai bowls (as an aside, why oh why aren’t these easier to come across in London?!), but I also let my hair down and tucked into some really yummy burgers and sampled a lot of California wine and beer. So I don’t want it to look like I spent my whole time on my yoga mat, but I do think sourcing yoga studios and events is a different way to explore an area when you’re on holiday and I was very grateful that I maybe didn’t have to work quite as hard as I might have done to work off all that yummy American food once I got home as I might have done had I not done any exercise….!

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Before I went, the one name that kept coming up when friends gave me yogic recommendations was Annie Carpenter who was teaching a regular class at Yoga Tree in San Francisco when we were there. San Francisco is pretty chock-a-blocked  with yoga studios, which left my boyfriend a little bemused as to why I was making him walk past seemingly hundreds of other studios to get to Yoga Tree’s Potrero Hill location, but Annie’s reputation was enough for me to make sure I gave up one night of my holiday and trekked across the city to make sure I attended. It was well worth it. Annie’s class was packed, despite being in a massive room, but she had the skill that all really great teachers do of making you feel like she’s giving everyone in the studio individual attention. She’s coming over to London to workshop at Triyoga in a couple of months and I’d highly recommend signing up for at least one session while she’s here.

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From a teacher whose reputation preceded her, my next trip onto the mat was at a studio whose reputation did the same. Core Power Yoga is a huge hot yoga franchise across America which teaches its particular brand of yoga at well over a hundred studios. I’d heard a lot about the company and fancied experiencing it for myself, so signed up for a class in Santa Barbara. One of the things I really noticed about American studios is the extra costs of things – I’m happy to pay for towels and water but was surprised that wherever I went the cost of hiring a mat was in addition to the cost of the class. But this seems to be somewhat standard; when we went to a class at Soul Cycle we discovered there’s an extra three dollar charge for hiring cleat shoes, which you need to get on the bike and aren’t quite as cheap as a yoga mat to buy yourself! The Core Power Yoga class was a set sequence, which a lot of students understandably knew well, but which I enjoyed. There was a lot of moving around the mat and facing different directions and it certainly worked up a sweat. I don’t think a franchise on this size is always going to work, but if you’re in a new town and want a class where you know what to expect then it’s a reassuring option.

For the second week of the holiday I didn’t manage to fit in as much yoga as we were on the road a lot, bar a jokey attempt at meditating amongst the slot machines in Vegas! I think it’s safe to say we went from being some of the slimmest people in Sin City to feeling like some of the most unhealthy by the time we got to the sunny seaside LA outpost of Santa Monica, so I was ready for some more yoga.

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Santa Monica feels like an extremely fit and healthy town, with Whole Foods as frequent as 7-Elevens, and on our first day I was super excited to find a sign for free yoga every Saturday morning on the town’s iconic pier. We also managed to fit in a couple of other workouts while there, including a trip to Soul Cycle to see what all the fuss is about (it was good, but not as good as Psycle) and a gym session at Equinox, thanks to a lovely friend of mine who was able to get us on the guest list. But it was the pier yoga that I was most excited about, and bounced out of bed at an hour I hadn’t seen since jet-lagged let go of me to head down to the pier. It was absolutely packed but, whereas in the UK this kind of event would be considered a huge deal (particularly if it hadn’t rained) Santa Monica yogis seemed to be very relaxed about it, as though it was just another yoga class, albeit one outdoors and on a pier.

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I was really lucky to get to experience some brand new yoga experiences on holiday and would highly recommend it as a way to get to know a new place in a different way! I got to meet some lovely new fellow yogis and teachers and learned a lot of things that I can take with me. Yoga is a universal language so it’s well worth scheduling some classes to your holiday, particularly if like me you struggle to keep up a home practice. And if anyone has success meditating in Vegas, please let me know!

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If there’s one thing in life I absolutely love, it’s green tea. Genuinely bloody love the stuff, as strong and bitter as possible! I start every day with a mug and will keep the teabag in as long as possible, topping it up with hot water until every last bit is squeezed out.

So when teapigs asked me to try out their organic matcha (extra super-strength green tea) for two weeks as part of their matcha challenge, I was definitely keen. While I consider myself a bit of a green tea connoisseur (which is lucky, because some days its by far the healthiest thing that I consume) I haven’t always enjoyed green tea flavoured things that have come my way…. Yes green tea kitkat that a colleague brought back from Japan, I am talking about you. But the matcha is great! Yes it’s really strong, and if you’re not a big green tea fan the taste probably won’t be for you, but you can always mix it with a small amount of cold water and drink it quickly as a shot.

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My matcha challenge kit came with a shot glass, handy aero whisk and a guide to different ways to try the drink. It’s pretty simple, you just have half a teaspoon of matcha every day, either mixed into hot or cold drinks, smoothies or food and see how you feel. I started the two weeks while at Champneys for the weekend by trying out the matcha as a shot, but by the time I was back at work, I found it nicest to mix in with my usual cuppa and have an extra strong green tea break.

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I definitely picked the best two weeks to try out the challenge. The first two weeks of January are inevitably the most grim of the whole year, when it’s dark and cold, you’re pretty broke and trying to lose the 7 pounds that somehow crept on over Christmas. Added to this that I was in the middle of a hugely busy period at work and trying to launch a new career on the side as a yoga teacher and I needed all the help I could get. But the matcha really helped me stay alert and not feel tired and sluggish (it, ahem, definitely gets your bowels moving!) Even when I was trekking to teach private clients at 6am on a cold winter morning, followed by a full day at my desk, I wasn’t feeling anywhere near as groggy as I could do.

It’s not always the easiest thing to drink, the powder does need to be whisked to make it dissolve into water, but this is definitely a new addition to my daily tea intake!

(And in v.exciting news, next week the teapigs team are launching a matcha pop up bar in Shoreditch!)

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Pic courtesy of Champneys website

I think the period after Christmas but before the first Monday of the new year when everyone goes back to work is one of my favourite times of year. There’s none of the frenzy of before Christmas, and it’s an opportunity to hunker down and take stock before the good intentions but general greyness of January takes over.

This year I eased myself particularly slowly into 2015 by taking my mum and I up to Champneys in Henlow, Bedfordshire for a spa break of the final weekend of the festive period. My mum was marking a special birthday and I thought a post-Christmas re-charge at Champneys would be a good way to celebrate.

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The spa is located in a beautiful old Georgian manor house surrounded by several acres of park and farmland (you can watch the local sheep grazing while you lounge by the pool) which has been extended to accommodate the facilities. We were lucky enough to be staying in one of the big rooms in the main house which was beautifully furnished with antique furniture and had gorgeous views out towards the house’s river and wier. Once we’d unwrapped our welcome packages and donned our robes (Champneys robes are always as cosy and fluffy as you’d hope) we headed down to the spa for an afternoon of relaxing by the pool, sweating out some December toxins in the sauna and sipping tea and green juices in the lounge.

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I was seriously impressed by the food on offer at Henlow. Dinner was a range of healthy but delicious options, with huge amounts of information on each dish’s content and nutritional value and a wonderful selection of organic wine to accompany if you chose. Although Mama South London Yogi and I undid any notions of being virtuous by celebrating her birthday with a bottle of champagne and handmade chocolates!

On the Sunday I decided to make sure I scheduled in a yoga class, not least because since finishing my YTT three weeks previously, despite all good intentions, I’d actually failed to set foot on my mat all through Christmas. Oops! Champneys has loads of classes and activities on every day so you can do as much or as little as you like. Once you take in to account mealtimes, classes and treatment bookings it’s almost easy to forget to schedule in any time for just flopping by the pool! The class was an Iyengar class, a style I’d done very little of before, but the focus on anatomical structure and correct placement was the best way to get back into my practice after a few weeks break. And as a newly qualified teacher, it was hugely useful to see how the woman leading the class worked with a wide range of levels and a room full of people that she’d never seen before.

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I’d booked myself in for a seaweed wrap, which was one of the best treatments I’ve ever had. My therapist was super efficient (no muddy mess anywhere!) and gave me a wonderful scalp and foot massage while the wrap was working on my skin.

Henlow is only 35 minutes out of London by train but felt like a world away from the bustle of the city. I left feeling perfectly re-energized and ready to see what 2015 had to throw at me. (Hopefully a return visit!)

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Happy (almost) new year! After a very restful Christmas I’m really excited for 2015 because…drumroll please…I’m now a fully qualified Ashtanga vinyasa yoga teacher! My training was more intense than I could have ever imagined, but also one of the very best things that I’ve ever done, and while I’m enjoying having a bit of a social life back, I’d do it all again tomorrow if I could. If you missed any of the blogs I was writing over on Om Exchange throughout my course, you can read them all in one place.

I’m starting group classes at SWC in Brixton in January on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings as well as offering private lessons in people’s homes and in studios. There’s lots more info on my brand new teaching website http://www.laurawoottonyoga.com

So my new years resolutions are pretty set (start new career, develop teaching, make lots of clients happy through yoga!) but if you’re based  London and want to make yoga your goal in 2015 then I’d love to help. And now my course is over I have lots of yoga events to attend and new posts planned for my South London Yogi blog.

Have a great end of 2014 x

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Somewhat terrifyingly, next week I finish my yoga teacher training (just 11 days till the exam, not that I’m counting!). Ten weeks have gone in an absolute flash, and I’m in the final stages of refining my exam class and swotting up on my theory in a manner not seen since my GCSEs! I’ve been blogging throughout the course over at Om Exchange where you can follow my progress, and have started teaching my first couple of classes (terrifying yet exhilarating all at once!) Normal blogging operation will resume in the New Year when I start on my new adventure as a fully qualified teacher and see where my next steps on this  journey take me!

Since I started my teacher training course I’ve found myself spending most of my time in yoga clothes. Not that I didn’t wear leggings for a significant amount of my waking hours before, but now I’m in training Friday evenings, Saturdays and Sundays and racking up around three classes during the rest of the week, when I’m not in work I’ve basically got to be yoga-ready. So when the lovely guys at Ilu Fitwear asked if I could try wearing their trousers both for yoga and day-to-day life, it seemed like perfect timing.

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Much as I’ve given up a lot of my social life for the next couple of months, telling most of my friends that I’ll see them at Christmas, if I’m meeting someone for a coffee before class or a quick bite to eat afterwards, I don’t necessarily want my clothes to be screaming  that I’m pre/ post yoga (I’ll let my bright red and sweaty face do that for me if it’s after class!) Also, if I’m running around London to get to different classes I want to keep my changes of clothes to a minimum (I forgot to put a top in my yoga bag last week and ended up heading straight to a post-work class in a promotional t-shirt I found in the office, oops!). So if there’s something I can wear for yoga and my normal life then so much the better.

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The Ilu trousers are made from a wonderfully soft fabric which feels almost velvety but are extremely stretchy and  great to practice in. They’re bootcut so are really flattering and during colder months you could even wear them over cropped leggings when going to and from the studio. After testing them out on my yoga mat, I threw on a long sleeve t-shirt and my trainers to see how they held up on a run. Quite often I find leggings designed for yoga don’t hold up when running, and you spend half the time yanking up the waistband, but the Ilu ones stayed tightly put!

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Finally, I thought I’d try them out away from the fitness world and see if I could get away with them for a night out. So I paired them with heels and a sparkly top and think I safely got away with it! OK I probably wouldn’t want to head out straight from a particularly sweaty class wearing the same clothes I practiced in, but it’s definitely possible to wear workout clothes away from the mat or the gym. Thanks Ilu!

www.ilufitwear.com/

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Things have taken an exciting turn in my yoga life as last week I officially started my 200 hour yoga teacher training course with The Yoga People. I’m really excited to take the next step towards building a career in yoga, even if it’s sometimes overwhelming and scary! I’m going to be blogging over at Om Exchange during the course, charting the ups and downs and how much I’m learning, and you can read the first week’s installment on there now.

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A couple of days before my course I went to a Visions and Goals session at Lululemon in Marylebone. It’s the kind of event I’d have previously shied away from (I can get very British about these things) but it seemed like too much of a coincidence that it fell just before I was starting on something potentially life changing. So I un-stiffed my upper lip and went along to what turned out to be a really inspiring and worthwhile event, with a group of us setting out plans for where we’d ideally like to be in one, five and 10 years time. Lululemon run the events across all their stores so keep an eye out for them as they’re well worth going to!

Finally, I’ve also started writing for True Yoga Collective, and you can read my post on Creating a Home Retreat on the site now, with lots more to follow!