Higher Tone

Variety is the spice of life and the fuel for fitness


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Top 10 fitness inspired Christmas gift ideas

These innovative gadgets and fun stocking fillers will have you sprinting back to the gym to get back into shape after the inevitable excess of the Christmas period.

1) Nike plus iPod Sport Kit

The smart device fits neatly in your trainer

Price: £22.50

Website: http://www.apple.com/ipod/nike/

This incredible device transforms your iPod into a personal trainer by providing real-time, spoken feedback that alerts you to workout milestones.  It fits inside your trainer and you can then track time, distance, pace, and calories burned by transmitting the information wirelessly to your device for instant feedback

2) Slendertone Flex Unisex Belt

You will see results in 4-6 weeks with this toning belt

Price: £49.99

Website: www.slendertone.com/en-uk/

This unisex toning belt from Slendertone uses 99 levels to work up to hard, firm abs. A great way to tone and firm in the comfort of your own home.  The 7 different programs allow you to tailor the workout and train your muscles, with warm up and cool down phases.

3) Ironman Triathlon 50-Lap Sleek Watch

This gorgeous watch comes in seven different colours

Price: £56

Website: http://www.timex.ca/en/sports.aspx

Stylish and streamlined watch in a variety of different colours.  This is truly a timepiece for everyone, with sleek ergonomics and ventilated strap enable the ultimate in comfort. Form is further embellished by function with the presence of two interval timers, multiple workout storage and three alarms.

4) H2O Audio Flex Waterproof Sport Headphones

Affordable and waterproof headphones

Price: £15

Website: http://www.x-1.com/

The headsets are 100% waterproof and sweat proof, which means you can still play your favorite music under the water.  One of the cheaper options on the market but still great quality.

5) Reebok EasyTone Trainers

These trainers will really work the muscles in your legs

Price: £75

Website: http://www.reebok.com

These trainers are specially developed to work muscles in you legs and bottom that wouldn’t normally get a workout.  The shoes have built in balance pods that make you feel slightly off-balance so your body has to compensate for this by adjusting your posture.  They also look great!

6) Neoprene Mini Sports Belt

This waterproof belt fits in your essentials for a run

Price: £15

Website: http://revelsports.com/iFitness/AF001.asp

This is high on my wish-list because I never know what to do with my keys when I go for a run.  It is designed to fit all your essentials, including: mobile, iPod, keys and credit cards. It will not bounce or shift during fitness activity and it comes in several different colours.

7) Little Buddha Yoga Mat

This gorgeous yoga mat is perfect for meditation

Price: £120

Website: http://www.little-buddha.net

This beautiful and luxurious silk yoga mat is truly made with love. It has a non-slip faux leather base and cosy fleece top to give comfort and reassurance for stretching or holding your pose.  The mat is filled with pure lavender that gently releases its fragrance as you practice.  Yes, it’s very expensive, but you will be the envy of the yoga class.

8) Adidas Skipping Rope

Skipping is one of the best ways to improve footwork

Price: £14

Website: www.adidas.com

Skip yourself slim and improve your footwork with simple skipping exercises.  Definitely not just for the playground, boxers always train with them to keep light on their feet.

9) Shake Weight Pro

See a noticeable difference in your upper body by using this for 6 minutes a day

Price: £20

Website: https://www.shakeweight.com/

This modified dumbbell is a revolution in strength training, you will really notice your arms, shoulders and chest tighten and tone.  It does get fast results, but you do look pretty hilarious whilst using it.  You can adjust the resistance from easy to moderate and then intense.

10) Studio Lux Quattro Leggings

Super flattering leggings are a must-have

Price: £46

Website: http://www.underarmour.com

Black leggings are the absolute staple for any woman’s workout wardrobe.  These are streamlined and stylish with a little extra detailing for enhanced silhouette.  They are lightweight and the signature water transport will keep you dry and feeling fresh.

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Interview with yoga instructor, Joanna Jakubowska

Joanna discusses the healing power of yoga and tantric meditation in Thailand over herbal tea at Chapter Arts Centre. 

Joanna at Chapter Arts Centre

Where abouts in Cardiff do you teach yoga?

I teach classes here at Chapter Arts Centre and also at Laguna Health Club in Park Plaza Hotel.  At Chapter the class is mainly focused on the Hatha Yoga style, whereas at Laguna I teach various classes such as Kundalini, Sivananda and Hatha Yoga.  I have lots of different sessions at Laguna, so I can cater for a more diverse range of ability levels.  Hatha yoga uses bodily postures (asanas) and breath exercises (pranayama) with a goal of bringing about a healthy body and peaceful mind.  Kundalini yoga is about awakening kundalini energy and connecting the individual with the divine consciousness.  Kundalini involves more simple postures, but they are repeated many times in order to awaken the Kundalini energy in the spine.  I also teach various Kundalini mantras, such as ‘Sa Ta Na Ma’ and also other mantras from hindu and buddhist traditions.

What is your yoga philosophy?

Yoga operates on three different levels: physical, spiritual and mental.  The body part is important because it is essential that you satisfy your basic needs first before you look at other levels of development.  If you have a headache, then you will find meditation and concentration extremely difficult.  You need to feel comfortable and healthy in order to have a productive session.  For me, yoga is all about love and kindness.  If you have everything, but no one to share it with, then what is the point? You need first to have a full understanding of yourself, and then you can share what you have learnt.

How did you first get into yoga?

For me, yoga was the key to recovery from a serious injury.  I was a semi-professional 100m runner at Poznan University, but I broke the ligaments in both of my knees because of intensive training.  I was told that I should not do any exercise at all, but instead I bought yoga books and started to teach myself.  Yoga worked absolute miracles with my legs and it really helped to restore my energy and balance.  I was eventually able to get back into running because I wanted to prove to myself that injuries would not stop me.  Now, yoga is more about fitness and fun, not struggling and fighting.

Where did you train to become a yoga instructor?

I did a Yoga Point course in Nashik, India and it was completely different to what I was expecting.  The day started with singing at 4:30 in the morning.  This introduced us to all the different types of mantras.  I was sceptical of this at the beginning, but once I realised why we were doing it, I began to understand how important it is.  We would do at least five hours of physical practice a day and there were also lectures about yoga philosophy and the more physiological aspects.  All the 40 or so students would volunteer at the local college doing whatever they needed.  I usually love walking barefoot, but I couldn’t there because the whole area was infested with cobras.

The yoga school in Nashik, India

Have you been on many yoga retreats?

Last winter I went to Koh Phangan in Southern Thailand for a tantric yoga retreat.  The Full Moon party made the island infamous, but we didn’t get involved.  Instead we would meditate for up to ten hours everyday.  Tantric yoga is based on chakra energy and controlling sexual energy.  The tantric doctrine teaches that energy should be absorbed, rather than lost, so men are not supposed to have an orgasm.  There are many similarities with Chinese Taoism beliefs.

Koh Phagnan makes an idyllic setting for a yoga retreat

Where did you start teaching?

I started teaching at the ACT Centre where I ran six to eight week courses, rather than drop-in sessions.  This was easier for me, because I got to know everyone really well and I could design the classes according to ability.  Drop in sessions are more difficult because you cannot make a definite plan for the class.  I started at Chapter in February this year.  I teach one on one yoga sessions at the Cardiff Buddhist Centre.  I also practice aromatherapy, reflexology and reiki in Pontcanna.

Do you think there is a strong yoga community in Cardiff?

Cardiff Buddhist Centre has a great atmosphere, so potentially there.  Cardiff really needs one person to gather all the smaller group and studios together and create a tight-knit and supportive community.


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Boot Camp: British Military Fitness Style

It took a lot of strength to drag myself out of bed early on a Saturday morning, fully aware that I was headed for the hell of a military workout.  The torrential rain did not help matters.  I toyed with the idea that the class might be cancelled due to adverse weather conditions, but on arrival it soon became apparent that this couldn’t be further from the case.

In fact the primary aim of the class seemed to be to get us all as muddy as possible.  After sprinting around various trees in the waterlogged Llandaff Fields, our combat-clad instructor shouted that when he yelled 1, we all had to drop to the floor and roll over.  I responded to this with a snort of disdain, but of course failure to comply soon proved foolish.  Our trainer, Solly Afsar, had an impressive assortment of forfeits, which he was only too happy to deal out.  Within minutes I soon resembled Goldie Hawn in Private Benjamin.  Attempting to do press-ups in the pouring rain whilst covered head to toe in mud, with mascara dripping steadily down my face, will definitely go down as a low point.

I very much resembled Private Benjamin after the first 10 minutes

Military Mantra: “Break them down and build them back up”

I was broken.  Then things suddenly started to look up.  The sun made a brief appearance and we stopped rolling around in the mud.  My clothes were fortunately not completely ruined because we had been given different coloured bibs before starting the class depending on ability levels.  I was given a blue bib because it was my first time, but the intermediates were wearing red and the dedicated, advanced group were sporting green vests.

This was the state of my outfit post boot camp. The mud dripped through even though I was wearing a bib.

The boot camp class created an incredible team atmosphere because everyone worked together and motivated each other.  Despite being new, I was made to feel part of the group within minutes.  After the class finished I felt elated, hyper and ridiculously energetic.  The post-workout endorphins rush was at a whole new level and I was on a high for the whole day.  Whether this was down to the group dynamic, the outdoor setting or the general feeling of relief that I had survived the class, the feeling was overwhelming.

The team-work exercises really motivate you

Military workouts are based on three fundamentals of training: cardio, strength and agility.  They are all about bare essentials and using your own body weight as resistance.  By stringing together exercises like push-ups, squats, sit-ups and planks with no break in-between, your body will turn into an efficient machine.  Boot camp classes aim to give your body a full workout, so the exercises target multiple muscles, rather than isolating one group at a time.

Challenge Yourself

The classes are designed to improve speed, agility, strength and stamina.  The beginners blue group is more focused on personal goals, whereas the red and green groups can get much more competitive.  The advanced groups are really pushed to their limit and beyond with gruelling circuits and sprint races.

Killer Exercise: The burpee

This is a classic military movement and it works because it targets so many muscle groups.

A marine demonstrating a burpee

1) Start in a standing position

2) Drop down into the squat position with your hands on the floor

3) Extend your feet back quickly to assume the front plank position

4) Bounce back into the squat position

5) Jump back to the standing position

Repeat for 10 (beginner) 25 (intermediate) and advanced keep going for as many as you can

The best element of a BMF class lies in the fun you can have with the other people in your group.  Rather than slogging it out in the gym for hours with minimal results, these sessions will revitalise you and you will see a noticeable improvement within a few weeks.

In Cardiff, BMF hold various morning and evening sessions at Heath Park and Pontcanna Fields.  Groups vary in size, but there can be over 30 people per class, a testament to the popularity of this fitness craze.

BMF Cardiff instructors Solly Asfar (left), Andy Morgan (middle) and participant Arwel Jones (right)

The instructor for the blue group was 18-year-old Solly Asfar (pictured on the left).  Although he has not done any military service yet, he attends military preparation college.  He said: “If you attend regular classes, keep a healthy diet and get enough sleep, you will start to see your fitness improve very quickly.”

Andy Morgan, 24 (pictured middle) was the trainer for the intermediate and advanced groups.  Andy spent 2 years with the RAF Reserves at Mod Saint Athan and has been an instructor with British Military Fitness since June 2010. He aims to join the Royal Marines as an Officer in the near future.

Arwel Jones (pictured on the right) has been coming to the BMF in Cardiff several times a week for three years.  He said “I’m in the advanced green group which is pretty tough but I love it.  The classes really allow you to push yourself to your absolute limit”.

Rate the Class:

1) Atmosphere and Fun: 8/10

The outdoor setting (despite the rain) combined with the motivation from the military instructors and the whole group gave a great buzz.

2) Sweat and Pain: 7/10

The exercises were tough, but because I was in the blue group, I was not pushed to my limit.

3) Calorie Burn: I would estimate about 400-500 per hour

4) Toning Potential 7/10

The combination of planks, squats, press ups, crunches and tricep dips targeted lots of muscle groups.

5) Morning After Muscle Ache: 8.5/10

I was hobbling around like an old lady the next day.  No pain, no gain!