The Minimalist Guide to Christmas

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And suddenly, it’s here … December, holiday season, party time … and for many of us, stress.

Over the past couple of years I’ve “minimalised” many aspects of my life in an effort to focus on what matters and to lighten my load – both literally and figuratively. I’ve made a capsule wardrobe, decluttered and KonMari’ed my way through our flat with surprising yet beautiful results. I feel lighter, more spacious, more joyful, more abundant and able to see and spend time on what’s important to me.

And with this effect in other areas of my life, I, of course, wanted to minimalise Christmas.

I love buying, making and giving gifts, and although I’m very organised and start planning gifts from about July/August, I always seem to have a last minute dash around in December, frantically sewing or shopping right up until Christmas Eve. And it takes away from, for me, what this time of year is really all about – spending time with loved ones, remembering what I’m grateful for, and experiencing and living, rather than consuming and shopping.

A few ideas for minimalist Christmas gifts:

  1. Gift exchange A. This will be the second time we do this on my husband’s side of the family – each person draws a name and buys one gift. We’ve gone with a book theme this year, which I love, because a) books are beautiful and contribute to learning b) they are affordable and keep the playing field even c) there is a book out there for just about everyone.
  2. Gift exchange B. This is what we’re doing on my Mom’s side of the family this year (still with the book theme – what can I say, we love to read!). Each person brings a book that is special to them or that they enjoyed (used or new) wrapped up so no one knows what it is. Everyone draws a number and the first person chooses their present and opens it – the second person can either steal the first gift or choose a wrapped gift. This continues until everyone has a book. I love this idea because it makes a game of opening presents (fun in and of itself), but is also incredibly inclusive – if you have a last minute guest, it’s very easy for them to bring something and be included in the gift game.
  3. Food gifts. For friends, clients or hostess gifts, I love making a few simple healthy treats. My favourite food blogger has some amazing recipes which make incredible and delicious gifts which people can enjoy without feeling icky. My favourites are her infused syrups, a batch of gingerbread cookies, a jar of chai spices for tea (just add fresh ginger and water) or a jar of spiced hot chocolate (just add honey and the milk of your choice).
  4. Experiential gifts. Theatre tickets, movie tickets, concert tickets, art exhibition tickets, a spa day, a fancy dinner out … whatever you enjoy – spend money on something that allows you to make memories and experience life together.
  5. Vouchers – but not for a store! I like giving vouchers to friends and family for a special, personalised gift. I have given babysitting vouchers to new parents for a night out, a series of Pilates classes, a week of dish-washing, a batch of home-made cookies, a 1-2-1 yoga class … or anything else I think the recipient might enjoy. Generally this means that I get to spend time with the recipient, and again, make memories rather than accumulate things. I love this for kids too – where possible, instead of giving toys, spending an afternoon at a museum or park, and building a relationship.
  6. Charitable donations. It is likely that if you’re reading this blog, you are among the people who have more than they have not. There are many people in the world with very little, and a charitable donation in your loved one’s name can be a fantastic gift. In the past, I’ve given these donations through Oxfam, and themed it to something I thought the person would appreciate (i.e. for teachers I’ve given the “educate a child” gift, etc). There are many worthy charities, so find one with meaning for you

And with these guidelines in place, shopping is very easy, almost enjoyable even. It’s not quite December, but we’ve finished our gifts and can now spend the rest of the month enjoying friends, family and festivities!

I’d love to hear your ideas for a minimalist Christmas. What kind of gifts work for you? Do you have any minimalist traditions? Let me know in the comments or use #minimalistXmasgifts.

Finding Centre

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In Pilates, the centre of our bodies is often called the “powerhouse” because it’s where so much of our physical strength comes from. Whilst having a strong physical core is essential for safe and effective movement, this is also the place in the body where we find our inner strength.

In yoga, the centre of the body is known as the solar plexus chakra (manipura chakra) and this area governs our self-esteem, sense of personal power, sense of belonging, stamina, will power and ego. It’s the place the allows us to be confident and in control of our lives.

Working on developing physical strength in this area can help us feel more confident and strong, but we can also connect to our personal powerhouse of emotion and energy:-

Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Place one hand on your heart and the other on your belly. Notice the heat radiating from your body. Watch the rise and fall of your breath. Bring the breath deep and low in the body – fill up the belly and let the belly really expand.

Feel whatever is in your body, deep at the core. Let your hands be a reminder to stay focused on feeling what is in this part of you. Start to connect with the deep-rooted power inside.

Sit with this for a few moments, a few breaths or a few minutes.

Release your hands and notice how you feel, sitting in stillness a little longer. When you’re ready, take a deep breath and continue with your day, centered and strong.

I’d love to know how this exercise makes you feel. Let me know in the comments below or use #corepowerinnerpower.

Strong Core

When people think of Pilates, usually they think of core strength. In the video below, I demonstrate 6 of my favourite moves for building strength in the abdominals and back – together these areas are the basis of our core strength.

The video can be done daily or a few times a week – it’s less than 5 minutes, but small and often will have better results than big and seldom. I do each move about 5 times, but you can increase this quantity if you want a bigger challenge. Try them out and let me know how you feel (and if you have a favourite exercise!) in the comments below.

 

 

 

Yoga vs Pilates

As someone who teaches both yoga and Pilates, I often get asked about the differences between the two. I’ve created a chart to help clear up some of the confusion! Let me know what you think in the comments or use #novemberPilates.

 

YOGA

 

PILATES
Thousands of years old

 

Less than 100 years old
Engages the pelvic floor and abdominals

 

Engages the pelvic floor and abdominals
Improves strength and flexibility

 

Improves strength and flexibility
Specific breathing pattern to assist with movement

 

Specific breathing pattern to assist with movement
Works big muscles groups

 

Focuses on smaller muscles
Includes a wide array of styles and activities and can be physical, mental or spiritual or a combination of all three – i.e. meditation, breathing exercises, chanting, singing, etc are all part of a yoga practice

 

Primarily a physical activity but does have a mental aspect through focus and use of breath
Many different styles and levels of intensity – huge variation from class to class, even within the same style of yoga

 

An amount of continuity and consistency from class to class
Practiced on a mat (can use props), bare feet

 

Practiced on a mat or reformer (can use props), bare feet or Pilates socks (with grip)
Moves from pose to pose and has an element of stillness – poses can either be held for a period of time or move fluidly from one to the next, like a dance

 

The same exercise or movement is repeated to strengthen or exhaust the muscles before moving to the next set of exercises
Shapes/poses can be made without engaging the correct muscles

 

Difficult to perform the movement correctly without engaging the correct muscles
Can be quite a strong practive and not always appropriate for those with injuries Can be an effective way to maintain strength and flexibility despite any injuries – can even help to rehabilitate when done correctly

Yoga/Pilates Fusion Playlist – November 2016

I’m switching focus this month, from meditation to one of my other loves – Pilates! To get you in the mood, check out this month’s music inspiration – an upbeat flow that I use for some of my yoga/pilates fusion flows. It’s dynamic and energetic and keeps me going all the way till the end. What are you listening to this month? Let me know in the comments or use #novemberpilates

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