Month: June 2016

Sweet-Tooth Lyon: Where to Find the Best Treats in the French Culinary Capital

Sweet-Tooth Lyon: Where to Find the Best Treats in the French Culinary Capital

Located in the Rhone-Alpes region and the third largest city in France (after Paris and Marseille) Lyon is an underdog when it comes to French tourism. It makes a nice change from the overcrowded streets of Paris or the expensive hotels in the south. Most importantly of all, Lyon is known as the foodie capital (capitale de la gastronomie) of the whole of France. Given that the French are known for their classic cuisine anyway, this is a pretty big medal.

I’m normally very much a savoury girl. Give me crisps over chocolate or starters over pudding any day. But something about visiting Lyon turns me into the biggest sweet-tooth. Maybe it’s the delicate beauty of their patisserie or the bright colours of the eclairs. Perhaps it’s the velvety smooth and fancy chocolate. Or maybe it’s just that I’m vegetarian and not the biggest fan of foie gras, ham or oysters, which are in abundance in Lyon.

Either way, Lyon is an absolute sweet-tooth heaven and there are sumptuous treats waiting around every corner. Here are my picks of the best sweet-tooth spots in the culinary capital.

Sweet-Tooth Lyon: Where to find the Best Treats in France's Culinary Capital

Macaron

The first time I tried Macaron it was before they got trendy. Everywhere in London sells them nowadays but trust me, they still don’t compare to the ones you get in Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, the largest covered market in France. A lighter than air mouthful of meringue, Macaron are not to be confused with macaroons, which are a completely different, chewy biscuit (usually coconut). Macaron come in an assortment of colours and flavours. For special occasions, our family buy Macaron from Seve, who have an outlet in Les Halles. They specialise in Chocolates and Macaron specifically and the quality is outstanding. Flavours range from pistachio, to apple tart-tatin, raspberry, and Earl Grey. The chocolate/passionfruit and the salted caramel are my all-time favourites. They are to die for.

Ice Cream

Ice cream possibly isn’t one of the things that the lyonnaise would boast about themselves (they have far too much to brag about food wise anyway!). Nonetheless, no sweet-tooth should go through the scorching Lyon summer without a really good ice cream to enjoy. There are two absolute gelato-gems that I can recommend. One is Glacier Amorino on Rue Saint-Jean, over the River Saone in the old town. Again, I’d definitely recommend the salted caramel, but the nutty sorbets are also excellent.

The other is in the sixieme arrondissement (the sixth out of Lyon’s nine divisions). ZoZo Gelateria is on Cours Franklin Roosevelt, and makes a nice stop back from the Parc de la Tete D’Or. Flavour-wise You won’t regret going for the Songe D’Ete which rather beautifully translates into “Summer Dreams”. It’s a stunning mixture of Passionfruit, Papaya and Mango, and you can genuinely taste all the flavours dance across your tongue one at a time. It’s awesome.

Sweet-Tooth Lyon: Where to find the Best Treats in France's Culinary Capital

Cafe Gourmand

Cafe Gourmand is the French equivalent of afternoon tea. Simply a black or white coffee, served with a selection of mini pastries or chocolates. It’s perfect for those (such as myself) who have difficulty choosing just one thing and would rather go for a small taste of a lot of little things. Bernachon, which is also on the Cours Franklin Roosevelt, does an excellent Cafe Gourmand. It’s a luxury chocolatier and patisserie, their desserts are quite literally a work of art. Despite their high standards, you can still get Cafe Gourmand for around €6 each, which is brilliant value for the quality of cakes that you’re getting.

Pastries

There’s no shortage of bakers in Lyon- or France in general for that matter. Go around any street corner and you’ll likely find a boulangerie whose croissants and pastries are far superior to Gails or Selfridges in London, but are a fraction of the price. One of my family’s regulars is the Max Poilane Boulangerie, on the corner of Rue Cuvier and the Avenue Marechal de Saxe. It’s worth getting up early to nab the almond croissants (or chocolate almond croissants) before they sell out. In the afternoon, the pastry selection- including the family favourite Apricot/Pistachio- is exquisite.

Crepes

Well I could hardly write a whole post dedicated to lyonnaise sweet-tooth treats without including a tribute to the crepe. Everyone knows how much I love pancakes. The truth is that there are several places in Lyon that you can get a decent crepe – they’re outside every other restaurant in the old town if you fancy eating and walking along. Still my recommendation would be to sit down at Suzette & Co, which is just of Rue de la Republique in the city centre. The crepes are delicious and very reasonably priced. Plus it’s a nice place just to sit and watch the world go by after long day shopping, exploring and indulging.

Sweet-Tooth Lyon: Where to find the Best Treats in France's Culinary Capital

10 Amazing Ab Exercises that Don’t Involve Sit Ups

10 Amazing Ab Exercises that Don’t Involve Sit Ups

Want abs but hate sit-ups?

Yeah, me too. Precisely.

I hate sit-ups. Sit-ups, crunches, curl ups – whatever you want to call them, I can say with no refrain that I absolutely hate them all, with a passion.

Which is annoying, because I adore training abs. Abs and core are my jam, the cherry on top of my cupcake and the chocolate sprinkles on my cappuccino.

There’s just nothing quite so satisfying as the burn you get from some seriously hardcore ab training.

So it annoys me to no end that the go to move, the veteran, if you will, of the abs training world is the blooming sit up.

Why?

Because you will never understand the pain, discomfort and downright frustration of attempting a correctly executed sit-up when your spine is made out of metal.

Think of spines as being a bit like those toy snakes that children have (I don’t know if these are even still about but they were pretty popular when I was growing up in the 90s). It’s made out of lots of little sections that fit together; each section (vertebra) has a little bit of movement, but you can’t bend the whole thing directly in half.

When you have surgery for scoliosis, each vertebrae is fused to a metal rod and a few metal screws, meaning that my spine has about as much flexibility as…well…a titanium metal rod.

Clearly this makes the concept of a sit up/curl up/crunch/whatever, which requires the spine to go into a sort of ‘C’ shape with the upper vertebrae lifting the shoulders off the floor and the lower vertebrae remaining on the ground, not only pretty tricky, but downright impossible. My metal spine just doesn’t offer that sort of movement.

I spent a long time getting increasingly frustrated at group exercise classes when I couldn’t participate fully because sit-ups were the only option that was offered for the abs section. Don’t get me wrong, there were lots of sit-up variations that were offered – legs up, legs down, bent knees, straight knees etc etc etc, but all of these required that C shape spinal articulation and I felt like I couldn’t just do my own thing because it’d stand out too much.

So I stopped going to as many of those classes, and instead put some time into researching some great ab and core exercises that I could do without all that frustration and discomfort.

I’m aware that the majority of people don’t have a metal spine but hey, maybe you just don’t like sit-ups for no particular reason whatsoever. I wouldn’t blame you.

If so, these are a collection of my 10 favourite ab and core exercises that don’t involve the dreaded S word. You can put any of these together (I’d choose between 3-5) and repeat for 3 sets (no rest between each exercise change) for a really killer 10 minute ab sesh at the end of your work out. 

Enjoy!

Amazing Ab Exercises that don’t involve sit ups

 

1) The Army Plank (or, ‘The up up down down plank’)

What: 3 sets for 1 minute each

How: Start in plank position, resting on the forearms. Straighten one arm at a time so that you finish in a straight-arm plank position, before lowering onto the forearms (again, one arm at a time). Think up, up, down, down. Repeat this movement as fast as you can for one minute.

Why: The stabilisation that is required in this exercise really works your core, your glutes need to be engaged to keep the hips from dropping and the pushing motion of the arms also targets the shoulder and chest muscles.

Ab Exercise 1: Army Planks from Roslyn Rachel on Vimeo.

 

2) Russian Twists

What: 3 sets for 1 minute each

How: Sit on your bum with your legs slightly bent in front of you, feet hip-width apart and approximately one foot away from the bum.  Lean back so that the abs have to engage to stabilize and balance the body. Keeping this core engagement, twist the upper body as far as feels comfortable, shifting the weight to the right and then to the left. Make sure you hold the arms out infront of you and keep the movement controlled.

Why: Engages all of the core abdominal muscles including the obliques (the sides of the abdomen). Great for balance and helps to strengthen the lower-back too.

Make it harder: Lift the feet off the ground, and hold a weighted ball or dumbbell in your hands, taking it to each side to further throw your weight off balance and force the core work harder to stabilise the body.

Make it easier: Keep the feet firmly on the floor and don’t lean back as far.

Ab Exercise 2: Russian Twists from Roslyn Rachel on Vimeo.

 

3) Leg Dips

What: 3 sets, 20 reps

How: Lie on your back with your hands resting on the floor. Start with the legs in the air at a perpendicular angle to the body. Keeping the legs straight and together, slowly lower them down so that they hover just about an inch from the floor, before lifting them back up to the right-angle.

Why: Works the hip flexors as well as really targeting the lower abdominal muscles (you know, the muffin top/love handles)

Variations: I think this works best both legs together, but you can do one leg at a time, if you prefer it that way. You can also raise the body so that you are curled up slightly, resting on the forearms. Or you can make it harder and raise the head and shoulders off the floor ‘a la curl up’, pulsing the arms out in front of you. For obvious reasons, I usually avoid that variation.

Ab Exercise 3: Leg Dips from Roslyn Rachel on Vimeo.

 

4) Flutter Kicks

What: 3 sets, one minute each

How: Sit on your bum and lean back until the core engages to stabilise you. You can either balance ‘hands free’ or rest on the hands by placing them about a foot behind you. If you choose to rest on your hands, try to make sure to lean as far back as you can so that the core really still has to engage. Keeping the legs straight, make fast, small kicking movements with the legs and feet, not letting them rest on the floor but keeping them hovered 4-6 inches off the ground at all times.

Why: Great for the lower abs and the hip flexors. Flutter kicks are really great for challenging your muscles’ endurance at the end of a workout.

Works well with: This is great if you superset it with a stationary plank. This is because the plank is an isometric (non-moving) contraction, that works for stability. Then, if you turn onto your back and do a set of flutter kicks right away, the constant movement of the legs throws you off balance and makes the core muscles work twice as hard to carry on stabilising you during this movement.

Ab Exercise 4: Flutter Kicks from Roslyn Rachel on Vimeo.

 

5) V-Sit Extensions

What: 3 sets, one minute each

How: Sit on your bum, on top of a pilates block if possible. Lean back so that the core engages and rest yourself on your hands, which should be placed comfortably on the floor about a foot behind you. Your feet should be raised off the floor with a right-angle in the knees. Straighten the legs out in front of you whilst leaning back onto the hands, then bring the legs and the body together again, bending the knees to do so. Repeat this ‘in/out’ motion for one minute, making sure all the time to keep the abs tight.

Why: Works all the abs, the hip flexors and the quads and it’s also great for balance and endurance.

Make it harder: Don’t rest on the hands.

Ab Exercise 5: V Sit Leg Extensions from Roslyn Rachel on Vimeo.

 

6) The Superman

What: 3 sets, one minute hold for each set

How: Start in a regular straight-arm plank position, and slowly walk the hands out so that they are as far away from your toes as possible (keeping the arms straight). Breathe and hold.

Why: Like the plank, except it really gets the core burning. This is an isometric contraction, which means it doesn’t move, but you really have to think about engaging the abs, the glutes, the legs the shoulders – everything.

 

7) Hanging Leg Raises

What: 5 Sets of 15-20 reps

How: Hang from an overhead bar. Keeping the legs straight, raise them (both at the same time) out in front of you, trying to get as high as possible (think about kicking yourself in the face…but don’t actually do it) before slowly lowering them down. Make sure you engage the back and the shoulders so that you’re not just passively hanging from the bar and crunching up your shoulders by your ears – you should hold yourself as if you’re about to go into a pull up, so that everything is tight and engaged.

Why: It just hurts but is really satisfying. Great for developing hip flexor strength.

Variation: Bend the knees instead of keeping them straight so that you can focus more on bringing the knees to the chest and tilting the hips upwards.

Remember: Control is Key

Ab Exercises - Hanging Leg Raises

8) Side Plank Hip Raises

What: 3 sets of 20 reps (each side)

How: In side-plank position (read the how-to here), keeping the tummy tucked in and the glutes tight, carefully lower and raise the hips as close and as far away from the floor as possible.

Why: Really gets the obliques. Great for the waist and those ‘side-ab’ lines.

Remember: Posture and form is so important in this exercise. Keep it controlled at all times, don’t stick the bum out or tilt the upper body too much either towards or away from the floor – imagine that there is a wall directly in front and behind you so that you can only move side-to-side.

Ab Exercise 8: Side Plank Hip Raises from Roslyn Rachel on Vimeo.

 

9) TRX Hip Raises

What: 3-5 sets of 15-20 reps

How: This is my all-time favourite ab exercise ever, but I put it near the end of this list because you do need some TRX ropes in order to do it. Lengthen the TRX so that the handles are just under a foot off the ground. Place your feet into the handles and rest on your hands (as if you are in a plank position). Keeping your legs straight, use your abs to raise your hips to the ceiling and bring the feet towards the chest. Gentle lower back down to plank and repeat.

Why: Why not?

Ab Exercises - TRX

10) Bosu Ball Squats

What: 3 sets, 10 reps

How: First of all, get your balance on the bosu ball, which can be difficult the first time you do it. With your feet hip-width apart and keeping your chest up, sit back into a body-weight parallel squat position, sitting back onto your heels and keeping your arms in front of your body for balance. Tense the glutes and abs to raise back to a standing position, and repeat.
Why: Core stability, balance. Having a strong core is unbelievable helpful when it comes to developing technique and strength in other exercises.

Bosu Ball from Roslyn Rachel on Vimeo.

Scoliosis Awareness: Straighten Out The Facts

Scoliosis Awareness: Straighten Out The Facts

If you’ve read some of my other posts; The Chip on my Shoulder and 7 Exercises for a Strong Back and Great Posture, you’ll be well aware by now that June is the official Scoliosis Awareness Month.

Today’s post is extra special, because tomorrow (Saturday 25th June 2016) happens to be Scoliosis Awareness Day – a whole 24 hours devoted to raising awareness for an incredibly un-publicised but deceptively common disorder.

I know from experience how unbelievably important it is to have contact with people who have been through the same, or similar experience, or at least to have people who understand the concept of scoliosis, therefore I have put together a really quick factsheet that gives answers to some of the go to questions for anyone diagnosed with this condition:

What Scoliosis is

  • Scoliosis is a musculoskeletal condition that causes the spine to develop lateral (side to side) curvatures, instead of going straight up and down.
  • There are two ways that scoliosis can manifest: S curve (shaped like an S with two curves) and C curve (shaped like a C with one curve).
  • The curves will differ to varying degrees depending on the individual case.
  • Scoliosis is often accompanied with a twisting of the vertebrae, which means that one shoulder blade, and one side of the rib cage may be more prominent than the other.

 

Who gets Scoliosis

There are a variety of categories of scoliosis that can affect people at different points in their lives, for example:

(SAUK.org.uk, 2016)

Famous People with Scoliosis

Usain Bolt, Sarah Michelle Geller, Elizabeth Taylor, Kurt Cobain, Vanessa Williams, Shailene Woodley, Daryl Hannah and Liza Minnelli. To name just a few.

Why you get Scoliosis

  • The majority of scoliosis cases are idiopathic which, unfortunately, means that the cause is unknown. Genetics has a potential factor, but the extent of this is also unclear.
  • In some cases, scoliosis is a symptom of another muscular or nervous condition, such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy.
  • In older adults (degenerative scoliosis) the cause tends to be related to a weakening of the bones and muscles.

 

How Straight is your Spine?

  • A common test for scoli is the Adams Forward Bend Test, which simply involves the patient bending forwards from the waist and hips so that their upper body is almost horizontal, with their feet approximately hip width apart. This makes any discrepancies in the posture, such as twisted ribs, and the mapping of the vertebrae much more obvious.
  • Other key factors to look out for is the mismatching of pairs – for example, one shoulder blade, side of the rib cage, or one hip more prominent than its pair. One shoulder can be higher than the other, and I also spotted that my waist was slightly wonky.
  • It’s worth noting that just because you may have some of these symptoms (after all, no-one is perfect) does not necessarily mean you suffer from scoliosis. Or, even if you have a mild curvature in the spine, this will not necessarily call a need for intervention of any sort. But it’s always worth paying attention to your body, and your posture in particular.

 

Treatments

  • Surgery – according to many, the only method that physically corrects the actual curves in the spine to “straighten it out”, as it were. Surgery is intense, and general only advised if the degrees of the scoliotic curves are over a certain amount. It’s a tough decision whether or not to put your body through this – surgery involves metal rods and screws being inserted into the back and fused to the vertebrae, providing a sort of scaffolding which helps to keep the spine straight.
  • It’s probably worth saying (for those going through the decision making process) that I have no regrets whatsoever about my decision to undergo surgery. There are downsides to having a fused spine, of course, and recovery time can be long, but I’m left with a killer scar and a bionic spine too, so no regrets at all.
  • Physio/Exercise Therapy – This is a tricky one, because although a lot of medical professionals (including my own surgeon) will say that physio cannot literally lessen the degrees of the curvature, there are methods of such exercise therapy that have demonstrated precisely these results – so, physiotherapy techniques that can be used to lessen the extent of the actual scoliosis, rather than just address the side effects, such as back pain. As with any such argument, there’s quite a significant amount of research that supports both sides of the story. Personally, I’m of the opinion that even if exercise cannot literally correct scoliosis, the effect that regular physio or training can have on symptoms such as pain and posture is invaluable.
  • Bracing –  Bracing used to be used, however I had pretty severe scoliosis and was never given a brace. My surgeon told me that they are being used less and less nowadays as often the discomfort and inconvenience of constantly wearing a brace isn’t worth the minimal amount of correction that it actually offers.

 

Will it stop me….

  • Having scoliosis and/or undergoing scoliosis surgery should not ever stop you from doing the things that you enjoy. There is significant recovery time from surgery, and often the spine does not fully fuse to its metal scaffolding until two years post operation. Because of this, for a time, you do have to be careful what you are doing and how you are treating your body

But surely that’s just common sense?

In the long run, after you’ve recovered, I don’t see why you should hold back. Sport, dance, flying (aeroplanes, that is), having babies (for the girls), watersport… I’ve been skiing twice post-surgery, and I definitely intend to tick sky-diving off my bucket list. Don’t let it hold you back.

Scoliosis Awareness

 

If you have any questions, or if you are suffering from scoliosis and would like someone to talk to, please comment, or feel free to email me at flexfitdance@gmail.com

Logo credits to the Scoliosis Association UK. Their website is really user friendly and informative so if you need more thorough info, I’d greatly advise that you pay them a visit: http://www.sauk.org.uk