The Best Low-Cost Workouts for the Gym-shy!

I loathe gyms. I loathe how I feel in gyms – like I’m lacking! I hate the sweaty, metallic smells, the weird bleached humidity of the changing rooms… all right, you get the picture. But the catch is that I know exercising can help anxiety and stress. Exercising DOES make me feel better, stronger and a little more in control of one more variable in my chaotic life. I find it good to refocus my mind and I use a long walk as a positive coping strategy, especially if I’m having a good chat with a friend.

Exercising releases endorphins which lead to feelings of positivity

The process of exercising gives me a clear focus for 20 or 30 minutes, and my other cares and worries take a back-seat temporarily. My personal favourites to date have been hot yoga and trail running; both force me to focus on the movements and my breathing, not allowing anything else to intrude. The strength and resilience I’ve achieved as a result of both of these have helped protect me from coughs & colds in the last year, as well as put my auto-immune condition into remission (in conjunction with some diet tweaks).

Exercising 30 minutes per day three times per week is a good start…

Since it’s feeling like spring in the air, and my favourite hot yoga studio has closed down, I’m researching alternatives. Bearing in mind I’m NOT going to a gym, I’m looking for a workout I can stream or follow on YouTube. I absolutely loved DailyHIIT (totally free!!) till I got over-enthusiastic and tore both hip flexors. So I’m looking for something a little slower, to aid the trail running. I miss my Salomon Speedcross trainers!!

MY Cheap & Cheerful Options

Booya Fitness

Start with a free month and it then costs $9.99/about £6 per month with no tie-in

  • High-definition videos from incredible boutique brands
  • All fitness genres from Barre to Bollywood to Bootcamp
  • All the radio music you love, customized to each workout
  • Instant, on-demand access on mobile, tablet, PC and TV
  • Personalized recommendations that don’t cost a fortune
  • Advice on nutrition, fitness and lifestyle from the experts


Stick with a free membership or pay $9/about £5.50 per month with no tie-in

Similar to Booya, however, this one lets you workout on-screen with a friend via a webcam. If you like having an accountability partner, this one’s for you. Free to sign up and access hundreds of workouts, with the option to upgrade to a pay-monthly membership.

Crunch Live

Start with 3 days free, then pay $9/about £5.50 per month 

Unlimited access to a growing library of 35+ online workouts, including yoga, pilates, cardio, hip-hop and strength training

  • New workouts added seasonally
  • 15 min “Quickies” if you’re in a time crunch or want to target specific areas 
  • Suggested and customizable workout plans
  • Ability to access to videos from your phone, iPad, laptop, desktop, or Smart TV via the mobile site


$12/£7.45 per month for all their HD workouts

The first contender to replace my hot yoga classes! Members of are served 5 new yoga classes a week and are awarded unlimited access to the entire online library. Udaya also offer primers on poses, so the risk of me injuring myself is reduced! 

I would love to know if you have tried any of these (pros & cons) or any other recommendations you have for cheap & cheerful on-the-go workouts – leave me a Reply below!

This information is current as of 8th March 2015, and was taken from each company’s website.

Tides of March

I knowed it, I knowed it, as my baby girl used to say. I get slightly manic towards the end of February – as a former resident of Iceland, this heralds the return of more hours of sunlight – and I over-committed myself to a zillion things for March. The likelihood of starting today slightly harried and breathless – HIGH! Urgh.

But then I reflected back on the message from Eiri Jones, church leader at the Borough Welsh Chapel. Yesterday was St. David’s Day, and if you’re Welsh, or a friend of someone Welsh (like me!), it’s a pretty fun celebration involving lots of glorious Welsh songs, food and good company. I am NOT a church-going person, but Eiri makes her messages relevant, both on a personal and a global level, which makes me listen. Her message yesterday was about simplifying, going deeper into our lives, and making the ordinary extra-ordinary.

So this morning at 9.30am, I did the never-before-done-unthinkable and actually looked at my list of things to do and decided to un-commit myself. I have lived most of my adult life engulfed by lists, mostly as a coping mechanism (more on that later!). But in my road to recovery and whole-heartedness, I’ve decided that I have to listen to the silence of ‘not doing’, to figure out how I feel. Time to strip away the extraneous crap and really get down with who I am and what I want. 

“Truly being authentic is knowing what matters to you, on the deepest level of who you are, and committing always to act from that authentic centre.”
Richie Norton

Blogging has opened up a whole new world for me. I have already had one interesting offer which has got me zinging today. 

Read the start of my journey here. And if you say “Sorry!” a lot, read fellow blogger Suzie’s post Sorry, I’m Not Sorry.

Friday Inspiration

I ❤ TED talks, there’s always something I find to inspire me or make me think. I’m having an up-week (thanks for all the fantastic feedback & welcome to my new followers), so I’ve chosen to share game designer Jane McGonigal’s talk from 2012. Listen closely to what she says about regrets, and post-traumatic growth.

Reality is broken and we need to make it work more like a game. 

~Jane McGonigal

When she found herself bedridden and suicidal following a severe concussion, she had a fascinating idea for how to get better. She dove into the scientific research and created the healing game, SuperBetter. In this moving talk, McGonigal explains how a game can boost resilience — and promises to add 7.5 minutes to your life. Happy Friday!

I blogged about another great TED talk earlier this month; watch it here (Wholehearted: The Power to be Imperfect)

Back to Basics, or recovering from PTSD

When every day is a dance between hypervigilance, constant alertness, feeling jumpy, irritation & insomnia, committing to the basics and mastering the fundamentals of recovery can be hard. 

#panic #anxiety #PTSD

Nine years on, I still wait for the watershed that I believe is coming, that magical moment when I will be healed and whole. But it’s the hidden power of small choices, daily habits, and repeated actions that I make on a daily basis that are going to take me through to a new normal. 

I have to stop wasting hours of my life wondering about the ‘edge cases’. Edge cases are the what-ifs, the could-bes, the minor details — the things that have a 2 percent chance of happening, but mostly distract me from the real life I could be living the rest of the time. Keen eye for detail or inability to filter & block? 

I’ve become an obsessive planner, from someone that used to fly by the seat of my pants. I’m always trying to “get all my ducks in a row” or figure out “the right way to do this”, which gives me an easy ‘out’ of the hard decisions. Research & planning is only useful until it becomes a form of procrastination, or worst case, totally cripples you from taking any action. I used to be a doer rather than a researcher; I still bake like this, going on feel and sight rather than a recipe. I need to bring this back into the rest of my life. I don’t need any more time or better strategies. I’m good to go. Starting this blog was the first impulsive decision I’ve made in ages, and it was liberating.

Moving on, I need to do the real work and master the basics of figuring out and managing my triggers, minimising their impact on my life. Eventually, hopefully, shaking their hold on my life. It’s hard to say, “I’m focusing on the basics, but I haven’t made much progress yet.” A one-percent improvement isn’t note-worthy (or even noticeable). But it can be just as meaningful, especially in the long run, when you factor in the compounded effect of a thousand small adjustments and corrections. There is power in small wins and slow gains. I intend to own it.

Read the start of my journey here. Sign up on the right to read more Random Musings from Petal & Mortar!

Motherhood with PTSD

This post is long overdue. Possibly because it will dredge up so many emotions & feelings that I have battled hard to contain & compartmentalise. But the emergence of many articles and posts on the same topic in the last few weeks have made me realise that there are other mothers out there who may benefit from reading this.

The Beginning

I had the most perfect pregnancy for the nine months that I got to carry the most precious cargo. My labour went smoothly, but when my waters finally broke, we discovered there was meconium present. This should have meant an emergency C-section straight away, but thanks to one of the most arrogant registrars on the planet who decided he was going to work through his repertoire before finally giving up HOURS later to go to a C-section, my beautiful baby was born severely oxygen deprived (before you ask, no, I never sued the hospital, even though I had a darn solid case. I wish I had, as more babies have died there since, due to similar negligent behaviour. Just add that to my guilt pile). Anyway, I digress.

We were only given a quick look at our baby before she was whisked away to ‘Special Care’. No one followed up with us or told us how dire things were. My first inkling came via a trainee doctor and a Polaroid. The poor baby in the picture was hooked to machines, with pipes and tubes out of every orifice. “Here’s a photo of your baby, thought you might want it in case she didn’t make it.” I did what any sleep-deprived person who had just had major abdominal surgery would do: I screamed, shouted, and demanded a real doctor!

In my new private room, I was given an audience with a team of consultants, not one of whom could give me a sensible answer. My husband arrived later and it finally started sinking in: we had one sick baby. She was not conscious and barely breathing on her own. From 9 months of ‘So-Right’ suddenly everything was ‘So-NOT-Right’. We just didn’t know what to think, feel or even do. I didn’t know what my daughter really looked like!

The next morning, I was woken at 5am. When I reminded the midwife I had refused the morphine injections because they made me vomit, she said my daughter was failing fast and they had called a team from London to come and get her. Get her and take her where??? To London? Without me? My husband arrived at the hospital shortly after and I was wheeled in to say goodbye to my baby. All I remember thinking was that her elbow was really soft: it was the only part I could touch. She had a tension pneumothorax shortly after, and they had to cut her chest and insert a tube to rectify this. It took the team 4 hours to stabilise her before the 60-minute blue-light express to London. My husband was not allowed to travel with her, so he followed on the train. He came home later that evening, curled into a ball on the spare bed in my room, and just said, “She’s really not well.” I couldn’t physically reach out to him because of my surgery, so I stroked his ankle in a pathetic attempt to comfort him.

Moving Along

The next few weeks of our life took on a surreal quality, as any other NICU (neonatal intensive care) parent will verify. We could quote numbers, stats, technical terms…it was all that we had to hold on to. The NICU was like a war zone, with the constant alarms, death and sickness. We didn’t know which baby would die and which one would go home healthy. Experts say parents of NICU infants experience multiple traumas, usually beginning with the delivery, which is often unexpected (I felt completely violated after my caesarean experience). The second trauma is seeing their own infant having traumatic medical procedures and life-threatening events, and also witnessing other infants going through similar experiences.

We couldn’t touch her. She wasn’t awake. When she finally woke up, I held her for an hour solid, just in case it was the only time I would hold her. She had major nerve damage and didn’t like being touched much, so I had to wait till she was falling asleep in later weeks. My husband did the majority of the caring, feeding & bathing at the hospital. I expressed milk and took photos. We did laundry, cooked meals and went shopping, with a carseat in the back seat, but no baby. I hated everyone that got to walk around with their nice, normal babies. Just getting out and about was a triumph of mind over matter; we lived in a small town and everyone knew I was pregnant, so where was the baby? My life shrank to our house and the hospital. And then without much ado, she was sent home.

Home Time

We still had no clear idea how the next few months or years were going to play out, given the dire predictions: “She won’t hit milestones, she probably won’t walk, she probably won’t talk”. She had physiotherapy every day, either with me or a PT. She still hated being touched much. So we sort of co-existed in an uneasy truce. She had horrendous colic, and every new formula milk exacerbated her pain. We spent hours walking, driving, rocking…anything to stop the crying. My husband and I didn’t talk about our thoughts or feelings, because we just couldn’t face that can of worms. We just forged onwards relentlessly, united in our mission to give our child as normal a life as possible, for as long as we had her.

I fell apart fairly quickly with no network & no support. Think post-partum depression on steroids (I know now this was PTSD). So I duly swallowed the pills prescribed and continued to function. Everything was timetabled, down to her crashes, which usually meant a Friday or Saturday night spent in the emergency room. We knew our favourite nurses and doctors by name and they knew our baby. Terror and joy walked hand in hand for us; hit a milestone, get some new illness. Caring for myself came second to everything else. Guilt dogged every step. I could never shake the feeling that I had ‘broken’ my baby. That I had failed her. My body was supposed to nurture and protect her, and I failed. My husband would do his best to get this idea out of my head, but logic is no match for guilt. I had some close friends from my ante-natal group who tried to keep an eye on us and keep us close as much as possible, but these were all new mothers with trials of their own. And honestly, when you feel the spectre of death looms over you, you try and keep your gloom contained.

Fast forward almost 9 years

Given the trauma she suffered, five years was a good estimate. She beat the 5-year marker. We had a blow-out party to celebrate. We had our hairy moments along the way, but she made it through every one. We’ve made it 14 months now (knock on wood) without any real concerns. But every time she forgets something, or falls over, I wonder, “Is this a new symptom, a new sign?”. It’s called vulnerable child syndrome and I’m trying to shake it out of myself; she never felt the effects of it because we made a conscious decision to let her live a full life, including the normal falls, cuts & scrapes.

But there are things she can’t handle, like heat. She passes out or has a fit if she’s too warm. The older she gets, the more I worry. Coddling away and explaining, “You had a fit, passed out and wet yourself” is far different with a 4-year-old than a pre-teen. She has a pedal-to-the-metal, hair-on-fire personality, which means secretly, I am always in knots praying to the forces of the Universe to keep her safe. Fit-free. Tumour-free. The normal parent prayers, but with a grim, graphic, first-hand knowledge of what worst-case scenario looks like. Ask any parent who has signed a Do Not Resuscitate form.

Life as I know it

My post-traumatic stress takes the form of flashbacks. I panic every time a beeper goes off anywhere. I jump at loud noises. I couldn’t pass an ambulance for about two years after she was born without bursting into tears (I’m an ugly crier!). I emotionally distanced myself from her because I didn’t trust that the final good-bye wasn’t hovering around the corner. Over time, this has mutated into depression & anxiety, and occasional insomnia. Bouts of therapy have helped. Talking to friends, reading blogs, researching has helped. The fact that she is socialised, reads, can count, and tie her laces, helps. But I still sleep almost fully clothed, or with a full kit close by, never confident enough that I won’t need to dress in 30 seconds and fly to the hospital.

Some nights, I find myself sitting in the dark by my daughter’s bed, inhaling her special sunshine & honey smell, muffling my tears into one of her shirts she’s carelessly discarded on the floor. Some nights, she wakes up and makes me climb into bed with her. She’ll cuddle me and pat my hair and say, “There, there, it’s OK. I’m here.”

It’s like a tiny light in the night… I dare to dream of a future for her. With her. For now, that’s enough.

If this is your story or someone you know

There are so many more resources out there. In the USA, there is the March of Dimes NICU program. And Hand to Hold. There are books to read (try This Lovely Life: A Memoir of Premature Motherhood). In the UK, we’ve got Bliss, and the Parent Support Group at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.

Survival tips

Eat healthy, sleep as much as you can, ask for help, forgive yourself, forgive others (because you are going to get some dumb questions & suggestions), accept that it’s not your fault, accept help, get hugs, go easy on the coffee, meditate/pray, and make sure your partner is doing the same.

That baby debate…

Babies, the great divider. Most people have an opinion on children. Love ’em, hate ’em, we’re-still-them… and now we live in a world where you can have a three-parent baby! Yes, take a moment, it blows the mind.

I’m all for science, I love science. I love inventions and discoveries and jiggy tech. I’m open-minded. But the whole three-parent thing has given me cause to pause.

Proponents say it’s a medical breakthrough that allows families to end maternally inherited health issues that have existed in their maternal lines forever; critics call it an effort to make “designer babies” free of any health issues. 

I think it’s great we found a way to eliminate maternal mitochondrial disease. This video from the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority of the UK Department of Health explains how it works. But it’s still genetic modification, and it makes me a little queasy. We’ve found a way to tinker a little more, but I don’t think we have answered the big questions around this discovery yet.

Diane Polnow will have to update her book, Baby Debate: Everything You Need to Consider Before Becoming a Parent to take this latest feat of modern science into account. She wrote the book

…to help people focus on everything they need to know BEFORE they become a parent and the first to focus on whether or not you should even have a child. This no-frills, tell-it-like-it-is book will guide you through every aspect of becoming a parent: financial, mental, emotional, relational, physical, and spiritual. A must read for anyone thinking about having children!

I wish I had read it, or some of these candid letters compiled by Lizzie Pook for Stylist Magazine from women detailing their views on motherhood (click here to read the letters) before I climbed aboard the motherhood train.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my child. She’s awesome. She’s perfect for me. She was born old. Actually, she was born very traumatically and severely oxygen-deprived, so we spent the first years of her life on intimate terms with doctors, consultants, physios, and A&E on Friday nights. Through all those hideous moments, she was calm, stoic, resilient…she survived, and then some. My husband & I poured our lives into keeping her life as normal as we could, and all discussions of a sibling were tabled.

We operated under the vague assumption that if we had one, we’d have more. Eventually. When we were sure she was better-than-OK, when we went 6 months without going to the hospital, when we went a year without going to hospital. We brought the idea back to the table when she was 5. She showed normal cognitive & physical function. She wasn’t struggling at school. But then WE needed recovery time, both emotionally & physically. I couldn’t countenance another C-section; the first one was a hack job and left me feeling violated and in pain for years after. I talked, I cried, I meditated. My friends had all gone on to have their second, and even third, children. Didn’t I want another one?

The simple answer is No. The long answer is I love my daughter & I love my life as it is. I love the person she’s made me. But I feel like the ‘parent’ element of my personality is just right, and another child would change the balance.  My baby girl asked me the other day if the discussion was off the table as ‘my eggs were probably ageing a bit’? I laughed and had to admit that it probably was. She’s disappointed because she’s the kind of child that LOVES people. She loves her cousins, her friends, their siblings. She’d make a great big sister. I feel sad that we haven’t been able to meet this want for her, but not enough to procreate. (I reserve the right to change my mind, obviously, because I’ve just got my hands on more baby pictures of my husband and darn it if I don’t want a little boy that looks just like he did as a baby!)

Whatever the answer for each of us, I am grateful for the freedom I have to make these choices, to debate the idea, and deeply feel for those who are forced into motherhood too young, against their will, or because their religion or society dictates.