Adaptive Yoga with Matthew Sanford

As part of my ‘trying new things’ attitude, I rather spontaneously signed up for an Adaptive Yoga class with Matthew Sanford at Triyoga in Soho. Last year when I had been googling adaptive yoga classes, I noticed that there are loads of classes in America, but there is a distinct lack of them over here. And then I came across Matthew Sanford.

Matthew Sanford is paralysed from the chest down after surviving a car accident at the age of thirteen that killed his father and sister. Twelve years after his accident, he began studying yoga, and today he is internationally recognised as a yoga teacher, public speaker and author. He also set up Mind Body Solutions, a non-profit adaptive yoga centre based in Minneapolis. On paper he is an amazingly inspiring person… in person he is even more inspiring and I feel so privileged to have met him and taken part in one of his classes.

From time to time he comes over the the UK to run workshops for yoga instructors, and this time around he was running an adaptive class as well. I immediately signed up so that I could experience his teachings first hand.

The class seemed to be a part of his 3 day workshop for teaching adaptive yoga to current  yoga teachers. He had obviously spent the majority of the day teaching these teachers, and then they would have a chance to practise what they had learnt with me and the others in the class. There were only a few of us in the class that had mobility problems, which meant that there were about 4 trainee yoga teachers for each of us. I had also brought along my mum and my sister Pip, so there were plenty of people around to help out.

The class was very enjoyable, although I spent most of it in the wheelchair. I would have preferred to have been out of the chair and on the floor, but Matthew was unaware that we were all able to get out of our chairs, so taught a sort of ‘sitting down’ class. He ensured from the very start that we were seated with perfect posture, which involved putting blocks and blankets in place to hold my legs are 90 degrees and keep my back completely straight.

Yoga

As a teacher, Matthew is extremely relaxed and has such a calming presence. He made me feel comfortable and everything he said made complete sense to me. He heavily focuses on connecting the mind and body, and how under-utilised that connection is within everyone. He kept telling me to try and push down through my legs and down to the soles of my feet. When he asked whether I could feel myself doing that, I told him that I can always feel what I am trying to do with my legs, even if no one can visibly see it. He seemed very happy with my response and told me that that is what it is all about; connecting the mind and the body. It doesn’t matter if I’m not making any visible movements, as long as I am connecting and feeling the movement myself. It is quite hard to explain that properly, but he knew exactly what I was talking about.

Yoga

Towards the end of the class I got onto the floor to lie down. I can’t remember the exact reasons for the things we did on the floor, but it was so relaxing and was a nice way to end the session.

YogaI absolutely loved this yoga class, and I think that 99% of that is down to Matthew Sanford’s inspiring presence. He seemed to connect with every single person in the class in a different way. The class was aimed at anyone ‘facing loss, trauma or disability’ so everyone had a different reason for being there; brain injury, spinal injury, amputation… and somehow he managed to teach us all the same exercises but in a way that was specific to our needs and capabilities.

Yoga

Unfortunately his trips to the UK are only for a few days every six months or so, but I will be making sure that I can attend one of his classes every time he is over. And I am definitely now going to read his book (‘Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence’). He truly is one of those people that you meet in life and know that you will never forget.

 

 

The Riding House Cafe, London

I’ve never really ‘done brunch’ before, so when I was last up in London staying with my sister, she took me to The Riding House Cafe on Great Titchfield Street. We booked a table as it is a very popular brunch-ing destination, and eventually managed to park just across the road so I didn’t have to negotiate too many London pavements (which, by the way are an absolute nightmare for wheelchairs).

The Riding House Cafe

There is the most enormous step to get into restaurant. We were aware of this before we went, so it wasn’t a surprise, and my sister and her fiancé easily lifted me up it.

The Riding House Cafe

The waitress that greeted us was very welcoming and showed us to our table. It wasn’t too busy inside, and there was enough room for me to make it to the table without anyone else having to move. If there had been more people sitting up at the bar then it would have been a whole different story, but thankfully Tuesday mornings aren’t peak time.

The Riding House Cafe

The menu has a whole range of breakfast options; muselis, fruit, cooked breakfast, pastries, smoothies.. there was quite a variety, and it all sounded extremely tempting. As were were deciding what we wanted the waitress filled up our water glasses, and kept topping them up throughout the meal; a nice little touch to not have to keep asking for water.

The food was very tasty; my sister and I had fairly healthy options, but her fiance went all out with the Chorizo Hash Browns with extra bacon and sausage.. His meal looked incredible, so on my return I might be a bit more adventurous with my choice. A special mention should also go to the jam and marmalade, which were both amaaaazing!!

The Riding House Cafe

The disabled loo was extremely clean and functional. My only slight problem was that the door was sooo heavy.. Pulling open a heavy door and then manoeuvring the wheelchair inside is a skill in itself, so I was happy to accept help form my sister to hold it open for me!

The service and atmosphere at The RIding House Cafe were both great, and other than the two slight accessibility issues (and they are fairly minor in the grand scheme of things) it was a very stress free and enjoyable meal.

Utopia Spa at Alexander House, West Sussex

Alexander House is a beautiful boutique hotel located in the Sussex countryside.  Its grounds spread out for 120 acres and there is a luxurious atmosphere to the place from the second you go up the driveway.

Exterior of Alexander House Hotel

I have only used the spa at Alexander House, but from my experience there I can imagine that staying in the hotel would be a fantastic experience. The staff are so friendly and made us feel very welcome there.

The spa reception area was extremely tranquil and set the relaxed tone for the rest of the day. We had a cup of tea and some flapjack while we chose what we would like for lunch and collected our robes.  On this floor there are also some treatment rooms and a relaxation room.

Downstairs (there was a lift) is the main spa area. The changing rooms were very spacious and there was a disabled loo and also a disabled shower. Both were extremely functional and in keeping with the decor; they didn’t look clinical in the slightest.

Fiona was very excited that there were GHDs in the changing room!!

Fiona was very excited that there were GHDs in the changing room!!

There were no steps to get to the main spa area, which made things nice and simple for me. This main room was absolutely spectacular! The dim lighting made all the pools look so inviting and it was nice and warm in there without being too stuffy.

Utopia SpaUtopia SpaOur day package included a two-course lunch. We had a choice of around 6 starters and main courses, and all four of us chose differently. We all thoroughly enjoyed our meals and the presentation was fantastic. The waiting staff were very attentive and cheerful and the whole atmosphere in the brasserie was very relaxed (we were all in robes and slippers!)

We were hoping that after lunch we would be able to make use of the outdoor hot tub, but unfortunately it started pouring with rain, and continued throughout the afternoon. On a sunny day it would be great fun, although possibly quite difficult for me to get in and out of.

Alexander House

Overall I was extremely impressed with the Utopia Spa at Alexander House. Everything was accessible and no additional ramps or hopping up steps were necessary throughout the day.  All of the accessible features (such as the disabled loo and shower) were in keeping with the rest of the place, so I didn’t feel like I was requiring any ‘special treatment’, I just felt I was like everyone else.

The hotel and grounds are beautiful, the food is delicious, the spa facilities are luxurious, and the staff are so friendly; I can definitely see why this is a five star hotel, and why it gets so many rave reviews.

Ardencote Manor Hotel, Country Club & Spa, Warwick

This beautiful hotel was the location for my sister’s hen party, and we opted for the ‘One Night ‘S’ Factor Spa Break’, which includes bed and breakfast, 3 course dinner, a bottle of champagne in the room, a 25 minute back massage, £10 Spa Voucher and full use of the spa facilities (including robe and slippers – the most vital part of any spa day!)

Ardencote ManorThe hotel is really nicely situated; only about 5 minutes from the M40 but surrounded by beautiful countryside. The extremely well kept grounds spread for 83 acres and include a 9 hole golf course and a picturesque lake.

The spa is very popular and I found it to be pretty busy (to be expected for a weekend I guess) at all times. They have an indoor pool area with loungers, steam room, sauna and jacuzzi, which we spent most of the afternoon in. We were a group of 9, and we had our complimentary treatments two at a time, so there were always a good few of us relaxing by the pool drinking champagne. It was a very chilled area, and I was very surprised that they allow champagne by the pool, but we definitely weren’t complaining!!

Pool

The outdoor pool was closed, but the outdoor hot tub looked extremely appealing. Unfortunately it was very crowded all afternoon, and I didn’t fancy causing a bit of a scene attempting to get in and out of it, so I gave it a miss.

Hot Tub

The hotel also offers a gym, squash courts and tennis courts, but being there on a hen party doesn’t really allow for these types of activities!

My room was probably the biggest hotel room I’ve been in! There was so much space so I had no trouble manoeuvring around and could spread my stuff around all over the place!

Room

RoomThe bathroom was very accessible; they possible went a little bit overboard on hand rails and grab rails, which made it practical but quite clinical looking. However, it did mean that I was able to have a shower (something that quite often is impossible in hotel bathrooms), and I even managed it after quite a few glasses of champagne, which is even more impressive!!

BathroomThe food was the only slight disappointment of the hotel. It was good, but it wasn’t amazing. We chose our dinner from a set menu and had about 4 options for each course, and for breakfast there was a buffet style selection of all the usuals; cereals, fruits, pastries, cooked breakfast, juices etc etc. There was absolutely nothing wrong with any of the food, but it just didn’t ‘wow’ me!

In terms of accessibility around the hotel, it is very well catered for wheelchairs. There are quite a few areas where there are steps, but there was always a portable ramp on hand that a member of staff would put into place. We were staying in the newer part of the hotel, which didn’t have any steps at all, but the older part is a sort of country manor type building, so naturally has quite a lot of steps and staircases.

The staff were all so friendly and helpful. The atmosphere of the hotel is extremely relaxed, which was absolutely perfect for our weekend. It is perfect for a group getaway; there were quite a few other hen party/birthday party groups on similar packages to ours and I think that it provides for this type of mini break extremely well.

As my first spa experience as a wheelchair user, I found Ardencote Manor to be ideal. I was able to relax and enjoy what it had to offer, without feeling like I was a burden or was being stared at by everyone. I would love to return for a mid-week break when it would hopefully be a bit quieter and I could really make the most of all of the great facilities here.

 

 

 

 

The Collingwood Arms Hotel, Northumberland

Even before we arrived at The Collingwood Arms I was excited. My granny had told me that it had been awarded 5 stars by the ‘An Inspector Calls’ reviewer in the Daily Mail, which is something he rarely does. And from what my sister had told me about it being a really friendly and relaxed place I knew it would be perfect for us.

The Collingwood Arms Hotel

The Collingwood Arms Hotel

If I am staying in a hotel then it is quite often hotel chain; Premier Inn or Holiday Inn or whatever else. I absolutely love unique old hotels that are in listed buildings, but unfortunately they are normally an absolute nightmare for accessibility. At least with a modern hotel chain I can guarantee that I won’t be faced with stairs or narrow doorways or any other problems. But it also means that I am given a boring clinical looking room that completely takes away the fun of staying in a hotel.

So I was very happy when I discovered the Collingwood has made one of its fifteen bedrooms wheelchair accessible. It is on the ground floor along a little corridor and next to the office and what I presumed to be a little staff kitchen. It meant that there were often people in the corridor outside my room, but honestly I couldn’t have cared less; I am just glad they have made the effort to make a downstairs bedroom.

The bedrooms aren’t the most grand and luxurious hotel rooms, but I think they suit the place perfectly. They are homely and classy; not too much furniture to clutter the place up, but there are some nice little touches that make the price you pay seem worth it. They are tastefully decorated and the beds are so comfy.. the combination of the being out in the fresh air all day and an extremely comfortable bed meant that I slept the best I have in weeks.

One of the bedrooms

One of the bedrooms

The bathroom was extremely well laid out and I had no problems showering, something which is usually almost impossible for me in hotels. It was spacious and well equipped with various hand rails without having them absolutely everywhere! There were loads of huge white fluffy towels and little Molton Brown smellies. Oh and I forgot to mention that there were homemade biscuits in the room with the tea and coffee making facilities. They were yum! (I ate them before I thought to take a photo!)

There are a few communal areas in the hotel; lots of different seating with open log fires and lots of books and newspapers around to read.

Collingwood Arms

Collingwood ArmsFor eating and, more importantly drinking, there is a really nice bar and Brasserie area. They also have a much more formal Dining Room, which is not accessible, but that wasn’t a problem because we wanted to eat in the more informal Brasserie anyway. The food is locally sourced and very high quality; I ate extremely well for the few days that we were there.

WIthout a doubt though, the best thing about this hotel are the people that work there. They are all so friendly and accommodating and made us feel so welcome. They introduced themselves when we first arrived and would have a little chat when we came in from our busy day. They didn’t mind that we were soggy and muddy and traipsing through the hotel to our rooms. And they were all just genuinely nice people who seemed to care.

I don’t really have a bad word to say about this place! The only negative thing was that I couldn’t reach the plug sockets in my bedroom, but I mentioned it to someone working there and he got me an extension lead straight away and my problem was solved!

I wish this hotel could duplicate itself and be located all around the country, but I guess that would take away how special and charming The Collingwood Arms is. I will most definitely make sure that I return for another stay, and would recommend anyone who is ever up in that general area to make the extra effort to go there.

 

The Breakfast Club, Hoxton

The Breakfast Club in Hoxton was the location for a casual mid-week dinner following a slightly bizarre drinks/launch party in the area, and it served its purpose perfectly.

We were able to park in Hoxton Square, right by the restaurant, which was absolutely ideal, and the access to the place is no problem whatsoever (no steps, no narrow doorways).

The Breakfast Club

 

Inside it is very shabby chic… unmatching furniture, random decor and pretty quirky in general. It is usually the type of place where I would feel very out of place because I am not ‘cool’ in the slightest. But I was with three other Londoners who are all cool themselves, and in fact it didn’t even matter because the staff were very friendly and welcoming. We didn’t have to wait for a table, and there was no problem weaving my way through other diners to get to our table.

3716385764_605058f599Unsurprisingly, The Breakfast Club is best known for its all day breakfast/brunch menu, which ends at 5pm, although they do still have some ‘late late breakfast’ choices on the dinner menu. They have a variety of American style food; lots of homemade burgers and mac and cheese. But they also offer some ‘comfort food’; pie and mash or chilli, and a few other tasty dishes. I went for a classic bacon and cheese burger and it was enormous. They had crammed a whole load of salad in the burger as well and it was delicious! Just the way a burger should be, and with a nice pile of fries on the side it was the perfect meal! Burgers can so often be disappointing, but The Breakfast Club definitely know how to do them!

There were no accessibility issues in the restaurant; the loo was well situated and was very user friendly. The staff were very friendly and chatty, and all in all I would highly rate this place. From what I hear it is an entirely different story for weekend brunch; long queues down the street and lots of people squeezing around small tables. I’m glad my experience was when the place is quiet and relaxed… I don’t think I could handle it any other way!

The Breakfast Club

Bill’s, Covent Garden

In hindsight going to Covent Garden for lunch on the first Saturday of the January sales probably wasn’t the best idea for someone who avoids crowds and likes to keep a low profile. But that’s where I found myself driving around for about half an hour looking for a parking space…

Eventually parked and having found my friend Leni, four of us (me, Leni, sis Pip and her boyf George) ventured to Bill’s for a nice lunch before continuing on to Pink in Bond Street.

Bill's

The location of Bill’s is ideal. It is away from the carnage of Covent Garden and tucked away nicely in St Martin’s Courtyard. Still only a few minutes from the tube station, this little shopping and eating area is a quiet little haven with no kerbs, no steps and much fewer people! By the time we had arrived I had forgotten about the stress of parking and weaving my way through the manic sale shoppers in the heart of Covent Garden.

We had a bit of a wait for a table, and the first table we were taken to was far too low (I couldn’t get my legs underneath it), but thankfully some people from another table were just leaving so we took theirs instead.  First potential crisis averted!

Unfortunately though I wanted to wash my hands, which get absolutely filthy from wheeling around, but their disabled loo was blocked by a couple of tables, and their other loos are upstairs… Hmmmm, either I could create a scene and get people who are in the middle of their meal to get up and move for me. Or I could just wait until they finish their meal and then the tables would be moved out of the way. Not an ideal situation, but for a busy Saturday lunchtime they obviously want to seat as many people as possible, and I’m sure the loo doesn’t get much use.

In fact I know the disabled loo doesn’t get much use as it completely flooded inside! Once I had turned the taps on and water had started flowing through the pipes a puddle started to grow on the floor. I kept the taps on for a minimal amount of time and made a hasty exit back to the table.

Bill's

Try and spot the interesting placement of the disabled loo… Just below where the stairs turn the corner and go up again (the cream door to the right of the blackboard)

Anyway…the food there was amazing. The menu is a mix of all sorts of tasty dishes, from a fancy homemade fish finger sandwich to Bill’s macaroni cheese. The portions are generous (I could no way finish my meal) and the prices are very reasonable for the quality and taste of the food. Considering how busy it was and that the staff were pretty much rushed off their feet the service was good and we didn’t have to wait too long for the food.

So aside from the mini flood in the loo (and its location in the middle of the restaurant) I would definitely return for the food! I have heard that their breakfast menu is quite spectacular and as Bill’s is a small chain, I am definitely keen to check out one of their other restaurants, perhaps in a slightly quieter location or on a less busy occasion!

Still it was a fantastic meal; tasty food, great company and it didn’t leave a massive dent in my debit card by any means.

Verdict: Worth the mini dramas for the awesome food!!

Verdict: Worth the mini dramas for the awesome food!!