Don’t have time to meditate? Try these 3 things instead

Taking time to meditate can be wonderful for your mental and emotional wellbeing.

The trouble is finding the time to set aside to actually do it!

We have the tendency to prioritise other things, even if we don’t realise we’re doing it.

Do you assume that meditating involves hours of your time sitting in yoga positions, burning tons of incense, and learning where the hell your chakras are?

Or you’d rather procrastinate over the washing up, those overflowing cupboards that you swore you’d get round to, or it’s easier to sit on the sofa and binge watch Netflix after work.

I get it. These things don’t make you bad! I’m guilty of doing this more often than I’d like to admit.

Meditating doesn’t need as much time as you’d think and anybody can do it, but here are three things you can try instead.

A visual counting exercise

I’m a big fan of guided meditations, because they help keep your mind on track when you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed.

Did you know you can guide your own mini-meditation?

Next time you can’t sleep, try this:

Laying down with your eyes shut and in a comfy position, begin to slowly count backward from 100.

But – instead of just counting in your head, trying visualising each number created out of different materials.

Whatever comes to mind first.

Like this:

100 (the numbers are made out of drinking straws)

99 (the numbers are made from flowerbeds)

98 (sizzling bacon in a pan)

97 ( written in chalk on a chalkboard)

You get the idea!

Whilst it might not cure severe insomnia, it has helped me so much when I can’t sleep!

When I do this exercise regularly, I have got to the point where I can’t even remember getting down to the 80s.

Focus on your breathing

When someone tells you to focus on your breathing, it’s suddenly all you can think about! Like when someone tells you not to blink and suddenly you get the overwhelming urge to do so.

Focusing on your breathing intentionally can slow you down and ease anxiety symptoms.

And the best part is that five minutes of focus can be all you need!

Sit comfortably, whether you’re at work, at home, or on your commute (probably not while driving though, gotta be safe!)

Breathe in slowly and deeply for four counts – hold that breath for a few moments – and release it slowly out for four counts, too.

Repeat for a few minutes, then carry on with your day.

When we’re stressed, we can start subconsciously breathing quickly and shallower than we do at rest, which in some cases can bring on the symptoms of a panic attack.

Focusing on slowly breathing calms the body down, and counting gives you something else to focus on.

Write a gratitude journal

I used to think gratitude journals sounded really wishy-washy. Turns out they’re actually amazing and take very little effort for a high reward.

No, you don’t need to buy a fancy, pre-printed journal (unless you’re going to use it and it makes you happy!) but a simple notepad will do.

You could opt for storing it digitally, but I personally prefer the old fashioned way.

At the end of each day, spend a few minutes reflecting on your day. The object is to write down three simple sentences explaining three things that happened that you’re grateful for.

If you’ve never done this before or you’ve had a particularly crappy day then you may find it hard to start with. That’s okay!

Even the most basic things count, like:

“I remembered my umbrella when it rained.”

“I woke up on time.”

“I took a shower.”

The idea is that the more often you practice noticing moments you’re grateful for, the easier it becomes, and eventually, it’ll be second nature to look for the good in your day.

Did these tips help you? Tell me in the comments!

10 Best Free Guided Meditation Videos on YouTube

When you’re feeling cranky, anxious, or simply can’t sleep, there’s nothing better than meditation to calm your mind and get you thinking straight again.

If you’ve never given meditation the time of day because you think it requires a ton of preparation, knowing where your chakras are, or burning a ton of candles, then you’re missing out!

Meditation is a pretty adventurous time for my brain personally because I always go on a bit of a journey, but even if you don’t have an overactive imagination, meditating, especially using guided meditation, can do wonders for your stress levels.

Even if you just pop a meditation video on YouTube before or after work (or even during, if you can get away with it), you can feel much better in even ten minutes.

What is Guided Meditation?

Guided meditation is usually a calming music track or ambient sounds with a person literally guiding you through the experience – helping you position your body, breathe deeply, and some even take you on an adventure like making you think of being in a forest, or next to a campfire.

My first experience with guided meditation was at a meditation group in my local town, but if you don’t fancy going somewhere to do it, you can find tons of amazing meditations on YouTube!

Why is guided meditation different?

Imagine you’re having a bad day – you can’t sleep, or you’re on the verge of a panic attack, or you’re feeling depressed. Whatever a bad day looks like for you (it could be all three, or something different entirely).

Meditation music or nature sounds are good and all, but when your mind’s racing a mile a minute, it can be hard to focus on, well, not focusing.

I can’t count the times I’ve tried to sit and relax, only to find the forest sounds frustrating and getting discouraged, itching to scroll social media or just overthink everything instead.

Guided meditation gives you cues on things to do, to think about, to focus on. It’s much harder to allow your mind to drift when you have an instructor giving you pointers!

10 Best Free Guided Meditation Videos on YouTube

YouTube has some fantastic guided meditation videos, and of course, they’re free. Here are some of my favourites!

10 Best Free Guided Meditation Videos on YouTube

10 Minute Guided Imagery Meditation

City of Hope

Published by City of Hope, a cancer research organisation which focuses on the emotional needs of those living with cancer. This video is very calming and rather short so it’d be a perfect choice if you’re just dipping your toes in with meditation, or if you need a quick bit of relaxation after feeling pent up and anxious.

Length: 10 minutes

Structure: Fully guided with nature imagery

Best for: When you’re feeling stressed, pent up, or angry.

Guided breathing meditation for anxiety + stress relief

Positivity Geek

Yep, this one’s by me – a quick breathing meditation you can do any time of day.

Length: 10 minutes

Structure: Guided breathing with ambient music

Best for: A brief de-stress when you don’t have a lot of time!

Morning Positive Energy Guided Meditation with Gratitude

Great Meditation

Another brief burst of positivity and relaxation! This short guided meditation is designed for celebrating gratitude and is a fantastic way to start your day on the right foot.

Length: 10 minutes

Structure: Fully guided with ambient music

Best for: Starting your day out right!

Mooji – Best Guided Meditation

The Power of Knowledge

Mooji is a spiritual teacher, guiding us through this beautiful meditation with his calming voice. This is one of my personal favourites as it instills such a sense of confidence and contentment into less than twenty minutes.

Length: 18 minutes

Structure: Fully guided with ambient music

Best for: Boosting your confidence and quieting intrusive, negative thoughts

Guided Meditation for Reducing Anxiety and Stress

The Mindful Movement

Using a messy bookcase as a metaphor for a cluttered mind among other techniques, I found this guided meditation to be effective for organising scattered thoughts, calming down anxious feelings.

Length: 2 minutes

Structure: Fully guided with ambient music

Best for: Calming an irritated mind

Let Go of Anxiety, Fear & Worries

PowerThoughts Meditation Club

I love the little reminder at the beginning of this video to switch off devices. Tech is awesome but very distracting! Kenneth, the guide of this meditation, has one of the most calming voices I’ve ever heard (probably the soothing Norwegian twang) and fantastic storytelling abilities.

Length: 22 minutes

Structure: Fully guided storytelling with ambient music

Best for: Leaving anxiety behind, and for when you need to feel loved

Calm Down Guided Meditation – Overcome Anxiety, Depression and Panic Attacks

Sleep Easy Relax

Rather than taking a journey in your mind through a forest or across a beach, this guided meditation focuses on calming the mind if you’re in a panicked state.

Length: 28 minutes

Structure: Fully guided storytelling with ambient music

Best for: Calming anxiety or panic attacks

Forest Walk Meditation for Renewal and Encouragement

Sleep Easy Relax

An adventure through the forest, this guided meditation video is bursting with the sounds of nature. I find this to be most useful and welcome when you can’t actually get into nature and you’ve been binging tech too much.

Length: 32 minutes

Structure: Guided storytelling with nature sounds, partial ambient music at the end

Best for: A touch of nature when you’ve been staring at a screen for too long

Guided Sleep Meditation (Let Go Of Stress, Anxiety)

Jason Stephenson

Designed for sleep, this meditation starts off with a guided portion and finished with sleep music. Don’t get tangled in your headphones!

Length: 49 minutes

Structure: Partial guided meditation with ambient sounds, sleep music to finish

Best for: If you’re having trouble sleeping

Sleep Hypnosis for Calming An Overactive Mind

Michael Sealey

Another sleep guided meditation – those of us who suffer insomnia or trouble sleeping will know that an overactive mind strikes easiest at night when we climb into bed.

Length: 58 minutes

Structure: Fully guided with ambient sounds and calming visuals

Best for: Switching off an overactive mind at night

Guided meditation tips

Get comfy

Most guided meditation videos will give you some tips on how to get comfy right at the beginning, but just in case:

Find somewhere that you find comfortable, because we’re all different. Sit on the floor, on a cushion, lay down in bed, or on a chair. The last thing you want is to feel like your arse is going numb and your legs hurt.

Don’t force it

The great thing about guided meditation is that you have someone prompting you, so your mind is less likely to wander. It still can though, and that’s totally fine.

Maybe pick a shorter meditation session so you aren’t left fidgeting for too long, and don’t fight ‘thinking’ – sometimes thoughts will enter your head, particularly if you’re anxious or overthinking. Let it happen and accept it. Meditation often takes practice so don’t worry about being perfect.

Write it down

This is optional, but if you’re like me and your meditations end up taking on a life of their own, write it down so you can come back to it later!

It’s always interesting to see what your mind comes up with, and it can help you identify thought patterns.

Do you practice meditation? What are your meditation sessions like and does it help? Tell me in the comments! I would genuinely love to hear about your experience with guided meditations.

eBooks or Paper Books: Which are More Enjoyable to Read?

There are few things in life that make me stop and appreciate the present moment than buying a new paper book. Leafing through and smelling the pages (only if they’re covered in mildew, mind), it’s like time stops when I go rummaging round a bookshop.

When I say a ‘new’ book, usually I mean a dog-eared paperback from a charity shop or library sale as I rarely buy a brand new book (unless The Works have a cheeky sale on).

But since 2014, I’ve owned a Kindle Paperwhite, and have dozens of titles in my Kindle Library – as well as a slightly smaller pile of eBooks in my Google Play Books account, too.

What can I say? This girl loves to read!

I dabble in both paper and digital formats for reading for pleasure, but which are truly best: ebooks or paper books?

Let’s find out.

History of Traditional Books

You could say that the first portable kind of literature was created (at least, as we understand it) by the Sumarians who lived in southern Mesopotamia – that’s Western Asia – around 3500 BC. Consisting of slabs of clays with
Cuneiform symbols etched on the surface, they would write about daily goings on, the weather, stories, and trade information. Kind of like a modern day newspaper, really, except terrible for screwing up and cleaning your windows with.

Since then, the evolution of the book as we know it today has been fascinating; from papyrus, parchment, wax tablets (you can thank the Romans for this first type of bound book which replaced scrolls) and even illustrations appearing as early as 400AD, is wasn’t until 1500AD that we were blessed with mass printing through the genius of Gutenberg’s printing press. Hooray!

Then eBooks Came Along

Did you know that eBooks date back much further than you might think? The concept came around in the 1930s, but the eBooks as we know them today were invented by Michael S. Hart in 1971, and shortly after Project Gutenberg was created (and still runs today)!

The Nineties gave birth to e-ink, which is how we get to read books on screens which don’t reflect light – and although many brands of e-reader exist, Kindle are by far the most popular in the world.

How does the quality of reading compare?


Books in digital format are not new – they’ve been around for decades and it’s easy to see why they’re increasing in popularity (aside from the whole, you know, not chopping trees down for paper thing).

The text looks great

If you invest in something like a Kindle, the digital ink effect is truly amazing. It really does look just like ink on paper, even if you tilt the screen it doesn’t distort like a tablet or phone screen would. This makes it enjoyable to read and easy on the eyes. You don’t squint with e-ink (unless you forgot to put on your glasses).

You can read them in bed

Man, as a kid I would have loved the idea of a glow in the dark book! Something that seemed like science fiction is taken for granted now. Whether you’re on your phone, tablet, or eReader, you can flip through pages until the wee hours thanks to backlit screens, without having to shakily hold a torch in your mouth and make a den under the covers.

Adjustable text means better accessibility

Something I personally take for granted because my vision is fairly good and I don’t struggle to read long passages of text, is that many people can’t simply pluck any book from a shelf and burying their nose in. Visual impairment, colourblindness, or differently abled brains mean that changing the colour of the page, the size and style of the fonts, and controlling the brightness are not novelties, they’re necessary to make content available to everyone. eBooks do a phenomenal job at making sure those who would struggle usually get a more enjoyable experience with reading.

Easy to carry around

I’m positive I still have lasting back damage from carrying around EVERY SINGLE BOOK I had for school in my low-slung Puma backpack, daily. These days, with eBooks on my phone or Kindle, they’d only take up a small handbag. Perfect for virtual hoarders who have the digital equivalent of rows of bookshelves groaning under the weight of the titles that you ‘must have’ but never get round to reading.

Personalise the case

This one’s less about the quality of the actual reading, and more about having any excuse to make something look like an old book or fancy notepad. However, there’s another non-aesthetic reason for reading a book in a fancy case: you can download anything you damn well please and you won’t have to worry about people on the bus silently judging you.

Paper books

I love technology as much as the next geeky person, but I will always have a soft spot for real, paper books.

They smell so good

I was having a debate recently with my husband and his Twitch followers about the smell of new vs old books. Personally for me, they could bottle old mildewy page smell and I’d wear it like an expensive perfume. For you, it might be the seductive scent of an untouched, freshly printed book. I always think of a copy of Heidi I received as a little girl, where the pages apparently smelled like the Swiss Alps, or my Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which smelled like chocolate and you leafed through the pages. Publishers must know that book smell adds to the enjoyment of reading a book I think, even when it makes your stomach rumble and yearn for strawberry flavoured chocolate coated fudge.

Visually gauge what’s remaining

E-readers do have the capability of showing you how far along in the book you are with a percentage and location number, and can even calculate how long it’ll take you to read the rest of the chapter you’re on. But it doesn’t feel the same as being able to physically see the pages you have remaining. It’s disheartening when you’re reading an ebook to suddenly realise the book is nearly finished. Part of the enjoyment of reading a story is seeing and feeling the remaining chunk of pages get thinner and thinner (I think it adds to the suspense).

The Hygge factor

I first read about Hygge through an eBook (ironically) and I realised this Danish phenomenon embodied everything I love about coziness, togetherness, and how organic things make you feel happy. Paper books are like a soft blanket, or a mug of hot chocolate on a chilly day, or the crackle of a fire. paper books are a distraction-free slow, old-fashioned way of enjoying a story and you don’t get that same feeling from an electronic version.

Which are more enjoyable: eBooks or paper books?

It depends what you want from a reading experience.

Personally, eBooks are super convenient if I want something to read to lull me to sleep – I did away with those clip-on reading lights years ago, and I don’t always want to shuffle off downstairs at 2am to grab a book off the shelf. You can download samples of ebooks and buy them if you like them – there’s no obligation.

But I wouldn’t say the experience is better than paper books. Just easier.

I adore reading to my husband – it’s a nightly ritual we have – and we always read from paper books. It’s exciting to bookmark the chapters off and pick it up again the next night. The sound of turning pages is therapeutic to me, as is the feeling of the pages as you turn them. It’s cosy, calming, and addictive reading from paper. It reminds me of childhood, when I’d fall asleep with a book in hand and wake up to it wedged between the bed frame and wall, with pages all crumpled, so you could say that nostalgia plays a part in the enjoyment, too.

I love technology, but I really hope real books don’t disappear. If they never get round to making book smell perfume, what would there be left to sniff?

What do you prefer reading, eBooks or paper books? Tell me in the comments!

8 Vital Things You’ll Need for TwitchCon Europe

What is TwitchCon Europe?

If you’re a Twitch streamer, a moderator for your favourite channel, or you just love tuning in to watch streamers as part of your day, you’ll have heard that TwitchCon – the convention to celebrate everything Twitch-related – is coming to Europe for the first time in 2019! They’ll be hosting it in Berlin on April 13-14th 2019.

Berlin is a fantastic city to visit any time of the year, but TwitchCon also happens to be coinciding with Games Week Berlin 2019, so we’re in for a packed weekend full of gaming hype!

I’ve visited a couple of large-scale European gaming events at the time of writing this, plus Berlin is my favourite place to stay, so TwitchCon feels like it’ll be a combination of my most treasured travelling experiences rolled into one!

What will I need for TwitchCon Europe?

Whether this will be your first time setting foot outside of your home town, or the first taste of a gaming event, there are things – some specific to Berlin, some to gaming events in general – that you might overlook, or not give much of a priority to.

TwitchCon, like any larger event, will be a crazy, fun, tiring experience that you’ll want to be properly prepared for so that you squeeze every drop of enjoyment out of it.

Berlin city centre

European Health Insurance Card

This is for UK folks only, but it’s something I learned about in the last couple of weeks that I couldn’t believe I’d overlooked, considering in the last couple of years I’ve travelled within the EU several times.

The European Health Insurance Card, or EHIC, allows you free or discounted medical care when you’re travelling through Europe, courtesy of the NHS. It is completely FREE yet half of British people don’t have one of these!

Be aware of websites claiming you need to pay them a fee to get one of these cards. You can apply directly through the NHS website and they take up to 10 days to arrive. Do it sooner rather than later!

Boarding passes and event tickets

This one’s a no-brainer for any trip you take, but it’s best to sort out your boarding passes if you’re flying, plus ensuring you have the correct ticket and know where and when to pick it up.

Some airlines allow you to check in a while before your flight and load up the boarding pass on your phone via an app, but some may need you to print it off or collect it once you’re at the airport. Make sure you check with your airlines and your airport so you know exactly what you’re doing.

It’s worth noting that you’ll also need to figure out how to obtain your boarding pass for the trip home, too: Make sure to print off or download both boarding passes before you leave!

When you order your ticket for TwitchCon Europe, you’ll have been emailed a copy of the ticket that you’ll need to either load onto your phone or print out, so that when you go to the event, they’ll be able to find your badge. TwitchCon Europe have now announced times visitors can pick up their badge, so you can plan accordingly (psst – it’s Friday 12th April between 10am at 8pm. You’re welcome).

plane and train tickets

Travel insurance

Travel insurance is one of those things that get overlooked, simply because many people think they won’t need it. The truth is that none of us can foresee accidents, whether it’s a broken leg or a stolen mobile phone.

Considering it’s a few quid for peace of mind, it’s foolish not to put at least basic cover in place. Depending on where you’re travelling from, what you’re bringing with you, and how long you’re staying, the cost can vary, but you might be able to get a discount through your home insurance, or through your bank.

Comfy shoes

I’m not sure how I can emphasise the importance of comfy shoes without going into gruesome detail, so let me just say:

You will do so much walking around the event, to and from the hotel, and hours upon hours on your feet over two days that even WITH comfy shoes, you can get blisters and sore feet.

I would wholeheartedly recommend wearing TWO pairs of socks to prevent rubbing and your comfiest trainers, so that you aren’t in agony when you’re trying to enjoy yourself. There will be so much to see that this really isn’t worth overlooking! Pack plasters just in case!

people wearing comfy shoes

Enough money for merchandise

I’ll start by saying that I spent waaaaay too much money on Gamescom merchandise – easily €100 – and I only really use a couple of the T-shirts I bought plus a backpack (okay, which is awesome).

But as it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event for some Twitch fans, you’ll probably want to grab yourself some cool keepsakes. And for keepsakes, you need money!

Generally merch isn’t that pricey, but with all the other costs of travelling including transport, accommodation, and food, you’ll want to be sure you have enough left over for that T-shirt, badge, or mug.

Power bank

You might be a streamer IRLing from your phone, you’ve keen to grab all the Pokestop and gyms in the city, or your phone just has a crappy battery. A power bank is an extremely valuable bit of kit to take with you, especially as you’ll be away from your hotel room all day with little access to power points.

The last thing you’ll want is to have a dead battery when you’re trying to call the friend you lost in the crowd, or take that all-important selfie with your favourite streamer.

I have a hefty 25000mAh one which charges my phone to full 8-ish times – but even a 5000mAh one will do. You can pick them up on Amazon super cheap!


Water sounds like the most basic of suggestions, but don’t underestimate how quickly you can get dehydrated at a large event. TwitchCon Europe will be happening in April, and in Berlin last year at that time of year, it reached 28c outside. So now imagine being surrounded by a ton of people, with loads of activity going on around you, with potentially hours of walking around. You’ll get thirsty quickly! When your other sense are too busy to realise that you need water, you can very rapidly get a headache and not feel very well, which is the last thing you’ll want at an event like TwitchCon Europe.

You can buy bottled water at the event, but it’s usually very pricey; in the past, I’ve simply brought in my own bottled water from the supermarket, which is much cheaper.

To validate your U-Bahn or S-Bahn ticket correctly

One of the greatest features of Berlin is their wonderful underground system, the U-Bahn. I can get from Schoenefeld airport to anywhere else I need to go in the entire area of Berlin using the U-Bahn, or sometimes the trains at the S-Bahn stations, and they’re always on time, super cheap, and so clean!

Unless you’re lucky enough to be staying within a short walk of the
Berlin CityCube (where TwitchCon Europe is taking place), you’ll likely use the U-Bahn or S-Bahn systems to travel there. It’s not super obvious how tickets work though, and if you’re not careful you might be caught with an unvalidated ticket and have to pay an on the spot fine!

At every station there are ticket machines, where you can buy your ticket to anywhere you need to go – either a specific station, or a ‘zone’. No matter which ticket you purchase, you’ll need to ‘validate’ it before boarding using the ticket-stamping machines which appear dotted around the stations. Simply feed your ticket in, it’ll stamp the date and time on it, and you’re good to go!

Hopefully this list will have better prepared you for the amazing event that’s about to unfold! I’m so excited to be attended TwitchCon Europe!

What are you most looking forward to? Tell me in the comments below (and see you there!)

My PS4 Made Me Happier With Gaming and With Life, Too

Hurtling towards the tarmac with only a fine thread to support me, I shoot back into the sky as quickly as I’d fallen.

I spent every night last week as Peter Parker, after months, maybe even years, of a console gaming drought.

Since I bought my gaming PC almost two years ago, I don’t think I have spent any considerable amount of time on the sofa with either a PlayStation or XBox controller in my hand – probably because I got swept up in the whole ‘PCs are better for gaming’ argument, and clearly I have a bad habit of taking other people’s ignorant comments far more seriously than I take my own happiness. And also because I work from my PC for most of the day, it’s easier just to stay sitting at it and not bother hooking up a console and choosing from a more limited range of games.

I’m a big fan of indie games, too, and when Steam is so inexpensive and accessible, not a lot of thought has to be put into picking up a few titles here and there – which admittedly, I often never get round to playing anyway. Like buying ten different tops in the Peacocks sale and still wearing the shit out of that old charity shop vest even though it has holes in.

When you find yourself falling into a routine of working, playing, and doing everything recreational from one system, you have a tendency to forget about different ways of doing things – or what other outlets bring you joy. Especially if you work from home and get stuck into a routine, like I do.

It’s funny though, because although I grew up with a ‘home computer’ in our living room from a young age, I always associate gaming with consoles. Unless you’re talking about SkiFree95, which was my jam for about three years. The very first console I remember was the Sega Mega Drive – Sonic was the only video game I ever saw my Mum play – followed by the big, boxy, original PlayStation, and of course the N64. In the summer holidays, I would play games from the moment I woke up until I was shouted at to go to bed at night. Lara Croft was my hero, I was obsessed with DDR, and into my twenties, some of my fondest memories of my relationship with my now-husband involve Mortal Kombat or making a den and playing on our DS Lites for hours on end. Looking back, I love the experience that console gaming gives you over PC gaming; nostalgia plays a big part here, but also the fact that consoles are made specifically for gaming and nothing more.

That’s the trouble; PCs have amazing capabilities, but I find I get way too easily distracted by Twitter or Discord (usually to either get annoyed at someone’s post and subsequently unfollowing them) and time that I could spend decompressing and playing a game I’ve been looking forward to is spent procrastinating over work or aimlessly scrolling social media.

Maybe if you don’t own a gaming PC or typically spend a lot of time on consoles, it sounds weird to say it’s a lot of effort to plug one in, install a game, and get stuck in. Personally, a lot of that extra effort comes from battling a sense of guilt; as anyone who works from home will know, there’s always that sense that you should be working. That anything else is ‘wasted time’ or time you could be productive (that’s why it fucks me off when people think it’s a dream working from home – it’s a lot more challenging than people realise). But is it really working if you tell yourself you’re working, but really you’re getting angry at Facebook or scrolling Humble Bundle for the next bargain?

Gaming on the PS4 released me from that self-imposed sense of ‘I should be doing more’. Yeah, I should be doing more: gaming and enjoying my free time. Definitely not more sitting at my desk and doing next to nothing whilst making it seem like I’m doing something. It’s not healthy.

Powering on the PS4 every night last week was for a very good reason, too: I didn’t have to force myself beyond that first night, where it felt weird to be sitting on my sofa and actually engaging with a game for longer than 15 minutes. I didn’t have to force myself because Spider-Man is an immensely enjoyable and well-made game. I fucking loved every second of it, and completed the story with my eyes brimming with tears. I got to enjoy a game that I’ve been saying since release that I would play ‘soon’, but without ever actually setting time aside to enjoy it. Well, now I have. And it had been sitting on my shelf all this time not being enjoyed!

I have a load more titles to work my way through, and I don’t have to sink another penny into Steam or somewhere else to get satisfaction from gaming unless there’s something I reeeeally want, of course. This point isn’t really just about gaming, either, but that deeper reason why so many of us spend unnecessarily to get our kicks. I find I do that with a few things in life – usually stationery or books, but also game bundles. Not wanting to get too ‘self-help’ here, it takes a long hard look at what you already have to make you happy, to help you realise how much stuff you accumulate in the quest for happiness and contentment, and that you don’t need to go out and buy more of the stuff you haven’t been using anyway.

Aside from all that deeper reasoning, I genuinely just forgot how much I love console gaming. The whole process of getting comfortable on my spot on the sofa, stocking up on snacks and a drink, inserting the disc and just losing hours to a beautifully written story (my favourite games are usually story-driven) or collecting things to gain trophies. It’s a wonderful way to feel separated from my work and from life, when I’ve had a particularly shitty night’s sleep or a bad day.

Since I started console gaming again, I am happier. I actually made an effort to do other things away from my desk – like exercise. Actual planned working out because I wanted to. So really, prising myself off my office chair and doing something besides watching Netflix or scrolling social media started with the PS4, but it didn’t end with it. What some would say is an excuse to sit on the sofa and do ‘nothing’ actually helped me structure my days a bit better, and squeeze more positivity and contentment out of them.

I don’t remember what made me think to throw my hands up in the air, say ‘fuck it’, and hook up the PS4 to the living room telly one night. But I’m glad I did.

How has gaming improved your life? Tell me in the comments!

The Magic of KANO’s Harry Potter Coding Kit

When my in-laws visited Harry Potter World recently for my mum-in-law’s birthday, I could barely contain my jealousy. Although I’m a bigger fan of the books than the films, I still find them magical and will never pass up the opportunity to get swept up in the magic of the movies, if one happens to be on TV.

I’ve deliberately avoided our family WhatsApp group so that the photos and videos of their day didn’t spoil it for me. As I sit here writing this, I’ve been excitedly dreaming up with my husband that when we go (which will be this year, I’m determined!) that we’ll most definitely dress up in crocheted house scarves – Slytherin for me, Gryffindor for him – home-sewn movie-quality cloaks with a serpent and lion cloak pin, respectively (hey, I said dreaming) and custom wands to match.

Allegedly, none of the other visitors were dressed up other than Harry Potter themed sweaters and ONE house scarf, so it gives me all the more reason to be completely over the top when I finally make it there.

Ever since I was a child and I received my copy of the Philosopher’s Stone for Christmas (the book, not the stone, of course) I’ve been completely spellbound by the characters, plot, and universe.

Usually, magical stories are either completely modern and futuristic or are set hundreds of years in the past in some fantasy universe where ‘everyday humans’ don’t exist, but I love the blend of magical lore and normal, everyday life. The thought of witches and wizards living among non-magical people made it feel all the more plausible as a child (and now, who am I kidding?)

So when I found out that KANO have invented a wand that you can code from home without any prior knowledge, I knew I HAD to try it out. Majestic Ram was sent a wand to try out on stream, and now it’s my turn to play with it!

Note: I was not paid by the company to review this product, I just think it’s super cool and wanted to share my experience with you!

KANO wand in its beautiful packaging

Unboxing the Harry Potter Coding Kit

For a product retailing at £99.99, I expected the packaging to be somewhat luxury and well-made.

It was exactly that.

The parts come cushioned separately in the well-padded, velveteen box, enrobed in mystical-looking organza for added effect. There are TWO sets of batteries (generous considering most companies expect you to rummage through your junk drawer to find your own batteries) and the beautifully presented instruction booklet which conceals underneath it a few sheets of very cute stickers and a poster of spells with corresponding wand movements, for those moments where you need to cast in a rush 😉

Harry Potter Coding Kit stickers

The first time I opened everything up that was inside the box, I was blown away at the attention KANO have put into making it look exciting and appealing – the wand’s parts not only look authentically magical but feel sturdy and expensive, not tacky, shiny, or plasticky.

What surprised me most was the instruction booklet. Admittedly, this isn’t usually something to get hyped over, and depending on the kind of person you are, it’s either idly glanced over at the very beginning, or haphazardly tossed to the side and never given the time of day.

However, this one’s different.

First page of instruction booklet for the KANO Harry Potter Coding Wand

Instruction booklet Harry Potter Coding Kit

Harry Potter Coding Kit instruction booklet

The attention to detail was such a pleasant surprise. Each page adorned with beautifully simple illustrations and step by step instructions – even the battery compartment page kept the font and whimsical design. Arthur Weasley would be in his element!

You might have rolled your eyes at the mention of the instruction booklet, a seemingly pointless part of the product beyond telling you how to operate the thing, but here’s why its stunning design is so important:

The Harry Potter Coding Kit is aimed at all ages. This means children as well as adults. Also, most people will have never played with something like this before (including me), so if the instruction booklet consisted of paragraph after boring paragraph of technical gobbledygook, with no drawings and printed on cheap A4, there’s a good chance you’d already be annoyed at how difficult the wand is to assemble and use.

This beautiful booklet looks and feels like something right out of the Hogwarts Library. It’s so easy to follow because not only are the step by step instructions separated onto individual pages, but the booklet explains not only what you need to do to build the wand, but what to do if certain bits don’t work the way you expect, or why certain things happen.

It’s certainly a charming booklet that you’ll want to keep!

Setting things up

Assembling the wand

As the pieces of the wand house the delicate circuit board, I’m glad it was strong plastic, yet easy to clip together without being worried that I’d snap the thing in two. Again, the instructions were so broken down that I knew what to expect, what noises were normal, and that the crack sound of the wand clicking together was totally fine and I hadn’t broken it.

It’s pretty, with a button and RGB LED light at the front to show you when it’s powered on, connected to the app, and later, you can programme it to change depending on what spells you’re doing. Fun!

Harry Potter Coding Kit circuitboardThe cute little circuit board that I was terrified I’d snap because I’m ham-fisted

Bluetooth troubles

This was the bit I was worried about most, because originally, when Ram played with this first, I went out and bought a Bluetooth adapter which turned out to be a V2.0 which doesn’t work. We had to put off playing with the wand until our V4.0 one arrived. This was purely because neither of our PCs have Bluetooth integrated, so if you’re planning on using this with your tablet, you should be good to go without buying anything separately.

Downloading the app

Thankfully, the gorgeous little instruction manual tells you where you need to go to find the app that you hook the wand up to. You simply head to the website and there’s no scrolling through endless lists of version numbers to try and figure out which one you need.

Instead, it does the work for you:

Downloading the Harry Potter Coding Kit KANO app

And once you download the right one, installing takes a couple of moments and then you’ll be prompted to connect your wand which is again, super easy, providing you follow the step by step correctly.

The KANO App

Everything happens within the app itself, so it’s important that it’s easy to understand, breaks up the lessons into easy to digest chunks, and looks the part. You can absolutely tell KANO have taken a lot of care and time to perfect this app, because it feels 100% part of the Harry Potter world in its design – the map is styled like the Marauder’s map – and is intuitive, guiding you to different locations on the map which unlock new exercises, teaching new how to change the colour of pygmy puffs, throw cauldrons into the air, or fill a train carriage with sweets – through the power of coding.

Harry Potter coding kit map

Being a lover of tech and computers from an early age, but never quite having the patience to sit through traditional coding classes or books, I’ve tried the apps and online ‘learn to code’ courses with little success, mainly because I find them linear and boring. If you’re like me and need something stimulating to keep you interested, this is amazing at it. There’s the perfect mix of interactivity and education – which is why, I suppose, it’s aimed at all ages, including kids.

Harry Potter coding kit pygmy puffsIt’s colourful, has a classical soundtrack, and there’s 80 spells to learn; KANO have honestly just transfigured coding into a video game, and this is its appeal. You’re learning, but the spells don’t feel like tedious lessons. Instead, you’re picking up what commands and lines of code mean what, via immersion. As you explore the various ‘spells’ along your way, the exercises get progressively more complex, starting out by holding your hand and explaining the very basics so ANYONE can learn, but then easing off as you get more of a solid understanding of how certain things function. When you get stuck and something doesn’t seem to work, its easy to navigate menus help you not only figure it out, but make you want to figure it out.

harry potter coding kit coding blocksThe simple KANO app interface shows you the code in blocks, and the effect it has on the objects in the right-hand window.

Extra bits

If the gorgeous instruction booklet (that I’m probably too obsessed with), the stickers, poster, and amazingly crafted app weren’t enough, you also unlock rewards for completing exercises! So far it seems to just be cosmetics, which you can apply to your very own witch or wizard version of yourself in your profile. Choose your skin and hair colours, clothing items, and pet and accessories like cauldrons or trunks. And you aren’t forced to pick a gender, either. A pretty cute addition!

Harry Potter coding kit profile makerCreating my KANO profile. Pick green, blue or purple skin if you want, too!

My favourite feature

When I first started playing with the KANO wand, I figured it would be quite difficult to pick a favourite feature. Not because it’s in anyway average, or that there’s anything wrong with it, but rather that because it’s so good, it’s tricky to choose a stand-out feature.

That was until I came across the musical exercises.

Making broomsticks appear out of nowhere and shooting fireworks into the Hogwarts grounds are really fun, but what absolutely floored me was when I got to the exercises that used music and sound effects, which could be controlled by the wand. Changing the pitch and speed with vertical and horizontal wand movements satisfied that little part of me that always wanted to try out a theremin. I must have sat at my desk for about twenty minutes solid with a big grin on my face!

Things I’d change

I’m a picky person and I usually find fault with most things I try out. Not in a grumpy, never happy with anything kind of way – just that I know what I like and I’m not afraid to say what I’d like to change or improve.

It was genuinely so hard to find anything sub-par about this kit, truly. There are two teensy niggles I would improve, but let me say now that they are far from being a deal breaker. I would wholeheartedly say this kit is worth every penny of the £99.99 price tag:

  • I wish there was an off switch. It’s a bit of a pain to have to remember to take the batteries out every time I’m finished playing with it. Or, an even better solution would be to have it rechargeable.

  • The ‘map’ design when finding exercises can be, at times, a tiny bit confusing to understand where to go next. There were a couple of occasions where I clicked on an exercise which seemed like I missed a couple of steps.

Final thoughts

If you’ve watched the Harry Potter films a dozen times, you’re still feeling lost after finishing the books, and you want to teach yourself or a Potter-mad loved one a new skill, I encourage you to try out this amazing piece of kit – it brought a spark of magic into my life after trying it and I’m so impressed with how fun I found this. It’s like the code version of LEGO to me – it could easily entice all ages to get creative and learn a valuable skill.

Accio your own wand from the KANO website.

Have you given the KANO Harry Potter coding wand a go? What did you think? Tell me in the comments below!

Can Yoga Help Prevent Tech Neck?

I’m not one for setting hard and fast fitness goals but I do need to get off my arse and do more active stuff. Every time I peel myself away from my desk, my sore back and throbbing legs remind me that I’ve, yet again, sat for way too long without actually doing anything physical apart from tap keys and pick up my phone every so often to check Pokemon Go.

So when I was invited at short notice to go to a yoga class yesterday, I couldn’t really pass up the chance – maybe it was nature’s way of telling me I need to get out more? After my routine dental appointment was out of the way and I’d rushed back home (grabbing the Poke gyms and stops along the way of course, I’m not an animal), I threw some of my finest workout gear on and grabbed a lift to the place where all the yoga-ness was happening that evening.

Saying yes to more stuff

By the way, I’m trying to force myself to say ‘yes’ to more stuff. That’s not a New Year’s resolution thing either, just a general life thing. Events are usually nowhere near as daunting as they seem like they will be, and it’s helping me with anxiety issues. You should try it out!

In my mind’s eye, a few things happened. Firstly, I had pictured a warmly lit room with colourful drapery, incense burning, and a middle aged hippy lady teaching us about our chakras and how to ground ourselves while we sweated out our troubles with complex yoga poses. I also imagined a swanky looking fitness studio filled with amazing looking women in their expensive yoga clothes with things like ‘Is it wine ‘o clock yet?’ written across their tops, and wrinkling their noses at me as I lift a leg and audibly fart into the silence. Clearly I need to stop watching so many films.

The Queen jumping rope

We arrived in the sub-zero temperature gym hall which smelled of, well, my old school’s gym hall to be honest. It’s a local gym I’ve never been to before, with graffiti style art of odd things like the Queen jumping rope whilst telling the members to never give up on their dreams. It wasn’t the hippy haven or the snooty health club, but I liked it.

Now, many years ago when I was about twelve, we had this shop in our town centre full of whimsical trinkets and books. With my pocket money I bought a book on yoga from this shop for a couple of quid, and ended up learning a bit out of it – what a downward dog is, and how to sit in a lotus position (which I was never able to master, by the way). That’s pretty much it on the yoga front though, but of course when the nice instructor asked me if I had any experience with yoga, I lied and said ‘yes, I practice at home occasionally!’.

What I’d imagined was going to be heavily spiritual, or cruelly competitive, wasn’t either of those things. Or maybe halfway between the two, but in a nice way. My husband was the only bloke there, but it didn’t feel exclusively for women. The environment helped, I think. We just borrowed chewed-up looking yoga mats and these block things made from foam and set up a place wherever we wanted in the middle of the floor of a room which was filled with things like squat racks and other weightlifting apparatus that I won’t pretend I know about. It wasn’t pretentious and I didn’t once roll my eyes as the instructor welcomed us and started us off with some basic stretches, fully aware that there were a few of us not totally adept at contorting our bodies into human pretzels.

Tech neck

Something hit me about ten minutes in though, which shocked me but I guess it shouldn’t have: all this time, these YEARS, slumped at my desk, writing, gaming, or whatever else, has taken quite its toll upon my body. As a teenager I used to be quite athletic, did my fair share of walking and used to compete as a runner. But nearly thirty years old and having no compulsory PE lessons has left me not able to move very much.

I wouldn’t have thought that simply ‘touching my ear to my shoulder’ would be as challenging as it actually was, or even a ‘proper’ pose at all – but all those night hunched over my keyboard have clearly given me ‘tech neck’ – a phrase I’d never heard before that night, but I suppose it makes sense: we all crane our necks to look at our phones, slump in front of the TV, hunch when writing or concentrating or playing games. And if you do that shit enough, it’ll start to affect your body.

It scared me a bit, to be honest, and I instantly had images flashing up in my mind of having such a humped back from tech overuse that my head looks like it’s coming out of my chest by the time I’m forty.

I thought I was quite fit for someone who works from home and doesn’t have a planned exercise regime. But just because I can walk miles without getting tired, doesn’t mean I’m healthy.

Throughout the hour-long session, I found most of the poses much more challenging than I had expected – one or two too painful to actually do safely – and it dawned on me that perhaps I need to invest a bit more time taking care of my body.

Scary facts

  • 3.2 million deaths a year are related to physical inactivity

  • We spend on average 12 hours a day sat at our desks or in front of the telly

  • Smartphones increase anxiety, as does being online all the time

In denial

It wasn’t just in the strain those poses put on my body physically that made me realise that spending less time in front of a screen isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the fact that doing something active out of the house, when I would have normally been tapping away at my keyboard, gave me thinking time. Time with my body. I know how awfully cheesy that sounds, but until doing a class where I felt pressured to actually make an effort at holding positions and being uncomfortable, I think I’d been in denial about my quality of life and found it easier to bury my nose in games or writing.

I guess what I’m trying to say is:

You don’t win medals for sitting in front of your PC for several hours on end.

You need to spend some time away from tech, moving your body.

Exercise can be fun, and fitness apps are cool, but it’s beneficial to switch off and be away from them for a little while sometimes.

Before the tech creeps up and gives you a terrifying chest-head. Nobody wants that. Where would you buy your clothes?

Yoga you can try at home

I’d recommend joining a class near you if you can, because if you’re like me and you need to have other people around you to make you feel bad about picking up your phone every few minutes, it can be helpful. But, if you’d rather not then I’d suggest checking YouTube. I found this video, which was quite similar to the class I did and perfect for beginners:

Have fun!