Preparing for Labour | How to ditch the fear of giving birth | Pregnant in a pandemic

baby lying on white fur with brown blanket
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Well hello again everyone! I’ve been fairly quiet on here which is odd given that you’d think in lockdown I’d have had much more time to blog… but being pregnant in a global pandemic, having started a new job (my first fully qualified lawyer job) remotely and various other things have meant that blogging just hasn’t crossed my mind for a while.

Today, though, inspiration struck and I wanted to share some resources that I’ve used to totally change my mindset about giving birth.

This post will cover the resources I’ve used which I’d credit (alongside a lot of time investment on my part!) with taking the fear out of the prospect of giving birth for me, and also helping me prepare for birth generally and the postpartum recovery period.

*(Reminder nothing in this post is sponsored/gifted/other, it’s all stuff I’ve paid for [except the Maternity Collective course which they were giving free to everyone during COVID] and loved and 100% recommend!)*

Where does fear of labour come from?

Because let’s face it, I’ve spent my entire life TERRIFIED of giving birth, like many, many women.

What you see on TV – Rachel on Friends, for example – people lying on their backs, screaming, faces contorted, sometimes legs in stirrups, yelling for epidurals… and that’s just movies and light entertainment (I’ve never even watched One Born Every Minute).

In my ED days I was even scared of pregnant people because of their size – how messed up is that?!

Then you get the STORIES. The whisperings and ‘oh you wouldn’t believe how bad her labour was’, the horror stories, the drama, the nightmare scenarios that people like to tell you…

So as a base line, generally, as a culture, birth has become a very medicalised thing, and something to be feared.

Growing up, I swore that if I had kids I’d get an elective c-section. Now, because I know all the benefits for my baby, I want to try to birth vaginally (if allowed – I may not be able to because at the time of writing [28 weeks pregnant] I still have a low placenta and if this hasn’t moved by the time they do the extra scan to check it at 36 weeks, I will have to have a c-section due to it basically blocking the exit and also high risks of haemorrhaging!)

So what has changed?

Education, & losing the fear

Before trying for a baby, I started reading a lot about birth, pregnancy and all that jazz so I knew what I was in for (see this blog post here on my Pregnancy & TTC favourites which has a full list of the books I read).

If you want the short answer for how I overcame the fear, I guess there isn’t one – it’s a process that took time, effort and mental reprogramming! But a combination of education (and more education!), and taking elements of hypnobirthing which worked for me and my personality (not all – see below!) and basically using my previous study in mindfulness to create an approach to birth that worked for me. I didn’t go on any expensive course or find a magic bullet, I just put the work in.

Getting informed (but still scared!)

One of these books was The Positive Birth Book by Milli Hill. Did it make me feel positive? HELL NO! I found it scary on first read. But I read it 3 or 4 times, alongside some other books which I’ll list below, because it took away the mystery and the unknown, and made me understand all the options for birth (location, pain relief, what interventions might be needed and why, induction, caesareans, pros and cons of absolutely everything).

While initially scary for me, getting educated was a key part of the process to make sure I was in control. Because guess what? You have to consent to everything. You do not ‘have’ to have internal examinations to check dilation. You do not ‘have’ to have an induction. It may be there is a good reason to have them, but knowing you have the choice, and knowing you should ask for all of the benefits, risks and reasons was a game changer for me.

Losing the fear – does hypnobirthing work?

I also read Hypnobirthing: Practical ways to make your birth better by Siobhan Miller, and Your Baby, Your Birth by Hollie De Cruz.

Both are hypnobirthing books, a concept I thought sounded a bit hippy but I’d heard people I admire and respect who didn’t seem completely ‘woo woo’ rave about it on podcasts, so I gave them a go.

I also used the Positive Birth Company Digital Pack (an online hypnobirthing course, which was discounted due to the lack of pregnancy support in hospitals etc during COVID 19).

Hypnobirthing is perhaps a woo name, but it’s not really all that woo and certainly isn’t to do with hypnotising yourself, or ‘out there’ practices (full disclosure: occasionally I found hypnobirthing does have a slight push towards home birth (which isn’t for me) which I found a bit annoying, and it could get a bit focussed on fairy lights and candles and prioritising natural birthing to the point it almost felt like it was saying non natural birth was negative [although they explicitly do state ALL births are valid] sometimes, but generally it is science based to help you ensure you stay calm to keep your body hormonally optimal for labour to progress smoothly, with less pain).

Some hypnobirthing fans recommend Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, which is a book I HATED because it was waaaaaay to weird and spiritual and hippy for me. But we’re all different I guess!) But if that’s not your bag, more practical and let’s say ‘modern woman’ rather than ‘earth mother’ approaches do exist, and those are the ones I’m talking about here that helped me.

I don’t for one second buy all of it, particularly that birth is pain free (some hypnobirthing teachers claim it doesn’t have to be painful, others state that they disagree with this like me!), but I do believe that naturally our responses to what is happening in our bodies (e.g. panic, fear, relaxation, understanding, acceptance) can influence that and how bad it feels.

I found that hypnobirthing is really an approach that focusses on empowering women to:

  1. understand your body during labour, how the muscles and hormones work to facilitate your birth and what you can do to keep these as optimal as possible;
  2. understand your choices during labour (you ALWAYS have a choice, and it is important to be informed and that you know you have the right to give or refuse consent for anything)
  3. learn relaxation techniques to keep adrenaline (which inhibits labour) at bay and maximise oxytocin (which makes labour happen) – these can also be used to keep you calm during interventions or caesareans, they’re not just for vaginal births!;
  4. understand natural techniques for labour e.g. using upright, forward and open positions to allow gravity to help you, instead of mindlessly following TV over medicalised assumptions that you should lie down, which really just helps doctors/midwives see what’s happening!; and
  5. essentially to feel empowered and have a positive birth experience, whatever path your birth takes (rather than feeling traumatised and like decisions were made for you, or that you were not in control).

Plus it helps guide your birth partner on how best to support you during labour.

Many of the relaxation techniques weren’t for me and my partner (if he even tried to read me a relaxation script we’d both die laughing!) but the breathing techniques, positive affirmations and emphasis on re-wiring my view of birth from something necessarily traumatic to something that can be a positive experience really helped me move past being scared.

Rewiring your brain

I was NOT up for watching videos where I’d have to see a baby emerging from a vagina. I’m way too squeamish, and not one of those women who thinks that sight is ‘beautiful’. Sure, babies are beautiful, I’m sure the experience of birth can be beautiful, but that’s too much gore for me personally.

Hypnobirthing advocates using positive birth stories, photography, videos, and affirmations to gradually re-condition how you perceive birth. Stop all negative input, and crowd it out with positive.

I didn’t really want to see pics or graphic videos, but I did use:

  • Reading positive birth stories in the two books above, and then the members groups for the Positive Birth Company Digital Pack, and also my Lucy Flow Yoga – Yoga For Birth prep members hub.
    • I started skipping ones which had trigger warnings that particularly worried me (episiotomies, tearing, forceps, ventouse, emergency c-sections) and just read ones that sounded smooth and simple.
    • As I did more hypnobirthing practice and read more of these, I became less afraid and started reading the more complicated birth stories too – this made me realise that even a complicated birth which has things go ‘wrong’ or not as planned can still be a positive experience. So many women wrote about births which on paper you might think could have been super traumatic, but because of their mindset, their hypnobirthing, the fact they were informed and in control and had prepared for all scenarios, they still felt empowered and that the overall experience was positive. This was a game changer for me. 
  • I also listened to the birth experience of my nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert on her podcast (here) which sounds very traumatic and happened during the height of COVID-19. I found it so interesting to hear that a lot of the stress comes from feeling things are going ‘wrong’, not knowing what happens for certain procedures and feeling like birth isn’t going to plan. This really brought home to me that being prepared for birth to take any number of unexpected courses is key and has helped me lose the fear in the build up to it.
  • Positive birth affirmations – the Positive Birth Company has a recording when you buy the pack, but my favourites were actually the free audio ones on the Dream Birth Company website.
  • Limited (!) videos – I watched a few you tubers talk about their positive birth experiences and hypnobirthing, as an intro so I didn’t need to see it. Then I found a couple of you tubers who vlogged their labour (but don’t show you anything too much!!) helpful – especially Kerry Conway’s third labour (no epidural) (part 1 here and part 2 here), and Jess Hover’s two births without epidurals (vaguely remember some brief religious mentions which I just ignored as that’s not my thing).

LucyFlow – Yoga for Birth course

Lucy is a little ray of sunshine I found at random on instagram. She has done a huge series of free IGTV talks about all things labour, birth prep, pregnancy and early days with a newborn, and I loved them so much and then signed up to her online yoga membership / yoga for birth course.

This was great for some pregnancy-friendly yoga for relaxation, and also learning more upright, forward and open optimal birth positions. She also had helpful resources on the fact that it is sometimes possible to be mobile even with an epidural or continuous monitoring – how to ask and how this can be done, which was really useful.

Lots of the yoga flows are designed to help ease pregnancy specific problems (back pain etc) and to prepare your pelvis to really open up. It was amazing to learn the facts about how you can get 30% MORE SPACE in the pelvis by not lying down and preventing the sacrum from moving etc.

It was also nice because membership comes with free access to her Member’s Hub where you can chat about all things pregnancy, yoga, other, ask questions and generally support other mums!

It’s super affordable and I highly recommend it. Check out her website here to sign up.

Maternity Collective Online Antenatal course

As I’d done so much reading and research, and the fact that due to coronavirus antenatal classes in person being cancelled, when I looked at antenatal classes charging £250+ for stuff I already knew, I didn’t see the point, especially as most people say the value is in making mum friends, and I didn’t feel like paying that much money to do that over zoom.

Then I found the Maternity Collective who generously offered free access to their online antenatal course (normally circa £80), again because of the lack of pre and post natal support for women during the coronavirus situation.

It was SO helpful because it was more medically / scientifically detailed than the hypnobirthing content on the physical parts of labour, pain relief, interventions etc.

It also had extensive sections on feeding options and newborn sleep, to help prepare for the part which comes after the labour!

Postive Birth Company – Post Partum Pack

PBC’s postpartum pack (an online course covering everything you need post-birth!) was also reduced to £20 because of COVID for a limited time, and I found this really helpful to prepare and swot up on breastfeeding, baby sleeping (or lack thereof!), maternal mental health, physical and mental recovery from labour, post partum rehab, exercise and yoga, and much much more! Definitely recommend this, especially if coronavirus or other things have prevented you getting to classes or having the normal amount of support with this.

Thanks for reading my ramblings!

I hope if you did stumble across this post as you prepare for birth that you found it helpful – everyone is different, and what works for one may not work for another, but I was so so so scared and anti the idea of labour before and now I’m so excited for it, so it is possible to have a complete mindset shift!

Best of luck with your pregnancy and birth prep if you’re at that stage of your journey, or if not and you’re curious ahead of time like I was… fab, I genuinely don’t think you can get enough prep in because these are things we can never ever be fully prepared for!

B xoxo

New rituals & health habits | my morning wellness routine January 2020

body stretching yoga beauty
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So you may have seen on instagram I became a bit sporadic posting in early Jan this year, and then went offline for a few days with some health stuff.

Nothing like something feeling wrong with your body to make you focus on taking care of yourself, right?

I usually rely on my hardcore boxing workouts in mornings, but in giving my body a break I established a new morning routine that has definitely helped me heal and get better.

Sleeping in

Rather than a 6.30 start for hardcore workouts, I let myself sleep in til 7.30ish.

Yoga

I started trying to start 4 out of 5 working days a week with a 10 minute yoga flow. No videos, no structure, just listening to relaxing music, moving my body and finding what feels good a la Yoga with Adriene’s philosophy.

Cutting caffeine

I’d then, post yoga, wash up, clean my teeth, dress and make my way to the kitchen where I drink peppermint tea, a weak green tea, and/or plain old hot water to start my day.

Handful of spinach

I don’t eat breakfast until I get to work at 9.30 but during my morning down-time, I started grabbing a handful of spinach to munch on, so I know I’ve got a hit of some good stuff first thing in the morning. Spinach is amazing – just one cup contains, according to Medicalnewstoday.com:

Downtime

I’d then chill out and read a book, or watch an episode of One Tree Hill (guilty pleasure from my younger days!) before I have to leave for work.

Meditation

Some days I’d also do a 10 minute guided meditation (usually a Jody Shield one, or via the Tone It Up app).

Better breakfasts

Instead of being sporadic with breakfast at work, I’ve decided to opt (every work day) for something I know gets as many nutrients, antioxidants, a good burst of fibre and keeps my blood sugar levels steady with slow-release energy as possible – I make blueberry, banana & cinnamon porridge by microwaving plain quaker oats (1 sachet) with water for 2 minutes, stirring in a lot of cinnamon, a handful of fresh blueberries and chopping up 1 small banana on top. Voila! Even when I’m not hungry, I have this at my desk at 9.30 and it’s meant I’ve already got 3 portions of fruit & veg in (the spinach at home first thing included!) before lunch, and I don’t get hangry later in the day or crash out of energy.

Verdict?

So, while I do want to get my boxing back and feel better, putting self-care first and allowing my body the rest it needs has taught me some valuable lessons, especially how much you have to work at keeping your stress levels down! But I feel like all of these things have helped me de-stress, helped my body return to normal and I’m hoping my hormones should all be balanced out now.

I’m definitely going to keep up the caffeine free habit, the handful of spinach, and incorporating as much yoga and meditation into my day as I can.

I’m also going to keep up the better breakfasts, but some days I may swap the blueberry-cinnamon-banana porridge for raspberry, goji berry and maca or blue spirulina just to get a bit of variety.

Some other elements of my January self-care I’ve been loving (not morning-specific!) are:

  • being alcohol free;
  • warm baths with essential oils (rose and jasmine are my faves at the moment!) and epsom & himalayan salts;
  • focussing on getting as many portions of fruit and veg in per day as I can, as per usual but ramping this up to as near to 10 a day as possible!;
  • eating whole foods;
  • cooking from scratch as much as possible;
  • experimenting with new recipes, and being more adventurous with vegetarian recipes for Boy and I; and
  • making as many of our meals plant-based as we can

What are your January wellness routines or rituals (morning or evening!) that you’re hoping to hang on to for the rest of the year?

B xoxoxo

Anxiety & Overwhelm Toolkit: “Tapping”, or EMT – does it work?

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I’m going to review my experience of ‘tapping’ or ‘EMT (Emotional Freedom Technique)’ in this post, but first I just want to tell you a little bit about how I came across it, and share a kind of disclaimer!

I came across tapping via Jody Shield, who I first saw speak on a wellness panel at YellowKite Books with a nutritionist and fitness professional I highly respect (Rhiannon Lambert and Shona Vertue respectively).

Jody is not someone whose book you would expect to resonate with me (although I love it!), and was a bit different featuring on that panel I mentioned above of scientific, evidence-based women as a modern, new agey intuitive healer, spiritualista, success coach and meditation guide. While I’m always interested in religion and ritual and myth, I’m decidedly atheist, and not spiritual. Other than my foray into wicca and paganism like all teenagers who grow up around Glastonbury when I was about 13/14 (LOL!), I have never believed in a god, or new agey type stuff (though to this day I have an impressive crystal collection!) because I am fundamentally a big believer in things being evidence-based.

That said, placebo is well known to be surprisingly effective and many studies have evidenced this, so let’s suspend disbelief for a moment, shall we…

So, like my interest in ayurveda which I wrote about here, you may have to accept that this is hugely contradictory to my usual stuff, and yes it goes one step (or several!) beyond my thing for yoga and meditation, both of which have proven scientific benefits.

Because, I have to say, whenever I’m going through a tough time, mood wise, health wise, stress wise – I re-read Jody’s book Life Tonic (recently republished under the new title Self Care for the Soul). Yep, I’m a walking contradiction because it’s quite a woo book in places, although it has some really great practical tools too. I also find myself searching for podcast interviews with Jody and just listening to them again and again when I’m in a particularly dark spot – there’s just something so comforting, calming and uplifting about her energy and her voice, even if I don’t connect or rationally believe 100% in everything she believes in.

So what is ‘tapping’ or ‘EMT’?

Also known as Emotional Freedom Technique, the idea behind tapping is that, much like acupuncture is meant to do, EFT / tapping  focuses on the meridian points (think energy hotspots on the body – I know, I know, pseudo-sciencey right?!) to restore balance to your body’s energy. It is an alternative therapy technique, and proponents claim that stimulating the meridian points through EFT tapping can:

  • reduce the stress
  • resolve negative emotions you feel generally or from a particular issue
  • and/or ultimately restore balance to your body/mind’s ‘disrupted energy ‘.

For balance, I feel like you should read this snipped from wikipedia about it and the footnotes:

Advocates claim that the technique may be used to treat a wide variety of physical and psychological disorders, and as a simple form of self-administered therapy.[1] The Skeptical Inquirer describes the foundations of EFT as “a hodgepodge of concepts derived from a variety of sources, [primarily] the ancient Chinese philosophy of chi, which is thought to be the ‘life force’ that flows throughout the body.” The existence of this life force is “not empirically supported”.[2]

Wikipedia entry on EFT

EFT apparently has no proven benefits as a therapy beyond the placebo effect, or beyond any known-effective psychological techniques that may be provided in addition to the purported “energy” technique (see here). It has failed to gain significant support in clinical psychology (again, see here).

My thoughts

So, you can read the above and be like ok, sod it, it doesn’t work. But, to be honest, it’s pretty hard to find stuff that categorically ‘works’ for treating stress and anxiety. Fine, exercise, fine diet, fine therapy etc. etc. are all key but I for one implement all of those things and still suffer sometimes with stress and anxiety, and none of them are particularly useful in the moment.

So I have tried tapping. I think you can find videos on youtube for free on how to do it, or check out Jody’s book Life Tonic Self care for the soul for full instructions and diagrams, and examples of phrases you can use.

And while it may not have significant effects other than the placebo effect, if the placebo effect works – that’s pretty helpful and powerful stuff.

I have found it to not necessarily be revolutionary but it is something I find calming and a helpful distraction in the moment (even if you look a little bit weird tapping on different body parts!)

I find it needs to be accompanied by deep breathing, which of course does have a proven effect on the parasympathetic nervous system.

Harry got his Hogwarts letter, why can’t we? As Roald Dahl says, those who don’t believe in magic will never find it. This might not be a scientific trick at all, it’s probably all in my mind, but again as Dumbledore says – just because it’s happening in your mind, doesn’t mean its not real. Haha ok I’m being annoying. But basically… I’ll take the placebo, thanks! ❤

Have you tried tapping? Let me know what you think!

B xoxo

Further information:

Healthline.com – What is EFT tapping?

Interview with Jody Shield ‘From business director to spiritual healer’ – Stylist Magazine

The Bitch Clinic review, & what is primal movement anyway?!

MK

I wanted to do a post on this because Instagram only gives you so much space…!

The Bitch Clinic is something that has been set up by kick ass queen PT Miranda Fox, initially beginning with pop-up workshop. It currently runs throughout October as a class at Gymbox, Farringdon for #BITCHTOBER.

PS. There’s also one spot left for the class on the 20th so get over to @thebodyweightbitch and @thebitchclinic (links in bio) for tickets…!

BCWhat is The Bitch Clinic & what’s it all about?

It is a movement class (& growing community!) like no other, focused on supporting, inspiring and empowering women.

The physical aspect of the class gets everyone to move their bodies in a natural way and explore new planes of movement (predominantly using primal flow sequences), while ultimately re-wiring our thoughts around ‘exercise’ and ‘working out’, helping people to move away from the obsession with workouts as punishment or weight loss tools and giving women the confidence to embrace how they look and feel, regardless of shape, size or any other aesthetic.

You won’t hear Miranda tell you to torch fat or burn calories or hammer your body into the ground. Each class is small and intimate and starts with a moment gathered together in a circle – yesterday’s class, for example, began with a reflection on how amazing our bodies are and how privileged we actually are to be able-bodied and move the way we do. Miranda then takes the class through a warm up which also includes elements to really tune you in to how body and mind feel.

You then work through some of the movements that will later be combined into a flow sequence, with coaching from Miranda at your own pace to help you improve form and get the most out of everything you’re doing.

PrimalClasses work on a No shoes, No phones, No Egos & no bullshit policy, so everyone completely focuses in on how they’re moving and enjoys the class without the constant distraction of people filming for social media or snapping selfies mid-move (photos before and after ok of course, she won’t bite!)

The pop-up workshops also featured inspiring speakers at each session, with real women telling their stories of all kinds – how movement healed their bodies, how they left violent relationships, an incredible feminist spoken-word poet…

What exactly is ‘primal movement’?

Primal movement, the base of the class, is a way of movement that steps outside the fitness industry box of ‘lets do 10 burpees, 10 deadlifts, 10 push-ups’, and removes the limits and restrictions that so many people find put them off the standard ways of training packaged up and sold to us by gyms. It can be very individual, and utilizes much more of your body rather than working things in complete isolation (and as a result, despite looking less like the workouts you’re used to, can be infinitely more challenging as it’s working strength, balance, flexibility, mobility, and firing smaller accessory muscles that normally don’t get tapped up for more traditional movement!).

Part of the theory goes that our ancestors were super fit, physical beings (and certainly not hunched over desks!) and they didn’t need a tonne of equipment to get that way. They didn’t huddle over phones, laze in front of the TV and hunchback over computers. They also didn’t use treadmills, dumbells, TRX, bench press, barbells… They did, however, know how to use the human body to the best of its ability (so the theory goes).

Still confused?

Primal movement is:

  • a unique way of movement that doesn’t fit into a traditional fitness industry box;
  • a system of movement that uses different directions;
  • movement that often explores being closer to the ground;
  • something that encourages freedom of movement;
  • a whole-body, holistic workout;
  • a method of re-connecting with our bodies and how they are designed to move;
  • a combination of flexibility, strength, balance and stability, cardio and core work;
  • a functional movement method.

Experts, (apparently – see Metro article here), suggest it could hold the key to improving peoples’ strength and fitness at the same time as alleviating chronic lifestyle-triggered pain and illness.

Why I’m loving it and it’s changing the way I train

I’ve written before on Instagram about my experiences at the workshops, and it basically being a workout, a therapy session & a girly catch-up sesh with likeminded women all rolled into one, and there’s also the fact that Miranda is an INCREDIBLE trainer, really knows her stuff, but more importantly lives and breathes it – no bullshit, she’s straight up passionate and authentic and always delivers everything The Bitch Clinic promises.

Lately, I’ve also been advised to reduce the amount of high impact, high intensity work I do by my nutritionist (which is soooo hard for me as I love it, and it tends to get me out of bed during the week!) but admittedly if you’re living a high-stress lifestyle, sometimes flooding your system with MORE cortisol from hardcore workouts isn’t the best idea (plus it can actually impede results).

Primal movement gives me a different feeling after class. It’s not brutal, I don’t feel battered or broken. But I have broken a sweat, I’ve been challenged in new ways, I have a slightly calmer version of the post-workout high – maybe not the full on drug-like buzz of when you’ve beasted circuits, plyometrics and boxing, but a general sense of endorphiny-blissy-but-not-dead feeling of having energized my body rather than drained it of all its physical resources. Plus that’s always coupled with a sense of relaxation and being at peace with myself and my body that I don’t really get anywhere else except yoga savasana, and I definitely don’t get from putting myself through punishing sessions (NOTE: I don’t workout to punish myself EVER, but I recognize some of the higher impact high intensity stuff I love is nonetheless punishing my body, and so for optimum health I really should reduce it!)

Anyway, I can’t recommend giving it a try enough. It’s amazing, it’s challenging, and it yes, it’s totally different, and it can take a while to wrap both body and brain around it, so if you’re nervous or hesitant AT ALL, all I would say is give it a chance, don’t judge it by how tricky it can feel to begin with – and take the opportunity to totally transform your mindset and confidence in your body and yourself with The Bitch Clinic. ❤

B xoxox

6 natural ways to manage anxiety & mood (that aren’t meditation!)

selective focus photo of leaves
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It’s no secret that pretty much the entire world is over-tired, undernourished, bombarded by stressful technology, media, internet, work requests 24/7… or even if not, anxiety is actually nothing new, we just live in a world which makes it more of an epidemic than ever because we’re so disconnected from the natural way of living our lives.

I’ve previously taken anti-anxiety medication, but I’m happy to say today I’m able to manage it entirely pharmaceutical free! Here are my top 6 tips for managing anxiety entirely au naturel! And I know some people get sick of always hearing meditate, meditate, meditate… so as big a meditation advocate as I am (I regard it as essential to my wellbeing and happiness!) this will not appear on my list of top tips… you’re welcome 😉

1. Your new (natural!) make-your-own-medicine

No need to pop pills – chamomile tea (available at any good supermarket or corner shop!) and 3-4 drops of Valerian tincture (available via this link at Planet Organic, and most good health stores) and you’re good to go! This works at least as well as if not better the drugs I was once prescribed (and took!) for anxiety… without any nasty side effects. It’s a life saver. I keep the tincture on my desk. You can add it to water or any herbal tea, but chamomile has calming properties and I find they work best together.

2. Movement – the right kind

Notice I didn’t say ‘exercise’ or ‘train hard’. If you’re stressed and anxious, hardcore workouts release quite a bit of cortisol (normally this is an okay dose and your body deals and it’s actually beneficial, but if you’re already frazzled it can be cortisol OD! Not good!) So I recommend mindful movement – 30 minutes of outdoor walking near as much greenery as possible per day (no excuses Londoners – Hyde Park, Holland Park, Victoria Park, Clapham Common, Hampstead heath, or even a leafy neighbourhood are great…!), things like yoga, pilates, cycling and swimming can all be nice, mindful, meditative and importantly they get your blood pumping and endorphins flowing without too much stress on the body.

3. Vitamin meeeeeee

Make sure you’re eating a diet rich in vegetables (all the colours of the rainbow, and don’t forget the leafy greens!) but if in doubt you may want to speak to a doctor or nutritionist and consider supplementing. Some mood-boosting (and general health boosting!) supplements I researched extensively and incorporate now include vitamins C, E, B12, Co-Q10, ashwagandha, ginseng, and olive leaf extract. I came across nature’s amazing pharmacy via the amazing book Cured by Nature by Tara Mackey (but always remember professional advice is key when supplementing! Don’t take my word for it. your body could be different, and always double check if you’re pregnant or on any medication with your GP if there are any issues with you supplementing). Most pharmacies and health food stores will stock all the ones I’ve listed above. Probiotics are also great (the gut brain strongly affects mood!) and you can get these good live cultures from kombucha, kimchi, or supplements.

4. Caffeine and alcohol (sorry folks!)

Cutting these out is good for your health anyway, but if you’re anxious and stressed, it’s super important. They’re dehydrating, they’ll make anxiety and mood issues worse (caffeine is a stimulant, and alcohol is a depressant) and so in difficult times, these are best avoided. They also disrupt your gut microbiome and so its no wonder they’re detrimental for mood, anxiety and stress! Try swapping for herbal teas – the calming ones are a much healthier swap for the over-anxious (peppermint, chamomile etc. and you can find all kinds of de-stress blends to help!) and if you’re missing alcohol, pop some kombucha (which feeds your microbiome the good gut bacteria and boosts your mood in the process!) in a wine glass – voila! No-one will know it’s not champagne!

5. Turmeric… gold dust!

Apparently studies show this can be as effective as some anti-depressants for mood (source: Cured by Nature). Even if not, it’s been used since ancient times for food-medicine for all sorts of things, and is a key spice in Ayurveda (an ancient Indian holistic health system). I drink it in the Yogi Tea Turmeric Chai herbal tea blend and add it to soups and salads. You can also mix it into juices, smoothies, sprinkle it on veggies or whatever meal you have, season meat, fish or veggie alternatives with it… and you can also buy it in capsule form online or from health food stores. It’s anti-inflammatory, and whether or not it works like magic, it’s placebo, or whatever… it’s great for your health, it’s the colour of sunshine and some studies do support its benefits so I’m totally in! No bad can come of incorporating this sun-dust into your diet.

6. Clary sage – so underrated! (lavender’s so last season…)

Everyone’s favourite essential oil for relaxation is lavender, and yes, it works… but if you’re anything like me, it reminds you of sleep. If you’re in the office and anxious in the middle of the day, you might like to sniff something else. I find clary sage oil to be the best calm remedy. Sniff straight from the bottle, or pop a few drops on a tissue and breathe in as needed. It’s calming, but less sleep-inducing than lavender. I’d also recommend uplifting scents like orange and lemon for a little energy boost!

I hope some of these help a little bit, or give you something to think about. There are so many more (I promised I wouldn’t say meditation or deep breathing, but those are great, but also reading, creativity, trying new things, journaling, finding inspiring podcasts and blogs, dancing… there are a million options we have to better manage our stress and anxiety!) Let me know some of your favourites if they’re not listed here 🙂 ❤

B xoxox

 

The new wellness craze… spirituality?

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Spirituality is slowly seeping more and more into the instagram wellbeing bubble – I’ve recently heard spiritual wellness coaches like Jody Shield speak at events alongside fitness and nutrition professionals, showing people that spirituality can combine with modern life and isn’t just for hippies in a field dancing naked wearing hemp and sandals.

Former ‘fitness only’ influencers have moved across into yoga, astrology and crystals (quite a few instagrammers, for example) and then there are the public figures like Mel Wells who has moved from food coaching into more of a ‘spiritual wellness’ space having launched her new membership product, The Goddess Collective… Figures like Jasmine Hemsley combine nutrition and Ayurveda (yoga’s sister science)…

You’d be forgiven for thinking this was a new wellness craze! But none of these things and ideas are particularly new, it just seems they’re reaching a new market and being taken on by a new ‘generation’ almost…

Wellness and lifestyle bloggers are expanding the areas of content they cover from fitness, fashion, nutrition and health into the spiritual. And I guess that can be quite polarizing for some people, who maybe don’t agree with their ideas, or odd for others who haven’t encountered these ideas yet.

The Big Questions

Religion and myth have been a part of humanity for as long as we’ve been conscious – humans naturally crave explanations for things they don’t understand and the mysteries of the universe.

I’ve been asked recently in a Q&A I did on instagram if I’m religious, and if I think religion and spirituality can help mental health. I didn’t answer it on IG as it needed a fuller post to be honest, it’s a huge topic! So here goes!

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My two cents…

Let’s just get it clear that all of these things are deeply personal and we all have to respect that people won’t always agree…!

I am an atheist. I’ve never believed in a creator god, and still don’t. I was made to go to Christian Sunday school as a kid for a bit, but my parents aren’t really Christians either (my grandmother and former stepmum are) but I never believed in it.

I grew up near Glastonbury and so as a teen discovered paganism and Wicca and dabbled for a while for fun, but never seriously believed in it. Yes, I did a couple of Witchy Rituals following Fiona Horne’s books. It’s funny looking back on it now 🙂 However I did learn loads about the pagan tradition, gods and goddesses in all kinds of different traditions, crystals and new age philosophy, and all that jazz. I first started learning to meditate as a teen but stopped and didn’t come back to it til later in life.

I’ve also, with my other half, rejected a lot of the Glastonbury naval gazing and hippyisms as we’ve witnessed first hand how the lack of responsibility and drug culture can mess up peoples’ lives (particularly kids).

At university through literary criticism I discovered philosophy and found myself to be an existentialist. I don’t believe life has inherent meaning, I believe we create it, and have to work to create it and find meaning in things.

I went to Cambodia and Thailand in one of my uni summers and was OBSESSED with exploring the gorgeous temples of Angkor Wat.

I’ve always been interested in world religions, especially Hinduism and Buddhism (and my mum was interest in Buddhism too so I read loads on it as a teenager). I’m fascinated by ancient cultures and indigenous peoples, and love to hear about myths in, for example, Aztec and Mayan traditions, and Japanese and Chinese beliefs.

I got diagnosed with depression in my 20s although I’ve had it my whole life. I remain an atheist and existentialist, but after years of work combining fitness, nutrition, medication and meditation to manage the condition, I started looking wider.

I’ve (in the last year or two) dabbled in Ayurveda, the ancient Indian holistic wellness system (and even did a mini course), I’ve read more widely on meditation, spirituality, Buddhism and mindfulness, and I’ve been part of wellness groups which incorporate spirituality (originally Jody Shield’s Tribe Tonic, which I left, and now Mel Well’s The Goddess Collective which at the time of writing I’m still in).

I’m also fascinated by the commonalities between religions, and the ways in which conquering religions like Christianity used existing Pagan holidays to persuade people to adopt their practices more easily.

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Photo by Artem Bali on Pexels.com

So where are you now? Do you believe in god or a creator? How does it work with your rational logical side? Does it help your mental wellbeing?

I’m still an atheist.

I’m still an existentialist.

I’m also a Scorpio with Capricorn rising…!

Do I rationally and logically believe in astrology? No. Do I match everything my chart says about being a Scorpio with Capricorn rising? Hell yes! Do I enjoy it intuitively? Yes. Is that a bit of a paradox? Probably, yeah! Whatever!

In Ayurveda, I’m very strongly the pitta dosha. Do I believe this is biologically, scientifically a thing? No… but I can still relate to it, enjoy it, use it to derive meaning and adopt self-care practices…

Not everything, for me, now, has to make clinical sense. At one point I’d have rejected all this. But I think it’s totally fine to do your own personal thing.

If I had to be labeled, I’d be nearer a Buddhist as they don’t believe in an active being, or creator.

I think you can create meaning and fun however you want. I enjoy hearing about different cultures’ believes, I enjoy astrology, I may not rationally believe in tarot but why the fuck not if you like that kinda thing?

Keats was a poet who wrote about ‘negative capability’ – the ability to hold two conflicting thoughts and beliefs at the same time, so why not do that?!

I think generally religion is two things – a source of comfort and guidance to people (nothing wrong with that!) and an attempt to explain things that science has not yet been able to. If you want to enjoy the fictions to bring meaning to life – why not?!!

Given that I don’t believe in a god, I don’t exactly have a being I feel comforted by, or ask for guidance from. But my foraging into meditation and Buddhism has definitely helped me get a grip on my brain and managing my thoughts, emotions and moods.

What are your thoughts?

Let me know what you think about how spirituality is really kicking off in the wellness field, and share your beliefs and practices if you feel comfortable!

B x

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YOU can learn do the splits – here’s how…

splits
Me, last Xmas, at a ‘Stay Sassy’ dance event hosted by Steph Elswood aka @healthychefsteph

I recently shared a (front) splits tutorial on Instagram, and thought I’d post it here so that it’s more permanently findable as it’s a question I get asked a lot!

I do believe that anyone can learn, but I get the frustration that it’s a slow process and it’s easy for me to say as I learned as a child while dancing! However, even then it was something I was determined to nail, and between dance teachers forcing my leg up and practicing at home, I got there.

This video and the below instagram post explain how to train yourself SAFELY into splits. Please, please don’t try and drop straight into! Be patient, and follow this guide, and it will yield results, I promise!

Let’s go! how to do the splits

  • legallygymliving💙HOW-TO SPLITS & FLEXIBILITY TALK💙
    One of my most asked q’s is how to learn – I won’t lie, I was kind of made to when I danced as a kid – the teachers would pull your legs around and lift them up with you stood against the wall to get it near your head…! & I trained hard for it as they needed someone to do it for a show, and i got there!
    That said, I work hard to maintain it. WHY?
    💜flexibility will help with maximum mobility in old age
    💙it complements your normal workouts and helps ease stiffness
    💜if you’re working on strengthening you should also be LENGTHENING
    💙splits are a great party trick 😉
    💋PLUS it has other slightly cheekier benefits when the lights go out…!😜
    🔹🔹🔹
    HOW TO LEARN:
    1) watch this video!
    2) follow its steps, especially NEVER MISSING A WARM UP! You need warm muscles or you risk painful injury. I’ve been there, torn a hammy, it took me 6 months to get back to splits without pain!
    3) focus on increasing hamstring flexibility with things like forward fold where you can gradually improve over time. Use the breath for a natural boost! Inhale & rise a little, exhale and drop.
    4) open out the hips – as well as the hip fold over this vid shows, yogic squat and happy baby pose are fab!
    5) use a wall, and gravity. This helps you go further into a stretch and also measure your progress
    6) ALWAYS PREP YOUR SPLIT with a deep lunge for the hip flexors & a hamstring stretch as shown (until you’re super comfortable in it and then when you’re warm it’s ok!)
    🔹🔹🔹
    Hope this helps! The other thing to note is it’s a gradual process, don’t rush it, don’t push to the point of pain… you should feel a stretch, breathe, go a little further so it starts to be like “ooooh” but DO NOT GO FOR PAIN! Trying too much too fast and forcing it risks injury. Think of it like play dough – it’s not pliable when it’s all cold and stiff. Warm it up, make it bendy over time. Take it easy ✌🏾 

It really is that simple!

There’s no magic to it, just dedication and practice over time, and always following this rather than trying to “force” it, which is never a good idea.

So… I really hope that helps, and answers some of your questions! I really love maintaining flexibility because I think it helps with the quality of our movement generally, and as un-glamorous as it is to say, it helps with maximum mobility in old age! Don’t you want to be able to walk around, go to the loo, get up and down yourself without help when you’re 60, 70, 80+…?!

It is also a fun party trick, it makes for fun photo ops – see below! (you can wineglass stand anywhere once you get the hang of it, although if you aren’t warmed up it’s not adviseable – see my poor form in the top pic below!) and it definitely spices up play time after lights out, if you catch my drift.

Enjoy, babes!

B xoxo

My Ayurveda experience

Me… trying Ayurveda?! It’s true!

close up photography hindu deity
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So I mentioned on instagram recently I’ve been experimenting with Ayurveda. This may or may not come as a surprise to people who know me – I like to think of myself as a healthily open-minded sceptic – I treat all ideas critically, in a balanced way, and am open to changing my mind if people present evidence. It’s a safe and scientific and logical approach… which conflicts a bit with my arts-degree (I was a literature girl) more free-thinking and creative writing side… but I’ve always been contradictory like that (or as I like to think of it, it’s Keatsian ‘negative capability’ mwahaha).

I’ll explain more about ayurveda shortly, but here’s how I’m approaching it.

I’ve fallen into it via modern practitioners who fuse ancient Ayurvedic philosophies with modern Western life and nutrition knowledge. I do believe that it was created 5,000 years ago (yoga’s sister science) for India 5,000 years ago, therefore it doesn’t have to be followed to the letter – for example, lifestyles change, and my environment and culture is different from that of India 5,000 years ago. For example in Ayurveda you should never eat raw foods. That was true in India then (and much of India now!) – salad could make you ill. It’s not the case in London, so you can tweak it based on where you are and also just modernity.

I also believe that modern medicine and science knows a lot more about many things now, so naturally there are inconsistencies.

However, there are some overlaps – like the body types endomorph, ectomorph and mesomorph, for example, correspond with the Ayurvedic doshas – mesomorphs would be dominant in pitta, ectomorph – vata, and endomorph – kapha (see discussion below). In terms of the mental qualities associated with each dosha (more on what these are below!), you can think of these as metaphorical, emotional or psychological illustrations of personality types if you struggle with the pseudo-scientific nature. Just be open-minded with it, I guess! It’s not a science, it’s a philosophical system of wellness… and it’s 5,000 years old, so take or leave what works for you, and where modern knowledge is proven to contradict, that’s fine, but remember – Western medicine responds to disease and treats symptoms and causes. Ayurveda aims to prevent illness arising.

*quick check on cultural appropriation* I am fascinated by different cultures, and you may or may not have seen a discussion I had on instagram recently around the issues of cultural appropriation around yoga in the West, for example. These practices (yoga and ayurveda) are no doubt growing and evolving – they’re not the same as they once were, but I do want to take a second to say I have the utmost respect for the origins of these philosophies, and I’ve done as much research as I can into the history of the practices. I’d like to make clear and acknowledge that it isn’t part of my own heritage, but it’s something I am interested in exploring and I hope my adoption of some of the modern-fusion ayurveda is sensitive and respectful of anyone who does have deep roots in Ayurvedic and Hindu traditions. I know that ‘my’ version, or Sahara’s (see below) aren’t necessarily authentic, but hopefully we can all share in it respectfully and the last thing I would want is for this to offend anyone. Read more about the tradition here, and the Atharva Veda .

With all of that explanation over with to ‘explain’ and satisfy any fellow sceptics, here is why I have kind of fallen in love with Ayurveda, despite my reservations about all things that tend to be embraced by ‘hippy’ types which undeniably eastern and Indian philosophies have been (having grown up around Glastonbury and seen many families hugely disrupted by drugs, dropping out of school and various consequential issues, hippyisms are not something I tend to be a fan of and I feel should be treated with huge caution! Plus they tend to be unchecked appropriation of other cultures, and used as excuses for outrageous lifestyle choices… Rant over, okay, okay!)

(NB: where it conflicts with modern nutritional and scientific knowledge, I’d go with those things. However, on the mental and emotional side it’s more just like an alternative perspective on things, and one I find helpful!) 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

My-urveda

It’s a romantic and almost mythical way of expressing many things that I think modern science and psychology do tell us too.

It feels intuitive, and places emphasis on living a healthy, balanced lifestyle, with diet and digestion as a cornerstone of wellbeing – which we know to be true.

It helps me make sense of my personality, how I emotionally respond to things (and have responded to past trauma), and how to balance myself out.

I’m inclined to agree it’s more helpful from a mental health and balance perspective than it being a medicine system to cure physical ailments – I wouldn’t ever substitute it for qualified medical advice – but it can certainly support, in my opinion.

I’ve always been drawn to ancient cultures the world over and it’s fun to play with… and there’s no harm in playing and being interested!

It just feels intuitive to me and explains my personality. Whether that’s placebo, or whether modern science and psychology aligns with it or not, if it makes you feel good, what’s the harm?!

What is Ayurveda?

Ayurveda means the ‘knowledge of life’, and is a holistic Ancient Indian system of health and wellbeing. If you google it, the definition you get is:

the traditional Hindu system of medicine (incorporated in Atharva Veda, the last of the four Vedas), which is based on the idea of balance in bodily systems and uses diet, herbal treatment, and yogic breathing.

I have got into it through modern practitioners like Sahara Rose who has an incredible story and journey to discovering ayurveda, and Jasmine Hemsley (check the ayurveda section of her website here), but this is the most helpful objective overview I’ve found of the subject.

I found Sahara Rose‘s attitude of choosing the parts of the practice that work for you and work in modern life helpful. You can read her article here about why practicing yoga (although amazing!) is only a tiny step in optimising how you feel – and how ayurveda is the ultimate lifestyle compliment (the two systems go hand in hand, after all!)

As a simple introduction, in Ayurveda the idea is we’re born with a unique combination of the three Ayurvedic doshas – kapha, vata and pitta (the combo you’re born with is your prakruti). Diet and lifestyle and other factors can change this – if you were born vata dominant, for example, you could become more pitta. Your present constitution, if different from your prakruti is your vikruti.

In Ayurveda emotional states, mental and physical ailments etc… basically anything that means you’re not ‘well’ is thought to be because of a dosha imbalance in some way. Too much vata, too little kapha… it can be much more complex than this, but this is a simplified explanation, and ayurveda seeks to provide lifestyle choices and practices people can follow to stay physically and mentally balanced. Certain personality types may prefer different things, and need to bear in mind they should balance themselves (for example I’m a pitta – considered to be driven, fiery, highly motivated, prone to loving caffeine and heavy duty workouts – but I need to balance this with more yin yoga, for example, and slowing down, caffeine and alcohol reduction, even if that’s not my instinct!) A lot of it can be considered common sense! Kaphas are thought to be much more grounded, stable, generous, but also potentially prone to lethargy and weight gain if out of balance… and so more vigorous movement is recommended. (These are just some super simplistic illustrations!)

My experience so far

I’ve found that certain ayurvedic practices, including but not limited to an improved morning routine (including tongue scraping, oil pulling, splashing the eyes 10 times with cold water and abhyanga [an ayurvedic form of self-massage with oil]) to be therapeutic and actually quite uplifting.

I’ve also been trying trying a few of the dosha balancing meditations (discover an indication of your dominant dosha here but for truly accurate results see a practitioner), and making some dosha-balancing lifestyle changes (for example, I am very dominantly pitta – in both body and mind – so rather than stick to my go-to agressive coffee consumption and power yoga, I’ve incorporated more deep breathing, some very gentle yin yoga, and calming herb teas).

Studies have shown (I was reading a scientific paper from a journal on the train about exactly this today!) that meditation, yoga (and other activities like reading, qu gong, tai chi) etc. are beneficial for health and mind because they promote the relaxation response which has a positive biological impact – reduced oxygen consumption, blood pressure, heart rate and changes to regions of the brain whose names have escaped me just now! Activities like this positively influence our epigenetics (the parts of our DNA that switch cells on and off essentially – determining which bits of our DNA are used!)  On a similar note, exercise is another lifestyle factor that can alter your DNA (as can nutrition, stress levels, exposure to toxins…) and you can read more on the science of that here.

However, whether or not there are tangible benefits you can derive from ayurveda (and anecdotally there do seem to be, although clearly when people like me try things, we’re not doing a controlled study so it’s hard to establish a reliable causal link), to me, it’s all about how you feel and if it has a positive impact on your life and general wellbeing… and this definitely is for me!

I also just did a quick 8 week short course called Self Care and Ayurvedic Nutrition to learn more, and it has given me some great practices that really help me manage stress and my mood, plus some delicious recipes.

What do you think?!

I’d love to hear your comments on this, and any philosophies or lifestyle changes that you find work for you!

B xoxoxo

Appendix

Sahara Rose Ketabi, Ayurvedic Practitioner, Holistic Health and Sports Nutrition Coach on dosha-sports science parallels:

Sahara Rose Ketabi writes (full article here)

“Ectodermal = Vata

Some of us have increased development of the ectodermal layer, contributing to a more active nervous system and faster catabolism (the breakdown of muscle tissue.)  This makes make us more naturally small-boned, full of thoughts, sensitive to external surroundings and energy, and often cold — exactly like a Vata.

Vata is regulated by Ether and Air energy, regulating the nervous system as well. Vatas are thin-bodied, dry-skinned, bold-bodied, hypersensitive to their surroundings, and imaginative. When they’re off balance, they can become anxious or anemic.  I often compare Vata to the Fall wind — cool, dry, creative, and a little bit  all over the place.

If you are an Ectomorph/ Vata, then I recommend consuming a more warming, grounding foods like soups, stews, and proteins. Avoid too much cold, raw food, which will cool down your already weak digestive fire. Make sure you stretch your body to prevent it from getting stiff and practice strength-training exercises. Practice more mindfulness. 

Mesodermal= Pitta

Others of us have increased development of the mesodermal layer. We’re naturally more muscular, prone to stress, with strong bones and appetites — just like a Pitta.

Pitta is comprised of Fire and Water energy, controlling transformation —  metabolism, digestion, assimilation, and muscle development. Pittas are naturally athletic, high-achieving people with strong work ethics (and appetites). When they’re off balance, they can become impatient, overheated, or agitated. I often compare Pitta to the summer — hot, fiery, and passionate!

If you are a Mesomorph/ Pitta, I recommend consuming more cooling, hydrating foods like fresh fruit and leafy greens. Avoid spicy food, caffeine, and chocolate, which are all too stimulating and heat-inducing for your already hot system. Be careful not to overexert yourself and become overly competitive. Practice yin yoga and meditation regularly.

Endodermal= Kapha

And there are those of us with increased development of the endodermal layer.  We may have slower metabolisms and digestions and are prone towards respiratory issues, exactly like the Kapha Dosha.

Kapha is comprised of Earth and Water energy, regulating structure, body tissue, and bone structure. Kaphas are peaceful, easy-going, good-natured, people. When out of balance, however, they can easily become overweight and lazy, and catch colds frequently. I like to compare Kaphas to the Spring — cool, wet, and dense.

If you’re an Endomorph/ Kapha, I suggest favoring light, stimulating foods like well-spiced quinoa, steamed vegetables and bitter greens. Avoid sweet, cool, and creamy foods like ice cream or pasta, which will make your sluggish digestive system even slower. Make sure you break a sweat every day to prevent yourself from becoming lethargic. Try something new every day.”