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From boob printing to mask painting…the liberating discoveries I made at RestFest 2019

Restfest 2019

Have you ever been ‘smudged’?

I certainly hadn’t until I attended RestFest, a wellness festival geared up to help busy women press pause. I’d gathered outside Field Place Manor House, Worthing on a crisp March morning for the opening ceremony when out of nowhere, a number of ladies descended upon us clutching bundles of burning sage. My eyes were on stalks as they proceeded to fan the fragrant smoke all around us.

Some people were giggling, others were animatedly chatting. And a few remained perfectly still – their eyelids closed – as they fully immersed themselves in what I later learned was an ancient spiritual cleansing tradition said to clear away any negative energy.

In the middle of the circle, RestFest founder Naomi Newland encouraged us – a collective of busy professionals, mums, entrepreneurs, spiritual seekers and personal development explorers – to release any burdens, family concerns, or worries that were dragging us down.

The hypnotherapist and confidence coach explained in no uncertain terms that this was our day, an essential pit stop for self-care and, by just being here, we’d given ourselves permission to do whatever the heck we wanted for the next eight hours at least.

If Naomi, a whirlwind of positive energy, could bottle her contagious zest for life she’d be a billionaire yet she is the first to admit her life and outlook hasn’t always been this way.

Restfest founder Naomi Newland

In 2014/15 she burnt out while running what she describes as unprofitable pregnancy fairs, alongside a hypnobirthing business and raising three small children.

The mother and wife knew she needed to slow down and spent 2016 consciously living life at a slower, simpler pace and learning, in her words, to put her “own oxygen mask” on first.

How?

She spent quality time with her family and invested in a quest of rediscovery to unearth the parts of her that had become hidden during the years of full-on parenting. In fact, she asked herself who she was without the identity that her career and lifestyle had created.

The break helped her see clearly that she was drowning in debt, struggling in her marriage and stressed out to the max. So she downsized, rented out the family house and completely retrained as a hypnotherapist. Along the way, Naomi became so inspired by the “wise and wonderful” women she’d met on her inward-looking journey that she decided to create an event that would help not only help them take time out, but also bolster their sense of self-acceptance and self-worth.

Cue RestFest.

The timetable was themed on the intentions of joy, rest, empowerment and inspiration and was jam-packed with all sorts of activities from mask painting, boob printing, laughter yoga and making your own natural beauty products, to talks on things like addressing your inner critic and how to float away stress and anxiety.

Restfest 2019 sound healing

There were workshops aplenty, too, covering topics from how to declutter your mind through journalling to creative writing for inspiration, as well as holistic and pampering treatments, angel card readings and lovely stalls to browse.

Naomi reminded us that this was “RestFest, not a stressfest,” and advised against over scheduling – something I had already done (surprise, surprise) before encouraging us to shout out our intention for the day.

Overcome with self-consciousness, I whispered mine but when she urged us to do it again, I plucked up the courage to chime in.

I felt inexplicably uplifted and was ready to embrace the day ahead. So how did I get on?

RESTFEST 2019: MY HIGHLIGHTS

MASK PAINTING ART THERAPY

The last time I got up close and personal to paint, glitter, glue guns, ribbons and feathers was when I was a schoolgirl, so imagine my delight at discovering this workshop run by Melanie Maelo, a psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, and accredited EFT practitioner.

We were handed a plain white cardboard mask and given a short time limit in which to decorate the outside with how we thought our friends and family perceived us. Truth be told, I  was so excited at the opportunity to ‘get crafty’ that I forgot this aspect halfway through so the end result was a mixture of what I liked and how I believed the world saw me!

According to Melanie, when we engage in creative arts the subconscious has a chance to explore and release what it feels appropriate. We all wear masks – either to protect ourselves or project something that we are not – and, often, we are so focused on the outward projection that we don’t allow our awareness to rest on the true self hiding behind the mask.

Restfest 2019 mask painting

Mine featured plenty of magenta pink – I wear bold colours and people often describe me as bright and bubbly – but according to Melanie, this colour also represents harmony, common sense (!) and a balanced outlook.

Next up we were asked to decorate the inside of the mask. Mine was filled with indigo feathers, a blue block of colour across the brain and grey squiggles. It couldn’t be more different to the outside and, I assumed, represented the inner turmoil I’d been experiencing with the daily struggle of my health issues and some personal bits and pieces.

However, the indigo, I was told, represented a spiritual awakening while the design suggested I was ready to process my worries. I wasn’t alone in creating a contrasting mask. Plenty of other women did the same thing and openly shared their stories which made for both a wonderfully creative and brilliantly empowering session.

DECLUTTER YOUR MIND THROUGH MINDFUL JOURNALING

My pen flew across the page as Shirley Gain, a professional declutterer, mindfulness and Feng Shui coach urged us to grab our notebooks and scribble down our thoughts and concerns. Within five minutes I’d written down 39, yes 39 things! Shirley then asked us how we felt. The responses were a mixture of calm and relief. I was simply astonished by the volume of clutter residing in my bonce. Shirley explained that the morning is the best time to do this type of physical ‘brain dump’ and even if we discard the list each day, the very act of mindful journaling would bring awareness to our thoughts enabling us to us to offload and organise them thus gaining clarity and insight.

We were then asked to split the thoughts into various categories ranging from urgent and important to urgent and non-important before segregating them into colour-coordinated or symbolised themes and diarising them. In so doing, we were able to see which aspects were out of balance and where to take action. It was also fascinating to see how the stuff we’d built up in our heads was perhaps not as pressing as we thought. During this exercise, it became obviously clear that my work-life balance was hugely out of kilter despite my best intentions. I vowed there and then to make journaling a daily habit.

SOUND HEALING JOURNEY TO ACCESS INNER WISDOM

I’d never tried sound healing before but was intrigued and found myself in a room scattered with yoga mats and bolsters. The session was being led by yoga teacher, reiki healer and life coach Louise Windsor who was sitting behind an array of instruments, from quartz crystal and metal singing bowls to a drum. We were asked to lie down and find a comfortable position.

Restfest 2019 sound healing

Louise then guided us through a body awareness scan before beginning the sound bathing element. The idea was that the vibrations would wash over us and guide us into a deep mode of relaxation and restoration. In turn, this stressless state would activate our inner wisdom, which is easily lost in the busyness of daily life.

Towards the end, the sound of one instrument, I believe it may have been the crystal quartz singing bowl, didn’t resonate too well with me. I found the pitch overbearing, and felt this most peculiar pressure around my ears and head but then I do have tinnitus and suspected mast cell activation syndrome so this might have been why! According to Louise, this type of reaction can indicate where energy needs to be cleared and the intensity then helps you appreciate the peace when it comes. Nonetheless, the sensation didn’t last long and, overall, I enjoyed the experience, especially as I rarely get the chance to lie down during the day for any length of time let alone at 10.30am.

BOOB PRINTING WORKSHOP

Now I’ve never gone topless on a beach and I don’t have children so I’ve never really given much thought to my bosom but when I recently found a lump in my right breast (which was thankfully clear) I began thinking about ‘my girls’ in an altogether different fashion. Whereas once I would have shunned such a class, my recent experience made me think it would be quite fun to appreciate my bazookas in the form of artwork. The only snag was that I had an interview scheduled at the same time so I  missed the session.  Run by Anti Diet Riot Club founder Becky Young and body acceptance coach’ Harri Rose, this workshop encouraged women to celebrate the ‘awesomeness’ of their breasts no matter their shape, size, or tone by painting and printing them. Although I wasn’t there, Natalie Brown from Confessions of a Crummy Mummy whipped her baps out for the experience. You can read about how she got on here.

VERDICT

OH. MY. WORD. This day opened my eyes in SO many ways and I left feeling wonderfully uplifted, empowered and educated. The mask painting class was unquestionably my favourite but I learned bits and pieces about myself in each session and honestly felt as though I’d undergone a total mind, body, spirit overhaul by the end of the day! As some of you know I have suspected MCAS and certain perfumes and essential oils can be problematic for me.

 

Restfest 2019 Helen Gilbert

Truthfully, I was a little worried about attending RestFest for this reason but I dosed up on meds before I went and, thankfully, did not experience any adverse reactions. If you’re a busy lady that needs to ‘schedule’ in rest time, or you’re simply looking to work on your personal or spiritual development and find your sparkle again, this event is for you.  I’ll definitely be back.

Relax Ya Self To Health was gifted a bronze ticket in exchange for this review. As always, all views are based on my own honest experience. The next RestFest event takes place in October 2019. For more information click here

First two pictures credits: Rest Fest

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Wellness

REVIEW: The Stress Solution by Dr Rangan Chatterjee

The Stress Solution

When I bought Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s The 4 Pillar Plan: How to Relax, Eat, Move and Sleep Your Way to a Longer, Healthier Life last year, I never envisaged I’d be interviewing him six months later but that’s exactly what happened when I wrote an article for The Sun back in January on ways to embrace doing nothing.

The idea for the piece was sparked by my inability to switch off, which was reconfirmed just a tad as I devoured the chapter on how to relax. Soaking up every single word, it became glaringly obvious that I was still spinning far too many plates and placing enormous pressure on myself alongside trying to manage a nasty chronic illness, which has left doctors bewildered for more than three years (I have suspected MCAS).

Unsurprisingly, if you’re a ‘doer’ by nature it’s very easy to take on too much and feel as though you’re being pulled in all directions – certainly, being kept up at night with anxiety is something I’m familiar although I think the weird chemical reactions going on in my body may have something to do with this too.

So when I caught up with Dr Chatterjee, star of BBC One Series Doctor in the House, I was over the moon to discover that he’d just published a new tome devoted entirely to stress.

The Stress Solution, Dr Rangan Chatterjee

The Stress Solution: The 4 Steps to Reset Your Body, Mind, Relationships and Purposefollows the same format as The 4 Pillar Plan and is divided into four sections: purpose, relationships, body and mind.

Dr Chatterjee advises readers to pick one or two of the easier self-help interventions from each segment, before building up. “It’s not about perfection in one particular pillar – you are aiming for balance across all four,” he writes.

As Dr C points out, stress can have devastating long-term consequences for health with too much of it contributing to the development of obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, strokes and Alzheimer’s and playing a part in insomnia, burn-out and depression.

“We are living in the middle of a health epidemic,” he says. “In fact, the World Health Organisation calls stress ‘the health epidemic of the twenty-first century’”.

I was sent the book as part of the day job but quickly realised its content would help many of my readers. This is how I got on…

REVIEW: THE STRESS SOLUTION

Dr Chatterjee writes in an easy-to-understand, engaging style – no complex medical jargon here – and, refreshingly, his books are peppered with personal and patient anecdotes which makes the contents entirely relatable. Unsurprisingly, I flew through this book. Every page is brimming with words of wisdom.

The Stress Solution, Dr Rangan Chatterjee

Credit: Susan Bell

THE POWER TO GENERATE STRESS

Dr Chatterjee introduces us to his ‘Cupboard of No Return’. It’s essentially a kitchen wall mounted cupboard crammed with the ‘shrapnel’ of everyday life, from a golf ball and stacks of unopened envelopes to a broken screwdriver and a child’s glove. “The chaos in the cupboard is the cumulative result of dozens of isolated stressful moments in the daily life of me and my young family – from when my daughter lost her glove, to when a picture fell down and I was too busy to put the hammer back in the shed,” he reveals.

Dr Chatterjee describes the cupboard as a problem not only because it’s the result of stress but also because it has the power to generate moments of anxiety and frustration for instance, if his family want to play a board game and they can’t find the pieces or he’s rushing to get out the house and his daughter only has one glove. He later explains that the cupboard has become a headache because he’s left it so long it’s now overwhelming. “The only way I’m going to deal with it is by not viewing it as one huge job to tackle but realising I can break it down into a series of tiny actions…The stress in your life is no different to this.”

THE POWER OF YOUR EMOTIONAL BRAIN

Dr C explains that when we’re stressed our logical brain steps aside and the emotional brain takes centre stage, which is the correct response when we’re in dangerous territory. The problem is the more frequently you feel stressed, the more powerful your emotional brain will become, while your rational brain will be deskilled.

“If your emotional brain has grown too powerful, you’ll start to sense danger even when there’s no danger present. The smell of a summer barbecue is misinterpreted as a house fire. A rushed email from your boss is interpreted as a prelude to sacking. An innocent glance from a friend seems sarcastic and hostile, full of hidden meaning.”

HOW TO REFRAME YOUR LIFE

Dr Chatterjee urges us to examine how we choose to interpret a stressful event and, instead of being negative or operating from a ‘victim mentality’ to reframe our outlook to a positive one, which is important if we’re in the middle of a micro stress dose swarm and our emotional brain is dominant.

“Without a proper, practised strategy, you’re likely to spiral quickly into a whirlpool of irrational negativity. If you don’t actively try to reframe the experience, you’ll often find that your stress levels increase during the day as your emotional brain continues ruminating on what’s happened to you and keeps finding ‘evidence’ that your life is a mess.”

Ruminating, he adds, is when we tend to dwell on situations that we find distressing or upsetting, or when we replay a problem over and over again in our mind. “You will be training your emotional brain to become more powerful, which in turn makes it more likely that you will spend time ruminating in the future, and so more likely that you will become anxious.”

Dr Chatterjee has three tips for effective reframing which are:

  • Writing down the experience to adopt a more rational and distant viewpoint
  • Focussing on the cause so, if someone cuts you up while driving, think about why they might have done it instead of the effect on you. For instance, their mother might be unwell or they may have had a row with their partner
  • Replaying the event as though you’re an observer or, say, a sports commentator. This forces you to take a broader, less me-focused view and helps prevent you from catastrophising.

VERDICT: The Stress Solution
Up until my health fell apart I’d always been a glass half full kind of character but now, especially when I’m mid-flare – which has been a weekly three-day occurrence of late – I sometimes struggle to think positively and I’d be lying if I said I never worry about how the future will unfold, despite trying to be mindful. However, since reading this book I’ve started to look differently at my health and break things down into smaller, manageable chunks, focussing on what I can control instead of what I can’t.

We’re only human. We all have stress. And sometimes, it can be hard to distinguish when it’s building up to unhealthy levels. We keep going and going and then something breaks. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, need to put steps in place to manage stress, or are simply wondering how to find balance in life, The Stress Solution is your bible. My only wish is that it had been written five years ago as I believe my go-go-go lifestyle was, ultimately, the undoing of my physical body!

The Stress Solution (Penguin Life, £16.99) is out now. Dr Rangan Chatterjee is host of the iTunes #1 podcast ‘Feel Better Live More’. 

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Wellness

Always busy? 5 important signs you need to slow down

Always busy? 5 signs you need to slow down

On a scale of one to ten how busy would you say you are? Up until last week, I reckon I ranked at 20. As peculiar as it sounds, I’ve always been secretly proud of the fact that I am a ‘doer’ with a million and one things on the go.

But while being busy has its advantages in terms of being productive and staying motivated, it can become problematic if we never switch off and – in the worst case scenario – lead to burnout.

“While some pressure can be good, it’s less so if you’ve no time or thinking space to develop, be creative or just feel like you’re on top of things,” Dr Mark Winwood, director of psychological services at private health insurance provider AXA PPP Healthcare explains. “It’s one thing to be firing on all cylinders but quite another to be constantly firefighting – ask yourself which camp you fall into.”

Last year a poll of 2,000 people found that Brits feel stressed for an average of nine days a month. The research, conducted by healthcare tech startup Forth, ranked money as a top concern. Meanwhile, an HSE report published last October found that 15.4 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2017/18.

“When we’re stressed our sympathetic nervous system is activated,” Dr Winwood explains.“That’s our fight or flight response which is a normal part of our physiology but now we are micro-dosing ourselves with sympathetic nervous system alerts all day. The alarm clock rings so we’re jolted awake. We put it on snooze and the same thing happens again. We look at the emails that come in overnight and think oh my God I’ve forgotten to do that…another dose of stress. We might be rushing to get the kids ready for school, find ourselves stuck in a traffic jam or the lift might be full when we get to work and we have to wait.”

So how do we counteract this culture of busyness and help calm down our central nervous system, the ‘hard-wiring’ in our body responsible for how we respond to stress?

The first step is to become aware of our habits and actions. If you’re too busy to enjoy life, unsure how to cope with the demands of your busy schedule or can’t remember the last time you were happy, now might be the time to sit up and take note.

“We’re never going to not have stress and our body is built to manage it,” Dr Winwood adds. “Let’s not be fearful of stress but proactive in managing it every single day by putting in the downtime needed to engage our parasympathetic nervous system.”

If you suspect you have too much on your plate or think it might be adversely affecting your health, relationships and mood, check out Dr Winwood’s advice below on the important signs to watch out for.

He also shares some practical advice on how to build relaxation and calm moments into busy schedules.

Too busy? 5 important signs you need to slow down.

SNAPPING AT PEOPLE

It might be in your nature to snap at people. If it isn’t, this could be a sign. It’s really important to think about the changes you have recognised in yourself but also the changes other people might have mentioned they’ve noticed in you. We get a lot of information and feedback from others.

AVOIDING YOUR FRIENDS/FAMILY

You stop making plans to see people, make plans and then cancel or avoid places that you have the opportunity to sometimes unwind in.

PROCRASTINATION

Sometimes we fill our day full of distraction when we’re unable to focus. This is because our brain is avoiding something we’re fearing. It might be fear of failure or the fear of not being able to do something to our perfect levels if we’re perfectionists. It might be fear of losing our status or it could be to do with things that we’re stressed about.

FEELING DESPONDENT AT WORK

You might become very unproductive even though you’re spending longer at your desk. Work may no longer be interesting to you, or perhaps you’re resentful of the amount of work you’ve got. Ask the questions, ‘how have I changed or what’s different for me?’ which might tell you why you’re struggling.

NOTICING CHANGES IN SLEEPING, EATING OR EXERCISE PATTERNS

Perhaps you were once thoughtful about what you put in your mouth but now you don’t really care. You’re out of control and eating lots more junk, fast or sugary food. When you’re stressed you have a whole physiological response to stress which means your hormonal production changes and you start to have inflammation in the body. You might begin to crave fatty or sugary foods, or you might notice that actually you’re avoiding or not making time to go to the gym, not walking anywhere or becoming more sedentary or reclusive.

BREAKING BUSY: 7 STEPS TO HELP YOU SLOW DOWN

I’m a big believer in spending a little bit of time on our mental wellbeing. It’s important to turn off the busyness of the day. Often you can rush around like a maniac, flop into bed and expect to go straight to sleep but it’s not going to happen. I’m not suggesting you sit on the floor and meditate for four hours but you could try the following:

  • Build mindful moments into your day. Have an 11am coffee break with a friend or talk to someone face-to-face, not online. Tell them how you feel. Seeing friends that make you feel good and supported will help bring a bit of relief and a realisation that you’re not alone in your feelings.
  • When you get home take the dog for an extended walk or get off the bus one stop earlier.
  • Box breathing really calms our reactions and the production of stress hormones. Try breathing in for five seconds, hold for five, breathe out for five and hold for five or alternate this so that you’re out-breath is longer than your in-breath, which will engage your parasympathetic nervous system.
  • Try a two-minute mindful shower where you really notice the water and the way it feels.
  • Put your phone away during dinner and talk with your family
  • Have a golden hour before going to bed, a wind-down routine or ‘reverse lie-in’. Dim all the lights in your house. Turn your work emails off. If you can’t, at least download filters to counteract the blue light. Reading or watch something relaxing or listen to music.
  • Know that it’s okay to spend time ‘being’ instead of ‘doing’.Your central nervous system will thank you for it.

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Wellness

REVIEW: The CBT Journal (how to stop feeling stuck)

The CBT Journal

Are you feeling stuck and procrastinating for England? Have you experienced  a seemingly never-ending run of bad luck and are now simply waiting for the next ‘bad thing’ to happen.  Do you just wish you could feel a little more ‘together’ in your life?

If the answer’s yes to any of the above, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT for short, may help.

The psychotherapy is commonly used to treat anxiety, phobias and depression but it can also assist those struggling with low self-esteem and anyone looking to improve their lives in general. CBT shines a light on the way you naturally think, feel and respond to certain situations by breaking down problems into smaller parts. In so doing unhelpful thinking patterns – like being overly self-critical –  are unearthed enabling you to develop ways to ‘unlearn’ this behaviour and pave a path to a happier and more fulfilled life.

“We often seek out ‘quick fixes’ when looking to improve things for ourselves but the crucial first step is looking inwards and exploring our internal environment,” explains Sarah D Rees, a CBT therapist and former mental health nurse who has worked in the field for more than 20 years.

Sara Rees, The CBT Journal

“If we’re constantly self-critical, we’ll build our internal critic up like a muscle and become very good at it. Self-criticism underpins a lot of psychological distress, illustrating how patterns of thinking can become problematic if left unchecked. The very act of having a thought or doing an action over and over again increases its power. Over time, it becomes automatic; a part of us. We literally become what we think.”

Now Sarah has created The CBT Journal, a self-help tool combining the elements of CBT with journalling, an activity which she claims has been linked to not only lowering depression and anxiety but strengthening immune cells called T-lymphocytes.

Designed to be used over a four-week period, the journal enables people to create awareness around how they think, feel and behave in order to understand their mind. “Through putting pen to paper we can begin to understand thought processes and patterns, making steps to change negative thoughts and feelings in order to cultivate the best version of ourselves,” says Sarah.

Sounds good to me!

I decided to give The CBT Journal a go: here’s how I got on.

REVIEW: THE CBT JOURNAL

I’ve tried to get my head around CBT books in the past and, in all honesty, I’ve given up due to the dry content but this journal was refreshingly free of jargon and written in such a friendly tone it almost felt as though Sarah was in the room guiding me through.

Although it is 43 pages long – I’d suggest settling down with a cuppa or two and allocating time at the weekend when you won’t be interrupted – it was by no means a chore to read. I particularly enjoyed learning about how the brain works – the part on neuroplasticity was fascinating – and the fact the journal was peppered with uplifting inspirational quotes.

The first section guides you through the basic concepts of CBT, the psychology of the mind, and covers aspects such as how to create a habit. There are also pages on thoughts, emotions, behaviour and gratitude and nuggets of helpful advice reminding you to be kind to yourself.

After filling in the daily diary pages (you’ll need to download these  so ensure you have enough paper and ink), I  discovered that I’m hugely self-critical. I knew I could give myself a hard time but was left aghast at how often phrases such as “you’re so stupid”, “you’re such an idiot”, and “you’re just a failure” seemed to tumble out of my mouth.

I quickly realised that when my body was in the middle of a tongue swelling episode  or recovering from a flare-up, I became unbelievably negative to the point that it affected every aspect of my life.  I’d be left feeling low and would chastise myself for being useless and weak.

Yet, on a reaction-free day, I’d be my usual, upbeat and bubbly self!

The next step involved learning how to change or modify some of my thoughts, feelings and behaviours by writing down the negative thought, the evidence for and against it before arriving at a more balanced one.

This exercise was fantastic because, on the whole, it really demonstrated how little evidence there was to support the negative thought!

Furthermore, after ‘”taking the thought to court” possible solutions began appearing before my very eyes and I was able to visualise a way around obstacles that once stood in my path. The upshot was I ended up feeling more in control – almost as though a weight had been lifted.

THE CBT JOURNAL: VERDICT

I often write down my worries when I’m feeling overwhelmed or anxious but the CBT element proved to be a real eye-opener. I’ve been on this planet 43 years and can honestly say this is the closest I’ve ever come to getting to know myself and understanding my thinking patterns.  If you’re feeling stuck, lost or stressed out and unable to see the wood for the trees right now this journal might just be the perfect “helping hand” to help you get back on track.

For more information visit Sarah’s website here.

*Relax Ya Self To Health was invited to try out The CBT journal in  exchange for a review. As always, this post is based on my honest opinion and I would never recommend anything I do not believe in. Please note I am not a medical expert. This review is based on my own personal experience. If you have a medical condition, psychological or health concerns always seek medical advice from your doctor or registered healthcare specialist before undergoing any new treatments or techniques. 

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Helen's Health, Wellness

What’s On: 3 wellness events to help carve out calm

Wellness events UK and Ireland 2019

Would you attend a wellness retreat?

I always used to turn my nose up at the idea believing I was far too busy and would get ‘bored’. Then I tried a meditation weekend for the first time at the Chilston Park Hotel in Kent last year. As the old saying goes, the time to relax is when you don’t have time for it and, quite frankly, I’d forgotten how to unwind and appreciate still moments.

Our lives are so busy and sometimes it can feel counterproductive to just stop but, in my experience, this is usually when solutions to nagging problems miraculously appear! As I’m quickly learning, it’s not selfish to invest in yourself or self-care and scheduling time in the diary to switch off is essential for your overall wellbeing.

So whether you’re feeling frazzled or are simply looking for ways to de-stress, clear your mind and regain a sense of balance in your life, a wellness day or weekend could be the answer.

Here are three upcoming events which might tickle your fancy:

WELLNESS EVENTS 2019

RESTFEST WELLBEING FESTIVAL

WHAT IS IT?  A day-long pit stop of self-care focussed on joy, empowerment, inspiration and rest.

WHO IS IT AIMED AT?  Busy or overwhelmed women who need to escape the outside world for a day and rediscover the things that bring them balance and joy.

WHEN & WHERE IS IT BEING HELD? Sunday, March 17, Field Place Manor House & Barns, Worthing, West Sussex, BN13 1NP

WHAT CAN I EXPECT? Think art therapy, boob printing, laughter yoga, sound therapy, pranic healing, iridology, journalling as well as a number of talks including how to slay your inner critic and why your pleasure matters. There are three packages to choose from: bronze, the cheapest ticket, gives you access to workshops, talks and a goody bag; silver grants you vegetarian/vegan lunch as well as access to 30-minute spa treatments ranging from reflexology and massage to cupping and acupuncture, while gold incorporates all of the above and more including a 90-minute private hypnotherapy/life coaching/ EFT session with Restfest founder Naomi Newland. Everyone walks away with a goody bag too.

HOW MUCH WILL IT COST? Bronze Ticket £64, Silver Ticket £159, Gold Ticket £289 (early bird prices) *A 10%  discount is available across all ticket bands with the discount code RYSTH10

WHERE CAN I FIND OUT MORE?  https://www.restfest.co.uk/

THE FULL 360

WHAT IS IT? A health and wellbeing event that encourages people to make small changes to their daily lives that will give them the confidence to follow their dreams and believe in themselves. “The Full 360 is about joining the dots with our health and wellbeing and having fun along the way,” says event founder Alison Canavan, a health and wellness coach, master NLP practitioner and mindfulness teacher.

WHO IS IT AIMED AT? Stressed out people who feel as though they are too busy to take care of themselves as well as those who are interested in health and wellbeing.

WHEN & WHERE IS IT BEING HELD? Sunday, February 17, The Radisson Blu, Golden Lane, Dublin

WHAT CAN I EXPECT? Fresh juices, restorative yoga and meditation sessions, talks on gratitude, intention-setting, and mindfulness, practical tools to help you look within and learn how to take better care of yourself, and workshops on how to raise your vibration, prevent anxiety and improve sleep. There’s even a disco! Attendees will also receive a healthy lunch, goody bag and a 44-page workbook packed with advice on the Full 360 Series.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? From €99 (early bird ticket)

WHERE CAN I FIND OUT MORE? www.alisoncanavan.com

DOWN HALL HOTEL & SPA DETOX, YOGA & SPA RETREAT

WHAT IS IT? A holistic detox retreat including daily yoga activities, evening meditation and spa treatments.

WHO IS IT AIMED AT? Anyone in need of a little TLC or looking for ways to relax the body, renew the mind and revive the soul.

WHAT CAN I EXPECT? Woodland strolls – this country house hotel is set within 110 acres of woodland and gardens –  gratitude and mindfulness sessions, yoga and Eden Spa treatments as well as a nutritious three-course dinner, breakfast and lunch. Special guest Lucy Buckingham, founder of ethical Fair Trade food company ‘Lucy Bee’ will also host a talk on health and beauty.

WHEN & WHERE IS IT BEING HELD? 23 and 24 March 2019, Down Hall Country House Hotel and Spa, Matching Road, Hatfield Heath, Essex, CM22 7AS

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? £295 per person

WHERE CAN I FIND OUT MORE?  www.downhall.co.uk

Have you been to a wellness festival or away on a wellness weekend? Where did you go and how did you find it? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

*If you’re interested in wellbeing or alternative health articles you might like the following reads:

The surprising thing I discovered when I tried flotation therapy 
How a tapping session helped my anxiety 
Why I tried pranic healing
What really happens in a group meditation class 

 

Wellness

How to meditate like Prince Harry: 5 mindfulness myths busted

Mindfulness myths busted

Mindfulness has long been popular with A-list celebrities. Katy Perry and Jennifer Aniston are said to be fans and this week it was reported that Prince Harry is practising it daily in preparation for parenthood.

But what the heck is it?

Put simply, it’s like a form of brain training where you give yourself the time and space to notice your thoughts and feelings without judgement. In so doing you become more focused on the present moment instead of getting lost in worries about the future or dwelling on events that have happened in the past.

As well as better focus and clarity of thought, meditation has been linked to reduced stress levels and improved mood and sleep patterns. What’s more, many schools are now training teachers in mindfulness techniques and passing on the methods to pupils to help them build resilience and equip them with skills to cope with exam stress and other triggers that may cause anxiety.

Never in a million years did I think that I could learn to meditate – especially as I have the attention span of a gnat – but I stumbled upon it quite by accident when my physical health unexpectedly fell apart . I’d become very fearful of the future and my thoughts were spiralling out of control.

Then I discovered the Headspace meditation app. I started practising in the bath for ten minutes every other night. Those sacred minutes took me to such a glorious, serene place, I started listening to sessions back-to-back because I didn’t want in that feeling to stop!  Since then I’ve tried a group meditation class, a hypnotherapy mind massage and have even been on a meditation retreat!

Of course, I’m still no expert but that’s the thing. It doesn’t matter. There’s no competition involved because when you meditate you’re showing up and that’s just fine. There’s no judgement.

“When the mind is very busy we feel out of control, especially when we go into overwhelm and we’re just reacting to things and fighting fires,” Jennie Lichfield, mindfulness teacher and founder Bodhi Training, tells Relax Ya Self To Health.

“By slowing things down, we can be in a better position to see everything that’s going on and give ourselves the opportunity to decide or recognise the attributes in our life that are perhaps not helping us.”

Jenni suggests identifying ‘no extra time’ moments your day. “This way being mindful won’t feel like a chore and will become a habit you’ll create and keep,” she explains. “Try watching the steam rise as the kettle boils, or turning the radio off when you’re driving. This will give you the space to sit with your thoughts and bring awareness to how you are feeling.”

Still unconvinced or think you do not have the time?

Read on…

5 MINDFULNESS MYTHS BUSTED

I DON’T HAVE A SPECIAL PLACE TO MEDITATE

Try plugging in your headphones, downloading a meditation app and zoning in – or rather out – during your commute, or in your lounge, or garden (in the summer). It’s that easy.

MINDFULNESS IS TOO HARD

I used to think this, too, but if I can do it so can you! Head out for a morning walk and notice the sights and sounds around you. The crunch of gravel underfoot, the sound of chirping birds, the clouds of warm breathe lingering in the icy-cold air. Being aware of the present moment is being mindful.

I’LL NEVER EMPTY MY MIND OF THOUGHTS

We all have thoughts…this is natural, so don’t fret. As soon as you notice your mind dilly-dallying bring your awareness back to your breath. Sarupa Shah, a business coach at The Soul Agency suggests candle gazing. Place a *candle on your table at a safe distance. Look at the flame for a few seconds then close your eyes and hold the image for three minutes. If your mind starts to wander simply open your eyes and focus on the candle again. Then try again and eventually build up to ten minutes.
*Ensure the candle is on a heat resistant surface, in a stable holder and away from draughts.

I’M TOO BUSY

This was my excuse until I realised I could meditate in the bath! Another good tip is to check the screen time alert on your mobile device at the end of the day? If like me the number is creeping into the four-hour zone, it’s possibly a sure sign the endless email/social media/text checking or, in many cases, mindless scrolling needs to give.

I’LL NEVER BE ANY GOOD AT IT

Practice makes perfect. When I first started meditating I’d sometimes get frustrated. There’d be days where my mind would not switch off no matter how hard I tried. And then I’d be annoyed with myself for getting annoyed because you’re supposed to release all expectation and I couldn’t even do that. But then I likened it to a bad day on the tennis court…you’re never going to be on top form every day. And that’s okay!

Do you meditate? Or are you tempted to give it a go after reading this article? If you do I’d love to hear how you get on in the comments below. If you know someone who is feeling super stressed right now and could do with ten minutes of peace, please feel free to share or tag them in the post!

In the news, Wellness

8 ways to beat Christmas stress

Christmas stress

How are your Christmas stress levels right now? Are you panicking about presents, terrified about undercooking the turkey or worrying about impending visits from the relatives?

Well, you’re not alone.

According to a poll of 1,000 people, as many as 20% get stressed by family gatherings, 10% say they don’t enjoy them and almost one in five say they expect confrontations when everyone’s together.

The survey commissioned by probiotic brand Zenflore also found that money worries were the biggest concern for almost two-thirds of respondents, while 47% described buying gifts as stressful and 30% felt put upon by the extra cooking. But do not despair…our tips below will help you navigate the chaos, reduce your Christmas stress levels and emerge the other side feeling relaxed and refreshed.

ASK FOR HELP

If you’re hosting Christmas lunch don’t be afraid to ask for assistance especially if some of your guests are on restricted diets. I would never expect anyone to cater for me as I react to so many ingredients plus it’s far easier for me to prepare my own food. Mix things up. If you’re providing the starter and main, could your guests bring the Christmas Pudding or could you host Christmas Day and a family member take over the reins at their place on Boxing Day? This is what we do in our family. It stops everyone feeling overwhelmed and the change of scenery’s good, too.

FIND SOME ALONE TIME

This might sound counterintuitive if you’re crazily busy and darting about all over the place but this could be just the reboot you need to get a sense of perspective. Space allows clarity. A separate poll of 1,000 people by David Lloyd Clubs found that 69% want more time to themselves during December. Don’t feel obliged to attend every Christmas party going or worry about letting other people down. Just politely decline and give plenty of notice. If you don’t look after yourself you’ll be of no use to anyone.

 

Christmas stress

MAKE A REALISTIC LIST

Grab a good old fashioned notepad and pen and get scribbling. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed I make a to-do list and break things down into bite-sized chunks to gain a sense of control.  Ensure the list isn’t as long as your arm. You’re only human, you can’t do everything and if you’ve got lots of items still unticked you’ll end up feeling worse. Prioritise what’s most important and don’t sweat the small stuff. Ask yourself – will this really matter in two weeks’ time? Chances are, it won’t.

DON’T REACT

Disagreements and bickering are par for the course over Christmas. However, if you know you’re going to be spending time with someone who triggers you try not to react or rise to the bait. Take a deep breath, walk into another room and notice and deal with the feelings that arise there. Or, agree with what they’re saying (even if you don’t). I’ve tried this a couple of times in the past with people who’ve been trying to get a rise out of me and they’re flabbergasted when I calmly say ‘Yes, I understand what you’re saying’ or I simply agree. The conversation just stops. No drama. Try it, you’ll be amazed!

DON’T TAKE THINGS PERSONALLY

If you’re sensitive by nature it can be easy to take things the wrong way. However, if someone snaps at you there’s a chance it could be to do with their personal situation. Maybe they’ve been run ragged by the kids, perhaps they’re caring for an elderly relative or a sick friend, or they might be feeling the stresses and strains of Christmas, too.  One approach would be to ask them if they’re okay. You might be surprised by the response and they might even open up to you.

ASK GOOD QUESTIONS

What would you like for Christmas? Can you give me a list? Questions such as these can save hours of precious time. Also, if you need to set a present limit don’t be afraid to say so. A good friend or family member will understand.

Christmas Stress

GET UP AN HOUR EARLIER

And ease yourself into the day. Take time to enjoy your breakfast instead of wolfing it down (something I’m guilty of) and then get a head start on what you need to do. When you look at the clock you’ll be expecting it to be much later than it is and feel as though you’ve accomplished so many things ahead of the game which is a wonderful psychological boost.

SCHEDULE BREAKS

If you’re juggling a million and one tasks it can be very easy to just keep going without a break but this approach will just leave you feeling exhausted come the big day. Head outside, even if it’s only for a 15-minute amble. The blast of cold air will revive your senses and unscramble your brain. Or try mindfulness at home or in group meditation setting. ‘Blissmass’ classes are being run at David Lloyd Clubs throughout December. The 30-minute session encourages people to leave their Christmas stress at the door and focus on breathing and mindfulness techniques in a studio lit by Himalayan salt lamps.

Do you have any tried and tested tips for beating Christmas stress? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

PS) Have a wonderful Christmas and thank you for supporting Relax Ya Self To Health this year.
If you’d like to subscribe so you never miss a blog post you can do so for free here.
x

In the news, Wellness

REVIEW: The surprising thing I discovered when I tried flotation therapy

Flotation Tank Pod, Floatworks

Have you ever wondered why someone would willingly choose to spend an hour in a flotation tank? I certainly have. So when Chris Plowman, co-founder of Floatworks invited me to try a session, I curiously accepted his gesture. The plan had been to arrive at the Vauxhall-based premises in a relatively relaxed state with half an hour to spare.

But this is me and things are never straightforward.

There were both tube and train delays. And I’d left my London A-Z (yes, you know the old-school style book) at home and was reliant on Google Maps to get me to St George’s Wharf. Of course I ended up walking in completely the wrong direction and, of course, it started to rain. Flabbergasted and soaked through I called Floatworks. Fortunately, the receptionist explained that she received calls like this all the time (the clue is to look out for the Pret when you come out of the station).

Flotation therapy, also known as isolation therapy or R.E.S.T (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy) is having a moment again as people look for alternative and fun ways to de-stress. It dates back to the 1950s and was developed in the US by doctors Jay Shurley and John Lilly at the National Institute of Mental Health. They were interested in understanding how the human brain would respond to an environment devoid of external sensory input.

Put simply, you lie in a pool of salty water for an hour. Most people do it in the dark (I didn’t, but more on that later). According to Chris,  floating is popular with athletes who use it as an alternative sports recovery technique and city executives looking to relieve stress fast. Some women float during pregnancy to alleviate aches and pains, while wellbeing enthusiasts who understand the benefits of rest and deep relaxation are also drawn to these pods.

Flotation Tank Therapy: Helen Gilbert, Relax Ya Self To Health

Each flotation tank contains half a tonne of Epsom salts, which not only aids buoyancy but provides a hit of magnesium via the skin, which is said to be great for relaxing muscles and easing stiffness.

Interestingly, a study published in science journal PLOS One earlier this year described floating as a ‘promising technique for acutely reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression’.

Chris, who is one of the most chilled people I have ever met,  freely admits he became burnt out after spending eight years working as a banker. “I got into banking because I thought that money and power were the things that were going to make me happy and successful and then I quickly realised they wouldn’t,” he says. “I was trapped there for eight years because I didn’t know what else I wanted to do and burned the candle at both ends. My mental health was really bad because I was doing the things that I didn’t believe in and didn’t enjoy.”

He then discovered the benefits of floating after injuring his back at the gym. “I was trying to recover, it was difficult and my physio suggested I give it a try. I floated and it changed my life. I shut my eyes and a lot of my worries, stress and anxiety disappeared.”

Around the same time Chris had started meditating – something he had never before contemplated. “When you grow up you hear about those things and they seem fringe and hippy. I thought I won’t waste my time doing that but when you’ve felt shitty for so long, it’s like okay, maybe it’s time to try something different. After floating I had a good idea of what I needed to do. We [his best friend Ed is a co-founder] set up in April 2016. We want to have as many people floating as possible because we know the profound impact it can have on people’s lives, especially when stress, anxiety and depression are rising so rapidly. Floating is the perfect counterbalance.”

But would it work for me…someone with a butterfly brain who gets bored very easily? This is how I got on.

My Floatworks Flotation Tank Experience

I was led to a plush semi-lit private room complete with an enormous shower and pod. At 8ft 6in long by 5ft 6in inch wide, the white tank was far bigger in ‘real life’ than I had envisaged. I was advised to pop in the earplugs, given Vaseline to smooth over any cuts or scratches I may have (heavily concentrated salt water stings!) and told to shower before making my way into the flotation tank. I was then shown how to open the lid – it was reassuringly easy and swung up and down – which allayed my initial concerns around feeling claustrophobic. Also, if I had any issues I could press a button and someone would be with me in the blink of an eye.

To be on the safe side, I laid out my emergency meds including my epi-pens. As some of you know I have mast cell issues and hot water can be a trigger, however, at 35.5c the water was just below body temperature.*

Flotation Tank Therapy: Relax Ya Self To Health

I glided into the silky pool and giggled like a little girl when I popped up. Ambient music played in the background and I pulled down the lid. I could do this. Five minutes later the music stopped. It felt eerily quiet.

Thoughts consumed my mind and I could feel a slight twinge in my neck. I then realised I’d left the halo – a blue plastic support that goes beneath your head and neck – hanging on the wall.

I lifted up the hatch, stepped out to retrieve it but by my eyes were in agony from the salt water dripping down my face.  In my haste, I’d forgotten that there was a bottle of water inside the pod to assist with such emergencies. After five minutes or so they calmed down. Take two! As it was my first flotation experience I opted to leave the alternating rose and aquamarine lights switched on instead of lying in inky darkness.

My chattering mind was in overdrive trying to work out why I couldn’t really feel anything – the water is the same temperature as the air so everything seems to blend into one and it almost feels as though you’re suspended in nothingness. I focussed on deep breathing instead. The sensation that eventually followed was just wonderful. Cocooned within a wall of brilliant white light, I felt calm and at peace.

Flotation Tank, Floatworks, London

 

Now, I’ve written before about this peculiar altered state I seem to enter when I meditate – it can happen in just 45 seconds, and, truth be told, I sometimes stop when this occurs because I wonder where the heck it’s going to take me. I appreciate this sounds a little out there but it’s as though I’m disconnected from my body – stay with me – yet in a really deep state of relaxation.

And sure enough, it happened in the pod. Except I also had another profound experience – similar to when I tried tapping therapy, also known as EFT, for the first time. Imagine a candle flickering in your tummy or the excited feeling you’d have as a child the night Father Christmas was due to pay a visit. It was that.

When the music began playing to signal the end of the session I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe I’d spent almost an hour doing absolutely nothing but breathing and floating. I’d been in a dream-like, surreal state but not asleep. Afterwards, I headed upstairs to the Hollywood dressing room which had the works – hairdryers, hair straighteners, cotton buds – before retreating to the relaxation area complete with herbal tea and books.

My Floatworks Flotation Tank verdict

I know it sounds rather new-agey but I had such a profound experience in that pod. Every cell in my body seemed to be singing with joy and for the first time in the three years since my health fell apart, I felt completely and utterly safe. Whole, even. I walked out in such a blissful state. It was as though everything was stripped back and a metamorphosis had taken place. Chris says people often need three sessions to see if it’s for them. I know after just one that I’ll be back. And next time I’ll turn the light off!

Single floats start from £50 while a 3x float package costs £105.
For more information visit Floatworks.

Relax Ya Self To Health was invited to try a flotation experience in exchange for a review. As always, this post is based on my honest opinion and I would never recommend anything I do not believe in. Please note I am not a medical expert. This review is based on my own personal experience. If you have a medical condition or health concerns always seek medical advice from your doctor or registered healthcare specialist before undergoing new treatments. 

Looking for more ways to relax?

You might like to check out the following posts:

Chilston Park Hotel Wellness Retreat 
Gazelli House Hypnotherapy Mind Massage
What Really Happens in a Group Meditation Session

If you like this blog we’d love to have you on board as part of the family 🙂  You can subscribe (it’s free)  to our mailing list here for posts delivered straight to your inbox. Or we can be found on Facebook and Instagram.

Thanks for reading x

Wellness

What living on a canal boat is really like

What it's really like to live on a canal boat

Living on a canal boat is not everyone’s cup of tea but for artist Julie Weir, 46, and her husband Mark, 48, the move has proved liberating.

The couple, who have two twenty-something grown-up children, were working stressful jobs when they made the decision to quit their careers and trade in their four-bedroom house in Hampshire for life on the water.

“We were sitting in front of a roaring February fire, in 2017, when a programme came on, called My Floating Home,” Julie tells Relax Ya Self To Health. “It showed a couple having a canal barge built, and it looked amazing. The level of luxury, quality and finish on this boat was second to none, so Mark turned to me and said ‘we could live on one of those.’ The best bit was that we could be mortgage free and not give up on our luxuries.”

So the pair bought a wide beamed canal boat on the Avon Canal. This enabled Mark to relinquish 70  hour-plus weeks working as a senior partner at a chain of estate agents and pursue his dream of becoming a writer.

Julie, a former family support worker and 2013 BBC Wildlife Artist of the year finalist, was also able to focus on her painting.  The duo has just celebrated their first anniversary of moving onto the boat.

So, is life on the river really as idyllic as it sounds? Julie shares her story below.

How stressful was your lifestyle before you decided to live on a canal boat?

I worked with hard to reach families in early intervention, as well as families on the child protection register. It was challenging and incredibly stressful and upsetting at times.  Because of the nature of his targets and results-driven job, Mark worked most weekends, and during the week would leave at 7 am and return well after 7 pm, which meant that family time was almost non-existent. Time pressures and the in-depth nature of both our careers meant that relaxation time, meal-times, and time to unwind and switch off from the day were irregular at best. It becomes impossible to leave the stresses of your job at the door, especially if you care about how well you perform your job, so often things would spill over into home life, making relaxation time even more scarce, and this creates even more pressures on your mental health and self-esteem.

You were then offered redundancy. What happened?

I jumped at the chance. It meant that I would have six months income behind me to see if I could make a go of it as a full-time artist. So, I decided to try it for five months and if it didn’t work, give myself the sixth month to look for a job. The rest is history. At the same time, Mark saw the dramatic change in me and my happiness. Gone was the creeping Sunday night depression followed by the dark clouds of Monday morning. Making the change had rejuvenated me, and Mark saw this and I think this inspired him to consider an alternative career as he was spending what little spare time he had writing novels. However, with a mortgage and bills to pay, things weren’t quite that simple. It was too much of a risk for us to both give up our careers, so something had to go. It was either the mortgage or the dreams. That meant selling up the house and moving.

Canal boat view

How did you feel about making the leap to canal boat living?

Elated, scared, nervous, foolish, brave, but the one thing we never lacked was the conviction that we were going to do this. This was our chance to take something back. We were getting our freedom and quality time. In general, people around us were fairly supportive, if a little surprised. There were some dissenting voices, but in the main, it was positive. I suppose, what we were doing was radical, and there’s always an element of doubt when someone tries something new. Some of our friends even said they admired us and that they didn’t dare to do it, even though they would love to.

Had it always been your dream to live on a canal boat?

We hadn’t ever considered living on a canal boat before, not until we saw that programme. We did a lot of research, going to boat shows, and watching canal boat YouTube channels. (Who knew they were a thing?) It also inspired us to start documenting our journey with our own YouTube channel Weir on the Move. Our main concern, with regards to living in a four-bedroom house, was the act of downsizing. We had accumulated lots of material things over the years, and it surprised us how much. So thanks to car-boot sales and family and friends benefiting, we gradually shed our stuff. Mark dubbed it ‘material colonic irrigation’.

What’s the canal boat accommodation like?

The boat has two king-size bedrooms, a shower room with granite work surfaces, as well as an open-plan kitchen/diner/lounge, and the stern deck doubles as my studio space, giving me 360-degree views. There is also a bow deck which is great in the warmer months for sitting and watching the world go by with a gin and tonic. We have central heating, a multi-fuel burner, a fully fitted kitchen with integrated appliances, as well as the best 4G internet we’ve ever had.

What are the worst things about living on a canal boat?

Living on a boat will never be as easy as living on dry land. There are many things that you have to consider: Where does the drinking water come from? Buying gas bottles for the cooker, and making sure we have enough diesel in the tank. Living on a boat means you have to be prepared and always plan. It makes you think about everything, from water usage to power usage, things that don’t enter your head in a house. We always have to plan carefully, especially in the winter. Once you get your head around this, it’s all easy and straightforward. We have to move every two weeks in accordance with the Canal and River Trusts guidelines on Continuous Cruising.

What are the best things about living on a canal boat?

The ever-changing views. We’ve found that we’re more in touch with nature and the changing seasons than we were in our shut-up, busy lives in a house. And of course, if you don’t like where you are, you can move the boat. We like summer evenings sipping a drink, on the front of the boat, as well winter evenings in front of the fire. All of this is possible thanks to the low-cost, low-impact lifestyle we’ve chosen. There is a fantastic community here on the canals. We have neighbours, and sometimes we don’t. If you think about the Kennet and Avon canal, it’s mostly a long channel stretching over 40 miles, with Bristol in the West, and Reading at the other end. You play leapfrog with boats that you know, so inevitably you are going to develop friendships along the way. I can say, that in one year of being on the canal, we’ve made more friends than in the last ten years living in a house.

Julie Weir painting on her canal boat

How has living on a canal boat helped your mental attitude?

It’s an outdoor existence most of the time, and we’ve found that we are much more sociable, and approachable people than we thought. This has had a significant impact on our positive mental attitude and wellbeing. This may sound controversial, but many land-based communities can learn a lot from boating communities.

How did you turn your hobbies into full-time jobs?

I started running art classes in Chichester, West Sussex, and in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, teaching art on a twice-monthly basis to people of all abilities. I have found the art scene in Wiltshire, and the West Country, to be vibrant, which has helped me gain a strong following for my work. Mark has managed to make the transition to becoming a freelance writer and has just released his third novel, Annie of the Point, a historical romance set in Old Portsmouth in 1805. Being able to fulfil our ambitions has given us confidence, and a sense of achievement which has led to an uplift in our quality of life. All of this couldn’t have been possible without ridding ourselves of the mortgage. That doesn’t mean we don’t work as hard as before. We work harder than we’ve ever done, our time is ours, and we do all this for less financial reward, but there are other ways you can describe yourself as being rich.

What advice would you give to anyone who’s inspired to live on a canal boat?

If anyone feels they’re stuck in a rut, living to work rather than working to live, it could be time to take stock. We know too many people that say ‘What if’ or ‘If only.’ But it’s worth remembering that you can only regret the things you haven’t done. I suppose the positive message here is, go for it!

How did you get into art?

I worked closely with both parents and their children who had difficulties with their mental health, and I found that by using art, I was able to help them talk about their feelings in a way that merely asking questions would have failed. I encouraged them to speak about their feelings when they were well and when they were not, and through art, the complicated questions were easier to answer. This method enabled them to avoid giving eye contact, and through magazine images, or comic books, they expressed their true feelings.

I had never painted before 2011, and after our beloved dog died, Mark encouraged me to paint his portrait, especially given how expensive they were to buy. So I had a go, and it turned out quite well. Who would have thought that two years later, in 2013, I would be a finalist in the BBC Wildlife Artist of the Year competition, and in 2018 I’d become a Professional Associate Member of the SAA, a 43,000 plus online community for professional and amateur painters.

Julie Weir hare painting

How does living on the canal inspire you?

Imagine looking out the window and seeing Kingfishers, otters, hares, owls, and bats. Imagine swans tapping on your window for food. These are the things I see every day. It has changed me completely, and the way I paint. The canal inspires my art. I paint more British wildlife than I ever did, especially kingfishers, herons, goldfinches, and long-tailed tits. My new range focuses on birds, painted on a gold leaf background, and they have proved to be very popular indeed. My boat studio is a lot smaller compared to my old studio at the house, but now I can boast about having the best views.

What life lessons have you learned from making the move?

Material goods are generally immaterial. Shed what you don’t need, and it’ll be like shedding an old skin, and very cathartic. We have learnt that we only buy what we need, and not what we would like, so the things we choose have to be exactly right. Also, we would recommend taking a few risks to get what you want out of life. But only take them if you’re that way inclined. Some people are happy with their lot, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But remember; you only get one life, so go for it!

To see more of Julie’s artwork click here

If you feel inspired by this story you might like to read the following:

Meet the woman who is using her MS to save the planet 

Meet the man who is turning barber shops into safe havens to help prevent male suicide

Be sure to never miss a post by subscribing to the blog here. It’s free.

life, Wellness

Alison Canavan on modelling, mindfulness and overcoming addiction

Alison Canavan mindfulness

Irish model Alison Canavan is naturally radiant, bubbly and has boundless energy.

She first hit the catwalk at the age of 15 and has lived and worked all over the world including London, Paris, Germany, New York, Australia and South Africa.

To observers, her life might seem carefree and glamorous but it hasn’t always been easy for the single mother-of-one who struggled with her mental health and addiction for many years.

“Since becoming a mum to my eight-year-old son James I now try and love my best life for both of us,” she tells Relax Ya Self To Health. “I am a daily meditator and consciously practise gratitude for all I have. I see the world differently these days and I love that every day I get the chance to make better choices and create the life I truly want to live.”

Here Alison, who is now a health coach, master NLP practitioner, mindfulness teacher and author of Minding Mum, opens up about her journey and shares the techniques that help her live a happy and balanced life every day.

How would you describe your personality in three words?

Strong, resilient and caring.

You have a great positive mindset. How did you develop this?

I’m a great believer in living your best life but my mindset wasn’t always that way. At 15 I entered the world of modelling and although it was an amazing experience for a young girl, I struggled with anxiety, depression and loneliness at times. That was 25 years ago and the world has changed a lot since then. Today we talk about mental health and we are making great strides towards bringing these issues to the surface for healing as a collective.

What’s your motto or mantra in life?

Every day is a chance to start again and change is possible for everyone

Why is it important to listen to your body and invest in yourself as a person?

Because the relationship you have with yourself is the longest and most secure you will have in this lifetime. Everyone else will come and go from your life including friends, family and children. So, my question is, does it not make sense to work on the most important relationship first and then the rest will follow?

What happens on a silent meditation retreat?

I have done many silent retreats as I am a mindfulness teacher and the experience is always profound. You go on a deep inner journey of excavation and discovery. If we want true peace and contentment in this life, I believe, we must show up and do the work within ourselves. The Vipassana retreats are done in noble silence which means, no eye contact, talking or even hand gestures. Having recovered from addictions and mental health problems using meditation as one of my tools, I’m acutely aware of the power of going within. In fact, I believe it’s the only way to really heal emotional pain and move into a life of freedom and peace.

What sort of emotions and unpleasant feelings arose?

As my retreat approached I felt anxious as I knew there was deep-rooted pain ready waiting to come to the surface given the right time and space to do so. I didn’t have to wait long as on the first day I reacted very physically to the practice and had to leave the room as I was going to both throw-up and pass out. As I sat outside – pale as a ghost – the course coordinator assured me that this was very a very normal reaction and that afternoon the teacher did too. As human beings, we all have pain and suffering it’s simply a part of life. However, we become very good at suppressing experiences and emotions and hope they won’t rise again and cause us any trouble. This is something I did for many years I pushed everything down and thought that I didn’t ever have to face it or deal with it again.

How did repressed emotions affect your wellbeing?

During the 20 years of depression, anxiety and addictions that followed I never connected my emotional pain to my problems and neither did anyone I went to see. Instead, I got handed tablets and hoped for the best. This is like cleaning the outside of your kitchen cupboards every single day so that when you have visitors your house appears to be gleaming, clean and bright. However, if someone were to open your cupboards the stark truth would shock them. Inside would be dirty and food would be rotting and this is what suppressed emotions look like in your body. They are giving off toxic fumes that manifest as emotional problems like over or under eating, depression, anxiety, stress, sleep issues, addictions and much more. We fail to connect the dots and we outsource our power to external sources hoping that they can fix us and heal our pain. My greatest learning from a week of Vipassana was that only you and you alone can heal your pain and there is no escaping the work if you want to get well or live better. You need to feel and deal with your pain to truly heal.

Alison Cavanan mindfulness

Lili Forberg

How can people start to heal?

There are many paths to do the work but if you feel called to meditate and feel you would benefit then I think it’s a very valuable thing to do. We live in a world that’s moving so fast so we really need to slow down and create some space so that we can see clearly where we are and where we want to go. Otherwise, we miss life as we are always either living in the past or the future.

What are you doing work-wise now?

Today I teach mindfulness meditation where I have been trained as a UCLA mindfulness facilitator from The Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behaviour. I am also a health coach and a master NLP practitioner. I run a successful private practice as a health and wellness coach and deliver motivational talks on health and wellbeing, all over the world, specialising in mental health and addiction.  In 2017 I created ‘The Full 360’, which is a full day event where people come and experience what real wellbeing means. It’s a day where you are encouraged to join the dots between body, mind, spirit, the environment you live in and we also look at your relationships to yourself and others. I am deeply passionate about looking at our wellbeing from a whole – istic perspective! We keep separating ourselves and treating different aspects of us separately which only leads to further disconnection on the inside and out.

Talk me through a typical day.

Every day is different for me which I love. I write for various newspapers, do TV and radio interviews, I teach and coach people. I also organise my events and travel quite frequently too. I’m blessed to have the support of a great mum as I’m a single mum myself. I wake early and meditate and then when James wakes we have breakfast. I live by the sea so I love walking him to school to get fresh air first thing in the morning. Then I usually return back to the office or go out to meetings. I try and pick up James when I can and we spend the afternoon doing homework and catching up. I teach meditation a few nights a week but from home which is wonderful.

How do you balance work and family life?

With great difficulty at times and with a lot of support and help. I have also been studying for the past few years which has been extremely challenging at times but I always knew I the back of my mind that I was doing it to create a better life for myself and my son. I try as much as I can to be off the phone around James and when I’m with him to actually be with him and not always distracted.

What tips do you have for busy mums?

I used to buy into the myth of having no time. We all do because we are taught that if we are busy and our kids have 10,000 activities that we are worthy and have a purpose. I became very ill this year on a trip to London and it helped me to re-evaluate the busyness epidemic. I have met a mum of 11 who is not stressed at all! Sometimes we put so much pressure on ourselves (at least I do) to be an amazing mum, employee, friend etc but what I have found is that if we let go of expectations and start to actually become more present and enjoy life, things get easier. Everyone has some time they can take for themselves even if its 60 seconds three times a day to stop, breathe and be. It’s so important to show up for yourself because you can’t authentically do it for your family otherwise. A happy mum = a happy family. Be easy with yourself as a mum and know that you are doing your best and that’s all we can do in this life. The most important part is to have fun along the way.

How do you manage stress?

Through meditation, exercise, eating great food and connecting with those I love. Every day is different but every day I do all of these things!

What stress warning signs have you learned to recognise over the years?

When I start to crave bad food and feel sad, when I’m not sleeping great and not able to concentrate. Through the practice of mindfulness, we learn to accept things as they are and this gives us the ability to be with whatever is happening for us at that moment.

Are you able to share some of your stress-busting tips? 

Stress is basically wanting to be there when you are here. Use your breath. Meditation is such an important gift in my daily life and when I start my day from a conscious perspective I can handle anything that comes my way. Eat well as sugary and processed foods contribute to stress and anxiety. Eat lots of colourful and fresh seasonal produce and cook at home as often as possible. Move your body. Most of us are far too sedentary and need to move more. Getting outside and connecting with nature helps us to remember who we really are. Get back to the community – studies show us that people who have the best connections and relationships are the happiest and live the longest. We come into the world wired to make connections with one another and the very foundation of our sense of self is built upon human interactions, presence and in-person exchanges.

What’s your idea of a dream holiday?

Travelling is one of my great loves and I love active holidays and also relaxation trips. Travelling with my eight-year-old is also fun and we love city travels and plan to go on a safari soon!

Are you an ‘overthinker’ or laid back?

I’m a mixture. From years of mindfulness practice, I have become less reactive to life but I’m also an ideas person and I can drive myself mad going over and over ideas in my head.

How has your attitude to life changed over the years?

My life has very little similarities. Back then I was a party girl enjoying the high life of the fashion industry which you soon learn is not all it cracked up to be. Our lifestyle is a choice, which is something I was completely unaware off years ago. Today I choose to live consciously and very differently. I eat healthy, exercise and meditate alongside valuing those around me and honouring my environment and nature. Today I am content and can really feel the richness life offers when we choose to wake up. I believe that we are learning till the day we die so I try to remain open and curious and willing to learn.

What does your diet look like?

My diet is pretty good. I try and avoid processed food and eat a lot of plant-based meals, with a large variety of colour. Food is information for our body, mind and soul so it’s important we don’t give it the wrong fuel or it will get sick and we will create a dis-ease within ourselves and our body. I love juicing, wheatgrass and soups, stews and herbal teas.

What are your favourite exercises?

I love yoga, Pilates and walking. Movement is really important to me and there is nothing better than getting out and connecting with nature.

What are your three top tips for finding balance in your life?

Top and tail your day with gratitude and start your day by connecting with yourself and setting an intention for your day. Be present when in the presence of others. Let go of any stresses and strains before you go to bed as the energy you go to sleep in is the energy you wake up in. Get between seven and nine hours sleep a night for optimal health.

What’s been the most important life lesson you’ve learned to date?

To trust my own instinct and live from the heart

Alison runs a monthly membership programme for those interested in mindfulness where she holds online live meditations and coaching calls among other things. For more information click here.

If you enjoyed this article you might like to read our other celebrity health and wellbeing interviews with Jonny Wilkinson, Pat Cash, Katie Piper, Gail Porter, Ryan Sidebottom and Andy Murray’s fitness coach Matt Little.

Alternatively, check out our posts on hypnotherapy mind massage, a weekend meditation retreat and what really happens in a group meditation class

 

 

Celebrity interviews, Wellness