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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 tried The CBT Journal out below: 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. 

If you enjoyed this post you might like to read:

The Surprising thing I discovered when I tried flotation therapy 
Chilston Park Hotel Wellness Retreat
What really happens in a group meditation class

 

 

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.
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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

7 lessons I learned when I left my phone at home

7 things I learned by leaving my phone at home

There’s nothing quite like realising you’ve left your phone at home on a Monday morning to induce a state of panic, especially when you’re working for a new client in London and you’re relying on Google Maps to get you from A to B.

But this is exactly what happened to yours truly last week. I thought I’d be super organised and charge up said phone in the bedroom – far better to start the day with 100% battery in the tank and all that.

Only in between wolfing down the porridge and prioritising my to-do list, I completely forgot to retrieve the device from upstairs. On entering the railway station I realised my mistake. No amount of searching – I frantically triple-checked every inch of my handbag –  would bring it back.  My stomach began somersaulting for England.

How the heck would I survive without it?

The day before – in a bid to be Miss Efficient – I’d set an out of office (I receive on average between 400 and 500  emails per day) advising people that I’d be media training and only checking my account intermittently.  Those with urgent work-related queries could text or call me. Except now they couldn’t. I could feel my stress levels rising.

Then another realisation struck – I wouldn’t be able to check my email account because I’d be signing in on a brand new computer that would only accept my log in details via a two-step authentication code which, you’ve guessed it, would be sent to my phone! Oh, joy of joy.

There was nothing for it, I’d have to reluctantly suck up this unexpected digital detox.

This is what I discovered…

Five things I learned by accidentally leaving my phone at home

A sense of freedom

At first, I felt lost without my phone and quite anxious. Questions rattled around my head. How am I going to contact my boss? How will people contact me? What happens if the train is late? What happens if I get lost? What sort of impression is this going to make? But then I just accepted the situation for what it was and let it go. With peace came clarity. I’d been catastrophising massively – something I did when my health first went haywire – and I found myself worrying  about future situations that might not happen.  I told myself there was nothing I could do and instead focussed on the present moment. Yes, I couldn’t check the news sites or email and felt quite disconnected but there was no compulsion to endlessly scroll and it felt enormously freeing.

How to create more time

This sounds like a flippin’ obvious one but, quite frankly, I was staggered by how much time I recouped. Train journeys are usually spent catching up with Whatsapp group messages, Instagram, blog admin and general work emails. Before I jumped on board I had a quick chat with the jolly man in the coffee kiosk and on the ride into London another young commuter jokingly told me how he couldn’t face the day ahead as his flatmate had a party that had kept him up until 5am. Would I have had these conversations if I’d been glued to my phone? Probably not. Did they make me smile? Yes. It made me wonder what else I’d been missing out on.

How to be mindful in everyday life

I’ve written about mindfulness before – from hypnotherapy mind massages to group meditation sessions – but leaving my phone at home was a true lesson in everyday mindful living. I usually listen to music or the radio during the walk to and from the station. Instead, my soundtrack was the crunch of the golden autumn leaves underfoot, and the birds chirping in the trees. As cliché as it sounds, I felt very much at one with nature. Just being aware, truly present and grateful for being alive was a very uplifting way to start the day.

How to increase productivity in personal and business life

Sitting on the train, after the tired twenty-something had departed, I pulled out my notepad and began goal setting. I scribbled down feature ideas for the day job, blog post musings, and made a list of what I needed to organise at home. I was in full flow and my brain was positively singing and dancing. By the time I arrived at work I was excited at the prospect of nailing my meetings and coaching without having to worry about any other pressure or obstacles that might have been thrown in my path via emails or the phone.

It can wait. Honestly. 

Most self-employed people – I’ve been a freelance journalist for almost 20 years – worry about missing out on work and I was, in fact, expecting a call from a chap from another agency on the same day. Initially I panicked as we’d suggested provisionally meeting up after I’d finished my consultancy gig. As it turned out my contact’s meeting had been postponed and it would take him another week to call me, by which time I’d been reunited with the phone! These things always seem to have a way of working themselves out.

How to relax

Yes, I’d worked a long day in London and while the commute was always going to be far more tiring than in the days prior to my Mast Cell Activation Syndrome diagnosis, I felt energised and rejuvenated on the train journey home. My ‘butterfly’ brain had seemingly settled thanks to fewer distractions. I was very, very content and, dare I say it, relaxed!

How to manage my time effectively

Interestingly, a sense of dread, not excitement, filled my stomach when I opened my front door.  On picking up my phone I found the expected 500 emails (80 per cent were press releases) and social media notifications. There’d been three missed calls (from my dad). Oh, and I had the best part of ten WhatsApp messages, five of which requested rather time-intensive favours.

Now, I always help people out but the stark reality is that between the day job and running this blog I get very little downtime with barely a day off. On opening the messages I instantly felt overwhelmed.  As the knot in my stomach tightened, a realisation struck… I must start setting boundaries and managing my own time better for the sake of my own health, otherwise I really will be of no use to anyone.

Leaving my phone at home proved to be a blessing in disguise and taught me many a lesson.

In fact, I found the whole experience so liberating I could be tempted to do it again!

Have you ever unintentionally left your phone at home? How did you find it?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. 

Fancy reading the health and wellbeing tips of the stars?

Check out our chats with Jonny Wilkinson, Pat Cash, Katie Piper, Gail Porter and Ryan Sidebottom here.

 

 

Helen's Health, Wellness

REVIEW: What really happens in a group meditation class

What happens in a group meditation class?

Would you go to a group meditation class? It may sound a little airy-fairy but this is precisely what I found myself doing last week on a dark and dreary October evening.

In all honesty, I wasn’t overly in the mood. The night before I’d been burning the midnight oil even though I had a news shift for a magazine booked in the following day. Then just as I downed tools, a special friend- who was somewhat under the influence – called up for a hiccup-peppered chinwag.

By the time I climbed into bed it was 2.30am so I almost wept when the alarm went off four hours’ later.

Still, pulling out was never going to be an option – I’d go to the opening of a paper bag –  and, equally, I was looking forward to meeting Angela Rigby again. If the name sounds familiar it’s because I wrote about her last year when she invited me over to Reigate, Surrey for my first ever Pranic Healing session [Read the review here].

Angela knows I find it difficult to switch off so when she mentioned a drop-in group meditation at a Surrey-based community centre in Nork, near Banstead, my ears pricked up.

What happens in a group meditation class?

Truth be told, I was a tad nervous about trying a group relaxation/mindfulness session with a bunch of strangers. There were six of us in total – five women and one man. According to Angela, numbers usually vary between 10 and 20 and the age-mix varies between 18-75.

“We have university students, corporate professionals, parents, school teachers, and retirees – people from all walks of life,” she says. “We tend to find more women attend but that is changing. We also have a mix of ethnicity.”

Following a brief introduction, Angela explains that she commonly answers questions such as ‘What is mindfulness?,’ and ‘How do you meditate?’.

“Quite often people put different connotations on the word meditation but, put simply, it just means concentration and awareness,” she tells us. “So whatever we’re concentrating on we’re meditating on. In reality, we’re meditating every second of the day but most of the time we’re concentrating on concerns, worries, and things that just don’t serve us anymore.

“This means we’re creating more and more thoughts and emotions. These build up and are housed in what’s called the energy system.  It’s like having lots of apps running the background – you’re processing all these thoughts and emotions – and you can’t focus. The mediation is fantastic for shutting them down, flushing them out and clearing the mind. It helps it focus on more positive things.”

We start off by doing something called Super Brain Yoga, a process Angela claims to energise and activate the brain as well balance the right and left hemisphere. The exercises seem bizarre. I touch my right ear lobe with the fingers from my left hand and vice versa, all the while rolling my tongue up to the roof of my mouth. This elicits much laughter – there’s your feel-good factor right there.

After this we perform a number of gentle exercises – some involve rocking side to side, others are squats – to get the energy flowing around our bodies before sitting down to begin two meditations, one of which is called Twin Hearts. According to Angela, the technique can help us feel happier, calmer, more focussed and improve memory recall. “By doing this meditation on a regular basis you can rapidly reduce stress and anxiety,” she enthuses.

What happens in a group meditation class?

 

How to meditate with distractions

Initially, we focus on our breath but I struggle to relax into the swing of things. I’m perplexed and mildly concerned by the snorts, coughs and other loud sounds piercing the air from the lady next to me and genuinely worry about her welfare before chiding myself to get a grip. Sitting without judgement is key part of meditation but mightily hard to do – I’m forever having a go at myself –  but at least I’m paying attention.

Later we’re guided into imagining a glistening green waterfall of light bathing over us, washing away the stresses, strains and tensions of the day – yes I appreciate  it sounds peculiar to those unfamiliar with meditation.  Chuckles aside, the process – which seems to last for just a few minutes but in reality is far longer – is blissful. In fact, I’m  disappointed when we reach the end and are instructed to open our eyes!

Remarkably, my shoulders are no longer hunched and my rigid spine has softened. My body is feeling pleasantly ‘floppy’ and my brain fog has lifted.  If this is what serenity feels like, guided group meditation is definitely my thing.

An introduction to Twin Hearts meditation

So why does Angela run the free-of-charge drop-in group meditation class? (*Attendees have the option of making a donation to the MCKS Charitable Foundation UK, which aims to prevent or relieve poverty in the UK).

Well, it’s her way of giving back to the local community.  The weekly session, which runs every Thursday from 7.30pm – 9pm, happens to be one of approximately 200 that operate throughout the UK.

 

Group meditation

Each is run by a leader who has taken a self-development course with the Institute of Pranic Healing UK & Ireland [a free 10-minute taster session can be tried at the end].

“I have been running these classes for a number of years in the local area,” Angela says. “It is a way of bringing people together and giving them “me-time” to relax and clear their minds whilst introducing them to Twin Hearts meditation and other techniques to transform how they feel.”

Angela was first introduced to the relaxation classes back in 2007 over in Reading after attending a session run by Les Flitcroft, director of the Institute of Pranic Healing UK & Ireland, and the man Tony Robbins credits with helping to improve his physical, emotional and mental health. “I have found a genuine soul with an incredible talent to heal and enrich people’s lives,” he says in a testimony on the official website.

Angela, too, witnessed a turnaround.

“At the time I was under a lot of pressure at work, suffering from back pain, fatigued and on edge, juggling work and family life,” she explains. “I needed to relax and find peace of mind. The sessions transformed my life. After I had completed self-development Level 1 Pranic Healing, the opportunity was there to set up community groups to allow others to discover, experience and transform how they felt. It wasn’t something I wanted to keep to myself so now I love running the group along and seeing the empowerment and changes in people as they use the techniques for themselves.”

It’s certainly a lovely gesture. So, how did I find the class?

FINAL VERDICT: GROUP MEDITATION

I feared everyone would be seasoned professionals but, as it turned out, I wasn’t the only newbie. I left feeling refreshed and renewed and floated out feeling blissfully calm. We all lead such busy lives and unmanaged stress is detrimental to our health. In fact, I believe this is what caused my body to deteriorate in the first place

Usually, when I go to bed I’ll wake at least three times during the night yet after the class I didn’t stir once.  Maybe it was because I was shattered from the night before but when I paid a visit to Angela last year,  I also slept remarkably well, so now I’m beginning to wonder whether it really is a coincidence. In my opinion, whatever steps we can take to unwind and relax can only be a good thing. I’ll definitely return.

Disclaimer: Relax Ya Self was invited to try this class in exchange for a review. As always, views are based on my honest opinion. 

If you enjoyed this piece you might like to check out the following:

Review: Chilston Park Hotel Wellness Retreat

Review: Gazelli House Hypnotherapy Mind Massage 

Could this psychology app change your life? 

Review: Smile Meditation at London’s Inhere Studio

or read our celebrity interview with the likes of rugby legend Jonny Wilkinson and former England cricket and current Dancing on Ice star Ryan Sidebottom, here.

 

 

Wellness

MCAS: The truth behind my Instagram photos

MCAS and Instagram

Everybody has their own way of dealing with MCAS [Mast Cell Activation Syndrome].

Some document their symptoms and share pictures of their reactions.

Others discuss treatment options that have helped or made them worse.

Personally, I either disappear off the face of the earth – that’s when I’m truly struggling – or pretend that everything’s okay because I’d rather not concern my family or friends.

But seeing as it is World Mental Health Day [10 October 2018] and we’re being encouraged open up for the sake of our mental wellbeing, I’m going to share a secret.

I’m not always fine. In fact, more often than not, I’m petrified of this frustrating horrible disease and just internalise it.

Of course, you wouldn’t know it by looking at my recent Instagram feed which is filled with images of stunning Bajan beaches – the snaps were taken on my most recent holiday. (Regular readers will know I struggle to relax but Barbados, which was the inspiration for the name of this blog, is the one place in the world where I truly switch off).

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The calm before #stormkirk #pink

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However, the pictures only tell half the story because behind the scenes I was also dealing with very nasty tongue swelling and throat closing episodes that left me feeling frightened, groggy and anxious.

I thought I was beginning to beat this damned condition. [Read more about MCAS here] The month before I’d gone for 10 days without a serious reaction, managed to play two tennis matches – popping a super strong antihistamine beforehand as a precautionary measure – and even reintroduced certain foods.

I was beginning to feel like my old self, especially as I was returning to activities that used to bring me such joy.

But a couple of days before the holiday, my trusty car stopped working. Just like that… Turned out a cambelt (no, I had no idea what that was either) had gone, there was engine damage and I needed to buy a new vehicle. WTH? I was strapped for cash (having moved house earlier this year), and still chasing invoices from publications that hadn’t paid me for four months.

My head began to spin.

I started panicking about the car being stranded at the garage while I was away, the storage fees it might incur, how I’d commute to the news shifts I had booked in immediately after my holiday (I live alone) and whether I’d be able to find a car within one day of my return.

Then boom…my mast cells decided to throw a party gifting me a tongue swelling reaction the night before my flight.

It happened again on the plane – despite taking meds as a precaution before the journey – and then every day of the trip bar one – in some instances occurring twice in 24 hours.

On the last two nights, intense palpitations – another symptom of MCAS – were to be my wake-up call, not the sound of the ocean.

Although I refuse to be defined by this condition, the truth is that living with MCAS is exhausting and frightening.

When I’m in a continuous flare, the thought of suffocating to death (or my meds failing through overuse) is never far from my mind.

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Take me back… #beachbum #serenity

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Even if I manage to control a reaction, I’m left wiped out for days. The accompanying brain fog is a joke – I struggle to formulate words – not great when I rely on them for a living. The stabbing pains in my joints aren’t much fun either.  Oh, and every day I wake up with a sore throat or feel as though I’m fighting something.

So why am I telling you this now?

Well,  when the going gets tough I stop speaking – I AM a chatterbox so this is out of character for me.

I vanish from social circles and, seemingly, stop blogging. (Apologies for the dearth of recent posts – now you know why)

I’ve since recognised this withdrawal trait in a couple of my (non-MCAS) friends. I suspected one was struggling recently so I sent a text to let him know how grateful I was to have him in my life and thanked him for being amazing.

He responded saying he had woken up to my message, texting back a row of love hearts. He was having a hard time and thanked me for making him feel better.

This MCAS journey has taught me about anxiety – something I never used to struggle with – and how to identify the individuals who might be struggling with their own mental wellbeing.

It’s made me realise that if someone is behaving out of character or is being non-committal that there could be more to their actions – or lack of them – than meets the eye.

We shouldn’t judge but simply be kind. A simple ‘are you okay’ could make all the difference.

For more articles on mental health and wellbeing you might like to read our interviews with Jonny Wilkinson and Gail Porter.

And meet the man who is turning barbershops into safe havens to prevent male suicide

Helen's Health, Wellness