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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

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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

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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).

View this post on Instagram

The calm before #stormkirk #pink

A post shared by Helsy/Relax Ya Self To Health (@relaxyaself2h) on

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

A post shared by Helsy/Relax Ya Self To Health (@relaxyaself2h) on

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

20 ways to relieve stress

20 ways to relieve stress

If you’re looking to relieve stress may I suggest not reversing into a concrete bollard and causing approximately £1,200 of damage to your vehicle? Yes, that’s what happened to me the week before last.

Why? Because I was rushing.

I’d taken on too much work. The night before my news shift a last minute commission had come in and the only time the celeb could do the interview was after my shift. Not an issue. I’ve been a freelance journalist for almost 20 years and this is part and parcel of the ‘feast or famine’ nature of being self-employed.

The only snag was that I had to be up at 5am *I am useless with early starts* for an event I was covering in London for a new client the following day so the prospect of burning the midnight oil was not exactly appealing. To make matters worse, I received an email from a different editor at 6.30pm the very same evening asking me to amend some marks on a feature I’d written weeks before. The pages were going to press the following day.

Given that I would be out on a job at the crack of dawn the next morning there was nothing for it but to deal with it there and then.

By the end of the night, my head was spinning. I’d worked my news shift, crashed my car, interviewed the celeb, transcribed the hour-long interview, tweaked the feature and tracked the case study down. I rolled into bed gone midnight yet I couldn’t get to sleep. At 1.30am I was still wide awake thinking I had to be up in 3.5 hours.

 

20 ways to relieve stress

 

Then the words of my nutritional therapist and functional medicine practitioner entered my head.

“Stress management is key when addressing chronic health issues. Why? Because no matter how perfect your diet is, how much you exercise or what supplements you take, if you don’t manage your stress your health will be at risk and you will sabotage all your best efforts.”

She’d mentioned this to me on our first meeting and ever since then, I’ve been doing all I can to try and lead a more peaceful life.

Now we all know that acute stress serves an important function – it protects us from danger via a ‘flight or fight’ response by giving us the means to escape a life-threatening situation or face it head-on.

Our heart rate and respiration increase pumping more blood to the muscles, our pupils dilate to let in more light and improve sight, our focus intensifies, our immune system is activated and ready for action while our parasympathetic nervous system is put on hold.

When the stressful situation is over the parasympathetic nervous system kicks back in and the body returns to balance, resting, digesting and reproducing until the next acute stressor occurs.

However, problems arise when the stressors don’t go away – something known as chronic stress – and the sympathetic nervous system remains activated diverting energy away from normal functions such as digestion, repair and reproduction.

“We all know the mental and emotional stresses we face daily – the commute, long hours at work, impossibly busy schedules, problems with finances, problems in our relationships – on and on the list goes,” my nutritionist explains

“What you may not be aware of are other stresses which elicit exactly the same response by the body. These include poor dietary choices causing imbalances in blood sugar, constant sleep deprivation, chronic infections (often gut infections), inflammation and pain, food intolerances, even over-exercising. All these create a stress response and we lurch through the day going from one stressor to another and the stress response is constantly switched on – our bodies are not designed to cope with this type of chronic stress.”

I should perhaps mention at this point that I was also in the midst of my fourth tongue-swelling reaction in as many days. We were experiencing a  heatwave in the UK and extreme temperature is a trigger.

As some of you know, I was recently diagnosed with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. In layman’s terms, my mast cells – white blood cells which form part of our immune system and are in every part of the body – are confused and hyper-sensitive and mistake things like high-histamine food, certain medication, and sunlight as a threat.

The cells are filled with chemical mediators including histamine, heparin, prostaglandins, cytokines which are released in varying amounts once triggered. When this happens my tongue or throat usually swells up. Sometimes I also experience severe itching in my scalp and limbs, chronic fatigue, stabbing pains all over my body and behind my eyes. I also bruise very easily – on the day I saw the consultant who finally diagnosed me – my entire right thigh was black.

The reason I mention this is because stress is a huge trigger too and I had not one but EVERY single reaction listed, which is additional proof that I need to get back on track with chilling out.

20 ways to relieve stress

 

So to celebrate National Relaxation Day [15 August 2018], I’ve rounded up 20 ways to find some balance. As de-stressing can only benefit us all, I hope these tips help you too.

20 ways to relieve stress

  1. On waking, wait half an hour before switching your phone on. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve reached straight for my device and ended up responding to WhatsApp group messages or watching an Instagram story, inadvertently wasting precious minutes in the morning, which then made me feel rushed. Give yourself the chance to wake up properly, nourish your body with healthy food and set some positive intentions for the day ahead.
  2. Limit time spent on social media. Things like Facebook groups are great for providing a sense of community for those of us who work remotely but when comments are overly negative, unsupportive or just downright mean they can dampen your mood. Dip in and out and avoid becoming involved in lengthy debates.
  3. Get organised. If I’m working in London or have a news shift booked in I pick out my outfit – right down to my underwear – and hang it on the back of the door. Likewise, I sort out my handbag and prepare all my own food as buying lunch out is no longer an option with my MCAS issues.
  4. Breathe deeply and slowly. Even if it’s just for three minutes. This is instantly relaxing and helps me at night when I need to calm my racing mind.
  5. Employ mindfulness. It’s not as hard as it sounds and there are plenty of guided apps out there like Calm and Headspace. I also visited a fantastic meditation studio in London and also found solace in a weekend meditation/wellness retreat at Chilston Park in Kent earlier this year.
  6. Avoid pointless arguments.
  7. Remember that your time isn’t necessarily set in stone. I’m a bit useless at this and like order (surprising when I’ve been freelance for 18 years and there’s little routine) so I can feel a little flustered if plans change at the last minute but more often than not they end up working out for the best so I try to employ this positive mindset now, which brings me onto my next point.
  8. If you cannot alter a situation, take a different perspective. Think ‘In what way could this situation be positive?’ Or ‘Can this have value or is it useful?’
  9. Keep a journal. Writing your thoughts down can be incredibly therapeutic and help you organise them.
  10. Avoid procrastination which can lead to feelings of not being good enough.
  11. Allow an extra half an hour for everything you do. Meeting a friend? Have a date? Catching the train (in which case I leave an HOUR earlier). Far better to be too early than too late.
  12. Turn your phone off. If I’m on deadline or trying to get a piece finished I put my phone on aeroplane mode.
  13. Create boundaries. I work from home a lot but often friends and family view this time as a chance to pop in for a coffee and a catch-up. I used to feel bad about turning them down but now they understand.
  14. Don’t overschedule. I’m guilty of cramming too much in and have been trying to make every Sunday a relaxation day but for the past two weeks I’ve ended up working. I SHALL get back on the horse!
  15. Stop trying to please everybody and learn how to say no. If not, you’ll end up being run ragged.
  16. Run a bath. It’s cliche. It works. I wrote about it here. Usually, I throw in a handful of Epsom salts, but as part of the day job earlier this year, I was sent Olverum Bath Oil and I’m now a convert. It contains no fewer than 10 essential oils including geranium, lavender and eucalyptus leaving your muscles relaxed and your bathroom smelling divine.
  17. Go to bed an hour early and wake up feeling refreshed, productive and ready to tackle the day.
  18. Move more. Exercise is a great way to clear the mind and was always my go-to for beating stress. I was a former gym bunny and tennis was my main sport. Due to my MCAS, spin classes and running are out, and I can’t play tennis competitively as vibrations – from activity to those felt on aircraft – can cause my mast cells to degranulate. Read here about the time my tongue started to swell on a long-haul flight. Now I’ve found solace in swimming and fair weather paddle boarding when I have the energy.
  19. Take up a new hobby that you love. Blogging anyone?
  20. KEEP. IT. SIMPLE.

What are your top tips for managing stress? How are you relaxing today? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. If you think this post might help someone who is struggling, please feel free to share this post or tag them.

Helen's Health, Wellness

7 reformer pilates myths busted

Helen Gilbert reformer pilates

“Reformer pilates? No way, it’s just not my kind of thing.” That was always my standard response whenever my lifelong osteopath Paul Morrissey suggested I give it a try.

The machines looked frightening – almost like an ancient torture device – complicated to operate and, as I’d always favoured fast-paced exercise like spin, running, tennis and boot camps, I automatically assumed I’d be bored.

Then two and a half years ago I became chronically ill – read the Night It All Began here. Alongside high histamine food, ANY sort of exercise that made me hot and sweaty would bring on tongue swelling and throat closing episodes. Overnight my sporty lifestyle, along with a big part of my identity, disappeared.

So when doctors suggested I reintroduce low impact exercise on the provision I have my adrenaline pen and antihistamines to hand, I decided the time was right to learn more about reformer pilates.

Helen Gilbert reformer pilates

For those not in the know, pilates is a system of slow and controlled exercises performed on a mat or spring-assisted reformer. It’s designed to lengthen and strengthen muscles, improve posture, flexibility and agility, prevent injury and address structural imbalances in the body.

Pioneer Joseph Hubertus Pilates was said to have been a sickly child following his birth in 1883 so, in adulthood, he set about researching and developing a mind, body, spirit approach to exercise that would later transform him into a skier, diver, gymnast and boxer.

He also rigged springs to hospital beds to help bedridden patients exercise against resistance, which subsequently inspired the designs for much of the reformer pilates equipment we see today.

I popped along to the Osteopathic Clinic in Croydon for my very first reformer pilates session and busted the following myths:

REFORMER PILATES IS SCARY
No, it’s not, even though the equipment might seem so. It helped that Rhea Malkin (pictured), a triathlete, ironman competitor and STOTT Pilates Essential and Intermediate Reformer qualified instructor was on hand to guide me through my one-on-one session. Embarrassingly, I went to lie down at the wrong end of the bed-like contraption but she quickly pointed me in the right direction. I assumed my position on the ‘carriage’, which moves back and forth on wheels, and is attached to the reformer by a set of springs that provide differing levels of resistance. My feet rested on the bar at the bottom and I lay on the comfortable padded platform ready for my first move. Simple. What on earth had I been worrying about?

REFORMER PILATES IS BORING
Admittedly, I thought I’d be bored out of my brain by repeating movements in a slow and controlled manner but there’s a heck of a lot to remember, like engaging your core correctly when performing a move, which makes it far from dull and you feel the muscles instantly working.  I struggled with finding my neutral spine so Rhea suggested visualising a glass of water, which I did not want to spill, on my tummy. For the glutes, she urged me to think about gripping a credit card between my butt cheeks. We giggled but it worked! My muscles were activated and I’d yet to start work on the reformer pilates equipment!

REFORMER PILATES IS JUST ABOUT BUILDING A STRONG LEAN BODY
Nope. Your breathing is important too. The preparatory work before a move involves an inhalation, while any exertion requires an exhalation. The very mindful action of focussing on the breath as well as the move provided a delightful escape from the stresses of daily life and the thoughts that permanently whizz around my overactive mind. Of course, building a graceful, strong body is an obvious advantage too. Rhea, who regularly works out on a reformer pilates machine, is a testament to that!

Helen Gilbert reformer pilates

REFORMER PILATES IS CHEATING
Think again. Yes, there’s no mat involved but just because you’re using equipment doesn’t mean that it’s any less of a workout or you’ve failed.  In fact, years ago I once tried a floor-based group pilates class. The next day my neck had locked up entirely which put me out of action for weeks. However, I managed a full 50 minutes on the reformer and successfully worked through the full repertoire of exercises which spanned the lower and upper body as well as stabilising core work.

REFORMER PILATES IS COMPLICATED
There’s definitely a lot to remember and if I’d been in a group class I think I may have struggled. But if you have an individual instructor talking you through each move it’s a breeze. Plus there’s the added advantage that he/she can correct you if you’re misaligned.

Helen Gilbert reformer pilates

REFORMER PILATES IS NOT AN ALL OVER BODY WORKOUT
Yes it is. You might not be drenched in sweat as you would from a HIIT class but the muscles in my back, inner thighs, arms and tummy back were still screaming at me three days later (in a good way).

REFORMER PILATES IS JUST NOT YOU
I held this view for YEARS. It wasn’t until my health packed up that I took note. I’m eager to get back to exercise but appreciate that the adrenaline-pumped classes I used to love no longer serve me or my health. This was such a fun alternative. I  was so enthused with the class – and the fact I didn’t have a tongue swelling or throat closing reaction during or afterwards– that I’m now contemplating buying a reformer pilates one for the house.

Visit the Osteopathic Clinic  for more information about their one-on-one reformer pilates sessions.

Relax Ya Self To Health was invited to try this session by the Osteopathic Clinic in exchange for a review.  As always, reviews are based on my honest opinion.

Disclaimer: This is a personal blog based on my own genuine experiences. My posts are for informational purposes only. I am under the care of a number of specialists for my chronic health issues. I am not a doctor, nutritionist, physio or sports therapist. If you have a health condition or injuries, always seek advice from a relevant medical professional before undertaking any activity.

 

Helen's Health, Wellness

REVIEW: How a ‘tapping’ session helped my anxiety

How tapping helped my anxiety

I’m sitting in an East Sussex conservatory rapidly tapping various parts of my body. I do not have fleas. I’m not at an ape imitation school. And nobody has sprinkled itching powder under my shirt. So what the heck am I doing?

It’s a complementary therapy called EFT, (Emotional Freedom Techniques), also known as tapping and I’m under the expert guidance of clinical hypnotherapist and EFT practitioner Liz Davies, a sunny character with a smile bright enough to illuminate Brighton Pier.

Often referred to as ‘psychological acupressure’, the approach fuses elements of the Chinese meridian energy system with modern Western talk therapy and is growing in popularity as a way to treat stress, anxiety, fear, insomnia and chronic pain.

If it sounds a little new-age you’re right, but last Autumn it emerged that the Duchess of Cornwall had reduced her fear of flying by using the technique.

In the same year researchers at Australia’s Bond University also scientifically demonstrated that the approach could help rewire the neural pathways of obese patients.

So, when Liz – who goes by the name of the ‘Miracle Coach’ – invited me to try a session I jumped at the chance.

How tapping helped me

Tapping is said to help release blockages within the energy system, which are the source of emotional intensity and discomfort. Ongoing upsetting or stressful situations or traumatic events that may have occurred in the past can all be contributory factors which, if left unresolved, may manifest as symptoms including physical health problems, limiting beliefs, anxiousness, emotional disharmony and feelings of being stuck.

In a nutshell, tapping aims to clear the emotional attachment that our subconscious clings onto, to help us lead more fulfilling and positive lives.

“Often people end up in cycles, perhaps in relationships that aren’t necessarily good for them, as the subconscious tries to recreate the past to make it better again,” Liz points out.

“Tapping helps address the subconscious, clear the energy and enables you to see the world with fresh eyes. There’s no emotional triggering so you can choose people, activities and things on the basis of what’s really good for you rather than a trigger that’s just pulling you along.”

At the start of the session, Hove-based Liz asks me to set some intentions. “If you could wave a magic wand, what would be your goal at the end?” she enquires. “To be able to go to a restaurant and eat and drink whatever I want without worrying about having a tongue-swelling reaction,” I reply.

“Great, are there any others?” I rattle off a few more before I’m asked to list them in order of priority. “It’s always best to go with what you instinctively feel is the strongest – tune into that feeling,” advises Liz helpfully.

I hone in on one that has been causing me immense worry and fear.

“Where’s the feeling in the body?” she gently asks. “The pit of my stomach,” I reply. “On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate it with 10 being the worst?” “10.” “What colour and shape is it?” “It’s a dense circle – maroon brown.” Liz continues:  “Does it feel like it’s moving around or stuck?”
“It’s stuck.” “And how would you describe it?” “As fear and unease.”

Your subsconscious is saying ‘thank goodness you’re listening to me’

Liz explains that colours and shapes are used because they’re the language of the subconscious. “Once you start talking in those words it creates a clear communication. Most of the time what we do is we try to ignore what the subconscious is telling us because it feels uneasy or unpleasant so we avoid it. Instead, we use our conscious mind, which is rational, but what we need to do is talk to the subconscious because that’s where the emotional stuff is.”

Then something peculiar happens.

We haven’t even started the tapping but I feel as though the ball has already shifted up from the pit of my stomach. “Yay,” Liz replies. ‘It’s because your subconscious is saying thank goodness you’re listening to me, you’re paying attention to me. That’s perfect.”

How tapping helped me

We embark on the first round of tapping and I follow Liz’s actions and copy her words.

Using three fingers I tap the karate chop point of my hand seven times and repeat after her: “Even though I have this dark maroon brown feeling stuck in my tummy, I still love and accept myself anyway.”

My eyes dart around the room – I wasn’t expecting that.

Next, I’m tapping the crown of the head….“All this fear.”
Followed by my eyebrows…”In my tummy.”
Then the side of the eyes…“This dark maroon brown fear.”
And the top of the cheekbone… “Stuck in my tummy.”
Underneath my nose… “All this unease.”
Followed by the middle of the chin… “I feel unease,”
Then underneath the collarbone…“I don’t like it.”

The process continues and I’m tapping again just beneath my armpit…“All this fear.”
Then the wrist…“This round dark fear.”
Followed by taps on the side of each fingernail…“This fear in my tummy, this maroon brown fear, this uneasy feeling, I don’t like this dark fear.”
Before finishing at the karate chop point… “In my tummy.”
Liz asks me to take a deep breath in before breathing out slowly. Round one complete.

How a tapping session helped me
“Can you rate the intensity of the ball now?” I’m lost for words and start laughing hysterically. “This is ridiculous,” I blurt out. “I can’t believe it but it feels lighter, like a three. Weirdly, it feels as though it’s shifted up into my heart area. It’s transparent and kind of an oblong shape. It no longer feels like a ball.”

“What emotion would you give it now?”

I smile again. “I’m sorry, I can’t…it feels insignificant.”

It sounds like you’ve had a one minute miracle

Liz nods: “Basically what you’re doing is processing your feelings by speaking them out loud and accepting them. Tapping at the same time is physically allowing the emotion that got squished down in your body to come up and release. It sounds like you’ve had a one-minute miracle. This does happen.

“When positive words come out or you can’t say anything negative that means the energy that was holding you back has cleared and your real true self, your bright spark is able to speak louder. When you can hear yourself clearly everything else starts to flow easier because you’re not driven by fear anymore.”

I celebrate yawns

We embark on the second round of tapping. Halfway through I experience an intense surge of excitement – butterflies if you will – in my stomach and for the first time in an age, I feel as though I’m truly alive again. Embarrassingly, though, I stifle a huge yawn at the end.

Liz doesn’t mind. “I always celebrate yawns. It’s also another way of release. And the butterflies…wow. That’s your real self coming up. This is what tapping does and why I say it’s so magical.  Sometimes just hitting on what needed to be said and tapping at the same time can be so effective.”

I hug Liz at the end. I’m feeling incredibly relaxed and also as though I’ve been given a new lease of life.

Sceptics might argue the placebo effect but I definitely felt a physical and emotional shift.

Besides, if tapping helps to improve our outlook, positivity and induce a state of calm – whatever the reason – it has to be worth a try.

Relax Ya Self to Health was invited to try this session by Miracle Coach Liz Davies in exchange for a review. As always, reviews are based on my honest opinion.

If you liked this article you might like to check out my other reviews on pranic healing, a weekend meditation retreat, a hypnotherapy mind massage, and the Inhere meditation studio.

Or check out the health and wellbeing tips of your favourite celebrities: Katie Piper, Jonny Wilkinson, Pat Cash, Andrew Barton, Gail Porter

Wellness

Review: Chilston Park Hotel wellness retreat

Chilston Park wellness weekend

It’s rare you’ll find me up and about at 6.30am on a Saturday but that’s precisely what happened during a wellness weekend at Chilston Park Hotel in Kent recently.

This stunning Grade 1-listed country house, which has teamed up with Liberty Wellbeing to offer a series of stress-relieving retreats, was running a two-night yoga, Tai Chi and mindfulness programme. I was there for the day job but the timing was ideal.

I’d recently moved house – one of the most stressful things you can do – and desperately needed a break from sorting and lifting heavy boxes and making endless phone calls to utility companies.

When left to my own devices relaxation is something I struggle with despite it being an important factor in the management of my tongue swelling reactions. A structured wellness weekend dedicated to slowing down would certainly leave no room for excuses.

Except, I hadn’t envisaged waking up with the larks. I’m not good with early starts plus I’m a worrier. Throw in a 6am alarm call and you’ll undoubtedly find me wide awake at 2am fretting over the fact that I have to be up in four hours.  Yet, to my surprise, this did not happen.

Jennie Lichfield, Liberty Wellbeing’s principal teacher and the mastermind behind our schedule, believes this could have something to do with the fact that, just by being there, I had ‘given myself permission to unwind’.

The previous evening I’d arrived at Chilston Park, a pretty 17th-century country house set in 22 acres, which is one of a number of luxury properties in the Hand Picked Hotels portfolio.

A lovely chap called Guy led me through the characterful property – complete with spectacular wooden staircase and fascinating coffee tables fashioned out of original wooden shutters – into a room for tea and vegan and gluten-free carrot cake.

Chilston Park Hotel wellness weekend

There I met the other course attendees – a mix of 40 and 30-something married couples, mums, and millennials – who were all equally as eager to do the right thing by their minds and bodies.

Jennie talked us through the itinerary and there were smiles all round when she said we could roll out of bed and into the 6.30am group meditation session in our PYJAMAS should we desire. There’d also be warm blankets and plump cushions, too. *Yay*

Chilston Park Classic Double Bedroom

That night we took part in a ‘yoga for sleep’ session before bonding over deliciously nourishing vegetarian food. It was a blissful evening spent with like-minded souls and when I headed back to my quaint and cosy room (named Austen after the literary heroine – the rooms do not have numbers) at 9.30pm I felt as though I’d walked into a warm embrace.

There flickering on the TV was a video of a log fire, complete with dancing flames and the instantly calming sound of crackles.

A fluffy Larry the Lamb (the hotel’s equivalent of a Do Not Disturb sign) sat in the middle of my comfortable bed – which had been turned down for the evening – together with a welcome letter providing hotel team contact details, breakfast serving times and the following day’s weather.

I made full use of the complimentary organic Clipper hot chocolate sachets, Walkers shortbread biscuits and still and sparkling water in my room, too. By the time I climbed into bed I’d forgotten all about the hustle and bustle of the outside world and felt light and carefree.

Chilston Park Larry the Lamb

“The first evening is about laying down the journey to get here and marking the end of the busy week,” Jennie explains. “You can go to a one hour [meditation or yoga] session in your local area but it just starts to scratch the surface. When you come here, wake up the next morning in a beautiful location and totally immerse yourself it becomes a different experience and you do even more of this unfolding.”

The following day’s mindfulness session was held in the Coach House (converted stables). Jennie gently guided us through the practice, encouraging us to pay attention to the breath and body and to notice, in a non-judgemental way, how we were feeling. We learned that being present like this can help stop the mind racing and relinquish unhelpful thought patterns.

“You start to understand yourself more, recognise the attributes in your life that are perhaps not helping you or you learn new ways that will serve you better,” Jennie explains. “It’s really good to spend this much time dedicated to yourself because the deeper you go the more you learn.”

Chilston Park Liberty Wellbeing retreat

I certainly found both meditation sessions (there was another on Sunday) useful. Taking a moment to be still helped me gain insight and wisdom into my feelings, as well as the way I respond to certain situations and how I talk to myself on a daily basis.

“As soon as you start to see that you’re telling yourself the story that you’re useless, you won’t tell yourself that anymore,” Jennie continues. “Don’t believe the horrible things you tell yourself, believe the opinion of others.

“Weekends like this help us to recognise how much we are living a fast life and by slowing down and offering some kind of reflective practices it means we can begin to choose. Is this OK for me? Is this how I want to be? We have the opportunity to choose the right path for us but if we’re living too fast and on that treadmill, we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to decide.”

But it wasn’t just the mindfulness aspect that left me feeling better equipped to face the world. Physically, the Hatha yoga sessions did wonders for my creaky body. I especially enjoyed Yin, which according to our instructor Samantha Stone – who trained with the British Wheel of Yoga – is performed at a much slower pace and a good complement to regular yoga.

Chilston Park Liberty Wellbeing retreat

“Normal yoga focuses on stretching the muscles, Yin works to stress the joints, the ligaments, the fascia [connective tissue] to make them stronger,” she says. “This is a good technique for people in their older years.

“It’s supportive and the idea is that you find a pose that you can stay in for three increments. Yin is also fantastic if you’re younger and struggle with monkey mind because of the mindfulness element. You hold a pose and ask yourself how does this feel, where’s the sensation? You connect to it which can slow down the mind.”

Perhaps, what I loved most about the wellness weekend was the fact that I could just be. There was no pressure to attend every class. I tried Tai Chi for the first time, an ancient martial art that combines breathing, relaxation and flowing movements, but didn’t get on with it and Jennie said it was fine for me to sit the following day’s class out.

So I engaged in mindful colouring instead – which I thoroughly enjoyed – and read some of the meditation books and wellbeing magazines that were liberally scattered about. I could have gone for a lie down to but was extremely keen to drink up the knowledge I’d been exposed to.

Chilston Park Liberty Wellbeing retreat

Oh, and how could I forget the food?! It. Was. Sublime. As some of you know I’m on quite a restricted diet due to my histamine intolerance but the chef worked his magic conjuring up delicious dishes for both myself and others who had vegan, dairy and gluten-free dietary requirements.

The food was some of the best I’d ever tasted – unsurprising given the fact that Culpeper’s is a 2 AA Rosette fine dining restaurant.

Starters included roast parsnip soup, dairy-free herb and mushroom frittata, quinoa and apple salad, while main dishes comprised things like chickpea and roast onion curry, vegetable fried rice, garlic sautéed green beans, butternut squash and spinach gratin and spiced sweet potato wedges. I feasted like a queen and was excited to walk away with new recipe ideas.

Chilston Park Exterior Lake

VERDICT:
If you’re feeling super stressed and in need of some me time this reasonably-priced wellness retreat is for you. Not only do you leave feeling rested and nourished physically, mentally and visually – the historic hotel has many interesting traditional features – you end up learning a great deal about yourself.

Also, I particularly liked the fact that Jennie handed out take-home laminated Liberty Wellbeing fact sheets so that we could continue using the mindfulness techniques in the real world. She’d thought of everything.

The bonus was that I got to  meet some lovely like-minded people. In fact, Leah Lardwood, owner of the blog Roots and Toots and I instantly hit it off and are still in touch, so we have the retreat to thank for our blossoming friendship, too!

For more information or to book a  Liberty Wellbeing wellness retreat visit the Chilston Park website or call 01622 859803. The price is £275 per person double/twin occupancy or £350 per person single occupancy.

 

If you liked this article, you might also be interested in our travel reviews of South Africa’s Kruger National Park, Barbados, and Austria. Or if you’re looking for more wellness posts or articles on ways to relax in the UK, you might like to visit this meditation studio, try a hypnotherapy mind massagemobile phone video therapy or give e-biking a spin.

 

 

Travel, Wellness