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7 surprising things I discovered when I tried a ‘brain sensing’ meditation headband

Muse 2 brain sensing headband
Credit: Interaxon Inc

It’s not every day that you stumble across the sight of two men wearing sci-fi-esque headbands but that’s exactly what happened to me when I attended the Mindful Living Show earlier this year.

Both chaps were seated in an upright position. Both had their eyes closed. And both looked blissfully at peace – quite a feat in a hall awash with people.

It turned out they were meditating with the help of a ‘brain sensing’ headband called Muse 2.

I was fascinated. Meditation has long been touted as a way to reduce stress, tackle anxiety, improve creativity and enhance focus but for many of us, it’s not an easy thing to do.

That’s why Interaxon, the Canadian company behind Muse, launched the headband.

So how does the Muse 2 ‘brain sensing’ meditation headband work?

The research-grade EEG (electroencephalograph) technology uses sensors on the band and arms to monitor heart rate, brain activity, breathing patterns and body movement. This real-time information is transmitted to the Muse app on your smartphone and used to shape your meditation experience based on how your body is responding.

So, imagine you’ve had a stressful day and need to clear your head. You might opt for the ‘mind’ meditation coupled with, say, the rainforest soundscape.

The sensors detect when your mind is busy by triggering the sound of monsoon-like weather but when you start to unwind it quietens to a drizzle and eventually stops if you remain calm. You know you’ve hit a prolonged period of relaxation when birdsong is heard.

The idea is that with regular use you effectively train your brain to become more in tune with your body and become aware of your active, neutral and calm states.

At the end of the session, your performance is captured in a graph which enables you to track your progress.

I gave the Muse 2 a quick try at the show but was lucky enough to test it again at home for a longer period as part of the day job.

Here’s how I got on.

Muse 2 brain sensing headband

Credit: Interaxon Inc

7 surprising things I discovered when I tried the Muse 2 ‘brain sensing’ meditation headband

1.Be prepared to be surprised

There are four experiences to choose from: mind, heart, body and breath as well as a selection of relaxing soundscapes – from desert and beach-themed to ambient music, wind chimes and the sound of a beating drum depending on your choice of meditation. It’s worth testing out all the options to see what works for you.

I assumed the ocean would be my favourite as I love the sea but the crashing waves  – which signal an active mind – left me feeling rather uncomfortable. My brain refused to stop wandering and I couldn’t settle the water. I didn’t get on with the ambient music either – it felt eerie.

However, I adored the rainforest option for the ‘mind’ meditation

Now, I’ve written before about my love for Barbados and although the island does not have a rainforest, the noise of the heavy rainfall – which on Muse indicates an active mind – reminded me of the downpours experienced in the Caribbean. During my session, the showers never lasted very long and on many occasion – sometimes as early as 30 seconds in – the joyous chirping birds would announce themselves suggesting a very calm state.  At night I chose the ‘heart’ experience where a beating drum mimics the rhythm of your heart. This practice turned out to be a soothing and relaxing way to end the evening and it hugely helped my sleep (see No.6)

2. Meditation can be fun

Okay. I know it’s probably not supposed to be. The whole point of such a practice is to achieve a calm, zen-like, non-emotional state, isn’t it? But if you’re a beginner who finds it hard to meditate, are easily bored, too busy to relax then the Muse 2 headband could be the introduction you need. Personally, I find it impossible to just sit and be still without help. I’ve always preferred guided options like the Headspace or Calm apps. Heck, I’ve even attended a group meditation class. However, I loved this new approach and selection of meditation sessions to suit your mood. The tweeting bird feature is genius.

3. It can make you competitive

Yes. Those tweeting birds are great because the moment you hit that calm state you feel incredible. It’s addictive though. I found myself desperate to hear the birds and was sorely disappointed when their beaks remained firmly closed for one of my sessions. Being sporty by nature – well, I was until my chronic illness took hold – I’m naturally competitive, especially with myself as this practice revealed! I appreciate this goes against the whole ethos of letting go, and releasing all expectation but the very nature of being able to track your progress and build on your improvements means (well for me anyway) you’re always striving to do better. As with anything, practice makes perfect so I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing although some may disagree.

Muse 2 brain sensing headband

Credit: Interaxon Inc

4. You have the time to meditate even if you think you don’t

It’s hard to switch off when you’re self-employed and, like many people, I barely seem to have a spare moment. But the design of the app makes it easy. Even if you meditate for one minute a day in the morning and one minute at night that’s two minutes a day which is 14 minutes a week, which is almost an hour a month.  That’s better than doing nothing at all and, chances are, you’ll feel so good that you won’t stop at one minute. I certainly didn’t.

5. It makes you aware of bad habits

As mentioned, my first foray into Muse 2 was with the Mind (rainforest) experience. I tried just three minutes at first. My mind was calm for 1 minute 16 seconds, neutral for 1 minute 8 seconds and active for six seconds. In that time, I accrued 12 birds, signalling I’d hit a super relaxed state.

For session two I upped the duration to five minutes. I was thrilled to see my brain remained calm for three minutes and 37 seconds, neutral for 1 minute 23 seconds and there were 0 minutes under the active tab. Wahoo. I’d also amassed an impressive 26 birds!

That was at 10.03pm. A quick dabble on social media – namely Instagram – followed and at 10.22pm I thought I’d have one more three-minute session. OH BOY.

I was staggered at how quickly my mental state had altered. I only managed five birds, my calm reading fell to 1 minute 23 seconds and my neutral result came in at 1 minute 37 seconds.

I often try to switch off my devices before bed and this is a stark reminder of why I need to do it.

My brain had been in such as calm state after session two and I’d swiftly undone my good work with a quick Insta scroll!

Muse 2 brain sensing headband

Credit: Interaxon Inc

6. It can help you sleep when you think you can’t

I’m not the best sleeper. I can lie awake for hours tossing and turning and even when I do eventually nod off I wake several times in the night. One evening, around 7.12pm, I did a 20-minute Mind meditation in five-minute increments. My calm state rose from 26% to 60% by the end of the session.  I dropped off quickly and slept through the night. I was flabbergasted. I assumed it was a fluke but the same thing happened again two days’ later!

7. It can change your behaviour

Whether I’m by the sea, on a mountain or walking in the forest I instantly feel at peace and connected to nature, which is probably why I repeatedly chose the rainforest soundscape.

Well, the other day I was working from home, on deadline, quite stressed and opened the window to get some fresh air. I instantly became aware of the birds chirping in the garden and a sense of calm washed over my body. It was a noticeable shift. I then realised the birdsong reminded me of the calm state experienced during the Muse sessions.  My brain had been trained to recognise this and I was blown away when it worked especially as I hadn’t meditated for a while. Bonus!

The Muse 2 meditation headband costs £239. For more information visit  choosemuse.com

If you enjoyed this post you might like to read the following:

Can mindfulness save your relationship? 

The Surprising thing I discovered when I tried flotation therapy 

Review: The CBT Journal (how to avoid feeling stuck)

7 ways to stop making life so stressful 

REVIEW: The Stress Solution by Dr Rangan Chatterjee

Health, Wellness

7 ways to stop making life so stressful

7 ways to stop making life so stressful

Think of a stressful event and chances are moving house, divorce or death spring to mind.

Yet according to TV psychologist Honey Langcaster-James, constant small stressors that build up every day can have a big effect on our emotional and mental health if left unchecked.

“Individually, each of these little niggles may not seem like much,” she says. “But our busy lives mean we are now bombarded with a huge number of them every day which can overwhelm our system.”

According to recent research from Compeed, Britons spend 36 minutes – up to two years of their lives – letting things get on their nerves.

Of 1,001 people quizzed by the blister brand, 84% admitted that something little riles them at some point each day, while 81% spend up to two hours every day letting minor things bother them.

Bad manners topped the list of Britain’s biggest bugbears, followed by anti-social behaviour on public transport, litter louts, and glory grabbers – people who steal promotion-winning ideas in the office.

Technology – especially phone snubbing, also known as ‘phubbing’, irritated 78% of respondents.

“People can end up suffering from what I call the ‘Buckeroo’ effect where they gradually get overwhelmed by lots of little stressors so that eventually it only takes one small thing to set them off,” adds Honey.

Below the social and behavioural psychologist shares 7 tips for calmer living.

7 ways to stop making life so stressful

BEING A PERFECTIONIST

It’s natural for us to want to do our best but sometimes this leads to perfectionist tendencies, where only a perfect outcome is judged to be good enough. There’s a well-known saying ‘don’t let perfect be the enemy of good’ and it’s so true.
TIP: Sometimes it’s helpful to aim for ‘good enough’ because, in most situations, it generally is.

DROWNING IN OPINION

We live in a very noisy and sometimes overstimulating world. Everyone has opinions, and we’re constantly bombarded with advice on social media, or from well-meaning friends. The problem is that we can forget to just check in with ourselves and trust our own instincts.
We get de-sensitised to the signals from our own minds and bodies.

TIP: Try and listen to what your body and mind are telling you first and foremost.

OVERTHINKING THE LITTLE THINGS

When people bump into us in life, either literally or figuratively, we tend to assume they’ve done it in order to deliberately annoy us, or because they’ve been rude or malicious in some way. The truth is, most of the time people are just too busy thinking about their own problems and lives.
TIP: We accidentally get in each others’ way sometimes, so try not to assume the worst in others.

MULTI-TASKING

Because everyone feels under such time pressure, there can be a tendency to want to multi-task, but then we end up spinning way too many plates and don’t actually cope with any one thing very effectively.
TIP: It’s best to deal with one thing at a time, give it your full attention, and tick it off before then moving on.

BEING TOO BUSY

Life is so busy now and on a daily basis, we’re confronted with many little irritations. Lots of little things pile up on top of one another until eventually, we just kick off in response to the slightest thing. Sometimes we become aware of little health-related niggles or stresses and strains but ignore them because we’re too busy. A blister, for example, is very painful and can stop you in your tracks but if you pop a plaster on it you stop it developing into a much bigger issue.
TIP: We need to remember to deal with things as we go along and not let them build up to unbearable levels.

WASTING ENERGY ON THE WRONG PEOPLE

With so many people in our lives to deal with and competing demands upon us, we can end up channelling our effort and energy into the wrong places and sometimes on the wrong people. Trying to please a toxic boss, for example, can make you ill, wasting your time on friends who don’t really have your back can leave you drained while some people are ‘energy vampires’ who just leave you feeling depleted.
TIP: Don’t be afraid to occasionally ‘say no’. Invest your time and energy into relationships that are profitable for you, too.

BEING HARD ON OURSELVES

From a young age, we’re taught to be the best we can be and achieve more and more, but this can lead us to drive ourselves too hard. What we forget is that it is just as important to learn to forgive ourselves and that we all find things tough going sometimes. None of us needs an inner critic, general society will point out our flaws more than readily enough for anyone.
TIP: Learn the art of being compassionate towards yourself, and be your own best friend. Take care of yourself learn to let everything else go because most likely, the rest doesn’t matter anyway.

Need to reduce your stress levels? You might like to read the following:

5 ways to press pause (even if you think you’re too busy) 

6 simple ways to worry less

Review: The Stress Solution by Dr Rangan Chatterjee

6 ways to make your first ski holiday less stressful 

Wellness

Need some peace? Forest bathing could be the answer

Forest Bathing: 7 reasons to give it a try
Credit: David Mark

Are you familiar with forest bathing?

This wellness trend hit the headlines again over the weekend when it emerged the Duchess of Cambridge had helped co-design a ‘Back to Nature’ themed garden for the 2019 RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

The ecotherapy, which originates from Japan where it is known as ‘shinrin-yoku’, involves immersing yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of a forest environment to help you reconnect with nature and slow down.

A couple of months ago I was introduced to the concept when a lively neighbour knocked on my door. She heads to the forest that’s right on our doorstep every morning come rain or shine, so when she invited me to join her on her early (I mean 6.30am early) jaunt I couldn’t possibly refuse.

I never imagined then that my maiden trip through the trees and foliage would end up becoming an integral part of my week but, quite frankly, it’s addictive and never fails to leave me feeling invigorated, joyous of mood and raring to start the day.

But don’t just take my word for it.

Forest Bathing: 7 reasons to give it a try

Spending time in nature has been linked to reduced stress levels and this 2017 study found that forest bathing helped lower blood pressure, decrease pulse rates, and reduce tension, anger and anxiety.

The RSPB even runs a dedicated two-hour forest bathing session at Lake Vyrnwy Nature Reserve in Wales, which is run by an experienced practitioner to help you relax and become mindful as you connect with the natural world.

As I’m consciously trying to start the day in a less stressed state – rather than waking up, wolfing down breakfast and immediately checking emails – forest bathing has become an integral part of my routine.

Below is why I enjoy it so much.

Forest bathing: 7 reasons to give it a try

SPECTACULAR SIGHTS
You never know what you’re going to encounter. On our first trip, a beautiful baby deer emerged through the azalea and ferns. We’ve seen swans and their cygnets – there are two large lakes – nesting coots and very tame squirrels. I’m just waiting for an Adder to slither out from the undergrowth. It hasn’t happened. Yet.

ULTIMATE RELAXATION
Connecting with nature is enormously grounding and can calm a racing mind. TV presenter and naturalist Chris Packham recently revealed how he enjoys sitting under an ancient oak tree. “When you sit next to an organism that’s 650 years old it puts you in your place,” he said.  I agree, entirely. You can read our interview with him here.

SOCIAL AFFAIR
There aren’t many people around at the crack of dawn but you do stumble across the odd dog walker, golfer, and runner.  Everyone is so friendly and even the ducks seem to quack ‘good morning’ at you. People make time for conversation and aren’t distracted. It’s a refreshing contrast to the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

IMPROVED SLEEP
Exposing yourself to sunlight first thing in the morning is a great way of resetting your internal body clock, known as the circadian rhythm. I’m definitely sleeping better since I’ve started the walks. It dawned on me recently that I spend far less time outdoors since developing this chronic illness – prior to becoming unwell I spent most of my spare time bashing balls about on a tennis court or running – but that’s no longer the case as strenuous activity can set off my reactions.  However, walking is the one thing I can do (touch wood) and an early morning stroll is a great way to build up my steps, which are horrendously low when I’ve been tapping away at my keyboard all day.

SENSORY DELIGHT
Every sense is awakened thanks to the smell of the pine trees, the fresh air, and the chirping birds and if the sun’s out your body can make that mood-boosting Vitamin D. It’s certainly a feel-good experience.

CREATIVITY BOOSTER
I have my best ideas mid-walk. Forest bathing also helps me enjoy the moment and clear my head of worries. It’s an easy way to practise mindfulness, which is wonderful for reducing stress levels.

IT’S FREE
Enough said.

Have you ever tried forest bathing? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.

 

 

In the news, Wellness

5 ways to press pause (even if you think you’re TOO busy)

Press Pause / Relax Ya Self To health

Are you any good at pressing pause?

I’ll admit it’s something I still struggle with.

I’ve always been a doer who likes to account for every spare minute. I love lists, ticking things off and feeling accomplished. And my brain is always fizzing with ideas which makes it damned hard to switch off.

Up until 3.5 years ago, I was hitting the gym three nights a week, blasting balls on a tennis court at the weekends, and travelling the world for both work and pleasure.

I thought I was living my best life, wrongly associated downtime with laziness and barely stood still.

Then overnight my health fell apart. Just like that.  They say life begins at 40 but just three weeks after the big event (I celebrated with an 80s fancy dress party, of course) I was lying in a resuscitation ward connected to tubes and monitors and it wasn’t because I’d necked too many rum and cokes.

It’s been a long old road – you can read about the night it all began here – but it seems my mast cells, allergy cells responsible for immediate allergic reactions, are up the spout. The disease is a complex one.

“Machines run well at constant speed. People don’t.”

Every day is a challenge. Perfume, chemicals, fragrances, heat, sunlight and intense exercise can all trigger my tongue swelling reactions and along with multiple foods – it’s impossible to eat out – and I’d be lying if I said this pesky illness didn’t get me down. But for the best part, I handle it by refusing to dwell on the negatives.

How?

By practising mindfulness and embracing the now (instead of getting lost in fears that my health will continue to deteriorate), by expressing gratitude for every little thing, and focussing on what this experience has taught me rather than what I’ve lost.**

Along the way, I’ve met some truly incredible new people, rediscovered my creativity via this blog and learned a heck of a lot about myself –  this illness has been the most mahoosive teacher.

Slowly but surely I’m shedding layers of the old me, the patterns and conditioning that kept me rooted in the past and no longer serve and opening up to the new infinite possibility.

Yes, the healing path is potholed at times but it’s fascinating, too, as there are so many elements to explore. I truly feel as though my soul is awakening and the light within is beginning to glow.

But hear this. My body had to quite literally pack up to make me slow down and take heed.

How long had it been screaming at me to listen?

Perhaps it had been whispering to me for years but I was too busy living life in the fast lane to pay it any attention.

Do Pause: You are not a to do list

This is precisely why Robert Poynton, an associate fellow of the Saïd Business School at Oxford University and author of Do Pause: You Are Not A To Do List, encourages people to “make pause a thing.”

“Machines run well at constant speed: people don’t,” he tells Relax Ya Self To Health. “If you don’t learn to pause life may force you to – often abruptly or violently.”

Robert, who lives in an off-grid, solar-powered house outside the small Spanish town of Arenas de San Pedro, explains that coping mechanisms often take the form of meditation apps, weekend breaks and annual holidays, but things soon revert. This is why we need a more sustainable approach  – an ability to press pause.

“Instead of aspiring to be ‘always on’, make pause a ‘thing’ for yourself,” he says. “Sending a signal to yourself that pauses matter shifts your attention and your behaviour. You start to notice how, where and when you pause (or don’t) and where you could play around with pauses of different kinds, short or long, to suit your own circumstances.”

Below, Robert shares his top tips on how to help you slow down, even if you think you’re too busy.

 

HOW TO PRESS PAUSE GUIDE

USE THE SPACES IN BETWEEN
Instead of seeing them as a waste of time reframe them as pauses. See the commute, or the wait for a coffee as something in its own right, not as a frustrating delay. Don’t fill the time with distractions such as music, games, and social media but allow yourself to sink into an empty moment and notice what is going on around you or within you. Be like an artist, and work with the ‘negative space’ between the ‘objects’ of your life.

SET TRIP WIRES AND SPEED BUMPS
In a Zen monastery, there is a wooden bar across the door into the meditation hall. It is there to make you pause. You can do something similar. Count to ten (or one!) before you enter a room or pick up the phone. Spend thirty seconds on the threshold when you get home before you enter. Create habits and routines that are triggered by moments that crop up regularly and you will start to weave pauses into your life.

HAND OVER MIND
Let the hand dominate the mind. Set aside a little time (every day, or week) to write or draw. Don’t aim at anything, just see what comes. Write automatically, draw whatever is in front of you, or doodle. It is about the process, not the result so you could use your ‘other’ hand or throw away the paper once you are done. Give yourself a chunk of time where your hand is leading your mind, without trying to get anything done.

USE YOUR BODY
Change your body and you change your mind – they aren’t separate. So a walk – short or long – will change what you see and how you feel. Pay attention to how your feet meet the ground, how your body moves. Notice where your mind wanders to.

CELEBRATE AN OFFICIAL BIRTHDAY
A pause isn’t just a moment. It could be a ‘Screen Free Saturday’, a ‘Think Week’ or a sabbatical year. Why not take an annual pause on your birthday. Take the day off, or use it to review the past year or the year to come. If it feels too much like work on your actual birthday, how about giving yourself an official birthday, like the Queen? A single day, once a year, where you allow yourself to disconnect from everything you normally do and see what comes up.

Do Pause: You are not a to do list by Robert Poynton is published by the Do Book Co.

 

If you enjoyed this post you might like to read the following:

The CBT Journal: How to stop feeling stuck

The surprising thing I discovered when I tried flotation therapy 

Always busy? Five important signs you need to slow down

Review: What really happens in a group meditation class

If you’d like to subscribe to Relax Ya Self To Health’s newsletter (it’s free) you can do so here.
Or alternatively, please feel free to give us a like or follow on Facebook or Instagram.

Thank you, as always, for your support.

x

**This is a personal self-care and wellbeing blog. The methods that work for me might not work for you. If you are prone to depression or struggle with your mental health please do seek professional medical advice. Helpful links can be found at the bottom of this post here.

 

Helen's Health, Wellness

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

Restfest 2019

Have you ever been ‘smudged’?

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

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

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

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

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

Restfest founder Naomi Newland

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

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

How?

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

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

Cue RestFest.

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

Restfest 2019 sound healing

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

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

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

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

RESTFEST 2019: MY HIGHLIGHTS

MASK PAINTING ART THERAPY

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

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

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

Restfest 2019 mask painting

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

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

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

DECLUTTER YOUR MIND THROUGH MINDFUL JOURNALING

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

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

SOUND HEALING JOURNEY TO ACCESS INNER WISDOM

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

Restfest 2019 sound healing

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

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

BOOB PRINTING WORKSHOP

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

VERDICT

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

 

Restfest 2019 Helen Gilbert

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

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

First two pictures credits: Rest Fest

If you enjoyed this review please feel free to share.  You might also like the following posts:

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Wellness

REVIEW: The Stress Solution by Dr Rangan Chatterjee

The Stress Solution

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

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

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

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

The Stress Solution, Dr Rangan Chatterjee

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW: THE STRESS SOLUTION

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

The Stress Solution, Dr Rangan Chatterjee

Credit: Susan Bell

THE POWER TO GENERATE STRESS

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

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

THE POWER OF YOUR EMOTIONAL BRAIN

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

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

HOW TO REFRAME YOUR LIFE

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

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

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

Dr Chatterjee has three tips for effective reframing which are:

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

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

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

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

If you enjoyed this post you might like the following:

Review: The CBT Journal (how to avoid feeling stuck)

Always busy? 5 important signs you need to slow down

The Surprising thing I discovered when I tried flotation therapy 

Can mindfulness save your relationship? 

 

Wellness

Always busy? 5 important signs you need to slow down

Always busy? 5 signs you need to slow down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SNAPPING AT PEOPLE

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

AVOIDING YOUR FRIENDS/FAMILY

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

PROCRASTINATION

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

FEELING DESPONDENT AT WORK

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

NOTICING CHANGES IN SLEEPING, EATING OR EXERCISE PATTERNS

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

BREAKING BUSY: 7 STEPS TO HELP YOU SLOW DOWN

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

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

If you enjoyed this post you might like to read:

Review: The CBT Journal (how to avoid feeling stuck)
The Surprising thing I discovered when I tried flotation therapy 
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Chilston Park Hotel Wellness Retreat
What really happens in a group meditation class

Wellness

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

The CBT Journal

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

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

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

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

Sara Rees, The CBT Journal

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

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

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

Sounds good to me!

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

REVIEW: THE CBT JOURNAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE CBT JOURNAL: VERDICT

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

For more information visit Sarah’s website here.

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

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