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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

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

Meet the woman who is using her MS to help save the plane

MS hit the headlines recently after it emerged that actress Selma Blair has the condition. Reports revealed the 46-year-old has struggled with symptoms that include falling over, dropping things, foggy memory, and numbness in her left side for at least 15-years.

Multiple Sclerosis, which affects the central nervous system, is one Amanda Jones, from Nottinghamshire, is all too familiar with. The 50-something mum-of-two was diagnosed in 2010.

“Initially, it all felt very overwhelming, hopeless and was a very scary time,” she tells Relax Ya Self To Health. “But in true ‘Amanda’ style,  I hit the research button, and luckily found the Overcoming MS website.

“It’s a healthy lifestyle programme for people with MS, and adopting it has slowed the progress of the disease right down. My MS was very aggressive before, fuelled I think from the stressful life I led.  I now eat a plant-based diet, keep my vitamin D3 levels healthy, and have simplified my life to keep my stress levels as low as I can.”

In fact, Amanda’s approach to destressing and simplifying her life – mainly through decluttering and responsible purchasing – has made her an Instagram sensation. Her Small Sustainable Steps account, which carries the tagline, “What I’m doing might be a drop in the ocean but at least my drop will be clean”, has become a hit with more than 26,000 followers thanks to her helpful, informative posts.

Relax Ya Self To Health caught up with Amanda to find out how the platform has helped her cope with MS and is inspiring others to lead a plastic-free, low waste lifestyle. 

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

PICTURE CREDIT: SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS

Amanda, please tell us a bit about yourself…

I live in Nottinghamshire with my husband, and our two teenage girls. My husband and I are both in our fifties. I took early retirement six years ago. I used to work with vulnerable children and families, it was great but very stressful. When I finished I was in a leadership role. Last year my husband took redundancy. He is now studying music production at university. You could say, we are living the life we love.

What were your MS symptoms?

I’d had the symptoms for well over 20 years. I temporarily lost my sight when my baby was just three weeks old and the use of my right side for a while – it’s still weak. I also had an episode lasting several weeks, where I had mini epileptic seizures, about 350 a day. It was a very difficult time.

How does MS affect your daily life?

It’s a bit like having a brain that short-circuits constantly. I never know what’s going to happen next. Sometimes I feel so fatigued, that even getting out of bed is difficult. I manage my fatigue by not over-committing to anything, and to rest as much as possible. Sometimes my body just won’t do what my brain is telling it. My mobility is one of the areas most affected. Not being able to go for long walks in the countryside, like I used to, is still a difficult concept for me. I’m a passionate gardener, it’s important for my mental health. I was finding it very difficult to continue, so we decided to adapt my garden, in order for me to carry on. I had paths laid and raised beds built. This has meant that I can carry on gardening. We are now in the process of adapting our home, in order to future proof it, if needs arise. MS affects every part of my life.

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

PICTURE CREDIT: SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS

When did you discover Instagram and how has this helped you on your healing journey?

I’ve had an Instagram account now for several years. In that time [the content] it has changed and adapted, reflecting the changes I’ve made to my lifestyle. Initially, it helped me deal with the loss of my mother to Alzheimer’s and having to leave my much-loved career through illness and deteriorating mobility. I expressed how I managed my grief (both for losing mum and walking) through my kitchen garden. It’s been a very creative, and cathartic thing for me to do.

When did you realise you needed to simplify your life?

The need to simplify my life came from a particularly difficult episode. A few years ago, I was caring for someone who was very ill. It meant I was getting no sleep – being chronically fatigued anyway, this was a dangerous situation. One night, when I crawled into bed, I was convinced, I would die. I felt so ill and stressed, my heart would surely stop. I did a mental check in my head of all the wonderful women in my life who would be there for my daughters. I thought about my husband and how he would cope. I thought about our finances – yes they’d be okay. Then I panicked. I thought about all the stuff I had accumulated in my 50 years. I panicked, even more, when I realised how my husband never puts anything away. I imagined my girls grieving for me, and the house in utter chaos, with piles of stuff and boxes everywhere. Needless to say, I was still here the next morning

At what moment did you realise that clutter was stressing you out?

The next day I had a lightbulb moment. I couldn’t change a lot of the stresses in my life and I haven’t – they are still there, ebbing and flowing – but I could change my physical environment and all the ‘stuff’ which was making me feel overwhelmed. When everyone left for the day, I made myself a strong coffee, opened one of my cupboards and dived in. Within half an hour I had got rid of five carrier bags worth of stuff. Looking back, I can’t even remember what it was, that’s how important was!

 

Meet the woman who is using her MS to help save the plane

PICTURE CREDIT: SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS

Tell us about Small Sustainable Steps

Small Sustainable Steps emerged last year when I started to talk more about the small sustainable steps I was taking to simplify my life. The community has grown so much since then. Every day I’m inspired by the people who drop by.

What advice would you give to those who want to de-stress, reduce clutter and lead a simple life?

In order to change, you need to know why. Your why gives you the conviction and then it becomes easier. I’ve let go of so much…duplicates of things, stuff we never used, stuff that was still in its packaging. Even sentimental items have gone, it’s not always been easy, but with each thing I let go of, I felt the burden of my stuff lift. The guilt, too, of buying things I never needed. Once I started to declutter, it became a regular part of my life. With my energy levels being so low, I’ve only ever done this in very small bursts, hence why it has taken three years to get to a level I’m happy with. There are many different approaches to decluttering, for me, however, just targeting a small area for 15 minutes a day was all I could manage.

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

PICTURE CREDIT: SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS

How has decluttering transformed your life?

Over the last few years, I have got rid of over 70% of the contents of our house. Everything now has a place or is either useful or loved. We buy quality over quantity, and we practice intentional consumerism. We don’t make impulsive purchases anymore. We now only purchase things that we need or things that we know we would love for many years to come. We now have more disposable income because we buy less. This has allowed us to make bolder decisions – my husband decided to take redundancy and go to university. We could not have done this, without changing our mindset, away from physical possessions to life experiences.

How has decluttering reduced your stress levels?

We now have a much bigger house, even though we have not extended, because we got rid of so much furniture that stored the stuff, we didn’t need. I personally feel less stress, by living this way. I no longer feel overwhelmed by my physical environment. It is now much easier to look after our home. I think decluttering the house, and changing my mindset, also naturally evolved into adopting a low waste lifestyle. Having MS means that everything I do in life needs to be as easy as possible. I couldn’t do this if the changes were complicated.

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

PICTURE CREDIT: SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS

Your low waste and sustainable living tips are truly inspiring. Can you tell us a little more about your approach?

Low waste for me doesn’t mean zero waste. My family still produces waste, however, over the last two years, we have reduced this by two thirds. We’ve made a concerted effort to reduce the plastic that we consume. We get our meat, fish, dairy, from the deli counter in the supermarket, using our own containers. We rarely buy processed meals, which cuts down on the packaging. We don’t buy crisps, biscuits, or cakes very often and we bake twice a week. We get most of our vegetables from the market, again because there’s less packaging. We don’t buy disposable items anymore – no wipes, tissues, or bottled water.

As well as stress reduction, a low waste lifestyle has also saved you money? Can you tell us more

Yes, we pay a fraction, of what we did on cleaning and washing products, by making our own from cheap ingredients like vinegar.  We have drastically, cut down on our plastic consumption, just by taking these small steps. For anyone wanting to start this journey, of simplifying their life, my advice would be to start small. Change one thing, and then go from there. That way you will create the life you love without being overwhelmed by the changes you’re making.

Meet the woman who is using her MS to help save the plane

PICTURE CREDIT: SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS

Thanks, Amanda for taking the time to share your story with Relax Ya Self To health. To check out Amanda’s brilliant Small Sustainable Steps Instagram account click here.

 

 

 

Health, In the news

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

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

#MySundayPhoto

Freddie the house bunny

So here it is… my maiden MySundayPhoto.

And here’s why. I’ve had a super a hectic but very productive weekend.

Yesterday I attended my first blogging conference hosted by the wonderful Scarlett Dixon who runs ScarlettLondon.com. A big shout out must also go to Ana of The She Approach whose presentations were so insightful and should hopefully help me schedule a little better and reduce my stress levels!

Although I’ve been a freelance journalist for 18 years, I often feel overwhelmed by the blogging world.

A) I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone
B) I’m a technophobe and ‘old’
C) I’m learning a heap of new skills
D) I’m doing all of this alongside the day job which means I feel as though I never switch off

On top of this, I am forever pushing myself even though I cannot remember the last time I felt even 60 per cent.

Yet, stress reduction is essential for chronic illness recovery and I’m determined to get my histamine intolerance under control and improve my general wellbeing.

With this in mind, I’ll be sharing a picture every Sunday that demonstrates how I’ve managed to relax either during the week or at the weekend.

It’s a small step, I know, but it’ll hold me accountable (I hope) and stop me operating at 150 miles per hour.

I’m kicking this off with a snap taken in the garden this evening after a morning spent indoors working. Can anyone spot the house bunny pretending to be a statue?!

I’d love to hear from anyone else who struggles to relax.  Are you trying to reduce stress in your life also? If so, why and is it working?
Please do let me know how you’re getting on in the comments below. 

Happy Sunday!

Helen x

Helen's Health