Series: What’s in Your Toolkit? 6 – Nicky Duffell

Series: What’s in Your Toolkit? 6 – Nicky Duffell

Nicky Duffell is one of my favourite Instagram wellness accounts: so uplifting, calming and aesthetically beautiful. Her blog is even more inspirational – I could spend hours browsing there if given the luxury, so I was really excited when she said she would take part in my series and to hear more about her various strands of work.

1. Tell me about yourself! Tell me more about your job(s), how long you’ve been doing what you do. 

I’m a registered nutritional therapist. I qualified in 2009 and in 2015 I set up my business Nicky for Life. I specialise in looking after Mums. There’s so much emphasis on our little ones (as there should be!) and I encourage Mums to look after themselves so they have the energy and wellbeing to look after their little people and to deal with life in general.


2. Do you find that people are more keen to nurture their souls, more aware of their physical and mental needs nowadays and understanding of modern life’s potential effects on health and vitality?

I think there’s a huge emphasis on health and wellbeing. Social media has definitely impacted and it’s changed a lot since I qualified in 2009. I think Mums put so much pressure on themselves to be the perfect Mum, work, run the house that they can actually forget to look after themselves and their health can impact. Mummy guilt comes in there too.


I think the impact social media has had on health is great. But there’s a downside as there’s so much misleading information out there now. I always say, trust yourself, find what works for you and your own body as we’re all so different. And be careful about what you read in the media!

3. What are your personal physical and mental health non-negotiable tools in your own toolkit?

Yoga is my number one non-negotiable. I have a session with my wonderful teacher Shelley Bloom every week and I do that without fail. The other things in my toolkit are meditation, acupuncture, Alexander lessons and homeopathy. I’m also a big believer in having fun, so going out with friends, having date night and doing something that brings you joy, no matter how big or small – a couple of my things are enjoying some chocolate and buying some beautiful fresh flowers.


6. How do you balance work, motherhood and life?

This one is always tricky, for anyone, myself included. I make sure I set clear boundaries. I don’t over commit myself. I say no when I need to. And I listen to my body, if I’m starting to feel tired and run down, I rest. The other thing I try to do is have some me time, I’m the kind of person that needs my own space every now and then.


And I want to say that it’s OK to be you sometimes. Not Mummy, wife/partner, work colleague or any other hat we wear, just to be you. I think you can sometimes get a bit lost in motherhood and it’s good to find yourself again.

8. What are your favourite things/wellness tools and  strategies? Instagram accounts that you follow?

Here are a few of my favourite things:

Favourite breakfast: a smoothie, I love a smoothie!

Favourite time of day: coming home to my kids after a day at work

Favourite book: so many to choose from but I love ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ by Marie Kondo.

Favourite place: home

Favourite instagram accounts: @theyesmummum @jigsawnutrition @drjessamy (a lot of love for these ladies)

Favourite food: I think I have to say chocolate. Food should be enjoyed, there’s a good balance to be had in eating well and enjoying the things you love (health is so much more than food).

Favourite quote: She believed she could, so she did

Favourite word: balance


I’m so passionate about women looking after themselves. I’d love anyone to get in touch and say Hi. I love to chat and meet new people, so if you have anything you want to talk about you can find me in Instagram @nicky_duffell (my favourite place to be) and Facebook but feel free to drop me an email too nicky@nickyforlife.com.


And if you need any inspiration, have a read of my Strong Women series on my blog. I interviewed 5 amazing women about their journeys in motherhood and through adversity. And I also shared my story, warts and all.

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Why am I a Pilates Teacher?

Why am I a Pilates Teacher?

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What’s your story? ✨

In The Supermum Myth in one chapter we delve into narrative therapy – we’re all made up of stories and live according to the dominant narrative in our lives. Have a think today about your best stories, what character you place yourself as in your life, your family, your community?

I started doing pilates 15 years ago…basically because Madonna did it. What better reason hey? I kept reading in magazines about how it gave her abs of steel. And I was intrigued by what this “core strength” that everyone was banging on about was.

And I loved it, it truly changed not only my body shape but most importantly my perception of my body: I’ve always been very unhappy and cup’s half empty about my body. Very sporty but not happy with the way I look. I still suffer from that, more postnatally since “control” has gone out the window. But Pilates helps to keep it all in perspective mentally, and has meant that two C-sections haven’t taken too big a toll on my body.

Pilates helped me to feel STRONG, found muscles I hadn’t considered finding before, challenged my brain and suddenly made me aware of my #posture and movement every single day. It was awesome and I was hooked. Thanks Madonna 👏🙌🏼.

So why am I a teacher? In 2004 my best friend died and I was sick with grief. I found myself in Thailand at a yoga retreat 🌴and had an epiphany that life is horribly SHORT and too short not to do things that move you. So I decided to train to be a Pilates teacher, and began my training in the summer of 2005. ❤️🙏🌴✨.

In 2007 I was made redundant from my Managing Editor job in book publishing, which was my burning platform to jump, go freelance and just do it. I went back to that yoga retreat in Thailand to teach Pilates, in 2007 and then again in 2010, and it felt like a fitting tribute to my lovely departed friend that I could wink to her and say, do you know what, I did it. High five me.

Pilates has healed me in myriad ways: physically, making me kinder towards my body. Physically and emotionally : shepherding me through 5 pregnancies (3 unsuccessful) and two births, the demands of small people on your body and mind: my body has gone through a lot and pilates is there to keep the mind-body pathways firing, to strengthen my abdominals yes but to remind me to breathe, to soften, to release. Pilates is ace. Thanks Madonna.

Get in touch if you’re local and would like to hear more about my classes in Peckham.

Wake up Mama! – Energy Boosters

Wake up Mama! – Energy Boosters

Happy Bank Holiday! Remember May bank holidays before children? Usually involved lots of sunny Sunday drinking in beer gardens, languidly cutting loose in an act of sheer abandon as there was no alarm clock to wake you up the next day. Yep. No more. This morning I had a 5am starter – although, framing it positively, he has only just started sleeping through aged 2 so I’ll take 5am over all-night boob any day.

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I’m feeling slightly less than my best this morning. A bit crumpled in face and body. So I’ve got a few tips for instant vitality that I’m going to do myself…once I’ve finished my coffee…

  1. Dry body brushing – brush all areas, always brushing in towards the heart. Be gentle around your belly and chest, but with gusto everywhere else. Makes your skin sparkle, boost circulation, turns you from ploddy elephant to sprightly gazelle. Be gone, befuddledness.
  2. A burst of cold in the shower – sounds hideous but this one really absolutely truly works. In the shower, take a deep breath and turn the water on to cold, freezing is best but try as cold as you can. Enough to make you go WAAHH! Stay under the water for 30 seconds at least. Then back to warm. It stimulates lymphatic drainage which can become sluggish through lack of movement,  and wakes you up in an instant which weirdly makes you feel really positive. Try it.
  3. Tapping the crown of your head, and massaging the earlobes. Tap tap tap, either drumming your fingers or tapping all together. Then massage all around your ears. Wonderful wake up and energy boost – and this one you can do anywhere, in the office, on the street, at soft play…

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The best antidote for lack of energy is breathing and movement. The idea of “doing exercise” when you’re feeling low on energy reserves is always an unappealing one. 

Small snacks of Pilates never fails to revitalise me. Literally 1 minute or even 30 seconds. It seems counterintuitive, but, if you’re feeling tired, moving your body to massage the internal organs, get the blood flowing and stretch the limbs will always give you a boost. Obv if you are actually feeling under the weather, listen to your body and give yourself some rest and TLC, but if it’s simply tiredness and weariness (hello 5am wake up call), the body and mind will respond better to movement than sloth – plus you get to congratulate yourself for getting up and doing something, which is a great feeling in itself.

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Humans were built for movement, not to be atrophied and tensed by hunching over desks or sitting in cars. But as an adult the idea of “exercise” becomes infused with ideas of work, chore, slog, prefaced with shouty goals such as “LOSE WEIGHT” and “DESTRESS”  – something that you “should” do rather than seamlessly do without thinking, as part of your daily routine.

I found a great titbit in a book called The Source that I worked on as an editor.  Research showed that if you put a running wheel in a mouse’s cage, mousey would run 4 to 5 km a night, and eventually become a better problem solver than its neighbour with no wheel. I love this image for many reasons, not least wondering what mouse problems there might be that needed to be solved.

Movement creates vitality, giving you a physical boost, and also a mental one.

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Leafing again through Joe Pilates’s book Return To Life, he notes “All in all, we do not give our bodies the care that our wellbeing deserves”. Given that this was written in 1945, it shows that us humans haven’t really got any better at this, generations on. He points out this notion by saying that if you just do 5 minutes of movement if you’re feeling tired, you may well feel that at the end of the 5 minutes you crave carrying on, and thereby retraining yourself on a molecular level to become a vital being again. You begin, Mr Pilates says, to reawaken muscles by encouraging more oxygen and blood flow, and therefore also reawaken brain cells, and your whole being is benefitted.

To quote him directly (I love his style, but there aren’t many commas, so take a deep breath…): “Make up your mind that you will perform your [Pilates] exercise for ten minutes every day without fail. Amazingly enough, once you travel on your Pilates ‘Road to Health’ you will subconsciously lengthen your trips on it from ten to twenty or more minutes without even realising it. Why? The answer is simple: the exercises have stirred your sluggish circulation into action and to performing its duty more effectively in the matter of discharging through the bloodstream the accumulation of fatigue-products created by muscles and mental activities. Your brain clears and your will power functions”. So, in a nutshell, movement begets more movement, and a positive glow.

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So, if you’re sitting down now, stand up and walk around for a bit, allow your thigh muscles to lengthen, stretch the arms back behind you to open the chest. No self-respecting cat or dog would get up without a good old stretch. 

Roll down through the spine to bring your head below your heart and allow your blood to rejuvenate and give you a healthy rosy flush. Jump and jiggle about. Release the shoulders into your back and realign the neck with the spine, eye focus forward.

Breathe, deeply and fully, and sigh the breath out through the mouth. Really breathe and return to life.

I’d love to hear your energy-boosting tips for those sluggish days. Comment below or DM me! x

My book, The Supermum Myth, is available for preorder now.

Pregnancy: the Naked Truth, is out now!

Series: What’s in Your Toolkit 5 – Fern Taylor 

Series: What’s in Your Toolkit 5 – Fern Taylor 

Instagram connected me to Fern Taylor – her feed is full of mindfulness tips, a love of nature, and a gorgeous cat. Basically all the ingredients for a contented life, in my view. I have recently been reading her book Here and Now: an Interactive Mindfulness Book and building her strategies into my day to day. I asked her to share her tips.

1. Tell me about yourself! Tell me more about your day job, how long you’ve been doing it, how you came to write your book.

I worked as a Primary School teacher (Key Stage 2, mostly years 3 and 4) for 7 years which I loved. Unfortunately, about 5 years ago – just before I turned 30 – I was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition which meant that I had to give up teaching. I found mindfulness really useful in helping me to manage the condition and spent a lot of time learning about the practice. My book was published last year and I hope that it is a hands-on and fun introduction to many of the mindfulness practices that I’ve found really helpful.

I currently have a number of other projects on the go. I’m really excited about writing resources for sharing mindfulness with children.

2. Do you find that people are more keen to nurture their souls, more aware of their mental health nowadays and understanding of modern life’s potential effects on it?

Yes, and I think that there is much more of an understanding of mind/body connection. This seems to be coming about by necessity – as the demands of modern life increase, it is becoming obvious that our minds and bodies were not built to be ‘on-the-go’ and ‘plugged in’ all of the time.

Human beings are amazing and I think we intuitively know what we need. It seems that we are collectively realising that we need quiet time, spaciousness and rest, as much as we need food, drink and oxygen. Our brains and bodies need time to process and restore. As we learn to slow down and take care of ourselves, I think we also come back in touch with the ways in which we are all connected and are able to build stronger relationships and community.

3. What are your personal mental health tools in your own toolkit?

Self compassion – I find that trying to relate to myself with kindness is a constant practice. It can be difficult to do this at times but one strategy I find helpful is to remind myself that when I am feeling low, I am almost certainly not the only one feeling like this. I remind myself that there are so many people in the world, there will be someone who is going through the same thing or having the same feelings as I am right this moment.

I picture them or think about where they might be in the world, maybe why they are experiencing these feelings. I find that thoughts of kindness arise naturally and I focus on these caring thoughts. This practice helps me to feel connected to others, which is very good for the mind and body, and also it is hard to not feel compassion for myself at the same time. It’s not really a formal practice, just a way of softening into kindness in order to let go of that often unconscious feeling that we always have to do/be more.

Nature – Being outside always helps me to be calm and feel more peaceful.

Silence – I try to have a little bit of time each day to just be in silence. This might be in meditation, or less formal – just sitting for ten minutes in quiet and letting my mind release and relax.

Creativity – Doing something with a playful attitude: for the joy of the process, not the end product. I like to draw, write, cook, garden and just enjoy being in the flow.

Laughter and friendship – So important!

 6. How do you balance work and life? 

Gosh, it’s hard! I think that this is something that we are all learning as we go and it’s all about experimenting and knowing that it’s ok to get it wrong sometimes. I think we’ve got to be really wary of guilt: we’re all just doing our best.

I try to see life as a creative challenge – each day I decide how to respond to whatever comes up rather than seeing my life as a journey towards something. It sounds cliched but this is something that becoming ill taught me.

I can have a tendency to be a bit of a perfectionist so I’m constantly working on softening and accepting. My mantra is ‘soften and smile’!

I think that it’s really helpful to understand that whoever you are, there will always be times when you will feel like you are not doing enough. We live in a world where there always seems to be more to achieve. Even the people that we see as super high achieving are nowhere near what society views as ‘perfect’ and have as many moments of feeling inadequate as everyone else. When we manage to see through the idea that ‘perfection’ even exists, life is a lot easier and we can really start to be content and happy with who we are.


8. What/who provide your wellness inspiration? 

There is so much inspiration out there… I think my ‘desert island wellness package’ (!) would include …

Kristen Neff – I have the audio version of her book ‘Self Compassion’ so I can listen to the guided meditations.

Jon Kabbat Zinn – I love everything that he teaches about mindfulness. His book ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ was the first book I read about mindfulness.

Thich Nhat Hanh – I find his teachings immensely inspiring. I am currently reading, and totally loving, ‘Love Letter to the Earth’.

Mary Oliver – I often return to her poetry.

Podcasts: The Guilty Feminist – fun and interesting. Onbeing – a good introduction to the spiritual lives of many inspirational people .

Francesca Martinez – her TED talk ‘Being Happy is a Political Act’ is spot on and very funny also. I’ve just got her book and can’t wait to start reading it.


IG: @taylor.fern

Amazon: http://bit.ly/2mJ88sg

FB: @hereandnowmindfulness

www.ferntaylormindfulness.com

Mojo detectives – pelvic floor restore 

Mojo detectives – pelvic floor restore 

Mama mojo. That elusive magic ingredient that gets lost somewhere between 3rd trimester cankles and the dark faceless beast of sleep deprivation. There are many other factors coming into play, identity,  confidence, anxiety…mixed up in a heady mojo cocktail which can lead to feelings of depletion and lowness. Which all makes us feel quite simply a bit blah. Even though our children are amazing – and this week particularly we hold that close and tight.


Identity, sparkle, va va voom. Children bring a lot of joy and wonder into our lives, but often with that comes a sense of loss of something deep within.


That “deep within” can start with your pelvic power. However you gave birth, your pelvic floor will have come into a bit of a drumming over the 9 months you carried your little passenger around, bouncing along on top of it.

Even a birth without “complications” strains your pelvic floor to its capacity. Without the tools or intent to repair and restore, you can be left feeling distinctly underwhelmed with your undercarriage, and this physical lowness can lend itself to a latent malaise in your wellbeing too.

So what can you do? Firstly – do not be shy about going to your GP if you feel, even years post birth, that things aren’t quite right down there.

Secondly. Commit to a few minutes of Pilates a day to restore the floor, and restore your faith, belief and compassion for yourself and your amazing warrior body.


1. Spine curls

Lie on the floor on your back, feet flat on the floor. Breathe, soften and enjoy the release of tension around your body.

Breathe in to prepare the body. Breathe out, and lift into your pelvic floor by gently engaging into the back passage as if trying to stop breaking wind. Tuck the tail bone underneath you, and roll your spine off the mat.

Breathe in, and roll down, finally releasing your pelvic floor when your bottom hits the mat.
2. Wall Slides

Stand against the wall with your feet about 30cm away. Lean your spine back. Feet hip width apart. Knees bent. Breathe in and soften your shoulders. Place your hands onto your pelvis if that helps you feel what’s happening.

Breathe out, lift up your back passage and zip the engagement through to the front – imagine you’re trying to stop breaking wind and stop having a pee at the same time. Relax the shoulders and slide down the wall with your spine, bending the knees over the toes.

Slide up and down three times, keeping your pelvic floor lifted. Keep breathing. Then release.


3. Wide legged heel lifts

Stand tall. Breathe and soften the shoulders into your back. Turn the legs slightly out and open them to shoulder width apart.

Breathe in. Lift into your pelvic floor. Rise up onto your toes, pressing the floor away. Keep the pelvic floor lifted.

Slowly lower the heels down, keeping engaged in your pelvic floor.

Breathe normally throughout – notice if you’re holding your breath. At the end, breathe out and fully release your pelvic floor. Without having a wee.


Even small pilates snacks every day will begin to strengthen your body and soothe your mind, fostering a positive outlook on your body and spirit.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Pregnancy-Naked-Truth-Anya-Hayes/dp/1910336165https://www.amazon.co.uk/Supermum-Myth-Imperfection-Mindfulness-Techniques/dp/1910336343

Power of Touch

Power of Touch

It’s selfcare Sunday: a day which should be in indelible ink in everyone’s bullet journal. I had an aromatherapy massage today, a long overdue use of a birthday voucher.

It sent me into a blissful meditative state and made me question why I don’t make time and space for this kind of therapy regularly.
When you’re a mum in the early days, we tend to fall on the sensory overload end of the spectrum, with someone constantly “on” you:  pulling, climbing, grabbing, sitting on you… so our desires for being touched feel at full capacity (and then some). At the last Mothers’ Wellness evening I ran with Zoe from Hypnobirthing Place  some of the mums talked about avoiding any kind of physical connection with their partners as they were all touched-out.

But massage therapy can reset the dial of your mind maybe free up a bit of space for your partner again. I discovered the healing power of touch when I went through a crappy tornado of a time in my life 12 years ago: my best friend from school died suddenly, and then 6 months later my 8-year relationship finished. So essentially the scaffolding of the past 15 years of my life toppled down around me. I wandered listlessly carrying my grief around in my pocket for a long time, crying alone on the top deck of buses a lot.

Then I headed to Thailand for a bit. Anyone who’s been to Thailand will know that getting a massage there is about as commonplace as buying a pint of milk. I realised after my relationship split that I hadn’t really been hugged very much, that regular inconsequential loving touch that you take for granted in a long term partnership was gone, and nothing had replaced it. And that along with the loss of a beloved friend meant I was feeling really rudderless, nothing at all to anchor me. So in Thailand, I had a massage every single day. And I realised at the end of my trip that some of the grief of the past year began to be assimilated, I felt lighter, brighter, a bit more “me”, and a sense of equilibrium began to settle on my soul.

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Wanting to harness this healing power of touch into my regular life, coupled with a slight anxiety about turning 30 (hah, my salad days!) I promised myself then that I would treat myself to an Organic Pharmacy Rose Crystal facial once every couple of months. Bliss time, always resulted in leaving me feeling rejuvenated, renewed and glowing, and very much helped to lead me out of the dark months of bereavement – and meant that my skin was bloomin amazing.

Alas, that disposable income and time of those days is no longer mine, and these kind of treatments are but a fond and wonderful memory. But knowing the benefits of massage and feeling them anew today has made me pledge that I’ll try to incorporate touch back into my life, even if just with a self-neck and shoulder massage with oils such as jasmine, lavender, neroli, every evening.

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So what are the benefits?

Manage anxiety and depression

Anxiety and depression, the diseases of our modern age. A massage can soothe these feelings by reducing cortisol levels. Deep levels of relaxation lowers cortisol and triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, a cue for our fight-or-flight response to calm down as if soothing a flighty horse. That floating on air feeling. Now the trick is to be able to imprint this feeling into your daily responses and come back to it when you’re in times of stress. That’s where a mindful breathing tool comes into play. Breathe in deeply for 5, out slowly for 6. Picture your mental space when you’ve had a nourishing treatment like a massage or facial. Aahhh.

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Massage boosts immunity

Getting a massage not only helps us relax, but also gives our immune and endocrine system a boost. Receiving a 45-minute massage has been found to increase the number of lymphocytes, white blood cells that help defend the body from disease. It can also result in lower levels of cytokines, molecules that play a role in inflammation, and a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol.

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Improve Sleep

Sleep, ahh, sleep. A crappy night’s sleep can be but a distant memory in your soul, with massage therapy. Several studies have found that getting a massage can reduce fatigue and improve sleep – not just for adults but babies too. Lots of studies suggest that massages increase delta waves, brain waves connected to deep sleep, which would explain why it’s common to drift off on a massage table and wake yourself up with a snort (hey, I’m sure all masseures/masseuses are used to that…).

Humans desire touch, it’s a fundamental need. A massage is one of the most simple and effective ways to feel a sense of intimacy and human connection, especially if you’re single or going through any mental health turbulence.

My book The Supermum Myth is available for preorder now!

Live life in Technicolor

Live life in Technicolor

The cold damp weather continues relentlessly at the moment. Enticing glimpses of sunshine in between the grey cold. The start of my Pilates classes is usually characterised with everyone saying how fed up they are with being COLD.

To a certain extent, this is part of being British. We grumble and moan about the cold, the heat, the rain, the leaves on the line. If you took the weather away from us as a conversational pivot we’d possibly flail about aimlessly until we settled upon “shall I put the kettle on?”

Everyone is fed up of being grey and damp. Most of my clients are noticing their aches and pains are flaring up and everyone feels scrunched up and tense because of huddling shoulders up to ears in defence against the rain.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) will certainly have a few more sufferers within this gloom. It’s the greyness that has the overriding effect…gloomy like a bad tempered headmaster sitting on your head constantly is bound to take its toll.


British people are like lizards, when the sun shines we instantly want to feel it on our skin and allow the warmth to seep into our bones. When I lived in Japan I remember a brightly sunny vaguely warm day in spring brought all of us gaijins onto our balconies in t-shirts and shorts, hungrily stripping off as far as was decent in order to feel the sun draping its warmth over as much skin as possible, in a celebratory mood, while our Japanese neighbours looked on in bemusement..it was a mild spring day but certainly not summer yet.

Sunshine is never taken for granted by us Brits, at any moment it might scuttle away (and you certainly can’t plan a picnic more than 4 hours in advance) so we race out to soak it up while we can, even if this means being slightly chilly while we try and tan our legs.


In hot climes in places like Ibiza, Thailand, Sri Lanka the most striking difference you notice compared to the UK is the vibrant colours, the abundance of colour everywhere, in clothing, buildings, woven into the fabric of life, into the mood even? I wonder if there is a link between your mood and the warmth, the colour that surrounds you.

Certainly in Sri Lanka and in my travels in Thailand I have always wanted to embrace the spirit and colour, buy bright fabric and clothes with opulent orange, pops of pink, turquoise, emerald greens …only to find when they come home they seem slightly garish and incongruous set against the tempered greys and browns of home. 


But more recently I’ve thought, sod cultural temperament. Colour makes me happy. I’m basically a colour junkie now. Partial to a pink pom-pom for everyday wear, without embarrassment (Maurice and Freddie are going to love me at the school gates in a few years’ time…). If it’s colourful, embroidered, quirky patterned, I’m on it. Turquoise and coral are my go-to colours for sparking joy. In clothes, maybe in lipstick (coral rather than turquoise…), nail varnish…a flash of joy here and there. I’ve painted some walls in my Pilates studio  “palm springs” teal/turquoise paint, to imbue the sun-soaked vibes of Sri Lanka. 


So, if you’re feeling drab, cold, tense and fed up as a lot of us seem to be right now, maybe have a think about the colours you’re surrounding yourself with. Commit to bringing a bit of brightness into your life while we wait for spring/summer to finally show up 🌸🌺🌹

Mum fail?

Mum fail?

This morning brought some more spectacularly misguided comment from the Daily Mail about the state of motherhood, basically summing up in one short piece of copy about what we’re battling against as mothers in our society today.

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I haven’t read the article myself, as seeing the headline alone referring to “slummy mummies” made my blood boil and I tend to steer clear of things that make me pointlessly angry in my life now. And I’m not going to share the link for the same reason. But suffice to say, the mothers pulled out for comment and torment were Sarah Turner The Unmumsy Mum, who has helped me locate my marbles on a number of occasions when I’ve read her universal motherhood truths on a grey drizzly day in a playground – who once said quite rightly that she doesn’t mind when people criticise her work or her appearance, but to be accused of being a bad parent, that’s waayyy below the belt. Katie Kirby, whose blog and book Hurrah for Gin reaches out with simple elegance and truth about day to day parenting melee. Steph Douglas who has built a business around maternal wellbeing and positively helping mums to be great mums by allowing them to feel supported and nurtured. Clemmie Telford, whose littlest is the same age as Freddie and whose Mother of All Lists has made me laugh, cry, nod with shared experience since Freddie was a newborn. These are all grafters, passionate working mums who LOVE THEIR CHILDREN and choose to present the trenches of motherhood with wit, grace and empathy, making sure that all of us feel slightly more normal when our children are running around us covered in a mixture of pizza, play dough and mud, making us occasionally want to seek solace in a bottomless glass of wine, and wring our hands at what became of our previous world where solo loo trips were a normal thing to aspire to.

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There’s a stark irony (not to mention ridiculous editorial misdirect) about the fact that only last month they published an article about the Duchess of Cambridge’s amazing speech where she admitted publicly and bravely about how motherhood was the toughest of all hoods and bringing to the fore a discussion about maternal mental health, shining some sensible and necessary spotlight onto the issue, and then today they counterpose that with its opposite – showcasing the stringent standards and open judgements that we have to negotiate and battle through as mums every single day. Stay at home? Here’s a judgment for you. Work? Here’s one for you. Not breastfeeding? Shame on you. Breastfeeding beyond a year? Shame on you.

We. Just. Can’t. Win.

I met another mum yesterday Sara, who has a blog she wants to set up to try and give mums a lift, a step up, a hoist into allowing themselves to feel better, brighter, more positive in their everyday parenting, by openly and honestly sharing how she deals with captaining her mothering speedboat and the resultant mental health waves and ripples. This shared experience is not a bad thing, a thing to be judged harshly. it is to be celebrated and applauded. We need MORE of it to make us all feel better, normal, more happy to share and nurture the next generation, the future mothers and fathers, to help them feel less lonely, more positive in their approach to life, to parenting, to the world.

As if to disprove their own point, the Daily Mail article is accompanied by pictures of radiant, smiling mothers with their gorgeously energetic, happy and bouncy children.

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So, come on Daily Mail. It’s the wrong thing to do, targeting mums in this way, with this venomous and pointless article. I hope you feel twitchy and unsettled as a result.

My new book, The Supermum Myth, is available for pre-order here.

 

Series: What’s in your toolkit? 4 – Suzy Reading: Part 1

Series: What’s in your toolkit? 4 – Suzy Reading: Part 1

I first connected with Suzy on Instagram last year, when I sensed a kindred spirit in her posts, an understanding of the relentless pressure of modern motherhood and life, and a tendency of all of us to slip down our own lists of priorities while we juggle the day to day. Suzy’s instagram feed is always a shining inspiration to look for nuggets of positivity even in those inevitable days where you struggle to find the light in the shadows. Suzy had so much amazing stuff to say that I’ll be adding a second part to her blog later in the series.

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  1. Tell me about yourself! Tell me more about your day job, how long you’ve been doing it, how you came to be in the field you’re in.

I’m a mummy of two, a psychologist specialising in wellbeing and facilitating sustainable healthy lifestyle change, a yoga teacher, and writer. I’ve always been passionate about health and helping my clients nurture themselves head, heart and body, but it was my life experience of motherhood colliding with my father’s terminal illness seven years ago that brought the disparate threads of my training (psychology, yoga and fitness) into one coherent offering – empowering people with the tools of self-care.

After witnessing my father’s breathing failure, a week of ‘last goodbyes’, the act of giving birth floored me and I began life as a mother at energetic rock bottom. I don’t know if it was PND, grief or just plain exhaustion and I don’t think it really matters. At the end of the day I’m human and I really struggled in the face of some traumatic times. I worked with an amazing PND counsellor who introduced me to the concept of self-care and it led me to my calling, the work I’m doing now – the silver lining to my suffering.

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I love that my career is still evolving with my life experiences. As a result I work with birth trauma, PND, helping people navigate the transition to parenthood, grief, loss, stress and coping with change. I also relish working with people who want to use self-care as a means of becoming the person they aspire to be.

Most of my work is one on one, but in the last few years I’ve branched out to offering workshops and corporate speaking on mental health and wellbeing. I’ve made my home in the gym environment, yoga studios, ‘walk & talk’ sessions on Manly beach and now in the woods of Hertfordshire, consulting rooms, auditoriums, schools and the corporate arena. Right now there is a real interest in promoting mental health and I love that I can bring my whole toolkit to the table – mind and body, because there really isn’t any separation between the two.

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  1. Why/when did you become a yoga teacher alongside being a psychologist?

I began my professional life working as a personal trainer in London. An eight week holiday to visit family in the UK from Sydney accidentally turned into a longer stint and I fell back into the work I was doing while I was at university. I first discovered yoga while I was training as a figure skater and working in the gym environment, teaching every kind of exercise class under the sun, I was drawn to teaching yoga. I took my teacher training qualifications and soon found that yoga was a wonderful bridge between the mind and body and I loved that this allowed me to work with my client’s emotional, energetic and mental health without leaving the gym… therapy by stealth!

I prescribe some kind of yoga for all my clients because of its therapeutic power and its ability to help us breathe better. Honestly, breathe better and you’ll feel better and it can be as simple as one pose a day.

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3. Tell me more about being a Neom ambassador. What are your top Neom products for wellness and self-care?

I adore working with Neom and love that they’re genuinely passionate about empowering people with little steps that make a big difference.

Neom products have a huge impact on my wellbeing and I incorporate them into rituals of nourishment dotted through my day. I use them as an affirmation of self-worth and like to pair different scents with different mantras, channeling a particular energetic effect. My favourites are the room sprays, candles, body scrub, shower oil, hand creams and pillow spray. You can use their scent discovery kit to find your tonic – for me it’s energy boosting and promoting sleep. Self-care in an instant!

  1. You are a shining champion for self-care and the importance of prioritising your own mental health. Recently there has been a lot more light shone on perinatal mental health, getting people really involved sharing their stories and chatting about these important issues over social media. Do you find that people are more aware of their mental health nowadays and keen to nurture it?

I learnt the hard way what happens when we stop nourishing ourselves and that experience of energetic bankruptcy taught me some big lessons. If I don’t care for myself, I’m pretty rubbish at nurturing those in my care. I want everyone to have access to those same tools because life is hard! No one is immune! Parenting is challenging. We all lose people we love. Work demands can push us to our limits. There’s no avoiding being tested by life, so the solution is to lovingly tend to our energy bank balance so we are best placed to cope.

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  1. What are your personal mental health tools in your own toolkit?

I’ve developed a framework of self-care which I call the Vitality Wheel – it is based on research from positive psychology, health psychology, mindfulness, CBT, acceptance and commitment therapy, the yoga tradition and my experience as a personal trainer. I categorise self-care into eight different ways we can nourish ourselves – eight spokes of the wheel if you like. These are:

  1. Sleep, Rest, Relaxation and Breathing
  2. Movement and Nutrition
  3. Stress Management and Coping Skills
  4. Your Physical Environment
  5. Social Connections
  6. Mood Boosters
  7. Goals and Accomplishments
  8. Values and Purpose

These categories help me to think about self-care more holistically, so that I am nurturing myself mentally, emotionally, energetically as well as physically. When I need a boost I turn to the Vitality Wheel and consider which strategies are most accessible and resonant in that moment.

What works for me and most people, is aiming for micro moments of nourishment and these are my go to’s:

  • the skills of savouring, gratitude, kindness and compassion
  • immersing myself in Nature or anything I find awe-inspiring
  • I love a mantra for anchoring my mind and cultivating an intention
  • focusing on the sensations of my breathing and using mudras (hand gestures) to work with my breath
  • prioritising soothing activities and watching my levels of stimulation like a hawk. My nervous system needs TLC – so a careful visual diet, one coffee savoured per day, and the occasional few glasses of wine.
  • intrinsically joyful movement is vital for my mood – after years of working in a gym I prefer walking and jogging in Nature’s beauty, rolling out my yoga mat at home or dancing up a storm to Ed Sheeran with the kiddliwinks. There’s always a way to squeeze movement in there.

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  1. How do you balance kids and work? 

Sometimes things need to be car parked – it’s just not possible to do everything all at once. I took about a year out with Charlotte because we had so much going on with my father’s illness. With Ted I was back coaching and teaching after eight weeks but with a greatly reduced schedule – it was very limited because he wouldn’t take a bottle. It’s about getting creative too and doing things differently. I made the most out of every second of Teddy’s nap time and wrote my book while he slept. That was my way of making progress on the career front while still being available for him.

I sometimes wish I had an employed role to go back to. Being self-employed and building your own business is like a baby in itself so I have struggled energetically trying to keep all the balls in the air. The flipside to the challenges of being my own boss is that my career is adaptable – I offered Skype coaching after the kids were in bed rather than face to face sessions, or taught workshops on the weekend when my hubby could look after the kids. It is such a juggling act and compromise is essential. Sometimes I still feel like I’m not doing anything particularly well, but you’ve got to be realistic with the resources you’ve got and make your own call on what is most important to you and your family – this varies hugely so give yourself permission to do what is right for you and your family and own it.

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Suzy is a Chartered Psychologist, Yoga Teacher, Health Coach and mother of two. She specialises in stress management, wellbeing and teaching tools of self-care. Want to boost your vitality, reclaim a state of calm or achieve better balance in life? Get in touch with Suzy. She is available for wellbeing coaching via Skype wherever you are in the world.

Drop her a line today: suzy@suzyreading.co.uk

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Series: What’s in your toolkit 3 – Emma Cannon

Series: What’s in your toolkit 3 – Emma Cannon

Emma Cannon is a fertility expert, author,  natural conception and IVF support acupuncture practitioner, and has been supporting women in their fertility journeys for many years. I had the great fortune to work on Emma Cannon’s first book, The Baby-Making Biblewhen I was working for the health and wellbeing publisher Rodale at Macmillan, in 2008.

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Liz Gough, then Rodale Publishing Director and now Publisher at Yellow Kite Books, came into the office having had a meeting with Emma, full of ideas and buzzing with inspiration. She said to me, “you would LOVE this woman, she is amazing: inspirational, a true wellness expert. Absolutely beautiful too.”

Working on her book was a total privilege: all of her wisdom resonated so powerfully, and planted itself somewhere deep inside me, a little internal seedling in case I needed to draw from it at an as yet unseen point in time. When I subsequently had my own fertility issues, suffering several miscarriages, I always had a copy of her books by the bed for a calming reassuring source of support and feeling of taking ownership of my own fertility destiny. I’ve lost count of the amount of copies I’ve bought for and lent to friends, and not just those looking to become pregnant, but if feeling generally under par, depleted, out of sync, the practical tips and understanding of how to achieve hormonal and emotional balance through our monthly cycle are indispensable.

While newly pregnant with my first baby I was serendipitously working on her second book, You and Your Bump. Before the age of Instagram postnatal support networks, this book provided me with the confidence to trust my instincts and provided solace in those newborn dark days.

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Her new book, Fertile, is out now. I’m kind of sad I don’t have a legitimate reason to buy it! Maybe I’ll have to in the name of research…

Emma is a passionate advocate of the fourth trimester: a period of time to honour the seismic shift in circumstance and nurture new mothers  – taking it slow, being gentle, nourishing the body properly, resisting pressure to “get back to normal”. Emma’s poise and wisdom, drawing from her years of supporting mothers, and the wealth of understanding of mind-body balance from millennia of Chinese medicine teaching, is something that we could all do well to cultivate in our own lives.

An understanding that a life well lived will always, inevitably, experience highs and lows: where there is light there is corresponding dark – and this is natural, to be expected and not feared. Her books offer women the tools to take control of their wellness in preparation for becoming a mother. I talked to Emma about what she considers to be her essential wellbeing toolkit.

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1. Your Instagram account is calming and inspirational. Tell me more about what you do day to day.

I work Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday morning in the clinic seeing patients. I have spent many many hours in clinic listening to women’s stories.
I spend Tuesday writing and doing a yoga class. Friday is yoga and meeting people or doing ‘cures’.
I keep myself well by exercise, doing the Viva Mayr Cure once a year, and cooking and entertaining friends and family.
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2. In your experience, are people becoming more aware of the impact of stress on their health, and keen to nurture their souls and combat modern life stressors before pregnancy?

Yes people may be more aware… but they are also more stressed than ever. There is a lot more awareness but there is also a lot of inauthentic stuff out there – wellness spiritualism has become very commercial, and with that comes the charlatans.

3. Recently there has been more of a spotlight shone on perinatal mental health and the challenges of motherhood, with the Duchess of Cambridge opening the floodgates to get people really involved sharing their stories and chatting about these important issues. Do you find that mums-to-be are more aware of their mental health nowadays and understanding of pregnancy’s and early motherhood’s potential affects on it?

Oh yes, this whole area has really opened up into an industry now. When I was pregnant with Lily (now 21) there weren’t even pregnancy jeans! On the mental/emotional side I think there is growing support and awareness. Yet still, mental illness is a taboo area and one that people shy away from.

For me, the fourth trimester is very important – it is a time a woman’s health really can take a turn for better or worse, and how well supported she is in that time will determine how well she thrives and adjusts emotionally and physically to motherhood.

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4. What are your personal mental health tools in your own toolkit?

A calm mind: I think too many people give in to obsession – but having the ability to deal with what is in front of you without worrying about things that have not happened is a gift. Sometimes it takes discipline – having the strength of mind just not to go there – being able to bring the mind back and not catastrophise.
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5. The eternal question – How do you balance kids and work?

Well, my children are 21 and 15 so they are much easier now, and I’ve been juggling for so long I don’t remember any other way of living. For me the key to this is flexibility; know that what works one day, or month or year will change – arrangements need to be revisited and changed from time to time.
I laid really good foundations with my children – the first year is critical.  I think it is important to work out what works for you and your family and make that the priority – I am my own boss so I know I am lucky. I made it up as I went along – I was the only person I knew with a child and I needed to work – but I have been able to grow things organically around my family so it has been great like that.

6. What would be your top tip for keeping your mental health on track throughout your fertility journey, pregnancy and early motherhood?

Develop your intuition; do not obsess and become a google addict.
Have belief, and build your resources.
Have a good support team: acupuncture, meditation, friends who make you feel good, and don’t say glib things like ‘I just know you are going to be alright’.
Don’t compare yourself to other people – this is really unhelpful and causes a lot of anxiety. Everyone is entirely different and has a unique set of circumstances.
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7. Who are your personal wellness gurus/favourite books/mantras to live by?

I believe that the time of the guru is dead and we should all be our own guru.
Be your own guru…
However, I have been working in this field for 25 years and of course I have my heroes… I love Peter Deadman’s book Live well Live Long.
Women who run with the wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.
Women’s bodies Women’s wisdom by Christane Northrup.