Pelvic Floor Restore

Pelvic Floor Restore

I ran my first pelvic floor workshop last night for a group of mums – new and “seasoned” – pelvic floor awareness, performing functional movement exercises to help them all find strength in the day to day – movements that mirror picking up baby, putting car seat in the car, pushing buggies up onto pavements. Those kind of physically demanding moves that we don’t consider exercise but that we merrily do all day every day.

One of the mums is 5 months postnatal and has a diastasis recti (abdominal separation) which she had been told was “really bad”. She was feeling demoralised and fearful. Everyone in the session was feeling like they had to make time to do pelvic floor work … and it all seems a bit much among the mental overload and emotional labour of motherhood. The demand for a bounce back. Something else to remember to do. Something extra to add to your pressurised time.

Mamas – it’s hard. It’s HARD to build up your strength after baby. Pregnancy and birth is HAAARRD on your body. It’s ok to go easy on yourself. It’s ok to want to give yourself a hug. It’s ok to cry and think you’re the weakest you’ve ever felt. .

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You are actually the strongest. ❤️ you’re holding up the world.

Pelvic floor health is worth putting on your priorities list – but it’s not just a question of a hopeful squeeze and lift when you remember. It’s allowing yourself to breathe fully and deeply. It’s checking in on how you’re bending down to pick up your baby. Become mindful about how you sit every day (remember your sit bones!!), your movement habits. Allow it to become autopilot that you breathe out and engage your pelvic floor when you pick your baby up out of their cot or grab your toddler. When you twist and lower them into their car seat. THIS is all meaningful. It’s not fitting it in when you can’t cope with the idea of another pressure on your time. It’s making it all add up to a healthy core. And this will benefit you for life. An ignored pelvic floor develops ways of making you take notice. And it’s never too late to start nurturing it.

Go easy on yourself fabulous one, you’re doing an amazing job.

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A gratitude attitude – mindfulness and #everydayjoy

A gratitude attitude – mindfulness and #everydayjoy

I recently recorded a podcast with the gorgeous Tamu Thomas, founder of Three Sixty and one half of the founders of Motherhood Reconstructed. I love Tamu’s ethos about life: “It’s time to recognise that we are valuable and create lives where we take time to feel our value.  I believe that when we feel our value we evoke a grounding sense of contentment and can appreciate everyday joys that tell us we are living rather than existing.” I can so identify with this, too often are we rolling along through life waiting for affirmation from external sources about our success or happiness? Tamu and I chatted about my experience of going through a huge bereavement when my best friend died 14 years ago. From that point onwards, I’ve always tried to forage around for moments of pure happiness, small spots of sunlight to pick out of even the greyest day. I guess that has been my way of picking myself up out of deep sadness/depression.

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I hadn’t ever labelled this “mindfulness” until recently, but now studying Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction the idea of noticing and consciously counting the small nuggets of  joy is coming up a lot. In The Supermum Myth we talk a lot about gratitude and how this can do huge things in terms of turning up the contentment levels in your life, gently and gradually filling up your reserves and building resilience in life and fostering an ability to see the silver lining, work through problems to find a way forward without being buried in your emotional response or weighed down by negative habits.

The Science of Gratitude

Current research from the University of California, has been studying the effects of gratitude on over 1,000 people. The participants in this research ranged in age from eight to 80, and were split into two groups. One group was asked to keep a journal, and to write five ‘gifts’ that they were grateful for each day. The other group had to write down five ‘hassles’. Some examples of the ‘gifts’ people noted were generosity of friends, and watching a sunset through the clouds. Examples of ‘hassles’ were things like difficulty in finding a parking space, waiting in queues or train delays.

Researchers found was that those who had consciously focused on gratitude on a daily basis experienced significant psychological, physical and social benefits: a 25% improvement in overall health and wellbeing in comparison with the group focussing on what had gone wrong each day.

So, this is a very quick daily exercise which will have a very powerful effect on your day. It’s a good habit to get into doing first thing in the morning or last thing at night. In that way, the grateful thoughts are more easily imprinted into your unconscious.

Bring to mind 10 things which you appreciate in your life today. It’s important to get to 10 things, even if at first you struggle to find one! This is exactly what the exercise is about – consciously bringing into your awareness the previously unnoticed smallest and specific elements of good in your day and life. And because your mind can only think of one thing at once, while you are focusing on the good aspects of your life you literally are unable to focus on anything that may be bringing you down or annoying you.

So, an example:

  1. I’m grateful for my children/parents/friends
  2. I’m grateful for my home, the roof over my head
  3. I’m grateful that it’s been a sunny day
  4. I’m grateful that I’ve got my health
  5. I’m grateful I’ve got eyes to see
  6. I’m grateful that my work provides a chance to interact with other people and socialise
  7. I’m grateful that I have food on the table when I want it
  8. I’m grateful that I had a nice cup of tea today
  9. I’m grateful for my favourite song coming on the radio
  10. I’m grateful that I had lots of compliments about my lovely shoes today

It may take time, drawing out 10 things that you are happy about. But once this becomes a habit you’ll actively be seeking and noticing in the moment things that you will later call upon in your gratitude list. Imagine doing this every day, that’s 70 things you appreciate a week. And what about a year?

If you think about it, it’s easy to see how this can have a very positive effect on your thought processes and the way your brain works, your mental habits. Imagine how that could have an immensely  positive effect on your life – and happiness levels?

Often we don’t even know how much we have. It’s a cliche but we take so much for granted in the modern world: clean running water, shops to buy things at our convenience, transport, household appliances…we become so blind to the things that make our lives easy and so our happiness levels simply don’t take them into account. It’s time to start noticing the small things again. #everydayjoy

Do you practise gratitude consciously? Could you? Does it appeal as an idea or does it sound like a lot of work for not much payback? I’d love to hear from you

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xxx

Brain gym – exercise to tone the brain

Brain gym – exercise to tone the brain

I’ve just had the great fortune to have been to a wonderful Mindfulness and Yoga retreat, where we had daily guided meditation and soothing yin yoga, to nourish body and mind. And I’m now at the beginning of an 8-week course in Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) with the British Mindfulness Institute, so that I can weave in more mindfulness benefits to my Pilates teaching – and my life! I’ve found recently that I’ve allowed myself to become a bit weighed down by worry and stress. A Chinese Medicine-based treatment at my recent yoga retreat revealed to me that I was depleted generally and taking on too much worry about the world and my place in it. So, it’s divine timing it seems that I am starting this course now, to help me combat the effects of cumulative over-worry.

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It’s fascinating, truly fascinating, the tangible benefits of a regular mindfulness practice. Increasingly I think we need to look inward, not outward, in terms of validation and proof of our contentment. Not the stuff, the Pinterest-worthy house, the car…but how you feel day to day. Whether your mind is cluttered and jangly, or whether you genuinely experience a sense of calm and pervasive sense of peace. We’re human: “inner peace” will always be a recalibration day to day and there will always be stress in our lives, but it’s the overwhelming sense of balance and the response to stress that brings that sense of contentment rather than depleting angst, I think. And even just two weeks of practising mindfulness consciously every day has lent me a sense of space. increasing the space between stimulus and response.

We have to be kind to ourselves: as women, our mood will wax and wane with hormones and the moon, and this flux has to be taken into account. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the University of Massachusetts defines Mindfulness as: “The awareness that comes from paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.” It’s the “non-judgmentally” bit that resonates most with me. We are so hard on ourselves! There is no “getting meditation right”, there is simply giving it a try and placing it firmly within your regular daily toolkit. It could be meditation = breathing. Meditation = looking up at the sky for a moment. A snack, rather than a full 3-course meal.

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Here are some things I have discovered:

  1. Mindfulness improves focus, empathy, emotional control and increases happiness:

After 8 weeks of Mindfulness training researchers were able to show through brain scans there was an increase in activity in the area of the brain which has been identified as being key in attention, memory, emotional regulation and empathy for others (Holzel et al).

This is borne out by a study known as “The Waiting Room Study”. People who had attended an eight week Mindfulness training course were brought into a waiting room, along with an equal number of people who hadn’t attended Mindfulness training. A woman entered on crutches, a medical boot on one leg. She winced, sighed uncomfortably, and leaned against the wall because there were no free seats. The researchers found that 50 percent of people from the Mindfulness training group gave up their seat, whereas only 15 percent of the non-Mindfulness trained people did.

  1. Mindfulness increases generosity:

Neuroscientist Helen Weng took individuals with no prior Mindfulness training and offered them two weeks training. This experiment was conducted to determine whether this short training would result in an improvement in their abilities to become more compassionate towards themselves and others. The training was conducted over the internet and lasted approximately 30 minutes each day. Each participant was required to make responses over the 30 minutes and listen to what is known as ‘Loving Kindness’ Meditation. This form of meditation asks the participants to extend feelings of compassion towards a loved one, an acquaintance and someone with whom they have had difficulty.

Before and after the two week training, the participants had fMRI brain scans. While undergoing the scan they were shown a series of images depicting people in pain – a child crying and a burn victim. At the end of the two week training the participants were asked to play an online game to measure altruistic behaviour. The participants who underwent the training were twice as generous as those without training.

  1. Mindfulness improves mood and boosts immune system:

In a research study entitled ‘Alterations in Brain and Immune Function’ researchers studied participants who had undergone an 8 week programme of Mindfulness meditation. fMRI scans of brain activity were taken before and after the programme. At the end of the programme the participants were injected with a flu virus. From the fMRI images participants were shown to have significant increases in left-sided anterior activation (brain circuitry related to a positive mood). The participants also had a higher white blood cell count. The conclusion of this study was that after only 8 weeks of Mindfulness training, participants had more positive moods and a more positive immune system.

  1. Mindfulness in the Workplace:

Mindfulness has also proved extremely beneficial in workplace settings. A mindfulness-based programme offered to workers at Transport for London resulted in major changes to the level of health-related absenteeism. Days taken off due to stress, depression and anxiety fell by over 70% in the following three years. Course participants also reported significant improvements in their quality of life – 80% said their relationships had improved, 79% said they were more able to relax and 53% said they were happier in their jobs.

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Worth a try, right?

Have you got a mindfulness/meditation practice in place? Even if not a formal one – do you notice day to day how you’re feeling? Do you breathe, fully and deeply, as a way of consciously combatting stress? I’d love to know. Feel free to comment with your thoughts and experience! xxx

Yoga and Mindfulness – Retreats for the mind, body, soul

Yoga and Mindfulness – Retreats for the mind, body, soul

I have been on a few yoga retreats in my life…and looking back, they’ve always been at transitional  or turbulent moments of my life. My first experience of a yoga retreat was in December 2004 in Thailand….my best friend had died 6 weeks before, and I was in the deep visceral clutches of bereavement and waves of grief. I felt a real pull to a yoga retreat I had seen signs for on the beach in Koh Phangan (a beach where I had been a few times since 2001, always noticed the sign, never plucked up the courage to answer my curiosity and see where it take me), and doing yoga on a gazebo in the middle of a coconut jungle was exactly what my broken heart needed at that time. And also where I decided that life was too short to waste time, so had an epiphany to train as a Pilates teacher.

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Retreat number 2 was in France the following summer, 2005, and happened to be booked to coincide with the day after splitting up with my boyfriend of 8 years. The week of barefoot walking silent meditation, secluded corners to read books and ponder life, within a beautiful chateau’s garden, daily yoga, gorgeous food and wine was, looking back, definitely the right place to be going through the very early phases of surreal heartbreak. Yoga to heal the broken soul, once again.

Retreat number 3: Ibiza Retreats for my 40th birthday. Four nights of blissful peaceful sleep, after 15 months of having been woken every hour or two by a beautifully sleepless Freddie babe. Not so much broken in soul but definitely in spirit. Heart full but mojo AWOL, identity muddled, the new mum survival mode phase of motherhood where everything is like pieces of a puzzle scattered around the floor with no real time or focus to put them in the right place. This few days gave me a bit of puzzle-orientation.

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And now this retreat I’ve just had the pleasure of being on, in the rolling hills of Andalusia, Lunar Lemon Retreats. I can’t describe how nourishing and soothing this retreat was. Run by gorgeous Brighton-based yoga teacher Mel Melvin who weaves in her experience in dance, movement therapy, mindfulness, this retreat was a tonic for body, mind, spirit, soul. Two yoga sessions a day, the morning one was energising and strengthening, the evening was the purest of Yin yoga, nurturing, balancing, calming. The food at the villa was beautiful to look at and to eat. And my days were spent reading, swimming, enjoying the exquisite peace….I feel lighter and rejuvenated from 4 days of being cradled in the mountains around Malaga and I cannot recommend Mel’s retreats enough.

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Have you ever been on a retreat? What was your biggest take home memory/feeling? Mine has been to rediscover a love of that soft meandering summer holiday feeling of savouring a good book. And the wonderful feeling of waking up and honouring my body with yoga, breath, movement. Namaste…. xxx

Birth Trauma Awareness Week

Birth Trauma Awareness Week

This week is birth trauma awareness week. Fittingly, it’s also my due date week of my first (rainbow) baby. I had no idea about birth trauma when I went (12 days beyond my due date) into my birth experience. If I had, perhaps rather than labelling myself a “failure” I would have more kindly labelled myself someone who had been through a traumatic event.

My birth experience hit me like a tonne of bricks. Partly, and perhaps inevitably, it was an expectations vs reality thing. Partly, the events themselves were undoubtedly the most traumatic physical and emotional event that had ever happened to me – three days of labour ending in crash caesarean, where Maurice wasn’t breathing when he was eventually pulled out of me and had to be resuscitated. But… these events although traumatic may not inevitably have left an eternal footprint in my soul had it not also been for the carelessly unkind manner in which I was treated by a small but significant number of people caring for me during my birth experience.

Mothers Wellness Toolkit
Mothers Wellness Toolkit

This kind of trauma leaves its imprint by folding itself into your bones, weaving itself into your fibres…swirling seamlessly around your bloodstream. Unless acknowledged and allowed time and space to assimilate and release, it can build up and become visceral, impacting on your function over time like limescale in your kettle.

My coauthor for The Supermum Myth, Dr Rachel Andrew, gave me a quote from a poet which I included in the birth trauma section of the book: Never take a fence down until you know why it’s been built. Trauma is your body’s way of erecting a barbed wire fence around your soul. Protect protect protect. There are ways of taking it down: mindfully, slowly, cautiously, gently. Compassionately.

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If you’re not already, please follow the beautiful new campaign led by perinatal mental health psychologists Emma Svanberg and Rebecca Moore, Make Birth Better, which can signpost you to resources to help you or your partner through any trauma you may have experienced.

And remember in your interactions with others: trauma is like a volcano. Someone may look bold, fierce, formidable on the surface. But you never know what is rumbling underneath. Always be kind, compassionate.

How was your experience of birth? If you would like or need to share your experience, please do message me, or contact the Birth Trauma Association where you will find a forum for sharing experiences and connecting with others.

Sending you love xxx

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