How to restore your pelvic floor, in less than 3 minutes a day

How to restore your pelvic floor, in less than 3 minutes a day

One of the things that new mums tell me almost more than than anything else, is that they wish they had fully understood how important pelvic floor health was, and they wish they had taken the time to focus on it a bit before baby came – as let’s face it, once baby is out and you need to do the work more than ever before, it’s when you have the least brain space to think about it.

Pelvic floor health should be something that we seamlessly coordinate into our day, like brushing our teeth. You no doubt dedicate at least 4 minutes of your day, every day, to your pearly whites. The idea of not doing that would be fairly grim for the long term. So, why is it so hard for us to factor in pelvic floor health if it could be within that time frame? It’s not a time issue, is it? It’s a human self-sabotage issue.

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Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on Pexels.com

For a start, pelvic floor health is intertwined with how you breathe, move, and carry yourself day to day. So, ultimately no amount of occasional hopeful squeezing will be effective if your body held in bad posture most of the time or if you’re not breathing consciously, as your pelvic floor works in a finely choreographed balance with your diaphragm and other abdominal muscles. It’s not really worth sitting and squeezing once or twice a month, but placing loads of pressure on your pelvic floor through your postural habits day to day and not addressing that. We need to be curious about our  bodies and take our strength and health into our own hands.

What you do and how you move day to day impacts so much more on your muscles than one hour in a fitness class a week or the occasional “pelvic floor exercise”.

Your pelvic floor health is crucial for your mental health into your old age. Incontinence brings with it issues of fear of exercise, embarrassment, depression. Prolapse can make you feel like an old woman, can cause discomfort and anxiety. But working your pelvic floor CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE to your pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms, and prevent incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse postnatally.

So first: think about your alignment, then breathing. THEN, connect.

It’s as easy as A, B, C. 

  • Stand or sit tall with your ribcage stacked above your pelvis: your heart centre balanced directly above your womb centre.
  • Breathe in through the nose, deeply, wide, full, low: imagine a “360” breath around all sides of your torso opening wide out through the ribs and down to your low belly. Allow your lower belly – and pelvic floor – to fully soften.
  • Sigh your breath out through the mouth as if you’re fogging a window in front of you.
  • Draw up into your back passage as if you’re trying to stop breaking wind, then pull the engagement forward and up. Hold for up to 10 seconds – no tension in your jaw, buttocks, inner thighs – then fully release with a deep wide breath in.
  • Repeat 10 times.
  • Then – sigh out, then lift up and pulse squeeze 10 times quickly. Then breathe in to release.
  • Do this 3 times a day.

So remember your A, B, Cs

Elaine Miller, also known as @Gussetgrippers, Women’s health physio and stand up comedian is spreading the hashtag  We won’t pee with 10 10 3.

10 lift and hold. 10 pulses. Three times a day.

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Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

Honestly that’s less than 3 minutes of your day. How can we sex it up to make it something you don’t continue to avoid?

I’d love to hear from you – get in touch and let me know your thoughts, I’m really keen to find ways to get women to engage with their pelvic floor health, so let me know what your barriers to focusing on it are. It’s boring? You’re not sure how to do it? You never remember? Let’s work on this together.

#wewontpeewith10103

 

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Rebirth post-caesarean

Rebirth post-caesarean

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This month is Caesarean awareness month.

First time round, I had that blissful naivety that as long as you “planned” your birth, in the organised and methodical manner that you planned other stuff in your life, and you were “relaxed enough”, everything would be great. I hadn’t yet learnt the very fundamental motherhood lesson that, from the moment you see those lines on the pregnancy test, this is a ride on the rapids. You can research everything about rapids riding before you get in that canoe, but essentially most of the time you’ll just have to cling on and get swept along. My first birth was my first, indelible, lesson in this fact.

I wanted a “beautiful”, calm birth, where the baby arrived when it chose to, emerging with a hearty wail as it took its first breath and was delivered straight to mummy’s breast. Doesn’t everyone…? While we’re fantasising, it would have been great to have looked instagrammably radiant to pose for pictures afterwards too…

My reality was slightly different. Maurice didn’t seem to want to come out, he was quite happy slumbering inside…it turned out my placenta was failing and he wasn’t thriving, so probably simply didn’t have the oomph to try to push and squiggle his way out.

Induction at nearly 42 weeks preggers was followed by a 2-day labour, and Maurice’s heartrate slowed dangerously – a sound that is imprinted in my soul. Nothing in my mental preparation had imagined my birthing room being suddenly rushed by medical staff with such a sense of urgency, being sped down a corridor on a trolley so that you can be prepped for surgery and have your baby pulled out within 15 minutes of the call being made. He wasn’t breathing when he was born, and the following minutes of waiting to see how the dice rolled remain pretty much the worst of my life.

He was very tiny due to my grumpy placenta’s failure – everyone thought he was a premmie at a scrawny 5lb 12. I was also very ill, and couldn’t touch him for the first 8 hours of his life, which meant that his first days were fraught and filled with fear and tears which set the tone for our breastfeeding journey and first challenging months.

Hello, ripeness for PND and PTSD anyone?

Quite apart from the physical, there is a huge mountain of emotional issues that confront you after a caesarean, particularly if it’s been an emergency and you maybe hadn’t allowed yourself to contemplate it as an option prior to the event – a c-section would be a cop out, a failure, right? We set our expectations on each other and ourselves unbearably high throughout this birth and motherhood party.

I talked to many caesarean mamas in the aftermath and there was a common theme, that with emergency C-sections particularly, you have a sense that, although you have a baby, you didn’t actually give birth to him. Like your body has let you down completely, and that you’re a bit of a failure, you didn’t do it “right”. Particularly if you allow yourself to feel jealous/envious of other friends who can recount “perfect” birth stories involving steady progression and dilation, birth pools and no drugs (albeit also a lot of screaming, swearing and threatening to jump out the window no doubt…), where the natural order is preserved and things are as they should be.

For me, my frightening and shocking caesarean birth laid the foundations for the spectrum of PND and PTSD which influenced and framed the early months/year of motherhood. Heightened anxiety, painful feelings of bitterness and anger when hearing of better birth experiences, that everything was a barb intended towards me and my failure to get any of this right. Feeling like suddenly I had been stripped of a protective top layer and was exposed and sensitive to anything thrown at me. Thrown in with an unhappy (similarly traumatised?) colicky baby who cried all the time and didn’t sleep at all like “newborns are supposed to”, there are potential dangers of feeling more than a little bit of the “baby blues” in this time.

The wound heals and the scars eventually fade: it’s the emotional healing that is the challenge in the long term. This kind of experience tends to be locked down into your fibres and lead to physical aches and tensions even if you no longer acknowledge it as a current influence. If not addressed, it gets packed down under many layers, but distantly, constantly remembered in your muscular and emotional tissue. That pain in your neck, the dull ache you have in your pelvis.

If you’ve had a difficult birth experience, you can be left thinking, “I wish I’d done this instead”, and this can lead to ruminating over the same parts of the birth that you are unhappy with. “I wish I’d said this…”, “I could have done more”, “I could have tried harder”. Underneath these thoughts can be the core belief, “I’m weak”. It can be helpful to think about the birth in a different way. Were there times during the birth when you showed warrior strength, no matter how small? Some women describe trying to move or speak (even if they couldn’t due to medication) or trying to control their own minds – by taking it out of the situation, shifting their focus or telling themselves, “It’ll be over soon.”

Accepting the birth story that you had is essential, and reconciling yourself to the way it turned out, not comparing it to other “better” experiences, and embracing it as a legitimate birth as any other. Letting go of any fear, anger and disappointment that might have unfurled from the experience, and living in the present, the success.

I personally decided to take it day by day, practise mindfulness, offer myself time to breathe regularly (as much as having children allows that…), to try and soothe the emotional wound as the physical was also gradually healing. It’s often only in retrospect that you fully understand the depth of an experience and can appreciate how much of a warrior you were to get through it all.

I powerfully believe in the remedial magic of Pilates – for strengthening after abdominal surgery it’s unrivalled but particularly post caesarean. But not to be underestimated is the emotional power of reconnecting to your body through movement and breathing, and rediscovering a faith in it which may have been lost.

The Supermum Myth is out now.

You can buy a copy of my book Pregnancy: the Naked Truth here

Model Method Online: Week 1

Model Method Online: Week 1

Week 1 of the Model Method Online – tick!

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It’s amazing how even just a week of upping your exercise routine can start to make you feel like you’re changing and energising. This week I have worked out 5 times rather than the 6 I was assigned – I skipped two evenings because I was working, such is the freelance self-employed mum juggle – but I did go swimming too which was a bonus on top of the model method workouts. There’s a ripple effect – commit to a small amount and in time your vitality will ensure that you actually start doing a little more.

The workouts are a combination of HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training – basically bursts of sweaty powerful movement followed by periods of lower intensity Pilates mathwork and movement, and dynamic Pilates. My abs have been burning with each session – something I haven’t felt for a long time as I clearly simply don’t push myself very hard when working out on my own, and I haven’t been able to find a Pilates class near me that works in my life. As much as I adore yoga, I feel like it’s an entirely different workout experience to really feeling the burn in your muscles with Pilates. It reminds me of when I was 18 and as a diversion from A-level stress I found solace every evening in doing the Y-Plan workouts which are delightfully dated in appearance now (think bright and shiny blue and pink lycra high-legged leotards, nice…) . Short workouts (15-30 minutes), which make you feel like you’ve worked hard but haven’t involved much more time than it normally takes to faff around making a cup of tea while glassily scrolling on social media.

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I feel like my Pilates mojo is being fired up and I’m looking forward to each session, even though those sessions are generally having to be done after the boys’ bedtime, which is prime flopping time usually (pre-teaching or working in the evening) . If there’s a sense of accountability – i.e. you’ve signed up for a programme, or a future event such as a 10k, you really do have something else to be responsible for which means that you’re more likely to stick to it.

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In the next week I’m going to start to focus more on the Nourish part of the programme. This week I’ve been purely focusing on the exercise. It’s a well-known life coaching practice that change should be implemented in small steps: don’t try changing everything in one go as you’re only setting yourself up for failing. It’s also true that the self-saboteur may start to rear its ugly head…oh I’m too tired for exercise tonight….I can’t see a difference so I’m just going to quit….I don’t have time to do it this evening… But pushing through the difficult moments can mean that ultimately the habits you establish are going to be stronger and more long-lived. One of the motivational emails that Hollie sends out to participants this week said

“Do something today that your future self will be grateful for”

So it’s all about delaying gratification, to think ahead about why you are doing this. What is it that you want out of it? For me: to feel energised, to feel more positive have more vitality to deal with the general chaos of life with small children with a bit more grace and humour. And, I do want to whittle my waist and not feel so heavy.

So I decided to have a big push on the exercise side of things before even looking at my eating habits. And generally once you’re focusing on your movement, you naturally begin to seek more nourishing practices when it comes to your eating. For me: my eating habits revolve around eating mindlessly (hoovering up my children’s leftovers), and not planning effectively therefore not having the ingredients for the healthiest meals to hand. Step by step I’m creating change in my habits, and I’m hoping to set myself up for long-term vitality. Looking forward to seeing what Week 2 holds!

This programme is pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and challenging my ability to stick with something until it really is ingrained as a new, healthy, positive habit for life.

A letter to my new mum self

A letter to my new mum self

I went to an event today called Tea for PND, arranged by the amazing Jo from Lobella Loves. A room full of mums connecting and sharing experiences of motherhood, in a safe space with no judgment. Such an amazing concept. I met for the first time in real life the fabulous Amy, also known as Surviving Motherhood. She has written this week a letter to her new mum self, and I urge you to go and have a look and read what she has to say as she’s an amazingly strong and inspirational, fun, radiant woman who shows that admitting to mental health issues and postnatal depression is never a sign of weakness.

Today is the anniversary of the day before I became a mum, 6 years ago. I’ve written a letter to my new mum self.

Dear new mama Anya

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Today is the 6th anniversary of the day before you became a mummy. I’m looking at our nearly 6 year old boy, and his feistiness, his curiosity, his tendency towards easy rage, but his fierce understanding of kindness and fairness (unless it comes to sharing toys with his brother) his love of Paw Patrol and anger about littering, his enthusiasm and brightness. And I’m wishing you could have had this vision while going through the months that followed tomorrow’s date, 6 years ago.

6 years ago today you were in labour, having been induced due to pre-eclampsia the day before. You were still over 24 hours away from meeting your little one. All the preparation you did – the yoga, the peaceful hypnobirthing breathing, the belief that you’d have a “beautiful birth” (whatever that may actually be…) faded as each hour passed into the creases of the blue curtains surrounding you on the induction ward, the relentlessly sleepless public ward for three nights of the induction and labouring process. Just want baby to be ok, his heart rate keeps dropping, please let him be ok, please let it be ok.

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Labouring for over 2 days ended in the call for a category 1 (highest level) emergency caesarean. Nothing in my mental preparation had imagined my birthing room being suddenly rushed by medical staff with such a sense of urgency, being sped down a corridor on a trolley so that you can be prepped for surgery and have your baby pulled out within 15 minutes of the call being made. He wasn’t breathing when he was born, and the following minutes of waiting to see how the dice rolled remain pretty much the worst of my life.

In the months after his birth, I kept repeating to myself, with my unquestioned automatic thoughts, that my body had let me down, that I hadn’t prepared in the right way. Maybe I hadn’t shown my baby that I loved him and wanted him here enough, maybe I hadn’t trusted my body enough. I had failed. A close family friend had been due at the same time as us, and she had had a smooth home birth four days earlier, where they had been eating pizza blissfully in bed with their newborn within hours of giving birth.

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It felt like everyone around was celebrating how brilliantly she had done, commenting on how amazing she looked, and giving us critical ‘better luck next time, never mind that you were a bit crap’ vibes in comparison. Even the terminology that you find in your birthing notes is heavily laced with judgemental vocabulary: ‘failure to progress’, ‘incompetent cervix’. Dear new mama Anya, I wish you had had the ability to view yourself through a kinder, softer lens, not to feel so judged by yourself and by others’ comments, to perceive such failure in what is inarguably such success.

On the operating table after having Maurice, I was told that I’d had a boy, but that he wasn’t breathing. In the eerie yet busy silence while they set about resuscitating him – no hearty newborn cries to be heard – I remember feeling like a truck was sitting on my chest and I couldn’t breathe. I later understood that this was most likely to be the effects of the anaesthetic reaching too high into my chest, but I didn’t logically know that at the time. I decided to coax myself away from what I thought was a rising panic attack by focusing on calmly counting to ten, then back to one, then up to ten, over and over again.

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I now hold on to that as a sign that I didn’t actually break in that moment, despite being put under immense pressure. It’s only now in hindsight that I can see how strong I was. You were so strong, new mama Anya.

It can be bittersweet looking at my beautiful boy, knowing that bringing him into the world isn’t filled with memories of joy and sweary euphoria, but instead fear, pain, shock, being utterly out of control and powerless. I felt like I failed him by not being able to birth him naturally, with all the guilt bombarded upon you about the benefits for your baby of a natural birth. And I now feel sad that I can’t lovingly relay to him what a wonderful day we had when Mummy bounced on a birthing ball happily, listening to Beyoncé and eating Hobnobs, and then popped you out blissfully in a pool on the living-room floor.

I look back on the weeks that followed this date, 6 years ago, all the river of tears that I cried, and the times when I thought, how is it that I can’t do this most natural womanly thing in the world: give birth, and breastfeed? How can I fail at both? How is it that I cannot even feed my own child?

Sitting endlessly on the sofa all night, no point going to bed, endless feeding attempts and screaming. Every single one of the 24 hours in the day. 3am became sweaty, slippery nipples, breastmilk, screaming always screaming tiny too small baby at the breast, not able to offer the comfort that he desperately needed. I hadn’t ever felt despair like it.

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I look back at those days, where the black fog of failure and anxiety permeated all of my waking actions and thoughts, and now I think – all of these times when you felt your least Supermum were when you actually were at your most. Striving for your baby’s wellbeing. Holding his little screaming body tightly, soothing, bouncing, whispering, shhh-ing, offering up your painful breast knowing that it would feel like there was a knife slicing into it, but still offering it, with gritted teeth and curled toes, again and again and again.

New mama, you were such a warrior. Your birth and newborn experience wasn’t “your fault”. All birth is different, traumatic births happen – it is NOT YOUR FAULT.

I’m glad that rather than packing away your experience in a heavy rucksack to carry around with you forever, you over time decided to learn, share, spread the understanding and awareness. There is an army of warrior mamas out there. There is strength to be found in challenging experiences, building resilience you only notice you have once you emerge through the tunnel into the light once more.

New mama Anya, you did an amazing, loving, caring job and you just had no idea how strong you were.

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Keeping mum mighty – the importance of self care

Keeping mum mighty – the importance of self care

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There are some wonderful things going on on social media to champion the cause of self-care, encouraging us all to take a bit of ownership of our lives and not let ourselves be buried underneath piles of laundry and self-imposed internal negative stress.

I’ve been an avid listener to the Supermum Podcast, Mindset Tips for Busy Mums, since discovering it a couple of weeks ago when i started my Route 66 journey of 66 days to create positive habits. (ahem, how’s that going by the way? I haven’t blogged about it every day but it’s been gently there powering away on the back burner. How are your habits going?)

And on Instagram i’ve connected with Sara from Keeping Mum Mighty, a wellbeing blog aimed at mums, showing them how to navigate nappies and meltdowns with calm and positivity. I’ll be contributing to her blog in the future, and as part of that she asked me to answer a few questions for her about the importance of self-care and what it means to me. Here are my answers! let me know if any of it resonates with you.

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In your opinion, why is it important to Keep Mum Mighty?

Because our life is how we feel today, not how we want to or think we’ll feel tomorrow. We scramble through some days as mums kind of wishing our lives away, waiting for bedtime, waiting for a moment when we feel calmer, when things are smoother, when we have our shit together, when we’ll be a better mum. And actually, that’s a perpetual displacement of living life: postponing to a future fictional time where we’re suddenly Topsy and Tim’s inanely positive mum all the time. We only have today, yet we sometimes live our lives as if watching through mottled glass, rather than actively taking part: on survival mode, just getting through the day.

So taking small steps to create that better life, mindfully, through living your intentions, simply makes you enjoy calm within the craziness a bit more. Our children don’t want stressed shouty mama, and she is more likely to be present when her tether is pulled away. We are human, we will be shouty and stressed, but if we notice and develop strategies for dealing with this natural normal human behaviour we can catch it before it spirals into self-criticism and feelings of failure. We can live with our behaviours without clinging on to the negative responses that we develop about them. And in turn, this will make sure that the “negative” behaviours may start to visit us less often, and we’re more like to be on an even keel more of the time. Win not just for us, but for our kids too.

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We’re always modelling behaviour for our children at heightened moments possibly more than at any other. So by developing strategies to deal with what craziness life inevitably throws at us with a bit more awareness, grace and poise (occasionally) will be a great learning tool for them to carry through as well.

Your identity is pulled and stretched and reshaped when you become a mum. Sometimes you don’t recognise yourself in your reactions, your emotions after having children. Keeping Mum Mighty is essential as a way of maintaining that connection to yourself, to who you are, to how you are. Being able to ride the stormy weather with slightly more grace and humour. For your and your children’s sake, not for perfection’s sake.

Have you always been good at prioritising self-care? If not, was there a trigger?

I have possibly always had an awareness of nurturing self. I’m basically a hippie: yoga, peace and love and transcendental meditation, man, and I probably am most at home in a hammock in Thailand. I have an inherent tendency towards Buddhism: this too shall pass. I used to tell myself before exams etc that “this will be over, tomorrow is a new day”. I’m naturally empathetic and very (arguably too) sensitive. All of those traits are very positive and nurturing but can also mean hyper alert, hyper self-critical, painfully self-aware/conscious. So it took a while to throw a more caring spotlight to myself fully.

I experienced a seismic bereavement when I was in my late 20s, my best friend died suddenly. And that absolutely gave me the insight that life is precious and brief, and that you need to try and foster and notice moments of pure happiness when they arise, because ultimately all we have in life is moments: dark and light, yin and yang, in balance. And full appreciation of good moments is like creating a big lifeboat of resilience for when the waters are more choppy.

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A happy life is not necessarily a life that doesn’t experience low points. That is unrealistic. It’s how you deal with these low points which characterises whether or not you’re “happy”.

Since having children, it’s been a harder journey of prioritising. I had a traumatic birth, and then a few miscarriages, one of which was very traumatic. I was in “keep calm and carry on” mode and didn’t offer myself any respite – I am self-employed which I think sometimes doesn’t help with the self-care prioritising though, when work tends to have to usurp self-care in moments of non-parenting duty. But after this particular miscarriage experience I was anaemic, depleted in body and spirit, and severely run down.

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I continued to teach pregnancy Pilates classes which, looking back, was the purest form of self-flagellation. I ignored my body’s whispers of suffering, then shouts. I got a shoulder injury. Then a knee injury. I had a persistent cold which just got worse rather than better. And I finally dragged myself to the doctor where I was promptly told I was suffering the worst ear, chest and throat infection she had ever seen, and given industrial strength painkillers. She suggested that she wasn’t sure how I’d even got myself to the surgery that day. My immediate thought even then was that I was supposed to be covering a whole load of Pilates classes that week for some other teachers and I wasn’t sure how I would be able to cancel and let them down. I felt that being clearly sick wasn’t a “legitimate excuse”, and worried that people would be upset with me.

That was a big red flag for me that I had (necessarily) been striving to create an income for myself but without an adequate support structure for what I was taking on, and without listening to my body when it was unhappy.

It made me realise that, occasionally, something has to give and THAT IS OK. Sometimes you have to ask for an extension of a deadline, you have to say that you won’t be able to help someone, you have to admit that you need more time. That you are vulnerable. It’s not a sign of failure.

So now, I recognise immediately when I am getting to the point where I have reached full mental and physical capacity. I notice when anger starts to visit me more frequently. When I start to let a negative thought loop twirl around with gusto in my head. I see when I’m beginning to feel shattered, when my reactions to my boys are heightened with frustration and without gentleness. And I give myself a bit more of a break about it. I hate cancelling classes, but I have learnt that to cancel one class due to feeling under the weather is much better than soldiering on and then having to cancel two the week after. I feel like I hit a kind of Amber WATCH OUT phase, and rather than allow myself to run towards RED without noticing it, I am able to pull back, tell my husband that I’m feeling too stretched, articulate what it might be that is pushing the accelerator towards depletion and see what steps can be taken to slow it down.

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What are your top 3 go-to self-care essentials and how do you fit them into your busy life as a mum?

Without doubt for me the Number 1 is movement: when I’m rolling towards the Amber warning sign, one of the first things I notice is that I haven’t made even 3 minutes to do any Pilates over the course of the previous few days. I ALWAYS do at least 5 minutes of Pilates a day. It doesn’t have to be a full class. Just daily snacks to check in with body and mind. And inherently Pilates is inextricably linked to my number 2 which is: breathing. Taking full, mindful, deep breaths. I can see it with my clients that they arrive slightly burnt out and stressed but they leave rejuvenated and energised yet softened. That is the effect of movement and breath. It’s a non-negotiable.

My number 3 is SPACE. So whether that’s getting out to my Sunday morning yoga class which I try to diarise (although writing I have actually missed the last 4 weeks because life gets in the way sometimes), getting some green therapy with a run (•when I say “run”, I wish I was a runner but often I am just a brisk walker. I’m working on it…) in the park or by the river. Or if you can’t actually escape the house, taking time to have a hot bath when the kids are either not there or are in bed. No phone. SPACE. Creating some mental and physical space. I have recently been dipping my toe into meditation, and for me that is about creating the mental space, allowing feelings to be, to release or assimilate rather than linger and fester.

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If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your pregnant or new mum-self?

…..Oooph. So much. But mainly, in a nutshell: be kind to yourself. You’re doing ok. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Don’t allow yourself to feel like you’re being judged. Be kind to yourself.

 

NEOM blog: Reset the Supermum Notion

NEOM blog: Reset the Supermum Notion

Regular readers here will know what a fan of an uplifting scent I am.

Since my fully indulgent self-care gift of a yoga retreat in Ibiza with my best friend last year, where i had 4 NIGHTS OF UNINTERRUPTED SLEEP which was facilitated by a meticulous ritual of NEOM sleep sprays, balms, oils, I only have to have a waft of the NEOM sleep range and I’m transported back there, right to serenity, to sleepful balmy nights, to peace. Ooooommmmmmmm shanti.

Scent is so important as a visceral evocative tool to tap into for your well-being. Nothing is swifter than scent to send you to a moment in time where you felt a particular emotion, a moment in time suspended forever.

I always carry around with me on the go tools for uplift. If you’re feeling drab and low, a quick whiff of a zesty essential oil burst will give me a second wind and more of a spring in my step. At the NEOM Kings Road store you can take part in their Scent Discovery Test. This is way of checking whether your underlying wellbeing need is better sleep? Less stress? More energy? Or a general mood boost?

You inhale each of the essential oils blends, and the scent travels to the hypothalamus – a gland in your brain responsible for releasing the hormones which control how you feel. At the hypothalamus, your body is most attracted to the essential oil blend that it needs revealing whether you need sleep, de-stress, energise or lift your mood. My discovery test revealed that I wanted the Scent for Happiness overall – which, well, makes sense doesn’t it, wanting generally to be happy. And surprisingly, when you’re feeling shattered you might not necessarily need the energy vibes, you might actually need to listen to your body and indulge in the sleep vibes.

I was absolutely honoured to be asked to contribute to the NEOM well-being blog this week. You can read the full article here. Snippet follows below, enjoy and let me know what your favourite scents are for happiness, calm and uplift.

  • At Neom we have a mantra – ‘wellbeing small steps, big difference’ – do you agree? why/ why not?

Absolutely agree. Sometimes we feel like our goals are a bit overwhelming and you don’t know where to begin when you just see a big mountainous goal in the distance, it’s all too easy to give up when it feels like an unachievable overwhelming task.

If you break it down into small steps, you set an intention to move towards the goal, like strapping on your walking boots, taking one step at a time, and before you know it you’ll be halfway up the mountain and it’s not half as intimidating.

  • We believe that lack of sleep, poor energy, stress and mood dips are all related – do you agree? why/ why not?

Yes. it’s a spiral of negative mood/physical lowness which makes it harder to pick yourself up once you’re there. Lack of sleep is such a debilitating issue. When you’re exhausted, and especially if the sleep is taken away from you by a third party (hello, children!) you feel out of control, and your coat of armour for dealing with daily stresses is removed. Everything seems more challenging when there is a lack of sleep.

But we don’t offer ourselves the acknowledgement that it’s ok to take things easy when you are in the phase of life where small people are a chink in your wellbeing armour. We still strive to be “normal”. When actually, it’s ok to give yourself a break. The first step is noticing your internal dialogue in those exhausted days, and having a tool for calming the domino effect into stress and mood dip.

  • What small steps do you think can help us? What’s the bedrock of wellbeing in your book?

1. – Breathing. The most important thing firstly is to pause, and breathe. It is the most fundamental tool in my own personal toolkit. Taking a long, slow inhale through the nose for a count of 5, allowing your abdomen to open and soften with the breath rather than breathing into your chest. Then breathe out through the mouth for a count of 8, as if you’re trying to fog a window in front of you. In for 5, out for 8. Soften into the moment. Even say to yourself, “I soften into this moment” can help to calm any stressed mental chatter like soothing a bristling cat.

2. – Notice any negative thoughts running like a loop around your mind. Calm your negative thoughts by telling yourself “thoughts are not facts”. Notice they are there, but don’t invite them in. Sort of like noticing clouds across the sky – don’t allow them to linger, gather and become storm clouds, allow them to pass gently without trying to ignore them or shoo them away.

3. – Smile. It makes you feel a bit silly, but you will fool your brain into creating fleeced endorphins if you smile, even if you least feel like it. Spread a smile on your face – even better, to yourself in the mirror, and you will soften your feelings in that moment.

4. – By the same token – it’s also important to allow your challenging moments to “be”. Too often we see weakness in feeling “bad” feelings and so we ignore or suppress them, and create a swirl of complementary negative feelings around it, guilt, anxiety, fear, worry… When actually, it’s part of the emotional spectrum of being human. A balance of dark and light, yin and yang. Without dwelling in a negative thought loop and allowing it to spiral, imagine calmly sitting down with your challenging feeling, inviting it to be, asking it why it’s here (or simply acknowledging that you are exhausted and your child has just thrown their dinner on the floor – it is normal to feel angry and at your wit’s end under the circumstances). Say to yourself that these feelings are natural, normal, healthy. And ultimately that will enable it to release itself, without being suppressed.

Series: What’s in Your Toolkit? 11 – Jody Shield

Series: What’s in Your Toolkit? 11 – Jody Shield

I’m literally grinning from ear to ear writing this post as I’m so excited to share with you the words of wisdom that I’ve been offered from this latest wellness guru/expert/shining light.

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Jody Shield needs no introduction arguably, but for those of you who may not have heard of her yet, she is a modern-day healer, a meditation teacher, spiritual mentor, a guiding light for the spiritually curious. If you’re feeling lacklustre, like your life is chugging along on a track you weren’t quite sure about but you’re not sure how to find the turntable to find a new direction, she has a wealth of tools to empower you, to change or to simply take ownership of the choices you’ve made and view life more positively: inspiration to spark action.  She’s meditation ambassador for Lululemon. Oh and she’s also written a kick-ass book called Life Tonic. 

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Her Instagram bio encourages you to “Find your voice & ROAR 🐯 be fearlessly you!” which the tiger in me loves.

Jody agreed to talk to me while I was making bolognese for my two boys at peak potential witching hour post-school run, when they were whining in the background (along with an incessant PAW Patrol soundtrack…). It shows her professionalism and grace that she put up with me saying “what do you need sweetheart?”, “yes, you can watch the next episode”, “Do you need a wee?” and “Have you done a poo?”  intermittently during in our conversation without batting an eyelid or losing her flow.

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This is our chat, hastily scrawled in my notebook while creating dinner with the other hand, so some of her answers may be generally paraphrased through the mists of spaghetti, but the gist is there, even if I lack some of the eloquence (forgive me Jody).

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Life Tonic is a “modern toolkit to heal your life and soothe your soul”. I love how the tools are easy to dip into in the moment, or explore on a  deeper level. What tool would you recommend for someone experiencing heightened levels of anxiety in their day to day?

When we experience anxiety, we lose all sense of our rational being, the logical reality that we’re in, and instead the world becomes a very scary place. We tend to want to escape our body in that moment, to flee from whatever is scaring us. So, it’s good to have a tool which will bring us back into our body, and back into the moment.

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A great tool for this is from Emotional Freedom Technique: make a fist, and with your fist, begin tapping on your collarbone. It brings you back into your body in that moment; it’s calming – it can bring you back to a space where you were a baby being soothed by being patted on your back.

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Often anxiety is a manifestation of a fear of lost control: by tapping, we feel like we’re regaining a sense of control over our body and our emotions. It sends calming signals to the Amygdala structure of the brain – the area that controls emotions, feelings, memories. When we’re anxious, the amygdala sends us into fight or flight mode, creating a whole load of emotional and physical stress responses.

Tapping resets your energy, and brings you back into the present moment. It’s also really easy to do: you can do it anywhere, at any time.

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[by the way I tried this tool with Maurice when he was having a 5 year old anger explosion, and it really worked. Magic]

The Ego mind is like a badly behaved puppy, it’s slightly crazy and energetic, and you wouldn’t want it to be in charge of your thoughts and feelings. By tapping, you can regain control over your yappy dog.

Another tool which takes a bit longer to explore, so more useful for a deeper connection to your anxiety rather than for using in the moment, is this: When I’m feeling anxious, I place my hand where I can sense my anxiety rising. For me that’s often my belly. I actually take time to feel it, to hang out with it. I don’t want to suppress it or ask it to leave, I actually give it space to release on its own.

This, of course, is really uncomfortable. It’s not fun to sit with emotions which cause you discomfort, so we usually push them away. Sitting with it, observing it, offers it a real space for growth and might spark some understanding of action you need to take, changes you need to make. Or simply give you the understanding of your emotional response in a more rational, calm way.

That’s all anxiety is: it’s like excitement but with more unknowns. Basically our bodies are excited and the Ego starts to question it, and as there are no immediate answers we read it as fear and label it negative. It’s in that potential room for growth where we are most scared, which is why we avoid it. Raw emotional responses make it feel like a bad thing. When actually, if we soften our response and sit with it, it can actually bring great things forward.

 

I love that. I’m going to try to sit with challenging feelings to allow them to release and see what stems from that from now on! Another emotional minefield that tends to plague women is imposter syndrome. What would you suggest to someone who is struggling with feeling like they are a fraud who can’t quite compete, doesn’t match up to her colleagues/fellow mums?

These feelings and thoughts come from a deeply held belief system around your worth. Your narrative which links all of your experiences together, creating a story woven around your outlook on life. Imposter syndrome, and feeling like you fall short of ideals, is a symptom of your outlook and your own narrative thread.

When you’re in a moment of doubt, saying things out loud, like “I’m here!”, “I’m back!” enables you to notice the negative patterns of thought, and brings you back. Grounds you.

Also – it’s so important to understand that we’re ALL figuring things out. Everyone is struggling on some level, about something. Just do the best that you can. Show up. Be vulnerable. Lift yourself out of negative patterns by reframing the energy that you’re putting out around things.

I always try to reframe by being grateful for these challenges: for that difficulty, that “stuckness”. A grateful acceptance that this means that things are moving and growing, pushing you. Struggling is ok  – it signals growth and change. Reframe it as curiosity and challenge: doors are opening. You just have to choose to go through them.

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I love the idea of reframing responses to reactions. What are your own personal non-negotiable wellness tools? Things that you never allow yourself to shirk?

For me, meditation is without doubt the non-negotiable. I make time to meditate every day, without fail. For me, it’s almost a directional piece: I begin to meditate without concrete intention usually, and use it as a mind space to allow what’s troubling me to speak up and find room to release, to ask myself questions, and to find those answers offered up.

Meditation is, above all, about creating space. We are so bombarded with ideas, with jobs, with busy-ness. What we all need to cultivate is some calm and space so we can observe our creativity and allow ourselves room to grow. Meditation offers that space.

 

Jody is a true inspiration, not least because she is an unashamed tree-hugger and I love her for this alone. Find out more about her events and speaking, and her book, here. And connect with her on Instagram here.

Wellbeing hacks for busy mamas

Wellbeing hacks for busy mamas

We all have those days where the rhythm is just “off” and from start to finish things seem to be on the wrong trajectory.
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I’m on Day 6 of my 66-days to positive habits – it takes an average of 66 repeated acts for humans to create habits (and sadly, much fewer to break them) and as part of creating a positive atmosphere around my daily decision making and mindset I’ve been immersing myself in positive wellbeing podcasts such as MoxieCast and the Supermum Podcast.
It’s making me much more conscious of how i can get a positive mindset back on track quickly so as not to be derailed for the entire day. It’s so easy to “write off” a day that’s started diabolically (zero sleep, lost keys, children refusing to put shoes on, more insanely awful news on the radio GAAAAAAHHH) and allow the frazzled state of mind to just gather momentum as the day progresses.
This frazzled mindset can lead to bad decision making in terms of thinking “sod it” to that packet of crisps that you don’t really even fancy, or ploughing through an entire bottle of wine and a bar of chocolate on a Tuesday evening, or staying up until way past midnight scrolling your social media or working when you could be connecting with your partner, or nourishing your soul by sleeping.
What we need for those FFS! mothering moments are:
5 easy hacks to get back on track 
1. SCENT 
I’m a big fan of squirting, swooshing, rolling and spritzing scent to uplift and energise. Thats because scent can transport you to another world in an instant. A happier, nicer smelling world. So when I’m feeling low of energy I have a few wonderful scents in my toolkit:
  • Anything by NEOM is always gratefully received by my senses.
  • Scentered roll on balms are simply amazing. I first discovered them at a Jody Shield event, and I’ve been hooked ever since. My favourite is the Sleep Balm at night, and during those testing moments during the day, Escape: a mixture of Oud, Frankincense and Sandalwood which instantly creates a tranquil atmosphere of a Balinese spa.

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  • Earth Mama Angel Baby Happy Mama Spray saw me through both pregnancies and I still use it as a room spray for my Pregnancy Pilates classes. It’s a happy blend of energising and uplifting essential oils including lime and ginger
  • Absolute Aromas Equilibrium blend of essential oils which includes Rose, Frankincense, Bergamot: one sniff and it instantly soothes and balances.

2. BREATHE
Such a simple hack this one it shouldn’t even need saying, but, well, simplicity is key to a balanced life, no? Breathe.

In those moments where you’re having to go back into your house for the 5th time to retrieve something else you’ve forgotten, your toddler is having a meltdown and your 5 year old is cross with you for making him wear suncream, and you wonder what happened to your old life where things seemed peaceful and in control…? Those moments. Soften into the moment. Take a 5 second inhale, and allow an 8 second exhale. Ahh.

3. SMILE
You’re never fully dressed without a smile. OK, sometimes legitimately you really don’t feel like smiling you feel more like growling, and that is totally normal and to be expected from a healthily balanced life.

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But, just occasionally, notice if you’re wearing your woes on your face without even realising it and it’s causing your soul to feel sullen and woeful too. I suffer from Bitchy Resting Face syndrome – so does Kate Moss, I’m in good company – but sometimes I allow this to linger into my internal dialogue, and it can be shrugged off very easily simply by smiling. When you smile, you fool your brain into stimulating the happy hormone response, and so it gives you an instant boost, even if it’s just a placebo. Say, CHEESE! Being goofy might then trigger an actual smile because you feel like a wally doing it.

4. CHECK IN WITH YOUR POSTURE
Notice if you’re slumped forward, not breathing (see above…), tucking your bottom under, rolling your head down and squishing your heart and lungs. Open, unfurl, lengthen, look up. LOOK UP. Revitalise by imagining the effects of water on a wilting plant.

You can encourage yourself to unwilt, by opening your chest, lengthening your spine, breathing wide and full into that new space that has been created in your torso.

5. FACE PALM
There is a magic spot used in Traditional Chinese Medicine which is the point in between the brows, the third eye chakra. I once spoke to an Acupuncturist friend of mine who used to work with violent criminals on a rehabilitation programme in prison.
He said he favoured this pressure point when treating these men, which sent even the most aggressively fraught man into a blissed out space.
Karen Cannon, a blogger, wellbeing & self-love junkie, and “wisdom guru” (I love that title) interviewed psychologist Suzy Reading (who has featured here on What’s in Your Toolkit)  on her blog recently and her answer recalled my acupuncturist friend’s anecdote about this spot:
What is your go to thing for comfort when it all gets too much?
Think of Homer Simpson saying d’oh! He instantly brings his hand to his forehead. When we experience shock, this is the common place hard-wired response – to either bring the back of your hand to your brow, or if you are sitting, you rest your head in your hands. It is instantly soothing for your parasympathetic nervous system and helps mediate the stress response.
This is the first thing I turn to when I need comfort. It may be in the form of earthing my brow if I am seated at a table, if I’m on the go, I will make two gentle fists and press them into my forehead as if I were massaging imaginary horns or I surrender in a yoga childs pose. Try it!
Feel how it connects you with a feeling or peace and ease. Physically it softens your eyes and jaw and tension melts away.
So there you have it people. 5 easy hacks to get your mindset back on track.
Let me know how you get on!
Route 66 – setting intentions and the S word

Route 66 – setting intentions and the S word

It takes 66 repeated acts for the human brain to register a new habit. So, I’m on a 66-day mission to create positive body habits and beliefs. Join me on Route 66!

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Day 4: Today: setting intentions. I woke up this morning shivering, despite it being 27 degrees C in our bedroom due to this heatwave we’re having in London Town. A raging sore throat and swollen glands. A recipe for feeling low and crappy? Well, weirdly, I don’t feel as bad in spirit as I do in body. And I think that that is the emerging resilience that has been developed over this past year of understanding and working with my internal dialogue a bit more positively. Through therapies I learnt while writing The Supermum Myth, through mindfulness and generally caring for myself a bit more through yoga and self-compassion.

For me, the mind is definitely on board. Sometimes it’s still hard for me to put that into action so that my body will catch up. But that’s what Route 66 is all about.

So today I woke up perky of mind if not of body. A lot of the perkiness is due in part to Freddie having learnt finally to sleep at age 2 and a half…I’m always wary of bandying the S word around with mums, as if you’re suffering from sleep deprivation reading this it can make you want to bash the screen in with frustration and envy. it’s such an emotive time when you’re having your sleep sabotaged either by small people or by anxiety-induced insomnia. Freddie has been sleeping relatively reliably overnight now for about 3 months, and the difference it has made to my resilience is profound and palpable. So, if you are feeling sleep deprived and exhausted – give yourself a break. Be kind to yourself. It is HARD to have any resolve or resilience when you have lost the cloak of armour which is a good/reliable night’s sleep.

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With that in mind: for me, setting an intention for the day, which I became aware of as a yoga practice of sankalpa (setting an intention and dedicating your yoga practice to someone or something else) is a powerful way of creating a positive trajectory for your mind and behaviours for the day. I’ve gradually started to see benefits of visualising an intention at the beginning of the day.

This morning, feeling groggy of body, I decided that my intention was to feel as positive as I could today. I took lots of deep breaths, then coughed a lot at that effort, and lifted my spine which immediately creates positivity. Often our posture reflects our emotional and physical wellbeing in a way that we don’t even notice. Collapsed shoulders and sunken chest depict low mood and squish your heart and lungs. So, open, breathe, nourish your heart centre. Even if you’re exhausted and sleep deprived, this will help you to feel more open and positive.

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Setting this intention has meant that every decision I’ve made in terms of the choices about nourishment etc for my body have been influenced by this. My throat is full of razors so I’ve made myself a banana smoothie with coconut water, to nourish and soothe. I’ve tried to drink a bucket of water – not least because it’s bloomin’ hot.

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Setting intentions encourages you to be more aware of the details of your daily life. To notice the silver linings and foster a grateful attitude, which can build your resilience for the days when everything seems to be derailing and you wish you’d never got out of bed. It means you’re more likely to be able to see what’s in the half empty cup.

What intention will you set today, tomorrow? It’s an empowering tool to add to your vitality toolkit.

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I’d love to know how you’re doing on your 66 days to vitality and wellbeing!

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Series: What’s in Your Toolkit 9 – The Supercharged Club

Series: What’s in Your Toolkit 9 – The Supercharged Club

It’s time to get Supercharged! I first met Mary and Emma from Supercharged Club last summer, at an Instagram mums meet up. I love their energy and vitality, and the camaraderie and joy they seem to spark off between each other.

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Searching for mojo, I signed up for the mission at the end of last summer. And it totally changed my mindset, altered my understanding of my habits and behaviours that I had never really considered being patterns. It’s not a diet, but a holistic mind-body recharge. They have 6-week missions which help mums to get back into their minds and bodies, to bring back their sparkle and establish good habits to serve them well for the rest of their lives. No fads here. I wanted to find out what was in their personal bumbag of wellness tricks.

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Tell me about Supercharged Club. How did you come to be? 

Supercharged Club was born from conversations whilst Mary was studying Performance Coaching and NLP, Emma was struggling to understand why her clients were doing fabulous work in her classes and 1-2-1s but not making long term changes. The answer was in their minds! So combining forces of BODY POWER and MIND POWER plus the two of us sharing our own unique adventures right alongside clients is the magic we now call Supercharged Club. Our online 6 week missions get called ‘LIFE CHANGING’ and us two get called ‘Supercharged Power Duo’ there is nothing like Supercharged Club out there, which is what makes us different!

The connection and community that you manage to create in the missions is a little bit magic. What’s do you think is your secret ingredient which makes mums find that connection between mind and body and start to make positive changes?

The secret ingredient is US! Being honest, raw, brave with our adventures in overcoming binge-eating, excess alcohol drinking, relationship issues, bulimia, distorted body image, depression, both of us regardless of our differences sizes have all been drawn in by clever marketing, societies ideas of ‘perfect’. We are funny, compassionate, passionate about what we do, kickass at inspiring and motivating, and not forgetting totally badass!

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What are your own tools in your mental and physical health toolkit?

Different for us both, at different times but currently Emma’s go to tools are the power of thinking before taking action, reflection, playing back videos of herself having captured messages from herself in different states (hungover, and hangover free) helps drive her behaviours and decisions. For Mary its the power of the pause, feeling her feelings, (there has been a lot of tears recently!) journalling, yoga, and meditation.

These work for us at the moment, but we have hundreds more waiting in our imaginary bumbag plus we do every 6 week online mission right alongside some badass women who inspire and motivate us daily to live our best lives and age in health.

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Check out Supercharged Club here