The Elastic Brain – benefits of meditation

The Elastic Brain – benefits of meditation

“Mummy I never change my mind. I always keep the same mind.” Maurice said this to me yesterday, when I suggested that he *might* change his mind about a sartorial decision.

It made me think about the elastic brain. Up until fairly recently we thought of our minds as “fixed”, set in place in our early years: our character traits, core beliefs, personality all shaped and moulded forever. Our bodies were seen as the only thing we could potentially “work on” and change the shape of.

It’s true that our core beliefs tend to feel fixed: developed in early childhood and through formative experiences, one-off comments that brand you deeply into your soul like livestock branded by a cattle prod, etched into your psyche, immovable like a chicken pox scar. An internal stone manifesto. “I’m not popular”, “I’m crap in social situations”, “I’m really bad with money”.

And this fixed belief can lead to lowness and depression when internal Criticism FM is turned up to full volume and ignores any other evidence around. You might start to dislike aspects of your personality and despair that you’ll “always be like this”. But recent research has shown that through cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness therapies you can “re-wire” your brain to improve everything from your mental wellbeing to your perception of your quality of life and how content you are.

It’s not just rethinking stuff – it’s re-experiencing things. Changing the way you see things: experiences help to require your brain and form new beliefs, over time. And, just like that 5am boot camp to get a toned bum and honed waist, it takes hard work – and is easy to shirk. It’s much easier to settle in on your stone manifesto and think “this is just the way I am”. It’s challenging not to believe every thought you think. But it’s worth it. Thoughts are not facts. The more you calm an anxious mind by disciplining the stream of automatic thoughts, the more positive you’ll feel overall.

Challenge your mental habits, and your behavioural habits. In the same way that Pilates encourages you to lengthen out of bad posture/ingrained habits which create tension and aches and pains – you can overturn mental aches and pains by gently overturning behaviours that aren’t serving you well.

A meditation practice is the first step in redrawing your mental patterns. By setting aside some time to focus on your breath, on organising your thoughts and letting them bubble up like when you open a sparkling water bottle – you are releasing your body out of fight or flight mode and into rest and repair. Even simply doing that has profound effects on the ability of your brain to access the more reasoned area, allowing for calmer responses to situations and events. Over time, the amygdala, the brain’s fight or flight pilot, actually appears to SHRINK over time with meditation practice. So you are much less likely to get yourself all tied up in knots as you’re already rewired to react slightly differently.

I’m loving the Calm app at the moment, it’s fab for enabling you to fit in bite-sized easy meditation pockets in a normally chaotic day. I’ve been trying it a lot during this half term – so if that’s not a litmus test I don’t know what is! But even taking a few moments to breathe deeply, soften your body and tune in, listen to your internal thoughts, is enough to kick start a soothing meditative habit.

My book The Supermum Myth, written with clinical psychologist Dr Rachel Andrew, offers lots of ways to begin to notice your internal dialogue, and plenty of activities to try and shift your perception, retread those paths in your brain creating new positive furrows. It takes practice and just because it sounds simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. As with any physical fitness programme, we need to stick with it – which human beings find quite tricky don’t we, we’re constantly on a quest to self-sabotage…. But committing to working on our inner peace – and knowing it’s alway a work in progress – is always going to reap benefits by making us happier and more balanced day to day, and crucially make us a nicer person to be around, so I reckon it’s worth a shot, right?

Do you currently have a meditation practice of any kind? Movement meditation, breathing, walking…? What is your go-to meditative habit? I’d love to know! xxx

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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

Series: What’s in Your Toolkit? 13 – Nicky Clinch

Series: What’s in Your Toolkit? 13 – Nicky Clinch

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Balance. Wholeness. Purpose. These are the three overarching themes which greet you when you visit Nicky Clinch’s website. Comforting words in themselves, which reflect her mission as a Transformational Life Coach, Macrobiotic Nutritionist and Chef. Her Instagram feed is full of inspiration and deliciousness for heart, body and mind.

She shares her wellness journey and tools with me here. Enjoy. Let me know what you think!

Tell me about yourself, what is the “day job”, and how did you come to do what you’re doing?

My official work title is Transformational Life Coach, Macrobiotic Counsellor & Chef.  Which I know is the longest work title in history and makes me giggle often!

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I am also a teacher, public speaker and a qualified Specialist Healing Cook, which means I am qualified to cook for people who are trying to naturally heal from illness.

So as you can imagine, my day job gets pretty versatile and certainly keeps things interesting.

In any given day I may be giving one-to-one Counseling/ Coaching Sessions, teaching one of my Being in Heart Workshops or my 6-week Feed Your Inner Warrior Programme.  Creating Recipes or writing, either for my website or for other brands. I now have an amazing team of 3 beautiful powerful ladies that work with me, and we are just starting to build some urban and international retreats, which I can’t wait to share with everyone soon.

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How did I come to do what I do?  Hindsight is a wonderful thing.  When I look back on everything I realise I couldn’t have ended up doing anything else, I do what I do because I can’t NOT do it.  It is just what I am meant to do.

After about 15 years of recovery from my own drug and alcohol addiction and eating disorders, working hard to overcome some very destructive habits and patterns, I came to a crossroads in my life: my step-father died very suddenly.  Just one morning he didn’t wake up, and it broke my heart.  I came away from his funeral with a real sense of awareness that my life wasn’t permanent and could end at any moment.  I decided then and there I wanted to do something that really meant something to me, and started looking into going back to school to retrain as a healer in some form.  I ended up training at The International School of Macrobiotics to qualify as a Macrobiotic Chef, Counsellor and Coach.

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Since then I regularly continue my training and growth. I even flew myself off to Peru back in 2009 and spent 5 weeks working in the jungle with Plant Medicine, Ayahuasca and Shamans. I can never stop learning and growing in myself, and the more I do that the more I can help others.

Do you find that modern life is increasing people’s sense of disconnect with their bodies? Tell me about the 3 Pillars of your philosophy. 

Absolutely.  I think in this day of social media and phones, Facebook and iPads we are more and more disconnecting from our own bodies and living much more from our heads.  To connect with others through a screen is instant gratification, but energetically can really disengage the actual physical body and heart.

I mean we’ve all done it right?  Scrolled and scrolled for hours on our screens. There is nothing more eye-opening is there than putting the phones down and turning the screens off and just coming back to being in our own bodies.  Connecting: connecting to our own breath, our own feelings and needs, through our own conversations, our own hearts, through touch and actual person-to-person connection.

That is why I love to teach people my three pillars because they all bring you back into the body and to begin really ‘being’ with all that lies there.  In my experience the real transformative shifts can happen only once someone is really back home in their own body.  To feel and be, to breathe and be present, to reconnect to where the energy is stuck in the body or where it is flowing.

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My three pillars are simple, but not necessarily easy.

  1. Conscious Cooking – Introducing wholefood cooking back into your life. Not only reconnecting to natural seasonal produce which allows us to reconnect to nature and the environment we live in, but the cooking itself slows us down.  There is a difference between throwing a meal together and cooking.  To really cook can be simple, it doesn’t need to be cordon bleu, but it forces us to be back in our bodies and back in the moment.  To cut and prep veg, to stir a simmering pot, to create a nourishing meal which we will then feed ourselves with.  It slows us down back into our earth energy and our body and can be very grounding and nurturing.
  2. Relationship to Body & Movement – Moving the body regularly or daily. You’d be surprised how often we ‘exercise’ in a way that we use it to disengage our body.  Trust me I did it for years in my eating disorder days.  Running on the treadmill for hours so that I didn’t have to feel anything.  What I’m talking about in this pillar is to spend time each day to be present in our own body, to move it, stretch it, be connecting to our breath.  To be in relationship with our own body so that we are not strangers to each other.
  3. Emotional & Spiritual Wellbeing – This one for some reason tends to get missed out the most, and yet to me seems to be one of the most important. But it is our emotional wellbeing and spiritual wellbeing that tends to dictate everything else. If we are bypassing this part we are disengaging from ourselves.  But if we can really allow ourselves to feel again, to be present and available for our emotional needs and spiritual callings, then we can really begin to feel much more empowered in this relationship we have with ourselves and begin to feel much more peaceful and joyful in our lives.  What’s the point in being physically healthy if we are full of anxiety all day underneath, right?


What are your own non-negotiable tools within your personal mental health/vitality toolkit?

Since becoming a mamma things that used to be non-negotiable for me have now had to become more flexible!  Any mother reading this will understand that!

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What is non-negotiable is this constant inner dialogue and check in I have with myself each day to stay connected to where I really am and what I may be needing.  Each day may be different: some days I may need to get up early and meditate, do yoga, journal, other days I may really need to negotiate a lie-in with my hubby.

Regular tools I always ALWAYS come back to and are touchstones for me are cooking something nourishing, getting on my yoga mat or moving my body, journaling, meditation and sharing my heart honestly with someone I trust (friend or hubby).

The biggie: How do you balance work/life/motherhood and family? 

The honest answer is each day is really different and there is NO perfect answer to this.  There is a piece of advice that I was given when I went back to work as a mother that really helped me:

“The more you really own who you truly are Nicky and the more you take care of yourself, the better example you are setting for you daughter”  
I was told this when I went back to work and I was racked with ‘mothers-guilt’ for not only going back to work but actually LOVING my work.  I kept feeling guilty whenever I needed to take time to take care of myself or whenever I got excited about starting a new project that inspired me.  When I was told this advice I finally relaxed.  I surrendered to the fact that I personally am a woman that both loves my work and loves my daughter.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  Owning who I am, taking good care of myself gives me the opportunity to teach my daughter how to also be a girl/woman who follows her heart and takes care of her needs.

And so the balance of work/life/motherhood changes each day depending on what needs to most attention.  One rule is when I’m with my daughter I try to be fully available with her and not half in my work, and when I’m working I try to be fully available with that too.

And when I need to take a bit of time to take care of myself I actually explain it to my daughter telling her why and that it’s important to me, and she understands.  One thing I do want to say though is I couldn’t do any of this without the support and care of my amazing husband who is a great father and is always supportive to hold the fort if I have to work long hours.

To connect more with Nicky, head over to her website www.nickyclinch.com or enroll for one of her amazing transformational workshops:

Being In Heart is taking place Friday 15th September and her next Feed Your Inner Warrior 6 Wk Program starts Thursday 14th September.  Click here for more info.

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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.

Series: What’s in Your Toolkit? 10 – Eminé Rushton

Series: What’s in Your Toolkit? 10 – Eminé Rushton

I met the lovely Eminé last night at a Psychologies event at the Neom store on the Kings Road  – a place I would gladly while away many hours, its array of scents and general atmosphere of space and serenity are good for the soul. Eminé has an ethereal beauty about her, and a calm wisdom about all things wellness. I wanted to tap into some of that wisdom, to share with you wonderful people. Enjoy!

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Tell me about yourself – what’s the day job?

I’m Wellness Director at my favourite magazine, Psychologies. I took the role 7 years ago, when it was ‘Beauty Director’ and swiftly engineered it to include health, and then, last year, moved the role, and our content, into whole-hearted holistic wellbeing, which is where my heart is too (never been a ‘beauty’ girl!).

I’m now also running my own little conscious consultancy, LEAF, which is all about helping the most ethical natural brands find a voice, and working to get them out into the world in intelligent and thoughtful ways. I also run the wellness blog, The Balance Plan with my husband Paul – a home for our recipes, ideas, beliefs and a fresh look at living Ayurvedically (which we are passionate about) in the modern age.

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I love your Psychologies 360me campaign, encouraging people to become more aware of their health in a truly holistic way, Tell me more about that. 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?

The shift in our collective conscience, in just these last few years, has been remarkable. People only ever used to talk about health in relation to weight loss, dieting, bikinis… it was ad infinitum and ad nauseam and wholly disheartening.

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When I launched #360me, the aim was to focus on how we would all FEEL, not look, and to understand that we are not just a body – we are a nourishable soul/spirit, a beautiful mind and a complex gut too… wanting to knit all the pieces together, to say ‘I shall aim to join these dots within me, to enjoy doing so, to celebrate my variousness and all of my multitudes’, was the starting point. No diminishment – no diets, calories, formulaic exercises. Our health should never be based on a formula!

The reception to it has been utterly amazing. I think it’s so rare to find a magazine that talks in a solely wholly celebratory way – that offers practical advice without making you feel insecure in any way. There is so much more conversation around our mental health these days – we’ve seen a huge conversation starter with the royals, and it’s being picked up over and over again.

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We’ve long known that 1 in 3 people experience significant mental health challenges in their lives, but it’s never been the case that 1 in 3 would openly TALK about it. We’re not robots, we’re ever-shifting and changing beings, and it makes perfect sense that we will all experience extremely trying, upsetting, challenging things and go through dark and sad times.

There should never be any shame in that. It’s also about realising that some very small things can have a very big impact on how good we are able to feel. Being kinder to yourself. Creating a sleep routine. Eating nourishing food in season. I think we’ve woken up to the fact that we can’t batter our bodies and bruise our spirits and then expect to make it all better with a spin class and a multi-vitamin. We have to start from the ground up – inside our selves.

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When I became a mum, one thing that immediately slipped by the wayside was my skincare regime. Up until then my skin had been something I nurtured and loved to look after, so it made me feel quite low that my skin really suffered from the lack of sleep/care/time and hormonal storms, suddenly my face was something I was ashamed of, and wanted to hide  from the world (which is quite hard to do…). Skin is the first thing that starts to show imbalance in body and mind. As a qualified facialist, what would your top tips be for sleep-deprived busy mums to try and keep their skin at its optimum (under the circumstances)?

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Oh I know that very well, as someone who was sleep-deprived without respite for 3 entire years. I was lucky I suppose, as worked in the industry, so would still make time (even on a lunch break) for a facial, massage or an infrared sauna… and these things helped keep me feeling more well than I would have done without them. I also found that if I was able to continue to nourish my skin through my diet – lots of omega 3, vitamins, antioxidants (and topping up with Wild Nutrition or Pukka too), my skin saw the benefits.

But let’s be honest: when you’re exhausted and very low on sleep, not much can replicate what you’re missing. I learned the art of napping, several times a day, with my youngest (I took 8 months mat leave), but with my first, I went straight back to work and didn’t get a full night’s sleep for almost 3 years… no pot of cream will help with that! So, when I could, I took magnesium baths, practised a bit of yoga, and got to bed as early as humanly possible.

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Even if I was woken 3 or 4 times (or 10!), I’d still have had a bit more sleep at the start of the night. Lack of sleep also really raised our cortisol levels and can imbalance our hormones, so I’d also recommend taken pure and high grade Ashwaghanda (an adaptogen that combats stress) and Shatavari (which balances the female reproductive system), every day. Pukka and Wild Nutrition, are, once again, my go to brands here.

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

Learning to meditate with Will Williams, last year, was a big turning point for me. Prior to that I had attended this retreat at 42 Acres with Tony Riddle and Carly Grace and Alan Dolan, and meditation came into my life at a time when I really needed it. The difference I felt after a few days’ rest, meditation, breath work and sound baths, at 42, was unbelievably profound. I could have taken every single spa trip over my 15 years as an editor and the level of wellness I felt after just 3 days at 42 Acres was deeper and more powerful than the whole ‘spa’ lot put together. That’s when I really realised that I was missing a big trick – that pampering, spa-ing, eating well, are all wonderfully salubrious and relaxing, but to really make a big change, and one that then flows into every other part of you, it needs to work on another level – you need to get into the mind, in a significant way.

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I’ve since done long meditation weekends with Jody Shield, have taken up more regular yoga with a great online company, Movement for Modern Life, and meditate every single night, in bed, just before sleep. Meditation levels me out and buoys me up more significantly than anything else. It’s my ultimate tool, and I recommend Vedic Meditation to anyone who’s struggled with other forms… it’s the simple repetition of a sound, over and over, in the mind, which gives you a focus and makes it so much easier to allow that wandering mind to free itself from the unrelenting babble.

The big question: How do you balance work and life?

Oh my, I am still trying and learning, every single day. Some days I nail it – but that often relies on the kids playing ball – going to sleep on time, not waking, and all of us being happy and sympathetic to one another! There are some really simple things that do help… trying to wake up with a smile, ‘hey, I get another day! lucky me!’ and waking the children with positivity too. We always sit down to a family breakfast – that’s my husband in the kitchen, cooking up a storm, while I get kids dressed and ready for school. Sitting down, eating, chatting about the day ahead, is a nice way to begin. Arguments can easily kick off between my two children who are both pretty fiery and headstrong, but sometimes I’ll do something funny, like open a window and tell them to waft their worries and whinges outside, and that can diffuse things!

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I work very dedicatedly all day long – some days I am at my computer for hours – stopping only to stretch or eat – but I try to balance this with days where I am very mobile and in meetings, hotfooting it across London. If I have to work in the evening, I’ll do no more than 90 mins once the kids are tucked up, and then it’s a real strict shutdown. I turn my phone off, laptop off, and leave them upstairs in my study. I then light a Neom candle downstairs and get the diffuser going in my bedroom, so that soothing scent starts to waft through our space, as I potter around tidying, washing, organising, cleaning… then lights go off, candles flicker, I may bathe or do a short yoga class, but I am strict about always doing my 20 minute meditation just before bed… I may fall asleep mid-med, which is lovely too… the biggest thing that derails me is feeling overwhelmed. That sense of HOW ON EARTH AM I GOING TO MANAGE ALL OF THIS?

What life has taught me is that I do manage. That the time it took to worry and dwell and fear is much better used DOING. Even just making a list can help you feel as though you’re a bit more in control. Sometimes too, the things you dread doing are almost pleasurable once you get down to them – there’s always a sort of satisfaction to be gained from the action – so much more satisfying than the hypothetical phase of worrying about it! Being very strict with my diary is another one. Some people must think me so rude – they’ll email to ask to meet up (and I love meeting up with interesting people!) and I’ll say that I can’t see them for two months. It’s not that I am so utterly busy every single day, but that I need to build breathing space and non-travel days into my life too.. days when I can sit at home, write, think, mull, create… rather than go into another day of back-to-back meetings.

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That’s working for me, with two big work roles to balance  (and that doesn’t include motherhood!), and a sense that I don’t want to be swallowed whole by it all. Pace is important I think and we don’t tend to give it much thought – but I’ve learned that if I have one very busy on-the-go rushing day, I like to follow it (if I can) with one calmer and stiller day.

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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? 8 – The Step Up Club

Series: What’s in Your Toolkit? 8 – The Step Up Club

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I am buzzing with excitement to share with you the next in the series….[excitement klaxon!!]: the ladies from The Step Up Club. I’ve been following these two since their book launched last year, and I can safely say have become a bit of a mega fan. Their book has – no word of a lie – changed my life by very simply altering my perception of my career strengths, confidence, networks.

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I personally have had a tendency to self-sabotage in career matters in the past. Being an introvert with a hefty dollop of shyness/social anxiety on the side, I’ve historically relied on the hope that my natural talents will somehow shine through and be plucked out by employers without me having to wave a flag to draw attention to myself. I only now realise how wrong I have been! If only I’d had this book 10 years ago…..

Their book is the new essential women’s career manual: Step Up: Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 Minutes a Day. They also run stylish events, online content and an inspiring newsletter. The Step Up Club offers you tools for tapping into your unique talents, alongside robust mental health strategies drawn from CBT,  as well as beautiful shoe inspiration and the reddest of red lipstick: all this with the aim of making women feel empowered, boost their skill set and broaden their network to really love their work and life.

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The Step Up Club champions and celebrates all women – whatever your job. I’m a freelance writer and Pilates teacher, and have always felt slightly neither here nor there when it comes to ‘career direction’ – and it certainly never occurred to me that ‘career advice’ could ever be useful to me until I stumbled upon these two and their wonderful book. Finding inspiration from The Step Up Club I’ve realised that whatever your career focus, if you’re a woman in any kind of work, the tools they offer are indispensable.

Phanella is a former lawyer and banker who retrained as an executive career coach, working on women’s leadership and diversity with all kind of big companies as well as individuals. Alice is a former fashion features editor at The TimesMarie Claire and Red, who continues to write freelance for many of the broadsheets and glossies. Between them they have five children. I wanted to find out more about these inspiring ladies.

IMG_1372The Step Up Club offers a powerful cocktail of empowering confidence and inspirational style, raising women up by giving them the tools to build those steps themselves, putting paid to the women-being-pitched-against-women cliche that seems to linger still (particularly when you watch an episode of the girls team on The Apprentice…). Tell me more about how the Step Up Club came to be.

The Step Up Club is the realisation of a shared passion for women – simple. We are old friends – Phanella is married to one of my friends from my teenage years – and every time that we bumped into each other at parties or the like, we ended up talking about our careers and their place in the general landscape of women in the workplace.

We realised that despite our different work journeys – Phanella hails from the corporate world, I’m a journalist – that we shared an interest in building a platform that gave all women a place to learn practical careers skills and meet other women, from all walks of career life. Careers advice and support is vital for all of us to succeed in whatever form that success takes, and yet, many of us still thinking of career advice and networking clubs as something quite dry and impenetrable. Step Up is a fresh new voice in the women’s careers conversation.

IMG_1371I love how you show women how to notice and capitalise on their uniquely female strength and essence, to spotlight and own it rather than to downgrade or ignore it. Why hide our light under a bushel? What do you think are women’s greatest assets in the workplace? (And is it a sad indictment of the world that I see an innuendo in that question?)

I would say that our empathy and our overactive minds might feel like a poisoned chalice, but when we employee both to our advantage they make us an incredibly powerful force.

Being self-aware, which many women are, is an under acknowledged weapon in the success armoury because when we know ourself, we are able to leverage on our strengths, communicate honestly and know when to look to others for support.

IMG_1367What are your personal mental health tools in your own toolkit?

I would say friendship and support – building a start up, not to mention writing a book, are daunting tasks that involve plenty of ups and downs. Because there are two of us and we know and trust each other implicitly, it helps us fend off the stresses and hold onto the joys.

You have 5 children between you – true Supermums! How do you balance kids and work? 

Oh my goodness, where do we start! Well practically speaking we use our support networks – so that involves a bit of paid help, some generous parents and parents-in-law and a pair of understanding husbands. In terms of the everyday, there’s a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and trying to quickly compartmentalise work when we’re with the kids and vice versa when it’s work time.

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Recently we started working for one long day a week, rather than trying to completely fit around the school pick up and that has had a really positive impact on our balance, because we are able to be more productive for longer and then switch off with more conviction!

We recently wrote a blog post about the difference between practical everyday balance, and balance inside our heads! There are so many ways to assess and manage balance, and I think the point is that it runs deeper than just outsourcing the kids when we need to work.

IMG_1370What would be your top tip for keeping your mental health on track throughout pregnancy and motherhood, particularly when it comes to dealing with your career, for example returning to work post-baby?

It’s simple, schedule Me Time. When we are pregnant and have just had a baby, especially when it comes to returning to work, often women forget about themselves in the stressful mix of new pressures on their lives. This is a mistake and one that can have a detrimental effect on our happiness – and mental health.

We say, just one gym class, a glass of wine with a friend, anything that carves out a bit of time for yourself is vital to remaining happy and feeling good about all the changes taking place in your life.

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Who/what are your personal wellness gurus/favourite books/mantras to live by?

Us! We say that your success is unique to you, and that means not comparing yourself to other women. This is such a simple but powerful mantra and one that we often don’t live by, because of the lure of pretty, unattainable images on Instagram and the like.

Be yourself, you are amazing!

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Step Up Club are giving away a free excerpt of their brilliant book. Click here.

 

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.

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? 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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