Mindfulness for pregnancy, birth… and motherhood

Mindfulness for pregnancy, birth… and motherhood

Mindfulness is definitely a buzzword, like many a new fad in the wellness industry we may have reached peak saturation in terms of hearing about this as a skill/method/technique. Which is a shame as I think it makes people roll their eyes when they hear the word, rather than prick up their ears. How do you feel about mindfulness? For me, it has been transformational in terms of my day to day length of tether. Sleep deprivation and the associated other demands on your body and mind through pregnancy and motherhood can leave you feeling scattered, tetchy, angry, Hulk Mum. Mindfulness offers a bit of a pause, a life buoy for those moments when you feel like you’ve fallen into a choppy sea of anxiety or anger.

Anya Hayes mindfulness for motherhood

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a mental discipline that enables us to respond differently to challenging circumstances, sensations, emotions and thoughts rather than follow our habitual reactions. Mindfulness is now widely considered to be an inherent quality of human consciousness  – what makes us human is our capacity to turn our attention and awareness to the present moment. Mindfulness can be cultivated through meditation practice and increases engagement with what our habits and behaviours are, allowing for a clearer understanding of how your thoughts and emotions can impact on our health and how much we enjoy our life.

Mindfulness-based approaches in healthcare began in the late 1970s the USA with Jon Kabat-Zinn’s pioneering Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme at the University of Massachusetts. In the 1990s Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was developed; drawing from CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and MBSR, by Mark Williams at Oxford University, John Teasdale at Cambridge and Zindel Segal in Canada. MBCT is now a recognised and recommended way of reducing the risk of recurrence in depression and anxiety disorders (NICE 2009).

The definition of Mindfulness

‘The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non- judgmentally’
Kabat-Zinn (2005)

Depression and anxiety are the most common mental health problems during pregnancy, with around 12% of women experiencing depression and 13% experiencing anxiety at some point – many women will experience both. Depression and anxiety also affect 15–20% of women in the first year after childbirth.

Information from NICE 2014 Female health: The Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA), Using information supplied in 2013 by members of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ perinatal faculty

How can Mindfulness help in pregnancy and motherhood?

  • MBCT is already established and recommended by NICE as an effective treatment for the prevention of recurrent depression
  • Research into the prevention of depression in pregnancy and the postnatal period has not yet identified an effective treatment (Dennis et al 2005)
  • Early research suggests mindfulness could be beneficial in the perinatal period

‘Participants showed increased childbirth self-efficacy and a trend towards lower pain catastrophizing and significantly lower depression symptoms post-course than controls; the difference grew in magnitude postpartum’

 Duncan, L et al (2014). Mind in Labor: Effects of mind/body training on childbirth appraisals and pain medication use during labor

‘A mindfulness-based course that combines mindfulness training with information and coping methods regarding pregnancy, childbirth and parenting concerns is more likely to optimise maternal well-being during this unique and important reproductive interval’

CM Guardino et al (2013) Randomised controlled pilot trial of mindfulness training for stress reduction during pregnancy

  • Practising mindfulness allows you to cultivate skills to enhance pain management, release stress, anxiety and other scrunchy emotions during the often turbulent transition to parenthood and, well,  everyday life with small people
  • You learn to truly pay attention to present moment experiences (sensations, thoughts, feelings), what you’re feeling right here, right now, deliberately and non-judgementally
  • Mindfulness help participants to see more clearly the patterns of the mind, helping to avoid an escalation of swirly negative thinking and the tendency to be functioning on autopilot
  • Mindfulness for childbirth and parenting has the potential to reduce the risk of postnatal depression and increase your ‘availability’ of attention for the baby. Offers you a buffer for those days when everything is a bit pharghhhnnngggg!  Literally offers you a bit of breathing space to process and respond rather than constantly react.
  • All the skills you learn through focusing on mindfulness are relevant throughout  pregnancy, through your childbirth experience and day to day parenting … and are transferrable life skills – for the whole of motherhood life.

What I love about mindfulness approaches

The thing that I personally find so effective about the mindful approach is that it works with YOU, with your body, your senses, your thoughts, it’s simply a way of tuning into your internal radio which is constantly playing. It works beautifully with movement such as Pilates, so for me it’s a natural link to what I already teach mums for working with their body – looking to have a similar focus on the mechanics of the mind as well. It’s simply offering you a kind of map to understanding your mind and being able to navigate without feeling so lost. Steering yourself as opposed to being blown by the winds of your mind without realising.

Are you interested in finding out more about how mindfulness can help you in pregnancy and birth, and can help you in your mothering day? Have a look in The Supermum Myth, there are plenty of mindfulness-based activities within, which will start to foster a deeper connection and awareness of your mental landscape. And in Pilates for Pregnancy I offer lots of mindfulness-based approaches for your BODY-MIND, including some hypnobirthing techniques for your birth experience.

I offer one-to-one coaching packages and workshops for pregnancy and early motherhood, helping you to be the calmer, confident mum you always knew you could be. Get in touch if you’d like to work with me.

How are you today?

Anya Hayes mindfulness for motherhood

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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

 

Be the mum you want to be

Be the mum you want to be

Hello, my name is Anya. Lovely to have you here.

Anya Hayes author and speaker
I help women who are experiencing challenges in their postnatal recovery to strengthen their pelvic floor, restore their core and rebuild their vitality, in body AND mind.
It breaks my heart that too many women put up with postnatal physical discomfort and dysfunction, critical inner dialogue and overwhelming anxiety… and think that it’s “just part of being a mum”, or “just the way they are”.


Body image is so intrinsic to our sense of identity and self-esteem – and inner power! If you feel your body has let you down, or you’re feeling weak and uncomfortable every day, this is going to have a dripping tap effect on your energy and happiness levels.
Tapping into your source, unlocking your power can transform your day to day, from your mood to your relationships and productivity.

NOW is the perfect time to focus on your wellbeing and strength. Don’t delay it any more.
Get in touch if you’d like to work one to one or come to a group class, or keep following this blog for more information and advice. Get in touch! I’m always here to answer your questions. 

Tell me – what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Have a wonderful day
xxx

Anya Hayes The Supermum Myth

World Mental Health Day – how are you?

World Mental Health Day – how are you?

It’s World Mental Health Day today. You wouldn’t feel ashamed to tell anyone you had sprained your ankle or had a sore throat. Yet we still layer our mental health with taboo and cultural patterns of secrecy and stiff upper lip.

woman carrying baby near grass
Photo by Creation Hill on Pexels.com

❇️According to figures from the World Health Organization – depression and anxiety are set to become the world’s 2nd biggest health burden by 2020. That’s basically now. A crisis matching heart disease for its effects on society. And yet, if we are allowed to begin to SEE our mental health in the way we’re encouraged to see our physical, perhaps we can help ourselves move away from this crisis by empowering ourselves and – crucially – noticing in others and coming from a place of support and understanding.

❇️ Everyone has physical health. Everyone has mental health. You might experience blips in each of these, throughout your life. And for each, it’s about learning the tools to keep them optimum in your day to day. It’s ok – normal – not to be ok all the time. It’s how you handle it long term that affects your mental health. You can control what you take on board in your mental challenges just as you can your physical. And you can aim to work on your mind as on your body. If you have an injury, go to phsyio. If you have a mental health crisis, find some way of counselling your way through to heal.

❇️ Lengthen your spine through Pilates, stretch your brain through mindfulness. A star jump here, a gratitude list there. Medicate and/or meditate. There should be no shame.

Happy world mental health day. How are you today? What do you do to maintain your mental health?

My essential mental health toolkit is:

❤️ Green space

❤️ Movement

❤️Meditation

❤️ Gratitude

❤️Being OK with not feeling OK all the time

❤️ Connection – seeking support rather than hibernating in hermit land (which is often what my mental health gremlin tells me to to do when feeling low).

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Look at some wonderful sources of wisdom, Emma @thepsychologymum, Suzy @suzyreading, Zoe @motherkind.co. You’re not alone ❤️

 

A gratitude attitude – mindfulness and #everydayjoy

A gratitude attitude – mindfulness and #everydayjoy

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

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

The Science of Gratitude

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

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

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

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

So, an example:

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

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

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

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

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

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xxx

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

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

The Pelvic Floor Patrol

The Pelvic Floor Patrol

We, the Pelvic Floor Patrol, are a team of 5 women who are all passionate about empowering women with health and wellbeing postnatally. We are starting a campaign to improve postnatal care and make sure that all women have access to the right information, and are given the option to have physiotherapy to heal fully and effectively after birth. Birth injuries can otherwise last a lifetime, if not dealt with fully. But there is so much that you can do to empower your own recovery.

Your pelvic floor is at the centre of what Joe Pilates called your “powerhouse”, or “girdle of strength” – a strong core offers you the freedom of graceful fluid movement, without tension and impingement. Your pelvic floor is the base of this “core”. Think of your core as the space from your ribcage to your pelvis. The diaphragm is the “ceiling”, the deep abdominals (the Transversus Abdominis and obliques) are at the front, the deep muscles of the spine (the multifidus) are at the back and the pelvic floor is the foundation.

The pelvic floor isn’t just one muscle, but a layer of muscles supporting the pelvic organs, spanning the pelvic cavity. Imagine it as a round mini-trampoline made of firm muscle, attaching at the tailbone at the back and the pubic bone at the front. These muscles are interlinked, overlapping and webbed together in a figure-of-eight shape around your vagina, anus and urethra to support the uterus, bowel and bladder. Men also have a pelvic floor (perhaps a little known fact, as we always associate the pelvic floor with women) but they don’t have the baby exit route to consider. The pelvic floor muscles provide you with strength, spring and support through your daily movement, plus they’re your rapid response team to make sure you don’t leak urine when you cough or sneeze. They’re also important for sexual function – the contraction of the pelvic floor contributes to sensation and arousal.

It’s so important as a woman to lay the foundations for your pelvic floor health in the long term, for a life where you are able to go for a run, or jump up and down without fear of letting some wee escape.

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What is the fuss about the pelvic floor? Why should I bother?

Your pelvic floor is a shock absorber through the daily pressure of movement – the pressure is particularly increased with pregnancy and childbirth. Remember that the pelvic floor forms the base of the core: your structural support system. Imagine what would happen if you built a loft extension on a house where a load-bearing wall had been knocked down? It would all collapse. This is why pelvic floor exercise matters.

Weakened pelvic floor muscles will mean your internal organs are not fully supported. This can lead to incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.

Pelvic floor health declines as we age, particularly if we do nothing to maintain awareness and strength – this is one of those inevitable facts of life. Staggeringly, only 25 per cent of women aged 18–83 have ‘normal’ pelvic floor support (Swift et al. 2003). So when you add pregnancy and childbirth into this picture – there is a huge potential for pelvic floor malaise.

But we laugh about stress incontinence as mums – we normalise it (“me too! A tidal wave after 4 kids! LOL!”) and accept it as “just a part of being a mum”.

IT IS NOT NORMAL and women, we are doing ourselves a huge disservice by accepting this. There are things you can, and should, be doing to take the power back for your pelvic floor health and make sure you will be able to run after your kids without fear of weeing. Plus, your pelvic floor health and your mental health are inextricably intwined. Fear of weeing yourself in public will lead to feelings of shame, inadequacy, failure, and avoidance behaviours such as stopping exercise, which will mean you might start to feel physically weaker and more under par, which brings you down further..it’s a vicious cycle that begins with THE FLOOR.

Pelvic floor awareness

We need to be aware of the balance of the pelvic floor muscles rather than simply make them ‘strong’. Think about your arm muscles – they allow you to bend your arm in towards your shoulder, but they also straighten and extend your arm out and away from you. You’d be a bit stuck for functionality if you could only hold your arm in a slightly bent position in mid-range of movement, with neither of the two ends of the movement spectrum available to you. This flexible strength is what we need to aim for with our pelvic floor.

We need to balance strength with release.

Stand upright, in front of a mirror if you can, to check your alignment. Your feet are hip-width apart. Find your neutral pelvis by tilting the pelvis through full range and stopping at the midway point. You don’t want it sticking too far out but you don’t want it completely tucked, either. Make sure that your ribcage is stacked directly over your pelvis. Create length through the spine as if someone is drawing the crown of your head to the ceiling, keeping the chin softly tucked parallel with the ground. Soften your shoulders into your back. Take a wide breath in, imagine the ribcage opening out to all sides, like an umbrella.

  1. As you breathe out, lift your back passage, as if you’re trying to stop breaking wind. Continue this lifting energy up and forward. Engage from back to front, up and in. We want to locate the full breadth of the muscles from the back to the front, and from the sides in: imagine flower petals folding up and into a bud, evenly from all sides. Some sides might feel easier to you than others. You will feel your lower belly lifting gently as well. Maintain this lift for a few seconds, as long as you can remain relaxed and soft everywhere else.
  2. Breathe in, and let the engagement go, fully release it like dropping a marble into a glass of water. Try to do 10 of repetitions of these slow contractions.

We also need to train the pelvic floor with fast contractions, lifting up and in quickly to train the emergency rapid response element of your floor, for when you cough, sneeze, jump.

  1. On an out breath, quickly lift the pelvic floor to full engagement, keeping your surrounding muscles – the bum, inner thighs, upper abdominals, and your jaw, soft and relaxed.
  2. Then slowly relax the whole of the pelvic floor. Try to do 10 of repetitions of these fast contractions followed by a slow release. Breathe in a way that’s comfortable for you throughout these exercises, remembering not to hold your breath at any point.

Remember, when practising pelvic floor exercises:

  • Scan your body for tension and try to release it: jaw, neck, inner thighs, buttocks.
  • If you lose your connection, don’t feel frustrated. Take a breath and start again. With practice, it will become more natural.
  • Make sure that you can still breathe, and your torso isn’t rigid.
  • Please don’t practise this while sitting on the loo and stop mid-flow while actually having a pee. You might introduce the chance of a UTI.

Help! I can’t feel it!

If you really can’t find your pelvic floor at all: try sucking your thumb, pressing your hands down on your desk in front of you, or coughing. These actions all trigger your natural functional pelvic floor lift.

Persevere with gentle pelvic floor awareness exercises every day, often.

If you really struggle with lack of sensation, or pain, I’d advise going to a women’s health physiotherapist to see if a hands-on practitioner can give you some pointers.

To protect your pelvic floor health, always consider exhaling, and consciously drawing up in your centre as you lift heavy objects or your children.

The breath and your core strength are inseparable. If there is a missing link in the natural momentum: if your alignment is slightly off, for example your ribcage is tilted forward or back, or your pelvis tucked underneath you, this directs the natural momentum off course and pushes pressure to areas where it shouldn’t be. Pelvic floor exercises therefore are linked inextricably to good alignment and mindful posture.

Watch this space for updates about the PELVIC FLOOR PATROL. What are your experiences of postnatal care? Please share by commenting, or sharing this post with your friends. We need to build awareness and get the message out there that it is not ok to put up long-term with effects of birth which could otherwise be prevented and improved.

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DOMS – help! My muscles are trying to kill me!

DOMS – help! My muscles are trying to kill me!

Have you ever started a new exercise regime full of enthusiasm, perhaps a running programme or a new dynamic yoga class, only to be floored in the days after by feeling crippled by muscles that you didn’t even know existed aching every time you breathe.

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Two days into my Model Method Online programme and my obliques are on fire, my triceps are feeling pleasingly tender and my bum is definitely aware of having done some work. It’s kind of like a light has been switched on in a house that has been in the dark for a bit as its owners were on holiday.

The muscle soreness and tightness you experience, the pain that makes you make weird noises with every minuscule movement, has a proper term: delayed onset muscle soreness, or ‘DOMS’. This aching body usually causes you to feel one of two ways:

You either feel virtuous and smug that you’ve clearly worked hard enough for your muscles to ache, and enjoy every wince you have to make when you twist, bend and move (and if you’re anything like me, use that as an excuse to have some ice cream – need to work on that…)… or you’re in so much pain that you slither painfully back to the sofa vowing never to do another star jump again.

It’s not necessarily just a conventional workout that will bring on DOMS – I remember a particularly brilliant wedding ceilidh party which involved dancing for about 4 hours straight, and I could barely walk for a week afterwards. Happy sore feet.

I’m not a physio, so my “science bit” isn’t going to be much cop: but essentially, when you work out to build muscle, you basically have to challenge your muscle to the point of fatigue until it tears, and in rebuilding itself it will gain strength. But the tearing of the muscle fibres is likely to be an element in the cause of DOMS, which is usually felt around 48 hours after the activity in question.

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If it’s really bad and you’re doubled up like an old lady, there are a number of things you can try to relieve the soreness temporarily, including a relaxing aromatherapy bath, stretching, massage, deep breathing….

The most effective thing in my experience though, is movement. Even if it makes you initially call out in pain, moving rather than succumbing to the very real temptation to take up residence on a sofa for the foreseeable will mean that you don’t stiffen up entirely, and the right type of movement will bring balance back into the body and make sure that the muscle pain isn’t causing you to compensate with other muscles in your daily movement, with the risk of causing yourself injury or other aches in the process.

Make the exercise light and gentle if need be, because your technique might be compromised by your pain: follow your gut and listen to your body. I’ve always found that wherever you’re aching, you can’t go wrong with a restorative session of Pilates: it’s the perfect balance of strength and flexibility, massaging your spine and encouraging circulation which will get you back on track in no time. Repeating the exact HIIT session that put you there in the first place might not be quite what the doctor ordered. Give your body a rest where it’s specifically aching, but make sure that it doesn’t seize up by keeping the machine oiled.

Don’t let DOMS put you off exercise. A friend of mine said her mum was told to take up gentle exercise by her doctor, and she was so horrified by being in post-exercise pain after a swimming aerobics session that she determined it must be dangerous, shunned the gym for good and went back to her sedentary habits – it simply didn’t occur to her that her body might just be waking up and rejigging its fibres for a new active existence ahead.

Manageable levels of DOMS is absolutely normal, and is felt by everyone, even elite athletes, when starting a new exercise or upping the challenge a notch. You should feel your muscles have worked after a 24-hour period, but not so much that you’re screaming in pain unable to lift your little finger.  It doesn’t last long: you should expect a dose of DOMS to be leaving you after 5 days or so. Then it’s back to your HIIT to do it all again!

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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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