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

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Returning to “normal” post-baby

Returning to “normal” post-baby

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  • You have a baby. You take it relatively easy for the first 6 weeks, maybe doing the odd squeeze of your pelvic floor (clenching your buttocks hopefully and raising your eyebrows?) when you remember/can be bothered, but you’re itching to get back into it and “lose the baby weight”, “get your body back”. Pictures of Kardashians pinging back into their pre-baby shape make you feel like you’re lagging behind, being lazy, stuck somehow “doing nothing” under your baby when there are other more important things to do. You feel like 6 weeks is a LIFETIME before you can be “signed off as back to normal” and ready to get stuck into regular activity, sign me up for baby Zumba now please!
  • Even if you’ve been “signed off” at your 6-week check, this should be seen as the START line of the marathon of your body healing itself, not the finish line. Your 6-week check is often cursory and currently skips over some fundamentals of your healing.
  • The 6-week check usually marks the formal end of maternity care, and you may think woo hoo I’m good to go, hot baby spinning Zumba here we come! – but at six weeks your body is not yet healed. Too often the GP only has time to offer you a quick glance and doesn’t ask you in depth about pelvic floor healing or check your abdominals for separation (see below). So you shouldn’t take it as read that you’re now all clear to get into high impact exercise – particularly if you weren’t an avid exerciser before pregnancy.
  • Six weeks leaves just enough time for your organs to settle back to their original position once baby has evacuated that space, and the first stage of soft tissue healing. And potentially it takes much, much longer if you’ve had a caesarean. It can take several months for the abdominal and pelvic muscles to recover fully, and for the connective tissue to completely firm up. Your body is healing, there is so much going on under the skin that you can’t see, it needs nurturing and kindness.
  • Running and HIIT exercise appeals to mums because it requires no equipment, costs nothing, and can be crowbarred fairly easily into a suddenly-chaotic yet full-of-nothing-much day. You think getting back into it will make you feel great, lose all the weight, find your mojo. And it might. There’s no doubt about the importance of exercise for wellbeing. But going straight into high impact activities like running if “my 6-week check was fine” (did the doctor specifically say anything about exercise?) may not be the best plan for your long term healing.
  • Breathing is the most crucial starting point for your recovery, physically and mentally. Sooo boring, right? Well, your breathing enables you to release tension and anxiety, to allow your body space to recover from your birth experience, to move you from “fight or flight” into “rest and digest” mode. Breathing is intrinsically connected with the efficacy of your abdominals and pelvic floor, as the diaphragm has to learn how to communicate with your pelvic floor now that your baby is no longer hogging the space between them. Breeeeathe, wide and full into your belly, allow your diaphragm to fully descend and open and it will stimulate the conversation between the pelvic floor with its symmetrical rise and fall motion. It’s the most overlooked healing tool we have: it’s free, you’re doing it anyway might as well make it count, it doesn’t take any extra time ladies.
  • Diastasis whatsi? Diastasic recti – abdominal separation. Your rectus abdominis – your six-pack muscle, has separated during pregnancy due to stretching of the linea alba ‘fascia’, the connective tissue that holds the two bands of muscle together, sort of like unzipping at the front. Trying to flatten the mum tum with sit ups is not the solution as it will make the separation worse. We need to strengthen the deeper stabilising muscles: the pelvic floor, your corset muscle the transversus abdominis, and, fundamentally, get the diaphragm firing properly with proper breathing.
  • I’ll say it again because it’s so important: NO SIT-UPS. NO CRUNCHES. NO PLANKS. These are strictly contra-indicated in the early months of your postnatal recovery, due to weaknesses caused by abdominal separation – and if you’ve never been checked for ab separation, this rule applies for years after postnatally. If you’ve got diastasis it is going to cause problems however “new” or old a mum you are. ‘Ab exercises’ cause an increase in intra-abdominal pressure, which in turn increases the load placed on your weakened pelvic floor – sort of like building a loft extension on top of a house where you’ve knocked down a load-bearing wall. It’ll cause back pain, may exacerbate pelvic floor problems, it’ll make your foundation weaker not stronger.
  • If you do go to a buggy running-type group, or attend any fitness group in the year after your baby, your instructor MUST check your abdominals for separation and at the very least ask you in detail about your birth experience, how your pelvic floor is feeling, whether you experienced pelvic pain during your pregnancy. If the PT or instructor omits any of these essential postnatal duty-of-care issues, and particularly if they launch into AB EXERCISES, planking, sit-ups, leg lowers, flat tummy exercises etc., DO NOT DO THIS CLASS. Run, run away (slowly and with care).
  • Bum deal. Your pelvis has taken most of the burden of carrying your baby and probably also provided the exit route, so we need to give it some strong scaffolding. Hormones are still flooding your system, which keep your ligaments and joints unstable for up to nine months (and if you are breastfeeding, potentially longer), so it’s important to regain strength in your glute muscles, in order to stabilise your lower back and hips. If they aren’t firing on all cylinders you’re more likely to experience low back pain or have issues with your hips, knees and ankles. Strong bums are particularly important if you want to ultimately get back into high-impact movement such as HIIT and running…or just lifting and day to day craziness with your minis – I mean, that can be a HIIT workout in itself, right?
  • Posture matters. Everything hinges on your alignment in terms of your body systems working effectively post-birth. No amount of pelvic floor exercise will be truly effective if your alignment is poor and you’re not breathing fully. You do a lot of lifting and bending when you have small children and it’s important to soften and balance your body – especially if you are breastfeeding.
  •  I wet myself! LOL! IT’S NOT FUNNY. The main thing to remember about your pelvic floor after birth is that you should not suffer in silence, or laugh it off. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that pelvic floor issues get better if they are ignored. If you are struggling with pain, discomfort, lack of sensation, a feeling of heaviness or ‘bearing down’, or even if things simply don’t feel ‘normal’ – not asking for help and laughing it off only means that the problem will definitely get worse over time.
  • Think about your 70-year old self and how you want her to feel. There is a real risk of pelvic organ prolapse postnatally, and it is so important to strengthen your pelvic floor to increase your chance of avoiding this, particularly if you want to have more children. If you feel any sensation of your insides ‘falling out’, do not ignore this. A prolapse is when the uterus, bowel or bladder descends into the vagina. Go to your GP and ask to be referred to a women’s health physio.
  • I had a C-section, pelvic floor exercises don’t apply to me. Sadly you don’t get let off the hook. Your pelvic floor has provided a neat pillow, punch bag and trampoline for your baby for 9 months. It needs some attention even if it didn’t serve as the exit turnstile.
  • Whatever birth you had, start your pelvic floor exercises as soon as possible. The sooner the better. BUT IT’S NEVER TOO LATE. So start now. NOW. If you had a perineal tear, whatever grade, begin these exercises without delay, as they’ll promote healing, send blood circulation to the area, reduce swelling, increase sensation and help you to regain your strength and function.
  • To do your pelvic floor exercises correctly: lift your back passage – imagine you are trying to stop breaking wind – then travel the engagement forward as if you want to stop the flow of wee, squeeze and lift forward and up.
  • Try not to hold your breath: lift up with an exhale, and then allow the entire pelvic floor to fully open, soften and relax on the inhale. Do a few repetitions, slowly and intentionally, a few times every day with this breath pattern. Then progress to doing some quickly. Squeeze and repeat 10 times, breathing normally without holding your breath, and always fully releasing and resting with an inbreath at the end.
  • Remember that when you lift your pelvic floor there should be no clenching or tension anywhere else: bum, shoulders, jaw, inner thighs. It’s an internal engagement. A strong pelvic floor is the key to healing your mum tum.
  • Look at the Squeezy app for more guidance and information about pelvic floor exercise.
  • Pilates is a perfect postnatal activity to strengthen your core and bum, to release tension – but it has to be the right kind of Pilates. Check your instructor has experience and the right credentials for working with mums.
  • Yoga is brilliant to. But as above.
  • Swimming is low impact yet surprisingly challenging, and meditative – just keep swimming just keep swimming just keep swimming….
  • And walking. Especially in green spaces. Walking is very healing and strengthening.
  • Your postnatal mojo is so linked to how your body FEELS and how you’re functioning. If you’re weeing when you exercise, or even when you cough and sneeze, that’s going to make you feel like shit, and make you scared to speak up about it or to continue to exercise, which perpetuates a negative cycle for your wellbeing.
  • Depletion in body: make no mistake, pregnancy withdraws all you got. It takes you well into your overdraft of energies, nutrients, minerals, strength. And then you don’t often choose to make deposits back into your account once baby is out (the “bounce back”!).
  • Your gut health may well be affected by your birth experience – antibiotics, caesarean birth – which will compromise your absorption of nutrients from your food. And crucially, may compromise your production of serotonin – the hormone of JOY, which is largely produced in the gut and therefore arguably could be one of the missing links in some out of the blue experiences of postnatal depression.
  • You’re not sleeping well, and probably not drinking enough water so you’re dehydrated. And you may only be eating toast, biscuits and mainlining coffee anyway, so your poor gut doesn’t have that much to work with.
  • Postnatal depletion is not depression. But it can make you feel generally a bit meh and crap. Which lends itself to becoming depression if left unchecked over time. The most basic form of selfcare is to tell yourself that you matter, to feed and water yourself adequately. How do you FEEL? Are you strong? Are you strong enough to carry a toddler in your dungarees like a sling for a mile when they refuse to go in the buggy?
  • It’s normal not to feel amazing all the time. But if it’s affecting your every day and you just feel “not right”: this is the tipping point. Check your PHYSICAL needs today: drink enough water, breathe properly and fully – this will be affecting your mind and spirit too. Our body image is so intrinsic to our happiness and identity, and postnatally this can take a real kicking.
  • It takes time to heal and regain your strength, you are only human, you’re not a Kardashian. It’s not frivolous to prioritise you and getting your body back safely and effectively. If you return to sit-ups, planks, running, HIIT too soon you can do more harm than good.
  • So ladies please: drink enough water, remember to breathe, and if you’re at all worried, ask your GP to refer you to a women’s health physiotherapist. Look after YOU!

Control freak? – Motherhood, identity, exhaustion, PND

Control freak? – Motherhood, identity, exhaustion, PND

I’ve never really thought of myself as a control freak, I’ve always thought I was relatively easy going and serene. But I guess, up until I had a baby I had never had to fully relinquish control about anything.

Anya Hayes The Supermum Myth new mum
Anya with newborn Maurice

From the moment I was induced, any semblance of control that had been set in scribe in my “Birth Plan” was swept away in the rapids. My vision of motherhood had been one of calm contentedness, I thought having a baby was maybe a bit like having a cat – plenty of  loving attachment but you could still make toast and have a shower without always holding them. Such a shock to the system that the reality was an oft-screaming unputdownable barnacle.

I didn’t realise – or rather ever need to acknowledge – that my mental state was nurtured carefully by different controlling practices when I felt under par. Time alone – I am an introvert who is recharged by solace and time to breathe alone. Too much solitude nudges me into self-critical thoughts and reclusive behaviours, but just enough keeps me charged and content. Exercise: Pilates, yoga, swimming… Pampering luxuries such as facials. Sleep…. But now, in the newborn chaos I no longer had this control of anything – I couldn’t keep my environment in a way that eased my anxiety in any way.  I couldn’t control when I could do yoga, have any time alone, suddenly even having a shower seemed like a feat with an obstacle course in front of it.  The detritus of a messy flat and lack of being able even to cook myself some lunch would leave me agitated, with an overriding sense of failure, particularly when Ione of my NCT group used to entertain us with a spread of home-baked goods and sandwiches with the crusts cut off, and I felt like a shambles in comparison.

Anya Hayes The Supermum Myth
Anya with Maurice aged 10 weeks

Being alone all day with a baby that would only nap on my chest. A fretful baby who cried so much that I once called NHS Direct as he had been crying for over two hours with no respite. I simply couldn’t cope with being so useless at this mothering thing. He was so tiny as a newborn that he fed almost constantly in the first 10 weeks, and didn’t ever sleep for longer than 45 minutes at a time, day or night. There is no “sleep when your baby sleeps” under these circumstances.

Exhausted. Feelings of failure. Lack of control. These are all, without the baby in the mix, legitimate reasons for being low or needing support around you, but when you have a baby there is still less sympathy for the idea that you might be anything but 100% delighted that you are lucky enough to have a baby in your arms.  I remember texting a friend that I “now understand how women get postnatal depression”…and I didn’t hear back from her.

You give so much of yourself when you have a particularly fussy baby. With ALL babies of course, you give give give as a mum of this there is no doubt, but so much more so if your baby has a fussy temperament or issues with reflux or colic. Constantly pre-empting and meeting their needs; rocking, swaying, dancing, holding, feeding, walking, endless walking… Your needs or any semblance of “down time” or “me time” are a distant memory. Waking up feeling already so heavy about the prospects of the day ahead. what kind of meltdowns, how much crying the day held?  As if walking with a sack full of rocks. An overwhelming sense of incompetence?  It feels like everyone  else is coping better. But does everyone else simply have a mask on?

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Treasure every moment. Blessed. There IS overwhelming love. But there is unrelenting exhaustion in that moment too. And this chips away at your mental resilient and ability to see your own self-efficacy, the things that you ARE achieving brilliantly. I certainly didn’t feel like I was doing a good job with Maurice, I often felt utterly overwhelmed by his 24-hour needs, and this sleep deprivation seeped through all my experience and meant joy of motherhood was at times overshadowed by a sense of failure.

Being so physically connected and attached to your baby 24/7 – no long stretches of sleep from him for me to feel a physical space and boundary, to ring fence where I finished and Maurice began, you begin to lose your identity. All the pillars of self care that I used to adhere to without really thinking about it were kicked out from underneath me. Sleep, first and foremost. Exercise. Alone time. Space. Work – my career is important to me. Earning my own money, as a self-employed person my earnings have always relied on my scrappiness and determination, my constant feelers out for work. Suddenly work is fettered by your commitments elsewhere, and when you’re self-employed it can feel like you’ve been set adrift on a homemade raft into unchartered choppy seas.

Gradually, there was a mojo reboot with Maurice, sleep returned and so did my sense of identity – I could make sense of the Mum Me and the Pre-mum Me harmonising.

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Having a second child, though, has challenged this ownership of who I am even further. Recent studies have suggested that symptoms of postnatal depression can peak 4 years after the birth of your baby. At the moment, with my second, we have never enjoyed a reliable good night’s sleep. That’s 3 years of relentless sleep deprivation. And I have never even remotely recovered my earning potential since having my first child, and at times it can feel frustratingly like I’ve fallen into a career confidence trough out of which I’ll never clamber. I know in my heart that this has stemmed from a good place, that I have tried to crowbar my career around being there for my children, but at times that doesn’t provide much solace to soften the feelings of career failure.

This week is. case in point and crystallises how I’ve been feeling over the past 3 years at times where I feel like I’m gathering a favourable wind in my sails, something comes to stop it dead. I was supposed to have a full day of childcare today: to plan, to research, to have some calm, solace, introverts recharge kind of time. And last night Freddie was sick and so couldn’t go to nursery and all my plans had to be sacrificed. Making plans and having to inevitably sacrifice them can be the real splinter in a Mum’s bottom.

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So, I just wanted to extend a hand of friendship to any mum out there doing the mum juggle and feeling like some days you’re really not winning. You’re not alone. It is so hard to keep plates spinning, keep your children alive, thriving, happy, while also tending to your self-care and career and all the various facets which make up your identity. We’re in it together. Sending you love. And tea. And a child-free loo visit.

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New Year Wellness toolkit

New Year Wellness toolkit

New year, new you, all the headlines shout enthusiastically. We might write energetic resolutions in our new 2018 journals, or we might shrink further back into the sofa clutching our Merlot and saying bah humbug. Whatever your approach to the new year, you can guarantee that there’s an element of transition about the passing of December into January, an anxiety or a sense of hope, whichever way you frame it.

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My approach to resolutions this year is to call them Daily Resolutions rather than New Year’s Resolutions. I always feel that setting a daily intention is far more effective than creating a huge stone block etched with long-term goals, which seem unattainable and unrealistic once you hit the first inevitable pothole in the road towards it – the first runny cold day that;s a barrier to your Run Every Day, or the first toddler sickness meaning that you don’t get to the gym. And once we’re tripped up at that hurdle it becomes easier to slink back into “old ways” and then the inner critic takes the microphone berating your lack of achievement.

This week I spoke to the lovely Zoe Blaskey who has founded Motherkind.co, to offer mums a way to “reconnect to you in the mayhem of motherhood”. I love Zoe’s ethos – closely aligned to mine – about how we need to be gentle with ourselves and simply learn how to see the positive in what we’re doing rather than settling on the relentlessness and the feelings of failure that can characterise our daily mum lives. I had the honour of recording a podcast with Zoe, so watch this space for when you can listen to it. We talked about self care and how mothers can sometimes fall so down their own lists that it doesn’t even occur to us to take stock of how balanced our emotions are, what our internal dialogue is, how our body is feeling. That niggly back and neck might be crying out for you to rest, to take some time to breathe, to lengthen and meditate, to clear out the clutter of your mind and offer yourself some space. Zoe asked me what my go-to selfcare tools were in the moment, when things get all sweary and overwhelming. So here they are:

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  1. Breathe…so obvious, so boring…so underused as a soothing tool. We often live permanently in a state of fight or flight, permanently attached to our phones and the stress inducing white noise that is coming from them. We never think to stop and offer ourselves a moment of peace and pause. So for me, breathing is my immediate soother. Take a deep breath in through the nose for a count of 5. Long, wide, full breath feeling it releasing back into the ribcage and sides. And then sigh the breath out through your mouth, as if you’re fogging a window in front of you. The longer exhalation is a trigger for the parasympathetic nervous system to step in and take over: to take your hand, stroke your brow, make you some chicken noodle soup. This is your rest and digest system. And an essential counterbalance to your fight or flight. Humans were created to be alert for danger, for that sabre toothed tiger in the bushes. We need to look for danger as otherwise we would be eaten. But now, that seeking danger manifests itself in anxiety attacks in Tesco, or panicking about your parenting decisions. No longer life or death, but with the same physiological stress responses. So breathing lifts you out of that spiral, coaxes you back to peace.
  2. Move. Moving my body is an essential. Imagine a pond. If there is no fresh water introduced to the pond over time, it becomes stagnant. The same goes for your body if you don’t encourage circulation, blood flow, fresh oxygen, a bit of a massage for your internal organs. Think about a cat, when it gets up from a nap it wouldn’t dream of not stretching. Humans have forgotten this instinctive movement need. Release mental stress by moving your physical body. Whatever that means for you: star jumps, squats – I always squat wile the kettle is boiling – roll downs, some yoga. Squeeze it into your day, little and often. Think about movement not “exercise” and you will reframe how you see your body, It might encourage lightbulb moments for things that are troubling you as you shift your mental energy as well. Move move move.
  3. Verbalise. I always vocalise when I feel I’m at meltdown point. If I’m in the swirly whirl of a tornado induced by toddler craziness, no sleep, lost keys. I catch myself in the moment and say “it’s ok. It’s ok to feel stressed. You’re exhausted and overwhelmed”…say whatever you’re feeling, and say it to yourself calmly and out loud. Apart from anything else, it might make you feel silly and immediately release the charge of the moment. But it also validates what is happening and allows you a mindful pause. It’s ok to have those moments of anger, stress, chaos. Verbalising it makes it easier to pass.
  4. Drink a glass of water. So simple. So easy to forget. Go and have one now.
  5. Green space. If you’re feeling stressed, go outside and find yourself a tree to gaze at. Or a cloud passing by. Something not man made. Something that will lift you out of your moment and into the universe. Forest bathe.
  6. Gratitude: a longer term tool, not necessarily for the moment, although looking for silver linings is a skill to be developed on the go if you can. Every day I write a gratitude list. The smallest things that were highlights: a cuddle from Freddie, a hot cup of tea. Or bigger things, a work offer, something unexpected in the post. intangible things: long term friends and their support and love; or tangible: the roof over your head. Gratitude enables you to foster a more optimistic outlook every day, which will inform your daily actions, decisions, choices every day. Which will create a positive cycle in your life, and crucially, enable you to develop a clock of resilience for those times in life which are more challenging and stressful.
  7. Meditation: this one is a bit Woo woo, and lots of people roll their eyes and switch off. “I can’t meditate, I think too much”…well, that IS meditation. Mediation is shaking out the dust in your carpet. Think about your mind as gathering years of dust from your daily thoughts, actions, events, heartbreak, triumph. If you never shake it out, it will just layer and layer and stay there and fester and become vague and unhelpful. Meditation allows space for it to bubble up and be assimilated. Released. Digested. Forgiven. It doesn’t have to be a seated Buddha incense type meditation, although I that works for you then great. It can simply be SPACE. 2 minutes, 30 seconds of space and intent focus on your mind. Focus rather than inattention and distraction (phone, anyone?). Mindful rather than mindless. Sometimes uncomfortable, rather than numbing and avoiding. You will find clarity and peace. Go on, try it. Breathe.

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I’m speaking at the Lucky Things event this Saturday, I was so excited to be invited by Sunita to talk about all things wellbeing in body and mind. I’m really looking forward to it, can’t wait to see you all there, so if you’re coming, come and say hi!

What are your selfcare tools? Do you have a toolkit at your disposal? You may have one without actually noticing it: gathering together consciously what seems to help you in those FFS moments into a selfcare toolkit list will make it easier to access it when you need it.

Why not make 2018 the year that you set an intention every day, to look to the positive, to break down your huge goals into smaller daily intentions, measurable and realistic.

Here’s to a healthy and happy 2018.

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Dry January: The impropriety of sobriety

Dry January: The impropriety of sobriety

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Dry January – are you doing it? Have you done it? Normally the driest my January goes is a dry white wine. I’ve always been a bit sniffy about abstaining from alcohol for a full smug month – not to mention the fact that January is chock full of family birthdays which means there is a high level of refusal willpower needed around the lunch table when the prosecco is flowing. And willpower isn’t always my greatest gift.

I have always said to myself that as long as there is moderation, and that there are a few days a week with no alcohol, this is fine. And I do agree (with myself, which is a good thing) that generally moderation trumps abstaining as a general rule. But I have started to become aware and uncomfortable about the fact that I ALWAYS have a drink of an evening from Thursday to Sunday. Some evenings only one glass of red, savoured, but often, usually…two or three if it’s a weekend and I’m out or sharing a bottle with my husband. You know that you’ve got a reputation of a lover of the grape when people express surprise if you’re not drinking, or if they affectionately refer to you as a drinker. My mother in law has a lovely artist’s print on her wall, of a woman drinking a glass of red wine. My then-2 year old once pointed at it and said “MUMMY!!!”. Which made my face go as red as the vino.

I once read somewhere that if you’re conscious of a feeling that you might need to get a handle on your drinking, then you’re probably right. I certainly don’t get drunk very often, but I do drink often. And it’s such a habit and intrinsic behaviour – wine o’clock, a glass of prosecco to salute the weekend, a confidence-boosting crutch at an event where I don’t know anyone, a reward gin and tonic after a crappy day, a glass of red to celebrate the end of a long evening of children’s mayhem followed by teaching, a lunchtime glass of rose with a friend….. all of these situations sometimes feel hollow without that alcoholic prop. Which makes me cringe a bit, like a vegetarian hearing a meat eater say a meal isn’t complete without meat. Which is why I feel like I need to kick the prop away and question what exactly I am propping up.

I also am curious to see the effects of nil alcool on my digestive system, my skin, my sleep (although until Freddie stops sabotaging my sleep this one will be harder to decipher). There are myriad benefits that skipping alcohol altogether have going for our wellbeing and health. Alcohol is a proven hormone disrupter, and messes with the delicate balance within our systems. So I want to see when these benefits start to make themselves known, and if they compensate for the lovely full-bodied taste of a glass of Shiraz.

But abstaining from alcohol brings with it societal umbrage. Unless you’re pregnant (and any skipping of alcohol from a woman is often assumed to be related to that), you’re not often given a get out of jail free pass when it comes to being allowed to not drink without causing raised eyebrows and offence. Shining a light on other people’s discomfort about their own drinking? Or just being a party pooper? Drinking is sanctioned by society as the joy bringer, and the uniter. Which it undoubtedly is. But it’s funny how we can be judged for not wanting to – and I’m including myself in the judging panel here.

This is an exercise in self-care and restraint for me. A real challenge to see if I can actually do it. It’s not a judgment of drinking or a suggestion that anyone is wrong if they are continuing with their moist lubricated January. It’s just for me.

So, I did have a drink on my husband’s birthday on 2nd January, and my dry January began then. We’re only 4 days in but I already feel like it’s been aaaages, which is quite amusing and telling. I got through a Friday night post-first-week-back-at-school without a congratulatory glass of fizz or a glass of beer with the curry I had with my husband, even though his beer looked delicious and complementary to our meal. I felt such a childlike sense of achievement that I almost feel sorry for myself. But I am also buoyed to go forward and carry on.

Is anyone else doing Dry January? Do you have any tips and tricks? Have you given up booze for good? Do you miss it? I’d love to hear.

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Umami healing – the power of Miso

Umami healing – the power of Miso

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I’ve been really interested recently in Ayurveda, living life with an equilibrium with my body and the seasons to try and make sure I’m not fighting the elements, encourage mind and body to feel balanced. According to Chinese medicine, winter broths are the best thing for the body at this time of the year – hydrating and warming.

As often happens, we’ve been fighting winter lurgy relentlessly – Freddie was ill with a chest infection and fever for what felt like an eternity and wouldn’t eat anything at all in that time (god bless Magic Boob, is all I can say). Talk about 15 day shred. He’s lost his toddler belly and now looks about 2 feet taller and leaner. He’s a fussy little fellow at the best of times – proving the Supermum Myth notion that any smugness you’re allowed in motherhood is swiftly overturned at the whim of your children: Maurice was a “great eater” and would happily guzzle pretty much whatever he was given. Freddie on the other hand would happily live on boob and chocolate fingers and nothing else. But, the other day I was eating a miso soup for my lunch, and he said “SOUP! I need soup!” And so a wonderful relationship has been born. Every day for the past week I have given him miso broth with rice boiled for a long time so that it breaks down, to create a gut-soothing congee. I’ve thrown as much broccoli or other surrepticious vegetable that I can sneak in, and salmon or chicken. And wow he’s been lapping it up.

It’s made me review my diet a bit as well. I’ve been lazy/generally disorganised over the past few months as I race along in the Rush Hour parenting traffic juggling work and mumming. Lunch was usually pasta with pesto, or something similarly unimaginative and heavy, leaving me feeling nutritionally empty and sluggish. I also wasn’t focusing on my taste buds particularly, favouring the same foods every day with no spice or natural addition of flavour. This might have been causing my body to crave “umami”, the fifth taste alongside sweet, bitter, sour and salty. Umami is that 3D depth of flavour in your food, the je ne sais quoi mmmm bliss point where sweet meets salty, such as found in a really fine and delicious cheddar, a plump and ripe grilled tomato, or a fat and juicy mushroom. This umami craving is also often sated by synthetic flavour enhancers too such as the sweety salty morish taste of crisps or other refined carbs, and additives such as MSG, which spell trouble for your body and do your health no favours. So if you’re craving umami, but filling that craving with artificial flavourings, it’s not the best thing for your health and wellbeing.

So I’ve decided to have a gut-friendly umami January: I’m doing Dry January and having a look at my alcohol habit, and I’m going to have a month of miso soup lunches to find my umami fix. I love miso soup, when I lived in Japan it was a staple every day, without thinking about its health benefits. It’s so easy to make and packed with nutrients, soothing and filling yet light on your system. Every day I’ll have a miso broth for my lunch…with noodles, rice, salmon or tofu, packed with whatever vegetables I can manage to cram into the small saucepan: rainbow chard, broccoli, spring onions, sweetcorn, mushrooms, red pepper, garlic, a small pinch of chill flakes for added heat and to blow any cold away. Plus, there’s no need for extra seasoning as it’s brimming with taste and nutritional power.

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Miso is unusually rich in nutrients, and unpasteurised miso paste contains beneficial bacteria, which aids your digestive process and gives your immune system a boost by enhancing your body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. Miso contains huge amounts of vitamins, including vitamins B, E, K, plus calcium, iron, potassium….the list goes on. Miso is also particularly high in antioxidants, which remove dangerous free radicals from the body. Free radicals are cell-destroying chemicals that have been linked to degenerative diseases, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even the effects of ageing. You have to be careful to buy miso which is, if not organic, without additives, as some contain MSG.

So if you’re feeling a bit slow, coldy and sluggish as winter envelopes you, and seem to be craving salty sweet foods to perk up your energy, maybe have a look into trying a miso power lunch project of your own. Mmmm.

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MuTu Postnatal exercise: Embrace body positivity

MuTu Postnatal exercise: Embrace body positivity

This week I had the pleasure and privilege of going to a body positivity event hosted by the MuTu System. It was a screening of the Body Positivity documentary created by Taryn Brumfitt Founder of the Body Image Movement, Embrace, followed by an introduction to the Mutu System led by its founder, Wendy Powell.

A powerful and emotional, and above all, life-changing documentary, the heart of Embrace is Taryn’s story. How she went from being a body hater to a body lover. From being devastated by her perceived ugliness to proudly posing nude for the whole world to see. This documentary should be shown in schools, should be seen by men and women, young and old. It is truly remarkable and devastating and awful and wonderful.

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The things I gleaned from it: realising how deeply entrenched our internal messages about our bodies are. From years and years of changing rooms telling us that we’re not a medium we’re a LARGE. From shouty magazine headlines saying SHE WENT FROM A SIZE 16 TO A SIZE 8! in congratulatory terms. The societal expectation of women being there to be aesthetically pleasing and there to have their prettiness and beauty please others. The focus on the superficial, what’s outside that counts – which often even if it is “perfect” belies what happiness or health is going on inside. Always feeling like we’re the one that is falling down and being not good enough. When surely it’s not a problem in you, it’s a problem in the fashion industry being not good enough.

The best quote for me had to be from the amazing Amanda de Cadanet (who, incidentally, before she became a Hollywood superstar went to school with my sister in Holland Park…), pondering when she sometimes considers what it would take for her to get THAT “perfect” body that society so desires, when she has to be exposed in front of the media who will inevitably pick her apart like vultures. It would mean changing her life, denying pleasures, not being present for her children. She says “if it comes to a choice of being thin or eating the cookie that my kid bakes. I’m gonna eat the fucking cookie my kid bakes”.

Women interviewed in the street about their body image described themselves as “disgusting”, “hideous”, “fat”…it was properly heartbreaking stuff, made me weep and I’m not ashamed to say it.

One of the most powerful sequences for me was that from Jade Beall, a photographer and author of the book The Bodies of Mothers, who has focused on women celebrating their bodies. She talks of her own experience postnatally of feeling overwhelmed, anxious and ugly, so she set up a self-portrait session to capture images of her and her newborn at this time… it brought me to tears how stunning she was and the images that she presented are simply extraordinary in their power and beauty. She talks of how the women she photograph are so often negative about their appearance – let’s face it, it’s usually a negative thought that enters before a positive one when we consider our body and beauty isn’t it – and she says, why do we constantly undermine and feel dissatisfied by images , that we’re not enough. Why do we not look at an image, and think “wow, she looks like me and she’s beautiful”.

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We need to be vulnerable, be kind, stop judging others as much as we need to stop judging ourselves. Stop listening to our inner critic and instead allow the voice of your inner compassion speak a bit louder. These feelings are contagious: either negatively, or positively. If you feel down on yourselves and others that will spread. If instead you feel joyful and celebrate the awesomeness of individual body shapes and form, that will also ripple out. Agonising about your body shape is a WASTE OF PRECIOUS LIFE.

How would you describe your body? Some of the wonderful descriptions that came out during the documentary were: “My home, my friend”, “luscious, soft, comforting”, “a sturdy vehicle not an ornament”. EMBRACE your body don’t be at war with it.

You are allowed to love your body. Remember that.

Such a powerful documentary, I urge you to seek it out and see it, right now!!

The discussion that followed was, as you can imagine, passionate and emotional – a feeling of weariness about society and the enormity of the challenge, but a feeling of empowerment that we CAN change, it will just take diligence and dedication.

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Wendy Powell said something which made me cheer outwardly: that women deserve to have a body they can feel happy in, can move in, can jump around in. And too often postnatally this is denied to us because of the lack of proper care that is out there for rehabilitating postnatally. Anything that celebrates the female body and doesn’t suggest that we need to lose weight as the answer to our happiness prayers is a winner in my book.

The MuTu System is a medically reviewed and doctor recommended exercise and recovery program to help you eliminate ‘mummy tummy’, Diastasis Recti and pelvic floor weakness—while building your confidence.

As Wendy Powell said, for too long women have been putting up with feeling a bit under par post-birth, but accepting it as normal. But it’s NOT normal to be weeing while you’re running or when you sneeze or cough. It’s not normal to have an urgent need to go as soon as you put your key in the door. Pelvic floor health is so misunderstood and there is no much more to pelvic floor strengthening that just SQUEEZE. I’ve explored this in another blog post about pelvic floor health – we need flexible strength, not rigid hold.

As part of this event I am excited to be trialling the MuTu system over the next 12 weeks, and I’ll report back on my progress. I’ve had lots of clients over the years who have mentioned MuTu to me, and now I’ll be able to offer an experienced description of the system! Plus I’m looking forward to dedicating some targeted time to my own pelvic floor and post-section tummy.

And even better, MuTu has given me an exclusive code which you can use to receive a 15% discount on the programme: simply sign up using the code EMBRACE15

Cant wait to begin the core-restore journey and would love it if any of you would like to join me! xxx

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Model Method Online: Less Pretty More Sweaty

Model Method Online: Less Pretty More Sweaty

Fitting it in – How do you make time for for fitness around your kids? Fitness postnatally has been the hardest thing for me to find space for, and also the most challenging change to accept post-children that it’s no longer is a number one priority. I think my loss of fitness has had a huge impact on my sense of identity, feeling like “me”.

Before I had children, I was a roving Pilates teacher. I crossed London east–south–west every day on my bike, sometimes covering over 20 miles in one day, and teaching up to 5 hours a day. When I wasn’t teaching I was working 2 days a week in an office on wellbeing and health books, and cycled to the office in Kings Cross and back – thereby seamlessly fitting exercise into my day so that I didn’t even have to think about it.

It’s only now that this huge chunk of easy cardio training was no longer viable to me once I had a baby that I realised quite how much of an impact it had on my fitness levels, and frankly, how much it easily burnt off everything I ate and drank so that I was slim and fit without ever “dieting” or abstaining from anything.

Cut to 6 years into motherhood and I still am not a dieter or an abstainer…but now I have the sluggish midriff to show for it. In my pre-programme questionnaire I named myself an “unhappy apple” because I feel that I’m carrying an uncomfortable amount of squish around my middle which means that clothes don’t feel right on me.

I got back into teaching Pilates shortly after both boys were born (the unfortunate side-effect of being self-employed, “mat leave” isn’t a thing), and as result I have moved and listened to my body as an intrinsic part of my job. I’ve been dealt a good hand in that my postpartum body hasn’t suffered particular ill-effects from either of my (very different) caesarean birth experiences. I haven’t experienced pelvic floor trauma, my rectus diastasis (abdominal gap) resolved easily with targeted Pilates training and my scar recovery has been challenging but with Pilates rehabilitation it’s been ultimately positive.

But I now work mainly from home, and my cardio exercise is the daily school run. So I haven’t managed to claim back that fitness which was so effortlessly built up in my cycling commute in child-free days. For me it’s just the exhaustion of motherhood which has lent itself to a flat white and chocolate digestive penchant and not having a chance to burn it off – plus turning 40 and therefore possibly it just being a bit harder to shift that extra lethargy once you’ve let it accumulate, that I need to tackle.

Carving it out is the hardest part for me. I’ve always been one who needs accountability in order to stick with anything, because things get so easily derailed as a mum. So when Hollie Grant, award-winning PT and Pilates instructor, and the health and fitness contributing editor at Psychologies magazine, relaunched her Model Method Online this summer, I wanted to give it a shot.

The Model Method Online is pricey, £287 for an 8-week programme, which works out as just over a fiver a day – that’s a magazine and an artisan coffee, or a sandwich from Pret every day, if that’s your regular motherhood nemesis money-haemorrhaging outlet. So it’s the kind of thing that if you’re going to fork out your hard-earned money for, it has to be worth it.

Compared to comparable online programmes, such as Honestly Healthy’s Green & Lean, or the Supercharged Club which is specifically targeted at mums (and which – by their own admission, breaks down to £2.86 a day), it is an elite expensive exercise and nutrition programme to sign up for. So let’s have a look at the bang you get for your buck:

Lifebox: when you sign up you receive a box of goodies which is a very luxurious gift to kick off your programme and makes you feel like you’re entering into a lovely world of wellness, specially curated for you by Hollie. You receive lots of wonderful goodies such as Pilates socks from Sweaty Betty, Energy Burst roll on from NEOM, Magnesium muscle spray, and lots of yummy snacks and healthy eating treats such as chocolate granola from Rock My Bowl. You get 3 affirmations cards which are a lovely reminder of how positive exercise can be in your life. I’m a huge fan of affirmations, I have a set of Yesmum cards which I refer to every day without fail, so this was a nice touch. You also receive Hollie’s book Nourish which was the companion to the previous incarnation of the Model Method, which contains recipes and healthy eating tips and information to carry you through, plus a 6-week food diary. My absolutely faves from this box of treats were the NEOM roll on, which I use every day and keep in my handbag, and the book Eat, Sweat, Play by the Guardian journalist Anna Kessel, which was insightful, informative and inspiring about the role sport has to play in making women feel empowered and strong in life. Every woman, and every man, should read this book. I loved it and it made me think, laugh and cry.

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This programme champions the very clear (but usually ignored in fitness aesthetics and weight-loss programmes) link between physical and mental health. The refreshing part of the Model Method Online is that, despite what the name of the programme might suggest, the aim isn’t to make us all look like models, but actually to make us more energetic and happier in our daily life. Not just through exercise “sculpting” us into beautiful goddesses, but from tuning into our mental health day to day and helping to sculpt our minds, enabling us to think better, therefore feel better.

There are two ways that the method does this. The first one is the 2-month subscription to Headspace that you get when you sign up. If you haven’t heard of Headspace, it’s “meditation made simple”, and offers guided meditations for various requirements. Now, cards on the table: although I tried the Headspace app out it wasn’t really for me and I ended up somehow not using it very much, as I already have a meditation practice in place and have done for a while, which I am fond of in terms of its ritual and how it generally helps me to keep my mind on an even keel. But, I had a long discussion with a couple of friends about Headspace and one of them absolutely swears by it and says that it has revolutionised her life, whenever she feels an anxiety trigger she listens to a guided meditation and it gets her out of it.

Secondly, once you’re signed up you have access to lots of lovely blog content exclusively for members, which focus on various aspects of mental health such as anxiety, confidence, the science behind meditation, and why exercise is so beneficial to your mental health. Plus articles about nutrition, sleep, and generally Hollie’s palpable enthusiasm about exercise and why it’s so wonderful for your mental and physical health really shines through loud and clear.

The exercises

You get 6 videos, which means one “rest” day a week. I initially assumed that you would get different videos every week or 2 weeks, but that’s not the case. You complete a questionnaire part way through the programme and your programme is possibly adjusted according to your answers to that. The advantage of having the same videos over the 8 weeks is that you can become familiar with them, and benchmark against how you did at the beginning of the programme versus over the weeks. The possible downside…? Maybe for the money you’re paying it would be nice to have more variety with the exercises over the weeks…?

I was a newbie to HIIT, and I’m a definite convert. The exercise routines are fun, and doable amount of time, being 15 and 30 minutes long – no excuses! I found myself looking forward to the HIIT workouts and there was a real sense of playtime, and accomplishment once I was finished and all grinning and sweaty. My son came and joined me on a number of occasions too. it’s charged up my mojo and made me remember how much I love jumping around for the helluvit. I was shocked by quite how unfit I was when I first started, and proud by how my fitness improved over the weeks. So it has really changed my outlook in terms of what exercise I feel is accessible for me, and made me more brave about what kind of exercise I might try out in the future.

Worth the money?

Well – as I said, I always need an accountability otherwise I allow things to get pushed down the to do list. if you’re spending this kind of money, you’re going to want to make it worth it, and you will only get out of it what you put in. I would say that it’s definitely effective and magic if you DO do the work. I had a couple of weeks where my programme was stymied by my diabolical sleepless children and illness, and I started fretting a bit about not being able to do it not only because I had been on such a good roll and was feeling so much fitter and more energised, but also because of the precious money wasted. So that was slightly bad luck and bad timing. If I had dedicatedly stuck to the 6-day workouts for the whole time, there is no doubt in my mind that I would be glowing, toned, energised and slender of waist (my waist was my target area). As it is, my Pilates mojo has been stoked, I have used a lot of the HIIT ideas alongside the Pilates with my sixthformer girls class and they’ve loved it: so even if I haven’t been able to follow the programme to the letter and lost the inches around my waist, I have got a huge amount out of it and will look forward to trying out a lot of the HIIT moves from now on in my own workouts – I have preordered Hollie’s book in case I need a bit of a reminder.

So, generally a big TICK from me. Hollie is a gorgeous advocate for her method. Her enthusiasm is infectious, she looks amazing, she really wants you to be mindful of a holistic view of fitness and not just buy into the aesthetics that some fitness pros (particularly on Instagram) would want you to be inspired by. She is lovely, and knowledgeable, and her workouts are challenging and interesting, and, most importantly, fun.

 

HIIT me baby one more time – Model Method Online #2

HIIT me baby one more time – Model Method Online #2

JOY – so what did you used to do for “exercise” when you were little? Do you remember what you did to “keep fit” when you were a kid? I’d imagine that instead of “keeping fit” you just “were normally active”, you used to run, climb, jump, skip, play space rockets just for the helluvit? Am I right? When was the last time you played space rockets just for the helluvit and actually broke into a sweat?

Human beings were built for movement. We are supposed to climb, twist, jump, roll, squat in our daily activities. We are designed to walk for miles and miles a day. We are fairly unique in the animal kingdom for being capable of a huge range of physical activities, from climbing trees and swimming to trekking over mountains and riding horses. And yet the modern adult human has a fraction of the strength that his/her prehistoric counterpart would have needed in their every day existence. Simply because we let it go to waste. Our muscular and skeletal structure is exactly the same. Modern life has made us comfortable, given us remote controls, escalators and email, and has enabled us not to have to get up and move so much. But that has had hugely detrimental effects on our physical and mental health.

One of the things that I most love about the Model Method Online is that it has a focus on physical and mental health equally, and a full acknowledgement that the two are inextricably linked. This is not a programme about honing your waist, toning your butt or losing weight, although there is likely to be a side-effect of that happening – it is not in the quest for a “perfect body” but instead in the intention for a stronger, happier you. What’s not to love about that?

I was really surprised by how much I loved the HIIT. Hollie Grant, the Pilates PT, has blogged about the Top 5 Misconceptions about HIIT and I have to confess I really wasn’t that keen on the idea of HIITing myself up. I felt like it was a bit aggressive and too jumpy. I felt like maybe I was a bit too old for HIIT. I knew that I might be a bit too lazy. And I was a bit worried about my dodgy knee  – basically this is the soundtrack in my head of the SELF SABOTAGING GREMLIN. Do you have such a gremlin? I bet you do. Next time you hear its voice, why don’t you question it rather than listening to it and allowing it to dominate your actions?

The first time I did the Model Method HIIT workout video, I’m not going to lie, it kicked my arse. I was absolutely knackered and sweating buckets. I was slightly malcoordinated and couldn’t keep with all of the moves. But I LOVED it.  It tapped into those slightly crazy games you used to play at primary school where you just run and jump without any particular rules. And you have to run to the water fountain, gobble up your water as your breath is rapid and your cheeks are red. And you feel amazing and joyful but as you’re a kid you don’t even know that that’s not a regular state of mind any more once you’re in the adult world of mortgages and President Trump.

You get 7 workout videos: 3 30-minute SWEAT, 2 15-minute STRENGTHEN, 1 30-minute Pilates core workout. There is a STRETCH sequence that you can tag onto any of the above – but Hollie recommends that if you have time you add it onto the HIIT workout. Honestly I rarely had time to do a full 45 minutes and so I used to do the stretch sequence throughout the day when I could fit it in.

I found that the HIIT workouts left me feeling elated and I regularly laughed or found myself beaming widely without even thinking twice, simply because it was FUN. Yes, there were some moves that my dodgy knee didn’t love, but I could avoid those without skipping the whole workout.

So, HIIT gets a massive TICK from me. Thank you Hollie.