New year – same you! Why we should ditch new year’s resolutions

New year – same you! Why we should ditch new year’s resolutions

It’s that time of year again, where fitness advertising cashes in on the fact that we’ve all eaten too many biscuits and have been sitting on our bums a lot for over a week. What do you think about new year’s resolutions? Do you make them? Do you ever keep them?

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Anya Hayes Your Wellness Toolkit

I think there’s a lot to be said for assessing things that you’ve achieved over the course of a year, and looking ahead to what you’d like to put in place in the next. But I also know that most new year’s resolutions involve giving up something, or becoming something entirely different. Which may set you up for failure before you’ve even begun.

How about new year’s intentions? Spring is a time of rejuvenation and can often feel overwhelming with the urge to find your “new beginning”. Instead of a drawing up a long list of resolutions of things to change, or goals that you need to achieve, how about beginning a habit of setting an intention every morning?

“Today, I promise to be kind to myself”

“Today, I will slow down and try not to rush”

“Today, I will believe in myself”

“Today, I will be my own best friend”

“Today, I will truly listen to my body and honour its needs”

Breaking down your goals into micro daily intentions make them more doable, and has the knock on effect of giving you a small regular dose of achievement, self-love and positivity if you keep your intention in mind throughout the day. And if you don’t remember, well, tomorrow is a new day, right?

It’s been a pretty amazing 2018 with ups, downs and the carousel of life in between. Sending you all the wellness, health and vitality for 2019.

Much love and thanks for being here, it’s much appreciated!

xxx

Pilates for Pregnancy
Pilates for Pregnancy by Anya HAyes

 

 

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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

 

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.

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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 ❤️

 

Matrescence – the second adolescence?

Matrescence – the second adolescence?

Emerging into motherhood is an intense time for body and mind ❤️ it’s a passage through a one-way turnstile. When we become adults, we first go through adolescence. Aaahhh the joy! The pain! The skin breakouts! The awkwardness! The hormones. The loneliness….some people sail through. BUT SOME PEOPLE DON’T ❤️
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How about we start to acknowledge the similar aspects of transitioning to motherhood: Matrescence ✨. So we’re prepared for the thriving AND the struggle. The euphoria of a new horizon, and the crippling fears of what comforts and knowns you’re leaving behind. It’s akin, right? ✨

That’s why I have always struggled with black and white labelling of postnatal depression (you either have it or you don’t) because it’s SUCH a grey area, a spectrum to out do all spectrums. And some element of struggle and angst is to be expected within the framework of viewing it as a transition to a new way of being. Which is why the obsession with “bouncing back” is so fricking unkind and unnecessary. Push, stroll, hobble tentatively forward, don’t bounce back. Accept and process and learn how to navigate the new terrain, which may include a totally ok element of sadness for what has passed.

Check out @alexandrasacksmd beautiful and inspiring TED talk about Matrescence and article in the New York Times The Birth of a Mother, here ❤️❤️❤️.

I’m running a new Welcome to Motherhood wellness course this month in Peckham. Three weeks – babies welcome – to focus on your body and mind in this time of metamorphosis. Offering you healing and calming tools. Message me to book or for more information.

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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

Birth Trauma – Trauma is not a normal part of birth

Birth Trauma – Trauma is not a normal part of birth

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Today is Freddie’s birthday. This time 3 years ago I was lying in the postnatal ward, breastfeeding a newborn of two hours old. (Three years later he’s still as boob obsessed, but that’s for another blog post…).

There has been a lot in the media today about birth trauma as today has been the Birth Trauma 2018 Conference with some very necessary discussion about birth and how we can move forward towards a more positive cultural expectation of the birthing experience.

Three years ago today I had a redemptive second birth after my traumatic first experience 6 years ago with the birth of my first son. The reason it felt redemptive was that every aspect that had been traumatic about my first birth was overturned. Second time round I felt:

  • Supported
  • Safe
  • Confident and knowledgeable about the processes
  • In control (as much as you can be where birth is concerned…)
  • Respected
  • Listened to, and effectively communicated to at every stage, by the medical staff supporting my birth

This, sadly, means that for my first birth almost none of these above factors was present as overall in my experience.

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First time round, I wanted a home birth or to be in a midwife led birthing centre which emulated where possible the cocooned ambience of a home, with soft lighting and birth pools…but was stymied early on in this desire by a random urine test at 16 weeks showing that I tested positive for Group B strep (which is nor routinely tested for generally), which would mean that I needed antibiotics administered during my labour and possibly to my newborn after birth. This immediately placed me in the “must be in hospital” category to give birth as I was now officially higher risk. I was a bit crushed, but armed myself with lots of reading about natural birth and how I could create the right birthing environment even if I was in the bright lights of a birthing ward rather than in a home softer less medicalised environment of my own home or a birthing centre.

At my 39 week appointment my midwife suggested that my baby was small for dates…but she dithered about whether to refer me for a hospital scan to check everything was ok. So she placed a seed of fear and doubt in my mind about the health of my baby, but without following through with any reassurance about whether this was well-founded. I went beyond my “due date” – which I’ve always said should be rebranded as a “due window” as only 5% of babies arrive on this date which we cherish and hold so close, and may as well have tatooed to our foreheads for the amount of time we’re asked about it during our pregnancy. As I went over, I had to have more hospital appointment to check all was well…at this point in the process it always feels like there is a Countdown clock ticking ominously before you have to be INDUCED. Why is there so much fear around this? Why are we so bullied about it? Induction 6 and a half years ago was slightly different to the process now, and there is no doubt that I was pressured to acquiesced when I said that I was reluctant to be induced and would rather see whether I went into labour naturally.

I had read about the “cascade of intervention”, and I had a family midwife friend telling me – supportively yet equally powerfully from the other side – that induction was unnecessary and not to be bullied, to stand my ground. In this respect pregnant women can feel pushed and pulled around by opposite “birth camps”, which is intimidating and scary.

I had an appointment with a consultant. I had been told to call to see when I was able to be seen by her, and informed that they would let me know of a spot. I was called, on a hot day in July, and told urgently that I needed to get to her office within the next half hour or I would miss her. I power walked over Denmark Hill in south east London, at 40 weeks pregnant, in the 30 degree heat, only to arrive and be placed in a waiting room and had to wait for over an hour. When I was finally seen, she was unfriendly, unreceptive, unsympathetic and barely listened to my thoughts or allowed me any time to ask questions, and told me in no uncertain terms that refusing or delaying induction was risking still birth. She wrote STILLBIRTH in capitals in my notes, underlining in a bad tempered flourish. It was not a soothing experience.

At 41 + 3 weeks I had a growth scan to check all was well after having a sweep (why does a sweep sound so pleasant, when it’s really not…), with my midwife’s words lingering in the back of my mind. I was told, “your baby is a very healthy looking 8lb, he’ll come when he’s ready” (I didn’t know whether I was having a boy until this point). When Maurice finally arrived, he was 5lb 12…

That afternoon I was told after the growth scan to “pop up” to the Maternal Assessment Unit. Another lengthy wait in a hot waiting room. I was there for over 2 hours without being seen, and my husband called and told me I should just go home as he was cooking dinner, but something about the STILLBIRTH swoosh in my notes kept me there. I was finally seen, my blood pressure monitored and my baby’s heart rate checked. I was flustered, hot and tired. My blood pressure was through the roof. The Dr decided this was a red flag, and sure enough I also had protein in my urine, a sign of pre-eclampsia. My baby’s heartbeat was also slightly unusual and kept dipping. The Dr said to me, “I think that it’s best that you don’t remain pregnant”…which is still one of the most obtuse things that anyone has ever said to me. “Erm….what do you mean?” was my reply. “It’s likely that you’ll be induced this evening to get your baby out safely”….In my mind all I could think was that Ben had cooked dinner and I was planning to watch the Apprentice final, I certainly wasn’t planning to stay in hospital and have my baby, I didn’t even have my hospital bag….

What followed was two nights on the induction ward….I havent heard of anyone else who hasn’t been offered a private room for induction once they were in actual labour, so maybe I was just massively unrelentingly exhaustingly unlucky… Two nights on the induction ward in a bed which was right next to the labour triage room, listening to woman after woman in labour being processed while screeching in pain and demanding epidurals. My baby’s heartrate kept dipping and I was strapped to a heart rate monitor listening (and other women in labour), I think I got exactly nil minutes sleep over two nights. The first night I wasn’t in active labour. The second I was.

Trying not to moo like a cow and wake or disturb anyone else in the ward….contractions every 10 minutes and really effing intense. But then dawn chased it away. My contractions basically ceased like rain had stopped play and everyone had gone home. I was left in my blue-curtained room, wishing for action, hoping for positive movement, sleep-deprived-torture playing with my emotions and mind. My husband went home in the early hours after having slept on the floor, to get a change of clothes and a shower. At 8am the doctor came to do the rounds. The lights were turned on suddenly and the dividing curtain pulled back to reveal 12 people staring at me in my bed, vulnerable and exhausted  – it’s a teaching hosptial and the doctor had his student doctors on the rounds with him, plus some hangers on, the porter maybe, who the eff knows. No one told me who anyone was, or introduced themselves, or – the most important perhaps? – smiled at me in reassurance and shared humanity. The doctor proceeded to talk about me to his crew, referring to me as if I wasn’t actually there. About how they would break my waters within the next hour to make sure my labour started progressing. At that point I stuttered meekly, “errr…have you seen my birth plan, I didn’t want to have my waters broken artificially”. The doctor tutted impatiently and said “well, you can stay on the natural bandwagon if you really want, but we need to speed this up”. No one smiled at me or, it felt, even saw me as a human. They left. I called Ben and started sobbing and asked him to get back immediately.

The details are hazy from that point on. I did eventually have my waters broken. It all goes a bit blotchy from that point. I was pushed down a corridor on a trolley to a birthing room, mooing like a cow myself now, finally, FINALLY some private space. There was a lot of sickness, vomiting is my birthing modus operandum. I finally had an epidural as I’d been labouring for 36 hours and I was only 4 cm dilated, and quite frankly losing the will to live. But…the epidural coincided with my baby’s heart rate taking a rapid downturn. Whenever I was lying or sitting up (I couldn’t move from the bed due to the continuous monitor), his heart rate descended terrifyingly. If I rolled onto my left side, it picked up. Three times consultants were called to review the heart rate dip. Three different consultants. I often feel that if it had been the same one, action would have been taken sooner. My epidural wore off completely on my right side, so I was experiencing the full pain of each contraction but without being able to move from my left side.

Maurice’s heart rate dipped ever more as if in slow motion, my blood chills remembering the sound…Who knows how many different opinions and prevarications finally ended with the consultant calmly telling me that the heart rate slow was serious and I should consider giving the go ahead for a caesarean. It felt at this point that the power was entirely relinquished to me making the decision, whereas at every point up to now I had been bullied and pushed. This, I feel, was a crucial point where the medical authority should have asserted their authority and increased my confidence in the situation, rather than placing a life-changing decision in my hands – on my head be it. As soon as I gave the nod, the room was rushed by staff and I was raced down the corridor for surgery, to have my baby out within 10 minutes. A category 1 crash caesarean.

Maurice was pulled out of my belly – my grisly scar a testament to how quickly they had to open me up to get him out – and there was no sound, no hearty newborn cry. There was an eerie silence as the resuscitation team set about their job. The consultant calmly came to me lying paralysed, and told me that I’d had a boy, but that he wasn’t breathing. I remember at that point feeling like a truck was sitting on my chest, and I tried to talk myself out of what I thought was a panic attack by counting slowly to ten, then down to one, then up to ten once more.

He was revived, and he is now a feisty 6 year old with abundant life in him. My immediate postnatal experience added to the trauma of the preceding 3 days, he was teeny tiny like a premmie, there had been placental problems that weren’t picked up when they could have been. I had no skin to skin and wasn’t even allowed to touch him for over 8 hours, followed by the exhausted start of an agonising breastfeeding journey. But that is for another post.

Traumatic birth indeed – but the trauma of my experience was, in part, related to the shock and pain and fear of the events themselves. It’s not pleasant to hear your baby’s heart rate descend to nearly nothing, while you feel powerless to protect them and they are still inside you.

But, I have no doubt that it is the way that I was treated by my fellow humans that brought the trauma to me. Had I been treated with compassion, sympathy, patience, understanding and respect, the events such as they were may not have left me feeling so traumatised. Kindness is everything. Trauma is not a normal part of birth. Traumatic birth shouldn’t be something that we simply accept. Birth should not be dreaded.

If you feel you are experiencing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to your birth experience, talk to someone, read up about it if you can, notice and care for your mental state: there are many resources out there: Mind, Birth Trauma Association, Babycentre are just a few. Try not to suppress and ignore your feeling of trauma related to your birth: trauma that is frozen inside doesn’t just release. It stays there, like a DVD stuck in pause, replaying that scene in your emotions and bodily fibres until you are able to kickstart the natural healing process.

You’re not alone.

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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.

 

Let’s Talk Miscarriage

Let’s Talk Miscarriage

Today I went to a wonderful Gathering of Tribes event at Emma Cannon‘s Chelsea clinic to commemorate Baby Loss Awareness Week. Emma Cannon is an acupuncture and women’s health and fertility expert, and someone who I’ve long admired and turned to in times of confusion and chaos on the fertility journey. She has featured in my What’s in Your Toolkit series. She is full of wisdom and practical realistic tips to help you on your fertility journey. In particular, for me, I have found her to be an amazing resource when it comes to building up body and mind after miscarriage.

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This is indirectly a blog post continuing my Model Method Online programme review – as one of the contents of the Model Method goody box is Anna Kessel‘s book Eat, Sweat, Play.  Everyone, women and men, should read this book. It is the first time I’ve read such a hard hitting and no holds barred account of women’s place in sport and how often society is tipped against us due to our sex and propensity for becoming mums at unfortunate times in our sporting careers. How girls are dissuaded from getting sweaty and fit because the focus is on aesthetics and being pretty at all times, and not getting “butch” and muscular. How motherhood is HARD on your body and it’s something that male athletes simply do not have to overcome. But most viscerally for me, Anna describes her experience of miscarriage… I had tears rolling down my face as I read it as so much of her experience tapped into my own, and the physicality of it being something that isn’t easy to share and lighten the load of.

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I felt similar feelings today as some amazingly brave and powerful stories were shared of baby loss and the emotional and physical trauma that it has involved. I met and shared stories with Elle from Feathering the Empty Nest about her loss and how her body and mind is still recovering from the ordeal of the past 18 months, and how she is trying to forge a positive path of hope in her life, moving on with the memory of her lost baby accompanying her positively as if in a kangaroo pouch, rather than away from it.

Marina Fogle, cofounder of The Bump Class, spoke eloquently about her baby loss and how society generally is inadequate at dealing with grief, loss, motherhood. She has shared her thoughts on using exercise to move through grief in this wonderful article.

And it was wonderful to have a chance to meet some inspiring experts in the field of health, wellness and healing such as Nutritionist and Life Coach Pandora from Rooted London.

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There’s a wonderful community out there, on social media and in blogs, to access shared experience and empathy, to be a chorus of voices in the darkness. But today showed that actually nothing can beat meeting up in person, talking with your fellow humans, hugging and sharing stories, There’s a very different energy talking to someone in real life as opposed to within the rectangle of your phone or tablet.  So, make a commitment for yourself that you will seek out your tribe, share you stories and allow others to share with you. Lighten the load and break down the taboos. Be vulnerable.

There was a circle of light at the end with a womb healing from Chloe Isidora. Around the circle we each shared a word we wanted others to take from the event. The circle of words was:

LOVE –  HOPE – GRATITUDE – CONNECTION – SHARING – HEALING

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.