The Supermum Myth – how to overcome anxiety, ditch guilt and embrace imperfection

The Supermum Myth – how to overcome anxiety, ditch guilt and embrace imperfection

Motherhood is the one thing able to send you from feeling like a million dollars to a piece of poo, in one swoosh of a baby wipe. It contains our zenith, and our nadir. You’re having a great mothering day: you wake up after three hours’ unbroken sleep (which constitutes a great night), you manage to have a shower, feed and clothe your children, brush all teeth and bundle them out the door vaguely on time. You’re feeling bloody amazing. Then BAM! A thoughtless comment from someone slaps you round the face, making you feel like a shit mum:

‘You had an emergency caesarean? That must be because you had an epidural. I managed on just lavender oil for all my home births.’

‘My two have always slept like a dream, I think it’s probably because I’m quite a chilled out mum, they can sense that. Maybe if you were more relaxed your children would sleep better?’

Looking a little deeper, you may be able to recognize that, depending on the day, time, moment, that perfect supermum isyou, sometimes. Imagine those moments when you’re not judging yourself harshly, because all is calm – when you are the fleetingly glossy schoolgates mum kissing your smiling child goodbye, running happily after the non-tantruming toddler, no glitches, no hitches, no spanners – how would you look to another mum in the playground in those moments? It’s all about your own perception.

A recent study of 2,000 mums in the UK (a chocolate-filled crepe company commissioned the survey, possibly acknowledging that being a mum and eating chocolate is a marriage made in heaven) revealed more than half have a number of friends and acquaintances who “portray themselves as the perfect mother”. But 60 per cent claim they find these kinds of mums “highly irritating”, while nearly three quarters dislike it when mums “show off their prowess on social media”. So it’s a tricky internal tug of war – we are collectively reaching for an unattainable ideal of Supermum perfection, but we also sort of hate those smug mums who appear to have achieved it.

The Supermum Myth Anya Hayes The Supermum Myth

The Supermum Myth is a book for those seeking to find a shift in perception and stop the tugging from one side to the other. Through learning about the psychology behind our core belief system, and breaking down why we react and behave the way that we do, we can work out why we have come to our Supermum imagined ideal. Then we can learn how to turn it around: to change your reactions to perceived judgements, view your own achievements in a different light, be kinder to yourself – and by implication, to others. We’re all struggling our own battles.

In the book my goal is to help you rebuild your confidence in your own intrinsic wisdom, and drown out the niggling competitive doubts that can grow to cause some serious psychological problems: low self-esteem and anxiety. Embracing the imperfect, and being good enough. It’s not about lowering your expectations of yourself, it’s about accepting and acknowledging how well you’re doing.

The Supermum Myth aims to help you lift yourself up in those days you feel you’re failing at motherhood, when all you seem to see is images of Instagram feeds full of smiling mums cherishing perfect mothering moments, when you feel your life in comparison is a shambolic mountain of weetabix-encrusted Lego.

Negative feelings such as envy creep in, and we judge other (super)mums as “smug” if they seem to breeze through the daily grind taking it all in their stride (and celebrating every minute on their social media), while we’re stuck feeling bored, tired, incompetent and inadequate in comparison.We seem to have an internal battle: desperately reaching for perfect supermum status – while secretly despising those women you feel are achieving it effortlessly.

I just worry all the time that I’m not a good enough mum to her, that she is bored at home, that I’m not setting a good example, not making her happy. I want her to feel safe and happy and loved and wanted, but I don’t know if I’m achieving that. I don’t want her to be damaged by my inability to cope or respond appropriately to the more challenging bits of motherhood. I ultimately want her to have the happy childhood that I didn’t. I feel I am failing.

Sally, mum of 1

Become a happier mum

Ultimately, we just want to be rewarded with an acknowledgement that we are doing a Good Job. But this kind of concrete reward system doesn’t really happen as a mother in the way that it might have done in our education or professional life before we became mums. We want our children to be ‘safe, loved and happy’, and all our actions are geared towards this one arguably intangible goal, so we often don’t allow ourselves to recognize the achievement that striving for this goal in itself makes us pretty awesome mums.

The Supermum Myth will provide you with the tools to actively move forward positively in softening into your mothering reality vs. perfect ideal, and unlock the reasons why you got to where you are, by retracing psychological steps to how your core belief system was formed, and the factors that shaped your opinions and desires when it comes to your own mothering. Essentially, this book is here to help you to feel ok about the fact that sometimes you think you’re a crap mum.

We’re all looking for some guidance occasionally. Seven years into my motherhood adventure, it’s still a constant source of amazement how incompetent my children can make me feel on a daily basis. How any poise and authority I might have wielded in a previous life or in my career is instantly thrown out the window when my son calls me a poo poo head and refuses to put his shoes on. When we feel helplessly incompetent, we lose trust in our instincts and can only seem to focus on what we’re crap at: the cup becomes half emptied.

Getting the hang of motherhood is less about controlling everything and more about realising what makes you happiest as a mother, and feeling confident enough to trust your instincts. With parenting, much of our underlying unhelpful thinking is a form of perfectionism, of aiming for ultra high-achievement. But it’s hard to see it for what it is, as it manifests itself as extreme self-doubt.

We tend to think of perfectionism as an affliction that applies to highly strung Stepford mums who have perfect hair and could win Bake Off in their sleep. But it’s just as likely to strike anybody who simply really cares about doing their best for their child (that’ll be all of us, then?!). Once you accept that the anxiety and self-doubt are a manifestation of an unhelpful mental habit, it becomes easier to challenge them.

The Supermum Myth will wander through flash points at various mum-life stages: Pregnancy, post birth, the toddler tunnel through to school days, juggling work around all this, with quotes and experiences from mums throughout. We’ll explore how you’re feeling and the range of what’s totally normal emotionally, hormonally, etc, for you at each of these phases. There are activities peppered throughout, utilizing different therapies with suggestions, tips, techniques on how to overcome obstacles, negotiate difficult experiences and tricky feelings.

If you’re feeling low on energy, depleted as a mum and painfully aware of your inner critic every day, this book could help you get back on an even keel. How are you today?

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Mindfulness for pregnancy, birth… and motherhood

Mindfulness for pregnancy, birth… and motherhood

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

Anya Hayes mindfulness for motherhood

What is Mindfulness?

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

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

The definition of Mindfulness

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

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

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

How can Mindfulness help in pregnancy and motherhood?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I love about mindfulness approaches

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

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

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

How are you today?

Anya Hayes mindfulness for motherhood

Your pelvic floor – how to build pelvic floor rehab into your day to day

Your pelvic floor – how to build pelvic floor rehab into your day to day

I’m doing two FREE workshops next week: Your Confident Mothermorphosis for you beautiful bumps, and a pelvic floor restore workshop at Level Six Peckham next Thursday morning 6th December, babies welcome – come along if you can.
If you don’t already, you can follow me on Instagram @mothers.wellness.toolkit – I share there lots of postnatal healing and pelvic floor information, and Pelvic Floor Meditation live on Insta at 7.30pm on Mondays, which stays on my stories for 24 hours.
woman holding baby while sitting on fur bean bag
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

But I’m a mum – I don’t have any time!

Remember there is never a “perfect time” to focus on your postnatal rehab. You have to build it in to the time you already have and try not to feel that it’s a “to do” pressure to feel the weight of. Doing 3 minutes here, 3 minutes there is much more valuable for your core health than trying to make time for an hour a week.
It doesn’t have to be a “full workout” to be effective. 7 minutes a day is valuable, remember. Build it up as and when you can. When pushing your buggy or baby wearing, take a moment regularly to breathe, really fully deeply breathe and soften your shoulders.

Your mum posture day to day

Check in at least once a day with how you are carrying yourself. Either stretch against the wall: stand against the wall facing perpendicularly away, place your hand onto the wall. The rotate away from the wall, straightening your arm. You should feel a stretch in your pecs. Or: lie on your back with your arms outstretched and draw snow angels in the floor.
Most importantly, think about your A, B, Cs: Alignment, Breathing, Centring, with your every day movement.
  • Alignment: release yourself into the ground at least once a day: lie down, breathe, soften, legs up the wall is ideal.
  • Align your ribcage directly over/in line with the pelvis whenever you can, to restore the natural momentum within your torso: diaphragm over the pelvic floor.

Breathing is your number one tool for healing

You carry it around with you daily. Use it, it’s free, you don’t have to do anything “extra”, plus it will calm and soothe your nervous system. Breathe. It’s SO important. Breathe well, and your pelvic floor health will benefit.
Remember – 5 deep breaths is all it takes to soften you out of fight or flight mode.
Remember when you’re picking up your baby/carseat/squatting down/getting up from the floor blow as you go: 
Breathe OUT to lift UP your pelvic floor when you pick up your baby, lift the carseat, sneeze, etc.
Lifting your baby in a carseat places more load on your pelvic floor than any sit up will.
Pelvic floor exercise will help heal any diastasis abdominal separation, it’s your deep abdominal wall that you want to strengthen, and this works together alongside the pelvic floor.
Don’t be afraid to move. But build your INNER STRENGTH adequately before you start high impact work such as running and HIIT.

Can I run while I’m leaking wee?

If you are running and also leaking, or feeling like you’re “falling out” – the simple answer is to stop running. Running while experiencing pelvic floor dysfunction is a bit like wallpapering a newly built wall before the plaster is dry. It’s temporary. Build the strength first, and then test it. Don’t test it simultaneously while you’re still building it, it’ll be like jumping into a boat which has a hole in it.
Download the Squeezy app without delay. 3 minutes, 3 times a day is all it will take to see some difference.
If you are experiencing urinary or faecal incontinence, DON’T IGNORE IT. DON’T LAUGH IT OFF. DON’T JUST REACH FOR A TENA PAD.

PELVIC FLOORS ARE FOR LIFE

Your pelvic floor will not magically get better on its own. It needs attention and care, and then it will work loyally and diligently for you in return.
THINK TENNER NOT TENA: imagine lifting a ten pound note up into your vagina. Hold it for 5 seconds, then drop it down.
Other resources to have a look at: Pilates by Georgia is a physio and Pilates teacher, and on facebook she shares free workouts which are postnatal pelvic floor friendly.
Her website is Home | Pilates By Georgia where you can do a 2-week trial for free or you can pay a subscription for her workouts, some of which are really short and really easy to squeeze in (if you’ll excuse the pun).
Perinatal anxiety – what it is, and tips for how to manage it

Perinatal anxiety – what it is, and tips for how to manage it

Perinatal Anxiety

Pregnancy The Naked Truth by Anya Hayes
Pregnancy The Naked Truth by Anya Hayes

What is it, and why am I feeling it?

We’ve all heard of ‘postnatal depression’ and it looms large in your imagination as a scary ‘thing’ that might happen after the baby arrives. Increasingly being recognised, though, is the fact that heightened levels of anxiety or low feelings during pregnancy can increase the risk of developing postnatal depression. And perinatal anxiety is more commonly being diagnosed as a standalone condition, separate from postnatal depression. ‘Perinatal’ is the period which encompasses pregnancy and the first year into early motherhood. 

Figures released in 2015 by the Royal College of Midwives suggest that up to 20% of women experience perinatal mental illness during pregnancy and in the first year of their babies’ lives. It’s particularly common if you’ve struggled with fertility issues, or have had recurrent miscarriages. The new pregnancy guidelines published by NICE for healthcare professionals suggest that there should be ‘screening questions’ asked at regular pregnancy checks, to look out for warning signs, and support should be offered where needed.

Anxiety is the natural response to times of change: it is a normal human reaction, your brain is hardwired to perceive threats and respond to those threats by asking you to run the hell out of there, or fight, or freeze like a rabbit. When you’re pregnant, your future suddenly looks different, and your brain is physiologically changing to equip you for motherhood, which means that the area of your brain responsible for your fight or flight, the amygdala, actually grows during pregnancy, ensuring that you are more alert for dangers that could affect your baby. A wonderful and miraculous brain adaptation to ensure the survival of the human species… but less handy for modern motherhood when it’s work-related emails, financial worries or the stress of your commute which may be triggering this response day to day, rather than a predator in the bushes.

When anxiety comes out of balance in your emotional “team”, and begins to speak more loudly in your internal dialogue is where it can cause problems. Perinatal anxiety is an issue only where it reaches beyond regular normal ‘worry’, and into something that affects and influences your day to day behaviour and decisions – you’d have to be slightly unusual to sail through pregnancy without ever freaking out about your growing baby, your life ahead, the birth, the fact that you’ve run out of chocolate digestives … No, this is where normal worry tips into something that starts to control your life in a negative way and needs to be managed.

The Maternal Mental Health Alliance describes perinatal depression and anxiety as including constant symptoms such as ‘tumble-dryer mind’, insomnia, feeling tense and irritable, social paranoia, shakiness, blurred sight, racing heart and breathlessness. If you recognise these symptoms in yourself, make sure you chat to your midwife or GP, and please, you’re not alone and there is no shame in seeking help, so don’t suffer in silence.

‘I was surprised by how I seemed to change from being relatively easy going to suddenly very fearful and jittery about everything. I spoke to my midwife about it and apparently it’s quite normal. My GP referred me for a course of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) to try and deal with it before it became serious.’
Rosie, mum of 2

What can I do about it?

Question your thoughts – anxiety thrives in the space between your thoughts and your emotional response to them. So, tell yourself that THOUGHTS ARE NOT FACTS if your mind has gone into overthinking overdrive. Journal, when your thoughts seem to be overpowering your brain’s ability to temper their force. And meditate. Offer your thoughts a chance to shine – give them centre stage, and try to observe their acting as if on stage, removed with a curious distance, rather than listen within the emotional whirl.

Share the load and talk to someone about it. It takes confidence to speak up, but try not to feel scared to admit to feeling less than ecstatic if it’s clear that you’re feeling low or anxious most of the time. Even if you’re not able to confide in your partner or open up to your midwife, acknowledge to yourself that you’re feeling this way and try to incorporate managing techniques into your pregnancy – take a regular yoga or mindfulness class, or allow yourself some pampering time – or, simply take five deep breaths. Your breath is the surest way out of fight or flight, as deep breathing physically triggering the balancing parasympathetic nervous system to calm and soothe you. Anything that reduces tension in the body will help you to calm the mind. If you feel happy to, ask to be referred for counselling, which can give you some tools to keep your mental health on an upward trajectory.

‘I did worry about how parenthood would affect me. I’m not a fan of uncertainty and in lots of ways your first pregnancy is one of the most uncertain times of your life!’
Natalie, mum of two

Could it be serious?

If left unchecked and out of balance, perinatal depression can unfold into postnatal depression and really impact on your enjoyment of motherhood, so it’s really worth investigating and taking steps to improve your understanding of anxiety and learning how to soothe yourself into calm.

For more tips, pregnancy information and advice, have a look at Pilates for Pregnancy, or Pregnancy The Naked Truth.

sleeping baby
Photo by Bryan Schneider on Pexels.com

Have you struggled with anxiety during pregnancy or into motherhood? Get in touch if you’d like to chat about ways through. xxx

 

Pregnancy and Postnatal mindfulness and core strength workshops

Pregnancy and Postnatal mindfulness and core strength workshops

I’m excited to be adding two monthly workshops to the schedule in the new year. I’d love to hear your thoughts, and if you’re in south London, come along!

For mums to be

Your Confident Mothermorphosis

A workshop introducing a toolkit of tips to help you release anxiety and soothe your body as you enter the next phase of your life. This workshop uses techniques from Pilates and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) to connect to your body and calm your mind and spirit, enhance your feelings of self-compassion and confidence in the journey ahead. Including a guided meditation and breathing techniques which will equip you well both for your birth experience and into early motherhood.

For mums

Pelvic floor and core restore

Pilates for postnatal rehabilitation. This workshop focuses on breathing, alignment and pelvic floor awareness, releasing tension and finding your deep inner strength – suitable if you’re suffering from diastasis recti. Find out how to connect to your centre in your day to day activities rather than make time for “pelvic floor exercise”. Rebuild your foundations to feel more energised in your mothering day. We’ll finish with a short (baby-friendly) guided meditation to leave you relaxed and uplifted.
How do you feel about your pregnancy and early motherhood experience? I’d love to hear. Get in touch and tell me your story xxx
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My book Pilates for Pregnancy is available now
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The Supermum Myth Anya Hayes
The Supermum Myth
Welcome to Motherhood

Welcome to Motherhood

I did a lovely live chat last night with Lauren, an inspiring author and motivational speaker, on her Facebook page This Girl is Enough. We talked about self care and wellness for mums – about how mums are so keen to put ourselves at the bottom of the care-for list, somewhere far below the neighbour’s dog.

The thing about looking after your mojo and wellbeing is that ultimately it benefits everyone around you. I know, quite simply, that I am a better person if I am calmer, if I’ve had some headspace, if I’ve done yoga or had a walk, gone for a swim. I feel triumphant when I prioritise my own wellbeing even if just for a morning stroll and don’t agonise over the things I “should” be doing instead. One of the things that Lauren quizzed me on when I talked about my meditation practice is “how do you manage to take 15 minutes to do that and not feel guilty?”…well, the honest answer is that the gain of that 15 minutes of breathing is way more powerful than the 15 minutes which might have been spent going through emails or checking something off on my to do list only to frantically remember that I have to put another 7 things onto it. And a refreshed spring in my step is nicer for my family to be around. I’m more patient… I have more empathy for my children’s huge emotions rather than feeling explosive and fractious in response. I’m more productive. I’m more energised. I’m … nicer.

Anya Hayes at a yoga and mindfulness retreat

This morning I taught my lovely group of Welcome to Motherhood mums, with their fourth trimester babies. We talked about Dr Oscar Serrallach’s brilliant The Postnatal Depletion Cure, and about just how much challenge physically being a new mum is. Yes, the rewards are high – you only have to hear that tinkle of a new baby’s laughter to struggle to feel like there is anything wrong in that moment – but the demands are huge.

I will be launching my new Motherhood Mojo Toolkit soon – drawing from my Pilates postnatal healing programme which I will be revealing in book form next year, I am creating a holistic mind–body programme which combines life coaching activities from The Supermum Myth plus elements from Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), to help you feel like the calmer, more balanced less frazzled mum that you would really like to be. She’s in there. I’m going to help you find her.

Anya Hayes with her two children

Watch this space. How are you feeling today?

xxx

You can buy The Supermum Myth here

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The art of breathing

The art of breathing

It all begins with the breath.

Did you realise that, although breathing is a natural reflex that all living animals perform, newborn babies have to learn to breathe? At first, nestled in your arms, you may notice how the breath comes in fits and starts, how unrhythmic it is, like an avant garde jazz session. The riff isn’t predictable. One slow, two quick, two slow… Sometimes anxiety-inducing long silent gaps between the breaths.

baby lying on brown surface
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

The natural fluid motion of the breath has to be established, the metronome to breathing has to be learnt. You actually teach your baby how to breathe, by modelling that rhythm. By taking deep, conscious, long breaths in their presence. By being close, and breathing alongside them. Creating that harmony of the breath for them, with them.

You breathe 22,000 a day. Are you conscious of…any of those breaths? It is something so ordinary and yet so miraculous.

Take a deep breath now. Deep and low, into your lower belly. Deep down into your pelvis. Send the breath far into your torso. And as you breathe out, feel the tension soften in your jaw, cheeks, shoulders.

sleeping baby
Photo by Bryan Schneider on Pexels.com

A gently rising and falling breath pattern stimulates your rest and digest, parasympathetic nervous system. The counterbalance for your stress response. This can calm your body and mind. You begin to soften and relax. Your body is soothed by restful hormones. Your thoughts, feelings, emotions can also be tamed and calmed by this physiological response. Slow, deep, long, soft.

Treat yourself like the newest of newborns. Learn how to breathe.

Do you consciously breathe at any point during the day? What are your thoughts on breathing as a calming tool? I’d love to know.

I’m at the beginning of my training to teach Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy – and coming back to the breath is one of the fundamental skills that we have to learn, to reduce our stress and symptoms of anxiety and depression in the longer term. Have you felt a positive effect of conscious breathing? Comment or DM me! xxx

The Supermum Myth
Anya Hayes’s two books Pregnancy: The Naked Truth and The Supermum Myth
Pilates for Pregnancy

Pilates for Pregnancy

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Pilates for Pregnancy covers the fundamentals of Pilates and includes a progressive Pilates programme tailored for each trimester – focusing on pelvic floor and abdominal strength, posture and health & fitness. Anya Hayes’s insightful exercise guide will help you conquer the physical and mental stresses of pregnancy and improve your pregnancy health, mood and energy.

This is a straight talking, woman-to-woman pregnancy fitness guide with a difference.

Showing you:
· how to optimise the position of your baby for a better birth experience
· how to avoid succumbing to the ‘pregnancy waddle’ and protect your back as your bump grows
· how to deal with second pregnancy posture while knackered and running after/constantly lifting a toddler
· how to minimize the trials of pregnancy on your abdominals, pelvic floor and mind
· how to get into the right mindset for a positive labour, and release tension postnatally
· exactly what cardio exercise is safe and beneficial to you and your bump, and what you should avoid.

Pilates for Pregnancy is out now.

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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

Brain gym – exercise to tone the brain

Brain gym – exercise to tone the brain

I’ve just had the great fortune to have been to a wonderful Mindfulness and Yoga retreat, where we had daily guided meditation and soothing yin yoga, to nourish body and mind. And I’m now at the beginning of an 8-week course in Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) with the British Mindfulness Institute, so that I can weave in more mindfulness benefits to my Pilates teaching – and my life! I’ve found recently that I’ve allowed myself to become a bit weighed down by worry and stress. A Chinese Medicine-based treatment at my recent yoga retreat revealed to me that I was depleted generally and taking on too much worry about the world and my place in it. So, it’s divine timing it seems that I am starting this course now, to help me combat the effects of cumulative over-worry.

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It’s fascinating, truly fascinating, the tangible benefits of a regular mindfulness practice. Increasingly I think we need to look inward, not outward, in terms of validation and proof of our contentment. Not the stuff, the Pinterest-worthy house, the car…but how you feel day to day. Whether your mind is cluttered and jangly, or whether you genuinely experience a sense of calm and pervasive sense of peace. We’re human: “inner peace” will always be a recalibration day to day and there will always be stress in our lives, but it’s the overwhelming sense of balance and the response to stress that brings that sense of contentment rather than depleting angst, I think. And even just two weeks of practising mindfulness consciously every day has lent me a sense of space. increasing the space between stimulus and response.

We have to be kind to ourselves: as women, our mood will wax and wane with hormones and the moon, and this flux has to be taken into account. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the University of Massachusetts defines Mindfulness as: “The awareness that comes from paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.” It’s the “non-judgmentally” bit that resonates most with me. We are so hard on ourselves! There is no “getting meditation right”, there is simply giving it a try and placing it firmly within your regular daily toolkit. It could be meditation = breathing. Meditation = looking up at the sky for a moment. A snack, rather than a full 3-course meal.

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Here are some things I have discovered:

  1. Mindfulness improves focus, empathy, emotional control and increases happiness:

After 8 weeks of Mindfulness training researchers were able to show through brain scans there was an increase in activity in the area of the brain which has been identified as being key in attention, memory, emotional regulation and empathy for others (Holzel et al).

This is borne out by a study known as “The Waiting Room Study”. People who had attended an eight week Mindfulness training course were brought into a waiting room, along with an equal number of people who hadn’t attended Mindfulness training. A woman entered on crutches, a medical boot on one leg. She winced, sighed uncomfortably, and leaned against the wall because there were no free seats. The researchers found that 50 percent of people from the Mindfulness training group gave up their seat, whereas only 15 percent of the non-Mindfulness trained people did.

  1. Mindfulness increases generosity:

Neuroscientist Helen Weng took individuals with no prior Mindfulness training and offered them two weeks training. This experiment was conducted to determine whether this short training would result in an improvement in their abilities to become more compassionate towards themselves and others. The training was conducted over the internet and lasted approximately 30 minutes each day. Each participant was required to make responses over the 30 minutes and listen to what is known as ‘Loving Kindness’ Meditation. This form of meditation asks the participants to extend feelings of compassion towards a loved one, an acquaintance and someone with whom they have had difficulty.

Before and after the two week training, the participants had fMRI brain scans. While undergoing the scan they were shown a series of images depicting people in pain – a child crying and a burn victim. At the end of the two week training the participants were asked to play an online game to measure altruistic behaviour. The participants who underwent the training were twice as generous as those without training.

  1. Mindfulness improves mood and boosts immune system:

In a research study entitled ‘Alterations in Brain and Immune Function’ researchers studied participants who had undergone an 8 week programme of Mindfulness meditation. fMRI scans of brain activity were taken before and after the programme. At the end of the programme the participants were injected with a flu virus. From the fMRI images participants were shown to have significant increases in left-sided anterior activation (brain circuitry related to a positive mood). The participants also had a higher white blood cell count. The conclusion of this study was that after only 8 weeks of Mindfulness training, participants had more positive moods and a more positive immune system.

  1. Mindfulness in the Workplace:

Mindfulness has also proved extremely beneficial in workplace settings. A mindfulness-based programme offered to workers at Transport for London resulted in major changes to the level of health-related absenteeism. Days taken off due to stress, depression and anxiety fell by over 70% in the following three years. Course participants also reported significant improvements in their quality of life – 80% said their relationships had improved, 79% said they were more able to relax and 53% said they were happier in their jobs.

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Worth a try, right?

Have you got a mindfulness/meditation practice in place? Even if not a formal one – do you notice day to day how you’re feeling? Do you breathe, fully and deeply, as a way of consciously combatting stress? I’d love to know. Feel free to comment with your thoughts and experience! xxx