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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My three pillars are simple, but not necessarily easy.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Keeping mum mighty – the importance of self care

Keeping mum mighty – the importance of self care

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There are some wonderful things going on on social media to champion the cause of self-care, encouraging us all to take a bit of ownership of our lives and not let ourselves be buried underneath piles of laundry and self-imposed internal negative stress.

I’ve been an avid listener to the Supermum Podcast, Mindset Tips for Busy Mums, since discovering it a couple of weeks ago when i started my Route 66 journey of 66 days to create positive habits. (ahem, how’s that going by the way? I haven’t blogged about it every day but it’s been gently there powering away on the back burner. How are your habits going?)

And on Instagram i’ve connected with Sara from Keeping Mum Mighty, a wellbeing blog aimed at mums, showing them how to navigate nappies and meltdowns with calm and positivity. I’ll be contributing to her blog in the future, and as part of that she asked me to answer a few questions for her about the importance of self-care and what it means to me. Here are my answers! let me know if any of it resonates with you.

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In your opinion, why is it important to Keep Mum Mighty?

Because our life is how we feel today, not how we want to or think we’ll feel tomorrow. We scramble through some days as mums kind of wishing our lives away, waiting for bedtime, waiting for a moment when we feel calmer, when things are smoother, when we have our shit together, when we’ll be a better mum. And actually, that’s a perpetual displacement of living life: postponing to a future fictional time where we’re suddenly Topsy and Tim’s inanely positive mum all the time. We only have today, yet we sometimes live our lives as if watching through mottled glass, rather than actively taking part: on survival mode, just getting through the day.

So taking small steps to create that better life, mindfully, through living your intentions, simply makes you enjoy calm within the craziness a bit more. Our children don’t want stressed shouty mama, and she is more likely to be present when her tether is pulled away. We are human, we will be shouty and stressed, but if we notice and develop strategies for dealing with this natural normal human behaviour we can catch it before it spirals into self-criticism and feelings of failure. We can live with our behaviours without clinging on to the negative responses that we develop about them. And in turn, this will make sure that the “negative” behaviours may start to visit us less often, and we’re more like to be on an even keel more of the time. Win not just for us, but for our kids too.

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We’re always modelling behaviour for our children at heightened moments possibly more than at any other. So by developing strategies to deal with what craziness life inevitably throws at us with a bit more awareness, grace and poise (occasionally) will be a great learning tool for them to carry through as well.

Your identity is pulled and stretched and reshaped when you become a mum. Sometimes you don’t recognise yourself in your reactions, your emotions after having children. Keeping Mum Mighty is essential as a way of maintaining that connection to yourself, to who you are, to how you are. Being able to ride the stormy weather with slightly more grace and humour. For your and your children’s sake, not for perfection’s sake.

Have you always been good at prioritising self-care? If not, was there a trigger?

I have possibly always had an awareness of nurturing self. I’m basically a hippie: yoga, peace and love and transcendental meditation, man, and I probably am most at home in a hammock in Thailand. I have an inherent tendency towards Buddhism: this too shall pass. I used to tell myself before exams etc that “this will be over, tomorrow is a new day”. I’m naturally empathetic and very (arguably too) sensitive. All of those traits are very positive and nurturing but can also mean hyper alert, hyper self-critical, painfully self-aware/conscious. So it took a while to throw a more caring spotlight to myself fully.

I experienced a seismic bereavement when I was in my late 20s, my best friend died suddenly. And that absolutely gave me the insight that life is precious and brief, and that you need to try and foster and notice moments of pure happiness when they arise, because ultimately all we have in life is moments: dark and light, yin and yang, in balance. And full appreciation of good moments is like creating a big lifeboat of resilience for when the waters are more choppy.

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A happy life is not necessarily a life that doesn’t experience low points. That is unrealistic. It’s how you deal with these low points which characterises whether or not you’re “happy”.

Since having children, it’s been a harder journey of prioritising. I had a traumatic birth, and then a few miscarriages, one of which was very traumatic. I was in “keep calm and carry on” mode and didn’t offer myself any respite – I am self-employed which I think sometimes doesn’t help with the self-care prioritising though, when work tends to have to usurp self-care in moments of non-parenting duty. But after this particular miscarriage experience I was anaemic, depleted in body and spirit, and severely run down.

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I continued to teach pregnancy Pilates classes which, looking back, was the purest form of self-flagellation. I ignored my body’s whispers of suffering, then shouts. I got a shoulder injury. Then a knee injury. I had a persistent cold which just got worse rather than better. And I finally dragged myself to the doctor where I was promptly told I was suffering the worst ear, chest and throat infection she had ever seen, and given industrial strength painkillers. She suggested that she wasn’t sure how I’d even got myself to the surgery that day. My immediate thought even then was that I was supposed to be covering a whole load of Pilates classes that week for some other teachers and I wasn’t sure how I would be able to cancel and let them down. I felt that being clearly sick wasn’t a “legitimate excuse”, and worried that people would be upset with me.

That was a big red flag for me that I had (necessarily) been striving to create an income for myself but without an adequate support structure for what I was taking on, and without listening to my body when it was unhappy.

It made me realise that, occasionally, something has to give and THAT IS OK. Sometimes you have to ask for an extension of a deadline, you have to say that you won’t be able to help someone, you have to admit that you need more time. That you are vulnerable. It’s not a sign of failure.

So now, I recognise immediately when I am getting to the point where I have reached full mental and physical capacity. I notice when anger starts to visit me more frequently. When I start to let a negative thought loop twirl around with gusto in my head. I see when I’m beginning to feel shattered, when my reactions to my boys are heightened with frustration and without gentleness. And I give myself a bit more of a break about it. I hate cancelling classes, but I have learnt that to cancel one class due to feeling under the weather is much better than soldiering on and then having to cancel two the week after. I feel like I hit a kind of Amber WATCH OUT phase, and rather than allow myself to run towards RED without noticing it, I am able to pull back, tell my husband that I’m feeling too stretched, articulate what it might be that is pushing the accelerator towards depletion and see what steps can be taken to slow it down.

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What are your top 3 go-to self-care essentials and how do you fit them into your busy life as a mum?

Without doubt for me the Number 1 is movement: when I’m rolling towards the Amber warning sign, one of the first things I notice is that I haven’t made even 3 minutes to do any Pilates over the course of the previous few days. I ALWAYS do at least 5 minutes of Pilates a day. It doesn’t have to be a full class. Just daily snacks to check in with body and mind. And inherently Pilates is inextricably linked to my number 2 which is: breathing. Taking full, mindful, deep breaths. I can see it with my clients that they arrive slightly burnt out and stressed but they leave rejuvenated and energised yet softened. That is the effect of movement and breath. It’s a non-negotiable.

My number 3 is SPACE. So whether that’s getting out to my Sunday morning yoga class which I try to diarise (although writing I have actually missed the last 4 weeks because life gets in the way sometimes), getting some green therapy with a run (•when I say “run”, I wish I was a runner but often I am just a brisk walker. I’m working on it…) in the park or by the river. Or if you can’t actually escape the house, taking time to have a hot bath when the kids are either not there or are in bed. No phone. SPACE. Creating some mental and physical space. I have recently been dipping my toe into meditation, and for me that is about creating the mental space, allowing feelings to be, to release or assimilate rather than linger and fester.

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If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your pregnant or new mum-self?

…..Oooph. So much. But mainly, in a nutshell: be kind to yourself. You’re doing ok. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Don’t allow yourself to feel like you’re being judged. Be kind to yourself.

 

Route 66 – What does it take to create good habits?

Route 66 – What does it take to create good habits?

There are some amazing body confident campaigns going on in social media right now. Clemmie Hooper, midwife, mum of 4 and author of How to Grow a Baby and Push it Out@mother_of_daughters, inadvertently kicked off a massive swell of solidarity by sharing some of her post-children body worries, and there was an amazing rally of women loving the body they have and sharing and celebrating on Instagram.

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Another Instagram influencer, Natalie Lee aka @stylemesunday is championing body positivity with her Warrior Woman campaign through her blog and on instagram, which aims to get women loving themselves again, in her words: “to inspire mums to celebrate their uniqueness, share their struggles and experiences, and to show that there’s no such thing as perfect and anyway perfect is boring.” So true!

We’re conditioned to be dissatisfied with the way we look, and as I get older I really understand how disempowering this is, and such a pointless waste of time. I look back on pictures of myself pre-kids where I was toned and fit of body, but my mind wasn’t confident and clear enough to embrace and celebrate it. What a waste!

Over the past few years since having Maurice I’ve started so many different different plans for rekindling my mojo and possibly shedding a bit of podge so that I feel more vital and bouncy: Green and Lean, the Supercharged ClubMind Body Bowl. All amazing programmes, which I’ve learned a lot from. But I’ve never stuck to anything long term as I allow the daily trudge of children to give me a loophole for old habits and let me off the hook. I’m exhausted, they’ve been properly challenging today, I haven’t been to the supermarket to be organised, I deserve this extra glass of wine, I’ll just finish this pasta as they haven’t, I’m too tired to go out for a run…

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I listened yesterday to a podcast with Suzy Reading talking to Mandy Lehto about Willpower, and self care. Willpower – that elusive and powerful beast, that evaporates at the end of a long day when a bottle of wine is calling you. Suzy had some amazing tips about how to capture and harness your power of WILL in ways that don’t make you feel like you’re failing. Small chunks adding to your will power bank so you’re not constantly feeling like you’re withdrawing and ending up bankrupt.

She talks about honouring your future self with how you want to feel, rather than constantly serving the instant gratification of your depleted frazzled self.

I read somewhere in my research for writing The Supermum Myth that in order to create a habit the human mind generally on average has to repeat behaviour 66 times in order for it to stick. For me, I tend to lose puff after the first week or so of a new vitality plan.

Improving willpower is the surest way to a better life. Mandy Lehto looks into this more by talking about how hard it is, how we have to work through discomfort in forming new habits, like a wriggly reluctant toddler we’ll have to hold it down to get it in the habit buggy by making it non-negotiable. When it’s non-negotiable, it doesn’t deplete our willpower. As an aside, I once said to Maurice aged 2 about something I wasn’t willing to let go – choosing battles – road safety, brushing teeth perhaps, etc “it’s not negotiable little man” and he said adamantly “it IS A GOSHADLE!!”. This is what your comfort zone will try to say to you.

Try not to let your comfy habits kick up a fuss and wriggle out of new practices by simply not giving them a loophole. Be consistent, plan, creating rituals. Non-negotiable. It’ll feel unbearable, then uncomfortable – then you’ll feel unstoppable.

But look after yourself and your willpower as you do your toddler: are you hungry? Tired? Look after these details mindfully and commit every day to microhabits of positivity and self care change. Small details: I will breathe for one minute everyday. There will never be another day when I don’t breathe mindfully. Set up the bare minimum and ultimately – clever this – you’ll naturally do more as you feel better.

All change is hard at the beginning, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end.

So I’ve decided enough is enough of being lily livered, self-sabotaging and low of mama mojo. I’m committing (and accountability is a BIG thing) and sticking to the little but often 66-day idea. Every day for 66 days I am going to MOVE MORE, do just a little bit more Pilates, some meditation, some breathing, positive mental tools, gratitude lists. And after 66 days this will be so ingrained into my behaviour that it will be harder to let it go than to carry on.

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Who’s with me?! Every day I’ll be checking in on the baby steps challenge. For 66 days! That sounds epic. But it’s just 66 days of noticing life a bit more.

Today: this morning I woke up and despite feeling lethargic and tired and wanting to sleep in while the boys watch Paw Patrol, I got out of bed and put on my running clothes. It helps that it’s a gorgeous day, but I’m off out for a walky-run to charge up my energy levels for the day and start off on the right foot.

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I’m excited about my 66-day reboot! Let me know if you fancy joining in. Let’s get our kicks on Route 66…

xxx

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Heart and Sole

Heart and Sole

Last night I went to the Yellow Kite Books inaugural summer event, The Exciting Future of Wellness. It was a panel discussion involving 4 major influencers in the “wellness” scene: Jody Shield, Hazel Wallace (aka The Food Medic), Shona Vertue – founder of the body and mind-honing Vertue Method and, I was happy to discover last night, a strong feminist and coffee devotee, and lastly Rhiannon Lambert, a Harley Street nutritionist specialising in eating disorders and mental health–nutritional links (who, incidentally, used to be a classical singer). All highly inspirational (INSPOGRAM) influential women with fascinating and varied stories to tell about how they came to be in the wellness industry. All passionate about educating the masses and offering them tools to take their health and wellness into their own hands.

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I’ve been a huge fan of Jody Shield for a while, and have been using her Life Tonic tools for a while to help lift my spirits and connect to my soul. I’ve always been a bit of a hippy, unashamedly so. And something she said last night reminded me of a blog post I wrote 4 years ago after Maurice and I had returned home after having spent 2 months in Canada, mainly running around barefoot. Coming back to London concrete as opposed to Canadian soil made me think about connecting to the earth with bare feet.

Last night Jody was talking about one of her favourite wellness tenets being kicking off her shoes, walking around on the earth and hugging trees. Shona Vertue talked passionately about how we all need to MOVE MORE and humans simply weren’t built for sitting at desks all day. Functional, playful, life-affirming movement. The kindred spirits on the panel made me smile and reminded me of my blog post: So I’m sharing it again here:

We’ve had a busy time since being back in Blighty. Maurice got the bends quite badly on landing back in the city from PEI, he seemed discombobulated at not having a football-field sized-expanse of green to run around and the freedom of the windswept red cliffs right on his doorstep. I’ve been feeling quite mournful that in London we haven’t got a garden and so haven’t been able to offer him the same delicious joy of running around unfettered, with nearly no boundaries and plenty of cats to disturb. So we have filled our days with plenty of trips to the swings, soft play areas, and generally anywhere that Maurice can feel joy in being active and unfettered. Unfettered, within limits…

It’s made me think a lot about the way that we connect with the earth in the city… or don’t. A few years ago I went on a yoga retreat in the south of France, near Perpignan. It was run by the lovely Vicky Oliver at Whyoga (whyoga.com), who I used to have the pleasure of practising yoga with every week when I lived locally to her classes (Wandsworth). My sister and I booked ourselves on this French yoga retreat as a frivolous indulgence. But when the time came around, I had had a bit of a shocker of a year, within 6 months my best friend died and I split with my boyfriend of 8 years, and the retreat hove into view on the horizon as a real form of relief and healing.

Every morning, Vicky took us through a walking mediation in the dewy sunny gardens of the beautiful chateau we were staying in. We had to walk barefoot, silently, for half an hour. Connecting to the ground through the soles of our feet, and to others only through eye contact and no words.

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I personally have always found meditation quite tricky as an activity whenever I’ve tried it. I’m the kind of person who has to really work hard to stop the buzz and hum of thoughts, worries and to do lists from whirring around my brain. In a yoga class setting, stationary meditation has always left me feeling slightly like the dunce in the class, not able to quite lock onto the same groove as everyone else and constantly flittering and fluttering between thought paths and trying to rein my brain back to the point. [Which – as Jody Shield affirms, doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong and should give up: no no, you just have to give your mind time to release the stresses it’s built up inside]

This walking meditation actually took me by surprise. Walking bare foot with care and attention on the soft wet grass every morning, making full contact with the earth, felt like a very soothing and calm way to begin each day. There is something inherently grounding about connecting your body to the world via bare feet. It makes you feel better. You are, quite literally, providing an earth for yourself, bringing your electrons back into order.

PEI allowed us to return to this every day, wandering around Country House and its grassy setting, or on the beach in bare feet, it seemed like an unnecessary chore ever to put socks on again. And I realised that it’s just so wonderful for Maurice’s developing feet to have had that pure unblocked contact with the ground, allowing his muscles to react to the undulating landscape under his feet.

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This has amazing health potential, doing this every day…without being too hyperbolic about it, the Earth can offer amazing healing powers and is possibly the best antioxidant you can access. Apparently connecting through to the ground reduces the level of the stress hormone cortisol in your bloodstream, reduces inflammation, brings a levelling effect to your heart rate, encourages good sleep patterns (this didn’t appear to be the case for Mo…). And yet, in our daily life in the city, you’re so much less likely to connect to the earth without the barrier of concrete or shoe sole.

I can’t offer Maurice a daily walking meditation on grass while we live in this flat in Peckham, sadly. And I suspect it would have to be a running meditation with him anyway. But, I am trying to make sure that all of his walking around at home is done in bare feet while his little feet develop and beyond. At least so he maintains a connection to the ground underneath him, directly feeling the ground beneath his feet which physically and metaphorically will hopefully encourage him to feel grounded not floating…and which will encourage good development of the muscles of his feet.

Whenever I practise and teach Pilates, this is done barefoot. Working barefoot offers greater challenge for your muscles, working all the muscles around the ankle joint and leg, and challenging your balance and coordination. It means that you need to work everything a little bit harder than if you were wearing chunky trainers. But it also means you have to connect with your feet in a way that you might never think to in your daily life. My Pilates teacher used to spend about 20 minutes at the beginning of each session on foot exercises. Isolating the mobility of your toes, working the arch of your foot. We have the same number of bones in our foot as in our hand, so technically can achieve the same dexterity within the muscular structure. But how often do you do play the piano with your toes?

Try a mexican wave with your toes now. Even if you’re wearing shoes (although it’s better without), try to create a mexican wave from big toe to little toe. You may be surprised by how difficult this is. My Pilates teacher always used to say that any lack of mobility in the feet over time travels up the body and creates a shuffling old person with a humped back. Alarmist, maybe. But possibly also there is truth in it.

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So, every day, try and have some consciously barefoot time. Connect through to the ground, even if that’s through to wood/tiling/laminate. Connect and lengthen all ten toes down. Then lift them all up and wave them down individually. Draw up through the arch of the foot as if you’re trying to suck something up from the ground, that lifting feeling connects directly to your central pelvic floor engagement. It runs with the idea that Pilates delights in, that there is no superfluous element of your body’s muscular system, everything is equally important and contributes to good movement patterns and a healthy supple body and mind.

Wake up Mama! – Energy Boosters

Wake up Mama! – Energy Boosters

Happy Bank Holiday! Remember May bank holidays before children? Usually involved lots of sunny Sunday drinking in beer gardens, languidly cutting loose in an act of sheer abandon as there was no alarm clock to wake you up the next day. Yep. No more. This morning I had a 5am starter – although, framing it positively, he has only just started sleeping through aged 2 so I’ll take 5am over all-night boob any day.

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I’m feeling slightly less than my best this morning. A bit crumpled in face and body. So I’ve got a few tips for instant vitality that I’m going to do myself…once I’ve finished my coffee…

  1. Dry body brushing – brush all areas, always brushing in towards the heart. Be gentle around your belly and chest, but with gusto everywhere else. Makes your skin sparkle, boost circulation, turns you from ploddy elephant to sprightly gazelle. Be gone, befuddledness.
  2. A burst of cold in the shower – sounds hideous but this one really absolutely truly works. In the shower, take a deep breath and turn the water on to cold, freezing is best but try as cold as you can. Enough to make you go WAAHH! Stay under the water for 30 seconds at least. Then back to warm. It stimulates lymphatic drainage which can become sluggish through lack of movement,  and wakes you up in an instant which weirdly makes you feel really positive. Try it.
  3. Tapping the crown of your head, and massaging the earlobes. Tap tap tap, either drumming your fingers or tapping all together. Then massage all around your ears. Wonderful wake up and energy boost – and this one you can do anywhere, in the office, on the street, at soft play…

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The best antidote for lack of energy is breathing and movement. The idea of “doing exercise” when you’re feeling low on energy reserves is always an unappealing one. 

Small snacks of Pilates never fails to revitalise me. Literally 1 minute or even 30 seconds. It seems counterintuitive, but, if you’re feeling tired, moving your body to massage the internal organs, get the blood flowing and stretch the limbs will always give you a boost. Obv if you are actually feeling under the weather, listen to your body and give yourself some rest and TLC, but if it’s simply tiredness and weariness (hello 5am wake up call), the body and mind will respond better to movement than sloth – plus you get to congratulate yourself for getting up and doing something, which is a great feeling in itself.

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Humans were built for movement, not to be atrophied and tensed by hunching over desks or sitting in cars. But as an adult the idea of “exercise” becomes infused with ideas of work, chore, slog, prefaced with shouty goals such as “LOSE WEIGHT” and “DESTRESS”  – something that you “should” do rather than seamlessly do without thinking, as part of your daily routine.

I found a great titbit in a book called The Source that I worked on as an editor.  Research showed that if you put a running wheel in a mouse’s cage, mousey would run 4 to 5 km a night, and eventually become a better problem solver than its neighbour with no wheel. I love this image for many reasons, not least wondering what mouse problems there might be that needed to be solved.

Movement creates vitality, giving you a physical boost, and also a mental one.

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Leafing again through Joe Pilates’s book Return To Life, he notes “All in all, we do not give our bodies the care that our wellbeing deserves”. Given that this was written in 1945, it shows that us humans haven’t really got any better at this, generations on. He points out this notion by saying that if you just do 5 minutes of movement if you’re feeling tired, you may well feel that at the end of the 5 minutes you crave carrying on, and thereby retraining yourself on a molecular level to become a vital being again. You begin, Mr Pilates says, to reawaken muscles by encouraging more oxygen and blood flow, and therefore also reawaken brain cells, and your whole being is benefitted.

To quote him directly (I love his style, but there aren’t many commas, so take a deep breath…): “Make up your mind that you will perform your [Pilates] exercise for ten minutes every day without fail. Amazingly enough, once you travel on your Pilates ‘Road to Health’ you will subconsciously lengthen your trips on it from ten to twenty or more minutes without even realising it. Why? The answer is simple: the exercises have stirred your sluggish circulation into action and to performing its duty more effectively in the matter of discharging through the bloodstream the accumulation of fatigue-products created by muscles and mental activities. Your brain clears and your will power functions”. So, in a nutshell, movement begets more movement, and a positive glow.

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So, if you’re sitting down now, stand up and walk around for a bit, allow your thigh muscles to lengthen, stretch the arms back behind you to open the chest. No self-respecting cat or dog would get up without a good old stretch. 

Roll down through the spine to bring your head below your heart and allow your blood to rejuvenate and give you a healthy rosy flush. Jump and jiggle about. Release the shoulders into your back and realign the neck with the spine, eye focus forward.

Breathe, deeply and fully, and sigh the breath out through the mouth. Really breathe and return to life.

I’d love to hear your energy-boosting tips for those sluggish days. Comment below or DM me! x

My book, The Supermum Myth, is available for preorder now.

Pregnancy: the Naked Truth, is out now!

Firing up the cylinders 

Firing up the cylinders 

The idea of going to a Pilates class when you’re feeling low on energy is, sadly, an unappealing one. I’ve  been there, at the end of a long day feeling like getting out of the house to get to class is a huge wrench when you’re tired and warm and cosy at home, or you’re at work and the sofa and a glass of wine is calling.
But, the hardest part is getting yourself there – once there, moving never fails to revitalise and you always, always feel better for it. Stretched, lengthened, unfurled, oxygenated. The same is true of any movement.

It seems counterintuitive, but, if you’re feeling tired, allowing your body the freedom of movement to massage the internal organs, get the blood flowing and stretch the limbs will always give you a boost. NB – if you are actually feeling under the weather, listen to your body and give yourself some rest and TLC, but if it’s simply tiredness and weariness that you’re suffering from, the body and mind will respond better to movement than sloth, plus you get to congratulate yourself for getting up and doing something, which is a great feeling in itself.

We humans were built for movement, just like any other species in the animal kingdom. It seems like such a waste to neglect the handiwork that went into creating our muscular-skeletal system, with its intricate designs for natural flowing movement. Muscles are designed to be toned and strong and working in perfect harmony, not atrophied and tensed by hunching over desks or sitting in cars. But as an adult the idea of “exercise” becomes infused with ideas of work, chore, slog, something that you “should” do rather than seamlessly love doing without thinking, as part of your daily routine. This is why I genuinely think adult soft play areas/playgrounds should be incorporated into all council town planning!

I found a great titbit in a book that I worked on with my editorial hat on a few years ago called The Source, published by Rodale. Apparently research showed that if you put a running wheel in a mouse’s cage the little fella would run 4 to 5 km a night, and will eventually become a better problem solver than its neighbour with no wheel. I love this image for many reasons, not least wondering what mouse problems there might be that needed to be solved (Perhaps mouse crime solvers…Rastamouse comes to mind, for any of you whose life might be charmed by being able to watch it on CBeebies). But also the notion that movement creates and maintains vitality and gives you not only a physical boost but also a mental one. Movement is a necessity to keep our bodies healthy, it shouldn’t be a difficult thing to try and incorporate into your life.

Leafing again through Joe Pilates’s book Return To Life, he notes “All in all, we do not give our bodies the care that our wellbeing deserves”. Given that this was written in 1945, it shows that us humans haven’t really got any better at this, generations on. He points out this notion by saying that if you just do 5 minutes of movement if you’re feeling tired, you may well feel that at the end of the 5 minutes you crave carrying on, and thereby retraining yourself on a molecular level to become a vital being again. You begin, Pilates says, to reawaken muscles by encouraging more oxygen and blood flow, and therefore also reawaken brain cells, and your whole being is benefitted.
To quote him directly (I love his style, but there aren’t many commas, so take a deep breath…): “Make up your mind that you will perform your [Pilates] exercise for ten minutes every day without fail. Amazingly enough, once you travel on your Pilates ‘Road to Health’ you will subconsciously lengthen your trips on it from ten to twenty or more minutes without even realising it. Why? The answer is simple: the exercises have stirred your sluggish circulation into action and to performing its duty more effectively in the matter of discharging through the bloodstream the accumulation of fatigue-products created by muscles and mental activities. Your brain clears and your will power functions”.

 

So, in a nutshell, movement begets more movement, and a positive glow.
So, if you’re sitting down now, stand up and walk around for a bit, allow your thigh muscles to lengthen, stretch the arms back behind you to open the chest. Roll down through the spine to bring your head below your heart and allow your blood to rejuvenate and give you a healthy rosy flush. Release the shoulders into your back and realign the neck with the spine, eye focus forward. Breathe, deeply and evenly. Really breathe and return to life.

The A game 

The A game 

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Anxiety. The monkey that sits atop our shoulder, wriggling and jiggling, weighing down and informing thoughts, which become our actions…or fear of action…
The thing about anxiety is that inherently it’s a protective, positive thing to experience. You feel anxiety to prepare you for danger, to alert you to hazards, to protect you from harm. And yet in our modern life we no longer have to fight for survival and dodge sabre toothed tigers in the same way that we used to, unless perhaps playing a video game slouched on our sofa. But our brain and stress responses are triggered in exactly the same way as if we were that caveman who relied on the physical response of anxiety in order to survive.

Anxiety tends to manifest itself in several ways: with mental responses and with physical. You may not even be aware that you’re physically responding to stress and just think that your constant neck tension is something you have to live with, rather than a direct response to your thought processes. If not kept in check, negative thought processes can begin to dominate, as if you’ve allowed an uninvited house guest to simply take up residence in your spare room and have no idea how to make them leave. How can we rein in intense feelings of anxiety in our lives, if it’s become something that is out of balance and affecting our ability to live our lives in a calm and fluid way?
Firstly, it all comes down to the breath. Everything. It begins and ends with our breath, life. And yet it’s something we forget about and take for granted. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, when your child is pushing your buttons or your boss is being a f*ckwit, instead of mirroring the snarkiness and the tantrum vibes, tune into your breathing.

Close your eyes (unless you’re trying to wrestle your toddler across a road safely in which case, keep the eyes on the prize…), and take a long deep inhalation in through the nose. Consciously draw the breath into the back of the ribs, wide into the back of your body. Sigh the breath out through the mouth if you can, allowing your exhalation to be longer than your inhalation. Soften your jaw, your cheeks, your forehead.

Next, if you have more time. Do a body scan. Preferably sitting or lying down but you can do this while on the go, a real test of mindfulness in action. Start with your feet. Connect to all ten toes. Travel your mind up through the body, settling upon each part of your body and asking it to release its tension. Send each part of your body a hug and a high five. Realise that your thoughts ARE you body’s thoughts. Each of your cells responds to your negative internal dialogue. So they will also respond to a positive internal dialogue. Smile. Fake it to make it – your body and brain will believe your smile, and the joy rush will follow.

Write down your worries, and see that as a way of letting them be released from your thoughts. Dump all of your niggly fears and swirly thoughts in a notebook and tell yourself that is the only space they’re allowed. Shut the door on your uninvited house guest.

See anxiety as your friend rather than your enemy, even imagine your anxiety as a small child who needs your soothing and softness. A helping comfort enabling you to make strong decisions, rather than a scary monkey sitting on your shoulder, his hands over your eyes, sabotaging your resilience. Things are going to be ok. Everything is ok. You’ve got this. All is well.
Breathe. Soften. Lighten.