How to restore your pelvic floor, in less than 3 minutes a day

How to restore your pelvic floor, in less than 3 minutes a day

One of the things that new mums tell me almost more than than anything else, is that they wish they had fully understood how important pelvic floor health was, and they wish they had taken the time to focus on it a bit before baby came – as let’s face it, once baby is out and you need to do the work more than ever before, it’s when you have the least brain space to think about it.

Pelvic floor health should be something that we seamlessly coordinate into our day, like brushing our teeth. You no doubt dedicate at least 4 minutes of your day, every day, to your pearly whites. The idea of not doing that would be fairly grim for the long term. So, why is it so hard for us to factor in pelvic floor health if it could be within that time frame? It’s not a time issue, is it? It’s a human self-sabotage issue.

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Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on Pexels.com

For a start, pelvic floor health is intertwined with how you breathe, move, and carry yourself day to day. So, ultimately no amount of occasional hopeful squeezing will be effective if your body held in bad posture most of the time or if you’re not breathing consciously, as your pelvic floor works in a finely choreographed balance with your diaphragm and other abdominal muscles. It’s not really worth sitting and squeezing once or twice a month, but placing loads of pressure on your pelvic floor through your postural habits day to day and not addressing that. We need to be curious about our  bodies and take our strength and health into our own hands.

What you do and how you move day to day impacts so much more on your muscles than one hour in a fitness class a week or the occasional “pelvic floor exercise”.

Your pelvic floor health is crucial for your mental health into your old age. Incontinence brings with it issues of fear of exercise, embarrassment, depression. Prolapse can make you feel like an old woman, can cause discomfort and anxiety. But working your pelvic floor CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE to your pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms, and prevent incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse postnatally.

So first: think about your alignment, then breathing. THEN, connect.

It’s as easy as A, B, C. 

  • Stand or sit tall with your ribcage stacked above your pelvis: your heart centre balanced directly above your womb centre.
  • Breathe in through the nose, deeply, wide, full, low: imagine a “360” breath around all sides of your torso opening wide out through the ribs and down to your low belly. Allow your lower belly – and pelvic floor – to fully soften.
  • Sigh your breath out through the mouth as if you’re fogging a window in front of you.
  • Draw up into your back passage as if you’re trying to stop breaking wind, then pull the engagement forward and up. Hold for up to 10 seconds – no tension in your jaw, buttocks, inner thighs – then fully release with a deep wide breath in.
  • Repeat 10 times.
  • Then – sigh out, then lift up and pulse squeeze 10 times quickly. Then breathe in to release.
  • Do this 3 times a day.

So remember your A, B, Cs

Elaine Miller, also known as @Gussetgrippers, Women’s health physio and stand up comedian is spreading the hashtag  We won’t pee with 10 10 3.

10 lift and hold. 10 pulses. Three times a day.

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Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

Honestly that’s less than 3 minutes of your day. How can we sex it up to make it something you don’t continue to avoid?

I’d love to hear from you – get in touch and let me know your thoughts, I’m really keen to find ways to get women to engage with their pelvic floor health, so let me know what your barriers to focusing on it are. It’s boring? You’re not sure how to do it? You never remember? Let’s work on this together.

#wewontpeewith10103

 

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The Elastic Brain – benefits of meditation

The Elastic Brain – benefits of meditation

“Mummy I never change my mind. I always keep the same mind.” Maurice said this to me yesterday, when I suggested that he *might* change his mind about a sartorial decision.

It made me think about the elastic brain. Up until fairly recently we thought of our minds as “fixed”, set in place in our early years: our character traits, core beliefs, personality all shaped and moulded forever. Our bodies were seen as the only thing we could potentially “work on” and change the shape of.

It’s true that our core beliefs tend to feel fixed: developed in early childhood and through formative experiences, one-off comments that brand you deeply into your soul like livestock branded by a cattle prod, etched into your psyche, immovable like a chicken pox scar. An internal stone manifesto. “I’m not popular”, “I’m crap in social situations”, “I’m really bad with money”.

And this fixed belief can lead to lowness and depression when internal Criticism FM is turned up to full volume and ignores any other evidence around. You might start to dislike aspects of your personality and despair that you’ll “always be like this”. But recent research has shown that through cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness therapies you can “re-wire” your brain to improve everything from your mental wellbeing to your perception of your quality of life and how content you are.

It’s not just rethinking stuff – it’s re-experiencing things. Changing the way you see things: experiences help to require your brain and form new beliefs, over time. And, just like that 5am boot camp to get a toned bum and honed waist, it takes hard work – and is easy to shirk. It’s much easier to settle in on your stone manifesto and think “this is just the way I am”. It’s challenging not to believe every thought you think. But it’s worth it. Thoughts are not facts. The more you calm an anxious mind by disciplining the stream of automatic thoughts, the more positive you’ll feel overall.

Challenge your mental habits, and your behavioural habits. In the same way that Pilates encourages you to lengthen out of bad posture/ingrained habits which create tension and aches and pains – you can overturn mental aches and pains by gently overturning behaviours that aren’t serving you well.

A meditation practice is the first step in redrawing your mental patterns. By setting aside some time to focus on your breath, on organising your thoughts and letting them bubble up like when you open a sparkling water bottle – you are releasing your body out of fight or flight mode and into rest and repair. Even simply doing that has profound effects on the ability of your brain to access the more reasoned area, allowing for calmer responses to situations and events. Over time, the amygdala, the brain’s fight or flight pilot, actually appears to SHRINK over time with meditation practice. So you are much less likely to get yourself all tied up in knots as you’re already rewired to react slightly differently.

I’m loving the Calm app at the moment, it’s fab for enabling you to fit in bite-sized easy meditation pockets in a normally chaotic day. I’ve been trying it a lot during this half term – so if that’s not a litmus test I don’t know what is! But even taking a few moments to breathe deeply, soften your body and tune in, listen to your internal thoughts, is enough to kick start a soothing meditative habit.

My book The Supermum Myth, written with clinical psychologist Dr Rachel Andrew, offers lots of ways to begin to notice your internal dialogue, and plenty of activities to try and shift your perception, retread those paths in your brain creating new positive furrows. It takes practice and just because it sounds simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. As with any physical fitness programme, we need to stick with it – which human beings find quite tricky don’t we, we’re constantly on a quest to self-sabotage…. But committing to working on our inner peace – and knowing it’s alway a work in progress – is always going to reap benefits by making us happier and more balanced day to day, and crucially make us a nicer person to be around, so I reckon it’s worth a shot, right?

Do you currently have a meditation practice of any kind? Movement meditation, breathing, walking…? What is your go-to meditative habit? I’d love to know! xxx

Rebirth post-caesarean

Rebirth post-caesarean

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This month is Caesarean awareness month.

First time round, I had that blissful naivety that as long as you “planned” your birth, in the organised and methodical manner that you planned other stuff in your life, and you were “relaxed enough”, everything would be great. I hadn’t yet learnt the very fundamental motherhood lesson that, from the moment you see those lines on the pregnancy test, this is a ride on the rapids. You can research everything about rapids riding before you get in that canoe, but essentially most of the time you’ll just have to cling on and get swept along. My first birth was my first, indelible, lesson in this fact.

I wanted a “beautiful”, calm birth, where the baby arrived when it chose to, emerging with a hearty wail as it took its first breath and was delivered straight to mummy’s breast. Doesn’t everyone…? While we’re fantasising, it would have been great to have looked instagrammably radiant to pose for pictures afterwards too…

My reality was slightly different. Maurice didn’t seem to want to come out, he was quite happy slumbering inside…it turned out my placenta was failing and he wasn’t thriving, so probably simply didn’t have the oomph to try to push and squiggle his way out.

Induction at nearly 42 weeks preggers was followed by a 2-day labour, and Maurice’s heartrate slowed dangerously – a sound that is imprinted in my soul. Nothing in my mental preparation had imagined my birthing room being suddenly rushed by medical staff with such a sense of urgency, being sped down a corridor on a trolley so that you can be prepped for surgery and have your baby pulled out within 15 minutes of the call being made. He wasn’t breathing when he was born, and the following minutes of waiting to see how the dice rolled remain pretty much the worst of my life.

He was very tiny due to my grumpy placenta’s failure – everyone thought he was a premmie at a scrawny 5lb 12. I was also very ill, and couldn’t touch him for the first 8 hours of his life, which meant that his first days were fraught and filled with fear and tears which set the tone for our breastfeeding journey and first challenging months.

Hello, ripeness for PND and PTSD anyone?

Quite apart from the physical, there is a huge mountain of emotional issues that confront you after a caesarean, particularly if it’s been an emergency and you maybe hadn’t allowed yourself to contemplate it as an option prior to the event – a c-section would be a cop out, a failure, right? We set our expectations on each other and ourselves unbearably high throughout this birth and motherhood party.

I talked to many caesarean mamas in the aftermath and there was a common theme, that with emergency C-sections particularly, you have a sense that, although you have a baby, you didn’t actually give birth to him. Like your body has let you down completely, and that you’re a bit of a failure, you didn’t do it “right”. Particularly if you allow yourself to feel jealous/envious of other friends who can recount “perfect” birth stories involving steady progression and dilation, birth pools and no drugs (albeit also a lot of screaming, swearing and threatening to jump out the window no doubt…), where the natural order is preserved and things are as they should be.

For me, my frightening and shocking caesarean birth laid the foundations for the spectrum of PND and PTSD which influenced and framed the early months/year of motherhood. Heightened anxiety, painful feelings of bitterness and anger when hearing of better birth experiences, that everything was a barb intended towards me and my failure to get any of this right. Feeling like suddenly I had been stripped of a protective top layer and was exposed and sensitive to anything thrown at me. Thrown in with an unhappy (similarly traumatised?) colicky baby who cried all the time and didn’t sleep at all like “newborns are supposed to”, there are potential dangers of feeling more than a little bit of the “baby blues” in this time.

The wound heals and the scars eventually fade: it’s the emotional healing that is the challenge in the long term. This kind of experience tends to be locked down into your fibres and lead to physical aches and tensions even if you no longer acknowledge it as a current influence. If not addressed, it gets packed down under many layers, but distantly, constantly remembered in your muscular and emotional tissue. That pain in your neck, the dull ache you have in your pelvis.

If you’ve had a difficult birth experience, you can be left thinking, “I wish I’d done this instead”, and this can lead to ruminating over the same parts of the birth that you are unhappy with. “I wish I’d said this…”, “I could have done more”, “I could have tried harder”. Underneath these thoughts can be the core belief, “I’m weak”. It can be helpful to think about the birth in a different way. Were there times during the birth when you showed warrior strength, no matter how small? Some women describe trying to move or speak (even if they couldn’t due to medication) or trying to control their own minds – by taking it out of the situation, shifting their focus or telling themselves, “It’ll be over soon.”

Accepting the birth story that you had is essential, and reconciling yourself to the way it turned out, not comparing it to other “better” experiences, and embracing it as a legitimate birth as any other. Letting go of any fear, anger and disappointment that might have unfurled from the experience, and living in the present, the success.

I personally decided to take it day by day, practise mindfulness, offer myself time to breathe regularly (as much as having children allows that…), to try and soothe the emotional wound as the physical was also gradually healing. It’s often only in retrospect that you fully understand the depth of an experience and can appreciate how much of a warrior you were to get through it all.

I powerfully believe in the remedial magic of Pilates – for strengthening after abdominal surgery it’s unrivalled but particularly post caesarean. But not to be underestimated is the emotional power of reconnecting to your body through movement and breathing, and rediscovering a faith in it which may have been lost.

The Supermum Myth is out now.

You can buy a copy of my book Pregnancy: the Naked Truth here

Scummy Mummies: How not to feel like a shit mum

Scummy Mummies: How not to feel like a shit mum

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Late last year Dr Rachel Andrew and I had the huge pleasure of being invited onto the Scummy Mummies podcast to talk about our book The Supermum Myth. It was so much fun recording it and made me realise that laughter truly is the best medicine sometimes, and I don’t know about you but laughter is something that as a mum I don’t tend to make space for…I laugh a lot with my children, and at the endearing and bonkers and lovely things that they do, often I’m smiling broadly and laughing about silly antics…but belly laughing that comes from deep within your soul resulting from a shared humour with a fellow adult human, this is something that isn’t a huge part of my life at the moment. As one of the mums I chatted to for the Supermum Myth said, “I feel like I don’t have laughter that reaches beyond my eyes any more, that spreads to my cheeks and my belly”.

In the podcast we talk, and laugh, about all things Supermum, about how your birth experience can inform your experience of the first months (years..) of motherhood if you don’t allow yourself to catch it and place more positive mental groove in place. About your internal dialogue and how powerful it is, about breathing…and, incidentally, about the therapeutic power of spitting, and my scummy mummy nit confession… At one point, Ellie suggested that the book could alternatively be known as “How not to feel like a shit mum”…which actually was one of the working titles at one point. Oddly rejected by the publisher, who knows why?! Tune in, and let me know what you think!

I’m also going to see the Scummies tonight in Nunhead and I just cannot wait…I feel like I need the release of laughter as a de-stressor after a stressful few weeks. I’m not really a crier, lots of women I know have a good old cry when their capacity bubbles over and feel better for it, but for whatever reason I don’t have that reaction to events…I’ve always wondered whether it is a knee-jerk self-protect mechanism, as when I went through a year of life bereavement when my best friend died suddenly, followed closely after by the break up of my long-term relationship, I distinctly remember feeling like I was dissolving in tears, like I was turning into liquid permanently as I was crying so much. I think possibly since then my body has a shut down mechanism of not wanting to revisit that watery place, so where a lot of people might cry when things get on top of them, that drawbridge is tightly shut for me. I’m more of an angry beast when things get on top of me, I get irritable and sweary, or I get a cold and generally feel run down in a physical way. What I actually need is a good ugly snotty cry occasionally to let it all out, a cathartic release of toxins and emotions.

But this has got me thinking about laughter, and how cathartic and energy-shifting that can be as well. How lifted and changed you feel after a belly laugh. I started thinking about the physiological effects of laughter as a soother. I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about the rest and digest system recently: the essential and opposite yin and yang balance to the fight or flight. I had listened to the Scummy Mummies chat with Dr Genevieve Von Lob , author of Five Deep Breaths: The Power of Mindful Parenting the other day while escaping from the mayhem of a Saturday morning pyjama fest at home, taking myself out for a calming walk and podcast listen. She talked really interestingly about the Vagus nerve and its role in the rest and digest system. The vagus nerve isn’t the only nerve in the parasympathetic system, but it’s by far the most important one because it has the most far-reaching effects.

The word vagus means “wanderer,” so named because it sprawls and wanders all over the body to various important organs: reaching the brain, gut, heart, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, kidney, ureter, spleen, lungs, fertility organs, neck, ears, and tongue. In the brain, the vagus has a powerful role in helping to control anxiety and depression, and it is generally the vital link in the Mind–Body chain that we really need to be in balance for a healthy and well life.

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Ways to stimulate the vagus nerve include yoga, meditation, singing, breathing, exercise – all these things are ways of finding magic of FLOW where you are completely immersed in the present moment and with what you are doing; oxytocin is a hormonal stimulant of the vagus. Coffee and sunshine are also good ways to stimulate the vagus. And, happily, laughter. Laughter is also good for cognitive function, protects against heart disease, and can benefit the vascular system. So, laughter really IS the best medicine.

I would check out that Scummy Mummies podcast now then if I were you! xxx

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Model Method Online: Week 1

Model Method Online: Week 1

Week 1 of the Model Method Online – tick!

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It’s amazing how even just a week of upping your exercise routine can start to make you feel like you’re changing and energising. This week I have worked out 5 times rather than the 6 I was assigned – I skipped two evenings because I was working, such is the freelance self-employed mum juggle – but I did go swimming too which was a bonus on top of the model method workouts. There’s a ripple effect – commit to a small amount and in time your vitality will ensure that you actually start doing a little more.

The workouts are a combination of HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training – basically bursts of sweaty powerful movement followed by periods of lower intensity Pilates mathwork and movement, and dynamic Pilates. My abs have been burning with each session – something I haven’t felt for a long time as I clearly simply don’t push myself very hard when working out on my own, and I haven’t been able to find a Pilates class near me that works in my life. As much as I adore yoga, I feel like it’s an entirely different workout experience to really feeling the burn in your muscles with Pilates. It reminds me of when I was 18 and as a diversion from A-level stress I found solace every evening in doing the Y-Plan workouts which are delightfully dated in appearance now (think bright and shiny blue and pink lycra high-legged leotards, nice…) . Short workouts (15-30 minutes), which make you feel like you’ve worked hard but haven’t involved much more time than it normally takes to faff around making a cup of tea while glassily scrolling on social media.

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I feel like my Pilates mojo is being fired up and I’m looking forward to each session, even though those sessions are generally having to be done after the boys’ bedtime, which is prime flopping time usually (pre-teaching or working in the evening) . If there’s a sense of accountability – i.e. you’ve signed up for a programme, or a future event such as a 10k, you really do have something else to be responsible for which means that you’re more likely to stick to it.

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In the next week I’m going to start to focus more on the Nourish part of the programme. This week I’ve been purely focusing on the exercise. It’s a well-known life coaching practice that change should be implemented in small steps: don’t try changing everything in one go as you’re only setting yourself up for failing. It’s also true that the self-saboteur may start to rear its ugly head…oh I’m too tired for exercise tonight….I can’t see a difference so I’m just going to quit….I don’t have time to do it this evening… But pushing through the difficult moments can mean that ultimately the habits you establish are going to be stronger and more long-lived. One of the motivational emails that Hollie sends out to participants this week said

“Do something today that your future self will be grateful for”

So it’s all about delaying gratification, to think ahead about why you are doing this. What is it that you want out of it? For me: to feel energised, to feel more positive have more vitality to deal with the general chaos of life with small children with a bit more grace and humour. And, I do want to whittle my waist and not feel so heavy.

So I decided to have a big push on the exercise side of things before even looking at my eating habits. And generally once you’re focusing on your movement, you naturally begin to seek more nourishing practices when it comes to your eating. For me: my eating habits revolve around eating mindlessly (hoovering up my children’s leftovers), and not planning effectively therefore not having the ingredients for the healthiest meals to hand. Step by step I’m creating change in my habits, and I’m hoping to set myself up for long-term vitality. Looking forward to seeing what Week 2 holds!

This programme is pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and challenging my ability to stick with something until it really is ingrained as a new, healthy, positive habit for life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How to create space and unclutter the mind

How to create space and unclutter the mind

One of the things we most crave as mums – as modern humans – is space.

When I chatted with the lovely Zoe from @motherkind_zoe for her podcast I said if I could give mums any gift in the world it would be the gift of ✨ space ✨.
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❇️ Physical space – solo trip to the toilet, when you’re feeling too much of the touchy feelies?
❇️Headspace – distance from the bubbling over capacity cup of work to do lists, parents evening reminders, immunisation appointments, sleep deprivation.
❇️ Breathing space – a regular gentle reminder just to breathe: slowly deeply fully consciously ❤️ .
❇️ Space to find the clarity to love our children truly madly deeply ❤️.

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This picture is of me on the final day of @ibizaretreats yoga retreat that I went on for my 40th birthday. Freddie was 15 months old and I hadn’t slept longer than 2 hours for 15 months 😬😱. I had 3 nights of B L I S S F U L sleep, yoga, stillness, time with my best friend. Oh my. For me, this 👆🏼 is the epitome of how I feel when I have space. Rested. Calm. Capable. Joyful. Resilient.

We’re always available on our phones. Constantly bombarded with bad news, opinions and rants on Twitter. Occasionally questioning whether our living room will ever be stylish or tidy enough judging by Instagram.

When you can rarely even go to the loo alone, suddenly there seems like there’s no avenue of your life that isn’t road blocked by your child’s need, want, whim.
When you start to feel like these blockages are making you bubble up with resentment and frustration – coming out in heightened anxiety, anger, worry, frustration, sadness, it’s time to press pause. Build SPACE into your regular habits, and you should begin to see that you don’t meet those road blocks quite so often.

How do I create space within the PJ Masks and the Lego Ninjago and requests for snacks? Three ways:

1. BREATHE. Fundamental to creating space is literally allowing there to be space within your body. Often we collapse our lungs and slump in defeat without really noticing. Begin to notice and honour your physical state by properly, fully, truly, consciously and mindfully breathing every day. Any breathing technique will do – simply pause and take 5 deep breaths. One of my favourites, which can be whipped out as a tool in emergencies such as at soft play: Breathe in through your nose for a count of 7. Breathe out through your mouth for a count of 9. Repeat 4 times. Space.

2. A little bit more time to spare? MEDITATE. Meditation seems complex. We might try it and think, er…is that it?? Nothing happened!? Or, too much happens and your mind goes into overdrive – But my mind is chattering, clearly I can’t mediate I won’t try again. But the chattering is the process. It’s like shaking a dusty rug out. No shaking, no dust ever releases. The dust is the process, you have to let it go and give it space to release, and with it you’ll find clarity and be able to organise your thoughts and find patterns and resolutions more easily. Meditation can be simply 1 minute in the morning of focusing on your breath. If you have more time, great. But 1 minute is a good start. We all have 1 minute, don’t we…? Meditation allows you clarity, serenity, when developed into a longer term habit it’s even proven to have a positive effect on your immune system, your resilience, lessens anxiety and helps with decision making. It’s a gift for the modern world. Try it. And then try it again. Keep trying it!

Breathe. Once you are settled into your breath, mindfully scan your body for tension. Soften. On your in-breath, silently say the word SO. On your out breath, say the word HUM. Repeat. So….Hum…..So….Hum…..if your attention drifts, this is only human – you are not “bad at meditating”. Simply return to the mantra, So….Hum…So….Hum.

You should emerge from your meditation after a few minutes feeling still and calm, able to take this space into your daily activities.

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3. DISTANCE – lastly and when you can properly carve out time for mama self-care: give yourself some space by creating distance between yourself and your home, your commitments, your children. Escape to a yoga class on a Sunday morning. Go swimming on a Wednesday evening. Walk in the park early morning before work. Whatever it takes, whenever you can, commit to it weekly and you will begin to see an easing in the bottlenecks of tension and stress that can build up when there is no space.

Try it – give yourself permission to find space. Let me know how it goes – did you feel a difference? Did you notice any inner peace making itself quietly felt? I’d love to hear in the comments below how you find space within the chaos xxx

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.

 

NEOM blog: Reset the Supermum Notion

NEOM blog: Reset the Supermum Notion

Regular readers here will know what a fan of an uplifting scent I am.

Since my fully indulgent self-care gift of a yoga retreat in Ibiza with my best friend last year, where i had 4 NIGHTS OF UNINTERRUPTED SLEEP which was facilitated by a meticulous ritual of NEOM sleep sprays, balms, oils, I only have to have a waft of the NEOM sleep range and I’m transported back there, right to serenity, to sleepful balmy nights, to peace. Ooooommmmmmmm shanti.

Scent is so important as a visceral evocative tool to tap into for your well-being. Nothing is swifter than scent to send you to a moment in time where you felt a particular emotion, a moment in time suspended forever.

I always carry around with me on the go tools for uplift. If you’re feeling drab and low, a quick whiff of a zesty essential oil burst will give me a second wind and more of a spring in my step. At the NEOM Kings Road store you can take part in their Scent Discovery Test. This is way of checking whether your underlying wellbeing need is better sleep? Less stress? More energy? Or a general mood boost?

You inhale each of the essential oils blends, and the scent travels to the hypothalamus – a gland in your brain responsible for releasing the hormones which control how you feel. At the hypothalamus, your body is most attracted to the essential oil blend that it needs revealing whether you need sleep, de-stress, energise or lift your mood. My discovery test revealed that I wanted the Scent for Happiness overall – which, well, makes sense doesn’t it, wanting generally to be happy. And surprisingly, when you’re feeling shattered you might not necessarily need the energy vibes, you might actually need to listen to your body and indulge in the sleep vibes.

I was absolutely honoured to be asked to contribute to the NEOM well-being blog this week. You can read the full article here. Snippet follows below, enjoy and let me know what your favourite scents are for happiness, calm and uplift.

  • At Neom we have a mantra – ‘wellbeing small steps, big difference’ – do you agree? why/ why not?

Absolutely agree. Sometimes we feel like our goals are a bit overwhelming and you don’t know where to begin when you just see a big mountainous goal in the distance, it’s all too easy to give up when it feels like an unachievable overwhelming task.

If you break it down into small steps, you set an intention to move towards the goal, like strapping on your walking boots, taking one step at a time, and before you know it you’ll be halfway up the mountain and it’s not half as intimidating.

  • We believe that lack of sleep, poor energy, stress and mood dips are all related – do you agree? why/ why not?

Yes. it’s a spiral of negative mood/physical lowness which makes it harder to pick yourself up once you’re there. Lack of sleep is such a debilitating issue. When you’re exhausted, and especially if the sleep is taken away from you by a third party (hello, children!) you feel out of control, and your coat of armour for dealing with daily stresses is removed. Everything seems more challenging when there is a lack of sleep.

But we don’t offer ourselves the acknowledgement that it’s ok to take things easy when you are in the phase of life where small people are a chink in your wellbeing armour. We still strive to be “normal”. When actually, it’s ok to give yourself a break. The first step is noticing your internal dialogue in those exhausted days, and having a tool for calming the domino effect into stress and mood dip.

  • What small steps do you think can help us? What’s the bedrock of wellbeing in your book?

1. – Breathing. The most important thing firstly is to pause, and breathe. It is the most fundamental tool in my own personal toolkit. Taking a long, slow inhale through the nose for a count of 5, allowing your abdomen to open and soften with the breath rather than breathing into your chest. Then breathe out through the mouth for a count of 8, as if you’re trying to fog a window in front of you. In for 5, out for 8. Soften into the moment. Even say to yourself, “I soften into this moment” can help to calm any stressed mental chatter like soothing a bristling cat.

2. – Notice any negative thoughts running like a loop around your mind. Calm your negative thoughts by telling yourself “thoughts are not facts”. Notice they are there, but don’t invite them in. Sort of like noticing clouds across the sky – don’t allow them to linger, gather and become storm clouds, allow them to pass gently without trying to ignore them or shoo them away.

3. – Smile. It makes you feel a bit silly, but you will fool your brain into creating fleeced endorphins if you smile, even if you least feel like it. Spread a smile on your face – even better, to yourself in the mirror, and you will soften your feelings in that moment.

4. – By the same token – it’s also important to allow your challenging moments to “be”. Too often we see weakness in feeling “bad” feelings and so we ignore or suppress them, and create a swirl of complementary negative feelings around it, guilt, anxiety, fear, worry… When actually, it’s part of the emotional spectrum of being human. A balance of dark and light, yin and yang. Without dwelling in a negative thought loop and allowing it to spiral, imagine calmly sitting down with your challenging feeling, inviting it to be, asking it why it’s here (or simply acknowledging that you are exhausted and your child has just thrown their dinner on the floor – it is normal to feel angry and at your wit’s end under the circumstances). Say to yourself that these feelings are natural, normal, healthy. And ultimately that will enable it to release itself, without being suppressed.

Series: What’s in Your Toolkit? 10 – Eminé Rushton

Series: What’s in Your Toolkit? 10 – Eminé Rushton

I met the lovely Eminé last night at a Psychologies event at the Neom store on the Kings Road  – a place I would gladly while away many hours, its array of scents and general atmosphere of space and serenity are good for the soul. Eminé has an ethereal beauty about her, and a calm wisdom about all things wellness. I wanted to tap into some of that wisdom, to share with you wonderful people. Enjoy!

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Tell me about yourself – what’s the day job?

I’m Wellness Director at my favourite magazine, Psychologies. I took the role 7 years ago, when it was ‘Beauty Director’ and swiftly engineered it to include health, and then, last year, moved the role, and our content, into whole-hearted holistic wellbeing, which is where my heart is too (never been a ‘beauty’ girl!).

I’m now also running my own little conscious consultancy, LEAF, which is all about helping the most ethical natural brands find a voice, and working to get them out into the world in intelligent and thoughtful ways. I also run the wellness blog, The Balance Plan with my husband Paul – a home for our recipes, ideas, beliefs and a fresh look at living Ayurvedically (which we are passionate about) in the modern age.

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I love your Psychologies 360me campaign, encouraging people to become more aware of their health in a truly holistic way, Tell me more about that. Do you find that people are more keen to nurture their souls, more aware of their mental health nowadays and understanding of modern life’s potential effects on it?

The shift in our collective conscience, in just these last few years, has been remarkable. People only ever used to talk about health in relation to weight loss, dieting, bikinis… it was ad infinitum and ad nauseam and wholly disheartening.

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When I launched #360me, the aim was to focus on how we would all FEEL, not look, and to understand that we are not just a body – we are a nourishable soul/spirit, a beautiful mind and a complex gut too… wanting to knit all the pieces together, to say ‘I shall aim to join these dots within me, to enjoy doing so, to celebrate my variousness and all of my multitudes’, was the starting point. No diminishment – no diets, calories, formulaic exercises. Our health should never be based on a formula!

The reception to it has been utterly amazing. I think it’s so rare to find a magazine that talks in a solely wholly celebratory way – that offers practical advice without making you feel insecure in any way. There is so much more conversation around our mental health these days – we’ve seen a huge conversation starter with the royals, and it’s being picked up over and over again.

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We’ve long known that 1 in 3 people experience significant mental health challenges in their lives, but it’s never been the case that 1 in 3 would openly TALK about it. We’re not robots, we’re ever-shifting and changing beings, and it makes perfect sense that we will all experience extremely trying, upsetting, challenging things and go through dark and sad times.

There should never be any shame in that. It’s also about realising that some very small things can have a very big impact on how good we are able to feel. Being kinder to yourself. Creating a sleep routine. Eating nourishing food in season. I think we’ve woken up to the fact that we can’t batter our bodies and bruise our spirits and then expect to make it all better with a spin class and a multi-vitamin. We have to start from the ground up – inside our selves.

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When I became a mum, one thing that immediately slipped by the wayside was my skincare regime. Up until then my skin had been something I nurtured and loved to look after, so it made me feel quite low that my skin really suffered from the lack of sleep/care/time and hormonal storms, suddenly my face was something I was ashamed of, and wanted to hide  from the world (which is quite hard to do…). Skin is the first thing that starts to show imbalance in body and mind. As a qualified facialist, what would your top tips be for sleep-deprived busy mums to try and keep their skin at its optimum (under the circumstances)?

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Oh I know that very well, as someone who was sleep-deprived without respite for 3 entire years. I was lucky I suppose, as worked in the industry, so would still make time (even on a lunch break) for a facial, massage or an infrared sauna… and these things helped keep me feeling more well than I would have done without them. I also found that if I was able to continue to nourish my skin through my diet – lots of omega 3, vitamins, antioxidants (and topping up with Wild Nutrition or Pukka too), my skin saw the benefits.

But let’s be honest: when you’re exhausted and very low on sleep, not much can replicate what you’re missing. I learned the art of napping, several times a day, with my youngest (I took 8 months mat leave), but with my first, I went straight back to work and didn’t get a full night’s sleep for almost 3 years… no pot of cream will help with that! So, when I could, I took magnesium baths, practised a bit of yoga, and got to bed as early as humanly possible.

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Even if I was woken 3 or 4 times (or 10!), I’d still have had a bit more sleep at the start of the night. Lack of sleep also really raised our cortisol levels and can imbalance our hormones, so I’d also recommend taken pure and high grade Ashwaghanda (an adaptogen that combats stress) and Shatavari (which balances the female reproductive system), every day. Pukka and Wild Nutrition, are, once again, my go to brands here.

What are your personal mental health tools in your own toolkit?

Learning to meditate with Will Williams, last year, was a big turning point for me. Prior to that I had attended this retreat at 42 Acres with Tony Riddle and Carly Grace and Alan Dolan, and meditation came into my life at a time when I really needed it. The difference I felt after a few days’ rest, meditation, breath work and sound baths, at 42, was unbelievably profound. I could have taken every single spa trip over my 15 years as an editor and the level of wellness I felt after just 3 days at 42 Acres was deeper and more powerful than the whole ‘spa’ lot put together. That’s when I really realised that I was missing a big trick – that pampering, spa-ing, eating well, are all wonderfully salubrious and relaxing, but to really make a big change, and one that then flows into every other part of you, it needs to work on another level – you need to get into the mind, in a significant way.

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I’ve since done long meditation weekends with Jody Shield, have taken up more regular yoga with a great online company, Movement for Modern Life, and meditate every single night, in bed, just before sleep. Meditation levels me out and buoys me up more significantly than anything else. It’s my ultimate tool, and I recommend Vedic Meditation to anyone who’s struggled with other forms… it’s the simple repetition of a sound, over and over, in the mind, which gives you a focus and makes it so much easier to allow that wandering mind to free itself from the unrelenting babble.

The big question: How do you balance work and life?

Oh my, I am still trying and learning, every single day. Some days I nail it – but that often relies on the kids playing ball – going to sleep on time, not waking, and all of us being happy and sympathetic to one another! There are some really simple things that do help… trying to wake up with a smile, ‘hey, I get another day! lucky me!’ and waking the children with positivity too. We always sit down to a family breakfast – that’s my husband in the kitchen, cooking up a storm, while I get kids dressed and ready for school. Sitting down, eating, chatting about the day ahead, is a nice way to begin. Arguments can easily kick off between my two children who are both pretty fiery and headstrong, but sometimes I’ll do something funny, like open a window and tell them to waft their worries and whinges outside, and that can diffuse things!

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I work very dedicatedly all day long – some days I am at my computer for hours – stopping only to stretch or eat – but I try to balance this with days where I am very mobile and in meetings, hotfooting it across London. If I have to work in the evening, I’ll do no more than 90 mins once the kids are tucked up, and then it’s a real strict shutdown. I turn my phone off, laptop off, and leave them upstairs in my study. I then light a Neom candle downstairs and get the diffuser going in my bedroom, so that soothing scent starts to waft through our space, as I potter around tidying, washing, organising, cleaning… then lights go off, candles flicker, I may bathe or do a short yoga class, but I am strict about always doing my 20 minute meditation just before bed… I may fall asleep mid-med, which is lovely too… the biggest thing that derails me is feeling overwhelmed. That sense of HOW ON EARTH AM I GOING TO MANAGE ALL OF THIS?

What life has taught me is that I do manage. That the time it took to worry and dwell and fear is much better used DOING. Even just making a list can help you feel as though you’re a bit more in control. Sometimes too, the things you dread doing are almost pleasurable once you get down to them – there’s always a sort of satisfaction to be gained from the action – so much more satisfying than the hypothetical phase of worrying about it! Being very strict with my diary is another one. Some people must think me so rude – they’ll email to ask to meet up (and I love meeting up with interesting people!) and I’ll say that I can’t see them for two months. It’s not that I am so utterly busy every single day, but that I need to build breathing space and non-travel days into my life too.. days when I can sit at home, write, think, mull, create… rather than go into another day of back-to-back meetings.

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That’s working for me, with two big work roles to balance  (and that doesn’t include motherhood!), and a sense that I don’t want to be swallowed whole by it all. Pace is important I think and we don’t tend to give it much thought – but I’ve learned that if I have one very busy on-the-go rushing day, I like to follow it (if I can) with one calmer and stiller day.

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