Returning to “normal” post-baby

Returning to “normal” post-baby

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

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MUTU – Leaner, Stronger, Fitter, more in control, more confident? Don’t mind if I do!

MUTU – Leaner, Stronger, Fitter, more in control, more confident? Don’t mind if I do!

As some of you who are regular readers of the blog (hiya! *waves* Very happy to have you here!), you’ll know that in November I started my MUTU journey, with a screening of the EMBRACE documentary which blew my mind. As part of that fantastic body confidence campaign, I was offered the chance to trial the MUTU system. So many of my Pilates clients have asked me about MUTU over the past couple of years and I have been intrigued but didn’t really know anything about it myself.

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The 12-week programme started at the beginning of December and of course has draped itself over Christmas (I have about 4 weeks left), and as you know that’s a time when most of us fall off the exercise bandwagon in favour of the crisp wagon or the port train, or possibly the Celebrations helicopter. So I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t manage to do a workout every time I “should have” over that period, although I must say that wasn’t due to Christmas excess or sloth, it was more that Freddie chose the Christmas period to get a chest infection and renounce sleep for the duration, so exercise wasn’t that available to me during that two-week period due to general exhaustion. But what I did benefit from in that time was the gentle reminders from Wendy Powell, MUTU founder and mum of two, that your body is your patient and loving home, somewhere that you live – and always will – and if a supporting wall has fallen down in your home, well, it’s time to get the builders in before you can start any other aesthetic decorating work. You need to think about regaining your inner strength as a necessity and not a luxury. Wendy’s message is one close to my heart: as mums, new mum or “seasoned”, we’re constantly badgered about “losing our baby weight”, “getting back into skinny jeans”, but not much is explored about the vastly more important matter of what goes on underneath the surface.

Wendy is open about how pelvic floor weakness and diastasis recti are issues that need to be tackled before you can even think about “losing the mum tum”. The science about pelvic floor health and core strength is explained clearly and thoughtfully, to leave you more aware of how you use your body every day. Wendy really taps into the fact that there’s a huge mojo dip after you’ve had children: not only may you have started with an ambiguous attitude to your body, but suddenly now you have the postpartum joys of squishy tummy and out of control boobs, which can make you feel low and lacking sparkle. We’re desperate to get back to how we were, but often lack the information to help us get there. Fear of leaking wee means that a lot of women are scared to go running or go back to their HIIT classes, and then are left with no ideas about what they CAN do.

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Thankfully, MUTU is a really helpful resource that will enable you to strengthen your body and get back that zing in your step, so that you can more easily get into the physical activity you used to love, if high intensity exercise was your bag, you’re much more able to jump around with a fully strengthened pelvic floor supporting you. And if pre-kids you had never even considered cracking out a burpee, well, with a growing body confidence and a way in to exercise, maybe that wonderful world will be opened up to you?

I’m back on the MUTU train now, the workouts are 15 minutes each and even with a clingy toddler on the loose, it’s possible to carve out that time for yourself. Excitingly a brand spanking new version of the programme has just launched this week, and I’m loving the fact that I get to experience this brand new gleaming version. It looks fab, showcasing the same fantastic message as before – treat yourself with kindness, love and respect: you deserve to be fit and strong after having your babies, to find your light, inner mojo,  but with new videos, exercises and a more dynamic video demonstration style and different exercise bodies showing you how it’s done.

Check it out: it’s the perfect way of strengthening your body from the inside out. Let me know how you get on! I’d love to know what your experience of your postnatal body has been – have you loved and embraced every new squish? Or are you feeling down about it? Have you been told about your pelvic floor exercises beyond a vague “squeeeeeze?” Have you even heard of diastasis rect? I’d love to hear. Feel free to comment below or send me a message xxx

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New Year, New MUTU, New you!
Months in the making and even more awesome than before, the perfect antidote to ‘falling off the January health and fitness wagon’, MUTU System has just launched a *BRAND NEW program designed to flatten your tummy, stop annoying pelvic floor leakage, lose the weight you really wanna shift, heal your diastasis recti, feel fitter, healthier and sexier. The best bit is it only takes 15 minutes a day!

Enroll today and you get exclusive access to two BONUS LIVE CALLS with Founder and CEO of MUTU, Wendy Powell including Q&A sessions, bonus information and a chance to chat with the woman behind MUTU System. Grab your copy today!

I also have a MUTU System discount code for you fabulous blog readers: put in the code EMBRACE15 at the MUTU checkout to receive a 15% discount.

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Control freak? – Motherhood, identity, exhaustion, PND

Control freak? – Motherhood, identity, exhaustion, PND

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

Anya Hayes The Supermum Myth new mum
Anya with newborn Maurice

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

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

Anya Hayes The Supermum Myth
Anya with Maurice aged 10 weeks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dry January: The impropriety of sobriety

Dry January: The impropriety of sobriety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Umami healing – the power of Miso

Umami healing – the power of Miso

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Diastasis whatsi? How to get rid of the “mum tum”

Diastasis whatsi? How to get rid of the “mum tum”

I was in two minds about the heading “get rid of” the mum tum because I’m all about celebrating and embracing mum hood and all its weird and wonderful remnants in your body and soul. The lovely Beccy Hands, doula and massage therapist and co-founder of the maternal nurturing package The Mother Box (hint hint, would love one of these one day….), told me that once she worked with some midwives in Latin America. One day they were talking about the “love lines” of pregnancy and the UK contingent asked her what they were on about. When it transpired that these love lines were what we referred to as stretch marks the Mexican midwives were horrified – “such ugly language!”

Imagine if we reframed all our pregnancy bodily etchings in a positive light rather than berated ourselves for not being “perfect”. Just imagine that sweet sweet utopia for a moment. How are your love lines?

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Mum tum: this is the second part in Finding Mama Mojo. The pelvic floor and the abdominals are the muscles most directly compromised by pregnancy. And yet without the tools to know what on earth is going on down there, it’s no wonder we’re left adrift and feeling slightly off kilter sometimes years postnatally.

In my personal experience, there are two types of mum tum. There is the mum tum that is nurtured through months and years of child-related biscuit eating/leftover fish finger scoffing/exhausted carbo loading, not drinking enough water, not doing enough (cough, any) cardio exercise and a bit too much reliance on the “wine o’clock” ritual to get you through the heavy days. This is the mum tum that sits softly atop perfectly decent muscular strength and hides away the tone that you have in your muscles in a cushion of weary comfortable(not comfortable) habit. Sometimes happily so, if a chocolate biscuit is not worth swapping for a tall glass of water and some star jumps in your eyes, then so be it. And in that case there is no need to go about doing anything about it, until the point when you’re feeling it’s not so fun. This is the type of mum tum I have. IMG_4348

The other type of mum tum is the type where, even months and years after being pregnant you feel that your belly is still vaguely 4-months pregnant-looking. People ask you when you’re due. Or, maybe you’re very lean or muscular and don’t look pregnant at all but every time you get out of bed there’s a weird alien doming in your stomach which makes you wonder what on earth is going on in there but you’re sure it’ll probably go away soon. This is the type of mum tum which really needs to be looked at. This is diastasis recti.

Diastasis whatsi? Is that a made up word?

Diastasis recti is the perfectly normal and to be expected occurrence of the abdominal “six pack” muscle separating to accommodate your growing bump. The rectus abdominis is attached down the centre by connecting tissue called the Linea Alba. This connective tissue stretches during pregnancy to allow room for the baby to expand, and the sides of the muscle release away from each other. It’s basically like unzipping your coat to create more space: your belly muscle unzips at the front and allows your baby to expand into that room. What an amazing design the human body is! Incredible.

The only problem is, sometimes the tissue heals and the muscles can close back together naturally without you having to do anything. All done, and you’re none the wiser. But sometimes they don’t, the gap remains and the tone behind the linea alba is left sponge-like and with the strength of blancmange in your core.

I have had mums come to my class years after having had their babies who are still unknowingly suffering from this. It’s important to find out whether you have it, and there is always something you can and should do to investigate strengthening. Sit ups are not the answer and can make the problem worse.

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Why do I need to fix a diastasis?

Apart from the fact that you might feel a bit glum because chances are your belly is bulging and you’re getting the odd inappropriate question about being pregnant and generally feel a bit crap about that: it’s more importantly a question of your muscular and postural stability. The abdominals play a vital role in stabilising the spine and pelvis, and contribute to the efficacy of your pelvic floor. Diastasis recti can contribute to back pain and pelvic floor dysfunction because of the change in intra abdominal pressure – the pressure within your abdomen as you perform your daily tasks like picking up your baby or lifting the carseat. You might find that you have more back problems if you have a big gap in the abominals, you’re less robust for the physical graft of lifting and carrying your kids. You’re more likely to suffer aches and pains through relying on other muscles to do the work your abdominals should be doing. More seriously, you might be more prone to a hernia, which needs surgery to repair.

So: it needs to be checked. I am still in disbelief that there’s not more awareness and education about this MAJOR issue postnatally. Put it this way: you are more likely to have a diastasis than not after you’ve had a baby. And then add to that the general exhaustion, lack of attention to good posture (hello, forward-hunching mama pushing buggy, changing nappies, feeding, picking up socks, looking at your phone too much…) and general penchant for chocolate biscuits – or, at the other end of the spectrum, desperately trying to “get your body back” and running marathons, or doing boot camp planks and sit ups when you still have a gap can end up making it much much worse, making you weaker and more prone to issues such as prolapse… and you have a heady cocktail for maternal malaise.

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So what can I do??

Pilates, my friend. Appropriate Pilates exercises are uniquely positioned to strengthen the muscles compromised by pregnancy. Pilates asks you to pay careful attention to full and deep breathing which will in turn enhance the efficiency of your diaphragm and begin to bring the muscles within your abdomen to life. Focusing on the quality of your movement, doing appropriate exercises tailored to mending the gap will definitely help you to strengthen and equip you better for lugging your children around, for running your 10k, for a more positive and happy mum experience.

BUT – Not all Pilates is diastasis friendly! Curl ups and oblique curl ups, planks, leg lowers are not your friend while you have compromised abdominal strength. Deep, patient core restore is what is required.

So if you feel like you might have a gap and are not sure what to do: get in touch with me here and we can chat. Or, find a local postnatal-qualified Pilates teacher or physio and ask them to check you. Once you know what you’re working with, you can take steps to sort it out.

The mum tum: it’s NOT about “getting your body back”. It’s about embracing and honouring your amazing magic body which has created and birthed a baby, and giving you your power back so that you can run, jump, laugh, be joyful with your baby for years to come.

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A letter to my new mum self

A letter to my new mum self

I went to an event today called Tea for PND, arranged by the amazing Jo from Lobella Loves. A room full of mums connecting and sharing experiences of motherhood, in a safe space with no judgment. Such an amazing concept. I met for the first time in real life the fabulous Amy, also known as Surviving Motherhood. She has written this week a letter to her new mum self, and I urge you to go and have a look and read what she has to say as she’s an amazingly strong and inspirational, fun, radiant woman who shows that admitting to mental health issues and postnatal depression is never a sign of weakness.

Today is the anniversary of the day before I became a mum, 6 years ago. I’ve written a letter to my new mum self.

Dear new mama Anya

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Today is the 6th anniversary of the day before you became a mummy. I’m looking at our nearly 6 year old boy, and his feistiness, his curiosity, his tendency towards easy rage, but his fierce understanding of kindness and fairness (unless it comes to sharing toys with his brother) his love of Paw Patrol and anger about littering, his enthusiasm and brightness. And I’m wishing you could have had this vision while going through the months that followed tomorrow’s date, 6 years ago.

6 years ago today you were in labour, having been induced due to pre-eclampsia the day before. You were still over 24 hours away from meeting your little one. All the preparation you did – the yoga, the peaceful hypnobirthing breathing, the belief that you’d have a “beautiful birth” (whatever that may actually be…) faded as each hour passed into the creases of the blue curtains surrounding you on the induction ward, the relentlessly sleepless public ward for three nights of the induction and labouring process. Just want baby to be ok, his heart rate keeps dropping, please let him be ok, please let it be ok.

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Labouring for over 2 days ended in the call for a category 1 (highest level) emergency caesarean. 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.

In the months after his birth, I kept repeating to myself, with my unquestioned automatic thoughts, that my body had let me down, that I hadn’t prepared in the right way. Maybe I hadn’t shown my baby that I loved him and wanted him here enough, maybe I hadn’t trusted my body enough. I had failed. A close family friend had been due at the same time as us, and she had had a smooth home birth four days earlier, where they had been eating pizza blissfully in bed with their newborn within hours of giving birth.

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It felt like everyone around was celebrating how brilliantly she had done, commenting on how amazing she looked, and giving us critical ‘better luck next time, never mind that you were a bit crap’ vibes in comparison. Even the terminology that you find in your birthing notes is heavily laced with judgemental vocabulary: ‘failure to progress’, ‘incompetent cervix’. Dear new mama Anya, I wish you had had the ability to view yourself through a kinder, softer lens, not to feel so judged by yourself and by others’ comments, to perceive such failure in what is inarguably such success.

On the operating table after having Maurice, I was told that I’d had a boy, but that he wasn’t breathing. In the eerie yet busy silence while they set about resuscitating him – no hearty newborn cries to be heard – I remember feeling like a truck was sitting on my chest and I couldn’t breathe. I later understood that this was most likely to be the effects of the anaesthetic reaching too high into my chest, but I didn’t logically know that at the time. I decided to coax myself away from what I thought was a rising panic attack by focusing on calmly counting to ten, then back to one, then up to ten, over and over again.

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I now hold on to that as a sign that I didn’t actually break in that moment, despite being put under immense pressure. It’s only now in hindsight that I can see how strong I was. You were so strong, new mama Anya.

It can be bittersweet looking at my beautiful boy, knowing that bringing him into the world isn’t filled with memories of joy and sweary euphoria, but instead fear, pain, shock, being utterly out of control and powerless. I felt like I failed him by not being able to birth him naturally, with all the guilt bombarded upon you about the benefits for your baby of a natural birth. And I now feel sad that I can’t lovingly relay to him what a wonderful day we had when Mummy bounced on a birthing ball happily, listening to Beyoncé and eating Hobnobs, and then popped you out blissfully in a pool on the living-room floor.

I look back on the weeks that followed this date, 6 years ago, all the river of tears that I cried, and the times when I thought, how is it that I can’t do this most natural womanly thing in the world: give birth, and breastfeed? How can I fail at both? How is it that I cannot even feed my own child?

Sitting endlessly on the sofa all night, no point going to bed, endless feeding attempts and screaming. Every single one of the 24 hours in the day. 3am became sweaty, slippery nipples, breastmilk, screaming always screaming tiny too small baby at the breast, not able to offer the comfort that he desperately needed. I hadn’t ever felt despair like it.

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I look back at those days, where the black fog of failure and anxiety permeated all of my waking actions and thoughts, and now I think – all of these times when you felt your least Supermum were when you actually were at your most. Striving for your baby’s wellbeing. Holding his little screaming body tightly, soothing, bouncing, whispering, shhh-ing, offering up your painful breast knowing that it would feel like there was a knife slicing into it, but still offering it, with gritted teeth and curled toes, again and again and again.

New mama, you were such a warrior. Your birth and newborn experience wasn’t “your fault”. All birth is different, traumatic births happen – it is NOT YOUR FAULT.

I’m glad that rather than packing away your experience in a heavy rucksack to carry around with you forever, you over time decided to learn, share, spread the understanding and awareness. There is an army of warrior mamas out there. There is strength to be found in challenging experiences, building resilience you only notice you have once you emerge through the tunnel into the light once more.

New mama Anya, you did an amazing, loving, caring job and you just had no idea how strong you were.

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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.

 

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? 11 – Jody Shield

Series: What’s in Your Toolkit? 11 – Jody Shield

I’m literally grinning from ear to ear writing this post as I’m so excited to share with you the words of wisdom that I’ve been offered from this latest wellness guru/expert/shining light.

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Jody Shield needs no introduction arguably, but for those of you who may not have heard of her yet, she is a modern-day healer, a meditation teacher, spiritual mentor, a guiding light for the spiritually curious. If you’re feeling lacklustre, like your life is chugging along on a track you weren’t quite sure about but you’re not sure how to find the turntable to find a new direction, she has a wealth of tools to empower you, to change or to simply take ownership of the choices you’ve made and view life more positively: inspiration to spark action.  She’s meditation ambassador for Lululemon. Oh and she’s also written a kick-ass book called Life Tonic. 

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Her Instagram bio encourages you to “Find your voice & ROAR 🐯 be fearlessly you!” which the tiger in me loves.

Jody agreed to talk to me while I was making bolognese for my two boys at peak potential witching hour post-school run, when they were whining in the background (along with an incessant PAW Patrol soundtrack…). It shows her professionalism and grace that she put up with me saying “what do you need sweetheart?”, “yes, you can watch the next episode”, “Do you need a wee?” and “Have you done a poo?”  intermittently during in our conversation without batting an eyelid or losing her flow.

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This is our chat, hastily scrawled in my notebook while creating dinner with the other hand, so some of her answers may be generally paraphrased through the mists of spaghetti, but the gist is there, even if I lack some of the eloquence (forgive me Jody).

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Life Tonic is a “modern toolkit to heal your life and soothe your soul”. I love how the tools are easy to dip into in the moment, or explore on a  deeper level. What tool would you recommend for someone experiencing heightened levels of anxiety in their day to day?

When we experience anxiety, we lose all sense of our rational being, the logical reality that we’re in, and instead the world becomes a very scary place. We tend to want to escape our body in that moment, to flee from whatever is scaring us. So, it’s good to have a tool which will bring us back into our body, and back into the moment.

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A great tool for this is from Emotional Freedom Technique: make a fist, and with your fist, begin tapping on your collarbone. It brings you back into your body in that moment; it’s calming – it can bring you back to a space where you were a baby being soothed by being patted on your back.

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Often anxiety is a manifestation of a fear of lost control: by tapping, we feel like we’re regaining a sense of control over our body and our emotions. It sends calming signals to the Amygdala structure of the brain – the area that controls emotions, feelings, memories. When we’re anxious, the amygdala sends us into fight or flight mode, creating a whole load of emotional and physical stress responses.

Tapping resets your energy, and brings you back into the present moment. It’s also really easy to do: you can do it anywhere, at any time.

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[by the way I tried this tool with Maurice when he was having a 5 year old anger explosion, and it really worked. Magic]

The Ego mind is like a badly behaved puppy, it’s slightly crazy and energetic, and you wouldn’t want it to be in charge of your thoughts and feelings. By tapping, you can regain control over your yappy dog.

Another tool which takes a bit longer to explore, so more useful for a deeper connection to your anxiety rather than for using in the moment, is this: When I’m feeling anxious, I place my hand where I can sense my anxiety rising. For me that’s often my belly. I actually take time to feel it, to hang out with it. I don’t want to suppress it or ask it to leave, I actually give it space to release on its own.

This, of course, is really uncomfortable. It’s not fun to sit with emotions which cause you discomfort, so we usually push them away. Sitting with it, observing it, offers it a real space for growth and might spark some understanding of action you need to take, changes you need to make. Or simply give you the understanding of your emotional response in a more rational, calm way.

That’s all anxiety is: it’s like excitement but with more unknowns. Basically our bodies are excited and the Ego starts to question it, and as there are no immediate answers we read it as fear and label it negative. It’s in that potential room for growth where we are most scared, which is why we avoid it. Raw emotional responses make it feel like a bad thing. When actually, if we soften our response and sit with it, it can actually bring great things forward.

 

I love that. I’m going to try to sit with challenging feelings to allow them to release and see what stems from that from now on! Another emotional minefield that tends to plague women is imposter syndrome. What would you suggest to someone who is struggling with feeling like they are a fraud who can’t quite compete, doesn’t match up to her colleagues/fellow mums?

These feelings and thoughts come from a deeply held belief system around your worth. Your narrative which links all of your experiences together, creating a story woven around your outlook on life. Imposter syndrome, and feeling like you fall short of ideals, is a symptom of your outlook and your own narrative thread.

When you’re in a moment of doubt, saying things out loud, like “I’m here!”, “I’m back!” enables you to notice the negative patterns of thought, and brings you back. Grounds you.

Also – it’s so important to understand that we’re ALL figuring things out. Everyone is struggling on some level, about something. Just do the best that you can. Show up. Be vulnerable. Lift yourself out of negative patterns by reframing the energy that you’re putting out around things.

I always try to reframe by being grateful for these challenges: for that difficulty, that “stuckness”. A grateful acceptance that this means that things are moving and growing, pushing you. Struggling is ok  – it signals growth and change. Reframe it as curiosity and challenge: doors are opening. You just have to choose to go through them.

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I love the idea of reframing responses to reactions. What are your own personal non-negotiable wellness tools? Things that you never allow yourself to shirk?

For me, meditation is without doubt the non-negotiable. I make time to meditate every day, without fail. For me, it’s almost a directional piece: I begin to meditate without concrete intention usually, and use it as a mind space to allow what’s troubling me to speak up and find room to release, to ask myself questions, and to find those answers offered up.

Meditation is, above all, about creating space. We are so bombarded with ideas, with jobs, with busy-ness. What we all need to cultivate is some calm and space so we can observe our creativity and allow ourselves room to grow. Meditation offers that space.

 

Jody is a true inspiration, not least because she is an unashamed tree-hugger and I love her for this alone. Find out more about her events and speaking, and her book, here. And connect with her on Instagram here.