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

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

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

www.wellnesstoolkit.co.uk
Anya Hayes Your Wellness Toolkit

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

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

“Today, I promise to be kind to myself”

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

“Today, I will believe in myself”

“Today, I will be my own best friend”

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

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

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

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

xxx

Pilates for Pregnancy
Pilates for Pregnancy by Anya HAyes

 

 

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Mindfulness for mums – meditation for perinatal wellness

Mindfulness for mums – meditation for perinatal wellness

I’m so delighted and proud to say that I have passed my first level of Teaching Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy with the British Mindfulness Institute. My own mental health as a mum has been so powerfully enhanced by MBCT techniques in the writing of The Supermum Myth (such a huge learning curve for me and one that definitely has changed my life!), and I can’t wait to bring this knowledge and insight into my pre- and postnatal workshops and classes. I’m also launching my MIND-BODY for Mums toolkit next year, so watch this space.

Here’s a mini meditation which you can do daily (multiple times a day if you need to!), to check in with your body, your mind, your tension, your heart. Even just building in awareness day to day can help ease any pressure and allow you a bit of insight about how you’re doing, which can keep the pot from boiling over. A mini mediation is perfect for feeling like it’s not something ‘extra’ to add to your To Do list but something that you can slot into the gaps. 2 minutes here, 3 minutes there. Can be done anytime, anyplace – at softplay, in the playground, wherever you are.

woman in grey pants holding black and purple stroller
Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on Pexels.com

Mind, Body, Heart Mini Meditation

Sit up a bit taller. Softly close your eyes, or gaze down at the floor. Take 3 deep, slow, conscious breaths. As you breathe:

Mind: Take a moment to notice what thoughts are here. Stories, images, planning, memories, critique…what is the narrative that is most loud today? Notice your thoughts, and imagine each as a butterfly. Are there thousands of butterflies jostling for space? Can you notice them, and allow them to release? Are there some that just stick around refusing to budge? Try not to get caught up in your thoughts, simply let them be noticed. See them as separate mental events, not as part of you. Try not to judge or label: they aren’t good, or bad, they just are. 

Heart: What emotions are you feeling? Can you identify what is the ‘loudest’ emotion present? Anger? Sadness? Happiness? A mixture? How strong is the energy from your emotion? Do you feel any physical sensations related to it, once you’ve noticed it?

Body: check in with your body. Notice what’s happening – what’s the weather like? How do you feel? Tension? Aches, pains? How’s your energy level? Don’t try to change anything or judge what you notice, just be open to it, listen to what your body is saying.

Now, continue to breathe and expand your awareness to your whole self – what are you feeling right now in mind, heart, body, breath. Breathe, deeply, fully, here for as long as you have available – be that 1 minute or 20.

Allow this spacious awareness to continue to take in sensations, thoughts, emotions as they arrive and as they leave, like waves onto the shore.

Yoga and Mindfulness
Yoga and Mindfulness Retreat in Andalucía

Pregnancy workshop this week

Join me for a pregnancy workshop in Peckham this Thursday introducing a toolkit of tips to help you release anxiety and soothe your body as you enter the next phase of your life.

Your Confident Mothermorphosis

This workshop uses techniques from Pilates and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) to connect to your body and calm your mind and spirit, enhance your feelings of self-compassion and confidence in the journey ahead. Including a guided meditation and breathing techniques which will equip you well both for your birth experience and into early motherhood.

I’m a pre- and postnatal Pilates and wellness coach specialising in pelvic floor and diastasis recti. I’m also a Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) teacher, weaving together body–mind work to help alleviate the mental health issues that motherhood and pregnancy can present, such as anxiety, self-doubt and overwhelm. My mission is to help mums feel stronger, happier and calmer.

My books include Pregnancy, The Naked Truth, The Supermum Myth: Overcome Anxiety, Ditch Guilt, Embrace Imperfection, and my latest book Pilates for Pregnancy.

Get in touch – are you pregnant, or a new mum? Do you suffer from anxiety or a constant feeling of not quite achieving enough? Are you feeling physical under par? I think I can help – you’re not alone x x

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

Once postnatal, always postnatal

Once postnatal, always postnatal

There’s a general misconception about the “postnatal period” – differing opinions that it lasts from around 6 weeks…some say 9 months, others a year.

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Well, I say, if you’ve ever been pregnant and given birth, you are postnatal forever. Pregnancy and birth have profound effects on our systems, on our emotions and bodymind. And there is no “returning to normal” after this, there is only a new normal being established.

This is not to say that you are forever weakened. Not at all – only that if you don’t allow yourself space to heal properly, to strengthen adequately and completely, if you rush it, take on too much too soon, or skip over the basics, you may carry with you effects of your pregnancy and birth forever, in weakened core and unbalanced muscles, in compromised breathing power.

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Particularly useful for the first days, weeks (and years!) after you’ve had your baby are exercises that allow you to switch off tension, soften and tune into your breath. We never stop needing to learn to relax and soothe your body and soul. This in turn will stimulate your circulation and therefore your healing: Legs up the wall, Pelvic floor: Deep belly breathing, releasing back over a yoga bolster or big ball.

A big Pilates ball (Swiss ball) can be a great help in these early days: not least as a way of soothing a crying baby: gently bouncing or rolling your pelvis in circles or figures of 8 on your ball while holding your newborn or with newborn in the sling is a lovely way of mimicking the movement your baby is used to in the womb, and a great way of settling. It is also a good way of establishing a gentle pelvic floor lift and naturally encouraging your stabilising postural muscles to activate. Make sure you are securely balanced with your feet fully connected down to the ground, or place the ball up against a wall if you feel at all insecure with your balance.

Your pelvic floor

Your pelvic floor has been through a lot. Nine months (maybe more) of pregnancy followed by being battered by your baby’s head pushing through the birth canal, possibly having stitches or tears. Your perineum will be feeling very bruised. Even if you had a caesarean, your pelvic floor will have been under immense pressure throughout your third trimester.

Although you might not think it’s appropriate if you’re sore and tired, pelvic floor awareness “exercises” can and should start around 24 hours after birth. If you’ve had stitches don’t worry about disturbing them by starting pelvic floor work, actually the opposite is true. Trauma to the pelvic floor can begin to heal by encouraging blood circulation to the area, which will help to reduce swelling. As your healing progresses and you become more mobile, start to “exercise” your pelvic floor in different positions: lying down, sitting, standing. Think about your pelvic floor in your regular daily activities which is when you most need them: when you’re standing up from sitting, picking your baby up, pushing your baby’s buggy, carrying shopping while putting your baby in the car seat, etc. Remember it’s never too late to begin to heal your pelvic floor! Even 20 years postnatally you can make some difference in pelvic floor health with dedicated practice. The pelvic floor responds beautifully to care and attention. It fares less well with a blasé attitude of ignoring its needs and hoping they go away.

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I really recommend downloading the Squeezy app, which has regular prompts and comprehensive information about pelvic floor exercise, how to locate your pelvic floor properly, how to learn to release it. Most importantly, to remember to include it into your daily repertoire of self care as a non-negotiable just like teeth brushing.

And – however many years postnatal you are, it’s always worth seeing a women’s health physio – check out Mummy MOT to find one in your area.

Your emotional health

It’s a rollercoaster time, the newborn phase…and motherhood! It’s a watershed of all of the anticipation of the past nearly year, finally holding your baby in your arms (and even more if you’ve been trying for a while). You will probably feel exhilarated and ecstatic. But you also might feel pummelled by your experience, a bit shocked and really, really tired. Be honest with those close to you, and try to be gentle with yourself. Be careful about allowing hundreds of visitors in to see the baby if you really don’t feel up to it. It is an immensely joyful and lovely time taking your baby home, but it is also unprecedentedly stressful, and if you’re trying to establish breastfeeding it can have a detrimental effect to have visitors vying for your baby’s cuddles.

Give yourself a break if you don’t feel 100% happy every moment. If you are feeling very on edge, anxious, or detached and depressed, reach out to your health visitor or GP and ask what support there is available. There should be no stigma to mental health issues postnatally, so please don’t succumb to “I’m fine” syndrome, if you’re anything but. Each phase of motherhood brings different challenges, things get easier but something else always gets harder. Your sleep deprivation might accumulate and have an effect on your resilience. So be kind to yourself. Always come back to your breathing tools, be aware of the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety.

You might feel low or even be despairing about your postnatal body. But remember this time of recovery is so crucial that you will reap the most rewards if you don’t rush it. Try to go against the societal grain and cultivate some compassion for your amazing wonderful body which has done so much miraculous work over the past year. IT TAKES TIME to recover your strength. And, like it or not, HIIT, “body shreds” and Power Pramming is not the way forward initially, which can be a bitter pill to swallow if you were a gym bunny pre-children. Be patient with yourself. Be the tortoise not the hare. It is really important to take the time to recover well and fully from childbirth, to help prevent problems with future pregnancies and in your pelvic floor for life.

Why Pilates is so perfect postnatally

Pilates focuses on releasing tension, breathing, and strengthening the deep abdominal muscles and pelvic floor, it will help you restore and bring you back to strength and functionality. With Pilates you heal your body from the inside, correcting your alignment and optimising your body functions once more. You begin to learn about your body, reconnecting can help foster a positive feeling about your body – which is particularly important if you have any sense that your body has “let you down”. Being a mum is hard work, physically hard graft, and Pilates helps to iron out the demands small people put on you, and offer you a coat of resilience.

Here’s the lowdown on what you need to know after you’ve had your baby – whenever that was!

  • Breathing is the starting point for your recovery, physical and mentalYour breathing is so important to enable you to release tension and anxiety, to allow your body space to recover from your birth experience. 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 has evacuated the space between them.
  • NO SIT UPS. NO CRUNCHES. NO PLANKS. These are strictly contra-indicated in the early stages of your postnatal recovery, due to weaknesses caused by diastasis recti, and due to causing an increase in intra-abdominal pressure which in turn increases the load placed on your pelvic floor.
  • Diastasis recti. The superficial layer of your abdominals (your rectus abdominis – your six pack) has become separated due to stretching of the linea alba “fascia”, the connective tissue that holds the two bands of muscles together. Trying to “strengthen” these abs to close the gap is not the solution. We need to strengthen the deeper stabilising muscles: the pelvic floor, the transversus abdominis, and, fundamentally, get the diaphragm firing properly.
  • Bum deal. Your pelvis has taken most of the burden of carrying your baby, so we need to give it some strong scaffolding. Your hormones are still flooding your system, which will keep your ligaments and joints unstable for up to 9 months (and if you are breastfeeding, potentially longer), so it is important to regain strength and functionality in your glute muscles, to stabilize your lower back and hips. They are particularly important if you want to eventually get back into high impact movement such as HIIT and running.
  • 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. Plus, you will do a lot of lifting and bending when you have small children so it is important to strengthen the posterior chain of your muscles – the muscles at the back of your body so important for good posture – especially if you are breastfeeding. Your posture also has an influence on Diastasis Recti, and the relative pull on your abdominal muscles from your daily movements.

How do you feel since having children? Are you preparing for birth/pregnancy? Has this article helped? I’d love to know! DM me or comment below xxx

My next book Pilates for Pregnancy is available for preorder now.

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You’ve just had a baby! What now?!

You’ve just had a baby! What now?!

It’s a rollercoaster time, the newborn phase. It’s a watershed of all of the anticipation of the past nearly-year, finally holding your baby in your arms (and even more if you’ve been trying for a while). You will probably feel exhilarated and ecstatic. But you also might feel pummelled by your experience, a bit shocked and really, really tired. Be honest with those close to you, and try to be gentle with yourself. Be careful about allowing hundreds of visitors in to see the baby if you really don’t feel up to it. It is an immensely joyful and lovely time taking your baby home, but it is also unprecedentedly stressful, and if you’re trying to establish breastfeeding it can have a detrimental effect to have visitors vying for your baby’s cuddles.

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Give yourself a break if you don’t feel 100 per cent happy every moment. Emotions run high and ‘baby blues’ are to be expected a few days after birth, usually coinciding with your milk fully coming in (whether you breastfeed or not) and the exhaustion of 24-hour days taking its toll. If you are feeling very on edge, anxious, or detached and depressed by the time your six-week check comes around, please reach out to your health visitor or GP and ask what support there is available. There should be no stigma to mental health issues postnatally, so please don’t succumb to ‘I’m fine’ syndrome if you’re anything but.

Keep a close eye on your mental health for the first year of your baby’s life – and beyond. Each phase of motherhood brings different challenges; things get easier but something else always gets harder. Your sleep deprivation might accumulate and have an effect on your resilience. So be kind to yourself. Always come back to your breathing tools, and your awareness of the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety.

 

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Now is NOT the time to be thinking about ‘getting your body back’. You have your body now and it’s incredible. Look what it created!

Clients often say to me that in the postnatal period they feel like their body isn’t their own. You might have loved your baby bump, and now your belly wobbles like a deflating water balloon. It’s hard to come to terms with, and you must be patient with yourself. Internally it feels like everything’s been swapped around, as if all the furniture in your house has been surreptitiously rearranged, and maybe a supporting wall has been knocked down. I will not hear of you wanting to get a at tummy or be back in your skinny jeans. This is about connecting to your body, re- establishing your breathing, your pelvic floor, your awesome abdominals that have housed your baby for the past nearly-year.

You might feel low or even despairing about your postnatal body. But please, this time of recovery is so crucial that you will reap the most rewards if you don’t rush it. Try to go against the societal grain and cultivate some compassion for your body, which has done so much miraculous work over the past year. IT TAKES TIME to recover your strength. And, like it or not, HIIT, ‘body shreds’ and Power Pramming are not the way forward initially, which can be a bitter pill to swallow if you were a gym bunny pre-children.

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Be patient with yourself. Be the tortoise not the hare. It is really important to take the time to recover well and fully from childbirth, to help prevent problems with future pregnancies and in your pelvic floor for life.

My new book Pilates for Pregnancy is out in August – preorder it here!

Perfect Night’s Sleep

Perfect Night’s Sleep

Sleep. The number one thing that most mums yearn for more of. What if you could bottle it, hey?

Well…I think that NEOM Organics are pretty much there with their Sleep range including new gorgeous skincare which has launched this year.

I’ve been a fan of NEOM for years – it’s my husband’s failsafe for birthday and anniversary presents. When I escaped for a 4-day yoga retreat in Ibiza with my best friend for our 40th birthdays, I took with me the Sleep set including pillow spray and hand cream and, I swear… I still fantasise about that 4-night sleep, it was bloody amazing. Every night I spritzed my pillow, put in earplugs, and BOOM (or…something that sounds more restful than boom…), a whole night of restful rejuvenating proper actual sleep awaited me. It was honestly the best few days of sleep I can ever recall in my life (although, ok, I hadn’t slept for longer than 2 hours for 15 months by this point so my benchmark might have been fairly low, lolz) . I still find the Neom Sleep scent so powerful for conjuring up immediately that memory of calm and peace in an instant. Aaaaahhhhhh. Ibiza, here I come…

So, I’m completely delighted to be able to announce that I’m going to be part of the NEOM wellbeing expert panel as their Mums Wellness & Pilates expert.

I’ve been using the Sleep range fairly religiously for the past month to counterbalance the relentlessness of being mum of two wonderful and bonkers boys… who appear not to need as much sleep as I feel is just and right for my life (deep sigh).

When I had my first baby my skincare routine went out the window…and that was part of my real loss of identity because up until this point I had been bordering on obsessed about my skincare…and suddenly no time (let alone sleep) was devoted to beauty. I became really craggy and there was certainly no radiance to speak of – no glow from within as if a light had been switch off. This really affected my self esteem and became a bit of a negative cycle of loss of identity and self love: loss of self care strategies led me to feel I wasn’t worth self care strategies as there was no point as I had so far to go to get “back to normal”.

I’ve since learnt that I really need to access this part of myself, looking after my skin and the face that faces the world, in order to feel “like me”. So when Freddie my littlest was born I chose to make time every night to cleanse properly and give myself a facial massage.

Do you use face oils? What’s your skincare regime – do you have one? Lots of people are a bit nervous of putting oil onto their face, worried that it will make their skin feel greasy, but it really doesn’t. It feels gorgeous and indulgent… Oils can actually help to stabilise and regulate the overproduction of sebum.

The Perfect Night’s Sleep facial oil contains a beautiful blend of skin-nurturing essential oils. Rosehip oil which is bursting with nourishing fatty acids to help with skin’s moisture levels, pigmentation. It’s an incredible antioxidant and one of the best ingredients to help dry skin emerge blinking with a glow after this long winter. Almond oil softens, calms and helps retain moisture.

The oil is super relaxing, smells sublime and a dream to massage into skin. I love it – It’s the perfect blend for a mini facial.  I use it after my nightly cleansing routine, just before bed. It’s my evening ritual to pamper myself and “reset” my skin (or my nerves after a frazzled day!).

Depending on how dry my skin is, or how dull or tired it looks (hmm, let’s not discuss that too deeply right now…), I put anything from two to six drops in the palm of my hand, take a few lungfuls of calming deep breaths, fully inhaling the sleep-inducing fragrance of the oils. Then I rub the oil between my hands to warm it up, and give my face a really good massage. I like to work it deeply into the skin with enough pressure to stimulate circulation which is really nourishing for glowing skin. A good facial massage increases the blood supply to the face, giving it a healthy glow. It also helps relieve tension from your facial muscles which we hold onto without even realising (bitchy resting face, anyone?). Massage can even help increase muscle tone and strength. Daily facial massage can work wonders for your skin, plus it’s immensely calming as a ritual before bed – win win.

I have a bedtime routine, what’s yours? I mean, we do for our children so why not for ourselves, right? Do you have a bedtime night time routine which helps you release the pressures of the day, switch off – and sleep better?

Modern life (and technology) makes it so hard to fully switch off, plus I work from home, so often the work/life balance falls well out of kilter. So I’m now much more conscious of making sure I have a non-negotiable routine in place that helps me unwind before bed. Last year I stopped taking my phone into the bedroom – this means I don’t look at Instagram or emails right before falling asleep – scrolling is never conducive to a good night’s rest with no anxiety! My phone lives in the kitchen, and quite frankly who needs an alarm clock when your children are always up by 6am?!

Soothing and calming scents (lavender, chamomile, jasmine) transport my mind and body instantly towards sleep mode, so I love NEOM body oils and lighting a candle in the bedroom in the hour before bed. Before laying my head on the pillow I use the pillow spray and have a few minutes of deeeeeeeep breathing, calming the mind. I don’t call it my “meditation practice” but clearing the mind by taking a broom to sweep out anxiety and clutter is meditation and definitely lays the foundations for a better night.

If I’ve got a bit more time to play with for my evening routine, I always use magnesium salts or Neom’s Perfect Night’s Sleep Bath & Shower Drops in a lovely hot bath.

For the past 15 years I’ve used hot cloth cleansing balms such as Eve Lom, Organic Pharmacy carrot butter cleanser, and Neals Yard Therapies Wild Rose Beauty Balm as a staple in my cleansing and evening self care routine. So it was pretty much a given that I was going love the new Neom Sleep cleansing balm.

This is my ritual every night. Every night – however much motherhood mayhem is going on. It prepares me mentally for bed and means I sleep better (even if that sleep is interrupted by renegade small people it can still be a restful overall experience if I gift myself this pre-bed time) and my skin definitely looks better. It makes me feel calmer and more ready to face the world, carving out just that non-negotiable 7 minutes of s p a c e. And it lays the foundation for realising that self care is the least selfish thing in the world – when I’m calmer I’m a much, MUCH nicer person to be around.

Tell me about your sleep rituals! What do you do to stay rested and sane?

I’d love to hear

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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New Year Wellness toolkit

New Year Wellness toolkit

New year, new you, all the headlines shout enthusiastically. We might write energetic resolutions in our new 2018 journals, or we might shrink further back into the sofa clutching our Merlot and saying bah humbug. Whatever your approach to the new year, you can guarantee that there’s an element of transition about the passing of December into January, an anxiety or a sense of hope, whichever way you frame it.

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My approach to resolutions this year is to call them Daily Resolutions rather than New Year’s Resolutions. I always feel that setting a daily intention is far more effective than creating a huge stone block etched with long-term goals, which seem unattainable and unrealistic once you hit the first inevitable pothole in the road towards it – the first runny cold day that;s a barrier to your Run Every Day, or the first toddler sickness meaning that you don’t get to the gym. And once we’re tripped up at that hurdle it becomes easier to slink back into “old ways” and then the inner critic takes the microphone berating your lack of achievement.

This week I spoke to the lovely Zoe Blaskey who has founded Motherkind.co, to offer mums a way to “reconnect to you in the mayhem of motherhood”. I love Zoe’s ethos – closely aligned to mine – about how we need to be gentle with ourselves and simply learn how to see the positive in what we’re doing rather than settling on the relentlessness and the feelings of failure that can characterise our daily mum lives. I had the honour of recording a podcast with Zoe, so watch this space for when you can listen to it. We talked about self care and how mothers can sometimes fall so down their own lists that it doesn’t even occur to us to take stock of how balanced our emotions are, what our internal dialogue is, how our body is feeling. That niggly back and neck might be crying out for you to rest, to take some time to breathe, to lengthen and meditate, to clear out the clutter of your mind and offer yourself some space. Zoe asked me what my go-to selfcare tools were in the moment, when things get all sweary and overwhelming. So here they are:

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  1. Breathe…so obvious, so boring…so underused as a soothing tool. We often live permanently in a state of fight or flight, permanently attached to our phones and the stress inducing white noise that is coming from them. We never think to stop and offer ourselves a moment of peace and pause. So for me, breathing is my immediate soother. Take a deep breath in through the nose for a count of 5. Long, wide, full breath feeling it releasing back into the ribcage and sides. And then sigh the breath out through your mouth, as if you’re fogging a window in front of you. The longer exhalation is a trigger for the parasympathetic nervous system to step in and take over: to take your hand, stroke your brow, make you some chicken noodle soup. This is your rest and digest system. And an essential counterbalance to your fight or flight. Humans were created to be alert for danger, for that sabre toothed tiger in the bushes. We need to look for danger as otherwise we would be eaten. But now, that seeking danger manifests itself in anxiety attacks in Tesco, or panicking about your parenting decisions. No longer life or death, but with the same physiological stress responses. So breathing lifts you out of that spiral, coaxes you back to peace.
  2. Move. Moving my body is an essential. Imagine a pond. If there is no fresh water introduced to the pond over time, it becomes stagnant. The same goes for your body if you don’t encourage circulation, blood flow, fresh oxygen, a bit of a massage for your internal organs. Think about a cat, when it gets up from a nap it wouldn’t dream of not stretching. Humans have forgotten this instinctive movement need. Release mental stress by moving your physical body. Whatever that means for you: star jumps, squats – I always squat wile the kettle is boiling – roll downs, some yoga. Squeeze it into your day, little and often. Think about movement not “exercise” and you will reframe how you see your body, It might encourage lightbulb moments for things that are troubling you as you shift your mental energy as well. Move move move.
  3. Verbalise. I always vocalise when I feel I’m at meltdown point. If I’m in the swirly whirl of a tornado induced by toddler craziness, no sleep, lost keys. I catch myself in the moment and say “it’s ok. It’s ok to feel stressed. You’re exhausted and overwhelmed”…say whatever you’re feeling, and say it to yourself calmly and out loud. Apart from anything else, it might make you feel silly and immediately release the charge of the moment. But it also validates what is happening and allows you a mindful pause. It’s ok to have those moments of anger, stress, chaos. Verbalising it makes it easier to pass.
  4. Drink a glass of water. So simple. So easy to forget. Go and have one now.
  5. Green space. If you’re feeling stressed, go outside and find yourself a tree to gaze at. Or a cloud passing by. Something not man made. Something that will lift you out of your moment and into the universe. Forest bathe.
  6. Gratitude: a longer term tool, not necessarily for the moment, although looking for silver linings is a skill to be developed on the go if you can. Every day I write a gratitude list. The smallest things that were highlights: a cuddle from Freddie, a hot cup of tea. Or bigger things, a work offer, something unexpected in the post. intangible things: long term friends and their support and love; or tangible: the roof over your head. Gratitude enables you to foster a more optimistic outlook every day, which will inform your daily actions, decisions, choices every day. Which will create a positive cycle in your life, and crucially, enable you to develop a clock of resilience for those times in life which are more challenging and stressful.
  7. Meditation: this one is a bit Woo woo, and lots of people roll their eyes and switch off. “I can’t meditate, I think too much”…well, that IS meditation. Mediation is shaking out the dust in your carpet. Think about your mind as gathering years of dust from your daily thoughts, actions, events, heartbreak, triumph. If you never shake it out, it will just layer and layer and stay there and fester and become vague and unhelpful. Meditation allows space for it to bubble up and be assimilated. Released. Digested. Forgiven. It doesn’t have to be a seated Buddha incense type meditation, although I that works for you then great. It can simply be SPACE. 2 minutes, 30 seconds of space and intent focus on your mind. Focus rather than inattention and distraction (phone, anyone?). Mindful rather than mindless. Sometimes uncomfortable, rather than numbing and avoiding. You will find clarity and peace. Go on, try it. Breathe.

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I’m speaking at the Lucky Things event this Saturday, I was so excited to be invited by Sunita to talk about all things wellbeing in body and mind. I’m really looking forward to it, can’t wait to see you all there, so if you’re coming, come and say hi!

What are your selfcare tools? Do you have a toolkit at your disposal? You may have one without actually noticing it: gathering together consciously what seems to help you in those FFS moments into a selfcare toolkit list will make it easier to access it when you need it.

Why not make 2018 the year that you set an intention every day, to look to the positive, to break down your huge goals into smaller daily intentions, measurable and realistic.

Here’s to a healthy and happy 2018.

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Let’s Talk Miscarriage

Let’s Talk Miscarriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOVE –  HOPE – GRATITUDE – CONNECTION – SHARING – HEALING