Alternative Ways of Being #10: Tara Brach Meditation

I’ve been doing a Tara Brach meditation every day this Christmas holiday and the one I did today included a poem by Roger Keyes that I’d love to share.

Taken from Letting Life Live Through You meditation, Tara closed with an extract from Keyes’ poem, Hokusai Says.

Tara Brach is an American psychologist and so wise and connected on all matters of the human spirit so her meditations and talks are deeply profound while still being accessible as the language and approach is non-fluffy and simple.

I would encourage anyone to give her meditations a try, especially if you’re looking to experience meditation and not sure where to start – you might as well start with the best!

My ongoing Alternative Ways of Being blog series is where I share inspirations on interesting ways of thinking and living.

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Alternative Ways of Being #9

As we start Lockdown 2.0 in England I wanted to share a BBC Radio 4 Thought of the Day (from 2nd Nov 2020) on how we can reframe challenging situations in our minds, which is so relevant for now.

Rev Dr Sam Wells aptly references Terry Waite CBE, a British man who was taken hostage in Lebanon in 1987 and held in captivity until 1991.

He says: “Terry Wait had three resolutions: no regrets, no self pity, no false sentimentality.

“In other words, don’t dwell on how the past could have been different, don’t tell a false story of the present that makes it all about you, and don’t take refuge in a fantasy about the future. Those convictions got him through four years of captivity.”

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Turning 41 and My Fitness Story in The Telegraph

As I celebrate my 41st birthday this weekend it’s got me thinking about the privilege of age rather than the horror of it and how content and happy I feel, compared to what society and cultural norms suggest I should be feeling (without traditional markers such as marriage or children). I wrote about this in an Instagram post here.

Feeling content at this point in life is partly down to figuring out what brings out the best in me and mapping my life accordingly. I’m fortunate to have had the freedom and capacity to nurture these aspects in my life: an interesting career that’s evolved with me, a fun and rewarding fitness journey that keeps me challenged and striving for more, and a strong community of friends who share similar interests and ways of thinking, as well as family close by and many other things.

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Thoughtful Tips for Challenging Times

There’s definitely a lot of information and advice being fired out from all places right now to help people during this tricky time with COVID.

But the best advice I’ve read so far comes from the World Health Organisation (WHO), which is not coincidentally, the best place we should be turning to for scientifically-backed, expert advice for how to manage and deal with the situation anyway.

I thought I’d summarise and share their latest notes in case anyone had missed them in the media as they are genuinely useful.

The tips cover basic nutrition (eat a health and nutritious diet, don’t smoke and limit your consumption of alcohol) as well as a few more interesting ones on exercise, working environment, mental health and relationships, which I’ve shared here.

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Super Easy Breathing Exercise to Help Stress, Anxiety and Sleep

breath victor-garcia-BiGS_w9t7FU-unsplash

I wrote this post a while ago, long before Coronavirus kicked in, but it’s been sitting in my drafts until now, when suddenly it seemed more relevant than ever to post it.

More than a few friends recently have talked about their stress and anxiety, with levels ranging from I can’t get dressed in the morning without crying, to I feel so overwhelmed at work I can’t sleep properly at night.

So I thought I’d write a few words about a very simple breathing exercise that’s not only helped me drift off more peacefully at night, but has been scientifically proven to help increase relaxation and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

How does it work? Deep, slow and controlled breathing has been shown to activate the body’s relaxation response, leading to changes in the autonomic, parasympathetic and central nervous system.  

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The Lowdown On Yoga Nidra – Yogic Sleep

Photo by Alice Moore on Unsplash

Yoga nidra is an old yogic practice that takes you to a deeply relaxed state between waking, sleeping and dreaming, and can be quite transformative. I’ve been doing yoga nidra as part of my yoga practice for over ten years now and as more of today’s teachers and studios are talking about and offering it, it seems fitting to share the benefits of yoga nidra and how it’s helped me.  

Translated from Sanskirt, yoga nidra means yogic sleep. It’s a guided relaxation technique that leads to a light withdrawal of external senses while connecting to internal awareness and still maintaining full consciousness. Through a systematic sequence of verbal instructions, it helps to release physical and mental tension, relieve stress as well as help with issues such as insomnia and anxiety. 

My teacher, Swami Pragyamurti at the Satyananda Yoga Centre in London treats the advanced classes to a monthly session and beginner classes to one a week, so I’ve experienced firsthand how amazing the practice is.  Now that I’m teacher training and learning to deliver yoga nidra myself, I can share its incredible benefits and see how much people really do love it. 

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Introducing Fjaka – the Mediterranean way of mindful living

saint-iris-adriatica-skincare

Saint Iris Adriatica, a luxury green beauty brand, takes its inspiration from the Adriatic sea, mountains, thermal spas and wild spaces.

Founder Sanela Lazic says the brand is all about channelling fjaka [pronounced: fyak.ka], which is a relaxed state that embodies the spirit and wellbeing of Croatian life.

Sanela has taken traditional Adriatic folk remedies and combined them with natural ingredients to create products that help to strengthen skin against the stresses of modern life and encourage a more balanced state of body and mind.

I asked Sanela to talk more about fjaka….

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7 reasons why I gave up freelance life for a full-time role

hustling for work freelance vs fulltime

After ten years of freelance life as a writer and online editor for national press I decided to go in-house, full time and permanent. A big move. But it was a decision I’d been contemplating for perhaps 18 months or so, and finally the right job came along, as commercial editor at Hearst.

People usually do it the other way around – they’ll spend years grinding away at the 9-5 and finally release themselves to new and more flexibility ways of working through a freelance role. For me it was the opposite.

I’d spent years carving an amazing freelance career that worked with my passions in health, beauty, fitness and wellness. I’d worked my way up from beauty writer/assistant to web editor and digital director and eventually set up my own digital consultancy advising small to medium brands on digital and social media projects.

I had freedom, flexibility, fun, countless perks and great contacts but I knew it was time to switch. Here’s why…..

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Alternative Ways of Being #8: Empowering Self-Talk

sarah powell international womens day
‘That inner critic voice you hear that tells you you’re rubbish, that you’re never as good as so and so, or you’ll never be good enough to do blah, is talking bollocks. It’s lying and you should never listen to it.’ 
– Sarah Powell
Fantastic words of wisdom dished out by Sarah Powell @thisissarahpowell at our Hearst offices on International Women’s Day this year. We regularly have guest speakers and Sarah was on point!

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7 reasons how yoga can improve mental health

Yoga is one of the cheapest and most effective means of releasing trauma, stress and emotions from the body.

Symptoms of trauma and post-traumatic stress-disorder (PTSD) include anxiety, nightmares, sleep disturbance, withdrawal, loss of concentration, stress-related physical ailments, anger and aggression. These issues can easily impact a person’s ability to function in society.

Here’s why simple techniques from classical yoga are powerfully therapeutic.

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Is yoga an exercise?

Is yoga an exercise blog

Is yoga an exercise blog

It’s a common misconception that yoga is an exercise. When people hear or talk about yoga it’s almost always referred to and understood as a form of exercise. But is it? Well, not really. So what is the difference between yoga and exercise?

While exercise and yogic postures (asana) share similarities in that they both involve movement, (most) exercise works on the sympathetic system and yoga (when done correctly) works on the parasympathetic system which is why it can be useful for people suffering from stress and anxiety. Both contribute to physical health but yoga relates to so much more than the physical. 

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Yoga for refugees – volunteering in Lebanon

lebanon refugee camps volunteering bekaa valley
Last year I spent a week in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley refugee camps on a yoga for refugees project with Tools for Inner Peace, a new charity which I’m now a trustee on, in collaboration with a local charity, Salam LADC 

Tools for Inner Peace is a long term project set up by Minna Järvenpää to enhance mental health and well-being among refugees in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley through simple, gentle yoga and relaxation techniques. I became involved as one of the charity’s trustees in 2016 and visited Lebanon in April 2017 to see some of the projects in action.

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6 Best Natural Sleep Products 

Viridian Cherry Night best natural sleep products

If you’re stressed out by sleepless nights you’re not alone. Apparently 56% of adults say lack of sleep is stressing them out*. April was Stress Awareness Month so here are my favourite natural sleep and relaxation products from supplements to sprays that I use, recommend and often write about.Wishing you a calmer and more peaceful night…

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An Experiment: The Benefits of Meditation

keep calm and breath...

I didn’t mean to put meditation to the test but last January I signed up to an eight-month meditation course and thought I’d better get a head start with some practice.

I’d already done a Vipassana (10-day silent meditation retreat) a few years ago but I thought the lessons were quite unsustainable, extreme and far removed from the realities of the everyday. This new meditation course promised to touch on different techniques so I was looking forward to it.

Also, at the start of the year I remember feeling utterly frazzled from too much work, strung out from a relationship breakup and tired of not getting enough rest.

So I decided to make a change and change my ways.

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Quote

Born to move…

Born to move

“Immobility is to the human body what rust is to the classic car. Stop moving long enough and your muscles will atrophy. Bones will weaken. Blood will clot. You will find it harder to concentrate and solve problems. Immobility is not merely a state closer to death: it hastens it.” 

–  Charles Montgomery author of Happy City, The Guardian Weekend, 2 November 2013.

Cooking as Therapy

Veggiestan Brighter shade of green

Slaving over a hot pot is often the ideal way to survive emotional woe. For me, cooking calms, relaxes and nourishes the soul, and there’s (usually) something delicious to eat at the end too.

Today was one of those days so I was pleased I could reach for a new vegetarian cook book I recently received as a birthday present: Veggiestan by Sally Butcher.

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Glow Girl – My new column on Healthista.com

Healthista.com Yanar Alkayat Glow Girl

Healthista.com alkaline diet yanar alkayat

Healthista.com is the brand new website for women’s health and every fortnight I’ll be writing a column under the name of Glow Girl. My first post was on the alkaline diet i.e. eating your greens, and why this no-diet diet is so good for health and glowing skin. Expect an honest story of bloated tummies and belchy bellies and new found ways to turn a new, greener leaf. Read it here.

As well as talking about how I coerced myself away from daily glasses of red wine and the foods that I personally keep on and off the menu, I also spoke to Natasha Corrett, founder of Honestly Healthy, a fantastic recipe book and food delivery service that celebrates alkaline eating.

Healthista.com is the brainchild of health journalist and author Anna Magee who I’ve been lucky to work with on and off for the past several years. We first met when I assisted her on Red magazine where she was Health Director and I was just beginning my career in editorial. We’ve kept in touch ever since and it’s fantastic that our paths have continued to cross and I’m now contributing to this impressive new site, which is right up my street.

Healthista.com offers a wealth of knowledge for women (and men!) who want to feel empowered by deeper health knowledge – whether it’s mind, body, beauty, nutrition, sex, fertility or surgery – this site has it covered. There’s also a huge list of health experts involved so you’ll never be short of renowned expertise on these essential topics.

Join me on the Glow Girl column each week as I unveil the must-have health and beauty secrets and my quest for inner health and outer beauty – and don’t hesitate to let me know what you think! You can follow the Healthista team on Twitter too – @HealthistaTV and myself on @YanarBeauty.

 

Treatment of the month: Mindful Massage

Treatment of the month - Mindful Massage

I reviewed a very interesting massage treatment for Natural Health  magazine recently which puts a totally new spin on a traditional massage. Instead of switching off, therapist Belinda Freeman encourages you to tune in and turn the mind on. The Mindful Massage (at Third Space, London) may sound like it defeats the object of having a massage but it’s actually quite clever and totally unique.

Belinda talks through the massage in a quiet, soft and soothing voice to keep you focussed on your body and breath. It’s totally guided so there’s little opportunity or space to let the mind wander, working in a similar way to some meditation where  you just focus on your breath. As the mind starts to drift off, she brings you back to the present and to the sensations of her touch.

She’s cleverly combined elements from yoga nidra (yoga sleep where you stay consciously focussed but your body is in deep relaxation) with the concept of mindfulness (being aware of thoughts, actions and emotions) as well as drawing on her 25 years of experience in Tai Chi, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, hypnotherapy, counselling and more.

Recommended? Yes, definitely. Try this massage if you’re having problems relaxing and need to de-stress and settle the mind. Not only do you get an excellent massage, worth the session in itself, but may discover a new way to increase focus, clarity and emotional stability. It’s great if you have experience of yoga nidra too as there are several similarities to relate to.

Available at Third Space gym in London. Check out Belinda’s profile on Third Space or her website Mindful Mind for more info. Let me know if you’ve tried anything like this before?

 

Stress-busting aromatherapy and massage

NYR aromatherapy massage course emma robertson

NYR massage aromatherapy course

Did you know the quality of an aromatherapy oil is affected by the quality of the soil and where/how the plant is sourced? Did you also know rose oil was once used as a hangover cure as well as a way to heal a broken heart? And, in addition to relaxation and sleep, essential oil of lavender can also soothe and heal cuts, bites and burns.

I soaked up these fantastic facts and more at the Neal’s Yard Remedies Introduction to Massage course which I was lucky enough to attend last weekend. With it being National Stress Awareness Day last week, alleviating stress was the focus of the day.

I highly recommend this one day course that runs twice a year, especially if you’re excited by the therapeutic benefits of essential oils and wish you could get more massage into your life. Led by Neal’s Yard Remedies Head of Massage, Elaine Tomkins, it’s relaxed and informative with oil blending in the morning and basic hand, neck, back and head massage techniques in the afternoon. Take a partner you like or love and you’ll have a giggle too.

Here I am with beauty freelancer Emma Robertson attempting to give a relaxing head massage but judging by the look on her face I could be causing more pain than pleasure!

NYR aromatherapy massage course emma robertson

How to cure stress with essential oils and aromatherapy:

Rose – it’s one of the most healing (for skin) and anxiety-relieving oils you can choose. Just a few drops with water in an oil burner can calm the mind and prepare it for sleep. My rose oil is burning now as I write…

NYR aromatherapy rose oil burner

It takes 60-100 rose petals to make just one drop of rose essential oil – this fact always makes me wonder how sustainable it is to produce natural rose oil, which is why it’s important to buy from brands that grow organically and show a commitment to the livelihood of growers and farm workers.

Neal’s Yard Remedies has a history of building impressive relationships with its raw materials suppliers and works with a cooperative in southern Turkey for its rose extracts, using organic farming methods and ensuring fair living wages.

Bergamot –  this oil is extracted from the rind of a small (inedible) pear-shaped fruit from a tiny citrus tree (commercially grown in Italy). Bergamot is apparently great with gin (I’ll be trying this) as well as being the distinctive flavour in Earl Grey tea. The scent is uplifting and refreshing with a subtle spikiness.  Blend it with rose in a burner to help soothe nervous anxiety, create a harmonising massage oil or mix it with two drops of lavender for an uplifting bath oil. Along with rose, this was one of my favourites we sniffed.

Frankincense – this ancient oil has been used for religious ceremonies for thousands of years and might remind you of wintery, festive seasons. Its earthy, warm aura feels slightly uplifting and if you blend it with black pepper or citrus oils feels even more powerful. Interestingly, it enhances deep breathing making it great for meditation.

Clary Sage – from these five essential oils we smelled this was my least favourite. The strong muskiness didn’t agree with me at all, however, once blended with bergamot and rose it was far more attractive. This oil is said to help lighten a heavy state of mind, sadness, fatigue or fear. That’s sold it to me.

Holeaf – tipped by our trainer, Elaine as the next oil-to-watch, she predicts more beauty and fragrance brands will be using holeaf to lift their products to life over the next five years. Extracted from a Chinese evergreen tree (the wood of this same tree produces Camphor oil), it can enliven a low mood and low libido. Also good as a post-exercise massage oil to relieve fatigued muscles. Or add to your bath to help with flu, coughs or colds – perfect for this time of year.

If like me you’re fascinated by essential oils and desperate to get some of this vapour energy into your heart, body and mind then here are a few ways Elaine described to drip, pour, mix and burn oils for emotional and physical wellbeing…

1. Burn a few drops with water – inhaling the vapours can have a great effect on mood and emotions.

2. Use as a bath oil – apparently best mixed with full-fat milk to disperse into water more easily or mix with Epsom salts.

3. Apply neat to skin  – please note, not all oils are safe to do this with.

4. Blend with a carrier oil – such as almond or jojoba for a therapeutic massage/body oil.

5. Add to floral water – try orange flower or rose water to make a refreshing facial toner.

6. Combine with unperfumed moisturiser – to nourish and enhance skin.

7. Add a few drops to hot or cold water – to make a healing compress.

…and a few I found searching online which I might try too:

8. Mix 3-5 drops of essential oil to unscented clothes detergent.

9. Mix two teaspoons of tea tree oil with two cups of water in a spray bottle for an oil-purpose household cleaner. (I love this one as I absolutely loathe all the chemical cleaning sprays everyone buys).

10. Soak a cotton ball with patchouli and/or lavender and place in closets to keep moths away from clothes – I’m definitely going to be trying this one as I’m so paranoid about moths eating my clothes.

So there we have it, a very long post about amazing essential oils! I’m off to buy a life-enhancing wardrobe of essential oils, so please pass on any tips you might have too, would love to hear them…

Find out more about Neal’s Yard Remedies courses here. 

What is a Vipassana – and how I got through 10 days of silent meditation

vipassana-meditationI’m back! Having just landed back to earth after TEN days of silent meditation in Hereford, I’m eager to spill the beans. Yes, I was on a Vipassana meditation course and my, my, was it tough but with mindfulness, consciousness and awareness being such hot topics right now, it’s more relevant than ever to learn what we can learn from these ancient practices.

If you’re not familiar with a Vipassana, it’s an ancient form of meditation (thousands of years old) which aims to ‘purify and quiet a chattering mind’ and by doing so, you can learn to become resilient to the ups and downs of every day life.

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