Thoughtful Tips for Challenging Times

who coronavirus tips
who coronavirus tips

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.

  • During this difficult time it’s important to continue looking after your physical and mental health. This will not only help you in the long term; it will also help you fight COVID if you get it.
  • Exercise. If your local or national guidelines allow it go outside for a walk, a run or a ride and keep a safe distance from others. If you can’t leave the house find an exercise video online, dance to music, do some yoga or walk up and down the stairs.
  • If you’re working at home make sure you don’t sit in the same position for long periods; get up and take a three-minute break every 30 minutes. We will be providing more advice on how to stay healthy at home in the coming days and weeks.
  • Look after your mental health. It’s normal to feel stressed, confused and scared during a crisis. Talking to people you know and trust can help. Supporting other people in your community can help you as much as it does them.
  • Check on neighbours, family and friends. Compassion is a medicine.
  • Listen to music, read a book or play a game and try not to read or watch too much news if it makes you anxious.
  • Get your information from reliable sources once or twice a day.
  • Keep in touch with health alerts via the WHO

4 more tips to help you deal with the cocktail of intensity

A somatic therapist friend of mine, who specialises in treating trauma, has also just shared a few of her own tips, based on Trauma First Aid and the yogic practice of restraint.

Yoga Tara is founder of Isha Institute in Nepal, a centre that promotes personal growth and transformation through holistic counselling (follow on @isha_inspired). I hope you find them as valuable as I did. Please feel free to share with others.

Limit your exposure to information

  • Look at the news or collect information one or two times a day, eg, morning and late afternoon.
  • Avoid looking up information before you go to sleep. This is stimulating and triggering. Give yourself one or two hours quiet time before you go to bed.
  • Limit the amount of time you’re getting your info: 15-30min. Not two hours!

Select your sources of information carefully

  • Choose two or three trustworthy news sources for your updates, such as the WHO, CDC.
  • Avoid spending time on social media. It’s a fascinating study on mass panic/fear response, but not the healthiest place to spend time if you want to stay sane!

Choose with whom you are going to talk to about the situation

  • When it comes to discussing your real concerns, beliefs and decisions in relation to the situation, choose one, two or three people with whom you can share and to whom you can listen. 
  • Not everyone is a steady resource at this time. People you may have thought as calm or even keel, might not be. And vice versa.  
  • How do you know who is right for you? You would feel relatively calm and stable (operative word: relatively) with them.

Simplify your to-do list

  • When we feel under threat or under sustained stress, our brain and body go into life-preserving mode and work in different ways than normal.
  • Functions that tend to get compromised are our ability to think clearly, make decisions, analyse and execute (ie get things done). Our ability to manage emotions can also be compromised. We are not under normal conditions, so we cannot expect ourselves to act perfectly ‘normal’.
  • If you’re working from home, if you have children for home / online schooling, let yourself off the hook and reduce your output or to-do list by 25-30% (at least!).
  • Give yourself and others some extra space and time to get things done. Our brains and bodies are working harder than usual so take the expectation off from ‘normal productivity’.
  • If you or others around you feel fuzzy headed, irritable, tired, please know this is normal.
  • Be gentle with yourself. Be gentle with others. 

Haircuts for the Homeless

haircuts for homeless charity

“Whatever the causes of an individual’s homelessness, the consequences can be brutal. Homelessness damages people’s capability: they lose skills; they can’t think about employment while worrying about housing; their health becomes impaired due to being homeless. It knocks their resilience, self-esteem and self-confidence.” 

Stewart Roberts, Founder H4H.

I think about homelessness all year round but it’s always this time of year when the weather starts getting colder, right up until the cold temperatures break in early spring, I find myself thinking about people on the streets more.

Continue reading “Haircuts for the Homeless”

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. 

A tonic for tiredness – and more

You know the feeling after a really hard day when you body is heavy with tiredness and your mind is full of fog. That’s when I reach for a yoga nidra recording. However exhausted I might be, I know it will recalibrate and recharge me. 

A full yoga nidra is 30 mins but even a short versions (around 20 mins) will be effective at settling the body, mind and emotions. I always wake up feeling refreshed, reenergised, and with eyes and mind bright and alert. Over the years it’s helped me feel calmer in mind and has helped to ease physical tiredness. It’s honestly quite magical.

The practice can also work on a deeper level to help heal and transform, making it a tool for some yoga therapists in the treatment of trauma, stress and anxiety. The use of the resolve / sankulpa is also thought to help initiate change in a person’s life as that intension is mentally repeated in a subconscious state.

Studies have shown it can calm the nervous system, increase the relaxation response and act as a powerful tool for coping with stress.

What happens during yoga nidra? 

During the practice of yoga nidra you lie on the floor (it can also be done seated) with back and legs flat against the floor in shavasana (relaxation pose). Something to cover the body  may be helpful as body temperature drops when lying still so it’s important to have appropriate cover so the body can remain warm and comfortable. 

If it’s a full yoga nidra, and one that follows the traditional sequence, the teacher would go through eight stages. Shorter versions, or versions for beginners, might be cut down to three or four. The stages are:

  1. Settling the body – one of the most important stages – by connecting to the physical body and becoming aware of the different senses, such as touch and sound, it’s an effective route to relaxation 
  2. Breath awareness – connecting to the sound, touch and flow of breath through the body 
  3. Resolve – a positive intention or change you’d like to see in your self or life (in Sanskrit this is called the Sankulpa) 
  4. Rotation of awareness – a systematic sequence of verbal cues through the body, starting on the right side. The teacher will go call out each body part and you follow, visualising or repeating each one mentally  
  5. Pairs and opposites visualisation – describing sensory opposites, such as cold and hot to facilitate deep imagination and visualisation  
  6. Visualisation story – a creative journey that might have some symbolic meaning 
  7. Resolve – returning to your resolve, mentally repeated three times again – this is like sowing the seeds of transformation
  8. Externalisation – the teacher will externalise your senses and bring awareness back to the physical body so you awake safely and comfortably 

All you have do is listen and follow mentally. Each stage sends you deeper and deeper into a relaxed state and if your teacher has the right tone, pace and intonation, you might fall quickly into sleep or drift in and out of sleep. This is completely normal! Staying awake and aware is the aim but a good yoga nidra often ends up with a few snoring heads. 

How to do yoga nidra 

Yoga nidra is always delivered and guided by a teacher so if you read descriptions online about how to do yoga nidra yourself (I’ve read a few, worryingly high up on google searches) these are incorrect and seem to be describing relaxation in shavasana (corpse pose), which can be done on your own but is a totally different practice.

To do yoga nidra you need a teacher to deliver it or a recording. Online recordings (there are many now on YouTube) can be a bit hit or miss so I have a few good ones from teachers I like bookmarked on my iTunes and on CDs. A classical version for beginners can be purchased and downloaded here and another traditional version on YouTube here.   

There are several schools and traditions offering yoga nidra sessions (as well as teacher training) now but the Satyananda tradition is the most well known for bringing this ancient practice into the modern day over the last 40-50 years. You can read more about this in the well known text Yoga Nidra from the Bihar School of Yoga. 

So, if you’re struggling to find ways to deeply relax, you want to feel well-rested, and release physical and mental fatigue, try yoga nidra. Would love to hear what you think.

 

What’s Your Why? Inspiring Video All Runners Need To Watch

It’s that time of year again – marathon season – with biggies such as Paris, Brighton and London all within a few weeks of each other. I know marathons happen up and down the UK and worldwide all year round but April always feels more like marathon-month than others so now’s a great time to share this great video, The Why: Running 100 Miles.

I watched this last year when I was training for Snowdonia Trail Marathon and grappling with training that was mentally, emotionally and physically challenging. It was my sixth marathon but my first mountain event (where we would summit Snowdon at mile 23) and throughout the six month training block I was riddled with self-doubt, worry and lack of confidence.

Living in flatter-than-flat east London was not conducive to mountain training, and my inner critic was having a ball by putting me down through every training run and prep-race. I was losing motivation, finding all the training sessions so hard, not enjoying myself and couldn’t understand why.

Exploring why

Luckily, my running coach Luke Tyburski is a phenomenal ultra athlete who has done some crazy big events (such as Morocco to Monaco 12-day triathlon, an event he created himself) so he was great at helping me get to grips with the mental side of things.

I’d ran several marathons before so I was used to the long distance training but CrossFit had come into my life a few years earlier and this had definitely become flavour of the day. So I was fighting conflicting desires and needs and I had to reevaluate my relationship with running. That’s when I wrote Help, I’ve Fallen Out Of Love With Running post.

Like any relationship, dynamics change and evolve over time and that’s part of the joys. And there’s no better time to explore your relationship with a sport, activity or hobby then when you have to tick off big miles on a Sunday morning.

I also kept in mind one of my favourite quote from Luke: ‘It’s only at reaching your limits where you’ll catch a glimpse of your true potential’.

Digging deeper

With long distance events such marathons, 50km, 100km and 100 milers becoming more popular, it makes sense to dig deep and find the sticky or meaningful reasons why we run.

I started reading more about mental side of athletes and sports performance – I had How Bad Do You Want It? on my bedside table – and stumbled on this mini docu film by Billy Yang on why ultra runners do ultramarathon events. Why do they put themselves through so much physically, mentally, emotionally? What’s the pull, the lure and enjoyment in something so seemingly gruelling?

Billy also goes beyond commonly cited reasons such as self-improvement and challenge to bigger questions about our need to seek out situations where we’re challenged to the point of extreme, in a way our modern day lives don’t require us to.

Not only is The Why beautiful and humbling to watch but it helped me see things in a new, fresh light. Suddenly I realised others also suffered in similar ways (with anxieties, self-doubt, fear) so it no longer felt like there was something wrong with me as a runner or that I was failing.

‘When reaching your limits, it’s only there you’ll catch a glimpse of your true potential’.

I realised the conversation of why is one all long distance runners, endurance athletes and probably all athletes have to answer, not just to others but really deep down to themselves. After all, it’s the why that feeds the endless drive and determination needed to smash through these incredible feats.

Watch the film

I watched it a few times before my race as it was so inspiring. I hope you enjoy it and get something out of it too, whether it’s your first marathon or you’re a regular on the ultra trails. It might fire up your own why to help you power through your next event or inspire you to book one. And if you’re running London next week, good luck and enjoy it!

Would love to hear what you think!

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!

sarah powell international womens day
@thisissarahpowell

The concept of the inner critic is very familiar to me thanks to quite a few years of therapy. I started therapy after a difficult breakup but stuck with it because it’s so valuable and you learn so much about yourself, people, relationships and psychology in general. I now see it as an ongoing investment into mental wellness.

My therapist does a psycho-dynamic and classic psychotherapy style that helps to analyse behavioural patterns, and the inner critic and the self critical voice is something we cover a lot. So it was brilliant to hear Sarah reference this, especially as recognising your critical voice is the first step to actually being free of it and living a happier life.

Sarah called it the mean voice, my therapist calls it the ‘old brain’ but what ever you call it, it is often destructive and rarely helpful.
Sarah called it the mean voice, my therapist calls it the ‘old brain’, but what ever you call it, it is often destructive and rarely helpful. It’s usually connected to past experiences – perhaps formative years, childhood or teenage years. Understanding this has helped to soften it so it has less hold and control.


A regular therapy session might involve recognising when the old brain has reared its ugly head – it might be a confrontation at work or with a friend or an argument with a sibling or parent – and digging around to hopefully identify its roots. Then I may know why I reacted so irrationally or over-emotionally and cut myself some slack. So therapy has been a great place to learn to be kinder to myself too.


From what I understand the inner critic isn’t the rational adult brain talking – that’s why Sarah says it’s talking bollocks – but it comes from an old part of you that’s triggered when confidence, ego or self-esteem, for example, has been threatened and then it jumps in to say, ‘Ha! I told you were rubbish and no good and that nobody likes you!’


I’m now pretty good at recognising the awful inner critic – usually comparing me to the other girl in the room – so when it does pipe up, I just give it a nod but then push it firmly away and try to replace it with something more positive and helpful. I really have very little time for it these days and that’s testament to the therapy work.

 

My sessions are fortnightly now and still, after several years, walk away from nearly every appointment (they are 50 mins long) having learnt a little bit more about myself and better ways of dealing with things.

 

Sarah had a whole heap of other stuff to share about self-empowerment, confidence and just managing life in general when it feels overwhelming AF. So check her out on IG where she spills more of her inspiration for positive self-talk.

7 reasons how yoga can improve mental health

yoga-for-peace-lebanon-project.jpg

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.

  1. Bessel van der Kolk, a leading trauma psychiatrist, advocates yoga as one of the foremost means to quiet the brain and regulate emotional and physiological states. ‘Ten weeks of yoga practice markedly reduced the PTSD symptoms of patients who had failed to respond to medication or to any other treatment.’
  2. Experts have in recent years shown how traumatic stress rearranges the brain’s wiring, and sets it on high alert. A key to the treatment of psychological trauma is soothing the nervous system and inducing the relaxation response.
  3. For traumatised people, strengthening the relaxation response allows them to reengage in the present.
  4. Through regular practice of simple yoga techniques, developing awareness of body and breath, the nervous system’s relaxation response gets stronger and the body’s stress responses calm down.
  5. Bessel van der Kolk has spent three decades trying to understand how people recover from traumatic stress. He views awareness as the first step toward healing in his book, The Body Keeps the Score.
  6. He says: ‘Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience’ – because yoga is fundamentally about developing awareness, research has proven it can help improve mental health.
  7. Yoga develops awareness, first of the body and the breath, and then of our thought processes, emotions and behaviours. Through developing self-awareness, we can access our feelings, observe them, and eventually release them.

bessel van der kolk the body keeps the score book

 

Read more about how we’re using yoga to help the refugee community recover from PTSD and other mental health issues on tools4innerpeace.org.

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. 

Evolving slowly by ancient sages all over the world, yoga has it roots in early civilisation as people developed an awareness of spiritual capabilities. Its origins are also found in the Vedas, the oldest collection of Indian spiritual scriptures for personal and spiritual development.

This ancient discipline works on all aspects of the person: the physical, mental, vital, emotional, psychic and spiritual self. This is done through a practice of asana (posture or pose), pranayama (control of breath), mudra (hand gestures), bandha (energy locks), shatkarma (cleansing and purification of the body) and meditation. These are a few of the Eight Limbs of Yoga written in the scriptures that help to remove mental and physical obstacles.

Today, mainly in western cultures, yoga classes tend to embrace asana more than any other aspect of traditional yoga which may result in a one-sided development. Engaging with all ‘limbs’, can help to expand our connection and understanding of inner ourselves and outside world.  

Physical asanas are usually people’s first experience with yoga. Not just movement though, asanas tap into energy points in the body with the potential to release energy blocks from wherever energy flow is suppressed, which is why people can feel good after a yoga class.

Moving on from the physical, yogic practices can help develop an awareness of connection between emotional, mental and physical body and how an imbalance in one of these can affect the others.

We are a combination of body, emotions, intellect and psyche and through the practices and experience of yoga – by actually living it, not just reading about it – we can develop and balance all of these, to become a happier and more integrated person.