Thoughtful Tips for Challenging Times

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
Continue reading “Thoughtful Tips for Challenging Times”

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.  

Continue reading “Super Easy Breathing Exercise to Help Stress, Anxiety and Sleep”

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.

Continue reading “Yoga for refugees – volunteering in Lebanon”

Yoga for balancing hormones

yanar alkayat tenpilates yoga for hormones
Me and yoga teacher Danielle Willemsen at Ten for Yoga for Hormone Balance class

A few months ago I attended the launch of Ten Health & Fitness’ new class, Yoga for Hormone Balance. Designed to support and strengthen natural hormone function as well as to relax and rejuvenate the body and mind, after trying it out it seemed like the perfect antidote to a fast-paced life that puts a strain on the nervous system and hormones.

“When the sympathetic nervous system is constantly over-active, the adrenals are churning out adrenaline and cortisol to keep us going” says Dr Annaradnams of The Marion Gluck Clinic in London.

A little bit of this is ok when we need to kickstart ourselves into action but when the body is constantly in red alert mode there’s a knock on effect. Without sufficient downtime health and hormones will suffer.

The Ten Yoga for Hormone Balance class is two hours long and created by yoga teacher and movement expert Danielle Willemsen. It focusses on poses that open up the hips, elongate the spine and encourage the four key hormonal glands – pituitary, thyroid, adrenal and ovaries – to behave more harmoniously.

So much of modern yoga is fast-paced and dynamic and on top of an already stressful day and hyped up nervous system the results can be over-stimulating on the body so this new hormone-balancing class is a welcome change of pace.

Yoga was not originally designed to be a workout – in my opinion, if you want to sweat do a cardio class and choose to do yoga to slow down your breath, soften the mind and create more balance, physically and mentally.

Hormone doctors even agree that slow movement can benefit hormone function as it taps into the parasympathetic nervous system to settle the body and in turn, the nervous system.

After trying this Ten Pilates class at the press launch it inspired me to check out what classical yoga says about hormone balancing. For the last seven years I’ve been practicing a classic hatha yoga (Satyananda yoga) which is super slow and meditative and calms everything right down – mind, body and breath. My weekly Wednesday class is like a natural tranquilliser – there’s nothing quite like it – and I leave fully grounded and deeply relaxed.

The Bihar School of Yoga which I’ve been reading recently has an extensive library of books and in Yogic Management of Common Diseases I found a whole chapter on thyroid function. Here are a few extracts if you’re looking for more inspiration on yoga for hormones:

Yoga for the thyroid gland

“Long before medical science knew about the existence of thyroid glands, the yogis had devised practices that maintained healthy glands and metabolism. The good health of the neuroendocrine system was understood to be vital to higher awareness.” (pg. 24-45)

Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) is the most well recognised asana for the thyroid gland. An enormous pressure is placed on the gland by this powerful posture. As the thyroid has one of the largest blood supplies of any body organ, this pressure has dramatic effects on its function, improving circulation and squeezing out stagnant secretions.”

“The most effective pranayama (breathing work) for thyroid problems is ujjayi breath. It acts on the throat area and its relaxing and stimulating effects are most probably due to stimulation of reflex pathways within the throat area which are controlled by the brain stem and hypothalamus.”

“One of the most prominent precipitating factors in states of thyroid imbalance is long-term suppression and blockage of emotional expression. Balancing the emotions and giving a suitable outlet for their expression is an important part of yoga therapy for thyroid disease. Kirtan (signing of mantras collectively) is one of the most useful means. Another is ajapa japa meditation in conjunction with ajjayi breath.”

 xx

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.