3 WAYS TO HELP HEAL BACK PAIN NATURALLY

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Back pain, particularly in the lower back, is one of the most common physical complaints. There are a number of factors specific to the individual, however there are some common threads running through each case that can be managed with my three-part protocol.

First and foremost it is important to recognise that your pain is there for a reason and is something that will not be remedied by long-term use of painkillers or other numbing agents. It is also important to note that most back pain is caused by muscle tension and imbalance rather than spinal problems. Thus, we need to bring awareness and understanding to the postural habits as well as emotional tensions that lie beneath the physical tension and be proactive in heeding our bodies needs.

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THREE PART PROTOCOL

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TUNE IN TO WHAT EXERCISE SUITS YOU

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On my previous blog I illustrated the importance of cultivating a way of living that best connects you with your own individual needs. In this post I will outline three ways that help you choose what form of movement best serves you. The ultimate aim is that every day you can instantly tune in to yourself and hear what it is that your body really needs – rest, strength work, a long walk, an aerobic class, and so on.

TIP 1: WHAT IS YOUR INTENTION?

Whether you’ve worked this out or not, here it is – the motivation behind your chosen exercise has to come from a nourishing place. You cannot expect to feel truly content and have long-lasting results in life if you focus on working out to: lose weight / be different / escape thoughts / control your life, and so on. Because these motivations come from a place of fear and lack, you will always struggle and never feel truly satisfied. It is nature’s law to give you what you put out so watch your thoughts.

This is easily remedied!

Simply reframe and change your language. The aim beyond wanting to lose weight, be different and so on is surely to be happy, to feel good, to be content. So why not focus on these words and outcomes over those heavy, negative ones? This simple reframe of language comes from a place of love and abundance, and as such is a much easier long-term motivator.

So get really clear about why you want to move and use encouraging language. Day-to-day you might feel the need for different types of movement, so without judgement or ego make your decision based on what supports your intention.

TIP 2: WHAT DO YOU LOVE TO DO?

To actualise your intention you need to find what it is you love to do. No point saying you want to work out to be happy then make yourself go for an hour long run when you hate running!

So, sit in a quiet place, close your eyes, breathe. Ask yourself: “if I could be anywhere doing any exercise or movement practise, what would I choose? What kind if movement excites and motivates me?”

There is no one perfect movement practise that suits us all, we all have varied needs, just as there is no “one” way of eating, no ideal job, lifestyle, and so on. So opt out of what you think you should be doing and tune in to what it is you love to do – following what feels good will help you move towards the body, relationship, hobby, job that brings you most happiness.

Some things you could ask yourself when finding out what you most love… do you like being outdoors? Do you like taking risks? Are you someone who has steady energy and a lot of physical strength (favouring running, rowing, aerobics)? Are you someone who has bursts of energy but tires easily (favouring yoga, dancing, easy walking)? Do you like to break a sweat? Do you like to train in a hot or cold environment?

After pursuing what you love you should be left feeling invigorated and happy (certainly not utterly spent and in need of pain relief).

TIP 3: DIP INTO YOUR TOOL BOX REGULARLY

There are some fundamental movements that are always good to do as they act like a reset button for when you feel a little off-kilter or are struggling to connect with what it is you need.

RESET NO.1 – BREATHE

Spend at least one minute each day where you sit in a quiet place and pay attention to your breath. You can simply watch your breath or choose from one of the following guided breath patterns:

  • Breathe in through your nose for 4 counts, pause for 1 count, exhale through your mouth for 4 counts. This is great for everything!
  • Before you eat, breathe slowly and calmly in and out through your nose – great for digestion
  • Breathe in and out through your mouth – great energy booster
  • Close off right nostril, inhale through left nostril. Pause. Close left nostril, release right nostril. Exhale through right nostril, inhale through right nostril. Pause. Close right nostril, breathe out left nostril. Repeat. Great to calm down.

RESET NO.2 – STRETCH

Stretching helps us find space in the body which chemically transfers into helping us find space and perspective in our minds. Think of stretching like a full body yawn, an internal massage for your organs and way to connect back to source. If you know what kind of stretches you love to do then go for it! If not, I have outlined below some of my favourite stretches. If you want to learn more about how to most productively find space in your body please read my previous blog Become Elastic here.

  • Get into your feet –  roll the souls of your feet on a tennis ball, sit on your heels, sit on the front of your feet. Find more foot opening tips here.
  • Standing roll downs – Start standing with your arms hanging losly by your sides, inhale fully and on your exhale scoop your belly gently back towards your spine, nod your chin towards your chest and begin to roll down through your spine until you are folded over looking towards your thighs or knees or feet (depending on your flexibility), your arms will hang loosely with your hands gently dropping towards the floor. The aim here is not to touch the floor with your hands but to simply hang and gently allow your tissues to stretch, relax and open. Relax your feet into the floor, bring your weight into your toes, soften your knees, relax your hips, neck, jaw and eyes. Stay here for 5 calm breaths. Take a full inhale and on your next exhale gently bend your knees deeper and tuck your bottom underneath you in order to rely on your legs to help you roll back up again vertebrae at a time unil you are back up to standing. Now turn your palms to face forward then take your arms up the sides of your body, hold your hands together above your head and gently sway your torsos from side to side stretching through your arms, side ribs and waistline. Release your arms down and stand still for 10 breaths.
  • Twist your spine to energise your system and cleanse your organs  – explained here

RESET NO.3 – MOVE QUICKLY!

Sometimes our nervous and lymphatic systems can becomes a bit sluggish or locked into fear and anxiety patterns that interfere with our natural healthy functioning. Our lymphatic system is the fluid system that runs throughout our body – seeking out, fighting off and detoxing any foreign bodies that may cause harm. Without movement this fluid becomes sluggish and less effective at battling off viruses, toxins and disease (imagine murky swamp water) – this can manifest in anything from cellulite, allergies,  fatigue, or hormonal imbalances. Because the lymphatic system runs linearly, when we bounce up and down it affects change in the fluid super effectively. As you move around quickly, imagine the “swamp water” getting diluted and flushed clean with fresh spring water.

  • Run on the spot as fast as you can for 20 seconds
  • Dance
  • Skip
  • Jump on a trampoline (more info here)
  • Stand and simply hake out your whole body!

BONUS TIP: GET OUT IN NATURE

Whenever I am feeling a little lost or out of tune with things I always trust in mother nature to pave the way to better health, happiness, vitality, strength and well-being. She is of course the reigning force which embraces and connects all life-cycles – humans, plants, animals, water, the sun, the moon, genetic expression, evolution, and so on. When we are all tuned and synchronized everything moves and thrives with the least amount of effort. Unfortunately modern lifestyles result in negative brain patterns then wreak havoc on a number of things including our ability to gauge what kind of exercise we should be taking and when. Sadly we have taken it to both extremes with people who train far too hard, fast and frequently, and people who sit all day and still fail to take the stairs on their way home.

This too is easily remedied by getting out in nature – take a slow walk around  your nearest park or green space taking in everything you can see, smell, hear, sense, touch, taste and so on.

HELPING TO HEAL ANXIETY

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I have previously written about stress but today I am dedicating this blog to a more specific kind of stress – anxiety. Whether you suffer from OCD, phobias, an overactive brain, panic attacks or destructive mental chatter I want you to know there are many things you can do to help manage, clear and realign these unhappy behaviours. Self-healing does exist if you want, believe and trust you can feel better AND if you commit to taking positive action. If you take medication please always consult your Doctor before making any changes.

Feeling uncertain is natural but responding with over-stimulated anxiety is not. Below I have outlined 8 tips which if slowly implemented over a month will absolutely help to ease and reframe the situations that bring on anxiety. You can come back to your natural state where you can calmly stop, consider and make a decision you feel confident about. Life is always uncertain but this is no reason to become fearful. Read and implement the following tips and feel better.

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3 QUICK GO-TO TIPS

1. Stop. Take five slow, deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth

2. Expand your vision – make sure you can see what is below, above and either side of your focal point

3. Get out of your head and into your body, become a silent witness to your thoughts as if watching a passerby. No judgement

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10 LONG-TERM TIPS TO COMMIT TO EVERY DAY

If you truly want to dissolve your fear and recover the happy, calm and confident you, commit to following these tips. Get out your diary and schedule in time each day to learn and practise each tip, so that in a month’s time you have them down! 

MOVEMENT

1) Neck and upper-body stretches.

When you are tense in these areas, the brain takes it as an indication that you’re about to go into some kind of battle and floods the body with stress chemicals such as adrenaline. Increasing the blood flow, and thus relaxation around these tissues, helps reset the nervous system back into cruise-control by flooding the body with relaxation chemicals and endorphins.

MOVEMENT: Sitting or standing nice and tall: turn your head from side to side 10x, tip your head from side to side (ear to shoulder, keeping your shoulders still) 10x. A detailed description and images of other key stretches can be found here.

2) Six gentle hip rolls  – lying down

Gently rotating the lower spine helps to free up any tight lower back muscles which may be attempting to hold everything together in an anxious scared fashion. Freeing up the middle and lower back, and around the hips, helps calm the nervous system by massing into the kidneys (our organ that holds fear) and the adrenals (where our stress hormones are produced). Twisting also helps relax and calm digestive system or our “second brain”. Remember the gut has more neurons than the brain, so is often expressing fear, stress and anxiety.  You can stay in the twist for 5-10 slow calm breaths then slowly drag the legs back to centre using your abdominals.

MOVEMENT: Lying on your back, legs bent, feet and legs together: exhale, take the legs over to one side, stay here for 3 rounds of calm breathing, then on an exhale gently drag your legs back to centre using your abs. Repeat to the other side. You want to do around 3 to each side.

3) The Moving Cat Stretch

Flexion, or forward-bending, is very calming on the nervous system – closing off and resting the areas of the body such as the hips, lower back, neck and throat that signal us to be on high alert. The sphinx/last part of the movement  connects you into your centre line helping you feel strong, aligned and clear.

MOVEMENT: On all fours, hands under solders, knees under hips. Curl your spine into an angry cat shape – so you should be looking at your pubic bone and your pubic bone should be looking at you. Keep this shape as you move your butt back to sit on your heels. Keep your hands planted in the same spot. Place your palms and forearms on  the floor parallel to each other, roll your shoulders back and lift your chest – sphinx position. Travel the sphinx forward until your head is in-line with your hands then gently press up lengthening the arms to the beginning position. Get all the details here.

FOOD CHOICES

4) Avoid:

Food and drinks that stimulate or suppress your mood. These may feel good in the moment but long-term they will hinder true anxiety healing:

Sugar, caffeine, gluten grains and alcohol.

5) Fill up on:

Foods and liquids that help to calm and support your nervous system. These food and drink choices will be rich in good quality fats, proteins and B vitamins:

Organic vegetables, fruit, eggs, grass-fed meats, wild fish, small amounts of gluten-free grains (quinoa, rice, millet, buckwheat), coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil, lard, ghee, herbal teas, freshly pressed/made vegetable juices and smoothies, water. Here is a basic list of the most nourishing healing foods.

All of the breakfast, lunch and dinner recipes on my site are perfectly suited to supporting this healing.

AWARENESS

6) Five gentle belly breaths

Notice how you are breathing – is it shallow and stifled? Try the following exercises once an hour while you’re sitting at work, on the train, in traffic…wherever suits! Of course you can also do this lying down. Breathing in through the nose and deep into the belly sends a calm message to the brain and body tissues allowing them to shift the chemistry and nervous system into a calm mode. Breathing out through the mouth helps to detox and expel the metabolic waste and negative or fearful emotions you may be swallowing down. Treat breathing like a calm internal massage for all of your tissues – your bones, muscles and organs. Read more here on swapping stress modes. And read more here on breathing.

INSTRUCTIONS: Breathe in through the nose allowing the belly to fill, breathe out through the mouth allowing the belly to soften back towards the spine. On the inhale visualise filling your whole body with fresh, clean air and on the exhale sigh out old stale air and any emotions that are no longer serving you.

7) Practise mindfulness 

Mindfulness is an activity of attention. Normally you sit in a comfortable, quiet place, close your eyes and purposely focus your attention on your breath and on the present moment – accepting all that arises without judgement. This is incredibly calming and invites space and perspective which helps reorganise and reframe any negative or fearful thoughts or behaviours you may be experiencing.

INSTRUCTIONS: Sitting there you want to bring awareness to the now, notice what’s going on – attend your life. Inevitably when left to itself the mind races through all kinds of thoughts, this is totally normal. When you find your mind wandering just return to your breath and to being the “watcher” of those thoughts – attending is more important than what you are paying attention to. Uncomfortable emotions can arise such as fear, anger, resentment, guilt and shame but you can find the courage to watch them take their course instead of being skipped past or buried. Trust that in doing so they will dissolve and be replaced with new patterns that are better aligned with your true self: with continued practice you will quiet the mind and slip into the space between thoughts, the space where you can reclaim your life. Read more here.

8) DAILY AFFIRMATION: 

Try to come up with an affirmation you can repeat to yourself at any moment you may feel your anxiety creeping in – or even make it part of your morning ritual. Have it be something that resonates with you and exudes a sense of calm and inner strength. Below is one from Gabby Bernstein that I particularly like:

‘Today I witness my ego in action. I patiently look upon my false perceptions with loving lenses. I no longer believe in this fear. I am no longer attached to this fear. Though it may seem real in the moment, all I have to do is witness it without judgement to be reminded it is not true” – Gabrielle Bernstein

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ADDITIONAL HELP

Alternative therapies:

  • Emotional Freedom Technique / EFT / Tapping

I cannot promote this therapy enough – you can use it to work on all manner of ailments but I find it is particularly incredible when dealing with anxiety as it is so quick acting.

“EFT, otherwise known as Emotional Freedom Techniques, is a type of Meridian Tapping that combines ancient Chinese acupressure and modern psychology. It utilizes the body’s energy meridian points by stimulating them with your fingertips – literally tapping into your body’s own energy and healing power”

EFT very much aligns with my own belief that you cannot separate the mind and the body. When you are anxious your whole body feels the fear – your chest tightens, eyes widen, and so on. If you don’t acknowledge this fear and instead choose to shove it down and ignore it you will create an energy imbalance in the body that will eventually make its presence known, be it through ill physical or mental health. Tapping helps to restore and balance the body’s energy that has been disrupted by past traumas, negative emotions and physical symptoms.

I was first introduced to tapping about 10 years ago when I was studying for my Pilates exams and becoming anxious about balancing the workload and fearing I was going to fail everything. After two sessions my anxiety and fears had dramatically reduced. Because the technique is so easy to learn I was able to practise the tapping whenever I felt anything creeping back and as a result have not experienced such intense fear around this issue since. If you are interested in clearing anxiety patterns without having to pull apart and psychoanalyse your life then I really encourage you to watch this video and learn more about how it works.

  • Neurological Linguistic Programming (NLP)
  • Cranial Osteopathy
  • Acupuncture
  • Reflexology

Supplements:

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“In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.”

Deepak Chopra

AND… BREATHE

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Breathing is hands down the most important thing we do, bar nothing! We get 90% of our energy  from it, and unlike eating or drinking, we can only survive a matter of minutes without it. We depend on the breath for everything – to think, speak, move, feel, for our heart to beat, food to digest…every single cellular activity! 

Now despite breathing happening naturally, our 21st century stress levels have managed to massively upset the quality of how we breathe. Instead of taking full, deep nourishing and massaging belly breaths, we take short sips of breath from our chests that leave our whole systems malnourished and wired – not only starved of oxygen but also our natural right to feel safe, grounded and calm. Compromised breathing patterns not only reflect stressful external issues such as a busy, noisy, scary or pressured environment but, also reflect how well we are coping with that environment internally. Our breath controls and sets the tone for the nervous system and determines the rate at which we manage or recover from situations which cause us stress, therefore it is of utmost importance that we learn how to breathe well!

Practising conscious breathing exercises for only a few minutes a day will help ease physical, mental and emotional health issues. Not surprisingly, there is a huge amount of research touting the benefits of breathing exercises for issues such as asthma, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, muscle tension and IBS (just naming a few!). And equally rewarding is how this practise helps you tune into your ‘true self’ – the self that if we learn to listen to will help us make good decisions that will see us evolve and honor our potential.

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EXERCISES

Sitting on a chair or on the floor with a nice long spine / lying on your back / OR on your front with your hands under your forehead

EXERCISE 1)

Breathe in for 4 counts. Pause for 1 count. Breathe out for 4 counts.

Repeat another 5 times.

EXERCISE 2)

Breathe in for 4 counts. Pause for 7 counts. Breathe out for 8 counts.

Repeat another 3 times.

CUES

THE BREATH IN

– breathe in through your nose (not your mouth) to stimulate the little nerve endings that send a message off to the body that you are in a calm safe environment and adjusts your boichemistry accordingly (parasympathetic nervous system).

– the first two thirds of the breath fills low into the belly and lower back, the last third slowly makes its way wide into the ribs and up into the chest –  keeping the shoulders soft and heavy throughout.

– breathing into the lower back massages the kidneys and adrenal glands that sit above them (the home where our stress and growth hormones are made)

– breathing into the belly helps the diaphragm better draw down and the ribs swell out so air can be pulled low into the lungs and the organs and glands can be compressed to help squeeze and move lymphatic and venus fluid around the body

THE BREATH OUT

– breathe out evenly through your mouth as if blowing through a straw

– exhale using a sigh – this releases and relaxes the rib cage, breast bone and shoulders leaving the spine lengthened

– exhaling empties the air from the belly and relaxes the upper body helping flood your system with a huge sense of relaxation and calm

– a full out breath helps the diaphragm lift, releasing pressure on the organs allowing fresh areterial blood to flow into the system

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TIPS FOR THE FIRST TIME BREATHER 

1)  Begin either lying down or sitting up

2) Have a glass of water beside you in case the new level of oxygen and deep muscular relaxation makes you feel dizzy or panicky – this is nothing to be concerned with and will ease with practise.

3) Start slowly with calm gentle breaths not pushing yourself to take too fuller breaths. Stop and guage how you feel after each rep.

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PHYSICAL SYSTEMS AFFECTED BY HOW WELL WE BREATHE:

  • Respiratory  – controls mental and physical fatigue, as well as asthma and bronchitis
  • Circulatory  – controls blood circulation and cell oxygenation throughout the body
  • Nervous  –  controls stress levels and responses throughout every other system
  • Digestive  –  controls the pumping and massaging of internal organs
  • Endocrine  –  controls the diaphragm and lymph movement throughout the body (elimination of toxic waste and  immune system strengthening)
  • Urinary  –  controls the elimination of fluids and the massaging of your kidneys
  • Muscular skeletal – controls the quality of physical movement patterns involving strength, flexibility and relaxation of the tissues (muscles, bones, fascia and so on)

MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL SYSTEMS AFFECTED BY HOW WELL WE BREATHE

Shallow breathing not only closes you off emotionally, it also hinders your ability to respond appropriately to situations. Often people who struggle to breathe fully and deeply also struggle with connecting to their true sense of self. Whether it is a learnt breath pattern that people take on to help deal with an unhappy situation or whether it is a pattern in response to a threat or trauma, the breath is denying true honest communication with the self. Thus, simple calm focussed breath work can help to release many stored emotions that could be holding you back. While this may feel scary at first, it is absolutely the best thing you can do and you will soon start to feel stronger, more connected, happier and more trusting of yourself and your decisions.

Read more on breathing at this fantastic site www.breathing.com

THE BEAUTY OF FERMENTED FOODS

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Fermented foods are all the rage again and rightly so! Different cultures around the world have been participating in this artisanal craft for thousands of years – it is a way of eating that our systems are very familiar with and serves them beautifully. Thank goodness we are harking back to sauerkraut, raw dairy, kombucha and pickle eating after becoming tired, sick and lost amongst bleach, chlorinated water, pasteurisation and obsessive cleaning.

Before we had fridges and gross DPB tin cans we had to preserve our food through lacto-fermentation. This process is basically taking some veg, chopping it up, putting it in some kind of storage container, pouring water and salt over it, then leaving it weeks or months (you can actually do this with any veg, meat, fish or fruit). During this storage time the starches and sugars from the food (the bits that can cause the bloat) are eaten up by loads of different bacteria which then produce enzymes that preserve the food! Coolest of all is how this process enriches the food and water with various strains of probiotics, beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids…all brilliant for our digestion and us as a whole.

 To really appreciate why it’s so good to eat fermented foods rich in bacteria, consider this:

 If we unravelled our digestive system it could cover the space of a tennis court. Spread all over the tissues would be the trillions of bacteria, virus, fungi and micro creatures: all of them ready to support and protect us from all the variety of things that we come into contact with. They help us utilise the good stuff from what we eat and drink, they clean out or detox our system, control parasites, produce antibiotics, grab onto and throw out the toxic biproducts we breathe in….the list goes on and on. They are our delightful little housekeepers! We are in fact 90% bacteria remember.

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Awesome things that go on when eating and drinking fermented foods:

Digestive aid

Lactofermented food normalises the acidity of the stomach and promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestines – this flora is fab at gobbling up starches and sugars that slow down our metabolism & make us crave sugar. Helping peristaltic movements of the intestine this stuff is also great for constipation.

 

Happy vibes

With more than 95% of the ‘good feeling’ neurotransmitter serotonin being found in the gut (only 5% in the brain) it’s no wonder a healthy gut makes a happier person. When given a healthy environment to thrive, serotonin increases its ability to help calm the digestive tract and strengthen the communication between the gut and the brain. Good communication = decreased levels of anxiety and depression.

 

Get more from your food

The vitamin levels of the original prepared ingredients are increased after fermentation. Their digestability is also increased which saves us wasting energy and nutrients in breaking down the food matter – rich in enzymatic juices or organic acids means we can get to the goods easy as!

 

Pollutant zapper

The production of lactic acid produces anticarcinogenic substances that help inhibit and deactivate toxic material we come into contact with like car fumes and chemical laden beauty products. Perhaps this is why lowered rates of athsma, skin problems and autoimmune disorders have been linked to the probiotic nature of fermented foods.

 

Immune booster

Fermented foods help support the immune system by not only being high in vitamin c but by also producing antibiotic substances that help fight off viruses and infections that may come into the system.

 

Pancreas pumper & liver lover

Lactic acid activates the secretions of the pancreas which is great news for us all but particularly diabetics. And the liver, which can get laden with fat, welcomes the production of the fat metaboliser, choline.

 

It seems Hipocrates really was right when hundreds of years ago he stated that “all diseases begin in the gut” as it is well proven that around 85% of our immune system is held in our gut. Sounds like it’s times to reintroduce this ancient practice of lacto-fermentation and move away from a diet in which everything has been pasturised and processed! Yes!

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FERMENTED FOODS & DRINKS: sauerkraut/vegetables, salsa, ketchup, raw dairy, pickles, water/milk/coconut kefir, kombucha….

WHAT BRAND? organic, raw/unpasturised, simple whole ingredients – no vinegars or sugars! My favs are Culture Probiotics RAW, GO Kombucha and Hook & Son Dairy

HOW? Add sauerkraut/veges to salads or as a side with any meal. Raw dairy can be consumed however you fancy! yoghurt with fruit or as a dip, cheese to nibble or melted on top of veges, milkshakes…Kefir beverages and kombucha can be sipped first thing in the morning or before meals.

WHERE TO BUY? from the links above or in health food stores and farmers markets that stock good quality organic produce.

HOW MUCH? introduce fermented foods slowly and gradually, starting with a few sips of juice from plain fermented vegetables and notice your reaction. Do the same if you are a first timer to raw dairy products – start with butter and cheese then move on to yoghurt and milk. Being full of active enzymes and active nutrients you can experience “detox” reactions as healing and restructuring of the bodies tissues take place….which is all good but can be uncomfy if you go too hard and fast! Some people of course won’t have any reactions, in which case, guage how much feels good and is enjoyable to eat.