CHANGING THE STORIES

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We have all created narratives throughout our lives that keep us locked into unhealthy thought patterns. Even though these stories make us feel fearful, angry, sad or anxious, we love them because they feel like home: they’re comfortable, familiar & predictable.

One of the stories I love to run is that life = worry. I pick through my day to find something to hyper focus on and build into a worry story. This story is great at keeping me occupied and stopping me from venturing out of my comfort zone. Another common story people love, is to find ways of blaming other people for the misfortunes in their own lives. As long as they can blame others they’ll never have to look at their own part in the story and change their ways. There are many, many stories we tell ourselves…do you know yours?

Despite our stories having strong pathways (due to constant use!) it is totally possible to re-write them, I can vouch for this. The steps outlined below have been incredibly helpful in rewriting new nourishing stories.

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MINDFUL EATING FOR THE HOLIDAYS

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Not only are the holidays a lovely time to celebrate and have a change of scenery, they also provide the opportunity to have a shift in gear. As I outlined in my previous post, this is a time of year when emotions run high, so it really is worth taking a moment to decide how you’d like things to unfold. Make sure you look after and nourish your body, as well as your mind along the way.

Looking after yourself does not mean you have to behave like a saint – what it means is avoiding any opportunities to beat yourself up, to feel guilty, anxious, unwell or regretful. Because so many people punish themselves by either over-indulging, or over-restricting during this period, I’ve dedicated this post to helping choose the best way to eat and drink for you.

SIX TIPS

1. Get clear about how and what you want to eat and drink, and if you want to consume alcohol or not. If you adhere to a specific diet for health reasons decide if you want to stick to it, or if you’re happy to deviate. Be honest and make these decisions from a place of love and compassion, rather than fear and control.

2. Commit to your intentions. Once you’re clear about what you want to consume, then commit to that decision. Associate good feelings with your decision and remind yourself of these regularly. If you decide to stick to your dietary needs then the next two points are key:

3. Research and take time to find out what’s on the menu, be it at someone’s house or at a restaurant.

4. Communicate your dietary requirements before the event – I spent years needlessly suffering for fear of upsetting people and being polite. If people make you feel uncomfortable about your needs that is definitely their problem. Do not make your decisions based on what will make other people happy, this will never turn out well – lies, pain, resentment and irritability will likely ensue. You owe it to yourself and to your host to communicate clearly what exactly it is you need so as to not upset any plans on the day.

My food choice suggestions:

  • Fill up on the vegetables and proteins. If you’re a meat eater choose meat close to the bone. Skip the gravy unless it’s gluten-free. If you’re wanting a sweet treat for dessert then choose fresh fruit, dark chocolate or cheese. If you opt to skip dessert then you can go straight to the coffee or green tea to help aid digestion and curb the sugar cravings
  • My beverage suggestions: drink a decent amount of still water with a squeeze of lemon before and after your meal. If you’re not drinking alcohol then honour your decision and stick to it! (any peer pressure to drink comes from insecurity and selfishness). Sparkling water, green tea or freshly brewed black coffee can be good options for a booze free buzz.

5. Avoid the post-booze blues by following my tips on this blog. The main points:

  • Never drink to forget, to hurt, to manipulate, to cope. It’s a better idea to take a sip after you’ve tuned in and found something to smile about and celebrate
  • Choose gluten and sugar-free drink options
  • Drink a glass of water between each alcoholic drink
  • Eat nutrient dense food before and after

6. Supplement to support your digestive, immune and detoxification systems. Here are my recommendations

Bonus tip: MOVE!

One of the best things we can do for our bodies is to MOVE. When we move we stimulate and pump the fluids around our body that manage, feed and clean our organs, muscles, skin, nerves, hormones and bones. However you are feeling, go for a walk, do a few stretches, put on your favourite music and dance! Choose whatever you most enjoy – sometimes that’s all you need to do to perk up.

To help you along your way here are 5 exercises to help beat the bloat!

And for a daily and weekly movement guide read more here.

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I hope these tips hold you in good stead over the holiday period. Please take note and put your needs first! Happy holidays! 🙂

 

Photo credit Matthew Valdr

THE MODERN WOMAN

No matter how busy you feel, please take time to watch this TEDx talk by Dr. Libby Weaver. Libby is Australasia’s leading nutritional biochemist and her approach to the health and well-being of the modern woman is beautifully and honestly pitched. Yes, it is true, the modern woman is undergoing a crisis which is wreaking havoc on her health and the relationships she has with her partner, friends, family and children. In my work I also see women who, despite being utterly spent, keep pushing forward.

“She” feels like she must be the dependable, resilient and fearless mother/partner/employee despite lacking in sleep and proper nourishment. She constantly feels like a failure with no self-control; she is never skinny enough, youthful enough, intelligent enough, fun enough; she is trying to be the pleaser and the support system for all but behind the scenes is falling apart… sound familiar?

This video is not only for women, but also for the men out there who may not be aware that this is going on, or for the men out there who are behaving in a very similar way. As Libby says: it is time for change. This way of living is not sustainable. It is time to get honest and allow our primal mechanisms more time to adjust to the demand of our modern day lifestyle and its expectations.

THE MARVELLOUS CAT STRETCH

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Awakening deep intrinsic primal and developmental movement patterns, the moving cat stretch is one of my all time favourite movement patterns. It can be done any time of the day, all you need is a little bit of floor space and the ability to get up and down from it!

First thing in the morning it acts like a big yawn to help gently wake you up, centre and focus you for the day ahead; in the middle of the day it re-energises and better directs your attention – a much healthier pick me up than  reaching for the chocolate or caffeine hit; and done slowly before bed it helps to unwind and cleanse the day from your body and mind so you can go off to bed free from any unwanted mental or physical baggage.

Here are just some of the benefits:

  • stretches, strengthens and stabilises your arms, spine and torso
  • moves the breath deeper into your lungs helping to cleanse and better oxygenate all the tissues throughout your body
  • massages and opens the deep lower back and hips which in turn flushes the digestive system with fresh nutrient dense blood – great digestive aid!
  • strengthens and connects the deep abdominal muscles helping stabilise the torso and flood your system with all your feel good hormones! (dopamine and serotonin are largely manufactured in the gut)
  • opens the nerves through the spine, hands and arms helping to undo tension caused from slouching over a computer, smart phone or steering wheel, or constantly lugging kiddies around!
  • massages and opens the kidneys and resets the adrenal glands, helping you swap stressy fight or flight mode to calm cruise control – read more here
  • SO..helps relieve headaches, RSI, back pain, digestive troubles, anxiety, fatigue, disordered breathing…to name a few!

1) BEGIN ON ALL FOURS

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Knees under hips, hands under shoulders

CUES:

  • Keep the spine long and spacious. Imagine your spine being pulled from either end – out through the crown of the head and out through the tail bone
  • To help get the arm bones connecting well into the shoulder sockets and the shoulder blades well placed, bend your arms and point the elbows out to the sides then turn the arms so the elbows point in towards your body, straighten the arms.
  • Keep shoulder blades wide on the back of your rib cage and press the floor away from you, ie. don’t hang the torso down between your arms and collapse the shoulder blades together
  • Make sure head isn’t dropped – keep the back of the neck long just as it would be if you were standing

2) ARTICULATE

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Inhale to prepare. Exhale to draw the belly in towards your spine and gently articulate the spine into a curved cat shape. Inhale to pause…

CUES:

  • Your pubic bone should be looking at you and you should be looking at your pubic bone
  • Gently press through your hands to help widen the middle back
  • Gently use your lower abs to help pull your tail between your legs and lengthen the lower back. Imagine plugging your tail into your belly button
  • Keep the hands and fingers alive! spread them wide and feel equal weight through each finger

3) STRETCH

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Exhale to travel the cat curve backwards so you sit back on the heels, keeping your hands connected to the same spot on the floor. Inhale to pause…

CUES:

  • Relax your neck, jaw, throat and eyes as you release back into the stretch
  • Let your ankles roll out to the sides if the top of the feet or inner thighs are tight
  • Keep gently hugging the belly back in towards the spine

4) EXTENSION & STABILISATION

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Exhale to bend your arms, place the forearms on the floor, roll your shoulders back, lift your head, chest and spine into a lengthened position. Inhale to pause…

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Exhale to travel your spine forward stopping when your head gets to your wrists. Inhale to pause…

CUES:

  • Arms are parallel to each other, elbows draw towards each other so you can feel a little squeeze at your arm pits
  • Connect the abs by drawing the belly inward and upward
  • Keep your eyes towards the floor – this doesn’t mean dropping the head though!
  • Draw your breast bone forward to the wall in front of you and draw your shoulders and elbows backwards towards your knees
  • Your spine is parallel to the floor – not on a diagonal diving towards the floor

5) STRENGTH

tasha16Exhale to press the hands into the floor and stretch the arms back up to the beginning position. Repeat another 5 times beginning with your hands slightly more forward each time.  

CUES:

  • Keep your elbows towards each other to help connect the back of your arms and sides of the spine
  • Keep your knees over your hips – when you press up don’t avoid the hard work by moving your butt backwards!
  • Keep your abs drawing inward and upward
  • Spine stays long and connected like in plank position

PRACTISE MINDFULNESS

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Stop right now…

Be utterly still.

Without judgement,

drop in on yourself.

No right or wrong, good or bad,

just tune in…

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We know innately that everything we ever need can be found within each of us: the resolve to any physical ailment, internal conflict, or emotional upset is within us – if we just tune in we’ll find it. Unfortunately, pretty early on in life we pattern unhelpful behaviours and thoughts, and get pulled into action-packed, fast-paced living where outward reflection is celebrated and encouraged, and intelligent inward-looking is starved and devalued. Sadly this inability to look inward means we tend to never address feelings of stress, anxiety, shame, guilt, fear and sadness until they manifest themselves into pain and illness so that we can no longer ignore them.

Reasons why we struggle to slow down and go inward:

1) It isn’t recognised as valuable. We are taught to cultivate and be aware of only 5 senses: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. There are many, many more senses that need equal attention. What about proprioception? Our sense of where our arms and legs are in relation to the rest of the body is essential in strengthening our co-ordination and body-brain communication.  What about gut feeling? Our gut has more neurons than our brain and is passing on an incredible amount of useful information – but can we tap into the messages? And how about magnetorection – our natural sense of direction? What’s the point in tuning into this when we can just use Google Maps huh?

2) We are desensitized and numbed by the overwhelming amount of fast-paced stimulus thrust in our every direction. How often do you sit quietly without watching TV, looking at the internet, checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, listening to music, reading a book, talking… when we are always occupied with external stimulus we lose touch with what’s happening inside.

3) We take most of our cues from our brain – an organ that literally runs on programs that were set predominantly in childhood (and often out of fear). Just as we need to update our computer software, so too do we need to reprogram our unhelpful brain patterns. Next time you are stressed just notice what your response is… time for a drink? Food binge? Or perhaps time to yell at your spouse or wreck yourself at the gym, clench your jaw or tighten your shoulders? These repeated responses which attempt to give momentary “relief” by numbing, covering up or ignoring the real issue, only strengthen and loop negative brain pathways. Bringing awareness to these destructive responses helps give you space to identify triggers and program more nourishing behaviours.

4) We give up ownership of our body and problems to medical practitioners and drugs. How about building relationships with practitioners who work ‘with’ the body and help the body realize its healthy direction. Ensure that you are guided, educated and part of the healing process – ask questions, tune into your responses, give feedback… know yourself and own your well-being.

So what is 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.

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.

Mindfulness and cultivating attention helps you to:

  • Savour the pleasures in life – become fully engaged in activities and truly notice what makes you feel good
  • Be in a wiser relationship with yourself –  to better gauge and trust what is going on, rather than to be at the mercy of irrational fears and thoughts.
  • Bring clarity to what is and is not working for you in your life – choices related to relationships, work, health, environment are more aligned with your truth making decisions easier
  • Redirect negative brain patterns and encourage more positive and nourishing behaviours
  • Focus on the here and now – making you less likely to get caught up in worrying about the future or regretting the past, less preoccupied with success and self-esteem and better able to form deep relationships with others.

Of course there are many proven physiological benefits also, such as:

  • lowered blood pressure
  • reduced stress
  • balanced hormones
  • chronic pain reduction
  • improved sleep patterns
  • improved digestion
  • better management of mental imbalances such as OCD, depression, eating disorders, anxiety and addiction

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Tips on practising mindfulness

  • Find a time that works each day that you can commit to. Morning and middle of the day are great, and before bed can also be a good time to wind down if you are a wired type!
  • Start with just 5 minutes and if that passes easily then see if you can make it to 20 minutes each day – this would be ideal!
  • Choose a comfortable quiet place to sit or lie – close your eyes, maintain length in your spine, rest your arms wherever comfy
  • Start by following and watching your breath – don’t change your breath pattern, just watch it
  • When your mind wanders, when thoughts, emotions, sounds or physical feelings occur just acknowledge them and let them pass without getting involved and come back to your breath
  • Practise simply being mindful throughout your day – before you send an angry  email, while speaking in a meeting, before beating yourself up about a mistake you’ve made, whilst feeling pain or sadness… stand back from the thoughts, breathe, give yourself space to simply watch. Then respond authentically in the moment guided by fresh, honest thoughts that only act to serve you well.

When you enter deeply into this moment, you see the nature of reality, and this insight liberates you from suffering and confusion. Peace is already there to some extent: the problem is whether we know how to touch it – Thich Nhat Hanh

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To learn more please watch this great talk by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn. Other great experts on mindfulness are Thich Nhat Hanh, Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra and Gabrielle Bernstein.

STOP THE STRESS, IT’S TIME TO CHILL OUT!

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We’ve all heard how our modern day selves are too wired, tired and stressed. We run on adrenaline and are constantly in fight or flight mode… but do we actually know what this means or entails? I’m going to give you a really basic rundown on how our central nervous system operates, and then suggest some techniques that will help get us get into a more natural, cool, calm and collected way of living.

So, just imagine our nervous system has two main branches that we live under the control of. One switches on when we are feeling calm and safe (parasympathetic), and the other switches on when we feel stressed and under threat (sympathetic). To avoid any confusion let’s just call them our calm mode and our stress mode.

When all is well in our lives for the most part we operate under the calm mode. Under this we breathe steadily, our heart beats regularly and restores itself easily after exertion, blood flows fluidly in and around every tissue, we digest food easily, our muscles contract and relax in harmony, our biochemistry is balanced and measured, we sleep restfully and we generally feel pretty happy and content.

When we sense danger or an emergency we employ the stress mode. This asks our adrenal and pituitary glands to secrete chemicals (mainly adrenalin & cortisol) around the body to give us an extra boost to help us in our emergency. These secretions deepen and accelerate our breathing to keep us focussed and alert, increase our heart rate and blood pressure and shut down our digestive system so more blood can be urgently sent to the more needy skeletal muscles in case we need to act quickly. It also breaks down liver cells and other protein rich tissues to make glucose so the muscles have enough fuel, thickens the blood, causes water retention in the kidneys, and causes our brain to experience heightened learning, sensory selection and a sense of time lapse – Phew!!!

Once we are out of danger we have a chemical surplus in our blood that can bring on feelings of queasiness, abnormal excitedness, and shaking. When the adrenaline has been released and re-absorbed we can safely go back to the calm mode.

Not surprisingly, we can sustain a longer  and more healthful life under the calm, parasympathetic mode. Stress mode is intense and designed to be used only in times of dire need. Unfortunately our 21st century brains are still equipped with our cavemen stress response systems, so we struggle to distinguish between the stress of having a fight with a colleague and being pursued by a lion. We can slip into this mode when we are late for work, working to a deadline, or even worrying about loved ones. Obviously in a life or death lion situation this mode is very helpful and potentially life-saving, but our bodies simply cannot sustain the demand – adrenal fatigue will set in weakening the immune system, depleting energy, causing mood swings, anxiety, sugar cravings, hormonal disruptions and so on. Pretty easy to see where this notion of mind-body-spirit comes from now, huh?

So as you can see, everything that happens in your mind has a physical representation in your brain and in your body. Being aware of your thoughts and emotions and making a conscious effort to bring your body back to homeostasis is most important. Here are my 4 tops ways to help spend more time in parasympathetic.

PLAY!

Dedicate time to play, move around and have fun! It is impossible to achieve balance in your life if you don’t do things that make you feel good. At some point you will fall off the wagon if you don’t practise fun. You may fall ill, lose relationships or simply feel flat or sad. Following what feels good will help you get closer to your true nature and therefore what best serves you. Decisions should be made on what feels good rather than driven by fear of what you think you should be doing or what others expect of you.

PRACTISE
Every day do something that gets you moving and makes you smile. Go for walk outdoors / get some sun if poss! / paint / play tennis / play with your kids / pet your cat / dance / play a musical instrument…  for 10 minutes (at the very least!)

MEDITATE

This doesn’t mean you have to sit crossed legged and chant. Just dedicate some time every day to sit, be still and experience inner silence. This practise is a powerful way to reverse toxic thoughts/emotions/habits and to return your body back to homeostasis and self-repair.

PRACTISE
Sit in a comfortable position and bring awareness to your breath; your heartbeat; your emotion; your chest, arms, spine, legs, feet… Just observe, don’t manipulate or judge, just notice. It is completely natural to get distracted with thoughts or sounds around you, just allow them to pass and bring your attention back to your body.

WHEN: At least once a day
FOR HOW LONG: 5 – 30 minutes

BREATHE

Practise conscious belly breathing. Shallow breathing can be enough to take you into stress mode. When you shallow breathe your body senses stress and starts that whole chemical reaction described earlier. By simply breathing low into your lungs and filling the belly with air, you send calm waves through your body. Belly breathing also helps massage your internal organs and aids digestion.

PRACTISE
Lying on your back is best, but definitely do a few rounds of this while sitting at work or on your travels. Breathe in through the nose allowing the belly to rise, breathe out through the mouth allowing the belly to soften back towards the spine. On the inhale visualise gently blowing yourself up like a balloon – can you breathe into the front of your hips? On the exhale feel all of your tissues melting back in towards your centre. Bones feel heavy and relaxed.

WHEN: At least once a day
FOR HOW LONG: Try this for at least a couple of minutes. Keep it gentle, don’t ever force the breath. If you are particularly stressed or know you are a shallow breather then take it slowly – taking in more air can make you feel dizzy if you’re not used to it!

NOURISH

It’s simple – eat fresh, real whole foods. A wide variety of fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, fats, eggs, fish and meat. Drinking fresh vege juices will help you get a massive nutrient hit and drinking stock will help heal and calm your nervous system. Eating processed packaged dead food with high sugar and salt content stresses and messes with the system. Avoid at all costs.

PRACTISE

  • Eating and chewing slowly. Breathe. Notice what you’re eating…textures, smells, tastes. Do not inhale your food while sitting in front of your computer, in the car, or on the bus! Not good.
  • If you crave sweets you need to fill up on more nutrient dense foods with high natural fat content. Try swapping sugar for for raw honey and always eat fruit with nuts, seeds or some form of natural fat – fat helps slow down the rate at which the sugar hits your bloodstream. Coconut oil is fabulous remember!
  • If you need a pick me up try swapping sweet milky coffee for black tea or herbal teas

(IMG: David Straight)