Breaking the Bubble aka What I learned by Stepping Out of my Comfort Zone

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I recently went on a yoga course, and it was WAAAAAAAY outside my realm of comfort. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t comfortable, I didn’t like the experience while I was in it (it really challenged me), but looking back I wouldn’t change it one bit.

While it’s much easier to stay where we feel safe, we need to step outside these easy places in order to experience growth and a better understanding of self.

Let me first say that the course I took was amazing; it was taught by an incredible teacher and what I learned has really shaped my yoga teaching and my personal yoga practice. It was nothing short of transformative, both personally and professionally. The environment however, was, for me, extremely challenging. I knew it would be (as a partial introvert, communal living has never been my thing), but I didn’t realise to what extent.

It was set in nature at an eco-retreat in Portugal – a really beautiful spot, which, under different weather conditions might not have been so difficult. Like many eco-retreats, the showers were heated by the sun, so when it’s sunny you can have a hot shower, but no sun = cold water. You’ve probably guessed that when I was there, there was no sun (for most of the week, anyway), so I got to have quick cold showers, never feeling particularly clean as I was just trying to get through it fast.

Second, there was only one toilet for 40 people, which, in terms of timing wasn’t such an issue as the toilet was a compost toilet, meaning no pee (generally, this also meant no queues for the loo). When we needed to pee, we went wherever we wanted, connecting back in with nature. I don’t mind this once in a while, but I realised that when in communal living (we were 4 to a tee-pee) I really value those moments of being completely alone and private. Peeing outside did not afford me this solitude and I noticed the impact of that as the week wore on.

And the tee-pees! Beautiful and luxurious … as long as the sun was shining. In the rain and cold, much less so. It rained a few nights (and let me point out that tee-pees have a hole in the roof where the canvas and the frame meet- fine when dry, but ineffective in the rain), and we ended up with big puddles of water on the beds and floor, and damp bedding. On one night, there was so much rain dripping from the aged canvas that we had to seek alternative sleeping arrangements (luckily there was a relatively dry yurt near-by).

The week was cold, damp, communal and very out-doorsy. And while I really hated these things, I loved the overall experience because of what I learned:-

 

  • I (and we, as a society) take much for granted. Hot showers, shelter from rain and the elements, plumbing, the ability to feel clean, and have food whenever we want …. These are things not available to many, but we have come to expect them as basic. Removing them for a while makes us appreciate the value and luxury that some of us have. I like being in nature, but I like coming home to a warm bed, free of bugs (or toads, as one of my fellow tee-pee dwellers found), I like having hot showers and value the simple luxuries afforded in my life (these of course, are privilege for much of the world, but I appreciate and enjoy them).

 

  • Removing the “easy buttons” forces you to feel your emotions. We don’t realise how many quick fixes and distractions we have day-to-day that allow us to tune out from how we are feeling, especially if those feelings are uncomfortable. The eco-retreat had no wifi, no television, no (as far as I was concerned) basic comforts, which meant that I had no way to distract myself from feeling uncomfortable. How often do we start scrolling, reach for something delicious/comforting/intoxicating, or tune out on Netflix when things get a little tough? I had nothing that I could use to turn off or avoid the feelings that came up, so I had no choice but to acknowledge them. And although it’s not easy, learning to sit with sadness, discomfort and anger is one of the most valuable lessons we can learn. It teaches us resilience, and the understanding that nothing is permanent – happiness, sadness or anything else. We learn that chasing happiness is futile because happiness is fleeting, as is everything. Appreciating where we are now, and recognizing the impermanence of everything (and accepting that fact) creates contentment because we are focused on the only moment we have – the present.

 

  • Hard times breed deep connections – with self and others. Some of my best friends have come from the connection that happens during a shared difficult experience. Bonding over leaky tee-pees, lack of toilets and an understanding of being out of your realm can bring deep bonds of sisterhood, both with yourself and with others. You are forced to get real, real quick. And connection comes from being real. I met beautiful women, witnessed and felt true vulnerability, and saw incredible moments of honest bare souls. First by allowing ourselves to feel and then opening up about those feelings, we realise that we are not alone, the human experience is shared, and vulnerability and honesty breeds connection. Seeing this openness in ourselves and in others helps us connect to what we truly need, and allows us to better understand ourselves. Being honest, and also available to receive honesty, allows for more connection, more understanding, more love; that’s really what life’s all about – giving and sharing love, with ourselves and those around us.

 

Although it’s much easier to stay inside our bubbles of safety, stepping outside can be the best and most incredible experience. Although I won’t be signing up for another eco-retreat anytime soon, I wouldn’t change a thing – I have a deeper appreciation for the life I live, a greater awareness for the distractions I use to avoid discomfort, a deeper resilience for feelings of discomfort, and a renewed sense of connection with myself and others. So break the bubble, get dirty and see what happens … I daresay you won’t regret it.

Have you stepped outside of your comfort zone? What was the experience? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Photo Credit: Paula Sanderson @paula_sandersonphotos

Natural Remedies

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I’ve so enjoyed sharing my favourite health and wellness practices over the past few weeks, that today I’m adding a bonus health and wellness feature and sharing my favourite natural remedies – the ones I recommend and regularly use when I feel like I’m getting sick (although since seeing and following the advice of the practioners I featured, I rarely get sick anymore … woohoo!). Without further ado, here are my top 10 natural remedies (and ways to avoid getting sick in the first place):

 

  1. Eating Fresh Veggies and Fruit. I don’t really need to explain this one – eating fresh food helps the body to have the power and energy to fight off any bugs, and will keep you in good health most of the time. Make sure you’re having at least 5 servings of fresh (aka, you chopped or peeled them yourself) fruits and veggies every day, and your life will be amazing. For real 😉
  2. Drinking Fresh Lemon and Ginger Tea. This one is pretty easy to make and I love it so much that I drink it regularly, not just when I’m getting sick. To make, cut a few pieces of fresh ginger root (I peel mine) and steep in hot water for 10-15 minutes or more. I love putting the hot water in a travel mug with the ginger pieces so I can enjoy it throughout the day. Before adding the lemon, allow the water to cool slightly so that the heat of the water doesn’t destroy the delicate properties of the lemon juice. Add together and drink as is, or add a small amount of raw honey to taste. Lemon helps to alkalize the body, and aids the liver in detoxifying. Like garlic and oregano oil, ginger helps to boost the immune system and has a whole host of benefits. For an additional boost, try adding a small amount of tumeric root when you’re steeping the ginger. Tumeric has anti-inflammatory properties and has been used for centuries to aid healing.
  3. Avoiding Sugar. I know this sounds difficult, but just 1 teaspoon of sugar suppresses the immune system for up to 6 hours, so if you’re eating sugar then your immune system can’t rid itself of the stuff that’s making you sick. I still eat fresh fruit and occasionally raw honey for its antibiotic and antioxidant properties, but all other sugar (including dates, dried fruit, agave, maple syrup, alcohol and all processed food – most of which contains added sugar) gets put on hold. I’ve noticed that my body heals much faster when I do this, and I can get on with my life without feeling like crap.
  4. Eating Raw Garlic. When I need a boost, I take a shot of raw garlic in a very small amount of water before bed. It’s pretty horrible, I won’t lie, but I can pretty much feel it working as soon as it reaches my stomach. Raw garlic has anti-bacterial and anti-microbial elements which are great for fighting bugs. I learned this little garlic-shot trick from Sarah Britton of My New Roots, who has some great tips on how to do this with the minimum amount of discomfort.
  5. Taking Oregano Oil. This is an amazing oil, and like raw garlic it’s hard to take, but boy, is it powerful! Like garlic, oregano oil is highly anti-microbial, and has anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties. I recommend putting the drops at the back of the tongue so the impact is minimized, and have a glass of water or juice ready to wash it down. Don’t overdo it on the amount – a couple of drops once or twice a day is all it takes, and more can actually be harmful or cause stomach upset. And only take it for a short period of time so that the bugs you’re fighting don’t build up resistance. Ensure also that you get good quality oil – doTERRA is a brand that I recommend as the oils are very pure and distilled in a way that retains their theraputic properties. To buy doTERRA oils click here, and for more on other uses for Oregano Oil, click here.
  6. Gargling with Salt Water. Gargling with salt is a remedy that was passed on from my Granny, a nurse and woman ahead of her time. Whenever I was sick as a child, the first thing she asked was if I had gargled. She recommends gargling every hour, on the hour, but if your schedule doesn’t allow, a few times a day works well. I find this very soothing when my throat is sore, and like me, my Granny rarely gets sick, and has an incredible social life, even at the impressive age of 90!
  7. Using a Neti-Pot or Nasal Rinse. When I’ve had a cold and I’m trying to keep things moving and clear, I love, love, love my neti-pot. It literally gets rid of all the gunk from the nasal passages and is great during or after colds and also for seasonal allergies or hayfever. I use this one (which you can get in most pharmacies), and I find it most effective after a shower when my nose has opened a little from the heat.
  8. Having a Steam. When my nose is blocked or I’m having trouble breathing, I love filling up the sink with boiling water, adding a couple of drops of eucalyptus, tea tree or lavender oil (the latter two are also great for skin health), covering my head and the sink with a towel and breathing in the steam. This usually helps clear up the airways for a little while and I find it relaxing. You can also diffuse some oils in your room while you sleep, which for me, allows more rest.
  9. Taking a Salt Bath.  Sometimes when I’m run down, my body just needs a little bit of extra care. If I’m feeling achy and tired, a bath with epsom or himalayan salts works really well to make me feel better.
  10. Resting. Often illness is a message from our bodies to our brains, telling us to slow down. And when we don’t listen, we get sick. If I do finally succumb to illness, it’s usually because I’ve been doing too much, and I try to honour the message I’ve been given and spend more time resting and recouperating. The body repairs and heals itself during sleep, so this is one of the most effective ways to get better.

 

So there you go! My top 10 natural remedies to help prevent illness and boost the immune system. I’d love to hear if you have any home remedies too! Send me a message or let me know in the comments. And in the meantime, stay happy and well 🙂

The Whole Body

After working for a couple of years as a yoga and Pilates teacher, the physicality of the work started to take its toll, and I sought out professional help, both to correct and prevent. I’ve been seeing osteopath Guy Gold on and off for about 2 years, and not only is he an excellent osteopath and my body feels good in his care, he’s also a positive with a great sense of humour, and a generally lovely person to spend time with.

I asked him to explain a little more about osteopathy and what’s involved.

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What is osteopathy and how does it work?

Osteopathy is a system of healing which realigns the musculoskeletal system to allow the body to heal itself. Our specialisation is within the musculoskeletal framework, but it’s very holistic in its approach, so we’re treating people not conditions and a lot of osteopaths would have concurrently studied naturopathy, which I also studied. Naturopathy is effectively the definition of holistic health, in that we look at the mental, spiritual, emotional, physical and biochemical bodies. The osteopathic part is the musculoskeletal system. So we don’t get people better, we just give people’s bodies a nudge to getting themselves better.

What’s the difference between osteopathy and physiotherapy?

I’ll bring in chiropractics as well, because that’s something else that patients often ask about. We’re all equally good, we’re all specialists within the musculoskeletal field. Physios tend to (and there’s a lot of overlap here, which is important to highlight), but physios tend to provide more remedial exercises – stretching, strengthening and tend to be a bit more hands off and more prescriptive. Chiropractors tend to work more centrally along the spine – they do work peripherally as well, but principally they’re working on the spinal column and the nerve supply to other areas of the body. So their techniques tend to be more manipulations – clicking, popping and so on, but again, there’s often overlap and osteopaths generally are working more with the cardiovascular system and people’s entire body, so whilst we use spinal manipulations and advise people on exercises and so on, we also do lots of massage techniques and stretching techniques. A lot of our work is increasing blood supply to tight areas where there’s no sort of movement and reduced “life”, if you like. But all of them are well placed to treat people suffering from musculoskeletal pain and it’s really down to patient choice. They’re all equally good, just coming in from slightly different angles and slightly different philosophies behind them.

Who can benefit from osteopathy treatments?

I think anyone can. Again, having trained as a naturopath, my approach is very holistic – thus we’re into prevention rather than cure. So typically, I’ll treat from infants to very elderly patients. This week, my youngest patient was four and my eldest patient was ninety-three. In my opinion, I think everyone benefits from osteopathy.

The majority of patients that present to me are patients presenting with pain, ranging from mild discomfort to literally crawling in on their hands and knees in agony. I also treat world-class sports people and they’re in ludicrously good physical shape and they come in for preventative work – so a good osteopath is skilled at kindly observing a patient’s body, reading their body and ascertaining areas of “stuckness”, or restriction that can be freed to enable less stress on other areas. So, for example, someone with a painful knee, you’ll want to look at all of the joints of the lower limbs – so the feet, the ankles, the knee and the articulations of the knee, the hips, the pelvis and the lower back – that’ll be very typical – because it’s all very well and good looking at the knee, but you want to make sure it’s housed in a functioning lower limb and attached to a well-functioning body, in a person that you can guide on what they should and shouldn’t be doing to help to stay well and keep well.

I often see patients who present without pain, or who have been in pain, and want to stay out of pain, and I might see them a few times a year as a preventative measure; it’s less uncomfortable for the patient and they’ll need less treatment across a year; because I’m not curing people, I’m helping people’s bodies to realign so that they can heal themselves and sometimes, with someone who presents for example with arthritis, we can’t impact arthritis in terms of curing it or improving it, but we can help an individual’s body manage it a lot better. And in that respect, there’s often good hope. Some of my patients, for example, might be advised that they need a hip replacement because they’ve got very marked osteoarthritis in the hip and I can help make them more comfortable despite the fact they’ve got that – that means they might not need to be suffering quite as much as they might be in the lead up to requiring surgery.

How will someone usually feel following treatment?

AMAZING! (laughs). The majority of people find it really beneficial. A lot of what we do as osteopaths is education and support. The first and most important job as an osteopath is accurate diagnosis. The most important clinical decision I have to make is “is this patient safe for treatment?” and if they’re not, then where should they be? That’s where osteopathy stands alone in some complimentary medical fields in that we’re primary healthcare practitioners – you go through the same diagnostic triage that a doctor would. We’re not doctors, but we do go through the same triage, so in a typical working week I normally recommend, on average, one or two patients to seek out further scans, or go to the doctor or the hospital. People present things as extreme as broken backs, which is an extreme contraindication for treatment, so in those instances I refer them to get the appropriate checks or treatments before I commence treatment.

So, to answer the question, in the first instance, hopefully people feel reassured by accurate diagnosis so we can know exactly what it is that’s causing a patient’s pain in order to treat the patient safely and effectively. And in the absence of feeling confident in our diagnosis, a good osteopath wouldn’t treat, because a) it’s dangerous, and b) we’re effectively trying to guess a patient better which again is dangerous, inappropriate and ill-advised. In that light, I think the first thing that people often feel is reassured that they are listened to and heard, taken seriously, examined thoroughly and respectfully, that they’re communicated to clearly about what it is that’s going on, what can be done and what can’t be done … given additional advice and modalities as a supportive benefit to moving back to optimum health and wellbeing, and being taken seriously. I always ask if there are any questions or concerns, if people want any further explanation about what I’ve observed, so I think that’s a really important starting point – establishing a really diligent, clear, supportive framework.

And once we start treatment, it really depends on what they present with – there’s different extremes. One patient might just have cricked their neck that morning, we might be able to unclick it and suddenly they feel amazing, and it’s really striking – from agony to feeling brilliant. But that can really vary depending on what it is, how long it’s been there before and how much better I feel we can get that person.

It’s quite a hard question to answer apart from that first part which I think is really important. Normally people feel a bit more spacious, softer, a bit less uncomfortable, a bit more fluid, better quality and quantity and range of motion. On a broader level, in realigning the body, untwisting twisted areas and freeing up stuck areas and helping guide a patient to tighten up loose areas, they can feel like their psyche is housed in a better soma, so the mind’s housed in a better body and quite often you’ll get a sense of someone being more in their midline, more grounded, more relaxed … softer broader breath. Just a kind of more embodied sense. Their sense of wellbeing – there’s a marked broader sense when you observe a patient having done a treatment.

You can also get patients who, because we’re moving blood around already inflamed areas (say for example, there’s a very tight knot that’s inflamed, painful and tender) – by breaking it down, we’re bringing good blood in, so oxygen, nutrients, the ability to drain toxins away – but in bringing in good blood, so bringing inflammation into an already inflamed area – it’s effectively creating more inflammation, so you can be a bit more tender, and in releasing the waste products through metabolism such as lactic acid, that can cause irritation to the surrounding tissue. An osteopathic treatment reaction can be quite common – where someone feels a bit sore, tender, worked on, moved about, for 24 (possibly 48) hours and then that will settle and they’ll tend to feel much better. There can be a slight apparent worsening before they then feel improved.

And in very rare situations, someone might not react well. Obviously, we’re bound by the Hippocratic Oath, and we only treat if we feel that we can genuinely benefit someone. But sometimes it isn’t for everyone. Ideally, you think you can positively impact someone’s health and well-being, you draw up a prognosis, perhaps they need 4-6 treatments and if they’re not following that trajectory that you hope, a good osteopath will review, reconsider, perhaps in confidence talk to an osteopathic colleague, get a second opinion, bring in a doctor, get further investigations. It’s really important that as an osteopath you’re regulating a person’s care and ensuring (kind of auditing, really) that they’re getting better at the rate you anticipate, and if they’re not, you want to look at why not: have you got the diagnosis right? do you need to do further examination? A good osteopath will review the patient’s notes regularly and really think about each individual’s care between sessions. I’ve always got a file of patients that I’m keeping a particularly keen eye on.

What should someone should look for in a practitioner?

Qualified (laughs) … qualified, insured, and registered with a governing body.

Seriously, a good osteopath will be present, aware, engaged, intelligent, thoughtful, considerate, respectful, very diligent, and have a continued commitment to their profession in that they’re doing regular professional development. It’s called an osteopathic practice, and we’re always learning. Our patients are often our teachers, but it’s really important that we continue to develop our skill set and highlight areas of weakness that we can improve. They need to be safe, they need to be kind, they need to listen, be respectful. Stop if a patient is uncomfortable. It’s such a broad question, but an osteopath should be holistic; we’re treating people not conditions. They have to be boundaried, and deeply courteous and respectful to the patients in their care. It’s a significant privilege and honour to be able to do this.

What’s the best thing that happened in the treatment room?

Awww …. it happens every day. Frankly, I feel quite moved by the work I do, not because of what it is, but because it’s inescapably honest, real, humbling – it offers an amazing opportunity for patients to open up, in the strictest of confidence. There are very tender moments, human to human, and there’s a really depth-y human resonance that occurs. Being an osteopath offers an amazing opportunity for … it’s hard to put into words. It’s just extraordinarily humbling. I’ve heard the most remarkable stories of humankind in here – from horrific to amazing to tragic to beautiful. It’s just very real. And it’s a total privilege.

 

Guy Gold practices Osteopathy in London with his associates at triyoga in Camden and Soho.

Pins and Needles

Acupuncture has been around for centuries, but I first discovered it (and the wonderful Julia Oji) when I looked for an alternative to deal with seasonal allergies that conventional medicine couldn’t provide.
Since then, I’ve seen Julia regularly, at times more often than others. Her treatment helps with a wide array of issues, but I also see her when I need a little boost or I’m feeling a bit off.

I asked Julia to explain how acupuncture works and how it can improve wellness and increase vitality.

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In a nutshell, what is acupuncture and how does it work?

Acupuncture is one branch of a traditional medical system that has ancient roots in China (other branches of that system include Chinese herbal medicine and ‘tui na’ which is Chinese massage therapy).

This system views the body holistically, the physical and the mental/emotional states intimately connected. Disease is considered to be, in essence, an imbalance of the energies of the internal organs that each have influence over particular physiological processes and mental/emotional realms. Acupuncture, by stimulating the energy or ‘qi’ of the body and its organs via points situated along a network of channels, aims to restore equilibrium and bring the whole system back to health.

What do you recommend for someone who doesn’t like needles?

The first thing to note about the tools of an acupuncturist’s work – the needles – is that they’re nothing like hypodermic needles used for giving injections; they are much finer, hardly thicker than a hair. When the needle punctures the skin you may not even notice; however, there is generally some degree of sensation – sometimes a tingly, electric feeling or a dull ache – when the needle contacts the body’s ‘qi’ or energy.

So, the needle sensation is usually minimal and acupuncture needles are nothing to be scared of (honestly!) Nevertheless, there are some individuals out there who are genuinely ‘needle-phobic’. Luckily, for these people there’s an alternative: ‘tui na’ or traditional Chinese massage is based on all the same principles and theory as acupuncture and uses a variety of pressure techniques to stimulate points and channels, rather than utilising needles. Tui na can be used on its own of course, but in my practice I often combine acupuncture and tui na – especially when treating musculoskeletal conditions – and find the two disciplines complement each other to great effect.

What conditions can acupuncture treat?

Acupuncture can be used to treat a wide variety of conditions. Some of the most common that I encounter are musculoskeletal (backache, frozen shoulder, repetitive strain injuries, traumatic injuries, sciatica and so on), digestive complaints such as irritable bowel, headaches and migraine, insomnia, anxiety, painful periods, infertility, hay fever and rhinitis or sinusitis.

In a sense, we acupuncturists are like your average GP in that we see patients with every type of condition. The ones I’ve mentioned are our ‘bread and butter’ but there’s hardly a month goes by without me meeting a patient with a condition that I’ve not heard of before (chikungunya anybody?)

It’s worth noting that the NHS now commonly refers patients to acupuncturists for pain management, acknowledging that it can be helpful in dealing with chronic musculoskeletal pain for which painkillers are not the long-term answer. If  you fall into this category, why not ask your GP about acupuncture referral? You might be eligible to receive a course of 6 (sometimes more) free appointments. In addition, many private health insurance companies these days offer cover for acupuncture.

How many treatments are needed and how often do you recommend treatment?

There are no hard-and-fast rules but, as a general guideline, if you’ve suffered with your condition for more than a year, an initial course of 4-6 weekly treatments will usually be required, with follow-ups spaced more infrequently after that. A condition that’s recently occurred, on the other hand (e.g. you’ve pulled a muscle in your back whilst gardening at the weekend), may only need one or two sessions to put you back on track.

Unfortunately, there are always those who are looking for a ‘quick fix’. Safe to say, if you’ve had chronic constipation triggered by poor diet and a stressful job/domestic situation for the best part of your adult life, the constipation isn’t going to magically vanish after one or two treatments!

What should someone look for when finding an acupuncturist?

The best recommendation is word-of-mouth. However, it’s also important to check that your practitioner is a registered member of the either the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC), the British Medical Acupuncture Society (BMAS), or the Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ATCM) – all governing bodies that demand high standards of safe practice amongst their membership.

Acupuncture has been around for centuries, and over that time different ‘schools’ or styles of practice have developed, not only in China but in countries like Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Your acupuncturist may be a ‘Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)’ practitioner, a ‘Five Element’ practitioner, or they might be a Western medicine-trained practitioner such as a GP or physiotherapist who has learned some basic acupuncture methods to incorporate into their work for the benefit of their patients.

My advice would be to make contact with your therapist before booking an appointment and find out as much as you can, especially with regard to their experience in treating your condition.

What’s the most interesting acupuncture experience that you’ve had?

Where to start? I’ve been in practice over 20 years and never cease to be amazed at what can be achieved with acupuncture, especially when a patient fully takes on board the holistic nature of Chinese medicine, incorporating its principles into their diet, lifestyle and general outlook. I can also vouch for the efficacy of acupuncture from a personal standpoint, having used it to help myself recover from a slipped disc among other things.  

Julia practices acupuncture in London at the Brackenbury Natural Health Clinic and in Canterbury.

Strong Core

When people think of Pilates, usually they think of core strength. In the video below, I demonstrate 6 of my favourite moves for building strength in the abdominals and back – together these areas are the basis of our core strength.

The video can be done daily or a few times a week – it’s less than 5 minutes, but small and often will have better results than big and seldom. I do each move about 5 times, but you can increase this quantity if you want a bigger challenge. Try them out and let me know how you feel (and if you have a favourite exercise!) in the comments below.