International Yoga Day: 10 things I learned in 10 years of yoga

Yesterday marked the annual International Yoga Day as named by the UN in 2015 to celebrate the many benefits of this ancient Indian practice. This year the theme was “Yoga for Wellness” which is especially appropriate for 2021 as we are approaching two years of a global health crisis. COVID19 has affected us all, whether we caught the virus or not we have seen the impacts of the pandemic on our physical and mental health. Being stuck at home for months at a time, spending more time in front of our devices and out of our usual routine has meant for many a loss of physical fitness and vitality. The anxiety caused by the virus and the endless stream of fear-inducing news stories has affected many people’s sleep, eating habits and lead to increased use of alcohol, tobacco and other substances. Adding to this the emotional stress of the loss of loved ones or livelihoods, we have a perfect recipe for poor mental health and wellbeing.

Throughout all of this upheaval, the practice of yoga has kept me going and helped me to stay grounded and feeling fairly well, considering the circumstances. Practice of yoga asana (postures) helps to keep our bodies strong and flexible and can be practiced easily at home so it has been a lifeline during the lockdowns when gyms were closed and outdoor activities limited. The pranayama (breathwork) and meditation aspects of yoga help us to regulate our nervous system, calm the stress response and enable us to relax and sleep well even during times of stress. I really believe that a solid yoga practice is one of the best things we can do for our overall health and wellbeing. Personally, I am so grateful for the practice of yoga and it has helped me so much to develop into the person I am today. In this article, I want to share 10 benefits I have experienced through practicing yoga over the last 10 years.

1. Body acceptance

I am including this one first as it really has been the most impactful on my life! When I was younger I struggled with constant self-criticism, hating my body and punishing behaviours such as over-exercising and disordered eating in an effort to try and look the way I thought I needed to in order to be accepted and loved. I originally started to practice yoga as a way to rehabilitate my body and heal from injuries but it ended up becoming much more than that. Yoga is so much more than a workout and through the practice I ended up developing an acceptance and appreciation for my body that I never thought was possible. It helped me to stop focusing so much on the external appearance on my body and instead learn to feel myself from the inside out and develop an energy and confidence that I now see is way more important than the size of my thighs or the number on the scale. Of course I still have days when I feel down about myself or compare myself to others, as everyone does, but it no longer controls my life and when these types of thoughts and feelings arise I know how to move past them.

2. Building strength

When I tell people my main physical activity is yoga, I often get the response that “I like yoga but it isn’t intense enough for me”. This makes me laugh because when practiced with intention, yoga asana can be one of the most intense physical experiences there is. With every yoga posture, you aim for full body awareness and engage every single cell. Even Tadasana (mountain pose), one of the foundations of a beginners’ yoga practice, an be extremely challenging when you really focus on perfect alignment and engaging all of the small muscles that keep you standing tall with a good posture. Other standing postures such as the Virabhadrasana (warrior pose) series, Surya Namaskar (sun salutations) and arm balances like Bakasana (crow pose) help to develop strong muscle tone in the legs, core and upper body. Modern yoga comes in many different flavours from the more fiery and intense Astanga practice to total relaxation and bliss of Yin. I like to incorporate many different styles of yoga into my routine and through the practice I have developed a strong and agile body that helps me to make the most of life.

3. Cultivating flexibility

One of the first things most people associate with yoga is flexibility. It is definitely true that yoga practice helps to open up your body and create a sense of lightness and freedom in your physical vessel. I actually don’t consider myself very physically flexible considering the number of years I have practiced yoga. This is comparing myself to others though and compared to myself before I started to practice yoga, I have come a long way. I was very sporty as a kid and I developed quite a rigid, inflexible body. Now I can touch my toes and I am pretty mobile but I am nowhere near the splits and many other advanced poses are still just a dream for me at this point. But one thing that yoga has really helped me to cultivate is mental flexibility and the ability to let go and go with the flow of life. I remember being so rigid when I was younger, completely attached to my habits, routines and my conditioned beliefs. Over these last 10 years, yoga has helps me to loosen my grip on life and be more accepting of the natural ebbs and flows and the uncertainty that is the only certain thing we have. In particular, pranayama and meditation have been the tools that helped me to release tension and tightness in my mental and emotional bodies and create this feeling of flexibility beyond the physical.

4. Finding balance

With the modern society we live in and the fast-paced, stimulating, information heavy lifestyles we lead, it can be so easy to get carried away and burn ourselves out. Perhaps we are prone to over-working, over-exercising, over-eating, over-consuming… Whatever it is yoga can help us to find that point of balance where we are not doing too much or too little, but always “playing the edge”. Through tuning into my physical sensations and becoming aware of my inner world, I was able to stop damaging my health and happiness with destructive behaviours and create a lifestyle that was truly condusive to wellness. For me that looked like exercising at a lower intensity and taking more rest days, syncing with my menstrual cycles, allowing myself breaks from work and realising that I can’t do it all and letting go of rigid dietary rules and allowing myself food freedom. It might seem strange that yoga could lead to all of these seemingly unrelated changes but I really do believe that practice yoga starts a domino effect in your life. Once you start to become more self-aware and you engage with the intelligence within, you see clearly what is working and where things could be improved. Plus, you cultivate more energy through the practice which you can then direct towards making positive changes in your life and in the world.

5. Overcoming perfectionism

Learning to let go of perfectionism has been a key part of my journey with yoga. There is something to be said about aiming for perfectionism in yoga, particularly if you follow the thought school of B.K.S. Iyengar who is known for his focus on detail, precision and alignment in the postures. However, I think developing a healthy relationship with perfection is very important and something that yoga has helped me significantly with. There is nothing wrong with having lofty goals, in fact this can help to motivate us and challenge us to grow. But we shouldn’t let our perfect vision create dissatisfaction with where we are right now or lead to beating ourselves up for not being good enough. It is the same thing when it comes to comparison with others. It isn’t inherently bad to admire others or use their achievements for inspiration but it should be exactly that, a spring board for our own success and a way to open up our minds to greater possibilities. There have been times in my yoga practice when I believed I should be more advanced, but these days I accept my current limitations and I know that overcoming them is a matter of personal choice and priorities. I am not a full-time yogi, I have many other interests and commitments and my level of practice reflects that, which is fine

6. Developing compassion

One of the skills I have learned through practicing yoga is compassion, both for myself and for others. Through practicing yoga asana, you really see yourself and your physical vulnerabilities laid out on the table. Even the strongest, fittest person can have their ego cut down by simple yoga postures when you realise just how much tension and emotional stress is stored in the body. Yoga teaches us to be firm yet gentle with ourselves, to push ourselves when we need it but also to create a nurturing and supportive environment for growth and healing. Yoga also helps us to connect to something larger and feel like a part of nature as a whole. Through practicing with many different teachers and leading my own classes, I also realised just how alike we are as humans, even if we seem different on the surface. We share so many fears, insecurities, thoughts and emotional patterns and knowing this allows us to have more compassion for others and the struggles they are going through. Connecting with other yogis in the two teacher trainings I have been through was an amazing experience as everyone was so open and available to connect on an emotional level. I am forever grateful to these groups as they helped me to feel loved and supported through some very difficult times in my life.

7. Facing fears and embracing discomfort

Our bodies and minds both have habitual patterns and set ways of being that it can be very difficult to break. A big part of advancing in your yoga practice is learning to face the fears and overcome resistance that arises when you step out of your comfort zone. Whether this is surrendering into a deeper backbend or forward fold or letting go of the resistance towards inversions and balances, yoga helps us to locate our edges and push through those boundaries. When we find what we think is our limit and we are able to push ourselves that tiny bit further (with integrity and compassion of course) we discover new territory and expand our capacities which is a thrilling experience. My yoga practice has helped me to see the areas I hold myself back and where I resist feeling certain sensations and emotions. I always say to my students that learning to embrace discomfort and avoid bracing yourself against it is one of the important lessons that yoga can teach us. Not just on a physical level but this can help us mentally to deal with challenging situations and feelings without hardening and building a protective armor around ourselves which might reduce pain but also blocks out joy and connection.

8. Letting go

This one goes along with developing flexibility, but a huge benefit I have receive through my yoga practice is learning to let go. Letting go of the stress that builds up throughout the day, letting go of unhelpful thoughts, beliefs and conditioning, letting go of harmful habits and behaviours, letting go of past hurts and regrets.. a mindful, intentional yoga yoga practice can help with all of these and create a clean slate on all layers of your being. Not that this happens every time, I have to say. Sometimes a yoga practice highlights all of your pain points and for whatever reason you aren’t ready to move past them. Howver anyone who practices yoga regularly will understand that squeaky, shiny state of consciousness you experience after a focused asana practice and deeply relaxing Savasana. I find that yoga has allowed me to develop the ability to see when I am holding onto things past the point of usefulness (which yes I still do often) and use my breath and other yogic techniques to let them go. Without this ability, we can easily remain stuck in negative mindsets and moods for longer than necessary or hold onto outdated beliefs that no longer serve us.

9. Learning to relax

It should be the easiest thing in the world but somehow, we humans find relaxation so difficult! Perhaps it is the stress of living in society with all of it’s distractions and expectations but often it can be so hard to switch off, to stop doing and just be. Yoga, in particular Yin yoga and Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep) has really shown me the importance of and the path to true rest and relaxation. I have always been an active and busy person and prone to burn-out as I get so passionate with everything that I am involved in and end up doing too much. Even this year with the pandemic and becoming unemployed I feel like I haven’t stopped and I am rarely bored. Carving out time for a regular yoga and conscious relaxation practice has been one of the best decisions I ever made. Sometimes I even write it on my to do list so that I don’t skip it, it’s that important. Relaxation allows our bodies and nervous system to rest and recover physically, it stills our minds so that we can think more clearly and creatively and it allows us to get better sleep so that we can recharge our batteries for the next day. Although it might seem like doing nothing, relaxation is an art and a skill that we need to work on to truly reap all of its

10. Following my heart

Last but not least, my yoga practice has helped to me connect with my intuition and realise that sometimes the right thing to do is to follow your heart. Since starting my yoga practice, I have made some big decisions with regards to where I live, the work that I do and the relationships I have in my life. I am a rational and logical person (for those of you who don’t know me well I actually have a degree in Chemical Engineering) so I always take my time with decisions and think things through, but there are times when you have to listen to your heart and make choices that might seem irrational to others but feel true for you. It can be so easy to keep plodding along the same path all of your life because it is what is expected of you or because you don’t know what is to be found off the beaten path, but sometimes there can be very beautiful things waiting! The appreciation for life I discovered through practicing yoga and the connection with my inner wisdom and deeper emotions where the reason that I left my engineering job and moved into environmental-protection and health related work, the reason that I moved to Greece and the reason I no longer chase relationships where I feel unappreciated and question myself.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this post in celebration of International Yoga Day! Let me know in the comments below if you have experience these benefits or others from practicing yoga. Like this post and follow my blog for more content on yoga, nutrition and healthy living in Greece.

If you want to learn more about Yoga for Women you can check out my others posts here and you can also find my current class schedule here. Currently I am only teaching one online class a week but I will be updating the schedule in September and (hopefully) starting a face to face class here for any of you in Athens! I also offer online private and small group classes at a very reasonable price, just reach out by email if you are interested and I can put together a package that meets your needs.

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Healthy living during lockdown: eating from the garden

I’ve not been as inspired to write lately. Life is pretty repetitive for everyone these days.. We are just trying to make the best of things and focus on keeping our spirits up. One of the things that has helped a lot is being outside in the garden. We’re really lucky to live in an area of Athens where most of the houses have gardens and we are making the most of it.

Like most people I’ve had way too much screen time during this lockdown. Even though I go for walks every day, read, practice yoga, play my guitar and other non-technology related things I still spend a lot of time working on my laptop or watching TV and I definitely notice the impacts on my health and wellbeing. After a long day in front of screens I feel more tired, my eyes feel fatigued and sometimes I get a headache. I notice my mind feels more scattered and find it more difficult to shift into relaxation mode in the evening. Making the effort to take breaks and spend more time outside during the day has helped a lot in recent weeks. It really improves my mood and my energy levels throughout the day. Even a 5 minute break every hour to get some fresh air and feel the sun on my skin helps to keep me feeling calmer and happier and sleep better at night.

Another thing that has been great is learning about seasonal eating and focusing on eating local, seasonal foods. Greece has so many fresh citrus fruits this time of year and we’ve enjoyed picking lemons, grapefruits, oranges and mandarins and figuring out what to do with them all. We’ve made litres of lemon juice to save for lemonade in the summer, lemon confit for cooking in savoury dishes, orange and lemon cakes, tarts and pies, mandarin liquor.. the list goes on!

Citrus fruits are so good for your health, especially in the winter months which is their peak growing season. The markets here are full of fresh citrus of all varieties at this time of year and they taste so sweet, not at all acidic like the ones you can buy at the supermarket out of season. Citrus fruits are an amazing natural source of vitamin C which supports your immune system and the natural detoxification processes in your liver. They also have many micro-nutrients such as anti-oxidants, flavanoids and polyphenols which help to protect your body from disease. More and more research is being published showing the amazing benefits of these little understood compounds. If you eat the whole fruit you also get a boost of fibre and water which help to keep your digestive system functioning optimally and a dose of natural sugars to satisfy your sweet tooth.

As well as making the most of the abundance of fruit, we’ve also had another go at growing our own veggies from scratch. I am really interested in the environmental impact of food systems and I think if you have the option, growing your own food can be an amazing way to eat in a more sustainable way. Our first attempt at growing our own veggies was last year in Nottingham. We bought a tiny raised bed (around 0.5x1m) and experimented planting radishes, garlic, lettuces, onions, cauliflower and potatoes. Let’s just say that some worked better than others but it was fun and we learnt a lot. We learnt that spacing of the plants is important! We thought that if we just throw the seeds down it would be survival of the fittest and the strongest would thrive but actually what happened is the plants ended up all competing with each other and none of them thrived.

Then the moment when you actually pick and eat what you have grown is worth all of the effort. Finally eating a salad made with home-grown lettuces and radishes was so satisfying! It feels so good to eat food that you have grown yourself. You really appreciate food when you understand the work that goes into growing it. You also start to see the differences between different plants, for example, I didn’t realise that each radish plant only grows a single radish so they actually need a lot of space and resources whereas with potatoes you get around 5 big ones and a few smaller ones from each plant. It makes you want to use all of the plant too as you don’t want to waste anything. We found out we could made pesto with radish leaves rather than throw them away which was really cool and a fun alternative to traditional pesto-pasta.

This year we stepped it up a notch and built an even bigger raised bed (around 1.5x3m). We ordered the wood online because all of the shops were closed so it was a bit of a challenge figuring out how the thing was supposed to fit together. After spending half a day arranging all of the pieces of wood and finally starting to build we found the tiny piece of paper with the instructions on it – oops. I can’t take the credit for the construction, my boyfriend built most of it but I helped where I could and did an excellent job of supervising and capturing photos. And it actually turned out pretty well! It needed a lot of soil though and luckily we found a local company who could deliver it in small bags as it’s really heavy. We planted radishes, garlic and lettuces again, carrots, onions and leeks plus some potatoes outside of the raised bed.

It’s been a few weeks since we planted the first seeds and we already have the first signs of life. The lettuces, leeks and carrots are starting to sprout and the garlics already have huge green stems. We had to move the lettuces into small pots as they were already over crowded. We should have done that in the first place really but sometimes it takes making the same mistake a few times to learn the lesson. Hopefully they will survive the move and we can move them back into the raised bed when they get bigger. We ended up transplanting some of the radishes outside of the raised bed too. We’re slowly taking over the rest of the garden but it’s not like a lawn can survive here anyway as it’s much too dry, so we might as well make the most of the space we have!

I hope you enjoyed this quick post sharing what we’ve been up to and how we are keeping ourselves entertained during this seemingly never ending lockdown. Let me know in the comments below if you’ve ever tried growing vegetables at home and if you have any tips, I could definitely use some. Or if you’ve taken up any new hobbies this year that are helping to bring some joy into your life. I am still busy applying for jobs and working on my upcoming project but I’m always looking for fun things to do outside of work. I am I’ll be back with more posts on health, nutrition and yoga over the next weeks so watch this space!

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5 day reset – day 1

So today was the first day of my 5 day mini-cleanse. I didn’t start off on the right foot as for some reason my sleep was terrible last night. I’m not going to over-analyse it, I’ve learnt by now that it’s better to just accept it and move on, but I was feeling pretty tired this morning and not exactly full of the motivation I’d hoped for at the start of this reset.

What I did today

Once I managed to drag myself out of bed I started my day with a 15 minute meditation  and spent a bit of time writing in my journal. It’s been a couple of weeks since I wrote anything as I’ve had a pretty packed schedule so there are quite a few things bubbling underneath the surface that I need to explore. I’ve been struggling with some uncomfortable feelings of guilt, confusion and sadness that I know I need to process. It’s too easy to push negative thoughts and emotions away when we have the busy-ness of life as a distraction. I said in my post yesterday that this is not just a physical cleanse but that I also want to give myself some time to reflect and get some mental clarity too.

This afternoon I did an at home yoga practice and went out for a walk around a local nature park. Sunday was the perfect day to start this cleanse as I had nothing to do except chill and have a bit of me-time. It was so good to get out in nature, it was absolutely freezing but one of those sunny winters days that I love where everything feels bright and light. I felt really calm and happy and my energy was pretty good too. No headaches so far although I did make the mistake of going too long without eating as I forgot to take food out with me and I got soooo hungry I was literally running through the door to get to the fridge by the time I got home. Something I forgot was how much longer fats fill you up for compared with carbs in fruit!

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What I ate today

I had a yummy chocolate and maca smoothie bowl for breakfast. Since I quit coffee I have been having cacao in some form most days as it still gives me that energy boost but without the nerve-frazzling effects of coffee. It is also a good source of essential minerals such as iron, magnesium and calcium. I like including maca too as it gives a slight caramel taste and it is thought to balance hormones and boost fertility and libido. The slightly controversial ingredient for a cleanse is sea salt. For a few months now I’ve been adding a pinch of sea salt to my water and smoothies to balance out the mineral profile. This is something I recommend to anyone struggling with adrenal fatigue but I’m not going to go into detail about that here, I will write more in a later post.

20191201_095730.jpg Smoothie bowl recipe 

Blend together in a food processor:

3 frozen bananas

1 cup unsweetened soy milk

2 tbps cacao powder

1/2 tbps maca root powder

Pinch sea salt

Sprinkle with hemp seeds for extra crunch

I had a late breakfast so I wasn’t feeling too hungry at lunch time. I had two giant grapefruits which is my faaaave fruit right now. I know it’s too bitter for a lot of people but I just love it. It is great for detoxing and said to boost oestrogen so maybe it’s exactly what my body needs – I love how intelligent our bodies are when we pay attention to them! I also had a couple of the raw vegan truffles I made yesterday and some licorice tea in my new favourite mug when I got back from my walk.

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For dinner I had left over baked sweet potatoes, black beans and veggies with a simple tahini dressing. I added nutritional yeast for a bit of a protein boost and for a healthy dose of zinc and vitamin B12 as these are two nutrients that are lacking in a vegan diet. I am also taking a liquid vitamin D supplement but this is something that I do all through the winter anyway living in the UK and recommend to anyone living in a colder climate.

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Tahini dressing recipe

2 tbsp tahini

1tsp soy sauce

1 tsp lemon juice

1 tbsp nutritional yeast

Mix in a bowl and gradually add hot water to thin out

It’s evening now and I am just going to chill and watch a film or play my guitar as I am trying to switch off my computer a few hours before bedtime. I also only have a couple of chapters left of the book I’ve been reading (The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell – highly recommend especially to anyone who likes the TV show!). Tomorrow I have a full day in the office so I need to make sure I am prepared with plenty of healthy food for the day. I definitely want to have plenty of fruit but also I think I need to eat nuts or seeds too to keep my blood sugar balanced and stop me from getting hungry every hour..

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Dealing with sleep disturbances

Insomnia is something that has been part of my life for a looooong time now. I’ve never been a night owl or someone who can sleep in till noon but I did used to have a healthy sleep pattern and wake up feeling refreshed. Somewhere along the line this got disrupted and I’d say for the last 5 years my sleep has not been great. I’ve probably averaged around 5-6 hours a night and after a while it really started to take its toll. Its only been in the last month or two that I finally feel more balanced and that I have a healthier relationship to sleep so I wanted to share a few things I learned along the way.

What are the types of sleep disturbance?

In my experience there are 3 main types of sleep disturbance:

  1. Not being able to fall asleep
  2. Not being able to stay asleep (or waking up too early)
  3. Not getting quality deep sleep

These can be acute (short term) or chronic (long term) and can happen for many reasons. I tend to fall into the second category, I can fall asleep easily but I often wake up in the middle of the night or very early in the morning and struggle to get back to sleep. However I have spoken to lots of people who have the opposite problem and lie awake into the early hours not being able to fall asleep then struggle to get out of bed in the morning. The third type is probably more common than most people realise as it has become the norm to not feel refreshed in the morning then plough through the day using coffee to keep us awake.

What causes sleep disturbance?

So many things are at play in the quality of our sleep that its hard to say the “true cause”. Often its a combination  physical, psychological and environmental factors. Many people today are stressed with the high pressure, busy lifestyles we lead. Anxiety and worry as well as other mental conditions can lead to sleep disturbance or insomnia. For others it could be physical such as pain or discomfort, caffeine or alcohol intake, blood sugar imbalance or nutritional deficiencies. In some cases environmental factors such as too much noise or light in the bedroom, use of phones or laptops in the evening or being too hot or cold in bed.

For me, it is mostly psychological and definitely related to stress and my “type A” personality of wanting to do things well. This means I often have things on my mind even when I don’t realise it and can wake up in the night planning what I need to do the next day. Anxiety around sleep also doesn’t help as worrying about how much sleep I am missing out on and how tired I will be just exaggerates the problem and keeps me awake.

What can we do to improve sleep?

There are some absolute basics of “sleep hygiene” which I think is always a good place to start:

Technology

Make sure you have a blue light filter installed on your phone/laptop if you use them in the evening. The blue light emitted from screens makes our brains think it is day time and can mess with your body clock and sleeping patterns. Even better, switch off all devices at least an hour before bed

Lighting

Again on the topic of light try to dim the lights as much as possible in the evening. Lamps, fairy lights and candles are all great to help you wind down in the evening and get ready for sleep. Himalayan salt lamps are really beautiful and are said to boost energy, clean the air and aid better sleep. When you actually get into bed it should be as dark and cave like as possible. Blackout curtains are great, especially if you live somewhere with a lot of artificial light or where it gets light early in the morning. I also sleep with an eye mask as I find it comforting and part of my sleep routine. I found a super comfy cotton one (here) which doesn’t put pressure on my eyes and it’s really made a difference.

Temperature

Our body temperature actually drops to its lowest point during the night as we are not moving or digesting food to generate heat. The recommended bedroom temperature for optimal sleep is 16-18°C (60-65°F). Check you don’t have your heating set too high in the winter and try to keep your bedroom as cool as possible in the summer. I’ve never tried it but apparently putting your sheets in the fridge is helpful

Noise

If you live in an apartment or on a busy street it could be something as simple as noise keeping you awake. Its not something you can easily control unless you want to move out into the countryside but I have found ear plugs really helpful in getting a better night’s sleep. I have tried all sorts of different ones so you might need to try a few until you find a comfy pair. I like the mouldable silicone ones (these) as I sleep on my side and the foam ones stick out and feel uncomfortable

If these don’t work what can I try?

Caffeine

Everyone is different when it comes to caffeine and only you know your body best. I used to rely heavily on caffeine, even more so when I was struggling with sleep as it was the “only way” to get through the day when I was feeling exhausted. I managed to decrease to one coffee in the morning so I thought this couldn’t possibly be affecting my sleep over 12 hours later but actually caffeine takes a long time to break down in our body. It has an average half life of 6 hours which means if we drink a coffee at 10am then half of that will be in our system at 4pm and a quarter still at 10pm. Who would drink a quarter coffee before bed an expect to get a good nights sleep?? Once I managed to quit coffee altogether it really helped my sleep and energy levels during the day (after the first few difficult days!). If you don’t know if you are sensitive to caffeine give it a try for a couple of weeks as this could be the key.

Hydration

We are always bombarded with messages these days telling us to drink more water to be healthy. I do agree that hydration is important but we can over do it. If you are peeing every hour and it is clear, you are probably overdoing it. I know I have definitely gone through periods of waking up during the night to go to the bathroom and for a healthy person this shouldn’t happen. If this is you then try to have your last drink after dinner, maybe a herbal tea or other relaxing drink, a few hours before you go to bed. Make sure you are drinking during the day and taking in hydrating fruits and vegetables but there is no need to drink pints and pints of water as your body will be unable to absorb it.

Relaxation

This one is not always easy but allowing yourself to “wind down” before bed is really important. Give yourself half an hour to an hour before you head to sleep to sit quietly and listen to music or read a book. Maybe do some stretching or yoga if this is your thing or find another relaxing activity that you enjoy. Try to avoid intense tv programs or heated debates before bed as this can increase your stress hormones and keep you awake. If you have a family to look after it can be hard sometimes to find this time but having a routine before bed can help to program your brain and prepare for better sleep. It can be better to stay up an extra 30 minutes to give yourself this time and get better quality sleep that to head to bed in a stressed out state worried about not getting enough sleep.

Journalling

It might seem cliche but writing in a journal before bed can be a great way to empty your mind and allow your brain to relax into deep sleep. Try to get any worries and stresses of the day out of your head and onto paper. Even if you are resistant to writing at first just start and over time it will get easier. If you are someone like me who tends to run through their to do list in the night, try to write it all down before bed. What needs to be done, what have you done so far to work on it and what will you do tomorrow? Close the book and put it away in a drawer before you go to bed and that will signal to your brain that it is safe to relax until the morning.

Exercise

Moving our bodies is necessary part of a healthy lifestyle but can also help with sleep. Using energy and getting the blood flowing helps our bodies to detoxify and release tension. It doesn’t have to be anything extreme but getting 30 minutes of movement on a daily basis can really help improve sleep quality. Walking, yoga, dancing, jogging, cycling… anything which seems fun to you just give it a go and see how you feel. On the other hand if you are working out intensely in the evening, this could be contributing to sleep issues as it can raise cortisol levels. Exercising in the morning is best but if the evening is the only time available to you try to get your workout in before dinner and allow your body a few hours to relax again before bed.

I’ve tried all of this what can I do now??

Aromatherapy

Relaxing scents such as lavender can help to calm down your nervous system and prepare for sleep. Try scented candles or oil burners, oil diffusers or have a relaxing bath with essential oils and salts added in. You can also get lavender sprays for you bedroom or pillow which can help you brain to associate the scent with sleep.

Supplements

I have tried over the counter sleep medications in the past and not enjoyed the experience. They would help me to sleep through the night but I never felt refreshed adn would often feel more groggy and foggy headed than if I’d been awake all night. On the other hand I have found herbal remedies and supplements to be effective. My favourites contain chamomile, valerian root, sour cherry, lemon balm and lavender as well as B vitamins and magnesium which both help with relaxing the nervous system. Two I like at the moment are “Bee-rested” and “Melissa dream” which can be found in the UK but there are many similar products out there.

Mindset

I’ve saved this one till last but it is actually one of the most important ones and that is your attitude towards sleep. I know I have been in a panic and tears many times in the morning after having barely any sleep and having to get up and go to work. But I start to question myself and think “so what if I’m tired, what is the problem”? This raised so much resistance in me at first but actually I realised that the pressure and worry I was putting on myself was making the problem worse. I was defining myself as an insomniac which was programming my mind to attach to the problem and prevent me from getting back into a normal routine. Once I accepted the situation and stopped panicking when I woke up in the night I started to feel and sleep better.

What should I do if I wake up in the night?

Finally I want to give a few tips about what to do if you wake in the middle of the night or early morning and can’t sleep. I know I have been there and it is a very frustrating, isolating and lonely time. I used to toss and turn in bed sometimes trying to sleep for 4 hours before having to drag myself out of bed. Now I never stay in bed longer than half an hour if I’m not asleep. The best thing to do is to get up, go into another room and sit quietly in dim lighting until you feel ready to sleep again. Try reading or journalling or any other activity. Instead of worrying about being awake, see it as bonus peaceful time.

I hope some of these tips can help any of you struggling with sleep. It can be the most frustrating thing and it really affects our quality of life and don’t have the energy to do the things we enjoy during the day. If you have any stories or extra tips please share in the comments as I think this is a really important topic 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Menstrual cycle awareness

Recently I have been completely enthralled by the book Wild Power by Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer. I love all things hormone related so I was really excited to read this one and I really think it is a must read for all women! I know when I first started my periods as a teenager I didn’t really think much of it, it was usually just  a monthly surprise that made me moody and stopped me from doing sports. It wasn’t until almost 10 years later that I actually started to dive in and learn about the intricacies of the full female cycle.

One of the best things I started doing along the way was tracking my cycle which is referred to in the book as “Menstrual Cycle Awareness”. I started off pretty basic tracking my basal body temperature and my bleeding days so that I had a rough idea of when I was ovulating and how long my cycles were. In the beginning they were all over the place with annovulatory cycles and sometimes skipping periods altogether but it was so interesting to see my body start to regulate again. Now, 2 years later, cycle tracking has become an important part of my daily routine.

I use an app called Maya to record any symptoms such as bloating, cravings, insomnia as well as my mood. The app estimates when my next period will be, when I am most fertile and alerts me to any expected symptoms based on my historical data. It might seem a bit excessive but I have been so surprised at the patterns I have seen and actually it has been a really great way to become more present and tune into my body on a daily basis. There are loads of apps such as Clue and Flo that do a pretty similar thing. You can also use them for tracking your fertile window if you are trying to (or trying to avoid!) getting pregnant.

Now this book takes Menstrual Cycle Awareness to the next level. They describe the four phases of the cycle or the “inner seasons” which this video sums up pretty well. Most women, including myself until pretty recently, see the cycle as either bleeding or not bleeding. You might be aware of mood changes in the run up to your period. especially for those who struggle with PMS but when we start to pay close attention we can see subtle shifts in energy all throughout the cycle as our hormone levels change.

female cycle

The four phases can be put into two main vibes. Phases 3 and 4, the follicular and ovulatory phases are when the womb lining building itself up ready for the release of an egg. This represents the masculine or yang energy phase when energy levels are higher and is the time when we tend to feel like being out there in the world and getting stuff done. Phases 1 and 2, the menstrual and pre-menstrual phases are when the womb waits for the arrival of the egg then releases the lining if you aren’t pregnant. This represents the feminine, yin energy and usually is the call to retreat and move more slowly in the world, allowing time for intuition and reflection.

Unfortunately today’s world doesn’t seem to appreciate this feminine energy. We always feel the need to be productive and in control and this lower energy is not welcome. But just becoming aware of these changes in my body and mind through menstrual cycle awareness made me start to wonder, what if I did allow myself to listen to my body? And what happens when I don’t? I recently I had a busy weekend that just happened to fall when my period was due. I had a lot of work to do then I had a couple of late nights with my boyfriend and friends and it completely wiped me out. I was exhausted all of the next week and I couldn’t understand why. It was only later when I looked back and I realised that I hadn’t allowed myself the rest and time out I needed on those days. How could I expect to run without recharging my batteries!

So since then I have started paying more attention to my cycle, my energy levels and my moods. I find it very hard to say no to things, even when I don’t feel like it but I know this is going to be key to getting my health back on track. I have started writing a moon journal, not every day but when I feel like it and honestly I feel like superwoman. I feel like I have a secret weapon that no one knows about and it is amazing. It is early days but I really feel like I am starting to understand my own rhythms better than ever and hopefully I can use it to start organising my life in a way that I can do all of the things I want to but without exhausting myself in the process.

An imperfect beginning

I have put off starting this blog for a while now. Partly because I wasn’t exactly sure of what I wanted to write about but mainly because I wanted it to be perfect.

I thought that I needed to know everything before I shared what I have learned.
I  wanted to have perfect health before I wrote about my journey.
I was worried that whatever I wrote wouldn’t be good enough.
I was waiting for a less crazy time in my life when I could give 100% to every post.

But let’s be honest, if I waited for the ideal moment then I’d never start.

“Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal. Additionally, perfectionism is more about perception – we want to be perceived as perfect. Again, this is unattainable – there is no way to control perception, regardless of how much time and energy we spend trying.”  
Brené Brown

There is never going to be a perfect time or perfect topic or perfect story. Now I realise that if I’m not writing this blog for anyone else then why does it need to be perfect. Chances are no one will read it anyway amongst the billions of blogs out there so I am doing this for me and if it ends up a complete mess that’s just fine.

But as you are reading this, welcome to the imperfect beginning to my imperfect blog! I’m feeling pretty lost with my health right now struggling with insomnia, exhaustion and generally not myself. I am becoming reacquainted with my monthly cycles after struggling with hormonal issues for most of my life and woooooww this stuff is fascinating. I am convinced that paying attention to our monthly cycles as women is key to feeling happy and fulfilled in life.

If you are interested in learning more about how to embrace and live in flow with your hormonal cycles and experience your best health feel  free to follow along and learn from my wins and struggles as I go. And please send me a message as I’d love to start a conversation with like minded people 🙂