The power of connecting with nature

To finish off week two of the Women’s Wellness Challenge, which is all about connection, I want to share the importance of connecting with nature for our wellbeing. Connecting with yourself, with others around you and with the natural environment are all essential elements of creating a healthy and balanced life. When we are feeling low or stuck in a rut, getting out into nature and remembering we are part of this greater whole can be just what we need to come back into alignment.

These days, it’s so easy to get caught up in the artificial environment we have created in cities and through technology. We can spend all day working in front of a computer and our leisure time on the phone or watching TV. If we aren’t careful, we can easily go a whole day without seeing the sun. Especially at this time of year in Northern Europe! However, making the effort to get out into nature, to feel the sun on our skin and breathe fresh air (i.e. life!) into our bodies is so important.

We are a part of nature

Despite being highly evolved beings, we are still a part of nature and our bodies are designed to operate within her cycles. We have our circadian rhythm which pushes us to be active during the day and sleep at night. We are also influenced by the lunar cycles, especially in the case of menstruating women who experience monthly cycles with phases which can align with the phases of the moon. Every year we experience several seasons that impact us in obvious and more subtle ways.

As much as we try to separate ourselves from nature and make our lives more convenient and predictable, we ultimate depend on it and remain part of it. We rely on natures’ eco-systems to provide the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. The energy from the suns’ rays brings life to our planet and to us humans too. Sunlight regulates our endocrine system and helps us to make vitamin D to keep our bones strong and preserve our immune system.

Nature represents the feminine energy that we all have within us that brings the qualities of surrender, flow and spontaneity. It reminds us not to take everything so seriously and to live in awe in the wonder that is our Earth. Not only that, but spending time in nature has been proven to improve our health by lowering blood pressure, reducing stress and anxiety and calming our nervous system. Distancing ourselves from our home, the natural environment, can leave us feeling lost and spiritually empty, whether we realise it or not.

Ways to connect with nature

The beautiful chaos of nature is the perfect antidote to the over-rational, linear lives that most of us live these days. If you feel like you need to connect with nature, here are a few simple ideas of how you can do so:

  • Watch the sun rise or set whenever you can
  • Ground your bare feet on the earth
  • Go walking in any natural environment you have access to such as the forest, mountain or beach
  • Watch out for wild animals in the area that you live
  • Take note of the changing phases of the moon
  • Go out on a clear night and look at the stars
  • Let go of artificial lights in the evening and try candles instead
  • Open the window and let in fresh air every morning
  • Try a weekend break in the countryside with no smartphones
  • Do a nature photoshoot in your local area
  • Plant a seed and watch it grow

If you have any other ways you like to connect with nature, please share in the comments below!

My natural world

I love going for daily walks in the local park and getting out to hike in the mountains or stroll along the beach whenever I can. With my partner we also like spending time with the garden and have been experimenting during the pandemic with growing our own food. There is nothing better than drinking fresh juice made with fruits you just picked from the tree. Or maybe building a salad with vegetables and herbs you watched grow from seeds. For me, it connects me to the magic of nature and makes me feel like a kid again

Today’s challenge: Get out into nature

Your challenge for today (and over the weekend as it is Friday!) is to pick at least one way to connect with nature and go out and do it. Even if it’s cold and rainy, get yourself out there and connect with Mother Earth. Pay attention to how you feel in the natural environment. Watch your breathing slow, your nerves soothe and a smile arrive on your face.

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scenic view of ocean during sunset

Connect to your true self

The second week of the Women’s Wellness Challenge is all about connection. That is connection to our inner selves, others around us and the beautiful planet we call home. Feeling connected is such an important aspect of our overall wellbeing. Without connection we can feel lonely, isolated and unsupported. On the other hand, feeling connected boosts our energy and vitality, gives our lives meaning and allows us to experience shared emotions such as joy and love.

These days, it is more important than ever to focus on nurturing our connections. We are living in an era of loneliness where the combination of social media, loss of community and more recently the pandemic have made it so easy to become disconnected and distracted. It takes effort to keep connections going when our daily interactions are so limited but it’s one of the most important things we can all do for our health and wellness right now.

Connecting with your self

We will get to connections with others and your community later in the week but for today we will focus on deepening your connection to your inner self. It is important to start with strengthening this foundational relationship with yourself as this enables you to go out into the world without losing a sense of who you really are. Without this relationship to your true self, you can end up living in a way that feels inauthentic. You say and do things that you think you should rather than listening to your own intuition.

Conversely, when you feel connected to yourself, you know who you are, your values, what you like and dislike. You aren’t swayed by others opinions or what is deemed acceptable by society but rather you are able to truly tune into your own inner knowing. You feel a sense of inner peace and confidence that who you are is ok and you are less likely to fall into the trap of self-comparison or judgement. This means that you are also more likely to accept others as they are, knowing that we are all unique but part of the same greater whole.

How we lose connection with ourselves

With all of the intensity and stimulation of society, we can easily lose sight of ourselves. The demands of a career, family or just the fast pace of daily life today is enough to leave us feeling lost and wondering who we are. We go through life on auto-pilot acting mindlessly out of habit and distracting ourselves with social media or any other addiction. Trust me, I have been there!

Some of the common ways we can lose the connection with ourselves includes:

  • People pleasing i.e. over accommodating the demands of others
  • Trying to fit into society norms
  • Periods of intense stress or big life changes
  • Over identifying with particular roles in life
  • Too much technology or other distractions

This is a very normal process that we all pass through at different phases in life. But being able to recognise when we are falling in to the trap of disconnection and taking actions to re-connect will make these periods pass more quickly and with less impact. Feeling uncertain, unable to make decisions or overly anxious and afraid are all signs that it is time to to re-connect with your self.

How to re-connect with your self

  1. Time alone

    One of the most important factors for re-connecting with yourself is spending time alone. We are constantly bombarded by information from others and the world around us. Whether it is in person or online, we barely go an hour without reading or hearing opinions from others. Although it is important to listen to others opinions, without time spent alone it is difficult to process this information and form our own opinions about things. Even though connection with others is important, we need time alone to connect with our spirit. Being in nature can also take this to the next level!

  2. Journaling

    Journaling can be a very useful tool to support you in connecting to yourself. Through writing in a journal, you can start to unlock your deepest thoughts and feelings that you might suppress during every day life. A journaling practice can be as simple as asking yourself “How do I feel today?” or “What are my true thoughts/feelings about X?”. You can then free write until it feels complete. It is better to write with a pen and paper and write quickly, without reading or editing as you write. This way you allow your inner voice to take over and you write in an uncensored and unfiltered way.

  3. Personality tests

    Personally, I find personality tests so useful in understanding who I am and how I behave. Of course they are made by others and are always a generalisation but some of them are very detailed and have been heavily researched by psychologists. My favourite is the 16 personalities test which you can take for free here. The results tell you which personality type you are most like inluding personal strengths and weaknesses, tendencies in work, family and love life. It can be very useful to see things from this perspective and you might learn something about yourself that you had never thought of. Always AHA moments galore with these tests!

  4. Meditation

    Finally, meditation is the ultimate way to connect with your Self. Through meditation practice, you are able to witness your thoughts, sensations and emotions and realise that the true you is actually separate from all of this. Your deepest inner self is an observer, the one who experiences everything through the lens of your senses and the filter of your mind. When you connect with this deep part of yourself in meditation, you realise that no matter what happens in the outside world, no matter how painful something might be you will always be ok. Meditation doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as sitting in silence, focusing on your breath and observing anything that arises in your experience.

Be your own cheerleader

Connecting with yourself in this way will help you to become your own cheerleader. By this I mean you will be there for yourself and stand up for yourself no matter what. Feeling this strong anchor point inside helps you to navigate difficult times and know that you can make it through. You are able to listen and attend to your own needs which then allows you to go out into the world and support others from a place of fullness. It is important four your wellbeing to know when it is time to give and when you need to receive.

Feeling connected to yourself and confident in who you are will also support you in making any change you want in your life. If you are aware of your strengths then you can use them to your advantage. On the other hand, if you know your weak points you can plan ahead and put strategies in place to support yourself through any difficulties. As I always say, this is not about judging yourself but about knowing and supporting yourself. This also means not taking yourself too seriously and being able to laugh at your quirks and “flaws” knowing that it is part of being human!

So that is all for today, tomorrow we will be moving onto the topic of connection with others and the importance of belonging for your wellbeing. If you have been feeling alone recently and feel like you are in need of more connection in your life them stay tuned because this one will be for you!

Today’s challenge: Identify your strengths and values

Your challenge today is simple! Make a list of 5-10 character strengths that you possess. Some examples include:

Optimistic Hard working Organised Ambitious Friendly Adventurous Creative

Loving Kind Persistent Focused Patient Resilient Practical Generous

Feel free to choose from this list or add your own. It’s better to do this by yourself if you can but if you feel stuck you can ask close friends or family for their ideas. Once you have your list, see if you can narrow it down to your top 3. How can these strengths support you in reaching your goals? How can you use them to your advantage?

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ayurveda quote

Nourish your spirit with Ayurveda

To end week 1, we will focus on nourishing your spirit through Ayurveda. This is an ancient Indian holistic health practice and system of medicine. At it’s heart, Ayurveda has the principle of understanding your individual constitution and maintaining balance through appropriate diet, exercise and lifestyle choices as well as herbal medicine. It takes many years of study to become an Ayurvedic practitioner, however there are some simple principles that I have learnt through yoga teacher training which I will share with you today!

Ayurveda and the spirit

I love that Well College Global include an introduction to Ayurveda as part of their personal wellness course. Even for those who are not interested in yoga or Eastern philosophy, there is so much to be learned about the world and yourself through the lens of Ayurveda. It helps us to understand that we are part of something greater and that we are all unique expressions of nature. Instead of judging and critisising ourselves, we can learn to self-reflect with curiosity and live in a way that brings out our best self.

ayurveda quote

Understanding your constitution

There are three main life forces or doshas according to Ayurveda: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. All of us as individuals are made up of a combination of these forces which relate to the five basic elements and their qualities. Vata consists of the elements air and ether, Pitta is made up of fire and water and Kapha is governed by the elements earth and water. These combinations give rise to qualities such as cold, hot, dry, oily, quick, slow, sharp, dense and light which are expressed in all of nature, including us as human beings.

Typically we have one or two doshas whose qualities clearly dominate our physical, mental and emotional tendencies. I explained the doshas in more detail as well as how to identify your own constitution in the post What is your Ayurveda body type?. I don’t want to repeat myself here so make sure you read that one before continuing, if you haven’t already. Learning about your true nature helps you to accept who you are and know that you are part of the beautiful tapestry of life! It eliminates comparison with others and helps you to appreciate your own strengths and make the most of them.

Adapting your lifestyle to your constitution

Once you understand your constitution, you can adapt your lifestyle to restore or maintain balance. This is empowering information as no longer will you listen to external sources telling you exactly what you need but you will be able to tune into your own inner knowing. There is simply no one true way to live that supports everyone. People can thrive on many different diets, exercise routines, work styles, family life etc. We all have different needs, personalities, preferences and once we understand these we can work with them rather than against them to increase our energy and vitality.

Understanding your constitution also helps you to observe imbalances as the difference between your natural and your current state. If there are imbalances present, this is the first step on the path to disease. Ayurveda teaches to identify imbalances and remedy through lifestyle changes to avoid more serious illness and to create a state of wellness.

Ayurvedic practices can be used to:

  1. Maintain a healthy balance of the doshas, as per your natural constitution
  2. Correct any imbalances which could later lead to disease

To understand this, we focus on the idea that like creates like. For example, adopting a lifestyle with vata-like qualities will increase vata dosha in your system. If you naturally experience high vata, you want to make lifestyle choices which balance out this dosha by increasing the qualities of the other doshas. We always want to avoid extremes and maintain a sense of balance.

Lifestyle to support Vata dosha

Vata dominant individuals are spontaneous and creative but tend to experience cold and dryness in their body as well as a chaotic mental state. Therefore, it is best to make lifestyle choices that are warming, grounding and calming.

DIET: Consume warming and easily digestible foods including dairy, oils, salt and sugar and avoid excess raw vegetables

MOVEMENT: Keep a consistent movement routine including calming, grounding practices such as yoga, tai chi and gentle walking

ENVIRONMENT: Avoid excessively cold and dry or windy environments

MINDSET: Practice grounding meditations and body scan techniques to get out of your head and into your body

SLEEP: Focus on a relaxing evening routine to calm an erratic or anxious mind before sleep

Lifestyle to support Pitta dosha

Pitta dominant individuals are energetic and ambitious but can be quick to over heat and anger as well as experience excessive acidity in the body. Therefore, they want to make lifestyle choices which are cooling, calming and promote moderation.

DIET: Choose foods which have a bitter or (natural) sweet tastes and avoid excess spicy, oily or salty foods. Stay hydrated and avoid excess coffee.

MOVEMENT: Get plenty of movement, especially in the morning hours to burn excess energy. Strength training is great for pitta types

ENVIRONMENT: Avoid excessive hot sun or humidity and try to keep the body cool

MINDSET: Practice calming breathing techniques and avoid heated conflict or unnecessary anger

SLEEP: May need less sleep than other doshas but avoid working in the evening hours and minimise stress which can impact sleep

Lifestyle to support Kapha dosha

Kapha dominant individuals are calm, steady and reliable but can fall into the trap of laziness or stagnation. Lifestyle choices which support dynamic energy flow and a feeling of lightness are supportive

DIET: Opt for lighter foods including lot’s of vegetables and raw greens and avoid over-doing it with heavy foods and sweets as these increase kapha qualities

MOVEMENT: Move in a way that increases the flow of energy and reduces stagnation in the body e.g. cardio outdoors in the fresh air

ENVIRONMENT: Keep warm and dry, avoid overly chilly and damp environments

MINDSET: Focus on gratitude, trying new things and challenging your thoughts to avoid getting stuck in a rut

SLEEP: Try to keep a consistent sleep routine and avoid over sleeping or daily napping

Following a lifestyle adapted to your dosha as well as to the changing seasons and environment will support you in connecting your spirit and to nature.

Thank you to Well College Global, My Vinyasa Practice and the Ayurvedic Institute for inspiring this post!

Today’s challenge: Connect with your dosha

If you found this concept interesting, you can put it into practice by identifying your constitution and some simple changes you can make to your lifestyle to support your being and bring yourself into balance. I recommend taking the dosha quiz by Chopra as a starting point. If you are in the Moon Life Well Women Facebook group, I will be sharing some additional resources to help you understand your dominant elements and identify supportive lifestyle changes.

So that is it for week 1! We have covered:

Next week the theme is about CONNECTION, the second pillar in the personal wellness course by Well College Global who have inspired this series. We will we talking all about connecting you yourself, others and the world around you which are all vital if we want to experience true wellbeing!

Over to you…

  • Comment: What is your dominant dosha(s)? Is there one simple lifestyle change you could make to support your wellbeing?
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Food as nourishment not punishment

How many times have you started a new year by vowing that this will be the year you finally succeed on that diet? Perhaps you have signed up to Weight Watchers or bought a book about the keto diet and have committed to going all in? After indulging over the festive period it is normal to want to cut back a little but this cycle of over eating and restrictive dieting can be detrimental to our overall health and wellbeing.

For some reason, as humans we seem to like extremes. We so often think in black and white, all or nothing principles. We are either eating everything in sight or we are vowing never to touch another cake or chocolate bar again. Food can be a source of punishment, either harming us through over-indulgence or equally through deprivation and restriction. But what if there is another way?

Food as nourishment

Food can also be a source of nourishment for our body, mind and spirit. Think about it – what you eat literally becomes you! Your food provides the building blocks that make up your skin, bones, hair and all of your internal organs which keep you alive. What you eat also provides the energy for you to live a rich and fulfilling life, to work, to be creative and to maintain supportive relationships. It connects you to your environment, community and your culture.

Eating a low energy or low nutrient diet is the number one way to create a life that is low in energy and nourishment. My mantra when I was recovering from chronic dieting was “RESTRICTED EATING = RESTRICTED LIFE”. On the other hand, by consistently nourishing yourself with lots of healthy foods (without necessarily eliminating “unhealthy” foods), you will have the energy and enthusiasm to create the life that you dream of. As Geneen Roth rightly said:

Trusting your body

There are so many popular opinions about what a healthy diet is that it can be overwhelming. Fans of keto or Atkins diets say that carbs are the devil and a high protein, high fat diet is the way to achieve lifelong health and weight loss. On the other hand, doctors and dieticians recommend high carb plant-based diets to over come disease and stay slim. Weight Watchers and Slimming World advise to eat whatever you like as long as you stay within your points allowance for the day.

All of these diets “work” in the sense that they can help you to lose weight or in some cases to heal health conditions. But they all have one thing in common. A lack of flexibility and the transfer of power and motivation to something external. By following a restrictive diet, you are saying that you do not trust your own body to keep you healthy and that someone else knows better. I believe the opposite that our bodies know best. It is simply our environment that can make things difficult!

You might think that your food habits are a result of willpower. Either a lack of willpower or a strong will to eat healthily. However, recent research shows that most of our choices are based not on conscious decisions, our goals and motivations but rather on habit and environmental influence. Our brains like to conserve energy and the easiest way to do that it do put simple tasks, like eating, on auto-pilot. Simply put, we eat the way we do because it’s what we are used to.

Changing your food habits

This is why changing your diet is so difficult at first. You go from preparing and eating food automatically to having to think about every decision which takes a lot of effort! You might need to learn new recipes, go shopping more often and spend more time in the kitchen. But if you manage to convert these new knowledge and skills into habits, they soon become the norm and are much easier to maintain.

When I work with clients, we follow the VISION-GOAL-ACTION protocol.

This means starting with an overall vision for your future health, setting some goals to motivate you and then deciding on simple actions that you can take daily to work towards those goals. This is a proven technique that actually works. Consistent actions, no matter how small, are what become your future positive habits that over time bring you closer to achieving your goals and becoming your vision of your healthiest self.

Some tips for creating healthy habits around food:

  1. Always write a shopping list and stick to it – It is much easier to use your willpower once to not buy things you don’t want to eat than it is to use it again and again to not eat the foods that are already in your cupboard

  2. Learn a few simple, tasty, healthy recipes – We all know that feeling of coming home after a long day at work and having zero motivation to cook a healthy dinner. Having go-to meals that you can prepare easily without thinking is so important for these situations

  3. Focus on what you can add to your diet – So often when trying to eat healthily we think about what to avoid but our brains are literally programmed to want what is forbidden. It is much better to focus on adding in healthy foods that trying to remove unhealthy foods!

  4. Make your meals a ritual – Mindful eating is the number one way to tune into your bodies’ intelligence. It knows what it needs and how much if you only listen. Eating meals in a peaceful, quiet environment without distractions makes mindful eating much easier

  5. Take pleasure from your food – This one should go without saying but sadly, many people think that healthy eating has to be boring and tasteless. In reality, a truly nourishing meal can be extremely satisfying and tasty one we let go of the idea that health is dry chicken breast and salad.

So what exactly is a healthy diet?

I prefer to keep things simple! There is no one-size-fits-all diet that can meet all of our needs. The amount of food, the ratio of food groups and how you should eat depends on many factors including:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Metabolic health
  • Activity level
  • Body composition
  • Life stage
  • Stress
  • Climate and season

I wrote more about this in a previous post: What is the perfect diet for humans?

To put it simply, the healthiest diet is one that consists of mainly whole, unprocessed food, includes lots of fresh plant-based foods and has plenty of variety.

This definition of healthy eating is not restrictive and can be applied to many different dietary patterns. Throughout history, humans have survived and thrived on a huge variety of diets depending on which location of the world they live in. But what they all have in common is that they eat an abundance of real food which come from the earth (including animals as well as plants).

Eating with the seasons

Something that has been lost in many developed societies is eating with the seasons. Historically, humans would have had a huge variety in their diet, simply by eating what was available to them in their environment throughout the year. Nowadays, we have huge supermarkets full of preserved, processed foods and produce imported from all over the world. We are spoilt for choice and although this does give us variety, it also cuts that spiritual connection with nature that we can experience through eating a more natural diet.

I first became interested in seasonal and local eating for environment reasons. I wanted to reduce the carbon footprint of my diet by eating less foods that had been transported across the world by plane. But I soon realised that eating with the seasons also has health benefits. Eating locally-grown produce means the food is probably fresher and as seasonal foods grow abundantly, they have usually been sprayed with less chemicals to protect them. I also feel like nature knows best and perhaps in the future we will find out that the nutrients available in foods at particular times of the year offer us particular nutrients just at the moment we need them!

Why not try making a list of a few foods you would like to include in your diet each season? Experimenting with new foods and recipes each season is a fun way to connect with nature and make sure you are getting a variety of fresh foods into your diet. If you’re in the UK, you can use the calendar below to find out which produce is available locally each season. BBC also have a seasonal recipes section which is great if you are unsure where to start. If you live elsewhere, you can Google search “seasonal foods” and you should find some helpful resources.

BBC Seasonal Produce Calendar

BBC Good Food Seasonal Food by Month

The best diet is the [insert your name here] diet

Overall, when it comes to the way you eat, it is important to find what works for YOU and not listen blindly to others. The only way to do this is to experiments with different food and eating styles and pay attention to how you feel. This might sounds obvious but how many times have you eaten a meal and genuinely observed how you felt after?

Usually we only notice if there is an extreme reaction, for example if a particular food makes us feel sick or causes bloating. But what you eat affect you in so many ways including your energy levels, stamina, mental clarity, mood and even the quality of your sleep. The amount of food you eat, the combinations of foods at each meal and even the timing of your meals can impact the way you feel throughout the day.

I shared in a recent post about the different body types according to Ayurveda and how particular foods can influence individuals in different ways. For example, one person might feel energised and clear on a diet high in raw fruits and vegetables whereas another might feel freezing and lethargic. Some people need more protein and animal-based foods to support their constitution, whereas others thrive on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Many people love three-square meals a day but some feel better with smaller meals and snacks.

All of this is to say that there is no simple right answer as to what to eat to be healthy. But this should be a good thing! You can shift your perspective from following dietary rules to asking your body what it truly needs to be nourished each time you eat. Every meal is an opportunity to support your physical, energetic, emotional, mental and spiritual bodies as I explained in yesterday’s post. If you learn to see food as nourishment, you will no longer be trapped in the cycle of dieting and over-eating but you will naturally come to a place of balance and find peace with food.

Today’s challenge: Complete a food diary

One of the tools I use with my health coaching clients is a food diary. Not as another way to count calories and deprive yourself, but as a way to see objectively what, when, why and how you eat. Today’s challenge is for you to complete a food diary for a minimum of three days this week, using the downloadable template below to:

a) Record when and what you eat throughout the day as well as how you were feeling physically and mentally before and after eating

b) Review your whole day of eating and check for the above principles. Did you eat mostly whole foods? Was there plenty of variety in your day or week? Did you include lots of fresh plant-based foods?

Hopefully this activity will be enlightening and you will see for yourself some simple changes you can make to improve your diet. It is important to do this task without self-judgement or criticism – what you eat says nothing about who you are as a person, it is simply the food habits that you have right now.

If you are in the Moon Life Well Women Facebook group, I will be sharing some additional resources to support you in making healthy changes to your diet. So enjoy and I will see you tomorrow when we will be moving onto to the topic of movement!

Over to you…

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New year womens wellness challenge

New Year Women’s Wellness challenge!

It’s that time of year again… the deep winter when we take stock of the year that has passed and start envisioning what we want to create in the year ahead. Last January, I decided to run a Real Health January series where I posted a new blog every day sharing health tips and busting “health” myths. If you missed it, you can find all of those posts in the Holistic Health page of this site.

This year, I have decided to take it up a notch! From Monday, I will be commencing a Women’s Wellness Challenge here on my blog and in the Moon Life Well Women Facebook group. The challenge is inspired by Well College Global Personal Wellness Coaching course which I took last summer. Over 5 weeks we will progress though 5 areas of holistic health and wellbeing:

5 weeks of personal wellness

Week 1: Nourishment

The first week is all about nourishing your body, mind and spirit. You will learn how to eat in a way that supports your whole being, how to move your body in a way that creates rather than depletes your energy and vitality and how to get deeply restful and rejuvenating sleep. We will also start to dive into mental and spiritual health through the lens of positive psychology and Ayurveda.

Week 2: Connection

In week 2, you will start to build deeper connection to yourself, others and the planet we call home. Connecting with ourselves means finding inner peace and understanding who we are inside, not just our physical appearance, life circumstances and conditioning. We are social beings and so holistic wellness also includes building supportive relationships and communities that lift us up and give us purpose.

Week 3: Compassion

We can have the healthiest lifestyle in the world, but if we are thinking negative thoughts or acting unkindly towards ourselves or others, we can never experience true wellness. Therefore in week 3, we will focus on building compassion, mindfulness and strong self-care foundation. You will learn how to create change from a place of acceptance rather than criticism and punishment as well as how to let go of the past to allow deep healing.

Week 4: Wisdom

The fourth week is all about wisdom. Rather than being about becoming an expert or knowing everything, wisdom is about understanding that we don’t know everything and there are many things in life we cannot control. We will go into topics such as developing patience, light-heartedness and curiosity. I will also introduce you to the basics of meditation as a tool for accepting what is and connecting with your intuition.

Week 5: Transcendence

Finally, in week five we will move into the more spiritual realm. Don’t be put off by the word spiritual! This week we will look at areas of full-being wellness including gratitude, life purpose, love and belonging. You will also learn how to awaken your more spiritual side through the lens of cultivating prana (energy), consciousness and understanding the masculine and feminine forces at play in all of nature.

How to join the challenge

It’s going to be a fun and enlightening journey and I hope you enjoy following along with me! I will be posting regular blogs here throughout the month so make sure you are subscribed to receive email updates. If you would like to dive deeper, I will be going live in the Moon Life Well Women Facebook group as well as sharing worksheets and challenges for you to put the information into practice and truly integrate it into your life. My weekly online yoga classes will also follow the themes of the challenge throughout the month – see the schedule to book a session or contact me with any questions.

So enjoy the rest of the holidays and have a great start to 2022. Thank you for being here with me throughout the epic challenger of a year that was 2021 and I wish you every health and happiness that you deserve for the year to come!

Over to you…

  • Comment: Ladies are you joining us in the challenge?? Drop me an “I’M IN” below and let me know
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Get clear on what you WANT for your health

Today we are following on from my previous post about how it is time for a reboot. I realised that in order to “get back on track” we need to have a good idea of what that means. So often we focus on what we DON’T want for our health. We waste time and energy complaining about things that we don’t like or we want to change, whether this is symptoms, disease or unhealthy habits. But how many times do we truly reflect on what we DO want for our health? If we want to make change, we have to first get clear on what we are aiming for and then take consistent action.

What we think about becomes our reality. This might seem like an abstract statement but really it is quite straightforward. We can never truly see the world as it is. Our sensory organs take in all of the information they can and transmit this to our brains. If we were to constantly process all of this data, we would be completely overwhelmed. Instead, we see everything through the filter of our mind. We program our minds to look out for certain things (for example when you have a new car and you keep seeing that model of car everywhere!).

Therefore, if we are constantly focusing on our problems, we will only perpetuate them.

But how can I stop focusing on what I don’t want?

I know that when you are struggling with your health, it is so hard not to focus on the symptoms you are experiencing. Trust me, I have been there! I dealt with insomnia and fatigue for several years and nothing made my blood boil more than being told not to worry about it so much. I couldn’t understand how not to focus on something that felt so all encompassing and affected every aspect of my life. But in truth, all of the time and energy spend trying to figure out what was wrong with me and how I could get better never helped.

What finally allowed me to heal was making some simple changes, focusing on things that brought me the energy that I wanted then being patient and allowing change to occur. I stopped the daily pity parties and tried my best to appreciate the good things in my life. By this I don’t mean that every day I wrote a list of all the things I am grateful for. This can work for some people but only if you truly feel the energy of gratitude and not only mechanically write things down. Rather I decided I wanted to feel energised and happy so whenever moments like that occurred I dived into them fully. Even if it was only 1% of the day and the other 99% I felt exhausted.

Another useful tool is visualisation. Our minds are such powerful tools when we harness them for good. If we let them do their own thing they can become destructive and spiral into negative thought patterns. But we do have the ability to step in and halt the monkey mind or what we call chitta vrtti in yoga. Once we are aware of this, we can use our higher mind, our intelligence to redirect our thoughts. Visualisation through images or storytelling can be a great way to train your mind to focus on a positive future rather than getting caught up in your current struggles and fears.

Positive psychology

Positive psychology teaches us to focus more on the good things that we have and want more of, rather than only on the bad. Rather than feeling helpless and like our health and our life are out of our control, we feel empowered and confident that we can make change. It encourages us to want to “level up” and aim higher than just getting by. When it comes to health, this can mean aiming for a sense of overall wellbeing rather than just eliminating symptoms aka thriving rather than surviving!

“Positive psychology is a scientific approach to studying human thoughts, feelings, and behavior, with a focus on strengths instead of weaknesses, building the good in life instead of repairing the bad, and taking the lives of average people up to “great” instead of focusing solely on moving those who are struggling up to “normal” (Peterson, 2008)

These days, feeling slightly off is so common that it is normalised. Experiencing minor symptoms such as low energy, digestive upsets, sleep disturbances or anxiety has become the new normal. To the point that if you want to feel great and in peak physical condition, people might think you are aiming too high. However, positive psychology encourages you to do just that. Set the bar high and know that it is possible for you to create this in your life. This is what I want for myself and for all of you. A body that functions the way that it should and a sense of overall health and wellbeing.

Activity to focus on the positive

Here is a simple task you can try to help you to turn your mindset towards what you want rather than what you don’t want. Take a piece of paper and divide it into two columns with the following headings:

WHAT I DON’T WANT FOR MY HEALTHWHAT I WANT FOR MY HEALTH

In the left column, make a list of all of the things you want to change. For example:

  • I don’t want to feel tired
  • I don’t want to eat so many sweets
  • I don’t want to wake up during the night
  • I don’t want to feel so stressed
  • I don’t want to be overweight

Now, in the right column I want you to convert each of these statements to reflect the change you want to see. Such as:

  • I want to have abundant energy
  • I want to eat a nourishing diet
  • I want to sleep peacefully throughout the night
  • I want to feel calm and at ease
  • I want to maintain a healthy weight for my body

Get the idea? From here you can cross out the left column entirely or rip it out, tear it up, burn it.. whatever you need to do to symbolically let it go.

Place the right column somewhere you will see it daily and remind yourself of what you want for your health. Use this list to set goals to help you get to where you want to be and to check in with existing actions to see if they align with your desires. You can even create a collage or mood board of inspiring images to represent the items on the written list if you are a more visual person.

Summary

To summarise, in order to make improvement to your health it important to identify what you want to change but ALSO what you want to replace it with. Focus more on what is good and how you can bring more of this into your life than what is bad and you want less of. This way you will prime your brain to appreciate the positive and motivate yourself to act in a way that lifts you up and helps to to become the person you want to be!

If you need support in your health improvement journey, I offer nutrition and holistic health coaching consultations. You can also join my private facebook group where I will be announcing a personal wellness challenge starting in January. Wishing you all a happy and healthy Christmas and New Year!

Over to you…

  • Comment: What do you want for YOUR health? Share your ideas in the comments below to hold yourself accountable
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Self-compassion on your path to better health

How would you rate your self-compassion on a scale of 1-10?

What even is self-compassion?

Self-compassion has been defined as:

“the capacity to comfort and sooth ourselves, and to motivate ourselves with encouragement when we suffer, fail or feel inadequate.” Chris Germer from the Centre for Mindful Self-Compassion

being kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings…” Kristen Neff PhD

So when it comes to your path to better health, self-compassion could look like:

  • Speaking kindly to yourself when things don’t go according to plan
  • Letting go of harsh criticisms of yourself i.e. the inner bully
  • Observing your “slip ups” with a non-judgmental attitude and learning from them rather than beating yourself up
  • Being your own cheerleader and believing in yourself
  • Understanding that perfection doesn’t exist and failure is part of the journey

Being kind to ourselves and showing self-compassion is becoming increasing difficult in today’s world. With a constant barrage of seemingly perfect others to compare ourselves to on social media, TV and advertisements, it’s no wonder that we can often we left feeling less than and telling ourselves we don’t measure up. These comparisons then become the ammunition for the mental weapon which we turn towards ourselves.

Sometimes the language of negative self-talk becomes so engrained into our psyche that we don’t notice it. How many times have you thought to yourself “I’m so stupid”, “I never get things right”, “What’s the point, I’m a failure”, “I’ll never be like that”. All of these thoughts create a mental environment that keep us stuck in our same old habits and routines, unable to break free and move towards our vision of better health and overall life happiness. Speaking to ourselves harshly sets off a cascade of chemical reactions in our bodies which then influence the trillions of cells and change the way they function.

Self-compassion and holistic health

Part of my coaching as a Women’s Wellness Coach involves supporting women to love themselves and believe in themselves more. Not only because having a positive self-image is part of holistic wellness but also because negative self-talk and lack of confidence can be a major barrier to change in all other areas of health improvement including diet, movement and stress management. Research shows that rather than being motivated by criticism from ourselves and others, we are more likely to feel like a failure and give up altogether.

On the other hand, self-efficacy, that is the belief that we can take action and succeed in a particular situation, is associated with positive behaviour change and health outcomes. Self-efficacy goes hand in hand with self-compassion because without kindness and understanding how can we expect to believe in ourselves enough to make change? If we believe that every time we fall off the wagon or don’t achieve the results we expect, it’s because we are a failure and not because the goal was unrealistic, we didn’t have the resources we needed or life just got in the way, how easy will it be to get back up and try again?

When we react to our mistakes with self-compassion, it is much easier to pick ourselves up and get back on track rather than enter a negative spiral. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) describes how our thoughts create feelings which in turn affect our behaviours and our physical state. Negative self-talk can make us feel worse about ourselves and not want to do things to take care of ourselves holistically. On the other hand, showing self-compassion creates more positive feelings of acceptance, gratitude and peace which are more likely to trigger us to act in ways that support our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

Self-compassion  cbt

Image credit: Toronto Psychology Clinic

How can we develop self-compassion?

Mindfulness

Developing self-compassion first requires becoming mindful of the thought tapes that are playing in our minds and where we could be harming ourselves with our self-talk. Whether you realise it or not, you are talking to yourself all day long via your thoughts! These can be thoughts about what is going on in the world around you but we often also have thoughts about ourselves and our actions or how other people see us. If you are not used to paying attention to your thoughts, this can come as a shock once you realise the constant chatter that is the backdrop for your life.

A useful experiment is to carry a small notebook with you over a 24 hour period and whenever you notice a self-judgement pop up, write it down. At the end of the experiment, reflect on what you have written. How many times did you judge yourself? In what situations? Were your judgements mostly positive or negative? If you find that you are often criticising yourself and your day is packed with negative self-talk, it’s maybe a good idea to focus on developing your self-compassion. Remember, if you find that your self-talk is very negative, not to use this as yet another thing to criticise yourself about. Instead see it as a starting point and something you can improve on over time.

Thought replacement/inner dialogues

Unfortunately, we can’t simply tell our brains to stop thinking, nor can we just turn off the thoughts we don’t like. Instead, we can create balance by countering any negative thoughts with more compassionate ones. This could look like a dialogue in your mind between your harsh inner critic and your kind inner cheerleader or coach. For example:

Inner critic: “Why did I eat so much food at the party? I wasn’t even hungry, why am I always so greedy!”

Inner coach: “Ok, perhaps you ate more than you planned to today. Why was that do you think? Is there something that you need? Is there something you could do differently next time?”

Inner cheerleader: “Parties are for enjoying! You ate really healthily this week and you noticed the benefits. Let it go and carry on with your plan”

If it helps, you can actually imagine these different perspectives as characters. Naming your inner critic or your inner bully and visualising it as a saboteur that creeps around your mind can really help you to separate you from your thoughts and judgements about yourself. These are thoughts that are occurring automatically and you are the one that is witnessing and experiencing the effects of these thoughts.

If you struggle to do this mentally, you can also put the dialogue on paper. As you review your thought journal, pick out some key themes or areas where you criticise yourself and experiment with writing a response from a more compassionate perspective. This might feel uncomfortable or be challenging at first but the more you practice, the easier and more natural it will become. If you have children, it might come more easily as we usually try to see the best in our children and see the bigger picture of what might have influenced their actions rather than blaming them personally.

Positive affirmations

Another way to counter negative self-talk is to try to crowd out the negative thoughts with more positive or neutral thoughts. Affirmations are statements that we can repeat to ourselves to program our minds to think differently. We are always making affirmations whether we realise it or not. Our thoughts create pathways in our mind and the more a thought is repeated, the deeper and more defined the pathway becomes making it easier to automatically think that thought again in the future. This is why over 90% of our thoughts tend to be the same from day to day!

If our habitual thoughts (i.e. affirmations) are negative judgements of ourselves, this is going to affect our ability to feel positive emotions and create the life we wish to live. Consciously repeating positive affirmations can help by planting the seed of more positive thoughts that are in line with our goals and our ideal vision of ourselves. Affirmations don’t have to be extreme and cheesy, in fact, if they are too outside of our current view of ourselves, they can have the opposite effect.

For example, someone who looks in the mirror and finds themselves ugly might repeat an affirmation such as “I may not be perfect but I accept myself the way I am and I know I am more than my physical appearance” rather than “I am beautiful” which might feel unrealistic and difficult to relate to.

Repeating affirmations like these just for a few minutes each day can start to change the usual narrative of thoughts that we experience. Even if initially it is only 1 positive thought followed by 99 negative ones, it is a start and a foundation to build on. Like any habit, conscious repetition leads to mastery. So whilst it might seem too simple to work, practicing positive affirmations daily can really work wonders over time.

Practice acceptance and forgiveness

Self-compassion is not about believing that we are perfect and never make mistakes. It is more about understanding that inevitably, because we are human, we will have flaws and act in ways that we later regret. It is being able to continue to show unconditional love for ourselves through these moments and not to take everything so personally. Instead of that age-old saying of treat others like you would like to be treated yourself, self-compassion is treating yourself as kindly as you would others you love.

In moments where you feel the inner critic rear its’ head, take a deep breath and let it go. Remind yourself that you are only human and we all make mistakes or feel like we don’t measure up. How many times have others in your life made mistakes or been less than perfect? How many times have you forgiven or accepted others just the way they are? Start to offer this acceptance and forgiveness to yourself and you will be on your way to developing self-compassion.

Meditation to develop self-compassion

An excellent way to combine these three elements of developing self-compassion (mindfulness, thought replacement and positive affirmations) is through guided meditations. My absolute favourite channel for guided meditations on Youtube is the Mindful Movement and I always recommend their meditations to my clients. Try out this meditation for connection and compassion below.

Over to you…

  • Comment: How can you show yourself a little more self-compassion today?
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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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Meditation to change your mindset and your habits

We are long past the days where meditation is seen as something completely hippy or “out there”. Meditation and mindfulness are becoming every day terms understood and practiced by students, parents and business executives alike. We are starting to understand the impact of rushing through our lives in a half-conscious, distracted state is no good for our health and happiness and embracing meditation and mindfulness as tools to help us to become more present and aware. Yesterday I wrote about how to change your habits you first need to change your mind. Today I want to explain about the role of meditation to change your mindset.

Most of us spend our days operating from our conditioned mind. Our sub-conscious has a huge set of stored thoughts, beliefs, emotional responses and programmed actions that we play on repeat and these conditioned patterns define the way that we show up in the world and our identity. If we want to change our habits we have to consciously think different thoughts which enable us to feel differently create new pathways in the brain. But this can be hard to do when we are constantly bombarded with the familiar thoughts and feelings that tell us who we are. If we try to think differently, we will be greeted with a barrage of opposing thoughts and intense feelings because we have moved outside of our familiar comfort zone. This can make changing your thoughts very difficult!

Meditation to change your mindset

How can meditation help you to get past this and change your mindset? Firstly, meditation helps you to become aware of your current habitual thought patterns. Yes all of those annoying intrusive thoughts when you are trying to meditate can actually be a good thing. Pay attention to them and you will see where your mind is probably wandering throughout the rest of your day too, without you even realising. Maybe you are distracted by things you should be doing instead or maybe you find yourself criticising yourself for not being able to empty your mind and meditate “properly”. Maybe your mind tells you that you can’t do it, you are uncomfortable or that you always fail. Whatever it is, take note! This is your first glance at your natural state of being from the point of view of an observer.

You can also use meditation as a way to practice disrupting these unhelpful thoughts and letting them go. When you aren’t paying attention, one thought can lead to another and before you know it you can spiral down the rabbit hole of negative thinking. Our thoughts affect the way we feel and those emotions then affect the way we think. We can easily become stuck in unhelpful loops of thoughts and emotions without noticing. Maybe you have a memory of being left out at school and the thought brings up emotions of sadness and loneliness. Those feelings then trigger other memories where you have felt alone and the feelings of isolation grow and become overwhelming. Over time of thinking these thoughts and feeling these feeling you can start to identify with the state of being as a lonely, unloveable person and this becomes your identity. Meditation offers you the opportunity to become aware of these patterns and break the chain.

When we have negative thoughts about ourselves, there is usually another voice present in our mind which knows better. For example, I’m sure many of you have experienced body image issues at some point in your life. That voice that tells you you are not beautiful enough or thin enough is probably loud at times but there is always that quiet voice underneath which says you are good enough as you are. Meditation slows down your thoughts and allows this alternative voice to have it’s say and become louder. In other words you are able to observe a thought and how it makes you feel then choose to think a different one. Of course you can do this through out your day but the focused attention state of meditation makes it much easier to observe your thoughts and engage your conscious mind.

How to practice meditation to change your mindset

There are many different meditation techniques but as usual I suggest to keep it simple if you are starting out. All you need is a quiet place, a comfortable place to sit and a timer. You can practice in your living room, on your bed, in your garden or out in nature. There are no rules, just find a place where you feel safe to relax.

  1. Set your timer for anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes (tip set it on vibrate or on quiet so you aren’t jolted out of your practice)
  2. Sit comfortably in a cross-legged position or sit on a chair with your feet planted on the ground
  3. Close your eyes and start to become aware of your body sensations, noticing areas of comfort or pain, tension or tightness, hot or cold and the contact points between your body and the surface beneath you
  4. Bring your attention to your breath. Notice the sensations associated with the inhale and exhale, the rhythm and depth of your breath, whether you feel it deep in your belly or high in your chest
  5. Hold your attention on your breath. You can count your breaths if it helps you to concentrate or continue to focus on the sensations
  6. As thoughts arise, notice the emotions they trigger. Note whether they are helpful, unhelpful or neutral and then let them go. If you find yourself distracted, at the point you realise, let the thoughts go without judgement
  7. Continue like this until your time ends and then slowly open your eyes and start to bring movement back into your body
  8. Try to keep this relaxed, focused awareness with you as you go on with your day

With practice, meditation can also help you to access your sub-conscious mind and change your beliefs. I especially like combining meditation with affirmations by starting with a full body and mind relaxation. Then from this state of receptiveness, listening to repeated phrases that reflect the new way I want to think.

My absolute favourite guided meditations to change your mindset are from The Mindful Movement. They have so many free videos on Youtube on all sorts of topics from healing your physical and emotional body, improving self-confidence to releasing fear and worry and letting go of the past. The video below is a great one if you are embarking on a new healthy lifestyle and trying to change your habits. Listen to the meditation before bed a few times a week and watch your confidence and belief in your ability to succeed soar!

Over to you…

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