I possess a natural empathy and a desire to help people; whether that is to help ease the pain of chronic tension, to soothe the muscles following over-exertion or simply to relax and take away anxiety. I treat people holistically and as individuals

Amy Phillips - 07800 636266

Dekker Road, Dulwich Village. London. SE21 7DJ


Wednesday, January 27, 2016 Wellbeing


‘If we strive to meet external standards, without first recognizing our actual condition and developing our practice accordingly, we may actually re-enforce dysfunctional patterns and completely miss the deeper value of asana practice.’ Gary Kraftsow, Yoga for Wellness.

I have written about yoga before but since that post my interest has enormously developed and I’m extremely excited to be embarking on teacher training in the Viniyoga tradition. I went to my first class with Janet Evans in September 2014 and afterwards I knew I wanted to take it further, it was instantaneous and immediately felt like the right course of action. I’m yet to be disappointed! Viniyoga is what I have been searching for all these years without even realizing it.
So, what is Viniyoga? This is where it can get quite confusing as viniyoga actually means ‘special application’ therefore the correct name would really be ‘The Viniyoga of yoga’ A mouthful to say the least…so Viniyoga it is. It was a style developed by TKV Desikachar, student and son of Krishnamacharya; often seen as the founding father of Hatha Yoga. So what makes this style of yoga different? Well, for me, yoga classes would often result in pain, I found it frustrating as I enjoyed working with asana and all aspects of the classes but for days after I would hurt across my chest, shoulders and upper arms and sometimes my lower back and legs too. I now realize this was because all of these yoga classes were encouraging students to fit into a classic form, a ‘perfect’ version of the posture. I was therefore pushing my body too far. My body just isn’t ‘right’ for many of the more challenging postures. I can get into them because I am quite flexible but does that mean I should? It certainly doesn’t...when we are flexible we can often overstretch in some muscles and this can stop us from using other muscles correctly. Add to that a fast movement between asana’s so that I could barely breath let alone be in tune with my breath…I was pushed to the max and I have to say, I certainly can’t have been in any way a yogic state of mind during these classes…it was just exercise!!
Viniyoga is the application of yoga from a reverse perspective; students adapt the posture to suit their body rather than forcing their body into a posture. It works, it really does! In this perspective postures are considered more from a function perspective than of a form one. It is a study of movement potential and actualising this potential in asanas lies in understanding the effects of movement and adapting our own movement in relationship to our structural needs and capabilities. Using asana in this way enables us to deepen our self-awareness and ultimately enables us to change habitual patterns at a neuromuscular level and develop new ones. This can decrease stress and promote skeletal alignment and mechanical freedom.
I would describe classes as having a good combination of dynamic and static postures and a balance between movement, relaxation and breath. Classes will often work with sound and include pranayama practice, an essential component of yoga that is often overlooked. I find the classes challenging but never too much, I might get a little sweaty but I won’t be out of breath. Viniyoga is all about a long, even breath. I never experience pain after class and I’m also fitter and stronger than ever. I have completed all the steps towards teacher training and will begin the course in June 2016, after 4 years I will be a fully qualified teacher and during that time I will be teaching classes. I can’t wait!!!

“Begin your practice from where you are,
finish your practice where you are going.”
– TKV Desikachar 1978


Tuesday, August 25, 2015 Wellbeing


'You give yourself permission to grieve by recognizing the need for grieving. Grieving is the natural way of working through the loss of a love. Grieving is not weakness nor absence of faith. Grieving is as natural as crying when you are hurt, sleeping when you are tired or sneezing when your nose itches. It is nature's way of healing a broken heart.' - Doug Manning

I haven’t written for a long time and in that time my husband and I have lost 5 family members between us….including, most recently, our beloved dog. The gripping pain of loss has now dissipated but there are still waves of emotion as something arouses a memory and I mis them all over again. There are days still when I cry at the drop of a hat and I will never stop missing my loved once but wow have I learned a lot!

My emotions have always been very close to the surface and over the last 10 months I have cried many times, sometimes for entire days. These tears are welcome and feel necessary to clear away the pain, though I prefer to keep them to myself. This is where grief can be awkward, rarely can we give ourselves the space we need to do it properly; to let out all those many and varied emotions and to explore the whirlwind of conflict and pain. I consider myself very lucky to work for myself and I have managed to work enough- but not too much- and to actually take great comfort in helping others when I feel low.

I have a great support network and that has been invaluable, not just my amazing friends and family but: Reiki, essential oils, my counselor, hypnotherapist, yoga teacher and practice (more about that soon) and my massage therapist. It somehow feels like finding all these things in recent years was because the universe knew I would need them at this time! There have been times when I’ve needed solitude and times when I’ve needed to reach out through the anger, pain, depression, insomnia, guilt, fear and all those other emotions that have circled their way through me exhausting me and leaving me restless at the same time.

Taking life easier and putting myself first does not come naturally to me but it has been essential during this period. It is something I will certainly take forward into what I am sure is going to be a time of growth and renewal- the next part of my life cycle. Guess what, the world didn’t fall apart just because I took an extra day off a week, the bills still got paid and no-one thought any the less of me…we can all do it. And we must.

Life is a cycle and the only thing we can be certain off is death, we will all die and in contemporary western society I don’t think this is addressed enough. Death is feared, full stop. I have read much about the Buddhist philosophy and how it views death- this has been a great comfort to me. You may have heard the story of the women who came to the Buddha in great anguish, carrying her dead child pleading him to bring the child back to life. The Buddha said ‘Bring to me a mustard seed from any household where no-one had ever died and I will fulfill your wish.’ The woman's attempt to search for such seed from houses were in vain and of course she could not find any household in which no-one had ever died and suddenly she realized the universality of death.

Please, put yourself first when you are grieving, take time and let out your emotions in whatever way suits you, reach out to those you trust and try to remind yourself, even when you feel overwhelmed by darkness that there will be light. Life goes on but it takes time and if we hide from these difficult feelings, if we don’t reach out and we ‘carry on regardless’ in that good old-fashioned British way we are likely to suffer.

Take very good care of yourself.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014 Wellbeing


'A flock of sheep that leisurely pass by 
one after one; the sound of rain, and bees
 murmuring; the fall of rivers, winds and seas,
 smooth fields, white sheets of water, and pure sky -
I've thought of all by turns, and still I lie 
- William Wordsworth, ‘To Sleep’

My journey with insomnia has been a long and winding one and there have been some essential stopping points along the way that I’d like to share. My Mum assures me that my volatile relationship with sleep has been a life-long one, but I was first aware of this thing called Insomnia and its huge part in my life in my early twenties. At the time I was also depressed and it has been very obvious to me how the two conditions were intertwined, and rarely have I experienced one without the other. The anxiety I experienced alongside depression and the inability to sleep became this vicious and all-consuming circle of existence that consumed me, on-and-off for over a decade. In brighter times sleep would return to me and I could function and blossom again until the next dark cloud descended. When I finally began to accept my tendency towards these illnesses and to investigate ways to deal with them I also began to find tools that could help.

The first method I found was what I now understand as a form of Meditation, a Body Scan, which I still use to this day as an excellent way to relax. Here is a simple method:
Body Scan: Lay flat on your back as it is easiest to identify different body parts this way. Start from your left toes, don’t visualise them just feel that they are present and take note of how they feel. If they feel tense then wriggle them a bit and let them relax. Focus your outwards breath into your toes and let any pain or tense feeling drift away and move your attention to your heel.
Move up your leg, stopping to focus on each part and then do the same with your right leg. Next focus on your pelvis, lower back stomach, chest, shoulders, pausing for a moment to acknowledge how it feels and release any tension.
Move down your arms then to your neck and finally your head. Finally once you have finished focus on your body as a whole and let your breath reach every part.
You will probably find that you fall asleep before you get to the end, and if not, the mind should be rested enough for it to happen, just keep focusing on the breath.

The 2nd invaluable tool I have to tell you about is essential oils. There are many essential oils that can help insomniac’s, and they all work in slightly different ways, so it’s a case of trying them until you find what works best for you. Its also worth baring in mind that we can build up immunity to them, so its worth trying a different one every now and then. Here’s a few that I love:

Melissa- (lemon balm) this oil is especially helpful if depression/anxiety are the cause of your sleeplessness.

Neroli: (orange blossom) This is very relaxing and can relieve chronic anxiety, depression, fear, shock and stress and its calming effect can also be beneficial to the digestive tract. This is also a fabulous oil to use during pregnancy.

Jasmine: This is a very calming oil (and my personal favourite!) it is fabulous for depression and especially post-natal depression, it can also help with muscle pain, and stiff limbs, which can also affect our ability to sleep.

Others that are worth trying are: Lavender, chamomile, vetiver, clary sage, Sweet marjoram…the most important thing is that you like the smell, and you may find it worthwhile experimenting with blending a few of the oils in different quantities to get a blend that’s just for you.

The 3rd great find I made, I have covered in a previous post- you may think I have an obsession with them, and you probably wouldn’t be wrong…its Epsom Salts! A hot bath, with the relaxing Magnesium seeping through the skin and I never fail to sleep well.

And last, but certainly not least, its massage…a regular treatment can be beneficial in so many ways, but for those who struggle with sleep, I highly recommend a regular treatment to calm the mind and soothe the body.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014 Wellbeing

A Healthy diet, a healthy body part 3: Pregnancy

“We may not be able to prepare the future for our children, but we can at least prepare our children for the future.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

During pregnancy, more than any time in our lives, it is important to get all the nutrition we need. The growing baby is going to need lots of vitamins, nutrients and minerals as well as the exhausted body who has to carry it around for 9 months!
There are certain nutrients that are particularly important for Mother and Baby’s health and here I will discuss them, but before making any serious changes to your diet, do discuss it with your doctor.

Folic Acid:
Women should take a daily supplement of 400 micrograms of folic acid while they are trying to conceive, and should continue taking this dose for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, when the baby's spine is developing. If you haven’t been taking it and find you are pregnant, it is advisable to begin as soon as possible and at least until week 12. It is very important for the development of a healthy foetus, as it can significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs), such as Spina Bifida. Increasing your daily intake is also a good idea, foods rich in Folic acid are: green, leafy vegetables, brown rice, granary bread and breakfast cereals fortified with folic acid.

Vitamin B6:
Also known as pyridoxine, Vitamin B6 helps your body metabolize protein, fats, and carbohydrates. It also helps form new red blood cells, antibodies, and neurotransmitters, and is vital to your baby's developing brain and nervous system.
Research shows that extra vitamin B6 may relieve nausea or vomiting for some women during pregnancy, though there is no evidence to support this, it’s definitely worth upping your intake if you are suffering with Morning Sickness.
You should be able to obtain all the Vitamin B6 you need from your diet, though if you are suffering with nausea, ask your doctor if you should take a supplement. Good food sources are: pork, chicken and turkey, Fish, whole cereals (i.e. oatmeal, wheat germ and rice), eggs, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, bananas, broccoli, watermelon, avocados, soya beans and milk.

Vitamin D:
Vitamin D helps to regulate the levels of calcium and phosphate in your body, which are needed to keep your bones and teeth healthy. Vitamin D can help you to fight infections, and may help to prevent diabetes and some cancers.
Not having enough vitamin D when you are pregnant or breastfeeding may prevent your baby from getting enough calcium and phosphate. This can cause him to develop weak teeth and bones, and in rare cases, develop rickets. There may be a link between low vitamin D levels during pregnancy and an increased risk of having a baby with a low birth weight.
The most important way we take in Vitamin D is through exposure to sunlight. You need to expose at least your face and forearms to sunlight for at least 20 minutes a day, without sun-block, during the summer months. This will build up enough vitamin D stores to last you throughout the winter months.
There are some food sources, and these include: oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines. You should eat two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily. Red meat and egg yolks also provide some vitamin D. If you feel you may be deficient during pregnancy or when you are breast feeding, ask your doctor for advice about supplementation.

This is particularly important if you are vegetarian or vegan. Iron can be difficult if you don’t eat meat, and it is a vital nutrient. We need iron in our diets to make healthy red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body and to the baby. Deficiency can lead to Anemia- symptoms of which include: Feeling tired, weak and dizzy, looking pale and getting headaches.
Aside from Red meat and offal, good sources are: fortified breakfast cereals, bread, pulses such as baked beans and kidney beans, eggs and green vegetables.

Healthy Start vouchers for pregnant women
If you are on benefits, have a very low income or are under 18, you can receive Healthy Start vouchers to buy fruit, milk and vegetables. You can also receive free vitamin supplements, which include folic acid and vitamin D and vitamin C. Speak to your midwife who should give you a form to claim the vouchers.
“Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.”
 Doug Larson

We all suffer with aches and pains in our muscles sometimes, but some people suffer, and suffer and go on suffering, without knowing what the cause is. There are, of course, many different reasons why we may experience such symptoms, including over or under use of muscles, but sometimes our diet can be an overlooked part of it. The human body requires a huge number of different vitamins and minerals to keep in working optimally and many of us in the modern world simply don’t make the time to ensure we are eating the right foods to support our bodies. We need a variety of fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, pulses and grains to provide us with a balanced diet, yet many of us are surviving on diets high in fat, carbohydrates and protein from animal fat. processed ‘convenience’ foods tend to be high in fat, sugar and salt, and low in the essential nutrients our bodies need. The more we reach for the quick fix and the less we make our meals from scratch, the more likely we are to develop deficiencies. Fizzy drinks, caffeine and alcohol and an indoor lifestyle can all add to this depletion, so we all really need to take more time to think about just what we are fuelling our bodies with.

Vitamin D:
Vitamin D has many roles in the body, including keeping bones healthy by increasing the intestinal absorption of calcium, modulation of cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function, and reduction of inflammation. Our main source of Vitamin D is the sun, and in the Northern hemisphere, especially in winter, we all know how lacking that can be! Low vitamin D levels may have no obvious symptoms, but moderate to severe vitamin D deficiency can have significant health effects including fatigue, bone and muscle pain, muscle weakness and softer bones.
Vitamin D is found in some foods, mainly: oily fish, such as salmon, sardines and mackerel and eggs, but if you feel you may be deficient, go and see your doctor and if you do need more they may give you an injection.

Vitamin B12:
Pain in the joints and muscles, and just overall muscle soreness is a common symptom of Vitamin B12 deficiency, other symptoms include: Tiredness, short term memory problems, Numbness of the hands and feet, confusion and anxiety and constipation or poor digestion. B12 is a vital nutrient as it is needed for red blood cell development and nervous system function.
It is found in animal based food sources such as meat, fish and eggs and there are no fruit, vegetable or grain sources, so vegetarians and especially vegans are prone to developing a deficiency.

Magnesium is stored in the bodies tissues, so leg cramps, foot pain, or muscle 'twitches' can be the first sign of a deficiency. Other early signs of deficiency include loss of appetite, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and weakness. As magnesium deficiency worsens, numbness, tingling, seizures, personality changes, abnormal heart rhythms, and coronary spasms can occur. Magnesium is responsible for over 300 chemical reactions in the body. It helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function. It keeps your heart beating steadily. And, it helps to build a healthy immune system.
Food sources include: quinoa, brown rice, kidney beans, green leafy vegetables, almonds, sesame seeds, wholegrain bread and fish.
Another great way to boost your magnesium intake is by taking Epsom salts baths- see my blog on Epsom salts for more information!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 Wellbeing

A healthy diet, a healthy body part 1: Cramps

“One should eat to live, not live to eat" -Benjamin Franklin

I have been a very busy therapist lately and my blog has taken a back seat, but now I am having a quiet spell its time to relax, rejuvenate and blog!

I will write a series of blogs about nutrition, focusing on common problems I encounter as a massage therapist. I’m not a nutritionist however, so the information I give is just a guideline, please see a qualified nutritionist or medic if you feel you are suffering from any deficiencies.

Most of us at some time or another will have experienced cramp in our muscles, characterised by an involuntarily and forcibly contracted muscle that does not relax. Commonly occurring at night, or at the end of a rigorous exercise session, they most often take place in the muscles of the legs or feet (though can effect any muscle in the body). They can last between a few seconds and up to around 15 minutes and they can be shockingly painful, often leaving the muscle feeling sore for days afterwards. If you suffer frequently with cramp then it may be time to consider looking at your diet and possibly supplementing it with certain essential minerals.

Potassium plays an important role in electrolyte regulation, nerve function, muscle control, and blood pressure. Primarily, potassium functions to regulate water and mineral balance throughout the body. Potassium deficiencies are rare, but can occur with conditions such as fasting, diarrhea, and regular diuretic use. In such cases, low blood–potassium concentrations, can lead to muscle cramps and weakness. Potassium rich foods include: Bananas, avocadoes, potatoes (with the skin), dried apricots, green leafy vegetables, fish, yoghurt, sweet potatoes, orange juice.

Magnesium helps all the muscles of the body to function optimally, and to contract in a normal, healthy way. It is also important for exercise performance. Magnesium levels are decreased by excess alcohol, salt, coffee, phosphoric acid in carbonated drinks, profuse sweating, prolonged or intense stress, chronic diarrhea, excessive menstruation, diuretics (water pills), antibiotics and other drugs, and some intestinal parasites. In the modern world we often reach for the fast food, and diets high in white flour, meat, and dairy (all of which have no magnesium), may lead to deficiency. Great sources are:
Sea vegetables, dark leafy greens (spinach, chard, kale) wheat bran, wheat germ, almonds, cashews, buckwheat, brazil nuts, millet, pecans, walnuts, rye, tofu, soy beans, brown rice, figs, dates, shrimp, avocado, parsley, beans, barley and garlic.
Magnesium is also absorbed through the skin- Epsom salts baths are therefore another great source!

Around 99% of the calcium in the body stays in the bones and teeth, but the other 1% stays in the blood and cells, where it affects muscle contraction and nerve transmission. High calcium levels can cause muscle twitching and weakness, while low calcium levels can prompt spontaneous muscle cramping that can lead to severe spasms. Low levels of calcium in our bodies can be caused by: the menopause, thyroid problems, some prescription drugs, being vegan or a low fat diet.
The average adult needs about 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily. You can get 244 milligrams of calcium in a 200-ml glass of skimmed milk. Other calcium rich foods are green, leafy vegetables such as kale, watercress and broccoli, almonds, figs, yogurt and cheese.

Without sodium, your muscles wouldn't work, as sodium is necessary for the body to generate nerve impulses. These impulses tell the muscle whether to contract or expand. Sodium is found in salt and we therefore tend to get most of what we need through the food we eat. However, sodium leaves the body in through our urine and also escapes through sweat. So if we tend to urinate or sweat frequently we can become deficient in sodium and hence get cramps. It is very unlikely that you would become deficient in sodium unless you are an athlete in training, in which case, some sports drinks contain electrolytes, such as sodium, to help prevent cramps and fatigue.

There are other factors that can be lined to cramps too, being very active or very inactive, drinking too little or too much water, and not stretching our muscles. Try doing regular stretching exercises of the muscles that are affected, don’t wear high heel shoes, drink around 2lt of water per day- more if you are sweating. Too much water can dilute the nutrients we are taking in through food, so listen to your body and it is far better to take regular sips throughout the day than to down a pint in one go!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 Wellbeing

A long hot soak…Epsom salts

“I am sure there are things that can't be cured by a good bath but I can't think of one.”
― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Having a long hot bath has always been a daily necessity for me. It’s complete ‘me’ time, when I can lie back and let my mind wander, or indulge in the pleasure of a great book whilst the hot water soothes me and my muscles can relax. Epsom salts have been a fairly recent discovery for me, but they have changed that daily routine into something even more special. When my muscles are aching after a hard day of working out other people’s knots, my good friend, the Epsom salts are at hand to give me relief, and with the addition of some essential oils, I can’t think of anywhere that I’m happier.

Epsom salts are not just for soothing muscle aches and pains though; they have powerful detoxifying properties and can help with high blood pressure and heart problems as well as constipation (when taken internally). They are made of the mineral magnesium sulfate and are also a sedative for the nervous system. Magnesium plays a number of roles in the body, including regulating the activity of over 325 enzymes, reducing inflammation, helping muscle and nerve function and helping to prevent artery hardening. Sulfates help improve the absorption of nutrients, flush toxins and help ease migraine headaches. Stress can deplete the body of magnesium and increase levels of adrenaline, so soaking in an Epsom salt bath replenishes the magnesium and also acts as a mild sedative, decreasing stress and aiding relaxation.
Even if you are one of those people who just ‘don’t do baths’ a simple foot soak can be highly beneficial as the healing minerals are absorbed through the skin, into the body. They can also help the healing process if you have cuts or bruises, fungal infections, smelly feet and they can even help draw out splinters. Rubbing your feet (or preferably getting some else to!) can also help in the relaxation process as the feet represent all parts of the body, so just rubbing them can have an all-over effect. Add half a cup of salts to a large enough tub of hot water and mix well until they absorb, sit back and relax for 12-15 minutes or longer.
To have a full-on bath experience, put 2 cups of Epsom salts (around 200g) under running water- this should be hot, as hot as is comfortable! And then just lie back and enjoy for a minimum of 12 minutes. Experts recommend doing this 3 times per week, but maybe more if you are particularly active; athletes often use them as part of their training routine to help detoxify the muscles after exercise and replenish magnesium levels. You might also try adding baking soda (bicarbonate of soda), which is highly alkaline and promotes an ideal pH for healing, detoxification, and optimal cellular function. Around a quarter to a half cup is sufficient, and it can help soothe sensitive skin as well! After the bath you may feel a little drowsy or light-headed, so get out slowly and rest (preferably lie down or sit) for a few minutes before doing anything
Adding essential oils to the bath is also highly effective, just 6-8 drops is sufficient, and make sure you mix the water very well or the oil may sit on the top and can make you horribly itchy. You can even mix the essential oils with a tablespoon of carrier oil as well, If you have sensitive skin anyway, only use 2-3 drops and if you do become itchy, get out immediately and shower off. I tend to mix the oil with the salts before putting in the bath, which seems to help mix it all up well. Some ideas of which oils to use: Rose, lavender, sandalwood or neroli for relaxation and calming; Cypress, Fennel, Grapefruit for detoxification (with grapefruit and all citrus oils only use 2-4 drops) or for a real muscle warmer try using: Eucalyptus (2-3 drops), Juniper and/or Rosemary. Always use oils that appeal to you and that you like the smell of- an oil will never relax you if you don’t like it!

• Pregnant women should ask their doctor before using Epsom salts or essential oils.
And finally, there are many varieties of Epsom salts on the market, many of them already have essential oils or other scents mixed with them. I would avoid these, they tend to be very overpriced. I usually buy mine in 3kg bags from my local chemist (for £6) and this will last me a few weeks/months. They can also be bought in small or large quantities on the internet.

Friday, May 31, 2013 Wellbeing

Cultivating compassion

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” - Dalai Lama

Compassion is a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for someone struck by misfortune, accompanied by a desire to alleviate the suffering. Similar to empathy, it is an emotional reaction to other people and the problems that they face. Compassion requires empathy and understanding and it tends to go hand in hand with action. We empathise with a person, which brings about a feeling of compassion- this feeling urges us to act in a helpful way in order to try to alleviate their suffering. Cultivating compassion in your own life is a powerful way of helping, not only yourself, but those around you and the world as a whole. As every human being is capable of suffering, it is important that others recognize this. There is interdependence between all beings and the more we can recognize that we all have equal importance and an equal right to achieve happiness and relieve suffering, the happier everyone will be.

With the recent attack on a soldier in Woolwish, there have been many who are calling for a return of the death sentence for the perpetrators, and this has saddened me. How will more deaths help anyone? Does this type of revenge help the family of the man who was killed? I doubt it. I totally agree that what those men did was terrible, but from a compassionate perspective, for them to feel the necessary hatred to carry out such an attack, they must be suffering deeply. If we can help them to find happiness rather than punishing them, perhaps everyone would benefit. Of course it’s not that simple in such a case, but hatred and anger I am sure will not achieve any good.

Why should I cultivate compassion?
On a micro level, cultivating compassion is a way to make ourselves and others feel happier. There is a sense of achievement whenever our words or actions have a positive influence on somebody else so that not only does the recipient feel happier, but also the giver.
There is also scientific evidence that those who practice acting compassionately produce 100 % more DHEA, which is a hormone that counteracts the aging process, and 23 percent less cortisol, which is commonly known as the stress hormone. Sometimes it really does pay to act with selflessness.

How to cultivate compassion:
Spend time with the idea of compassion on a regular basis and meditate on it. Think of all the people you encounter, there are people you know and love, strangers who you may see but never speak to, and those you feel anger or hatred towards. Think about them all as the same. Of course they are all different too, but fundamentally all human beings strive for the same things and this is the key to compassion- the deep realization that we are all the same. Even the people we hate, the people who have done wrong to us or loved ones, or even those who have harmed whole populations such as terrorists or dictators. It may be more difficult to do this, but perhaps these are the most important people for us to feel compassion for. Anyone who wishes harm on another must be suffering in some way…if we act compassionately towards them we may help to alleviate their pain and stop them wishing to harm others. Compassion is very cyclical.

The other reason why this could be important for us is that holding onto the negative emotions of anger and hate will only damage us. The Buddha said: Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. The more we feel compassion, the less we will succumb to the powerful forces of anger and hatred. This doesn’t mean that we will never encounter them, but we will be better equipped to identify them and combat them with the equally powerful force of compassion.
I had been practicing the Buddhist meditation of loving kindness, the Metta Bhavana, which is aimed at cultivating compassion, for around 8 months when my flat was burgled. I was deeply upset by this, particularly as I was in the flat at the time, and of course there were many ‘what if’s’ and I felt as though the safety of my home had been invaded. I could feel anger rising deep inside me towards the person who had done this and this was fuelled by my husband’s even stronger anger when I told him. It wasn’t long before I recognized what was happening, and that the negative forces of my anger were doing far more damage to me, than the burglar who actually did. I sat in meditation and practiced the metta bhavana, aiming it at the burgler. My anger dissipated and calm returned…all in 20 minutes of compassionate cultivation.

There are many different ways of meditating on compassion, and the metta bhavana takes practice for those not accustomed to Buddhist meditation, but a simple variation is as follows:
1) Sit comfortably, in a chair or cross-legged on the floor, relax, yet keep your spine straight and your eyes facing forwards. Close your eyes. Imagine wishing happiness on someone. Concentrate on your heart and try to really feel that wish for happiness.
2) Concentrate that happiness on yourself. Imagine yourself relaxed and smiling. Do this for a few minutes (or longer). If you cannot concentrate or find visualization difficult, try repeating to yourself: May I be well, may I be happy. Try not to let the words repeat without meaning, really feel that you believe what you say.
3) Try the same for someone you know and care about, perhaps someone who actually is suffering. May they be well, may they be happy.
4) Now for someone you don’t know, and have no strong feelings towards. Someone you passed in the street or who served you in a shop. May he/she be well…
5) Now move onto someone you don’t like, who may have harmed you or others, someone you dislike or even feel anger/hatred towards. May he/she be well….
6) The final stage is to wish the whole world well, start by imagining your community, may they be well…then your country…continent….eventually imagine the whole earth being well and being happy.

This is a very peaceful and powerful meditations practice and whether you do it for 10 minutes or 30 minutes, try to do it regularly. Try the morning and try the evening and see how different they feel…find what works best for you!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013 Wellbeing

Stretching for everyone

‘A regular stretching program will help to improve posture, develop body awareness, improve coordination, promote circulation, increase energy, and improve relaxation and stress relief.’
Brad Walker, The Anatomy of stretching.

Even for those of you who don’t have the time, energy or inclination for a regular yoga or pilates practice, a short stretching session every day will bring amazing rewards. Though stretching is especially important if you are doing any strenuous exercise, it can also have immense benefits for those of us who live a more sedentary lifestyle. When sitting, muscles tend to stiffen, so sitting for prolonged periods can lead to severe tightness, particularly in the hamstrings (back of the leg), lower back and chest and shoulders. After a hard day in the office having a good stretching session not only relieves this tightness, it can also help clear the mind and aid relaxation.

Here are a few basic stretches:

Lower back and hip opener:
Sit on the floor, bend both knees and bring your feet together. With your hands, press your feet together, using your elbows to press your knees down toward the floor. Hold for a minute or two.

Hamstring stretch:
Sit on the floor and straighten your left leg in front of you. Bend the right knee, placing the sole of your right foot against your left inner thigh.
Fold over your left leg, and if you can, grasp the foot, breath slowly and deeply and on the exhale try and push it just a little further. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute and then switch legs.

Reclining hamstring stretch:
Lie on your back. Raise your left leg as high as you can, keeping your lower back relaxed (not arching or pressing into the floor) Hold your lower thigh and encourage the leg to move toward your head. Flex your foot to stretch your calf too.
To deepen the stretch, place a yoga strap or towel on the ball of your foot and use your hands to pull the strap toward you. After 30 seconds, switch legs.

Chest opener:
Sit or stand up tall and bring your arms behind you, clasping one hand inside the other. Lift your chest and raise your arms slightly- you should feel a mild stretch spread across your chest. Make sure you are not arching your lower back and try and hold in your abdominal muscles (without holding your breath).
If this feels comfortable, clasp your hands together tightly and slowly bend your upper body forwards, towards the floor, hold for 30 seconds to one minute- this really stretches the shoulders and hamstring. Think about the head being heavy and shake your head slowly up and down, left and right to loosen the neck.
- It is very important to breath when you’re stretching, be very aware of the breath and make sure you aren’t holding it.
- Stretching shouldn’t hurt- only move to the point where you can feel the stretch but not beyond. If you stretch regularly you will quickly see an increase in flexibility and should be able to stretch a little further every day.
- Try these stretches for a week or two as often as possible but at least once a day and you’ll really feel the difference.
For a deeper stretch, and particularly for stretching before and after exercise, try getting a foam roller. These are often found in gyms, and are a great tool for getting a really deep stretch. They can be found all over the internet and are very cheap and easy to use. They often come with a set of stretching instructions, but many books are available too, which will guide you in stretching almost every muscle group.

Friday, April 12, 2013 Wellbeing


"With body, mind, and spirit functioning perfectly as a coordinated whole, what else could reasonably be expected other than an active, alert, disciplined person."

- Joseph Pilates, Return to Life Through Contrology

From my previous blog you will see that yoga is my first love, but discovering Pilates less than a year ago has possibly done more for my posture, alignment and strength than 17 years of daily yoga has done! I still love Yoga, but with the addition of Pilates to my daily routine, I find I can do more of the postures in Yoga and it has really deepened my practice. It has also been an incredible help for my own physical aches and pains, and for the majority of us, it should be the number one form of exercise for a healthy, pain free body.
Invented by Joseph Pilates in the early 1920’s, it is a system of exercise designed to elongate, strengthen and restore the body to balance. Based upon an anatomical understanding of the body's muscular and skeletal systems, the Pilates teacher creates classes that integrate the whole body to re-educate and restore it to optimum muscular and skeletal function.
Initially it was adopted by professional dancers in the US as an effective form of recovery after injury, and it is still used by many dancers as a preventative measure as well as a cure. Pilates has steadily grown in popularity around the world, and includes celebrity fans such as Madonna, Lorraine Kelly, Hugh Grant and Pippa Middleton.
The most famous element of Pilates is it’s amazing ability to develop core strength, and its from this strong foundation that our bodies become more able to cope with any stresses and strains it encounters without overusing more vulnerable muscles, particularly the lower back and shoulders. That is far from all there is too it, it concentrates on getting all of the muscles and joints in the body working effectively, but this core strength can be hugely significant. Not only because it helps to tone the abdominal muscles and protect the back, but because the centre of our body represents our navel chakra, the energy centre of our body that holds your strongest sense of self. It is where all your personal boundaries are set and the chakra of self-esteem and willpower. If your Navel chakra is synchronized, strong and open then you will have a sense of personal value, self trust and will be confident in all you do. I have really felt that as my core strength has developed, as has my self-esteem and self-knowledge. I feel more in tune with those muscles that for so long have been left neglected, and the emotional stability I’ve gained from doing Pilates on a regular basis I’m sure is linked to this new strength.
"Pilates develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind and elevates the spirit." Joseph Pilates

I was fortunate enough to receive one-to-one tuition from a trainee Pilates instructor, who was patient and kind as well as forceful and motivating when necessary and through her I have learned so much that I’m happy to practice on my own every day. I can’t recommend having one-to-one lessons highly enough as that individual attention makes the learning process so much quicker, however, there are many great classes available too if that’s what you prefer/can afford.

My teacher is now fully qualified and taking private clients as well as hoping to set up a class in East Dulwich or nearby- I truly think she’s amazing!
Angela Gasparetto:

Wednesday, March 13, 2013 Wellbeing


”The rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind & the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life.” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar

The true meaning of yoga has been a little lost in translation in the Western world, Yoga, literally means "union" (in its most common translation): of the individual consciousness or soul with the Universal Consciousness or Spirit. Though many people think of yoga only as physical exercises — the asanas or postures that have gained widespread popularity in recent decades — these are actually only the most superficial aspect of this profound science of unfolding the infinite potentials of the human mind and soul.
There are many varieties of yoga, but the form I’m going to talk about in this post, and the one we most know and love! Is all based on Hatha Yoga. Hatha yoga refers to a set of physical exercises (known as asanas or postures), and sequences of asanas, designed to align your skin, muscles, and bones. The postures are also designed to open the many channels of the body—especially the main channel, the spine—so that energy can flow freely.
Hatha is also translated as ha meaning "sun" and tha meaning "moon." This refers to the balance of masculine aspects—active, hot, sun—and feminine aspects—receptive, cool, moon—within all of us. Hatha yoga is a path toward creating balance and uniting opposites. In our physical bodies we develop a balance of strength and flexibility. We also learn to balance our effort and surrender in each pose.
Hatha yoga is a powerful tool for self-transformation. It asks us to bring our attention to our breath, which helps us to still the fluctuations of the mind and be more present in the unfolding of each moment. It can be both calming and invigorating simultaneously as we combine physical exertion with focus and stretching, all whilst maintaining a steady breath.

I have been doing Yoga for over 15 years and though I often find it challenging, I never have that ‘can’t be bothered’ feeling towards it. Even just 20 minutes a day can help to calm my mind, lift my mood and develop focus, and that’s without all the amazing physical benefits! It stretches tight muscles, strengthens the weak ones and helps our bodies to work in the way they were always meant to.
The variety of forms of Hatha yoga seems endless, and it is important to find out before you attend a class what it will be like. Some classes such as: Hatha (confusing as Hatha is all movement based yoga, but it is the name of a common type of class too!), Iyengar and Viniyoga are gentler and better suited to beginners and the less flexible. Other classes such as: Vinyasa flow, Ashtanga and Bikram are for more advanced practitioners and are far more athletic than the other forms.

Find a class that is right for you, preferably a small class, so that the teacher will be able to give everyone enough attention, ensuring that your postures are correct and you don’t risk injuring yourself. If you can, try and get some one-to-one sessions, as you will learn so much from having individual attention.

A word of caution: I have often had people come to me with severe neck pain after attempting to do a head-stand in a yoga class! Head-stands require an enormous amount of strength and should only be attempted by someone who is sure of their ability and who has been practicing yoga for many years- preferably even then under supervision.

Finding the balance between pushing yourself and damaging yourself can be hard- but as you learn to know your body through your practice, you will learn your own limits. If it hurts, don’t do it- go back a step and eventually you will be able to progress, yoga isn’t a competition, it is just about you, your mind and your body.

Local yoga classes I highly recommend:
Yoga Point (between Brixton and Herne Hill) http://www.yogapoint.co.uk

Janet Evans- East Dulwich (Also does one-to-one classes) http://www.yogajanam.com

Sunday, February 17, 2013 Wellbeing


“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”
― Amit Ray,

It is only in the last two years that I have learned to meditate, and the difference it has made to my life has been quite profound. I sleep better, feel far less stressed and calmer and have more control over the ebb and flow of emotions and moods.
The benefits meditation can bring to you are many and varied and all it takes is simply setting aside a time each day to be alone, quiet and still. It can be very difficult at first, as our minds are so used to wondering here and there, seemingly at random, but simply watching this happen is an effective way of achieving stillness. It is important to make it as regular as possible, 10/15 minutes per day is far more beneficial than 3hrs once a week, and the more you practice, the easier it will become.
The benefits include: Improved, sleep, reduced stress, pain management, reduced anxiety and depression, hormonal balance, relaxation of the nervous system. It can help with many long-term illnesses, but most of all, it helps us to get to know our deeper selves, and gives a richer understanding of how our mind’s work. Sometimes life’s stresses can feel overwhelming and we can worry unnecessarily about things, meditation is a way of cutting out the chitter-chatter and realising what is truly important- the present moment and keeping our minds calm.
In the modern world we are overwhelmed by messages telling us that happiness can be found in material things; that having a new house, car, even a dress! Will make us happier and more fulfilled, however as we achieve each material goal, we realise it hasn’t made us happier, not really, and so we look for the next thing we can buy or achieve that may be the key….the key to happiness will not be found from external sources, it can only be found from within. Meditation helps us to achieve the mental stillness that can lead to true happiness and put in perspective all those external pushes and pulls on our time, energy and motivation.
I favour Buddhism as a philosophy and as a way to meditate, but there are many different ways to do it, here are a few simple ones to get you started:
Firstly, posture during meditation is important, you don’t want to be too relaxed as you may fall asleep, but you do want to be comfortable or you’ll find it hard to think about anything other than your discomfort. The traditional style of sitting cross-legged is often uncomfortable, but worth trying- have a cushion under your bottom to lift the hips slightly and cross the legs so that you can see a triangle in front of you, then relax the arms into your lap. A posture that most people prefer, is to sit in a chair, with your back erect, not slouched, and again, your hands resting gently in your lap. Close you eyes softly, or half close them and look at a spot on the floor, then scan the body. Start by feeling the feet touching the floor, then move up through the legs, feeling any sensation in them. Next, focus on the bottom and the way it is supported by the chair (or cushion). Move up from the base of the spine to the neck, then down the arms to the hands. This process will help to ground you and is a good basis for any meditation; it only takes a minute or two.
Breathing meditation:
Bring your attention to the sensation of breathing. Breathe in long and out long for a couple of times, focusing on any spot in the body where the breathing is easy to notice, and your mind feels comfortable focusing. This could be at the nose, at the chest, at the abdomen, or any spot at all. Stay with that spot, noticing how it feels as you breathe in and out. Don't force the breath, or bear down too heavily with your focus. Let the breath flow naturally, and simply keep track of how it feels. Savor it, as if it were an exquisite sensation you wanted to prolong. If your mind wanders off, simply bring it back. Don't get discouraged. If it wanders 100 times, bring it back 100 times. Show it that you mean business, and eventually it will listen to you. If you find it really difficult to focus, try counting the breaths, breathe in then out, then mentally say 1, and repeat until 10 then begin again at 1 (if you lose count, don’t get frustrated, just start again at 1- it doesn’t matter and it will happen). This will help guide your mind and eventually you’ll be able to stop counting and just be with the breath. Try not to cling to the number; it is the breath that’s important!

Mantra meditation
Using a mantra can be highly effective, especially if there is a particular reason for meditating. In many religions mantra’s are used for meditation, ‘Om’ being the one most people are familiar with. Om, (often spelt aum) in some cultures, has very special spiritual significance. It is described as the sound of God; the universal sound of life energy, or a representation of the various psychological compartments of the psyche. Repetition of the word is said to make us realize that we are not separate from the rest of the universe; we are all a part of it.
If you prefer to make your own mantra, that can be just as effective, a favourite one of mine is: I breathe in, I feel peace, I breathe out, I am peace: in time with the breath. You could also simply affirm something: I am happy, I am calm…whatever feels right for you. While sitting quietly, repeat the mantra “om” (or your own) to yourself over and over. You can choose to do this aloud or silently. The most important aspect is that you allow yourself to relax fully as you repeat the syllable. As you do so, your breathing should deepen, which increases blood flow to your brain and stimulates thinking and awareness.

Concentrating on a flame:
Sit in a dark or dimly lit room with a candle about four feet in front of you at eye level and light it. Focus on the flame and allow your mind to become still. You might find that at first your mind actually becomes more active, but if you allow these thoughts to run in and out of your head, without latching on to them or feeling angry at them being there, you will soon find that things are becoming quiet as you simply stare at the flickering light. Really observe the flame, top to bottom, concentrating on the heat and the light that it gives. You will become more and more aware of its movement and glow. Then imagine that there is a similar flame inside every person, creature, and inanimate object and filling them with energy and light. This technique can also helps us to recognize how we are all connected.

Another great method for a beginner to meditation is to buy an audio guided-meditation or visualization, simply sitting and listening will bring you into a deeply relaxed state- I sometimes use these with clients who find it difficult to switch off and many find them very helpful. It is important to listen to them before you buy and find a voice you find soothing rather than irritating- there are hundreds available through the internet.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013 Wellbeing

Pregnancy and Massage

‘To be pregnant is to be vitally alive, thoroughly woman, and distressingly inhabited. Soul and spirit are stretched - along with body - making pregnancy a time of transition, growth, and profound beginnings.’ - Anne Christian Buchanan and Debra K. Kingsporn, The Quickening Heart: A Journal for Expectant Mothers

Pregnancy can be a wonderful time for a woman, but it can also be incredibly stressful. Particularly in the modern world, where women have to continue working, often until just 2/3 weeks before the baby is due, and even more so when there are other children to look after.
During pregnancy the body goes through some astonishing changes, including hormonal fluctuations and this in itself can be unsettling, particularly for a first-time Mum, with the prospect of your life changing to an unrecognizable extent, women have an awful lot to cope with.
Even from the start there can be soreness in the breasts, morning sickness and emotional problems to deal with. Then as the pregnancy progresses, the belly expands, forcing the rib cage to lift up, and placing extra pressure on the lower back and legs, physical discomfort can become anything from mild to extreme and debilitating.
Pregnancy massage can help with almost all of the physical discomforts and problems that may arise, but it can also be incredibly nurturing and comforting. Sometimes just being given the space to lie in silence, with no pressure to do anything is a much needed and often forgotten experience. This is true for everyone, but when going through the constant changes of pregnancy and maintaining a ‘normal’ life as well, this can be particularly important. It’s a time to connect with your body and with your baby in a peaceful and safe environment, with no one else to worry about. This in itself can be a great stress reliever and can help with restlessness and sleepless nights too.
From a scientific perspective, the reasons that massage therapy works are still largely unknown. More research is needed to understand how applying different types of manual pressure to the body can: Relieve pain, stimulate the release of serotonin and the body’s natural painkillers and improve sleep, but there is little doubt that these are some of the benefits
Pregnancy massage experts adapt their techniques to address the changes a woman's body goes through during pregnancy. For instance, blood volume increases dramatically -- as much as 50% -- during pregnancy. Blood flow to the legs often becomes sluggish. And the levels of anticoagulants in the blood -- designed to prevent hemorrhaging during delivery -- naturally rise.
These changes in circulation put a pregnant woman at risk of blood clots in the legs, typically in the calves or inner thigh. To be safe, pregnancy massage experts avoid deep massage and strong pressure on the legs.
Generally speaking (though everyone is different) massage is most needed on the lower back and legs, though the shoulders and neck are area’s that often need attention, regardless of the pregnancy. And head massage can be wonderfully soothing; helping to rid the mind of all the little worries and negative thoughts you are holding onto. There are certain areas that a massage therapist will avoid during pregnancy, as they may induce a miscarriage. This is why it is very important to find a therapist who has trained specifically in pregnancy massage and will know all of the dos and don’ts.
Post pregnancy, massage can help to speed up the healing process as well as help you to adjust to the demands of a newborn baby. The breasts will naturally swell and that coupled with the feeding process can put a huge pressure on the shoulders, the pelvis may be unsettled after labour, leading to lower back pain, and of course, you now have a little bundle who constantly needs you- 24 hours a day. It is good for you as a Mother, and for your baby to have the occasional hour away from them, making you happier and them less dependent. So don’t feel like you have to ‘just get on with it’ and suffer away. Make time for yourself, and Dad may then get a little quality bonding time too!

Monday, January 21, 2013 Wellbeing

The Chakra System

‘Health is a large word. It embraces not the body only, but the mind and spirit as well... and not today's pain or pleasure alone, but the whole being and outlook of a man.’ James H West.

The chakras, in some Hinduist, Buddhist and other traditions are centres of Prāṇa, life force, or vital energy. Chakras correspond to vital points in the physical body i.e. major plexuses of arteries, veins and nerves. The seven major chakras in the chakra system (there are many minor chakras) look like spinning wheels of light, funnels, or whirlpools of energy that make our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual life possible.
 In essence our chakras receive the health of our environment, including the people we are in contact with (that’s why other people’s moods have an affect on us!). Also, our chakras radiate an energy, which others can either consciously or unconsciously pick up on.
1. ROOT CHAKRA- (associated color: red; related parts of the body: adrenal glands, kidneys, spinal column, leg bones)
Balanced root chakras result in a healthy desire for the basics of life (food, warmth, shelter, etc.) You feel grounded and secure and have lots of energy fro physical activity.
When this chakra is imbalanced, we may be afraid of life, withdraw from physical reality, feel victimized, or selfish. Dysfunction of this chakra also can lead to problems of the feet, legs and lower back.
2. SACRAL CHAKRA- (associated color: orange; related parts of the body: gonads, prostrate gland, reproductive system, spleen, bladder)
When properly functioning, this chakra fuels our emotions, creativity and sexuality. We feel vital and spontaneous, ready to seize the moment. This chakra is also about friendliness, openness and intuition
Imbalance of this chakra can result in over-indulgence in sex or food, sexual or reproductive disorders, and feelings of jealousy and confusion. kidney weakness, stiff lower back, constipation, and muscle spasms are other physical symptoms of Sacral chakra disorder.
3. SOLAR PLEXUS CHAKRA- (associated color: yellow; related parts of the body: pancreas, liver, digestive tract, stomach, spleen, gall bladder, autonomic nervous system)
Strongly associated with intellect, the solar plexus chakra is also the seat of our personal power. When this chakra is open and balanced, its energy helps us transform our hopes and aspirations (especially material ones) into reality. We feel self-confident and have a clear sense of purpose.
Dysfunction of this chakra can result in insecurity about physical and financial matters and the need to dominate others. Physical problems associated with its imbalance often include digestive disorders, liver problems, diabetes, nervous exhaustion, and food allergies.
4. HEART CHAKRA- (associated color: green (secondary color: pink); related parts of the body: thymus gland, heart, lower lungs, circulatory system, skin, hands)
Acting as the bridge between the physical and spiritual worlds, the heart chakra is the center of love and emotional well-being. When this chakra is functioning optimally, our ability to give and receive unconditional love is well developed. We are compassionate. You will be friendly, empathetic, have a desire to nurture others and see the good in everyone.
Dysfunction of this chakra often results in feelings of sadness, fear and anger and can lead to heart problems. You may feel sorry for yourself, paranoid, indecisive, afraid of letting go, afraid of getting hurt, or unworthy of love. Physically, blockages can affect the shoulders, and upper back.
5. THROAT CHAKRA- (associated color: sky blue; related parts of the body: thyroid gland, throat and jaw areas, lungs, vocal cords, digestive tract)
The throat chakra governs communication and mental creativity. When this chakra is at its best, we speak and listen in the spirit of truth and constructively express anger and other emotions. When this chakra is blocked communication can suffer. We may overindulge in eating and drinking to keep a non-communicative throat busy and suffer from respiratory diseases, dental problems, and low self-esteem. Feelings of anger, hostility and resentment also are associated with the imbalance of this chakra.
6. THIRD-EYE CHAKRA- (associated color: indigo; related parts of the body: pituitary gland, lower brain, left eye, ears, nose, central nervous system)
An open third-eye chakra is the source of our intuition and clairvoyance (vision beyond ordinary sight) as well as our ability to visualize. It also assists in the purification of negative tendencies and in the elimination of selfish attitudes.
Blockages of this chakra can result in fear of the imagination, dreams and our intuitive insights. Physical symptoms of third-eye imbalance may include persistent headaches (especially in the center of the forehead), insomnia, anxiety and depression.
7 CROWN CHAKRA (associated color: violet (also white); related parts of the body: pineal gland, upper brain, right eye)
The crown chakra is our direct connection to spirit. When it is highly developed, we fully understand the "oneness" of universal existence and experience true inner peace. The illusion of separation between ourselves and other beings dissolves. Expansion of the crown chakra enables us to tap into the highest sources of spiritual wisdom.
Blockages can result in feeling lonely, fearing death, and needing to compare ourselves (often unfavorably) to others. We may have a constant sense of frustration, no joy, and destructive feelings. Illnesses may include migraine headaches and depression.
Excellent ways to rebalance your chakra’s are through Kundalini Yoga and Reiki healing.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 Wellbeing

Body Symbolism

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” Buddha

Our minds and bodies are connected far more than we realise. Our every thought can influence our bodies and therefore longstanding patterns of thought can create patterns in our bodies.

In my work I often encounter people who have one particular area of tension that keeps reoccurring and in our Western, science-based society we always look for an external reason for this. However I firmly believe that more often than not, these patterns are far more related to what is happening internally- the body is showing us where our healing needs to be focused.

Regardless of gender, we all have a masculine and a feminine side to our personalities. In order to function well in life, we need a good balance of both masculine and feminine qualities. Most of us, however, tend to have a dominant side.
There are very clear physical cues about whether someone is left- or right-brain dominant.
The right side of our brains controls our feminine, creative aspects so it represents the creative and emotional side of our personality. This is reflected in the left side of our bodies.
The left side of our brain controls our masculine, analytical aspects so it represents our logical mind, our mental drive and our physically active side. This is reflected in the right side of our bodies.
It is extremely common for me to find a client with tension predominantly in one side of the body and this can be a huge clue to any underlying issues they may have.

Each body part also relates to specific issues, and this can be seen in our everyday expressions such as “I feel like I’m carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders” or “she’s a pain in the neck”. The main parts of the body I find clients suffering with are in fact the shoulders, the neck and the lower back. The shoulders represent our work and social responsibility, so feeling as though you are carrying a burden and developing knots of tension in them is perhaps telling you to slow down. Learn to say no and don’t take on too much at work or in your social life. The neck is somewhere we tend to hold emotions. We may be ignoring our feelings because they are painful and if we do this, it will often manifest itself as pain, stiffness and lack of movement in our necks. The lower back, relating to our 1st (base) chakra is the seat of our self-security. Pain and tension in this area may indicate that we lack self-love, do not value ourselves enough and struggle to hold our ground in the world.

This is a topic that I could talk about forever! And this is just a brief introduction to get you thinking about what your own patterns may relate to. The Chakra’s also relate very closely to the mind-body connection and I shall be exploring them in a later post.

Try to listen to what your body is saying. The patterns may have begun many years ago, and have become a habitual part of who you are. It need not be that way though, if we want to change we can, but sometimes the work has to start with us, with deep exploration of who we are and what our life experiences have done to affect our minds and bodies. This is the root of all healing. A therapist plays an important role in the process, but for real healing to take place, we need do some serious in-depth searching into what it is we really do and don’t need in our lives.

Friday, December 28, 2012 Wellbeing

Should Massage Hurt?

“I would rather make mistakes in kindness and compassion than work miracles in unkindness and hardness.”
Mother Teresa.

Often I encounter the misconception that a massage must hurt in order to do any real good, and if we’re sore or in pain the day after it’s just because the massage was really deep but it did a lot of good things. Nothing is further from the truth than this idea that pain is necessary to achieve good results. In fact, pain is a sign that harm has been done to the body and should be avoided if at all possible.
Slight soreness or discomfort during a massage is sometimes to be expected if there are particularly bad areas of tension. This can be described as ‘good’ pain, soreness that you can breath into and that feels better as the muscles begin to adjust and relax. Any pain that makes you grimace, flinch and tense your muscles is too deep, too hard and becomes counter productive to what a massage should achieve. A good therapist should see the signs from your body’s reaction that they are working too deeply and adjust their pressure/technique to stop it happening.
From experience, I find that working slowly is the most productive technique. Particularly at the beginning of a treatment as the body is getting used to the touch. I will then deepen the pressure where necessary but work even slower- the body can then slowly relax to the signals I send it, and begin to let go of the tension it’s clinging to. Fast, deep work, on the other hand, tends to shock the body and cause more tension, surely the opposite to what the massage is supposed to be doing!
A light soreness the day after is acceptable, just like a workout can give a pleasant light soreness. Pain that impairs your movement, reduces your flexibility or leaves bruises is plainly wrong. You can’t force a muscle to relax and release all its tensions. It needs to be cohered and encouraged to do so. It needs to be given love and care, and to feel as though it is allowed to relax. Brutal, deep and fast massage seems to me more like a punishment than a reward, and when I have a client who is determined that only painful massage works, I often question where this belief has come from.
Of course you must always listen to your client and give them the type of massage they want, but within reason. I will never try to hurt someone, though of course I will work more deeply if that’s what he/she asks for. More often than not, the ‘must hurt’ clients are amazed to find that the more gentle approach can be just as- if not more- effective. The body likes to be treated with kindness and compassion and it tends to relax far more than if someone is forcing it to do things, painfully. I also find that the results last longer when gently coerced, when the muscles are forced to do things, they seem to stubbornly revert to old patterns rather than allow the nurturing and healing they need to take place.
Talk to your therapist and tell them what you want, but also listen to their wisdom and knowledge, you and your body can learn a lot!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012 Wellbeing

Who Needs Healing?

"The cure of the part should not be attempted without treatment of the whole. No attempt should be made to cure the body without the soul. Let no one persuade you to cure the head until he has first given you his soul to be cured, for this is the great error of our day, that physicians first separate the soul from the body."

Healing is a very personal and subjective experience, and is needed by anyone who doesn’t feel as though they are completely whole, and balanced. To be whole and balanced, free from dis-ease and disharmony in the body, mind and spirit, is to find true happiness.

Our minds and bodies operate together, but sometimes they can become somehow disconnected as we face challenges in the world and suffer as a result. There is often unspoken belief that we must ‘keep calm and carry on,’ ignore our problems and just ‘get on with it’. Often when we do this, the underlying suffering and pain become blockages in our system and at some point they develop into physical symptoms such as back pain, headaches or illness. It is often then that we seek help, even though the problem may have begun a long time ago.

Stress, anxiety and depression have become commonplace in Western Society and are all a sure sign that we need to take stock of what is happening in our lives and deal with any problems that we are holding onto, rather than ignoring them.

The body operates on a kind of on/off switch. ‘On’ indicates that we are in growth mode, when we are using energy to grow and flourish. Billions of our bodies cells are replaced every day, our body is constantly renewing itself and this all occurs when we are in full growth mode, and experiencing vitality. In the ‘off’ position, we are in protection mode, and much of the body shuts down to conserve energy. Energy is diverted away from growth and our system in a sense, closes down. This is where we experience stress, fear and disconnection from our whole.
Biologically this is unnecessary, but this shut-down is triggered by our brains response to the stressful thoughts we have. When we induce this reaction through our thoughts, we inhibit our cellular growth and our immune system is shut-sown. It’s no surprise then that our body often exhibits the physical symptoms of our mental stress.

From a Therapist’s perspective, it is clear that in our modern world, many of us feel we don’t have the time to relax, that we must always be striving to help others, or to work harder; earn more money; thrive in our career. Sometimes when I suggest to someone they need to relax more, to meditate, or even just do some stretching, there reaction is one of disbelief. “How will I find the time?” They say, and then they wonder why they are suffering with headaches and neck pain!

A Massage not only has the literal effect of releasing tension and knots in the muscles, it also gives the recipient some valuable time-out from there every day lives. It gives the body permission to relax and for the cells to have a chance to grow and renew themselves. Unfortunately, for many, massage is either seen as a treat, or as a necessity when pain strikes.

Massage as a regular treatment can be a vital part of anyone’s journey to health, wholeness and happiness. It’s a time for the body to be nurtured by the human touch and for the mind and body to be guided by the therapist into a place of harmony rather than disconnection. Stress and anxiety are not a normal part of life, and everybody deserves some time alone to reflect and rejuvenate. Many of us could benefit from taking a look inside once in a while rather than always focusing outward on working for material gain. Money really doesn’t make us happy, the balance between our minds and our bodies does!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012 Wellbeing

My Own Healing Journey

"The journey between what you once were and who you are now becoming is where the dance of life really takes place."
Barbara Deangelis

I first remember feeling an overwhelming sadness (which I now know was depression) at the age of 12. I didn't know why or even what 'it' was, and I certainly didn't feel able to talk about it with anyone, but I do remember curling up on my bed and crying and wishing the world would swallow me up so that I wouldn't have to face up to it anymore.
At aged 16, I was seriously overweight, shy and insecure and using drugs and alcohol to numb my pain, boost my confidence and 'fit in' with people At 20, there was a big turnaround in my life as I decided it was time to lose weight and by obsessive dieting and exercising, I very rapidly dropped from 14 stone to 10 stone and by aged 23, I weighed just 7.5 stone and looked like a walking skeleton. Friends seemed almost afraid of spending time with me, as they were unable to understand my self-neglect and my almost complete withdrawal from them and from the world. I was still depressed, and an insomniac too, often getting only 3 or 4 hours sleep a night and I can only describe myself as being a ghost of a human being.

Now, aged 34, I no longer get depressed (bad moods don't overwhelm me, I just accept them as a sometimes necessary passing phase), I am a healthy 9 stone and sleep a good 8 hours every night. I consider myself to be at the end of my healing journey, and what a journey it's been! From Acupuncture to Yoga and pretty much everything in between, I have tried almost everything in the pursuit of finding inner peace and happiness. Many different therapies have had a profound effect on me and piece-by-piece they have restored me to being what I consider to be a healthy and balanced individual with self-confidence and a real love of life.
It hasn't always been an easy journey, especially for someone who had such deep insecurities, finding the love for myself and the desire to realise my full potential, which was necessary to even begin the healing process was perhaps the hardest step- and without the love and support of my close friends and family, I may well have wasted away to nothing! So thank-you all, and thanks also to each and every therapist who has influenced my life and brought me to where I am now.

Where I am now, is centred and grounded and very privileged to be able to now take the role of therapist and do my own little bit to help others on their own journey. I am a Massage Therapist and Reiki Healer and this blog is going to explore the world of healing from the perspective of someone who used to be a lost soul but is now a fully-fledged member of the healing community.