What does the season of goodwill mean to you?

What do you think of when you think of the festive season? For me, if I don’t catch myself, I start to panic about presents (Christmas follows hot on the heels of both sons’ birthdays), how to fit everything in, and what we’re going to eat on the big day.

Over the past few years though, I’ve tried to be more conscious about where my thoughts take me. Who made the law that we need a big roast on Christmas Day? We experimented with a buffet of our favourite foods  a couple of years ago and everyone was so much happier.

And this year I’m remembering Christmas is supposed to be the season of goodwill. Not just to all men (pah!) – but to all of us, including ourselves.

What is goodwill?

Again, I know from my own experience that there’s a big difference between doing nice things because we feel like we should, and because we genuinely see the purpose in them. I worried I’d disappoint my family if we didn’t have ‘proper’ Christmas food, but actually found that making the change made for a more light-hearted, fun day, with no worries about burnt potatoes or how many sprouts to cook.

What’s this got to do with goodwill? Well, I think that in order to truly embrace goodwill, we need to tune into what matters to us, and those around us. Not what we’ve always done, or what we’re told matters. To go beneath that and think about what’s really important. And then act on it, generously.

And that means starting from scratch. To borrow declutterer Marie Kondo’s approach, to take everything out and only put back in what ‘sparks joy’. To go back to my food example, it was important to be with loved ones and eat food we enjoyed for Christmas. That really did not look like a traditional Christmas dinner. It did mean thinking about what everyone liked and what was simple to prepare so that we could make the most of our time together without some of us slaving away in the kitchen for a meal we weren’t that fussed about.

The missing ingredient

One vital ingredient that’s usually forgotten about, whether it’s to do with goodwill or anything else, is ourselves. It’s all very well being loving and generous to other people. But if we don’t include ourselves in that love and generosity, sooner or later we burn out. We exhaust ourselves. And we resent others for it. When actually, the answer starts with us.

So this season of goodwill my focus is on goodwill to myself, as well as those around me. Not in a Scrooge-like way! It’s simply that I am going to make an effort to remember I need to be kind to myself. Partly so I can role-model that self-kindness to my boys and others around me. And partly because I simply know it’s essential for me to do good elsewhere.

Pay it forward

I intend to use this season of goodwill to pay it forward. To respond to kindness I’ve been shown by moving it on. The pandemic, and all the lockdowns we’ve been through have brought home to me the importance of social connection. So I intend to pay it forward by supporting a local initiative here in York whose aim is to alleviate loneliness and isolation. The group is called Xmas Presence and this year they are delivering Christmas dinner and hampers to elderly people who otherwise would be alone. If you want to check them out you can find them on Facebook.

And, this year, as I recognise that I’m included in my own goodwill, I intend to pay it forward to my future self, as well as to others. I am booking myself in for a whole series of massages in 2022. And scheduling regular time-outs in nature. And I will defend them to the hilt!

What does paying it forward look like for you – paying both others and yourself? Of course, regular massage or reflexology readily ticks both boxes! A massage or reflexology session is so much more than ‘pampering’. It can be a real unburdening, a time of lightness that flows into the rest of your week.

So do think about whether you can give yourself, or a loved one, the gift of something that will really make a difference this season of goodwill.

If you’d like to chat about gifts or loyalty offers, simply contact me here and we’ll make a plan to suit you.


3 practical ways to slow down this autumn

This season of retreating light and advancing cold invites us to step down a gear. Autumn is a time to slow down. The leaves fall to the ground around us: the trees know it’s time to let go. To hunker down and save energy for times of new growth.

Our own personal seasons don’t have to copy the trees exactly. We don’t have to spend all of autumn and winter lying low, in a state of snooze. But we do need to honour ourselves, and recognise our own call to go slow.

I know I’m feeling it in my bones that I can’t just keep going full tilt, all the time. I suspect I’m not alone. My body is telling me it’s had enough, that not everything has to happen right now, that time spent in stillness and quiet is just as vital as time spent busily doing.

So often we think how nice it would be to slow down – to step off the world and the commitments it throws at us for a little while. But it just doesn’t feel possible. So here I offer three practical ways to slow down. Actions that are within my grasp, and yours.

1. Let go of shoulds

I’m not going to pretend the daily grind just stops when we’d like it to. In my own life I still need to get the children to school, and to football (so much of my life is spent standing on the sides of freezing pitches, wishing I was elsewhere!). People still need to be fed, bills still need to be paid, work still needs to be done.

This is all true. And, yet, I know for myself that there are some things I do because I feel like I ought to. Things like post on social media for my business. Or take the children into town for a treasure hunt (even though they’re not desperate to). Or do some new training .

None of these tasks are bad, in themselves. They are often enjoyable! But they become a burden when I’m driven by the ‘should’. So I am trying to form a habit of checking in with myself before planning something new. Am I doing this because I want to, or because I should? And if I’m doing it because I should, do I really need to? And if I need to, can I make it as simple as possible?

2. Go outside

I had to include this one because it’s so simple, and so helpful. Whenever I’m feeling frazzled I try to get outside. Even if it’s just for three minutes in the garden with a cup of tea. Even if it’s raining. Even better if it’s for a 20 minute walk.

It’s not a miracle cure, it doesn’t make all my problems disappear. But it does give me a chance to reset and refresh. And, usually, it’s enough to help me feel a bit less overwhelmed. For the world to feel as though it’s coming at me in a slightly less aggressive manner.

3. Book a massage or reflexology session

Of course, I had to talk about this! But not just because it’s my job. Before I started my own practice I booked a monthly massage for myself, for years. And it’s not an exaggeration to say I needed it.

I’m sure I would have survived the early years with my two boys without my regular massage, just about. But I would have been a lot more frayed at the edges. A lot less me.

For me, there is something uniquely special about stopping and experiencing the benefit of therapeutic touch. Something no other relaxing activity can offer. That session on the couch really lets me drop into my body, without even thinking about it.

It’s one time where there are zero demands on me. I don’t have to do or be anything. I just have to lie there and let it happen. And that frees my mind up. To relax, properly.

And when that happens, my body starts to speak. It quietly lets me know where I’ve been holding onto emotional hurt. Where I’ve been coiled, ready for action, despite the fact there’s no sabre-toothed tiger around the corner.

That little slice of respite carries over into the rest of my day and week. It gives my body time to recalibrate. I feel calmer, and there is power in the calm. It’s not only a nice feeling to have – it seeps into how I approach my life. My massage (and, more recently, reflexology) sessions enable me to make calmer, wiser choices as I negotiate the hustle and bustle of life.

So there you have it. An invitation to be inspired by the trees, and honour the call to slow down whenever you hear it.

I’d love to be part of your slowing down. To book a massage or reflexology session with me, simply get in touch here.

 


What to expect at your first consultation

When you book in for a massage or reflexology session for the first time, we have a consultation together. You’d be forgiven for thinking this is a quick, paperwork formality before getting on with the real business of the session. But it’s not! Your consultation is an important part of the therapeutic process.

My new clients are often surprised at how valuable the consultation is in itself, before you even get on the couch. So what happens when you decide to book in for a massage or reflexology session for the first time? In this blog we’ll explore what we discuss in your first consultation and why.

Your intentions for the treatment

It’s important that we both understand why you booked a treatment. You might be hoping your massage or reflexology session will help reduce stress or anxiety. You may have a particular physical ailment you’re hoping to alleviate. You may want to feel more relaxed and like yourself again.

Taking the time to explore what you want from the session helps me ensure your needs are met. And it can also help you clarify your own wants and needs for yourself. This is especially true for clients who’ve been gifted a session. They might have thought they were simply having some time out for themselves, and in the consultation realise they’ve been carrying a lot of tension they were unaware of, for example.

We’ll discuss whether you’re planning a course of treatment or a one off session. During the process of the consultation I can also recommend what would suit you best – though of course the decision is always yours. It’s important that if this is a one off treatment that we don’t open a can of worms! Often, for example, issues with deep muscular tissue will need a course of treatment.

Your physical health

In full confidence we will talk through your current physical health. As well as discussing things you might expect, such as any health conditions or medication, we’ll also discuss your whole physical picture. Factors such as your menstrual cycle and average amount of sleep all help inform the work I’ll do with you.

Your lifestyle

We’ll also discuss your lifestyle and habits. This isn’t just me being nosey, and I certainly won’t judge! But it will help me understand and work with your body better. It is your daily activity and lifestyle patterns that influence the state your body is in, so knowing the context is important.

It may be that we can discuss adjustments to your daily routine (such as drinking more water or getting more sleep – most of us need more water and sleep!) that will complement the work of the massage or reflexology session. I can also recommend other complementary practitioners, such as physiotherapists or nutritionists if relevant.

Your preferences

You are the expert in your own body, and it’s important to me that you get the experience you want. During the consultation there will be opportunities for you to tell me about your preferences. For example, you might prefer that I avoid certain places (such as your face or feet) during a massage. You can tell me whether you prefer music playing during the session or not.

There are no silly questions during a consultation. Just as it allows me to understand you and your needs, it’s a chance for you to understand more about your treatment and the work I do. It’s important you feel entirely comfortable with the plan we make together so there will be plenty of time for you to ask questions and clarify anything you’re unsure about.

Time for you

As you can see, the consultation process is far more than a formality. It’s there to set the scene for your treatment, and to give you a chance to pause and reflect on your own needs. Depending on the Covid-19 situation your consultation can be over the phone or in person. My hope is that it leaves you feeling comfortable and confident in our plans for your treatment, so you can fully enjoy this time that’s just for you.

If you’d like to book in some restoration time, do get in touch. Just as in the consultation, there are no silly questions. This is time for you to get to the heart of what you want and need.


Massage: Is It An Act Of Relaxation or Revolution?

When you think of massage what do you think of? Chances are it’s something along the lines of having time out, to relax. You might buy a massage for a friend as a birthday present, or for yourself as a treat. It might form part of a pampering spa weekend. And you’d be right –  there’s no denying massage is relaxing. But… is having a massage a revolutionary act? Surely not!

In my mind massage is both a form of relaxation and an act of revolution. And in this blog I’ll explain why.

Massage for relaxation

Coming for a massage creates a space for you to just be. With no demands on your time. There’s nothing for you to do, there are no expectations of how you need to act. It’s such a contrast from everyday life to be able to ‘just be’. That, in itself, is an invitation to relax that we so rarely give ourselves.

Massage is more than just time out though. The act of massage itself encourages your body to relax physiologically. During your massage I use a variety of techniques to manipulate your body into a state of relaxation. Your muscles loosen and stretch, releasing tension – which in turn helps to release psychological tension.

Having a massage also decreases your levels of cortisol (known as the stress hormone) and increases your levels of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins. Having these ‘positive’ hormones circulating around your body helps to reduce your stress and anxiety levels, leaving you in a more relaxed state, not just during your massage, but afterwards too.

Massage for revolution

It probably didn’t come as a surprise to you to read that having a massage is a great way to help you feel more relaxed. And that, in itself, is a great reason to book yourself in! But massage for revolution? What’s that all about?

Here I’m talking directly from my personal experience, and that of my clients. Having a massage can lead to your life changing! Changing for the better. The very act of booking a massage can feel like an act of rebellion. In a society that rewards us for ‘keeping going’ and celebrating the juggle, actively booking in a time for pause and nurture is rebellious. It goes against the grain. It can feel self indulgent.

My two boys were young – in kindergarten – when I first started going for a regular massage. They wanted me with them a LOT. Giving myself permission to have a massage once a month was a reminder that I have my own needs too. And that if I want to meet other people’s I also have to look after myself. To be totally honest, I credit my monthly massage with preserving my sanity in those early years!

And once you make time for that pause, for a regular massage, space emerges. You find yourself questioning the everyday routine. You find yourself wanting more of that calm, grounded feeling. Your take on what’s important and what you can let go of changes. I found it easier to do my own thing without fear of other people judging me. It was my regular massage that prompted me to have the courage to refresh my training and set up my own complementary therapy business.

So booking a massage is revolutionary in that it’s taking a stand against the ‘faster, more, now!!’ messages that society throws at us – and especially throws at women. And, it can also be revolutionary in what it leads to.

Creating space for yourself to pause, for your body to operate from that dopamine/seratonin good place rather than the cortisol stress place can have a ripple effect. You can find yourself making new choices – ones that leave you feeling happier, healthier, and more ‘you’ than ever before.

Book in your massage now

So, yes, everything you’ve heard about a massage being relaxing is true. Time out for yourself is always a good thing. And the physiological benefits of massage mean your body and mind will release tension as a result of your time on the couch.

But don’t underestimate your massage; it’s not simply a pampering session! Regular massage has the power to reset you – to reconnect you to what matters, to release what’s holding you back and free you up to do the things you really want to do.

If you want to perform an act of tiny rebellion today – book in for a massage. We’ll talk through how you are and what you need to create more relaxation and revolution in your life – on the couch and beyond.


The vital work of rest

As the chaos of August gives way to the structure of September (for many of us), it’s more important than ever to think about rest. I don’t know how your summer’s turning out, but for me, the juggle of school holidays and work is anything but holiday-like!

That said, there is something about August – the fact that it’s the time of year many go away. That year-round activities take a break. That news teams call it ‘silly season’. It’s a time of year when society invites us to breathe out a little.

September though, that’s when it all gets serious again. Back to early rising and school runs. Back to that tighter schedule. So as we approach the turning of the season I want to remind myself, and all of us, of the vital work of rest.

The physical benefits of rest

Without adequate rest, our body can’t repair itself. And, we all need this vital repair and regeneration time – our skin, our muscles, our organs, our immune system all undergo continuous renewal. And they need rest to do it well. A big part of this rest is sleep. Most adults need between seven to nine hours of sleep each night. And, most adults don’t get this consistently, I bet!

So, as we approach autumn, how can you make sleep a priority? Actively scheduling in ‘pre-sleep’ time without a screen can help your body get in the mood for sleep. So many of us have a growing dependency on screens for entertainment and distraction – it can feel like a radical step to turn everything off and pick up a book or have a bath instead. But your body will thank you for it.

Rest doesn’t always have to mean staying still. Gentle movement can promote the health benefits of rest. Our increasingly sedentary lifestyles are correlated with a rise in conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity and cardiovascular disease. Unplugging and taking a walk, going for a swim or doing a stint of yoga can all help your body rest.

The mental benefits of rest

It’s common sense that we all need to switch off sometimes. Making time for rest helps relieve stress and anxiety. It can also increase your creativity and productivity.

Research from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development – an international research body) has found that working more actually reduces productivity. Our brains need time off to play. It helps us process ideas, experiences and memories, which in turn can mean you are more effective when you return to work.

Aside from being a tactical move to increase your productivity, rest is simply important for enjoying life. For following joy and noticing the things that make life worth living, rather than having our nose to the grindstone all the time. We are more than productive units. All of us, you included, deserve to have time in peace, at rest. Which brings us to an important question. What does rest look like to you?

What does rest look like to you?

Have you noticed that you can spend an evening on your phone, losing hours, and still feel exhausted? It hasn’t given you any rest at all? And, perhaps other times, you’ve been on your phone and come away replenished? It all depends on why you’ve been scrolling.

There’s nothing innately evil about phones, of course. Used to connect with people we love, or find out more about things we care about, or even tick off annoying jobs that have been niggling us, our phones can be a force for great good. But they can also suck time and energy away from us.

That’s why it’s important to think about what activities we turn to in our down time. Are they things that replenish us? Or are they things that we do out of habit and convenience? I know I find it all too easy to reach for my phone when I have a quiet moment. But I also know that reaching for my knitting, or stepping outside into my garden, would be much more restorative.

Rest can be different for all of us, depending on our interests, lifestyles and abilities. A friend of mine runs triathlons to feel good. That’s not my cup of tea – but I have recently started outdoor swimming and love how my mind and body feel from doing that.

Take a moment to think about the activities that truly help you feel rested. Write them down so you have a list to turn to, rather than your phone.

How will you rest this week?

My invitation to you this week is to actively schedule in rest time – and to see whether you can start new habits ready for autumn. Whether it’s by making sure you aim for a decent block of sleep, by doing an activity you enjoy, or by heading outdoors for a walk. It’s up to you. But how will you do the vital work of rest? I’m always happy to talk about rest and self care, so if you’d like to chat, you can contact me here.


7 ways to meet your own needs over the summer holidays

As the school summer holidays are upon us, my thoughts turn to occupying the kids. How to keep them busy. How to manage my own work and juggle childcare. All the practical things. And I know I’m not alone in this.

‘Doing nice things’ feels especially important this year, after 15 months of on-and-off lockdowns. But with covid-19 still looming large decision making over where to go, what to do, who to see and when feels more complicated than ever.

Amidst all this, it’s easy to forget your own needs. They don’t go away just because the school term’s over. For many women the reality is that ‘holidays’ are a complete misnomer. They’re not holidays, at all – they don’t bring relaxation, a slower pace or a change of scene. Instead they’re a time of increasing demands and pressure.

And, of course, it’s natural and noble to want to create magical memories for your children. But don’t let that be at the expense of your own needs. It’s not just ok to think about how to keep yourself on an even keel over summer. It’s absolutely essential.

So in this blog we look at seven ways you can meet your own needs over summer when looking after the kids. I won’t pretend all of these will work beautifully for everyone – they don’t always work for me! But having some new approaches up your sleeve is always helpful, so see which of these might help.

The other parent

It should go without saying that if there’s another parent on the scene then they should also be pulling their weight looking after the kids. But, sadly, for most of my clients the emotional and practical load falls squarely on their shoulders. The other parent might need a gentle (or not-so-gentle) reminder that they have a role to play too. If you haven’t already set aside some time to discuss the balance of responsibility over summer. And just because it’s always been you doesn’t mean it always has to be…

Agree ground rules at the start

Whether you’re juggling work alongside childcare or are with your children full time during the holidays you’ll need to find a new rhythm while school’s out. It can be helpful for your children to know in advance what the expectations are.

Does it mean they’ll always remember and stick to them? No! But it does mean you have something to refer back to and reset when chaos reigns. The idea isn’t to create strict rules, but to create an environment where everyone’s on the same page. So at the start of the holidays, sit down and try to come up with some ground rules together.

You know your family needs best, but you might want to think about principles that cover expectations around:

  • When people are up and dressed
  • When you need to be left alone to work/rest
  • Keeping the house tidy
  • Food and snacks
  • When the TV goes on

Allocate choice days

If your family’s anything like mine the summer holidays can be filled with days squabbling over what to do. You might want to head to a park, child 1 wants to play lego all day and child 2 wants to go shopping. At the time you’re setting ground rules you could also try allocating choice days. So there are specific days when you get to make the decisions about what you all do, and days for each of the children.

As long as you set boundaries (in terms of time and money!) around activities, this can be a good way for everyone to feel heard and get what they want, while learning about being flexible and going along with other people’s wishes. (Or the squabbling might just carry on! But it’s worth a shot!).

Enlist support       

Are there ways to share the burden with friends and family? Childcare swaps, having a special auntie or godfather day scheduled in, or going on outings with another family can all be ways either to make time for yourself or have a co-pilot to share the load with. Get the dates booked in now.

Get outside

When I’m feeling low or frustrated I know I need to get outside. Even if it doesn’t work miracles it takes the edge off. So if you find yourself having one of those afternoons at home, get everyone out. Even if you don’t make it to a park or further than the end of the street. Just some fresh air will help. And if you can’t get outside, get them in a daytime bath or shower. Having a splash around can reset the mood.

Grab moments

Be on high alert for times you can steal for yourself. And try to use them for something restorative, rather than scrolling through your phone. Can you take a book into the garden with a cup of tea for ten minutes while they watch Danger Mouse? Are they playing with friends upstairs? What can you do for yourself while they’re occupied?

It might be worth making a list of quick activities that you know make you feel better and pinning it to a kitchen cupboard for reference so you can make the most of those tiny slices of time.

Plan in your September restoration now! 

If you know you’re not going to get much headspace for the next few weeks, it can help to have something to look forward to. I’m reducing my working hours over the school holidays but I’ve made sure I’ve got plenty of slots available for September. So do contact me now to discuss what times and treatments would work for you. Whether you’re a new client or a regular I’d love to hear from you!


A time for hibernation

New year resolutions?

January can be a hard month to get through. The sparkle and excitement of Christmas has faded, it’s cold, dark and here in the UK usually wet too. We are also bombarded with messages about making new year resolutions: “get fitter”,” lose weight”, “live your best life” “new year, new you”!

To me, January seems a terrible time for such resolutions. They often seem to fail and we’re left feeling negative before the first month of the year has even finished. Definitely not the way to start a new year as far as I’m concerned.

They also seem counterintuitive to what many of us are actually craving at this time; that is to rest. To slowly gather ourselves for the year to come, to have time to mull over ideas and plans, to eat warm wholesome food and snuggle under a blanket.

I was heartened to read that there is a good reason why I feel like this. Claire Davies, a writer from York, has explored the idea of “new year”.

Claire says: “If you’re struggling with the concept of new year resolutions you’re not alone. If the middle of winter feels like a weird time to start afresh then your instincts are right.”

Researching some of the history around this notion of “new year”, Claire found that “For centuries, the English new year began on March 25th, with the arrival of spring and the equinox…

The powers that be changed this with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1752, when we realised that the Julian calendar wasn’t working from a keeping track of the year perspective. While designing this new calendar, Pope Gregory XIII also shifted the new year to January. (For reasons that I can’t fathom in my research.)”

Claire goes on to explain that: “archaeologists recently discovered evidence that early humans (neanderthals) probably cave hibernated for months over winter. Actually laid down fat reserves and went to sleep. You read that right. HIBERNATED!”

No wonder new year resolutions can feel somewhat jarring!

The Long Month

The other thing about January is that it can feel like a really long month. This adds to the sense of having to endure and get through it. Last year I challenged myself to enjoy and savour the feeling of having a long month. The rest of the year always seems to go by quickly, so I thought if I tried to appreciate something about each day in a mindful way, then the feeling of having a long month could be reframed into a more joyous experience.

This year, it feels a little more difficult to do that. Not being able to go out very much, not seeing friends, and not being able to travel out of the local area have all left me wanting time to speed up. I hate that though. I feel uncomfortable wishing time away, even though it is understandable given the current circumstances.

Could you embrace hibernation?

But trying to look at it in another way, perhaps the fact that we don’t have all the usual things to do, or places to go, might make it a bit easier to embrace the idea of hibernating.

I’ve noticed over the past few weeks that my pace has slowed down a little Even my children aren’t waking up as early as usual (some sort of miracle). Although we are getting up for school at home, we don’t need much time to get to the “classroom / work space”.  So we can afford these extra minutes in bed, sleeping in later. It feels nourishing and much needed. We’re also having a bit more quiet time in the afternoons as the light fades. A sense of the day closing up earlier.

Of course, many of us are still having to leave the house for work, but perhaps by adopting a slower pace when we can – at the weekend, or on days off – we might be able to tune into the hibernation vibe of days gone by.

My top tips for embracing hibernation are:

  1. Go to bed earlier than usual
  2. Eat hearty, warming and wholesome food
  3. Draw the curtains as soon as it gets dark and light a candle or two
  4. Read a book or watch a film whilst snuggling under a blanket
  5. Daydream about things you’d like to do in the coming months

Hibernation doesn’t suit everyone, of course – so it’s also good to remember that the light is building as each day passes, and there is still growth and renewal happening out of sight underground.

However, it really is ok to enjoy this Winter pause. Don’t feel bad for wanting to slow down. Remember the urge to hibernate is part of our human history. Perhaps it is the fast pace of modern life that leads us to forget the value of resting.

As Claire Davies reminds us: “nowhere in our history is there evidence that it is human nature to be bright and perky, popping off to the gym before dawn and nibbling low calorie foods while we fix all of our so called personality defects ALL AT ONCE during some of the coldest, shortest days of the year.”

Maybe it’s time to reclaim our need for hibernation…


Into the forest

 

Topping up your self-care

I often encourage my clients to keep themselves topped up with self-care in between their massage or reflexology appointments. Whilst it would be fabulous to see clients every week, it is usually a case of seeing them every two weeks or once a month. So it is really important for them to have a set of self-care tools they can use in between appointments, particularly if they come to see me to reduce stress and anxiety levels.

This is true for myself too. I have a monthly massage and I always try and carve time out for myself in order to maintain the feeling of calm, lightness and relaxation that I experience after my massage. For me, getting outside in nature is high up on my list to help achieve this.

If I had to pick my favourite outside place to spend time, I would be torn between choosing a beach or a forest. As I live just over an hour from the coast, I probably spend a little bit more time in the woods, and this has certainly been the case recently when I’ve been unable to venture too far from home.

I have been searching out patches of woodland to get my nature fix in, which ultimately provides me with calmness and stress reduction. One evening I was in the woods and found myself totally absorbed in the sounds and smells all around me.  I felt really relaxed. It reminded me of an article I had read about forest bathing.

What exactly is Forest Bathing?

When I first came across the term forest bathing last year, I was immediately interested in finding out more. The concept originates in Japan, where it is called “Shinrin-Yoku”.  This translates as forest bathing, or forest shower. Researchers in Japan and South Korea have been studying the effects of forest bathing since around 1982, and it is absolutely amazing to read about the results.

Dr Quing Li, a researcher in Japan, has published many journal articles and books about his findings.   According to The Forest Bathing Institute, they show that forest bathing can, amongst other things, “reduce blood pressure, lower stress, improve concentration and memory, lift depression and boost the immune system”. Imagine benefitting in such positive ways simply from spending time in a forest!

Forest bathing involves using all of your senses to fully immerse yourself in the forest.  Dr Li talks about the need to take your time, and to remember that it is not a long forest hike. The aim is to cover only a small distance, and to do this over several hours. Slowing down, breathing in and really seeing, hearing and touching the forest is vital. Dr Li also believes that the aroma of the forest can have a big impact on our well being too. This aspect particularly interests me as an Aromatherapist.

What if I don’t have time to sit in a forest all day?

Reading this, you may be thinking that you don’t have all day to spend in the forest.  Perhaps you’re questioning whether you’ll still feel the benefits if you don’t have much time. As to this, Dr Li states that “The good news is that even a small amount of time in nature can have an impact on our health. A two hour forest bathe will help you unplug from technology and slow down. It will bring you into the present moment to de-stress and relax you.” Even a couple of hours will promote your wellbeing.

Slowing down

One of the things that really appeals to me about forest bathing is the slowing down aspect. Earlier this year, I challenged myself to spend 10 minutes mindfully outside in nature.  I found that the act of slowing down was an important aspect in feeling calm. I realised through this small challenge that although I spent plenty of time outside, I often rushed along.  I was thinking of my destination, rather than just being present.

I feel that many of us crave the need to slow down. Our minds and bodies can feel so busy and stressed.  It is crucial that we give ourselves the space to relax our bodies, calm our minds and let go of tension. As a Complementary Therapist, I also know the importance of calming the nervous system down, and this is very much the focus of many of the massage and reflexology treatments I provide.

Knowing that forest bathing can help to calm our nervous system down, and learning more about the other benefits it offers, has made me even more determined to get out into the woods regularly. And whilst I can’t provide treatments to my clients just now, I’m glad to be able to share another self-care tool to help keep your wellbeing topped up!

Do you already spend time in the woods? Do you think you will add forest bathing to your list of self-care? I would love to hear your thoughts.

PS

After reading more about the benefits of forest bathing, I’m seriously contemplating doing some training around it, so who knows – this time next year I may be offering forest bathing sessions alongside my massage and reflexology sessions!

 

References

The Forest Bathing Institute

“Shinrin-Yoku: The Art and Science of Forest Bathing” by Dr Quing Li

“Science of ‘forest bathing’: fewer maladies, more well-being” A film by Kirsten Dirksen


Lessons from child’s pose

As we move further into this strange “lockdown” situation it’s hard not to reflect on the nature of this time. On the one hand I can’t believe it’s only been a month, as some days pass so quickly I hardly get anything done. Yet on the other hand, some days feel never-ending and are full of stress and tension.

It’s been a challenging time and no doubt there are many of us trying to cope with these alien circumstances without access to our normal coping strategies. Mine usually involve seeing friends, having a massage and getting a lot of fresh air! Thankfully I can still do yoga which is also high on my list of things that help me to de-stress. And it’s actually something that happened during yoga recently that prompted me to write this blog.

Last week I was doing a yoga session via Zoom, and my teacher suggested we move into child’s pose. I duly did so but within less than a minute I felt a wave of emotion and started to cry. For anyone who isn’t familiar with child’s pose, it basically involves curling up on the floor with your bottom back towards your heels and your head on the floor in front of you. It is a very restorative posture, and it isn’t the first time that being in this posture has led to a release of emotions!

So what was going on? I think curling up away from the outside world allowed me to let go of what I was carrying, it enabled me to surrender a little bit, and let my emotions come out. We spend so much of our time facing out to the world, meeting head on what comes towards us, absorbing so much external stimulus, that sometimes it becomes overwhelming. It is essential, therefore, that we give our minds and bodies a regular break from this.

Even now, when many of us are spending a large majority of our days inside and physically away from people, we are still facing out to the world – whether that be over Zoom, Whatsapp or whichever video calling option we are using! We might also be trying to put on a brave face. It’s a lot easier to pretend that we are OK via a video call than it is in a real life, face-to-face interaction with our friends or colleagues. It’s also easy to reply to a text asking how you are with a vague “I’m fine”, even if you are not fine. This can be exhausting and it takes up a lot of emotional energy, so it’s no surprise that we might be feeling more stressed and overwhelmed than usual!

So, going back to my child’s pose experience. As I said above, it is a very restful posture, it allows us to shut out the world and listen to ourselves. I think there is something very powerful about turning inwards. It allows us to release whatever we might be holding onto. It’s like we can breathe out without fear of judgement, because no one can see us. It also allows our nervous system to rest and feel soothed. And it actually reminded me of how I feel when I go for my monthly massage. Having that time and space to just stop, and let go of everything else, is like a little haven from life.

I see this with my own clients too. When people come to me for a massage or reflexology they know they can just be. The pretence can be dropped and they can breathe out. I often notice this even before I start the treatment. Clients come in and sigh, I see their bodies physically start to relax. As a therapist this always makes me smile inside as it confirms that I’ve created a safe space for them, but also because I know they have prioritized some much needed time just for them.

Although people have many different reasons for coming to have Reflexology and Massage, I strongly believe that just having time to switch off from everything is really important for improving our well-being. If we can give our nervous system time to be soothed, we can start to relax and this can have a really positive effect on both our body and mind.

I would advocate this in “normal” times, so right now I feel that it is even more important to be carving out some quiet time for ourselves as we move through these strange weeks full of uncertainty. And this is one of the many reasons why I’m feeling sad that I can’t see clients right now. I would love to be able to offer my usual space for clients to breathe out, let go and just be.

I really am looking forward to the time when I can provide Massage and Reflexology again. Until then I hope that the story of my child’s pose experience helps you to remember the importance of finding a way to give yourself a break from the outside world.

And if you would like to keep up to date with when the doors to my treatment room will be open again, then do please sign up to my email list here.

 

Photo credit: Katiee Lue from Unsplash


Image of aromatherapy oils

Aromatherapy and the menopause

Too many women experience menopause in silence, with a sense of quiet shame at their changing bodies and emotions. Why is this, I wonder? Surely a profound change that’s experienced by half the people on the planet deserves attention? Thankfully, I think the conversation around menopause is slowly changing, with more women, employers and health care professionals no longer seeing menopause as a taboo subject. About bloody time (excuse the pun!).

Last year I took part in a workshop about the menopause, with lots of useful discussions about what menopause is, how it can affect us and what we can do to help ourselves through it. I spoke about how essential oils can help, and I thought I’d share the main points here too.

What is the menopause?

We reach menopause when we haven’t had a period for 12 months or more. However we start to experience menopausal symptoms when the balance of the body’s sex hormones begins to change. This is known as the perimenopause. The ovaries stop producing as much oestrogen and we no longer release an egg each month. Changing hormone levels, particularly a decrease in oestrogen can have a big impact on a woman’s body. We can start to experience a number of symptoms, for example:

  • Dry skin
  • Hot flushes
  • Low mood or anxiety anger or irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Night sweats
  • Bloating
  • Heightened sensitivity to stimulus

These symptoms are often interlinked, for example: night sweats can lead to disturbed sleep and tiredness which in turn can lead to low mood and anxiety which in turn can lead to more tiredness – then the cycle continues…

What is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to improve our physical and emotional well being. Essential oils are extracted from plants, trees and flowers and possess many different therapeutic properties due to their chemical makeup.

They can be absorbed into our bodies via the skin and through the nose and work on both a chemical and psychological level.

The oils interact with the chemistry of our bodies. Our hormones, enzymes and neurotransmitters are all chemicals, and receptive to the chemicals in the oil. This can affect how the body works. For example if you are feeling stressed you could use an oil with relaxing or sedative properties. That could help to relieve the symptoms of stress by changing the impulses sent around the body, resulting in slower breathing, a slower heart rate and your muscles relaxing.

They also work on a psychological level because each oil has a distinctive aroma and our sense of smell is very much linked to memory. Certain smells can cause particular responses. For example jasmine reminds me of warm summer evenings so that has a positive impact on me. Even if you don’t have an existing association with the smell of an essential oil, by using it in a therapeutic way you create a positive association for yourself, which you can return to every time you smell that oil.

There are a number of essential oils that could help with menopause symptoms. Here I’ve chosen five to talk about and have summarised some of their properties:

Rose (Rosa centifolia)

  • Hydrates and soothes dry and mature skin
  • Works with the nervous system, can lift depression, calm nerves, ease insomnia and stimulate positive emotions
  • Works with the reproductive and endocrine systems, so can calm premenstrual tension

Neroli (citrus aurantium)

  • Helps cell regeneration so is good for dry and mature skin
  • Works with the circulatory system – can ease palpitations
  • Works with the nervous system – lifts depression, relieves stress related conditions especially insomnia and anxiety, calms the central nervous system, can soothe emotional states such as irritability and tearfulness
  • Rejuvenates body and soul

** Caution- this can be very relaxing so be careful using it if a clear head and concentration is needed**

Cypress ( cupressus semipervirens)

  • Controls water loss and oil and sweat production so good for excessive perspiration
  • Good for mature skin
  • Regulates menopausal problems- hot flushes, hormone imbalance, irritability
  • Can have good effect on painful and heavy periods
  • Can be diuretic, helping with water retention
  • Can have a soothing effect on anger
  • Can have cooling properties

Clary Sage (salvia sclarea)

  • A warming and relaxing oil that can uplift and promote a feeling of wellbeing
  • Works with the endocrine system to help hormone balancing
  • Can help with excessive perspiration

**caution – very sedative so don’t use before driving and don’t use with alcohol**

Geranium ( Pelargonium graveolens)

  • Works with the adrenal cortex – lifts the spirits and relieves anxiety, depression and stress
  • Regulates hormones
  • Can help with depression associated with menopause
  • Balances both mind and body
  • Stimulates circulation

**caution- don’t use on very sensitive skin**

How to use

Firstly, remember that essential oils are volatile, extremely powerful when neat, flammable and soluble in oil. They should never be used internally or drunk. If you’re in any doubt about whether to use an oil, consult with someone who has been trained. They can be applied in a variety of ways including massages, baths, inhalations and compresses.

For Massage

Use 8 drops of essential oil in 20mls of carrier oil for body massage. Use 1-2 drops of essential oil in 5mls of carrier oil for facial massage. Essential oils will last 3 months if in a carrier oil.

Baths

Need to be mixed with a small quantity of emulsifier. This can be a fragrance free mixture or in a few drops of milk (any variety) this is to ensure that the oil does not just sit on the surface of the water. Use 1-6 drops in a bath, or 1-3 drops if you have sensitive skin.

Diffusers

Follow instructions for each individual diffusers as they can be different but as a general guide add 1-2 drops of essential oils into the water.

Compress

Soak a cloth in 100ml of water and add 1 drop of essential oil. Squeeze out excess water and use on your body.

Steam inhalation

Add 1 drop of essential oil into a bowl of hot water and inhale. For a stronger effect use 1-3 drops.

Inhalation

Put 1 drop on a tissue and inhale or 1 drop on your pillow. For a stronger effect use 1-3 drops.

It is always a good idea to talk to someone trained in aromatherapy to ensure you are using the oils safely and with maximum benefit for your symptoms.

I offer 60 minute and 75 minute aromatherapy massages. We have a full consultation before treatment and I make a bespoke blend to meet your needs on the day. Just contact me to discuss what you need.