Being Mindful in Nature: a January challenge

You may have seen on my Facebook page that for the last part of January I set myself a challenge to spend ten minutes mindfully being in nature.

My reasons for doing this were because quite a few people I spoke to at the time were struggling with the long, cold and dark feel of January, and wanted the month to be over quickly! I felt differently. I had realised half way through last year that, although January seemed to last an age, the rest of the year seemed to be speeding by. I vowed that next time, I would make the most of January. I wondered whether focusing mindfully for a few minutes each day would slow the month down for me, and whether it could put a more positive feel on the month.

So what did I learn? Here are my main reflections:

It’s only ten minutes, right?
It wasn’t as easy to spend ten minutes being mindful as I thought it would be. I really did think “ten minutes, that’s nothing”. It turns out that ten minutes can seem like a really long time! I found it particularly difficult when I was standing still. For example, there was one day when I spent the time in my garden. It took my mind at least five minutes to settle and stop thinking, “how long is left?” Interestingly, once my mind finally accepted the task, I didn’t want the time to end. It made me realise that I can probably achieve more than I think in “only” ten minutes after all!

Make it a habit
It was easy to find time outside whilst in my usual routine. On the days I was dropping and picking my children up from school, it was easy to take a slow stroll through a little patch of woodland, and to linger watching flowers and listening to the birds. But on the days that I was doing something different, it was much more difficult. Having to ask “where can I go to get my mindful ten minutes”? made it much more of a challenge. What I learned was that being mindful, even for ten minutes, needs to be planned until it becomes part and parcel of daily life.

Awaken your senses
Once you tune into the wind blowing, the trees rustling and the birds singing, you really hear them and start to notice them more and more. Being more mindful and purposefully listening out for things really did sharpen my senses.

Calming down
Taking ten minutes out from a busy day made me feel calmer. A slow walk after a stressful school run really helped to clear my head. I was able to let go more easily, felt more relaxed, and was ready for the next thing.

Final thoughts
There is so much evidence that being outside is beneficial for our health and well being. In his book The Stress Solution, Dr Rangan Chaterjee talks about the positive impact that “nature bathing” can have on our mental health, and mentions research which shows that even looking at pictures of trees and nature can lower our stress levels.

I was already a strong advocate for getting outside into nature, but this little challenge served as a reminder to keep on doing this, even in the dark winter months. At this time of year, we probably need it even more.

This challenge for me also reinforces the importance of taking some time and space for ourselves. Being on our own, taking some deep breaths, stopping for a few moments and slowing down are all really important for our well being. This is a topic that I feel passionate about.

Finally, as a Massage Therapist and Reflexologist who spends much of my working time helping to soothe the nervous systems of my clients, it is clear to me that taking these mindful moments out in nature can achieve just that. Time in nature will remain high on my list of self care tools. I hope you feel able to add it to your tool box too.

Keep calm and carry on learning!

When you’re a complementary therapist, does your passion and motivation matter? Yes, it does. I believe your reason for being in business and your values play a huge part in how you can serve your clients. You can read more about my story here.

Do qualifications matter? Yes, they do. When people literally entrust themselves to your hands it’s vital you know what you’re doing! Complementary therapy training has been a part of my life for a long time now, and I thought I’d share some of that here.

My training to become a Massage Therapist began way back in 2008. That feels like a lifetime away to me now. I was working as a Social Worker in a job I loved, but was finding increasingly frustrating. I decided to reduce my hours and return to college. Having worked in the social care field for several years I had seen how music therapy, massage therapy and aromatherapy had helped the people I worked with. I wondered whether those therapies offered a new route to helping people in difficult times.

I embarked upon the ITEC Level 3 Diploma in Holistic Massage. This included studying Level 3 Anatomy and Physiology too and I was fascinated to learn how my body actually worked, having not given it that much thought up until then! I completed 36 case studies (36 massages) as part of the course. I passed my exams then had my eldest son, so my career as a Massage Therapist was put on hold.

Fast forward to 2016. I now had two boys and had relocated to York. I had also found that regular massage with a wonderful therapist was a way to help me stay grounded and weather the storms of early motherhood.

Once my youngest was four I felt I needed to focus on myself again and the question of returning to work kept coming up. I knew deep down that I didn’t really want to return to Social Work so started to look for a refresher course for Massage Therapy. I did a one day course and found that I was still very much interested in massage.

My next challenge was to find a longer course so I could brush up my skills and refresh my knowledge of Anatomy and Physiology too.

This took a while as I needed it to fit in with my children but I eventually decided to do a VTCT Level 3 Diploma in Complementary Therapies. This was a course covering Massage, Aromatherapy and Reflexology and Anatomy and Physiology over twelve months.

During this course I fell in love with Reflexology and also learnt a lot about essential oils, which is something I had already been interested in.

The course was thorough and intensive, requiring 100 case studies for Reflexology, 40 case studies for Massage Therapy and 60 case studies for Aromatherapy. I also made essential oil-based products for my case studies to use.

On top of the case studies there were practical exams and a theory exam paper. It was like being back at school with all the studying! But it was worth it. It meant I knew when I was treating people I was doing so with up to date skills, knowledge and experience.

But learning never stops, does it? And I’ve found that because I’m doing something I genuinely believe in, the learning isn’t a chore, it’s something I can’t get enough of. (Honestly, I can’t tell you how in love with reflexology I am!).

Since qualifying I have completed some CPD courseshere’s a few of them to date: 

Hagar Basis Reflexology for Women’s Health

Sally Earlam Maternity Reflexology 

Hagar Basis Reflexology and Stress

Next year I am doing a two day Reflexology Lymphatic Drainage Training course with Sally Kay who has been researching the effectiveness of this treatment for clients with lymphoma at Cardiff University.

I also plan to do some Massage Therapy CPD training in the early part of the year and a course about menopause and aromatherapy.

Menopause is a topic close to my heart. Like the relentless, tiring nature of motherhood, it seems to be one of those topics that’s been brushed under the carpet for women to just crack on with alone. I hope times are changing, and I want to be part of that change. There’s probably a pun I could make here about ‘The Change’ but I’ll leave that to your imagination.

So I hope this allows you to see how seriously I take my training and my continuous professional development. There is always more to learn.

You might have seen this graph already, it’s been doing the rounds on social media:

Sadly I don’t know the originator of this graphic to credit them, but it’s spot on. After my years of training and working in this area I can definitely testify that it’s complicated! I feel there is so much to learn about our bodies and how Massage, Aromatherapy and Reflexology can impact on them. And it’s never a one size fits all solution either, that’s why every treatment starts with a full, personalised consultation.

If you’d like to book in for a massage or reflexology treatment, or want help deciding what’s best for you, feel free to contact me. I also offer gift vouchers. 

Have Yourself A Calm Christmas

Have Yourself A Calm Christmas  

Now that birthday month has finished in my house I can let my head get around the fact Christmas season is upon usAgain! Already! I’m not the most Christmassy person around, I admit. There’s lots to love about the season, for sure, and also plenty that sets my teeth on edge!  

find the commercialisation all too much and the pressure to have a perfect day overwhelming. Too many things we should be doing or buying! And all the waste – the paper, the plastic, the food. It gets me stressed just thinking about it! 

But I also know Christmas can be a time to reconnect with what’s important to us. It doesn’t have to be a full on commercial juggernaut. It is possible to do Christmas your own way, and feel good about it.  

Here are my tips for surviving the mayhem and actually enjoying Christmas this year: 

Stay grounded 

Ensure you protect some time to step away from all the busyiness and doing. I’ll be doing this with my monthly massage and weekly yoga class. One of my favourite yoga practices is Yoga Nidraan amazing guided meditation practice that can help strip away all the unnecessary shoulds in your head and connect to the present momentYou can find some free yoga nidra meditations here. 

When you are feeling stressed, or simply in need of slowing down, focus on your breathing. Deep breathing will soothe your vagus nerve which helps to reduce your heart rate. Associate Professor of Neurology Lucy Norcliffe-Kaufmann notes that breaths of 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out are optimal for stimulating the vagus nerve. It takes deliberate attention, but longer, slower breathing is a tool we all have available to us, free, whenever we need it.  

Frankincense is a really helpful grounding essential oil – use it in a diffuser or put a couple of drops on a tissue and put it under your pillow at night or in your pocket when you’re out and about. It has a lovely Christmassy feel to it too.  

Have an early night 

It might sound obvious but getting enough sleep can make everything more manageable. And this time of year is about rest. Before electricity, we would all have slept more during the winter months.  

If you’re having trouble getting to sleep you could try using some Neroli or Lavender essential oil in a diffuser or put a couple of drops on a tissue under your pillow. A warming bath with two or three drops of Lavender oil can also help. Just remember to mix the essential oil in an emulsifier first (such as milk) otherwise the oil will just sit on top of the water and you won’t get the full benefit. 

Your brain can get into sleep time mode more easily if you develop a routine of turning your phone off at least an hour before bed. The blue light and stimulation from social media/news/internet/messaging friends can hamper our ability to get to sleep. Though your phone can also be useful for bedtime – set an alarm or reminder each night to turn it off and go to bed 

But whatever you do, it’s important to value sleep enough to prioritise it. That means choosing it – not watching another episode on Netflix on autopilot or staying out for another drink when you’re tired. 

Eat Well 

For many people a big part of Christmas celebrations is feasting – treats and indulgences aplenty. And of course, it’s time to relax and enjoy. But your body, mind and emotional health will suffer from weeks of eating only beige food. So make sure you don’t forget the immune boosting foods that help us stay healthy at this time of year. Eat a rainbow of foods – winter veg such as red cabbage, sprouts, parsnips, squashes are all delicious if prepared well.  

And don’t forget to keep hydrated! Yes, have the gin or the mulled wine, but make sure your water intake stays high too. We can often dry out without realising if we’re spending lots of time inside, in centrally heated rooms with lots of other people.  

Spend your Christmas wisely 

Do you really need to buy that extra present, extra cake, extra decoration? Why are you buying it? What would happen if you didn’t buy those things? People have so much stuff these days and many of us are decluttering 

Giving to others and creating special memories is a wonderful feeling, but be conscious about how you are doing it. You don’t necessarily need to buy more stuff. By making the decision not to buy for friends and family, you may be taking the pressure off them too. Rather than exchange gifts no-one really wants or needs, you could go for a walk together, or if squeezing more events in around Christmas adds to the stress, plan a special trip for the new year. 

Say No 

We are often pressured into doing things we don’t really want to do because ‘it’s Christmas’. You may feel honour-bound to stay for after work drinks, or spend time with people you avoid the rest of the year because they make you feel stressed. It’s ok to say no.  

Or if an outright ‘no’ feels a step too far this year, put some clear boundaries around your time. Rather than a weekend with extended family, have a lunch or brunch together. Rather than feel bulldozed into a big night out with work mates, say you’ll stay for a drink then head off (and it doesn’t have to be alcohol if you’re not into drinking booze). 

There’s nothing wrong with buying gifts, or having lots of parties, or participating in any of the hundreds of Christmas activities on offer at this time of year. Just check in with yourself that you’re doing it for positive reasons. 

And if you end up doing something that makes you feel anxious or upset then be kind to yourself and ensure you have something to look forward to afterwards. Give yourself time to decompress.  

I still have some appointments available in December so it’s not too late if you need some time out this festive seasonI also have some beautiful gift vouchers available – hot off the press this week!. The perfect present for anyone who has plenty of stuff but desperately needs their world to slow down for a little while (and if that’s you – me too! I hear you!). Just get in touch here. 

Beyond the Bubble Bath

A few weeks ago I had a really tough week, my childminder was on holiday, my husband was working away and I was feeing ill. I knew I would benefit from some help but I found it almost impossible to ask for it. Fortunately for me a friend took the initiative and asked if I wanted her to bring my eldest child home from school. I hesitated but answered yes and immediately felt a huge sense of relief.

This got me thinking about why I had had to wait for an offer of help instead of just reaching out and asking for help myself. During a chat with my friend the next day I said “Why do we find it so hard to ask for help?” She replied “Because it makes us look vulnerable”. And she is right. Needing and asking for help can make us feel like we’re not coping, it can open us up to being judged and no one likes feeling like that.

Showing vulnerability is something that many of us try to avoid, asking for help can seem like weakness, especially when it feels there is so much pressure to cope, to get on with things and just manage ourselves. In her book Daring Greatly How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, Brene Brown states that “Going it alone is a value we hold in high esteem in our culture.”

However, showing vulnerability by asking for help, ultimately leads to greater connection with each other. Yes it means we have to admit we can’t do everything but that is not a bad a thing. It’s ok not to cope sometimes and it’s ok to ask for help.

Imagine how liberating it would feel if we could shrug off the worry about how people might see us and just reach out for that human connection that comes from asking for help. Being honest about how things really are is also a lot heathier on both a physical and emotional level. Pretending that everything is ok can be hard work and can sometimes lead to added stress within our bodies.

To me self-care means taking care of ourselves and it can take many forms, whether going for a massage, doing yoga, singing, meeting a friend, going for a walk or just taking 5 minutes to step outside and look at the sky. It is doing something that makes us feel better. And yes, having a relaxing bath can feel great but sometimes we need more than a bubble bath! Asking for help can certainly be classed as an act of self-care as far as I’m concerned.

When I accepted that kind offer of help it created some space for me, it allowed me extra time to rest and meant I could manage the rest of the day a lot better than I would have done otherwise. It also made me feel relief, joy and gratitude. All things I would expect the above list of usual self-care tools to provide.

The connection aspect of asking for help should not be underestimated. People are always happy to help if they can, I know I am and this can lead to a deeper relationship. I love how Brene Brown writes about connection. She defines connection as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

To me being seen, heard and valued are vital for us as human beings. If asking for help can lead to us feeling seen, heard and valued as well as getting the help we need with a particular issue then it’s a win-win situation.

If you take the plunge and ask for help, the chances are there will be people willing to say yes and it will have a positive impact on both yourself and the person you ask. When I accepted help I felt so much better. And it spurred me on to actually ask for help the next time I needed something. And guess what? I found someone only too happy to help out.

I still don’t find it easy to ask for help but I am getting better at it. How good are you at asking for help? Has there been a time when you asked for help and it really worked out well? Or has there been a time when you didn’t ask for help even though you needed it? What stopped you from asking? I’d love to hear your experiences.


Coming Soon

A blog will be coming very soon. In the meantime, you can follow Debbie on Facebook for the latest updates, news and offers.

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