Latest Posts

WHO says we should cut sugar – but is it enough?

2134716406_SugarPoison_xlarge

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is releasing its report Guideline on Sugars Intake for Adults and Children today.   It recommends that no more than ten percent of our daily energy should come from free sugars and goes on to say that in an ideal world, we would consume no more than five percent.  How much is five percent?  About six teaspoons a day for women and eight teaspoons a day for men. How much?  That’s still a heck of a lot of sugar, isn’t it? And there is absolutely NO need for sugar in our diets; it has zero nutritional value and, in fact, more and more research shows it has an actively negative effect on our health.   No shilly-shallying around it – sugar acts like a poison on our bodies and minds. According to Action on Sugar, the UK is in an obesity epidemic, and is officially the ‘fattest’ country in Europe, with one third of children and two thirds of all adults classified as obese or overweight. One third of UK adults have pre-diabetes and obesity can also lead to diseases such as type 2 diabetes, common cancers, heart disease and stroke.  Let’s not even start in on tooth decay, huh? ‘In the long term, too much sugar in the diet can lead to weight gain and diabetes, but it can be harmful in the short term too,’ says Juls Abernethy of The Body Retreat, who run regular sugar detoxes. ‘Even moderate regular sugar intake is linked with a host of conditions from brain fog, fungal infections, mood swings, low energy levels, mucous production, inflammation and lowered immunity.’ We’re all consuming more sugar than we need.  Apparently in the UK, it makes up for over 12 percent of the average adult diet while children and teenagers are eating over 15 percent.  Not helped by sugar’s ‘cosy comforting’ image – Great British Bake-Off, anyone?  Just a bit of fun, huh? And who could possibly go armed against a cupcake?  It’s like kicking a kitten.  But still… Action on Sugar says the government needs to get a handle on this; we need public health interventions.  But do we?  Shouldn’t we be perfectly able to make our own choices, to take charge of our own health.  Well, yes, but the problem is that manufacturers slip sugar into virtually everything.   ‘Check labels,’ warns Juls Abernethy.  ‘You’ll be amazed where sugar hides in everyday products.’   She’s right – it really is in virtually everything.  If you want to eat sugar-free (without merely exchanging sugar for a shitstorm of chemicals, which is another question altogether) you have to create all your meals from scratch.  No bad thing, of course, but tough when you’re leading a busy life. As Katharine Jenner, Campaign Director of Action on Sugar and Registered Nutritionist, says: “These recommendations are all well and good, but until manufacturers stop hiding sugar in our foods in such vast quantities, how can we be expected to lower our intake?  The recommendations need to be translated into something meaningful for the consumer.  Sugars are hidden in so many of our everyday foods; we eat and drink more than our maximum recommendation without even realising it.” 3d371e47aba2b4e6cbc509e15258b72fProfessor Simon Capewell, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Liverpool and Action on Sugar advisor hints at darker reasons for the amount of sugar in our food, and the reluctance at pointing the finger at sugar.  “The WHO should be congratulated on this important first step. These are evidence-based recommendations published despite massive industry opposition. The lobbying behind the scenes resembles the tactics previously used by Big Tobacco (denials, delays, and dirty tricks, plus dodgy scientists disseminating distorted evidence).” Whole lot of D words there, but I suspect he has a point.  Sugar is addictive – there is clear evidence to show that our bodies react it to pretty much as they would to crack.  They become sensitised and so, the more you have, the more you want.  It’s a problem for all of us but particularly for those of us with children and teens. WHO recommend:

  • Nutrition labelling of food products
  • Restricting marketing to children of food and non-alcoholic drinks that are high in free sugars
  • Fiscal policies targeting foods and beverages high in free sugars
  • Dialogue with food manufacturers to reduce free sugars in processed foods.

Much as I hate interference from the state, I can’t really disagree with any of that.  The only people who are benefitting in all this are the food manufacturers.  The rest of us are all suffering. Think twice before you scarf that cute little cupcake, huh?

Smudging – clear your home, your aura, your life

I was introduced to smudging at a workshop by the wonderful Denise Linn.  The scent of the burning bundle of herbs sent tingles through my body and I could feel how the energy of the room instantly shifted as the smoke was wafted through it.

9e1d292b9eb5f5ebcd904005f408e251

Smudging is a powerful cleansing technique from the Native American tradition.  It calls on the spirits of sacred plants to drive away negative energies and put you back into a state of balance.   Think of it as the psychic equivalent of washing your hands or scrubbing the bath.   How does it work? Who knows? But variations of it have been used for thousands of years in indigenous cultures around the world and I’m pretty sure that, one day, quantum physicists will show how the energy of certain plants can affect our bodies and our environment.  After all, we’re all made of energy.

I have been smudging for over 20 years now and have included it in many of my books.  I have even smudged Lorraine Kelly live on her TV show – she seemed to enjoy the experience!

I remember once visiting shaman Leo Rutherford at his London home.  It was a part of town I didn’t know and, when the time came to leave, I realised I was inexplicably nervous about heading out into the night.

‘Are you okay?’ Leo asked, picking up on my unwillingness to go. I told him how I felt and he smiled.  ‘You need a quick smudge,’ he said and lit up a smudge stick.  I stood in his hallway as he wafted the smoke around me with a huge eagle’s feather.  It only took a few minutes.

‘You’ll be fine now,’ he said.  And I was.  My entire mood had shifted and I walked down the street feeling as if I were wearing an invisible cloak of power, like some urban superhero.

I had another powerful experiece with smudging when we moved out of London to the Somerset countryside.  Feng shui consultant and space clearer Sarah Shurety smudged and cleansed the house and, although I had been hugely sceptical about the process, I had to admit that the atmosphere in the house totally changed.  So much so that, when we next moved, the first thing I did was to call on another space clearer, Karen Kingston, to do the honours.

Absolutely anybody can smudge – there’s no fancy technique to learn, no real skill involved – it’s the ultimate DIY space clearing technique.  Give it a try.

How to smudge

You can buy smudge sticks on-line or from New Age type shops. You will also need a large shell or fireproof bowl, a large feather and matches.  Be cautious if you suffer from asthma or respiratory difficulties (and watch out for smoke alarms!).

  1. Light the end of your smudge stick and let it burn for a few minutes until the tip starts to smoulder. You may need to fan the flames for a while to get the smudge really smoking. Then extinguish the flame so the smudge stick smokes.
  2. Waft the smoke towards your heart. Then take the smoke over your head, down your arms and down the front of your body.  Imagine the smoke lifting away any negativity.
  3. Now bring the smoke down the back of your body towards the ground.

You can smudge another person using the same technique and smudging is also a great tool for cleansing your home or work space. Simply walk around the room wafting smoke into each corner (leave a window open so the negativity can leave).

My book The Smudging and Blessings Book (Sterling) gives more information on how to use smudge and make your own smudge sticks, plus a selection of easy rituals and blessings.

download

A version of this feature first appeared in Natural Health magazine, for which I write a monthly column.

 

Stubborn stomach fat and the stress factor

Like many people, I battle with my weight.  Or rather, I battle with a very specific bit of weight – the wodge of flab around my middle that simply won’t budge, no matter what I do.  I eat a ludicrously healthy diet (and not that much of it) and exercise like a maniac.  I’ve tried every regime under the sun, including the most stringent fasts and the toughest bootcamps, but my tubby tummy stays put.

So I was intrigued to hear about the Body Retreat’s Stress Reset retreat.  Run by clinical hypnotherapist Juls Abernethy and fitness expert Julie Brealy, the aim is to equip you with tools and techniques to put stress back in its box. While it’s not billed specifically as a weight loss regime, losing pounds and inches is pretty much guaranteed.  ‘It’s not the emphasis of the retreat but it’s a nice by-product,’ says Juls.  ‘We have seen women lose four inches from their waist in just five days.’

I drive down a maze of tiny Somerset lanes to reach my home for the next four nights – a comfortable, stylish modern house set in the middle of fields. The silence is bewitching.  Groups are kept purposely small (no more than six) and, with our bedrooms all tagged with our names, it has the feel of a very luxurious boarding school.  Sitting on big sofas, sipping mugs of herbal tea, Juls explains that the programme revolves around four pillars – behaviour, exercise, nutrition and R&R (rest and relaxation). 

 

She explains that, while a certain amount of stress in life is fine, when stress becomes chronic our hormones fall out of balance.  For example, the stress hormone cortisol is naturally released throughout the day.  It should be at its highest in the mornings on waking – to help you wake up and get up, and should gradually taper off through the day so you can fall asleep at night.  However chronic stress not only increases overall cortisol levels but also disrupts the natural cortisol cycle with a whole series of knock-on effects, raising blood sugar levels, making you crave sugar, reducing your ability to burn fat, increasing the speed at which you store fat and causing other hormones and neurochemicals to fall out of sync.  Above all, this cascade of reactions causes fat to be stored around the abdomen – giving you the typical stress belly, but it also making your liver fatty. 

Image

So the retreat kicks off with a gentle detox to help support the liver.  Days start early, with a gentle knock on our bedroom doors, and a cheery ‘Good Morning’ (no stressy alarm calls required). We wander out, in our bath-robes, to take a mug of hot lemon before withdrawing to our rooms to sip our drinks and engage in a good session of body brushing (to help the detox effect). 

Then it’s downstairs where Julie puts us through a short sharp burst of circuit training.  She explains that although there is a lot of exercise here (about five hours a day) it’s all either low intensity (long walks out in the surrounding lanes and fields, yoga, Pilates) or concentrated bouts of higher intensity exercise.  My two-hour exercise frenzies are doing me no favours, she says.  More than 45 minutes of intense exercise spikes cortisol levels and panics the body into laying down abdominal fat. 

After our workout, there’s twenty minutes in the sauna (more detoxing) and a quick splash in the pool before breakfast. 

The food is delicious here and surprisingly plentiful.  It’s all about balancing hormones and blood sugar levels, so there are three main meals a day and three small snacks in between.  Portions are never exactly huge, but you don’t really feel hungry.

The penny starts to drop.  I’m eating too little and exercising too hard.

I’d expected hours of lounging around, chilling, but the days pass in a blur of activity and a slew of different classes from both Julie and visiting experts. The idea is that you aren’t left on your own to worry about your stress.  In between there are talks on nutrition, mindfulness and stress in general, including a visit from nutritional therapist Kate Delmar-Morgan.  When we do have the odd hour or two free, we all (without exception) fell asleep.  Mindfulness is another major component of the retreat with dedicated sessions teaching us how to focus on being in the now.  ‘It’s all about building new healthy habits,’ says Juls.  ‘Little changes accumulate.  I like to think about little steps leading to big changes.’

A session of bodywork is included (from superb local therapist Pippa Canney) and every day ends with a dedicated ‘sleep hypnotherapy’ session with Juls.  We get ready for bed and snuggle up in blankets on sofas and are guided into a deep state of relaxation during which Juls gently persuades us to focus on making healthy, helpful changes.  At the end of the session, we’re silently ushered off to our rooms and can fall straight into bed and deep restful sleep.  Good sleep is another vital factor in combating stress and weight gain.  Sleep deprivation also elevates cortisol levels and, just to make it worse, research has found that even one night of sleep loss can increase your appetite. 

I came to realise that, whenever I visit a spa or retreat, I find myself stressing about what I’m supposed to be doing or where I’m supposed to be, but that feeling vanished here.  Everything is organised for you, leaving you free to relax, totally.  It is a wonderful feeling.

My parting consultation with Julie was a revelation.  I’d lost an incredible eight pounds in weight; six inches in total from my hips, waist and chest and two percent body fat. My fellow retreaters lost equally impressive amounts (our average was seven pounds).  But, more importantly, we’d learned absolutely invaluable lessons about how to deal with stress and how to lose the bloat.

 

Losing stress and losing weight – the low-down and skinny…

As the retreat showed you can lose a lot of weight very swiftly.  But Juls points out that, to make real inroads into beating the stress bulge, you need to take a longer viewpoint. ‘Studies suggest that it can take up to six weeks to lose visceral fat while laid-down subcutaneous fat can take up to six months to shift.  But you can shift it.’  These are the Body Retreat’s top tips for shifting stress weight.

FACTOR ONE:  DIET

  • Reduce dairy, wheat and red meat which are hard for the body to digest.
  • Ideally cut out foods which stress the liver, such as alcohol, sugar and all processed food (or cut right down).
  • Cut out caffeine which stresses the adrenal glands.  Use herbal teas instead. 
  • Have regular ‘detoxes’ – allowing your internal organs the chance to rest and recover.
  • Keep your meals balanced – a sensible mix of vegetables, protein, low GL carbohydrates and ‘good’ fat.
  • Eating regularly throughout the day balances blood sugar levels. Think in terms of three balanced meals and three small snacks.
  • Keep hydrated. Water helps to dilute toxins, increases energy levels and mental clarity. It also helps you feel full so you don’t overeat. But drink water separately from meals as it dilutes digestive enzymes and stomach acid.

 

FACTOR TWO: EXERCISE

  • High intensity training is the most powerful tool for losing fat in general.  But think in terms of short sharp busts.  Two 8-10 minute sessions five days a week are ideal.  Investigate HIT or Tabata training. 
  • Also ensure you have at least 30 minutes of low intensity physical exercise every day. 

 

FACTOR THREE: BEHAVIOUR

  • Recognise that it’s okay to take the time and effort to respect and protect your body – it’s not selfish or a waste of time.  If you feel uncomfortable with this, maybe talk to a counsellor.
  • Start becoming mindful – even if it’s only for a few seconds every day. Practice mindful eating – being aware of each mouthful.
  • People who think they’re stressed, are stressed. Reinforce the thoughts, ‘I can cope. I have strategies that can help.’
  • Make sleep a priority.  Find behavioural patterns that work for you. Maybe having a bath with oils before bed, or listening to a relaxation track.

FACTOR FOUR: R&R

  • Work on building your relaxation reflex so you can switch it on whenever you feel stress.  Start by making time each week to do something you find relaxing (take a long walk in the park, a deep soak with aromatherapy oils, or have a massage).
  • Make time twice a day simply to take three long slow deep breaths (this relaxes the diaphragm and stills your mind just long enough to begin to build up your reflex).

 

Super smoothie

The Body Retreat loves smoothies.  ‘They take pressure off the digestive system and allow the nutrients to be easily used by the body,’ says Juls. But she warns that they need to be vegetable based – and keep them small in size.  This Super V8 smoothie is a stalwart of the Stress Reset retreat. Serves one.

4 sticks celery

1/2 cucumber

1/2 bag baby spinach

1 large handful parsley

1/2 baby gem lettuce

2 kale leaves

handful seedless grapes

1 heaped tsp of Matcha Powder (not essential but this give an extra boost of antioxidant power to your smoothie)

Blitz in a blender just before drinking. Sip it slowly and mindfully.

 

A Stress-reset retreat (4 nights) costs from £1,350 for a shared room in Somerset.  The Body Retreat also runs dedicated weight loss, fitness and detox retreats in the UK and Spain.  See www.thebodyretreat.co.uk for full details.

Jane Alexander is the author of The Detox Plan and The Detox PackThe Detox Plan is now updated and available for Kindle

 

This feature first appeared in Natural Health magazine.  (c) Jane Alexander

 

 

 

 

 

McTimoney Chiropractic – no pain, all gain

The first time I saw a chiropractor I thought I was going to die.  She took my head between her hands and, without warning, gave my neck a sharp twist.  It felt like the kind of movement a butcher would use to break a chicken’s neck: there was a ghastly crack, the blood rushed into my face and for several ghastly moments I thought my chips were down.  Both chiropractic and osteopathy are best known for their “bone-crunching” techniques – the high-velocity thrusts which cause the terrifying cracks and crunches.  Although nowadays many practitioners use far less invasive techniques, if you want a iron-clad guarantee that manipulation won’t hurt, search out a McTimoney chiropractor.

Image

The McTimoney method seems to offer all the benefits of traditional chiropractic and osteopathy without the trauma.  It’s a whole body form of manipulative treatment which uses a gentle technique to achieve harmony in the body.  Like conventional chiropractic it is superlative for any form of joint pain or back trauma but patients often find other problems, such as headaches, period pains and digestive ailments also tend to clear up.

John McTimoney, the originator of the system, started his working life as a silversmith and an illustrator.  However one day, in the 1950s, he fell from a ladder and lost the use of one arm.  He went to a standard chiropractor in Banbury called Mary Walker, received treatment and rapidly recovered.  Highly impressed by the cure, he willingly switched career, trained with Walker and swiftly turned into an extraordinary healer.  He loved the effects of chiropractic but considered that the system could be even better.  Firstly he was convinced that the whole person should be treated, rather than just the part that was causing problems and secondly he didn’t see why the treatment should be uncomfortable or stressful in any way.  By experimenting he found he could achieve the same, if not better results, by very gentle techniques and in 1972 he started teaching his form of chiropractic to students.  John McTimoney died in 1980 but his students took up the banner and in 1982 opened their own school to teach his work.  Now there are hundreds of practitioners in the UK alone.

McTimoney chiropractor Jacquie Thomas loves it because, as she puts it, “This way of working allows the body very much to direct the course of the healing, rather than the practitioner overriding it.”  As with many other systems of complementary medicine, McTimoney teaches that our bodies are always striving to regain their health, that they are always working towards healing.  The problem is that, over the years, we force our bodies into unnatural patterns.  We have falls or accidents,  wear crippling shoes, sit all day cramped over desks or slumped in a car seat.  Emotional factors take their toll too:  hurts and embarrassments, grief and anger can all be stored uncomfortably in the very physical structure of the body.  However, whatever strains and stresses we put on our bodies, they are always desperately trying to keep in a line with gravity. 

As Jacquie explains, “Say you always carry a heavy bag on one shoulder.  The shoulder moves up and the muscles will pull over.  However your head will move over so it still sits in the centre of gravity.  To compensate for that shift, your pelvis will shift the other way.”  Hence many of us are walking round with curves in our spines.  They are slight and unnoticeable to the untrained eye, but still enough of a curve to cause the odd twinges and pains.  The McTimoney chiropractor aims to release those old patterns of holding, to wipe out the bad habits that have been overlaid on our ideal structure so our bodies can return to their healthy blueprint.

A session always starts with a very full case history. Jacquie worked through several pages of questions, asking about past accidents and illnesses, operations and falls.  Had I had any breaks or fractures, sprains or strains?  Was I on any medication and did I have any current medical problems?  She also asked for the name and address of my GP.  Like standard chiropractors and osteopaths, McTimoney practitioners often work closely with orthodox doctors and consultants.  And, although McTimoney is not, sadly, available on the NHS many private healthcare insurance plans will now cover treatment.  The questioning didn’t stop at standard medical queries:  she also wanted to know about my sleep, my stress levels, my working conditions and my sleep patterns.  “We look at the body as a whole,” says Jacquie, “McTimoney looks at all aspects of health, not just the fact that you may have a back pain.”  She often sends her patients off with homework – postural exercises to correct bad habits and, if she feels it is necessary, she will refer patients to a nutritionist because, as she says, “there is no doubt that diet does affect some musculo-skeletal problems.”

While we talked, Jacquie was marking potential problem areas on a diagram of the human body.  In my case she pinpointed the neck, pelvis, knees and ankles but stressed that although she would focus on these areas she would be checking me from “your skull right down to your toes.” 

Before I even moved onto the couch she explained precisely how McTimoney works.  The main technique used is called the toggle recoil.  Basically this involves the practitioner using one hand as a nail and the other as a hammer.  The hands are held over the precise joint that needs treating and the “hammer” is brought down sharply on the “nail” with a slight twist.  “It’s a bit like spinning a top and flicking it at the same time to set it moving,” says Jacquie.  The effect is to change the tension surrounding the joint that has been “toggled”.  For a split second the joint is freed:  the adjustment is so fast that it outwits the surrounding muscle which doesn’t have time to clamp fast into a protective spasm.  The result is that the muscles are able to relax and then take up a more normal tension.  Because many of our holding patterns have been in place for years, most people tend to see practitioners around six times to allow the joints to settle back permanently into their natural balance.

Theory over, it’s time for the bodywork.  Jacquie asked me to strip to underwear, remove any jewellery and to sit on the couch for a preliminary scan over my spine.  Then I lay on my left side for the first adjustment.  Working just behind my ear, I felt her hands come down on my skin with a clapping sound.  It didn’t hurt at all – it felt rather like being lightly swatted.  

She moved on over my neck and then the pelvis – the two extremes of the spine are always worked first.  Then she worked down to the knees, ankles and toes, then up to the arms.  McTimoney has special techniques to ease problems like RSI, tennis elbow and carpal tunnel syndrome – my overworked fingers were pulled and stretched and felt quite liberated.  Then she moved onto my collarbone where one of the costal cartilages (which attaches the rib to the sternum) had popped free – Jacquie simply popped it back, again totally painlessly.  Then she finished off by checking my face and skull.  Treatments end with a swift rubbing down to bring you back to earth and, as I sat up, Jacquie appraised me once more.  A couple more toggles – a bit like an artist adding the final finishing touches to a painting – and I was allowed to dress. 

Some people apparently find the McTimoney touch too gentle; almost as if “if it doesn’t hurt, it can’t be working”.  As I walked out, I could certainly feel that something had happened to my body – it felt more relaxed, easier in itself.  No pain, no gain?  Give me the gentle touch every time.

 

For further information on McTimoney and to find a local practitioner click here.

Watsu – water shiatsu that takes you back to childhood

Watsu is a deep, powerful and curious form of bodywork.  A long, intense, intimate session of massage and manipulation techniques, carried out while you float in (or even under) a warm pool, watsu promises to heal you in mind, body and spirit.  Fans claim it has remarkable regenerative qualities; that it can release stress, muscle tension and pain like no other treatment.  They also say that it can equally release emotional anguish, giving you back a sense of childhood innocence and joy.

Image

Watsu was the brainchild of Harold Dull, an American poet who became fascinated with shiatsu, the Japanese acupressure massage and stretching therapy.  Having studied in San Francisco and Japan in the 70s he wanted to combine the therapeutic effects of shiatsu with the healing properties of water.  At first he tried giving massage on a padded board set up in a hot tub but when he moved to Harbin Hot Springs in California he soon realised that he could achieve far better, far deeper effects by floating his client in water, working on their body while cradling the head above water.  His watsu techniques had such good results that they were taken up by the Timpany Center in San Jose where the therapy is still used to help people who are severely mentally, emotionally and physically disabled.

In its native California watsu is generally performed naked.  But elsewhere it’s more common to wear swimsuits.  You get changed and before you enter the pool, the practitioner will ask you a series of questions. Having completed the health check you descend into the pool.  The practitioner takes your head in his or her hands and asks you to lie back, relax and float.  Throughout a watsu session you are encouraged to breath deeply and evenly, using your mouth alone, and to keep your eyes gently closed. The breathing can feel a little unnatural to begin with and  some people find it strange and even a little embarrassing being cradled in water by a virtual stranger.  But the feeling generally passes and many people find that time vanishes. Because the water is so supportive your body can be stretched much further than would be possible on dry land.  There is a wonderful sense of release came as you are stretched, rocked and manipulated.  Sometimes, however, watsu can be quite painful as stubborn tension is unknotted.

Many people find that when they leave the pool they are far more flexible and can bend far further than normal.  It’s also quite common to feel emotionally moved and even quite tearful.  Being held so closely, particularly by a stranger, is simply not part of our culture.

Image

Research has shown watsu to have a host of benefits.  Water takes the weight off the vertebrae and relaxes the muscles so the practitioner can move the spine in ways that would be impossible on land.  The effect is far greater freedom and mobility in the body. Tests have also shown watsu influences the body in other ways too:  it decreases muscular tension, increases superficial circulation and lymphatic function; strengthens the immune system and can aid digestion and respiratory difficulties.  “It’s excellent for the later stages of pregnancy,” says watsu practitioner Hilary Austin, “because it’s so relaxing and water is so supportive.”

Many people find watsu helps insomnia and anxiety, that it can release deeply-held stress and improve posture.  In California it has been used successfully to help people with addictions and, paradoxically, it can even help people get over a fear of water.  It has profound effects on an emotional level – particularly for people who have intimacy issues.  Harold Dull insists that the close contact between practitioner and client is an essential aspect of the therapy; that it allows for the deep emotional healing that can take place. UK practitioner Elaine Artney says that many people find that the close, nurturing touch, brings up old memories – sometimes good, sometimes bad.  She also notes that watsu can be very helpful for people who are already undergoing psychotherapy or personal development work:  “It works as a catalyst,” she says, “it speeds up the process.”  Watsu has been used with great success on sufferers of abuse.

Scottish practitioner Mari MacRitchie has used the therapy very successfully with children who have physical or mental disabilities.  “It’s a wonderful experience for children who are otherwise confined to a wheelchair,” she says.

Watsu can be used safely on most people (whatever their age or size) but practitioners need to know whether clients are pregnant (certain moves aren’t used) or have spinal problems, implants or any serious health or psychological problems.  Some people who suffer from motion sickness find watsu uncomfortable and it cannot be used when there are open wounds, skin conditions or infectious diseases.

Sessions usually last one or two hours.  There is no set number of sessions:  some people have just one, others a course.

For more information, see the website www.watsu.com

 

Images from beta.soulscode.com and dukecityfix.com

 

Trager – maximum effortlessness and freedom from pain

Trager ® or Trager Psychophysical Integration (to give it its full name) is a gentle system of bodywork whose predominant goal is to make life easier, more comfortable, more pleasurable.  It helps you build up deep stores of energy and vitality and yet keeps you calm and centred.  In a typical session you receive several thousand light, rhythmical touches and come off the couch feeling like a child that’s been rocked in its mother’s arms.

Image

The history of this deeper-than-deep relaxation treatment started back in the 1930s.  Milton Trager was a young boxer and acrobat, living in Miami and training his super-athletic body.  He was always pushing himself to the limits, aiming to jump the highest, the farthest, the best.  Then one day he suddenly had a completely different thought.  “How can I land softer?” he pondered.  Then, “How could I land the softest?”  His whole philosophy changed overnight – from aiming for maximum effort he sought instead maximum effortlessness, how to become ever lighter and easier and softer and freer.   He discovered he could introduce the same feeling of ease and comfort to others by means of gentle rocking and stretching – it became his life work.

Over the next forty years he perfected Trager.  Keen to put his ideas on a firm scientific footing, he trained and qualified as a medical doctor.  However even throughout his training he was tending people and was given his own clinic where he treated those with polio and other neuro-muscular problems with near-miraculous results.

Basically Trager is a form of bodywork which involves gentle stretching, rocking, rolling, bouncing and “shimmering” – a swift but soft stroking movement over the body. “It’s extremely soothing for the central nervous system,” says practitioner Jill Dunley, “the rocking movements take people into a comfort zone, into a very deep state of relaxation.”

Nothing is forced with Trager, nothing hurts, nothing is remotely uncomfortable or embarrassing. “Rather than trying to go in and fix problems, we try to show the body how it could be more comfortable, more flexible, more easy,” says practitioner Agni Eckroyd, “it’s like talking to the mind within the body.”

Before a Trager session you will be asked a few questions about your general health. Then you will be asked to lie on a couch wearing whatever makes you feel comfortable.  Most people eventually end up in underwear but practitioners will happily work with you fully clothed. The first movements cradle your head and neck, gently rocking, stretching and flexing.  Within minutes you might find the vertebrae of your neck popping themselves into position quite naturally and painlessly.  The session generally floats by like a delicious dream.  Trager is very different from any other form of bodywork.  It does not use the oils or long strokes of aromatherapy; it does not press into the connective tissue as do Rolfing, Hellerwork or Looyenwork; it does not manipulate the skeletal system as do osteopathy and chiropractic.  But, although it is so very soft and gentle, it is not simply healing either.  “Trager is not a straight-on approach,” says Agni, “it’s a little like boxing.  You go round the side and air-box a little and then go in from a different angle.”  So, if an area is painful, the last thing a Trager practitioner would do would be to press or prod.  “If you encounter pain or tension you back off,” adds Jill, “you try another approach.”

Once you get off the couch, you are taught a few simple “exercises” or “Mentastics” as they are known.  Nothing arduous or remotely resembling physical jerks, these are simply little reminders of how to sit, stand and move with ease – a way of continuing your Trager session into everyday life.

Despite the “softly softly” approach, Trager has quite definite physiological effects.  It can ease pain and often help to eliminate headaches; it also promotes greater joint flexibility.  The reverberations of the rocking movements echo right through the body and actually massage the internal organs and deep muscles.  It can help digestion because it tones the abdominal muscles. Equally beneficial is the effect on the blood circulation, lymph drainage and on the respiratory system.   On an emotional level it battles against stress, eases insomnia and can help you cope with the strain of modern living.  Regulars users say it gives them a sense of ease and peace combined with a charge of energy and vitality.

There are few contraindications for Trager as it is so gentle but practitioners don’t work with fresh injuries or for three months after surgery; are very careful during pregnancy and would not suggest the treatment in cases of advanced arthritis.  However they can adapt the treatment for most conditions and can even work on people in wheelchairs.

Training is rigorous and all practitioners are checked every year before having their certificates renewed.

Sessions usually last an hour or an hour and a half – but if someone is very weak, shorter sessions of 45 minutes are recommended.  Acute problems can often be eased in one session but chronic complaints benefit from a series of sessions – ideally once a week for six weeks.

For more information on Trager and to find practitioners see:  www.trager.com

Image

Bodywork image from vaihtoehtohoidot.fi

Simple ways to gain confidence

Confidence is the greatest gift under the sun.  When your confidence is high you can conquer the world.  You can take control of your life in every way: work goes swimmingly; relationships become more straightforward.  The world simply feels like a friendlier place.  Yet few of us have unlimited stores of self-confidence.   We are far more likely to suffer self-doubt and self-criticism than revel in self-adoration.  Why?  Generally it goes back to childhood when we picked up all those negative messages from a host of concerned grown-ups both at home and at school.  They told us it was a dangerous world out there; to be careful; to be prepared for the worst so we wouldn’t be too disappointed when it happened.  No wonder we grew up doubting ourselves.  But it’s never too late to learn new tricks to foster self-confidence.  The following methods can help anyone feel happier and more at ease in life.  Try them – you just might change your whole life.

Image

THE POWER OF POSITIVE THOUGHT:  “It’s a peculiar quirk of human nature to focus on failure,” says hypnotherapist Wendy Grant, author of Are You in Control (Element) who insists that the more we focus on our failures, the more likely we are to create them over and over again.  The key is to boost your self-image.  Focus on the things you do well and the things you have achieved, however small they might seem.  Write a list of everything you have achieved in your life – from learning to ride a bike to having a child.  It should be a pretty long list.   Remember, above all, says Wendy, that you are an individual:  “No one else can feel as you do; no one else has your sense of humour or your way of seeing things; no one else can even write your name exactly as you do.”  So stop comparing yourself to other people and live your life.

OILS TO BOOST YOUR SELF-ESTEEM:  Aromatherapy oils have powerful effects on your emotions as well as your physical body.  Some are particularly good at helping you feel better about yourself, more confident and more in control.  Aromatherapist Gabriel Mojay, author of Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit (Gaia) says, “One of the most effective aromatics for boosting self-confidence is rosemary oil…it warms and invigorates both the body and mind, uplifting the spirit and instilling inspiration.”

He also suggests laurel for low self-esteem; it’s great if you feel you’re not clever enough.   For low morale, Gabriel suggests thyme:  it helps overcome feelings of self-doubt and defeatism.  If you feel overwhelmed by an oppressive environment (perhaps at work) check out pine and hyssop oils.  If poor health has dented your confidence try tea tree.   Use a few drops of your chosen oil in a carrier oil for massage or an uplifting bath.  Alternatively put oils in a special burner and let the scent drift around you all day.  If you need to use the oils more subtly, pop a few drops on a tissue and sniff it throughout the day.

FLOWER REMEDIES – SUBTLE HEALERS:  Flower essences do not work on the physical body but on an energetic level, soothing emotions, invigorating and balancing our psyches.  The Bach remedies are the great-grandfather of flower essences, emerging around sixty years ago.  The classic Bach remedy for lack of self-confidence is Larch.  However many other remedies can help including Gentian (for despondency and discouragement); Cerato (doubting your self-judgment); Pine (for guilt and self-blame); Centaury (if you are timid and subservient).

The Australian Bush Flower remedies are also worth investigating.  Naturopath Ian White who developed the essences believes that the remedies can go right to the core of modern dilemmas such as lack of confidence and dislike of self.  Five Corners is perhaps the supreme confidence-booster, a wonderful remedy for low self-esteem, particularly if you have a bad body image or dislike yourself:  it teaches love and acceptance of self.  Dog Rose is useful if you are shy, insecure and apprehensive with other people; Flame Tree for people who constantly feel rejected; Red Grevillea if you depend too much on other people and are over-sensitive to criticism.  Sturt Desert Rose gives people the strength to be true to themselves and can ease guilt and low self-esteem.   Sunshine Wattle is superb for those who feel stuck in the past and always expect the worst from the future. 

VISUALISE SUCCESS:  Use the power of your own mind to help you become a new, confident person.  Ask yourself:  “What would happen if I were confident?”  Wendy Grant points out that you might have good reasons for staying the way you are – you might be afraid of losing friends, of being seen as bossy or self-opinionated.  Now start to imagine how you would be if you were supremely confident.  What would you do?  What would you wear?  What would you say?  Where would you be?  Imagine it in as much detail as you can.  If you find it hard to see yourself like that at this point, Wendy Grant suggests you create a picture of someone you know who demonstrates the confidence you admire.  “Imagine him or her doing something you would like to be able to do,” she suggests, “How do they approach it?  What body posture do they use?  What expression do you see on their face?  How do you think they are feeling at that moment?  Now imagine that you could slip inside their skin and experience doing that thing the way they do.  How does it feel?  After a while step outside, and with that new knowledge see yourself approaching the same task, challenge or goal.  You can do it!”

THE MIRACLE OF MASSAGE:   We actively need to be touched.  Research has found that massage can actually reduce depression and increase feelings of self-worth and self-esteem.  And it feels great too.  There’s no excuse for not having massage – if you can’t afford to see a professional, go to workshops or buy a video and learn the basic techniques yourself.  Get your partner or a friend to learn too and then swap massages.  There are any number of techniques – from the gentle strokes of aromatherapy massage (try the oils already mentioned) to the deep stretches of shiatsu.  Massage isn’t just a pampering session – it helps you feel good about your body, can release tension and is the best stress-buster going.  Professional bodyworkers also find that quite often old memories and the origins of self-doubt and lack of confidence can surface when they work on the body.  So massage can have a strong psychological effect, releasing old traumas and resolving unfinished business.  It doesn’t always happen – don’t automatically expect to relive your birth trauma at your next massage – but it’s quite possible.

SELF-HYPNOSIS – HARNESS YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS:  Wendy Grant suggests the following self-hypnosis exercise to build confidence.

a) Make yourself comfortable and relax.  Focus on something in front of you (a picture, lamp, mark on the wall) and begin counting backwards from 500 to yourself.  Continue counting until your eyes feel tired and want to close. Let them go and stop counting. Check you are totally relaxed right through your body. 

b)  Choose something you would like to be able to do, if only you had the confidence.  Make sure it is something you really want to happen.

c)  Place it to one side for now and think instead of something you know you do really well – it might be baking cakes, gardening, ironing a shirt, cleaning the car.  Imagine doing that task now and notice exactly how you are feeling as you do it…perhaps you are so relaxed you hardly have to think about it.  Imagine completing the task and experience how good you feel when it’s done.

d) Now, taking your new goal, picture yourself doing it in the same way, easily, successfully.  Use the same expression, the same easy, relaxed attitude, the same calm assurance.  Picture it now….

e) Say quietly to yourself:  “This is how I am going to …..[insert your goal].  I can do it.  I am confident.  I will succeed.”  Take your time and enjoy the sense of achievement.

f)  Count slowly backwards from five to one, open your eyes and come back to normal consciousness with a wonderful feeling of confidence in your own ability.

g)  Repeat this exercise daily until you get the results you want. Remind yourself often of your own achievements and goals.

GET PHYSICAL:  Feeling good in your body is one of the key steps to feeling confident.  Few of us are perfect with the face of a model and a drop-dead gorgeous body but we can learn to love our physical selves nonetheless.  If you don’t already exercise think about starting a regime:  you could join a gym, sign up for exercise classes or simply start a walking or swimming programme.  Start small and slowly build up – if you do half an hour of exercise three times a week you will see a world of difference within six weeks.  If you hate regular exercise take up dancing, yoga, t’ai chi or a martial art.  Martial arts in particular will give you an enormous sense of self-worth and a huge dose of confidence as you start to realise you can take care of yourself in any situation.  You’ll be amazed how quickly you turn from super-wimp into wonderwoman.

USE AFFIRMATIONS TO ACHIEVE SUCCESS:  Dr Herbert Benson, a leading doctor at Harvard University Medical School in the USA, has found that our thoughts produce actual physical reactions in the body.  We are what we think.  Many new age teachers like Louise Hay and Sondra Ray have been saying the same thing for years.  They use affirmations to create new states of confidence and success.  The process is really simple.  Pick a statement that expresses what you want to achieve.   It has to be totally positive and include your name.  So, for instance, it might read “I Jane, now choose to be supremely confident.”   Write out the phrase twenty times every day for at least ten days.  Each time you write the phrase think about what you have written and scribble down your response, your gut reaction to the phrase.  So you might find yourself writing.  “What rubbish.”  or “I’m hopeless when I meet new people.”  As you keep going you may find you get fresh insights into why you aren’t confident or where your confidence has been battered in the past.  Persist with the exercise and you should notice surprising results.

 

BECOME ASSERTIVE:  “To succeed in life, to get things done, to prevent people walking all over us, it is sometimes necessary to be assertive,” says Wendy Grant.  Becoming assertive, even in the tiniest ways, can really boost your self-esteem and hence your confidence.  Wendy suggests that you start to become assertive in everyday situations.  “Ask yourself, if you were in the position of the other person, would you want someone to tell you?” she says, “If you had sold inferior goods, would you rather the customer brought them back or lose that customer?  If something you had said (or done) was causing anger or hurt, would you not want that person to tell you so that the situation could be resolved.”  Start seeing being assertive as something really positive – for other people as well as for yourself.

FIND YOUR VOICE:  When we’re nervous or shy our voices tend to shrink, to become high and squeaky.  We stutter and stammer and lose our words.  Finding your true voice and learning how to use it to its full potential has a subtle yet powerful effect:  when you use your voice fully, you immediately sound more forceful and important.  People start to treat you with more respect and that, in turn, boosts your sense of self-esteem. So spend some time with your voice.  Voice trainers and sound therapists often give workshops but you can do a lot on your own.  Start singing:  join in with the radio or a favourite download.  Find what pitch you feel happy with and really belt out the songs.  As you continue you’ll find you start to breathe more fully and deeply – you have to or you won’t be able to sustain the notes.  Use this natural, slow, deep breathing when you talk too.  If you feel anxious or nervous practice humming – just sit quietly and let the hum resonate through your body.  It’s very soothing.  You can sing your affirmations too:  try short daft ones like “I’m great, I’m great, I’m utterly utterly great.”  Or “Listen to me, listen to me, I’ve got a right to be heard.”  Belt them out as if you were on The Voice.

 (c) Jane Alexander