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Psychic Protection – energetic ways to keep your self and your home safe

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Do you know who created this image? I’d like to credit it.

Why is it that some people fill us with joy and energy while others leave us feeling totally drained? How come we walk into one building and feel a sense of calm and peace while another will have us looking over our shoulders, feeling edgy and ill at ease?

“To one degree or another, everyone is sensitive to the atmosphere of places, objects and people,” says William Bloom, an expert in the art of psychic protection.  “We like particular houses because they feel good and avoid others because they feel bad. Even the most cynical of people may enter a meeting or a bar and sense immediately whether the environment is hostile or friendly.”

There is nothing sinister or mystical about this – we are just picking up on the kind of energy being generated by that person or place. A person who is angry will send out quite different energy patterns than someone who is feeling calm and happy. Equally places will retain energy vibrations long after people have left. Psychic protection allows us a way of controlling these energies – or at least controlling the way we react to them.

The term “psychic protection” is rather off-putting. It raises images of Dennis Wheatley-style black magicians and magic circles – all guttering candles and arcane symbols. But William Bloom, who has been teaching the technique for thirty years, insists that psychic protection is actually a very down-to-earth tool which we should all learn. “Whatever you do – whether parent or plumber, computer operator or teacher – you will want to know practical strategies for creatively changing atmospheres,” he says. Psychic protection teaches simple techniques to prevent you from being thrown off centre by people, situations and places. It also gives you the power to change the atmosphere around you so that you can always deliver your very best.

It’s nothing new, says Bloom: “In the past, many societies had specialists – shamans, medicine people, and so on – who understood and practised the art of changing atmospheres and creating psychic protection.” However he is convinced that everyone can practice these techniques – you don’t need any psychic ability or sensitivity. “They are very natural, like swimming or reading a bicycle,” he promises. And once you’ve learned them, you can use them in a variety of situations – from walking into a difficult business meeting to walking home at night down a dark street; from handling a row with the kids to coping with road rage.

SIMPLE TECHNIQUES FOR PROTECTING YOURSELF AND YOUR HOME
In his book Psychic Protection: Creating Positive Energies for People and Places
Bloom suggests techniques that can be used in all kinds of everyday situations. You may find them useful when you know you are going into a difficult situation – whether it’s handling difficult people at work or simply battling through the rush-hour on public transport.

The Bubble of Protection: This is the most well-known strategy to protect yourself. Use it whenever you feel under threat or uncomfortable. Breathe easily and deeply. Imagine you are surrounded by a transparent protective bubble or egg which protects you from negative vibrations. Spend a while sensing this bubble all around you – over your head, under your feet, completely surrounding your back. Sense that your own vibrations can exit through the membrane of the bubble and that good energies can come in however have a clear sense than no unpleasant external energies can penetrate your protection.
You may want to try filling the bubble with different colours – see how each colour feels. You
could also fill your bubble with protective images – many people use a religious symbol which is meaningful; others write slogans such as “Please keep out!” Experiment and over time you will find out what works best for you. Practice building your bubble for a few minutes every day so you can easily use it when needed.

The Shield: Imagine you have one or several shields. They are usually visualised as circular but can vary from a few inches wide to several feet in diameter. You then place the shield over any part of your body you feel is vulnerable. If you are dealing with someone’s spiky emotions, try putting the shield over your solar plexus area. If someone is thinking too intensely, place the shield in front of your eyes and forehead. If someone’s intent is obviously sexual, put the shield over your breasts and pubic area. You can imagine the shields decorated in any way you wish – again, perhaps with words or symbols.

The Flame: If you want to add some dynamism and confidence to your protection, try this. Imagine yourself to be a vibrant burning flame. The base of the flame is deep in the earth and your body is the core (like the candle-wick) of the fire. Your dynamism and glow simply cannot allow bad vibrations to get through to you – bad thoughts and feelings burn up and melt as they come into your radiance. Classically the flame used is violet and golden but you can experiment to see which colour suits you best.

The Cloak: Envelop yourself in a wonderfully magic cloak. It may be simple or multi-coloured and elaborate. Feel its protection. Draw it around you.

The Lead Curtain: This technique is very useful for people living together who sometimes need to feel a sense of space around them. It can be particularly helpful if you share a double bed and feel your partner’s energy is interfering with yours. Simply build up a sense of a curtain hanging between you and the other person. Make sure it goes into the floor and up to the ceiling. Then begin to sense that it is made of lead. Breathe deeply and, on the outbreath, feel the warmth and moisture of your breath helping to make the curtain more dense and real. Your own vibrations and your partner’s will then bounce off it.

Protecting your Home: Sit quietly, feel grounded and breathe deeply. Slowly begin to sense that your home is in a bubble of protection – a larger version of your own personal bubble. Breathe your own energy into the bubble. Sense the bubble not allowing in any disturbing vibrations. Colour the bubble if you like. Decorate it, if you want. Experiment with what feels right. If there are any symbols you particularly like, you can imagine them being placed over or on your doors and windows. However, as William Bloom points out, don’t forget to ensure more physical protections like locks and alarms are also in place as backup!

Building Confidence
Psychic protection is just about defence – it can be pro-active too. This exercise is aimed at increasing your levels of confidence and self-esteem. William Bloom says it vitalises and strengthens the nervous system so you feel physically strong and confident.

  1. First make sure you are feeling calm and centred. Breathe deeply and regularly. This exercise is best done standing or sitting in an upright chair. Keep your spine straight if you are sitting. If you are standing, have your feet directly under your shoulders, facing forwards. Bend your knees slightly, keep your shoulders relaxed and your spine erect.
  2. Now let your mind connect deep into the earth. Become aware of the fire and molten metal and heat – feel this fiery energy coming up from the earth into the soles of your feet, up your legs and into your spine and up your back. Let it settle somewhere between your lower back and shoulder blades. Feel its warmth and radiance.
  3. Now lift your awareness and focus on the area a few inches above your head. You may feel a gentle popping sensation in your skull or some tension around your face and forehead; don’t worry – this is normal. Now lift your focus even higher up into the sky and connect with a star high above you. This can be any star or it can be a star you already know. Be aware that this star is also a great sun in its own right, radiant and very powerful. Gently draw its energy down into you through the top of your skull and then down your spine.
  4. Bring the star energy down so it meets the rising energy of the earth. Where they meet they dance, spin and fuse, creating a warm radiance. Direct this warm radiance so it sits in your lower stomach.
  5. Now let your awareness go out horizontally and connect with the great warmth and light of the sun. Be aware that there is an inner life to the sun with huge force and fire at its core and essence. Gently draw this fiery essence horizontally into your stomach and chest.
  6. The sun energy now meets the energies of the earth and the star. Let them fuse comfortably and warmly. Let them sit glowing in your lower belly.
  7. Now begin to circulate this energy through your body – up your spine and head and then down your face, chest and stomach. Let it circulate in spirals in and around you. Imagine it going through your blood circulation, through your nerves, through your muscles and tendons, bones and marrow.
  8. Keep your breathing gentle and rhythmic as you imagine yourself absorbing all the nourishment. Repeat to yourself “I am strong and confident”

Discover more about energyworking and psychic protection in my book The Energy Secret – now available for Kindle.

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How fit is your relationship? Take the Love MOT Quiz

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If your relationship were a body would it be fit and toned, in the peak of health; or would it be fat and flabby, barely able to run for the bus? It’s relatively straightforward to find out how fit we are in our bodies, but it’s often not so simple to road-test our relationships. After all, even relationships which appear to be in tip-top condition often have an Achilles’ heel – be it communication hiccups or the commitment abyss.  Hence this –  the ultimate fitness regime for couples. Firstly a questionnaire which really puts your relationship through its paces – just like a gym assessment it is designed to highlight your strengths and uncover your weaknesses. Having found out which areas of your relationship are seriously out of condition, suggestions follow on how to bring your relationship back to peak performance. If it’s already running well, you’ll discover how to make it even better. After all, why settle for jogging along when you could be breezing the marathon?

THE QUIZ
If you join a gym you start with a fitness test. When you want to improve a relationship you need to know which areas need attention.
• Answer the questions that follow as truthfully as you can. Don’t try to guess the “right” answers – there aren’t any.
• For each question, answer Y (yes, agree quite strongly/most of the time); S (agree slightly/sometimes); N (no, don’t agree/very rarely).
• Ideally you should both do the quiz – separately.

THE QUESTIONS
1. When you and your partner have decisions to make or problems to solve does it ever feel as if you are on opposing teams?
2. Do you ever find yourself having sex when you really aren’t in the mood?
3. Do you ever argue about money?
4. Do you tend to change the subject if a difficult topic (ie sex, commitment, money, parents, children) comes up?
5. Do either of you set up situations where one of you has to choose between your relationship and something else you really want? (ie go out with friends or spend time with you?)
6. Does s/he repeatedly promise to phone/come round/do something for you – and then forget?
7. Can you reveal things to each other that might be humiliating or really embarrassing?
8. Do you find sex is a good way to finish an argument?
9. Does your partner exhibit any of the following characteristics:
a) excessive moodiness; b) over-possessiveness or jealousy; c) neglectful or unreliable; d) does s/he drink or smoke too much. e) Has your partner ever been violent (verbally or physically)?
10. If you wanted a really fun day out would you tend to turn to your friends rather than to your partner?
11. Do you ever find that little arguments escalate into ugly fights with accusations, criticisms, name-calling or bringing up past hurts?
12. Do you find nudity, masturbation, contraception embarrassing?
13. Does one of you earn far more than the other?
14. Do you feel you’ve invested so much time and effort into this relationship that it simply must last?
15. Are you and your partner roughly similar in terms of a) looks, b) age, c) intelligence, d) education; e) social background?
16. Do you believe that disagreement is destructive to relationships?
Would any of the following worry you: a) s/he goes off for a holiday with friends; b) s/he works in an office with very attractive member of the opposite sex; c) s/he has lunch with an ex.
17. Does your partner ever do/say things that make you irritated or uncomfortable?
18. Do you use private jokey phrases for sex?
19. Are you ever frustrated that your partner doesn’t understand automatically what you want and need from her/him?
20. If one of you won the lottery would you agree on how to spend it?
21. Do either of you hold ideas or cherish plans that would make your relationship difficult to continue? (ie you yearn to go around the world on your own; s/he talks about marriage as if it were a foreign country…)
22. Do you ever feel worried that your sex life isn’t as good as other people’s’?
23. Do you know what each other earn, save, spend?
24. Do you have any secrets (undisclosed emotions, events from your past, sexual likes or dislikes etc) that you keep from your partner?
25. Do you agree about the following issues: a) having children; b) being faithful; c) marriage; d) religion; e) politics?
26. Can you imagine yourselves happily together in ten years’ time?
27. Do you ever find yourself thinking about what it would be like to be with someone else?
28. Do you ever find yourself holding back from telling your partner what you really think or feel?
29. Does her/his attitude towards money ever irritate or annoy you?

Now look at the table below to mark your scores. Give yourself a total for each section.
SECTION A
1. Y: 5; S: 3; N: 0
4. Y: 5; S: 3; N: 0
11. Y: 5; S:3; N:0
16. Y: 3; S: 3; N: 0
20. Y: 5; S: 3; N:0
SCORE:

SECTION B:
2. Y:5; S:3; N:0
8. Y: 5; S:5; N:0
12. Y: 5; S:3; N:0
19. Y:0; S:0; N:5
23. Y:5; S:3; N:0
SCORE:

SECTION C:
3. Y: 5; S:3; N:0
13. Y:5; S (slightly): 3; N:0
21. Y: 0; S:3; N:5
24. Y: 0; S: 5; N: 5
30. Y: 5; S:3; N:0
SCORE:

SECTION D:
5. Y: 5; S:5; N:0
7. Y: 0; S: 5; N:5
17. score 2 points for each Y; 1 point for each S
25. Y: 5; S: 5; N:0
29. Y: 5; S:5; N:0
SCORE:

SECTION E:
6. Y:5; S:3; N:0
14. Y:5; S:5; N:0
22. Y: 5; S:5; N:0
27. Y:0; S:3; N:5
28. Y: 5; S: 3; N:0
SCORE:

SECTION F:
9. score one point for each Y; half a point for each S; add 10 points if you answered Y or S to e)
10. Y: 5; S:3; N:0
15. score one point for each N; half a point for each S.
18. Y:5; S: 3; N:0
26. score one point for each N; half a point for each S.
SCORE:

THE RESULTS
communication-trouble-007SECTION A: COMMUNICATION
Therapists say that the largest single reason relationships fail is lack of communication. “Communicating well is something that couples really need to do in order to keep going happily,” says Dr Maryon Tysoe, author of The Good Relationship Guide: How to Understand and Improve Male-Female Relationships
Professor Howard Markman, an expert in marital stress agrees: “If a couple do not have good communication then the relationship is already on life support,” he says. So, in many ways this is the most important section of all as underpins virtually everything else in your relationship. For this reason, any scores above 9 need careful analysis.

SECTION B: SEX
Most sexual problems can be ironed out – providing other parts of your relationship are strong enough. “The X-factor is trust,” says Sarah Litvinoff, author of The Relate Guide To Better Relationships: Practical Ways to Make Your Love Last
“Trust grows out of good communication – and communication is the key to satisfactory sex, as it is to all that is good in a relationship.” Obviously if you have scored highly in this section you need to think about your sex life – but don’t despair. Your score would need to be over 20 in this section for there to be a serious problem. Check your scores for the Communication and Trust sections – if those figures are low, the prognosis is very good that you can sort out your problems.

imagesSECTION C: MONEY
Money is one of the major squabbling points in relationships. “Many couples come to Relate because they are fighting about money,” says Sarah Litvinoff. However once again, problems with money often go back to poor communication and trust. If your score is over 15 check these sections. If your scores are good you should easily be able to sort out any niggling money worries.

SECTION D: TRUST
“For a relationship to develop, you need to build up trust between the two of you,” says Dr Tysoe. According to psychologists John Holmes and John Rempel, successful partners are quite vulnerable with each other (note: this is a two-way process) – they take risks and are very honest. As this is such a crucial section you should ideally have a very low score here. Anything above 9 suggests you need serious work in this area.

SECTION E: COMMITMENT
You can communicate brilliantly, have wonderful sex and perfect trust but if you don’t see the future together then your relationship will obviously not last. If your scores are high in this section it may well be that this is not a serious relationship. That’s fine – as long as you both realise this and accept it. If you have scored over 18 in this section you need to check that you are both heading in the same direction.

SECTION F: COMPATIBILITY
The evidence, according to a battery of anthropologists, is that people tend to be happiest with a partner who is roughly the same as them in terms of age, intelligence, interests, education and social background. We also tend to bond with people who are roughly as attractive as ourselves. Professor Markman says, “The more differences there are between a couple, the less likely their relationship is to be successful.If a couple have a wide disparity in age, if they come from very different races and cultures or if they have very different careers, their relationship will be in the danger zone,” he warns. In the light of this, check your answers to question 15 – a high score here should be a warning sign. However your answers to 26 will also be enlightening – these are the questions that psychologists say couples should agree on if they want a relaxed relationship. However you might be very incompatible on the surface but get on very well underneath. For this reason there is no optimum score on this section. If however you feel your score is high or there are compatibility problems, read that section.

THE WORKOUT
This is where the real work begins. Choose the areas where your scores were highest and concentrate on the advice given. If all areas seemed high, then focus first on communication. If you get this right, everything else may well follow.

COMMUNICATION
Good communication takes time, effort and sheer hard work – for everyone. “Get your diaries out and make a date each week to spend time together,” suggests Sarah Litvinoff, “this should be at least an hour of uninterrupted time.”
Take half an hour each to talk about how you feel and what you want in life – as if you were explaining yourself to a stranger. While each person talks, the other must be silent and listen with full attention. After half an hour you change roles. At the end of the hour stop the conversation and don’t dissect the conversation. If you want to talk about it, make a date to do so, but not for a few days. “Doing this regularly will make you and your partner much closer,” says Litvinoff.
Good communication means being able to talk about your emotions, about how you feel and what you want from the relationship. But it is very easy to misunderstand each other. Follow these ground rules from Maryon Tysoe:
• Make sure you’re both calm when you broach the subject.
• Talk in terms of your feelings and thoughts (ie “I feel [upset, hurt, angry, insecure etc] about [specific action or statement by your partner]” rather than “You are a complete mean selfish bastard” or similar.
• Be specific, never general.
• Don’t talk in codes, say what you really mean. So, instead of “Your mate Bob’s a drunken lech” (which will make him leap to poor Bob’s defence) try telling the truth – that you feel upset he’s spending more time with Bob and his cronies than with you.
• Suggest practical, specific solutions where possible. Ie “how would it be if you saw Bob and the blokes on Friday night while we go out on Thursdays?”

female-sexual-problems-s3-photo-of-troubled-couple-lying-in-bedSEX
“If you feel you’ve got to be perfect in bed you’ll get yourself in a terrible state,” warns Maryon Tysoe. However sometimes there are real sexual problems which need addressing. Painful intercourse and lack of erection can often have physical causes – check with your GP. If the problems are more psychological there could be a host of reasons. If you respond to what psychologists call “erotic cues” (ie nudity, masturbation etc) with anxiety, guilt, shame or embarrassment then there could be deep-rooted concerns about sex which a counsellor could help. Basically if the problem is long-standing, seek professional help. Talk to your GP if you can, or contact Relate. If the problem is more recent or you just feel worried about your sex-life, start talking to each other about it. “The main reason psychologists think sex therapy works is because it has encouraged the couple to talk to each other,” says Tysoe. She says you need the answers to four questions:
• Am I doing the things to her/him that s/he would like me to do?
• Is s/he doing to me the things I would like her/him to do?
• Are there things s/he might like if only we tried it?
• Are there things that I might like if only we tried it?

Sit down and talk about it calmly – find out how often you’d both like to make love. What would make it better for you – and your partner? You might both be surprised.

MONEY
“Very different attitudes to spending, saving, accounting and budgeting are a real problem,” says Sarah Litvinoff, “because money affects every aspect of ordinary life.”
The first step here is communication and trust. Do you tell each other what you earn, spend, save? If not, why not? Review the sections on Communication and Trust.
If you are open with your finances but you still quarrel, it could be that the friction is masking a difference in priorities – one of you has a new car in your sights while the other wants to pay off the mortgage; one of you wants a ritzy holiday while the other yearns to squirrel away an “emergency fund”. You need to talk honestly and reach a compromise – or you will be fighting all the time.
If neither of you are very good with money, then make yourselves sit down with a sensible outsider – it could be a financial adviser or simply an astute friend – and work out what needs to be done. Sarah Litvinoff suggests you start by listing what you spend your money on. Often disagreements come about from pure ignorance – the shopping might honestly cost more than you thought; so might running the car.

couplearguingTRUST
If you feel your relationship lacks trust, you need to ask yourself why. Social psychologist Elaine Hatfield suggests that there are six major fears that hold us back from divulging all in our relationships:
• fear of hurt and rejection.
• fear of losing one’s individuality or of being engulfed.
• fear of having one’s faults exposed
• fear of one’s destructive impulses if one were to “unleash” one’s feelings.
• fear that information disclosed now will later be used as ammunition.
• fear of losing control.

However, if you value your relationship you have to develop trust. “By increasing your disclosure of your personal thoughts, feelings, past actions, beliefs and so on – and by him doing the same – you will feel there is movement in your relationship,” says Maryon Tysoe. Take time to explore yourselves. Start by telling each other things like how you lost your virginity; your greatest fear; your worst moment. It needs to be a gradual process so take it gently.
If you feel you can’t trust your partner, check whether this is based on fact or irrational fears. “Feelings of unease should never be ignored,” says Maryon Tysoe, “but ask yourself some questions: What exactly am I uneasy about? What do I think it could mean; what are the theories? Is there any other evidence to support my theory? “Be calm, logical and rational,” she continues, “are your feelings based on your anxieties rather than what is really happening? If you are sure they are not, then talk to your partner about it.” (use the tips in the communication section.)

COMMITMENT
There can be a lot of motives for staying together other than True Love. “Sometimes sticking in a relationship can be easier than admitting you’ve made a mistake,” says Maryon Tysoe. Sometimes there are external pressures – your families want you to marry; you want children; you’re scared you won’t find anyone else/better.
You can’t force someone to commit to you; equally you cannot con yourself that love will miraculously appear when you get married, have children, move in together. If commitment is the big issue in your relationship then you need some honest, no holds barred discussion between you (follow guidelines in Communication). Obviously this depends on your situation. If you’ve only just met then pinning her/him down and demanding to know when s/he’s going to propose would be a walking disaster. But it is valid if you have been together for some time and/or are on the verge of some external commitment (mortgage, kids, even a pet.)

COMPATIBILITY
There are two parts to this equation. Firstly whether you are compatible in the fundamentals of your life: your age, race, culture, social and religious background. If you’re not then you need to be aware that you will have far greater challenges than many couples. “A couple need common experiences to communicate well,” says Professor Markman who believes that even a four-year age gap can cause potential problems. Make certain that your relationship is in peak health in the communication and trust areas. More than most you will need to be able to be totally honest with each other.
However you might be as similar as two peas in a pod and still have problems. “There are no such things as fault-free men – nor are there fault-free women,” says Maryon Tysoe, “but you need to ensure that you can tolerate and live with your partner’s faults on a long-term basis.”
Sarah Litvinoff suggests you put yourself in your partner’s shoes and describe yourself through her/his eyes. Pick on points you think your partner finds irritating or would like to change about you. Discuss together whether you got it right. Then swap places.

THE FINAL OUTCOME – SHOULD YOU GO OR SHOULD YOU STAY?
You may have scored quite highly in several areas. Does this mean you should ditch your relationship this instant and hunt for someone new? Not necessarily. A questionnaire like this can never give you a complete guide to your relationship.
It might be useful to think about this: psychologist John Gottman found that in stable relationships, “positivity” outweighed “negativity” by the ratio of about 5:1. In unstable relationships it was less than 1:1. As Maryon Tysoe comments, “The point is clear. You’re going to get some disagreements, arguments, criticism and the like in a relationship; but what’s important is that this is heavily outweighed by positive interactions (agreement, complimenting, hugging, humour etc). So if you do have the odd unpleasant interchange, check that you’re getting the overall balance right.”

WHEN YOU SHOULD GET OUT – NO QUESTION?
When your partner is violent or abusive in any way. If you answered yes or even sometimes to question 9e you have a serious problem. If a person is violent then no “soft” fix will help. End the relationship completely – for both your sakes. The only salvation will come if they accept they have a problem and seeks professional therapeutic help – but that choice has to come from them.

5 ways to get lean strong arms

54665ea62797ab889e0897e50baf5d27It’s nearly summer and the shops are full of t-shirts and skimpy tops.  However it’s been estimated that three out of four women in the UK will be worrying about wearing them. Research has found that flabby upper arms and, above all, the dreaded ‘bingo wings’ concern us more than bulging bellies or thunder thighs. 80 percent of us are so self-conscious that we cover up with cardigans or shawls.

‘They’re a problem area for a lot of women, particularly as they get older,’ says personal trainer Henlu van der Westhuizen (henlupt.com). ‘There’s no quick fix but 4-8 weeks of dedication and patience should allow time to show really good results.’

First of all you need to clean up your diet, says Henlu. Cut out all sugar, processed carbohydrate and processed foods (which will pile on the pounds), while upping your intake of protein (grass-fed beef, chicken, cottage cheese, eggs, fish), vegetables, oats, whole grains, fresh berries and healthy fats (coconut oil for cooking and cold-pressed olive oil or argan for salads). These foods promote lean muscle group and boost metabolism.

Next, you need to focus on reducing overall body fat in order to slim your arm shape. ‘I suggest full body exercises using as many muscles as possible which will up your metabolism and build a more slender, toned physique.’

Finally you need to target the muscles in and around your upper arms. Although the biceps are the most obvious upper arm muscle, the triceps (which stretches down the back of the arm) actually makes up 70 percent of your upper arm. Many highly effective upper arm exercises don’t need any equipment at all (you rely on your own body weight). But, for the very best results, it’s worth including weights – as heavy as you can manage. ‘Don’t be scared of weights,’ says van der Westhuizen. ‘It is impossible for a woman to gain huge muscle mass by training with weights.’

Tone up your arms
These exercises will give your arms lean definition. Do three sets of these arm firmers three times a week (have a day off in between for muscle recovery).

1. Elbow plank pushups.
Works triceps, biceps, shoulders, lower back muscles plus your core.
Lie on your front on a mat. Raise yourself up onto your elbows, so your lower arms form a right angle – your elbows should be directly under your shoulders). Keep your hands flat on the floor. Now push up onto your toes, keeping your back flat. Stay in this position (elbow plank) for a few second and then push up, one hand at a time so you are in an upright plank position (with arms locked). Hold and then come back down, one arm at a time, to elbow plank.
Keep moving between elbow and upright plank and build up to 10-15 complete repetitions.

From Prevention magazine

2. Biceps curls

Works biceps and also the brachialis (runs underneath the biceps) and brachioradialis (runs along the forearm and across the elbow).

You will need hand weights for this. Choose a weight that will stretch you for the last two or three repetitions.
Stand up straight, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your back straight and your shoulders relaxed and rolled back. Hold a weight in each hand, thumbs curled around the grip. Your hands start off by your hips, palm-side facing forward. Bend your elbows and slowly curl your arms, bringing the weights up to your shoulders. Keep your elbows tucked in and your back straight (don’t be tempted to engage your back to help). Now slowly lower them back down to your sides. Repeat for 8-15 repetitions.

3. Tricep dips

Works the triceps and shoulder muscles

You will need a bench, a firm chair or wall (about knee height) for this.
Sit down. Keep your shoulders square and pull in your core to protect your back.
Place your hands either side of your body, with your fingers facing forwards. Keep your arms straight, slide your buttocks off the bench and stretch your feet out in front of you, keeping your feet together. Bend your elbows to lower your body towards the ground. Keep your body as close to the bench as possible. When your elbows reach a 90 degree angle, push back and straighten your arms, raising your body. Don’t go too low (it will put strain on your shoulders). Repeat for 8-15 repetitions.

4. Triangle Pushups
Works triceps but also shoulders, chest (pectorals) and core.
Kneel on a mat and place your hands under your shoulders. Now bring your hands together so your thumbs and index fingers form a diamond shape. If you can’t do a full pushup, it doesn’t matter. You can stay in a box shape or extend your feet back (crossing your ankles) so you’re in a halfway house between kneeling and full pushup position. Lower your body down slowly and with control, aiming your chin for the floor in front of you. Keep your elbows in by your sides. Push back up to the starting position. This is hard, so build up slowly to 15 repetitions.

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5. Kettlebell swings
Works the whole body, legs, buttocks, back, shoulders and arms.
You will need a kettlebell. Choose one that will stretch you on the last few swings. Most women start with a 4kg or 6kg bell.
Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Before you pick up your kettlebell, practice the hip drive – you need to hinge forwards from your hips (not your lower back). It’s like a pelvic thrust. Now pick up the kettlebell and hold it in both hands, with your knuckles facing forward. Keep your back flat at all times and keep your weight on your heels. Swing the kettlebell forwards, building momentum, until the kettlebell reaches shoulder height. Remember to keep your back flat and to tilt your pelvis as you come up. The lower you squat, the better the workout (but watch your knees). Build up to 50 swings.

Cardio workouts for lean definition

‘Unfortunately targeted tricep and bicep exercises alone won’t give you lean, toned arms,’ says Henlu. ‘You need to focus on reducing body fat to slim the overall arm shape.’
He suggests full body exercises using as many muscles as possible. This burns more calories to ramp up your metabolism and build a more slender, toned physique.
Aim for 20-30 minutes of high intensity cardio-based exercises, three times a week. Burpies, sprints, squat jumps are great and lower body exercises for the large muscle groups (squats and lunges) also help increase lean body muscle mass.
HIIT (high intensity interval training) circuits are all excellent. Also use HIIT on bikes, cross-trainers or treadmills.
Supercharge your walking, biking and cross-trainer workouts by adding ankle and/or wrist weights – but only if you are proficient and injury-free.

A version of this article first appeared in Top Sante magazine.

Vitamin D – the health and happiness vitamin. Are you getting enough?

3598232e9b9ef6b57c50ae64aefbef82Are you getting outside and getting your vitamin D?  If not, why not?

Vitamin D affects a vast array of organs in the body. It also plays a vital role in switching genes on and off (one of the reasons why it’s so vital pregnant women get enough). Medical researcher Oliver Gillie (healthresearchforum.org.uk), a foremost authority on this hormone-like vitamin, warns that we don’t pay it enough attention. ‘A deficiency is already blamed for the reappearance of rickets in the UK,’ he says. ‘But evidence is emerging linking low vitamin D levels to a rise in a whole host of diseases.’

Optimum levels of vitamin D can help prevent many forms of cancer, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, menstrual problems and raised blood pressure. It could also be a surprise best friend if you suffer from the blues or find it tough to lose weight.

Telltale signs of D deficiency include head sweating, aching bones, depression, weight gain, frequent colds and gut problems (IBS, gluten sensitivity).

‘To be honest, most people in the UK are deficient,’ says Gillie. According to the UK’s Department of Health about 50 percent of us are lacking, but Gillie and many other experts reckon the figure could be much much higher. However we’re all different. For example, dark skin requires ten times more sun exposure than pale skin; and if you’re overweight you will need more vitamin D than a slimmer person. You also need to be cautious once you hit 50 – older skin simply doesn’t make as much vitamin D from the sun.
There is no official RDA (recommended daily allowance) for vitamin D in the UK (it’s around 400 iu elsewhere). The NHS says that, ‘Most people should be able to get all the vitamin D they need by eating a healthy balanced diet and by getting some summer sun. ‘Not so, insists Gillie. ‘Adults actually need about 3,000 ius for optimum health.’

Blame our lack of D on the UK weather and our indoor lifestyles. Getting out and about in the sun during the summer months is the best way to get your daily D but we’re up against it with our cloudy overcast weather. ‘Get as much sun as you can without burning,’ recommends Oliver Gillie. His advice is to take off as many clothes as you decently can – your torso is the area that absorbs vitamin D most efficiently, followed by your arms and legs. Obviously it will depend on your skin but even fair skinned people can usually take ten minutes before needing shade or sunscreen.  You know your own skin – you want to get exposure but you don’t want to burn.  It flies in the face of everything we’ve been told about keeping covered up to prevent skin cancer but, as with most things, it’s a balance.

Many foods and drinks are now fortified with vitamin D. It also occurs naturally in some foods. The best sources are oily fish (think salmon, sardines, mackerel) and fish oils. To a lesser extent you’ll get good D from liver (particularly beef liver), cheese, eggs and, curiously, certain mushrooms – portabello, maitake, morel and chanterelle are the highest sources – so think mushroom omelettes topped with cheese.
However Gillie says that food alone can never provide enough to take you to the optimum level. ‘Unless, of course, you are eating fish/seal/whale several times a day, like the Inuit.’

‘Most of us need to take supplements, particularly in the winter,’ Gillie continues. There are actually five types of vitamin D – the best form to take is D3. Ideally take it in a sublingual (under the tongue) form: it’s absorbed into your bloodstream most effectively this way (avoiding digestion by your stomach acids). BetterYou DLux 3000 gives 3000 iu per spray (it’s safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding). Like most vitamins, D needs optimum levels of other micronutrients (in particular magnesium, calcium and vitamin K) so add a good quality multi to support it.

A version of this piece first appeared in Top Sante magazine.

Agony answers: What is a beach-ready bikini body, really?

Q: I dread summer. I’m overweight and every time I look in the mirror I feel sick. The idea of wearing shorts or – shudder – a bikini fills me with total dread. What can I do to feel better about myself?

A: I think, if we’re honest, few of us dance around with delight at the prospect of baring flabby pasty flesh after a long winter of thick sweaters and furry boots. But I hate that you’re beating yourself up about your body.
Are you really overweight? We’re fed this ridiculous size zero image of the ‘perfect woman’ which, frankly, is insane. Bodies come in different shapes and sizes and, truly, there is no such thing as ‘perfect’. Even supermodels have parts of their bodies they loathe.  And please remember that pretty much every image you will see in a magazine has been tweaked and photoshopped.

47c6f27c49cad1a7af519d91ef881156I’d love you to focus on having a strong, healthy body – rather than a thin one. If you really are overweight (taking into account your height and bone structure) then maybe it’s time you started being kind to your body. Our bodies are incredible things – think about all they do for us, uncomplainingly for the most part. Yet how do we treat them? With loathing and contempt. Sad, isn’t it?
What would your body really love you to do for it? Check out Pete Cohen’s website (www.weightlossguru.com) – I’m not mad on the title he uses (let’s focus on gaining health and strength and happiness, rather than losing weight, huh?) but I do like his approach to working with (rather than against) your body in gaining health.

Use the power of your mind to help. Visualise the strong, healthy, happy body you deserve and make it totally, utterly real in every detail. Have this future you standing in front of you and, when the image is as clear as you can make it, step forward into it; become it. Repeat this several times a day.
Also spend time in front of the mirror (no, don’t wince!). Look into your eyes and say to your reflection: ‘I love and approve of myself’. Ten to one, you’ll find yourself disagreeing and that’s okay. Just let the negative thoughts come out and repeat again: ‘I love and approve of myself.’ You may well find that you will unearth the source of your negative body image with this exercise – many of us hold onto old beliefs that were foisted on us when we were young and impressionable; or we believe the hurtful comments people have made to us over the years. Time to decide what is healthy for you and what isn’t.

2If you really fancy kickstarting a healthy living plan, I’d thoroughly recommend a weekend or week on one of The Body Retreat‘s retreats (www.thebodyretreat.co.uk). Forget that old bootcamp nose in the mud stuff – these guys will give you a grounding in healthy eating and will introduce you to a whole barrage of different kinds of exercise, so you can discover which you love – and which you loathe. They also help you understand the psychology behind over-eating and eating food that your body hates. Truly, they work wonders.
Read my report here.

You can change your relationship with your body. Trust me on this because I’ve done it. I’ve shed four stone and now only eat foods which make my body smile. Sure, I have the odd chocolate moment (who doesn’t?) but I’ve stopped killing my body with bad food choices and I’ve made friends with exercise. And you know what? It feels fabulous.  Do I feel totally at ease in my body?  Not yet.  But I’m a darn sight closer than I used to be.

Go for it! If I can do it, I know you can do it too.

A version of this originally appeared in my Natural Health column.

You might also want to consider a slow safe detox – something all bodies love from time to time. I have developed a one-month plan that you can fit in around a normal working life – no need to become a hermit!

Is massage the new psychotherapy? Bodywork and the mind connection

Might the massage table take over from the psychoanalyst’s couch? Just imagine if all your painful memories and old hurts could be simply massaged or pressed away? It’s not just wishful thinking – more and more people are finding that, by working with the body, they are able to heal the mind.

3324fb1ed638bb80201edb5824cc082aThe joy of bodywork as therapy is that you don’t need to confess your darkest secrets; you don’t even need to know your darkest secrets. Bodyworkers believe that our bodies know the truth and the truth can be stretched, squeezed or simply touched out of us.

I have been researching natural therapies for the last 30 years and hundreds of bodyworkers – from aromatherapists to zero balancers, from reflexologists to Rolfers, have all told me the same thing: bodies hold memories and, equally, can release them. Sue Over, a bodyworker who uses a combination of techniques, including myofascial release (which works on the connective tissue of the body), explains. ‘Unexpressed emotions become held in our bodies, like undischarged bombs. The effects of this long term suppression is clearly seen in the way we hold ourselves (our posture), and the way we move. The mind and body are undivided: what affects the mind is manifested in the body.’

Gillie LaHaye, who combines Bowen Technique, Reiki, Emmett Technique and Emotional Freedom Technique in her work, agrees. ‘Bodywork acts as an emotional ‘shunt’, simply draining away unwanted, unresolved emotional matter from the system,’ she says. ‘A problem a person may have carried for many years simply dissipates and leaves a solution, resolution or complete forgiveness.’

I first experienced this while having a session with London-based Rolfer Jenny Crewdson. As Jennie pressed under my rib, time suddenly hurtled back and I was an uncoordinated eight-year old tumbling off my bike and winding myself on the grass. It was so clear, so intense that I could barely believe it. The shame and embarrassment flooded back, alongside the pain. Then, as swiftly as the memory had come, it cleared, leaving me feeling somehow lighter.

It seems that, during periods of trauma, we make indelible snapshots of experiences that have high levels of emotional content. These memories are held below consciousness in the tissue of the body as a kind of protective mechanism. Unfortunately repressed memories often cause both psychological problems (such as anxiety, fear, guilt, shame etc) and also physical discomfort.

It was American biochemist Dr Ida Rolf who, around fifty years ago, discovered that manipulating the fascia, the connective tissue of the body, could bring about profound changes to both body and emotions. The fascia will adapt to support whatever patterns of movement and posture our bodies adopt – if (like me) you fall off a bike, the fascia will adapt to protect the injury. Equally, the theory runs, the fascia will adapt to hold old emotional hurts, locking them deep inside our bodies. But Rolf discovered that, if the fascia can change once, they can change again. By manipulating and stretching the fascia back into their original position, she could reprogram neurological pathways and return her patient to alignment and, eventually, physical comfort. It didn’t stop at the physical level. Rolf also found that when she changed the body on a physiological level, her patients changed on a mental and emotional level as well.

Intriguingly, it isn’t just the ‘deep’ forms of bodywork that can bring about emotional release. SHEN® (Specific Human Emotional Nexus) and Kairos Therapy are incredibly gentle forms of energy healing, based on scientific research. Richard Pavek, an American scientist, set out to discover the scientific rules behind healing and, along the way, figured out a sure-fire way of clearing emotional blocks. During sessions the practitioner will place his or her hands in a series of specific sequences on the client’s body – directing subtle energy through the regions of the body where we experience emotions.

Gillie La Haye believes that the beauty of bodywork is that it reaches people who would never consider psychotherapy. ‘Some people wouldn’t dream of having psychotherapy or even counseling,’ she says. ‘But they will come for Bowen, Emmett or Reiki, or some other form of bodywork recommended by a trusted friend or family. The great thing about bodywork is that it doesn’t require the person to dig around and open old wounds. The issue simply resolves or drains away quietly and painlessly.’ However she cautions that bodywork isn’t always enough or, indeed, always advisable. ‘I couldn’t claim that people should have bodywork instead of psychotherapy. Indeed I have been known to recommend that people seek out a good psychotherapist who could help them on another level.’
Sue Over agrees. ‘I think body work can be helpful way to access deep feelings that perhaps may not be felt with just a talking therapy. But bodyworkers are not trained psychotherapists and care must be taken if someone is seeking help with an emotional problem.’

The future surely lies in combining the two. In America enlightened psychologists are increasingly incorporating various forms of bodywork into their work. There are literally dozens of different therapies which combine ‘headwork’ with bodywork. Many ‘somatic’ therapists work with the breath – often asking clients to lie down and deepen their respiration until it stirs up feelings and memories. Others encourage their clients to use movement to express how they feel; or they use sound, asking clients to make sounds, rather than coherent speech. Yet more work directly with the body, using touch and manipulation to trigger change.
Biodynamic psychotherapy combines all these approaches. One week you could find yourself sitting in a chair talking about your life, just like regular psychotherapy. The next session you might end up pummeling your fists into a mattress on the floor. Then again, you are equally likely to spend an hour on a massage couch with your therapist giving you a deep bodywork session.
Biodynamic psychotherapy was developed by Norwegian born Gerda Boyesen. A psychologist and physiotherapist, she realised that she could get even better results in her psychotherapy by working on the body as well as the mind. Like most other bodyworkers she found that emotions were held in the body and that through certain kinds of deep massage they could be released. But she also noticed that the greatest release came when the gut started rumbling. She listened, experimented and finally developed what she called psycho-peristalsis, a finely tuned technique which encourages the body to literally ‘digest’ emotional stress through deep powerful massage. ‘We believe your body is the library of your life,’ biodynamic therapist Gillie Gilbert told me, ‘it stores your whole history. So we start by working with the body to bring back energy into it. With massage we can dissolve the stuck chemistry, take the muscle tissue and manipulate it to increase the blood circulation. Then the extra oxygen and water will diffuse into the tissue and disperse the block.’
tap2Now another wave of therapists is experimenting with combinations of techniques that work on both the body and the mind. Emotional Freedom Technique (EMT) involves gentle tapping on various meridian points combined with gentle counselling – the effects can be swift and deep. Emmett Technique is another technique that can be highly effective. Developed in Australia, the technique involves the application of light pressure at particular points, in a sequence that enables the gentle physical release of muscle groups. As Gillie La Haye explains, ‘This sequence unlocks muscle memory giving the brain the opportunity to re-evaluate the initial trigger that created the neuromuscular problem in the first place. The light pressure sequences desensitise these areas and the positive effect ensues.’
As with EMT, the therapist combines touch with talking to create an attitude change, to reformulate old thought patterns and deeply entrenched feelings. Best of all, the treatment can be done fully clothed and is suitable for people of all ages from the newborn to the elderly and frail.

‘The future for bodywork is huge,’ says Gillie. ‘When people really appreciate what they can achieve so painlessly and quickly, it will be used in every area of life.’
If you are already undergoing psychotherapy, I’d strongly advise combining it with some form of bodywork – the effects will be swifter and more powerful. Equally, if you feel you have emotional issues but can’t face talking about them, consider a course of bodywork. Whatever the technique, it seems the future of psychotherapy might just rest on a different form of couch.

Sue Over: http://blushiouslondon.com/treatments/massage/sue-over/
Gillie La Haye: http://www.bowen-technique.net

Body therapies that reach the mind

Almost all bodyworkers report psychological benefits from their work. These are the ones I have found the most powerful.

Rolfing and Hellerwork – both work predominantly on the fascia, the connective tissue of the body. Usually conducted in a series of ten or eleven sessions. Other therapists use myofascial release techniques less formally. http://www.rolf.org and http://www.hellerwork.co.uk
Biodynamic psychotherapy – uses a combination of massage, talking therapy and ‘vegetotherapy’ (expressing emotion through the body). http://www.lsbp.org.uk
SHEN and Kairos Therapy – energy therapies that use particular holds on the body to release old trauma. http://www.shentherapy.info and http://www.kairostherapy.com
Bowen Technique – uses gentle moves over muscles and soft tissue. http://www.bowen-technique.co.uk
Emotional Freedom Technique (EMT) – involves gentle tapping on meridian points combined with verbal prompts. http://www.emofree.com
Emmett Technique – combines light pressure and spoken word. Often combined with other forms of therapy. www.emmett-uk.com
For more information on bodywork therapies see my book Wellbeing & Mindfulness

Agony Answers: I can’t say no

Q: I can’t seem to say no to people and often make myself stressed because I have too much going on. I feel as if my generosity isn’t reciprocated by friends or family and I don’t know how to start saying no, or asking for help myself.

A: It’s difficult. We’re taught from an early age to be ‘nice’ and helpful but unfortunately it often ends up, as you have found to your cost, by you becoming a stressed-out doormat.
In fact, not saying no can be actively bad for our health. Dr George F Solomon, a psychiatrist and pioneer in the field of psychoneurimmunology (the study of mind-body relationships) found he could tell the state of a person’s immune system by asking one simple question: ‘Could you say ‘no’ to a request for a favour?’
The ability to say no reflects assertiveness, ensuring that you don’t run the risk of becoming a self-sacrificing martyr. It shows that you can take care of your own needs.
Think about it this way. Saying ‘no’ is about telling the truth. If you don’t feel comfortable with something, you owe it to yourself, as well as the other person or people involved to be honest.

Most people don’t like saying ‘no’ because they think people will think badly of them. But think about it – how do you feel when people say no? Ten to one you’re impressed at how assertive they are. People won’t think the less of you for stating what you can and, more importantly, can’t do.

I’d heartily recommend a book called The Nice Factor – The Art of Saying No
which is full of really practical advice. The first thing they teach is to ‘get your “no” in fast’ – in other words, the moment someone says, ‘Can you…?’ you say, ‘No.’ You can make any number of excuses afterwards but get in the habit of saying no upfront. Remember, a ‘no’ doesn’t have to be final. It’s totally your right to change your mind – whether it’s two minutes or two months after the initial decision.
Silence is another good trick to have up your sleeve. If people are asking for volunteers, don’t race to put yourself forwards, hang back.
To ease yourself into saying ‘no’ use delaying tactics: ‘Let me have a think – I’ll get back to you’. It gives you a breathing space and sends the message that you’re not available on tap.

As far as asking for help goes, start by being generous and kind to yourself. Treat yourself to small indulgences – even if it’s just half an hour curled up with a book. Value yourself and hopefully soon you will find you can, in turn, ask for help from others. And say no when you need to.

A version of this first appeared in Natural Health magazine.

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

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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