9th October 2016 - yesterday is history and tomorrow is a mystery but today, now, is a GIFT ...
I referred to Mindfulness and being 'in the moment' in my last entry.
Coincidentally, the focus of my yoga group this term is meditation. We start each session with some quiet sitting, often focusing on our breathing, to settle our minds and bring our awareness back to our bodies and how they are in the present moment. We then progress to some gentle stretching exercises and postures to further this process, before resuming quiet sitting or lying at the end.
But being still doesn't suit everybody and is not the only way into being more mindful and meditative. We can develop mindfulness through practice in all aspects of daily living: when cleaning our teeth, washing up, commuting; it is a question of training the mind to really focus on each activity as it is carried out and so noticing what it feels like to be fully engaged, mentally and physically with the task in hand, rather than doing one thing while the mind is somewhere else entirely!
Of course, the mind will wander and random thoughts will pop up - that's what minds do and that's OK ... it can be noticed and the mind gently brought back to the task in hand, without criticism or judgement. But daily practice is essential and it is helpful to form a habit of doing it at the same times each day - this way, the brain will be expecting to switch into a mindful mode and it will gradually begin to feel more easily achievable. Look at the Headspace website for some free basic Mindfulness training.
Walking in the natural environment and dancing also offer wonderful opportunities to cultivate mindfulness. We are fortunate enough to be able to walk into the woods from our front door here at Autumndale and I sometimes walk with clients on fine days.
And I have just been introduced to a dance movement meditation practice called 5 Rhythms. Sessions are held locally, in Midhurst and Alton and are open to all, regardless of ability, age or gender. You do not need to have had any previous experience of dance and do not need to be super fit - you decide your own pace and there are no steps to learn ...
... I have never danced but went for the first time last week and found it an extraordinary and exhilarating experience. I was self-conscious initially but quickly realised that none of the other dancers were either judging me or 'expert' dancers themselves and I was able to give myself up to the music and dance!
Some Benefits of Mindfulness Practice:
• Anxiety, stress, depression, exhaustion and irritability all decrease with regular sessions of meditation. Memory improves, reaction times become faster and mental and physical stamina increase. In short, regular meditators are happier and more contented, while being far less likely to suffer from psychological distress.
• Mindfulness can dramatically reduce pain and the emotional reaction to it. Recent trials suggest that average pain ‘unpleasantness’ levels can be reduced by 57 per cent while accomplished meditators report reductions of up to 93 per cent.
• Clinical trials show that mindfulness improves mood and quality of life in chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia and lower-back pain, in chronic functional disorders such as IBS and in challenging medical illnesses, including multiple sclerosis and cancer.
• Mindfulness improves working memory, creativity, attention span and reaction speeds. It also enhances mental and physical stamina and resilience.
• Meditation improves emotional intelligence.
• Mindfulness is at least as good as drugs or counselling for the treatment of clinical-level depression. One structured programme known as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is now one of the preferred treatments recommended by the UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.
• Mindfulness reduces addictive and self-destructive behaviour. These include the abuse of illegal and prescription drugs and excessive alcohol intake.
• Meditation enhances brain function. It increases grey matter in areas associated with self-awareness, empathy, self-control and attention. It soothes the parts of the brain that produce stress hormones and builds those areas that lift mood and promote learning. It even reduces some of the thinning of certain areas of the brain that naturally occurs with ageing.
• Meditation improves the immune system. Regular meditators are admitted to hospital far less often for cancer, heart disease and numerous infectious diseases.
• Mindfulness may reduce ageing at the cellular level by promoting chromosomal health and resilience.
•Meditation and mindfulness improve control of blood sugar in type II diabetes.
• Meditation improves heart and circulatory health by reducing blood pressure and lowering the risk of hypertension. Mindfulness reduces the risks of developing and dying from cardiovascular disease and lowers its severity should it arise.
The above list was taken from the Frantic World website - follow this link for references detailing research that supports these claimed benefits
23rd September 2016
Nearly five months since my last entry - it has been a busy summer: lots of domestic activity and house guests + weddings, holidays here and abroad and generally being outside in the fresh air and sunshine as much as possible! Now it feels like all the potential of those long sunny days for new encounters and exciting activity is closing down ... I'm not a fan of the transition to Autumn. So I am getting involved in new projects (joining a choir, renovating a bathroom) and picking up familiar routines (yoga, Pilates, visiting the theatre), to take my mind away from the turning of the season. So once the dark evenings are actually here, I'll be OK ...
As with many things in life, it is the anticipation of what might be to come, rather than the reality when it does, that is most distressing. Therefore another Autumn project for me is to resurrect my Mindfulness practice and learn to live more 'in the moment'. The Headspace app, which is free to download for mobile phones, laptops, etc. can teach you how to meditate in 10 minutes a day.
I am pretty busy in my counselling and reflexology practice too. Clients new to counselling are often mystified as to how it might work for them and actually, I find it quite difficult to explain! There is much evidence to suggest that it the quality of the relationship between therapist and client, whatever their modality (e.g. integrative, Person-Centred, Psychodynamic, CBT), that is the key to a successful outcome in the eyes of the client (see this article and others).
The idea is that a client can begin to see how their mind works in the unique relationship with the therapist, a relationship that is purposefully structured to make the client’s psychology more apparent and a topic of exploration. Noticing, exploring and working through these emotional experiences in relationship with the therapist is a powerful mechanism of growth in therapy.
People who get the most out of therapy are those who 1) are willing to try to discern within themselves their feelings and reactions in talking with their therapist and 2) are willing to share and explore them with their therapist. Exploring these feelings and reactions in the immediacy of the relationship with the therapist is considered a powerful mediator of change in therapy.
(The above is quoted from a website comparing CBT with psychodynamic therapy.)
1st May 2016
INSOMNIA - aargh!!! I have always slept reasonably well but stress (and probably age) have been disrupting my sleep patterns over the last few months.
The NHS Choices website contains a lot of useful information and some tips. I think the advice to avoid any kind of screen-based activity, for example using a laptop, tablet, mobile phone or watching television for a little while before going to bed is particularly relevant and important.
The radio, on the other hand, can be a blessing! Woman's Hour devoted a whole episode last week to actor Kim Cattrall's (Sex and the City, Sensitive Skin) private struggle with insomnia. Listening to her journal of her experience of sleeplessness was powerful, absorbing and helpful.
Make your bedroom as calm and restful a haven as possible and use it only for sleep and sex, so that your mind learns to associate it with switching off, relaxing and sleeping.
A herbal remedy containing passion flower (passiflora) may be useful as may magnesium supplementation - I use Ancient Minerals Magnesium Lotion, which is readily absorbed through the skin and may be more acceptable than oral forms (and it may help conditions such as psoriasis and eczema too) but don't use it on broken skin - it stings! Alternatively, soaking in an Epsom Salts bath before bed will deliver some magnesium and could become a pleasant, soothing ritual.
Avoiding caffeine and alcohol, especially late in the day is important too; and don't forget to use your meditation or Mindfulness skills, if you are a practitioner.
Several clients swear by blends 1 and 20 from the Katseye range of therapeutic essential oil blends, which I make up into an easy-to-use roller ball.
Finally, a Vertical Reflex Technique called Diaphragm Rocking may work wonders. This and other self-help hand reflexology techniques for relieving everyday stress and tension are demonstrated in a short You Tube clip by Lynne Booth, the person who developed VRT - or ask me to show you. One client recently told me that, when she does the Diaphragm Rocking at night, just as I showed her, she feels a wonderful sensation of comfort spreading across her chest and then through the rest of her body so that she is able to fall asleep quickly and peacefully.
Sleep well - zzzzz
9th April 2016
Music can be a powerful stress reliever and I often play music during reflexology sessions to enhance the benefits of treatment. Making music and singing can be as relaxing as listening. Read Jane Collingwood's interesting article, 'The Power of Music to Reduce Stress', on this subject.
I would love to share with you some beautiful contemporary English music, in a classical romantic style, to which I have recently been introduced. It is composed by Colin Upton and Charles Mauleverer and its recording has been masterminded by Colin's brother, David. Together they form Vista Musicale and the name of their album is "Far Above a Midnight Sky'. Follow this link to hear excerpts of various tracks and watch a video, which accompanies the track entitled 'Unspoken'. I find this particular piece hauntingly poignant, the words having a very personal resonance for me :
Unspoken (by Malcolm Hebron and Colin Upton):
Dream clouds drifting, silently seeping
Through a window blurred with fears
Now it’s all so hard to remember
The words, the passing of the years
Autumn colours fade so slowly
Far beneath a restless sky
And when my face is only a stranger’s
How then to say goodbye?
Dreams lie broken, the words unspoken
The dawn mist rising, far horizons
The light all surpassing, dreams everlasting
Lux aeterna, requiem
19th March 2016
I have just discovered that a family member has vitamin B12 deficiency, producing longstanding, significant and frightening symptoms, which have prompted many investigations and treatment - but not for B12 deficiency, the main culprit, until recently.
This deficiency, the incidence of which increases with age and which is relatively common and universally prevalent - is often overlooked in favour of more complex and sometimes less treatable conditions.
A well-referenced article from the December 2013 edition of The Pharmacy Times gives a good overview of the subject - do take a look.
People who drink a lot of alcohol as well as vegetarians and especially vegans are particularly susceptible to B12 deficiency, due to the lack of meat, fish, eggs and dairy products in their diets.
If you are concerned that you have B12 deficiency, see your G.P. who can arrange a blood test.
21st February 2016
It feels like it's been a long and very dreary winter this year. If, like me, you are beginning to feel jaded and longing for the renewed energy that a few bright days can bring, then maybe consider how some simple lifestyle changes might perk you up and keep you going until the rain clouds clear and long, sunshiny days return (or you go on holiday :) ...
5th February 2016
Long absence but good to be back!
I have just found out about this course, which has only just started and is still recruiting ... I have signed up and thought you might be interested in it too:
Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Well-being – find out how poems, plays and novels can help us understand and cope with deep emotional strain in this free 6 week online course. Click here to learn more and to sign up. Hundreds of other free online courses are available at Future Learn - it's interesting just to browse what is on offer.
3rd November 2015
I have just be talking to a client about achy legs and deep vein thrombosis (DVT), subjects that often seem to come up in my reflexology clinic. I thought it might be useful to share some of the information, which I often pass on:
Firstly, always seek a medical opinion and follow specialist advice, especially if a DVT has been diagnosed or is suspected. Take symptoms of leg pain seriously, particularly following surgery, if pregnant, when using hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or the contraceptive pill or following long periods of inactivity, e.g. following a flight.
Following a DVT:
Massage of the affected limb is not recommended until it is certain that no clot remains. Massage stimulates blood flow but may also dislodge any residual clot, which may be dangerous if the clot is then carried to the lungs (risk of pulmonary embolism)
Have a blood test to check vitamin B12 levels - clots are more likely to occur when there is B12 deficiency
Long-term anticoagulant therapy may be required
Use of the contraceptive pill/HRT is not usually recommended
'Flight socks' may be a useful precaution on any long journey, even by car (and are available from chemists, e.g. Boots) - but check with your doctor
Vascular studies (e.g. using ultrasound or doppler flow) can confirm if the vessels are clear
Avoid sitting still for long periods, e.g. at a desk - get up and move around at regular, frequent intervals. Take regular breaks on long car journeys or walk around the plane on long flights
Do not ignore any abnormal changes in the colour (e.g. red, white, blue), temperature or sensation of part of a limb
Seek immediate medical advice if there is severe pain or discomfort on dorsiflexion, i.e. when foot is pulled up from the ankle, so toes move towards knees (Homan's sign)
Varicose veins may cause achy legs - prolonged standing still is the worst activity if varicose veins are present
Pregnancy, menopause, alcohol and use of statin medication may exacerbate achy legs
Raise legs when sitting if possible
Exercise is good - e.g. ankle rotations/calf clench and release when sitting still; yoga; swimming; cycling
If the blood pressure is low (particularly common in tall, young, fit people) prevent it falling further and possibly encouraging sluggish circulation in the extremities, by always maintaining adequate levels of hydration (water intake/fluid balance) and sodium (table SALT)
Bath/foot soak using magnesium salts, e.g. Zechstein (the best) or Epsom (cheaper), which are absorbed through the skin (or use a Zechstein magnesium oil spray, which is good for cramp too)
Self-treat using acupressure points for leg pain (find instructions on YouTube)
Consider using a good quality multivitamin and mineral supplement, e.g. NHP Healthy Woman Support, possibly with extra vitamins C and D3 + omega 3's
Investigate the use of red vine leaf extract, for example - see this article from the Nursing Times
Practice Mindfulness, e.g. with the help of 'Mindfulness for Health' by Vidyamala Burch and Danny Penman
Make sure the shoe bends at the toe box but is not too flexible - and that the toe box is not too pointy
Make sure there is a sufficient arch support
Choose a chunky heel that is less than 2 inches high
Ballet flats offer no support anywhere in the foot bed and often rub the heels or big toe joint and/or need to be held on as they have no straps or laces.
Heels higher than 2” create an unnatural foot position when walking and may adversely affect joints and tendons in the foot and elsewhere, e.g. knees, hips, back
Feet may hurt more with aging, especially post-menopause in women, because the protective fat pads diminish
Custom-made orthotics can help to cushion feet in shoes with thin soles (or feet with no fat!) and so offer increased comfort and protection
Ideally, wear shoes with a thick shock-absorbing sole, such as fitflops (who don’t only make flip flop style shoes) or trainers with a roller sole (but these may not be suitable for those with balance or some musculo-skeletal problems). Ecco and some Rieker styles are OK too.
10th September 2015
Recently I've been turning my attention to areas of counselling where I would like to gain more knowledge - brief therapy for example and working with clients who have more serious mental health issues, many more of whom are presenting to counsellors via charitable organisations such as those with which I am involved, due to the serious and increasing under-provision within the NHS.
With these and other clients in mind, I have also been thinking about the potential benefits of combining reflexology and counselling in a more formal way and have therefore decided to offer integrated reflexology and counselling sessions for those who are interested. This approach will comprise weekly sessions that will include 30 minutes of reflexology followed by 50 minutes of counselling. Of course, separate reflexology and counselling sessions will always be available as well.
Reflexology is known to offer relief from tension and anxiety and is conducive to improved mood and relaxation. Stress, anxiety and other psychological issues frequently manifest as physical symptoms, which relaxation may help to ease. Thus, using reflexology before counselling may improve its efficacy and the speed at which it is found to be effective by reducing discomfort and enhancing a sense of safety. In this kind of environment there is the potential for a more rapid development of the therapeutic relationship and for clients to be able to more readily reach the thoughts and feelings that they may need to explore. This would expedite the process of change, healing and development, just as is often seen with more commonly used creative approaches such as art, drama and storytelling.
14th August 2015
Free from studies - wonderful! Now I can focus on other things for a while, including business promotion and the general administrative back log but most importantly, having some fun ... getting some PLAYTIME back into my life. My research into the use of creative and play-based activities in counselling reminded me how important it is to incorporate time for creativity and play into daily life - and how lacking that has been for me over the last few months.
So I'm going to get creative in the garden (once I've got destructive with the weeds) and take every opportunity to escape in our camper van, to the sea if possible. We have just got back from Cornwall where we watched with awe the spectacular seas at Porth Leven.
On the reflexology front, I have been using some VRT techniques to good effect with a number of clients recently. VRT is an incredibly effective form of weight-bearing reflexology in which the therapeutic response often appears to be quicker; this may be because the nerves and reflexes are more highly activated when weight-bearing. VRT may help intransigent conditions, especially those related to muscle and joint issues including undefined back pain and sports injuries. Classical reflexology and VRT are usually combined to optimise benefit, maybe regulating sleep patterns and encouraging deeper relaxation. VRT were first described by Lynne Booth nearly twenty years ago - see her website for further information on these helpful techniques.
2nd May 2015
Today I attended a thought-provoking workshop on trauma and traumatic bereavement, led by Tony Buckley. His focus was on the embodiment of emotional trauma in the form of physical feelings, such as panic attacks, pain and digestive disorders - and the role that the Vagus nerve, which innervates all organs and a significant range of muscles - has to play in the mind-body connection.
In a couple of weeks I will be going to another workshop: Understanding Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), led by Jenny Hope-Spencer. She writes,
"We can be physically well but not have a sense of well-being - or experience well-being when physically unwell. Feeling 'out of balance' is an internal process that can affect our physical well-being, manifesting with psychosomatic disorders, stress, tension, anxiety and depression.
Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) has steadily figured more in healthcare since the 2nd century Romans noticed a link between depressed states of mind and cancer. Towards the end of the 20th century, science began to prove a link between immune system response to stress, the endocrine (hormonal) system and the nervous system.
As the name implies PNI links the psyche - emotional response to the environment and perceived sense of self - with the nervous, endocrine and immune system response to stress and tension.
Although considered a clinical science, PNI encompasses holistic principles of body, mind and spirit, demonstrating how physical health is underpinned with emotional and mental resourcefulness, resilience and behavioural coping strategies."
At the workshop, she will be explaining how reflexology may be used as a powerful tool to re-balance the body/mind and aid relaxation by relieving stress and tension, enhancing homeostasis (internal environmental balance).
We are getting ever-closer to a comprehensive and scientifically robust explanation of how body therapies such as reflexology and acupuncture produce benefits to our health and well-being, which feels not only very exciting but also affirming of the work that so many of us are carrying out, often in the face of opposition from some quarters the conventional medical establishment.
6th April 2015
Hello on this beautifully sunny spring morning. I hope you have had a very happy Easter! I spent time in the garden yesterday but mostly I have been incarcerated with my laptop, transcribing interviews for my counselling dissertation - a tedious but necessary process. My neck and shoulders are stiff from working so long at the computer so I plan to have a wonderful back and shoulder massage soon, with the brilliant Christine Southwell of South Downs Massage. In the meantime, I have been engaging in some therapeutic laughter watching the film 'Paddington', which I was given as an Easter present (because I eat far too much chocolate already!). And last week I had a reflexology treatment myself from friend and colleague Samantha Hardwick at Time Out Massage in Haslemere - so relaxing. Today I will be out in the sunshine, listening to the birds singing, feet bare on the fresh new grass as I plan the interior of my VW van which is about to go off to the convertors for transformation into a camper - and planning my summer escapes. So, lots of much-needed self-care happening too ... I hope you are also able to make time to take care of yourself ..
12th February 2015
I've just come across a very interesting and informative article on reflexology and sleep, written by the developer of VRT, Lynne Booth. I thought I'd share it with you as so many of us have trouble sleeping sometimes and the effects may be so debilitating. Follow this link to visit the page and read the article ...
5th January 2015
Happy New Year! The spa suite, which includes a dry sauna, private shower room, sundeck and relaxation room, is now open. It will be available on Tuesdays, Thursdays and some Saturdays. Hopefully, the hot tub will also be available very soon ...