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Moving beyond the ‘New Year, New You’ culture

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By Gemma Kennedy, transformational coach

You may be starting to feel the strain of the ‘New Year, New You’ nonsense that is flying around at the moment. It seems that every time we turn on the TV, log onto Facebook or walk down the street, we are hit with ways in which we need to change ourselves to become better, worthier or more attractive.

Influencers of all stripes tell us that in order to make 2019 the best year ever, we need to make drastic changes and embrace diets, gym membership and the like. It is as though when the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, we suddenly became broken somehow.

But I cannot recall anyone I know who has ever managed to turn their body-related New Year’s resolutions into lasting change. At some point, people always seem to ‘fall off the wagon’ and start the self-flagellation routine.

This is the second year that I have no intention whatsoever of changing my body in order to achieve the things I want to though. Instead of trying to use New Year’s resolutions to fix whatever is supposedly wrong with me, I have developed goals that I am keen to achieve.

These goals are things that, in the past, I would never have considered possible until I inhabited a thinner, more conventionally attractive body. But coaching has taught me that I am already good enough to work towards whatever it is I want to do.

A wonderful friend introduced me to ‘The Language of Letting Go’ by Melodie Beattie. In it, she shares a year’s worth of beautiful daily meditations that are aimed particularly at people who are experiencing co-dependent relationships.

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New Year meditation

But regardless of whether you feel this situation applies to you or not, it should be possible to learn something from her work. This is part of her meditation for 1 January, and you might find it beneficial to take some time to reflect on the questions she raises:

“What would you like to have happen in your life this year? What would you like to do, to accomplish? What good would you like to attract into your life? What particular areas of growth would you like to have happen to you? What blocks, or character defects, would you like to have removed?

“What would you like to attain? Little things and big things? Where would you like to go? What would you like to have happen in friendship and love? What would you like to have happen in your family life?

“Remember, we aren’t controlling others with our goals – we are trying to give direction to our life.

“What problems would you like to see solved? What decisions would you like to make? What would you like to happen in your career? What would you like to see happen inside and around you?”

Once you have had a chance to reflect on some of these issues, ask yourself what it is you notice coming up for you? Is it the kinds of things you expected? Are they any different to previous years?

woman in peach color and red floral sweatshirt holding gray jacket
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Being free to be me

When I personally undertook this exercise, I was struck by the absence of judgment that I placed on my body. Instead, I was able to genuinely think about what I wanted for myself, and my life, over the coming year.

I believe it is only when we can let go of the infectious expectation that we dislike our bodies that we are able to truly see what it is we would like to achieve. As women, we are taught from birth that our worth is inextricably linked to our physical form. Realising that this is not the case has been the most empowering thing I have ever done – and I would invite you to embark upon a quest to do the same.

To get started, here are some things you might like to try to survive the ‘New Year, New You’ propaganda:

  • Have a social media clear-out: If you follow people who make you feel bad about yourself in any way, whether intentionally or unintentionally, get rid of them. Fill your newsfeeds with people and bodies of all kinds. It sounds simple but the more you expose yourself to the diversity of the human race, the more chance you have of resisting the ideals sold to us. For tips on some positive individuals you might like to follow, please visit my website;
  • Set healthy boundaries: If your workplace or social circle is full of diet talk, it is easy to get sucked in. Try telling people that you will not be dieting this year and you would appreciate them saving their weight-loss related conversations for someone else. If they are not able to respect this, you may wish to reconsider the time you spend with them, if at all possible;
  • Surround yourself with like-minded communities: People often find a sense of community at slimming clubs that they may not find elsewhere and, in some areas, there are few anti-diet alternatives. But it does not need to be the case if you create your own community. Whether it consists of a regular meet-up with other anti-diet friends, an anti-diet book club or an online group, they can all be invaluable in avoiding diet culture.

But whatever goals you decide to set for yourself this year, the most important thing to remember is that you deserve to achieve them – and that I believe in you.

Gemma Kennedy

Gem Kennedy is a Body Positive activist and transformational coach. Having started her first diet aged 10 and spent many years promising herself that this would be the year to lose weight and start living, a switch flicked in 2017 when she discovered the Body Positive and Fat Activist communities. After training as a transformational coach, she now specialises in coaching and mentoring clients both individually and in groups to help them shed the burden of today’s diet culture and feel confident enough to be in the world exactly as they are, right now.

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Yoga Nidra: Learning to relax, consciously

Yoga Nidra Savasana pose

By Theresa Banovic, yoga and yoga nidra teacher

Yoga Nidra is a powerful meditation technique, based on ancient tantric practices, that helps you learn to relax consciously.

You may feel as if you are relaxing when you lounge on the sofa with a cuppa, watch TV, or read a book, but such activities will never meet the body’s need to relax completely. Even sleep is not actually regarded as relaxation from a Yoga Nidra point of view.

Instead the idea is that true relaxation takes us far beyond any sensory diversions. When our consciousness remains connected to our senses, we become less receptive. But when experiencing Yoga Nidra, it is about remaining aware while turning inwards, away from outer experiences to settle into a state of deep calm.

So just how does this happen? When practising Yoga Nidra, you generally lie down flat on your back on the ground (in yoga, this is known as Savasana pose) – although resting in a semi-reclined position or sitting in a chair is fine too if lying is not possible for you. Make sure you are as comfortable as you can be by wearing warm clothes, socks and even a lovely eye pillow infused with essential oils if you like. Blankets, cushions and bolsters can also help here too.

Your teacher/guide/recording will then lead you through breath awareness exercises, before systematically referring to different parts of the body fairly swiftly. All you need to do is mentally repeat each body part to yourself, place your awareness there and feel the area relax.

There is no need to move. It is more about listening, trying to surrender to the experience and going with the flow of this wonderful healing practice.

Om mantra

Experiencing deep relaxation

The idea is to keep your mind moving from point to point, remaining aware of every experience. Deep relaxation should take place at a cellular level, enabling physical, emotional and mental tensions to be released. Ideally, you should try not to fall asleep – although sometimes it is simply not possible.

When we relax deeply with the help of Yoga Nidra, we clear a space for the unconscious and subconscious levels of the mind to open and become really receptive. This means that, if we plant an idea there at this time, it will become very potent – like planting a seed and watching it grow.

So it is very important to make an intention, or Sankalpa, at the start. This can act as a positive way of focussing on the direction you would like to take in life, something you would like for yourself such as a new job or better health, or something you would like to give up. It could be a future goal, or even a simple act of gratitude.

Swami Satyananda described Yoga Nidra as an invaluable stress management tool, which could even be used to learn a language or other subject. In truth, it can be used to train the mind to accomplish anything.

It is usual to make a Sankalpa every time you practice Yoga Nidra, although it makes sense to stick to the same one for a while – and, if you use the technique regularly, you should be able to notice a change. In fact, if you choose to practice Yoga Nidra regularly, it will inevitably become an integral and invaluable part of your life.

Theresa Banovic

Theresa Banovic is a BWY yoga instructor and wellness advocate. She teaches Hatha yogaRestorative yoga and the Yoga Nidra meditation technique in a class setting, while offering yoga and massage retreats in both the UK and Portugal too. Theresa is also a trained provider of Ayurvedic massage.

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A healthy heart: What’s love got to do with it?

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By Anita Ramsden, kinesiologist

The heart represents many things. More than just an organ that pumps oxygenated blood around our bodies to keep us alive, it is also a universal symbol of love and governs our ability to give and receive this vital emotion.

As a result, the kind of language we use in relation to the heart tends to be quite profound. We say things are ‘heartfelt’ and advise others to ‘speak from the heart’ or ‘follow your heart’. The phrase ‘you can’t decide with your head, you need to trust your heart’ is also a common one and positions this important organ as a key link between mind and body.

In physiological terms alone, the heart is an incredible machine. The size of a fist, it weighs about 10oz (283 grams) and beats around 70 times a minute. In that time, it moves five to seven litres of blood around the body, or up to 7,600 litres a day. Without its constant activity, we would die immediately.

The heart also has its own electromagnetic field, which being the largest in the body, permeates every cell and sends signals to our brain. Electrocardiograms (ECG) have indicated that the power of this field is 60 times greater than that of brain waves and can be measured several feet away from the body. The heart and brain synchronise through these energetic impulses and scientists working in the relatively new discipline of neurocardiology believe they are the basis of heart-brain communication.

These scientists have also discovered that the heart is a sensory organ, which consists of 40,000 neurons that are commonly associated with the brain. In fact, according to the HeartMath Institute: “The heart acts as a sophisticated information encoding and processing centre that enables it to learn, remember and make independent functional decisions that do not involve the cerebral cortex” of the brain.

Such information may help to explain why cardiac surgeons counsel patients and family members about the surprising after-effects of some heart transplant surgery. The patient who receives a donated organ can take on the characteristics, memories, tastes and preferences of the donor.

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Heart-brain link

Recipients may also recall their donor’s personal details and in some instances, recognise and even feel love for their family and friends. In the words of Dr Daniel Keown, a practitioner of both Eastern and Western medicine and author of ‘The Spark in the Machine’, this scenario would appear to indicate that the heart has carried the donor’s memories within itself and shared them with its new recipient’s brain.

But there is also other evidence of a heart-brain link. For example, more heart attacks take place at 9am on a Monday morning than at any other time of the week, possibly due to an association with stressful situations such as work.

Stress-induced or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, otherwise known as broken heart syndrome, likewise occurs when part of the heart is temporarily no longer able to pump well. This condition is commonly seen in patients following the death of a loved one. Metaphorically and physically, they are heart-broken.

But the heart is just as responsive to love and compassion. According to Deepak Chopra in his book ‘Training the Mind, Healing the Body’, the survival rate of patients who have had a heart attack is 80% higher if they believe their partner loves them. Research also shows that people who are in loving, kind and affectionate relationships experience less hardening of the arteries.

If someone is caught up in negative emotions such as anger, frustration or anxiety, on the other hand, their heart rhythms become more erratic and disordered as the endocrine system responds to the situation and their body goes into fight or flight mode.

Experiencing positive emotions such as appreciation, love or compassion produces the opposite effect though, creating highly ordered or coherent patterns that move the body into a state of peace. The heartbeat becomes even and synchronises with other bodily functions, such as blood pressure, digestion and breathing, which calms everything down.

boy gives flowers

Being kind

Another consideration in this context are the health benefits of being kind. The feelings generated from performing acts of kindness and compassion, or even of simply witnessing them, creates oxytocin – the ‘happiness hormone’ – in our body. Oxytocin, in turn, produces nitric oxide, which softens the walls of our arteries, improves blood flow and reduces blood pressure.

So it makes sense, both for ourselves and others, to choose a day each week to undertake kind acts. As Dr David Hamilton indicates in his books ‘Molecules of Kindness‘ and ‘Born to be Kind’: “We are genetically wired for kindness. The kindness gene, in fact, is 500 million years old – it’s one of our most ancient genes – which is WHY kindness impacts our biochemistry. It’s our deepest nature.”

Hugging someone, including your pet, is also another great way to produce oxytocin. Doing so will lead to a drop in your heart rate, reduce your stress hormones, cut your production of free radicals and lessen inflammation.

A lovely correction technique that I also use from the Creative Kinesiology school of practice is called ‘Heart Appreciation’. You can try it yourself by simply concentrating your mind on someone or something that you really appreciate and feeling how good it feels to do so.

Then breathe the feeling into your heart and let it spread throughout your entire body. Imagine your heart as a cup and watch it overflow. Your whole body will relax and your energy levels will rise significantly. Because it really is about feeling the love at every level – in body, mind and most particularly in the heart.

Anita Ramsden

Anita Ramsden is a kinesiologist. She is emphatic about affecting positive change and her work encourages wellbeing for mind, body and soul. Anita is also a member of the Kinesiology Federation.

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Kundalini yoga: Taking on the challenge of transformational change

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By Sarah Stollery, kundalini yoga and meditation teacher

As the turn of the year approaches once again, how many of you have started thinking about New Year’s resolutions – even if, quite often, they are not very new at all? In fact, all too often, they are actually the same ones we made last year but did not stick to.

Which begs the question of why bother? Change is hard work. So shouldn’t we just accept ourselves as we are and let go of the idea that we could create a better version of ourselves?

Loving and accepting ourselves for who we are is certainly a worthy aim. But even doing that meaningfully can require transformation of a kind – a transformation in our thinking.

And what about those resolutions that really would support us in living more fulfilling, connected and joyous lives? If you are stuck in a job you hate, it IS important to make 2019 the year you find a new vocation.

If you are feeling stifled creatively, 2019 IS the year to find a satisfying outlet for your passion. If you are chronically stressed and exhausted, 2019 IS the year to find a more balanced and sustainable way of living.

Illustration with mantra om sign surrounded by energy beams

Transformational change

But change is challenging, and sometimes the best intentions in the world are simply not enough to ensure temporary change becomes lasting transformation. That is where kundalini yoga and meditation come in. They act as tools to help bring about authentic, lasting transformation by working on multiple levels.

Habits, both good and bad, exist not just in our subconscious and unconscious minds, but also in our cellular memory as well. So, to delete old habits and create new ones successfully, it is necessary to work on all of these levels. Kundalini yoga can help here by:

  • Rewiring our nervous system to remove old habits and embed new ones;
  • Rebalancing and reprogramming our endocrine (hormonal) system to support us through the emotional challenges that change generates;
  • Cultivating a neutral mind so that we have the necessary awareness to make conscious choices untainted by ego, which resists change;
  • Developing an achievable daily practice that specifically targets the changes we wish to make;
  • Providing us with a supportive community of fellow yogis, who are also working towards making change and so help to keep us accountable.

Life is too short to write off effecting transformational change in the name of loving and accepting ourselves as we are. It is important to remember that we cannot fully love and accept ourselves if we are not living an authentic life in which we recognise and honour our own needs. So it is vital to put in the hard work required to ensure those needs are met by creating the necessary change.

If you would like support in making such changes real and lasting, check out my new six-week Kundalini Yoga and Meditation Course starting on 16 January 2019 at the Mokshala Yoga and Meditation Centre in Saffron Walden, Essex. You won’t regret it.

sarah stollery headshot

Sarah Stollery is a kundalini yoga and meditation teacher and co-founder of The Cabin, a self-directed learning community for home-educated children. She is passionate about empowering people of all ages and stages of life with the tools to thrive in these challenging times by creating space to learn, explore and integrate a wide range of wellbeing practices.

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Healing approaches

Learning how to grieve, heal and grow

Loss and grief

By Helen Preston, counsellor

Grief manifests itself in many ways but is not necessarily a very easy thing to describe. According to the dictionary definition, it consists of:

“Intense sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death. ‘She was overcome with grief.’ Sorrow, misery, sadness, anguish, pain, distress, agony, torment, affliction, suffering, heartache, heartbreak, broken-heartedness, heaviness of heart, woe, desolation, despondency, dejection, despair, angst, mortification.”

Grief can also express itself in a number of ways. It can take the form of an emotional, physical, behavioural or cognitive response. For example, at an emotional level, a grieving person may feel shock, yearning, helplessness, relief or guilt.

Common physical sensations include a hollowness in the stomach, tightness in the throat, breathlessness or lack of energy. In behavioural terms, grief may manifest itself in the form of disturbed sleep, crying, absent-mindedness, a feeling of searching or reliance on drugs or alcohol. Cognitive responses could include feelings of disbelief, confusion, general preoccupation and even hallucinations.

But it is worth bearing in mind that death is not the only cause of grief. Other situations that also spark this emotion include divorce, the ending of important relationships, losing a job, moving away from the place you grew up, leaving a school in which you were happy, becoming disabled or losing your home.

Most people are able to process their grief naturally and, while they may experience intense bouts of sadness, they can still feel hope and will eventually find happiness again. That said, there is no right way to grieve. Even though rifts are created in some families because members make judgements over others on what grieving should look like, in reality, each individual has to find their own path and what works best for them.

It is common to hear of the five stages of grief first identified by Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler Ross in her ground-breaking book, ‘On Death and Dying’, which was published in 1969. These stages consist of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Author and expert David Kessler also discussed the possibility of a sixth stage – that of ‘meaning’. But it is important to recognise that not everyone will experience all of these stages, and they can appear in no particular order, maybe more than once.

Strength

How counselling can help

Experiencing grief can be a confusing and emotional time. It often feels isolating and scary, but speaking to someone else about how you feel can help you process your emotions. It can also help to reassure you that what you are going through is ‘normal’ and you are not you going mad.

In particular, if you continue to experience grief over a long period of time, you might benefit from support to help you process the emotion in a healthier way. Maybe you did not have the time or opportunity to process it when your loss took place, but it may still be affecting you in some way. You may feel depressed or stuck.

Immediately following a loss, there are generally lots of distractions and plenty of support. But then the dust settles, people go back to their busy lives and presume you are fine. You do not want to ‘burden’ your friends with your sad feelings and so say you feel OK when you do not.

It is here that counselling comes in. Counsellors are trained to listen without judgment, to empathise rather than sympathise. Moreover, speaking your feelings out loud may help you to make sense of them.

There are many instances when a grieving person may need support to find a way through the dark times and discover meaning in life again – and grief related to suicide is one of those. There are so many additional emotions and complications that are linked to this situation, not least the social judgments that are all too often made.

It can be hard for friends to support this type of grief and to realise that the grieving person needs a voice rather than to feel silenced by the discomfort of others. In Western culture, we find talking about death tricky at the best of times. But when someone choses to end their own life, we tend to draw conclusions that only serve to perpetuate the myths, while failing to help the sufferer get any closer to the often unanswerable question of ‘why’?

Other circumstances that can have a particular impact on grievers include losing a child or young person or suffering a sudden and unexpected loss or death.

Life coaching motivation and self realization concept in blue

Learning to heal and grow

To sum up, here are some apt but poignant words that have been adapted by a member of Compassionate Friends USA:

If you think you are going mad – that’s normal

If all you do is cry – that’s normal

If you have trouble with most minor decisions – that’s normal

If you can’t taste your food or have no appetite – that’s normal

If you feel rage, denial, depression – that’s normal

If you find yourself enjoying a funny moment and then feel guilty – that’s normal

If you feel angry when someone says “it was God’s will” – that’s normal

If you can’t talk about it but can smash dishes and kick the dustbin – that’s normal

If you can share your story with an understanding listener – that’s a beginning

If you can get a glimpse of the person’s life rather than their death – that’s wonderful

If you can remember with a smile – that’s healing

If you find your mirrors have become windows and you can reach out to another bereaved person – that’s growing.

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Helen Preston is a counsellor, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) expert and reiki practitioner. Her approach to therapy acknowledges the crucial inter-relationship of mind, body and spirit. Helen is a member of the National Counselling Society and has an Advanced Diploma in psychotherapy and counselling, a Diploma in Hypnotherapy and an EFT Master Practitioner certificate.

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