Inspiring lifestyles

The healing power of silence

drop of water

By Helen Preston, counsellor and holistic therapist

Last Christmas, my 20 year-old son bought me a book called ‘A Book of Silence’, written by Sara Maitland. In it, she explores and contemplates the silence she experienced after moving out of the city aged 40.

My son and I share a love of silence, so it was a thoughtful gift. We value silence and how it helps to calm and soothe the soul. In a world where it can often seem like a valuable commodity, it is worth taking a little time to explore silence’s healing power and seeing it for the undervalued resource it is.

Mobile devices constantly bombard us with noise. Music, podcasts, videos, phone calls – earphones in and off we go, isolated in our own little world of chosen sound.

At home, we often have the TV or radio on in the background. Or we talk for the sake of talking when there is nothing to say – and where silence could prove a more powerful and meaningful way to be present.

On the long journey driving him back to university, my son and I talk sometimes, but equally importantly we are both very comfortable being together in silence. We share our space comfortably. By way of contrast, some people I know are uncomfortable with silence and feel compelled to fill it with random streams of thought. Albeit unconsciously, they fear it.

Anyone who has listened to Eckhart Tolle will know that he uses silence or pauses to punctuate his language. I found it a little disconcerting when I first began to listen to his audio work. My mind was impatient for the next piece of information, to hear the next word and grasp the next concept.

The voice in my head judged the silences to be irritating. My conditioned mind wanted a continuous stream of noise. It took time to move beyond this situation and really ‘listen’ to both the words and the silence.

All too often we listen to respond, pass judgement or assess how what we are hearing fits with our beliefs. But if we are only prepared to listen to what we already know, we become stuck and entrenched. There is no room for new concepts or ideas. Eckhart says of silence: 

“To listen to the silence, wherever you are, is an easy and direct way of becoming present. Even if there is noise, there is always some silence underneath and in between the sounds. Listening to the silence immediately creates stillness inside you.” (page 103, ‘The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment’, New World Library.)

Man in a forest
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Being mindful

A few years ago, I ran various relaxation and mindfulness groups for teens. During one such session, they were invited to leave their mobile phones behind for an hour and walk in silence with me to a local beauty spot. The idea was to be fully present and to observe the sights and sounds around us.

When we arrived at our destination, we would discuss our experiences. The walk was only between five and eight minutes long, but many of them found it difficult to be in silence. Some giggled, one held her hand over her mouth to remind herself not to speak, and several were unable to help themselves and spoke anyway.

One girl found it easier than the others though. She liked silence and, upon arrival at our destination, shared the fact that she had seen birds, flowers and a cat of which the others had no recollection. She had been quietly present in the moment and enjoyed the experience.

At the end of the sessions, she intimated that she now regularly took the dog for a walk to continue enjoying silence as it made her feel calm, peaceful and relaxed. Although the others initially struggled with the exercise, interestingly they also enjoyed it more than any other form of mindfulness that we practiced.

Certainly, many people find it easier to listen to a guided meditation than to feel safe and calm in silence. It takes time and practice to allow space to creep in between your thoughts, not to follow them as they pop in but just notice to them without judgment and let them pass.

Noise can be a means to help us hide from unpleasant and fearful thoughts, enabling us to avoid our feelings of vulnerability. When we take the time to listen in silence to our inner dialogue though, it is possible to make a choice.

We can either keep beating ourselves up or mindfully change that inner voice from critical and condemning to warm and comforting. ‘You’re doing your best’ is much more positive than ‘you’re an idiot’. But we all run these negative dialogues because we have learned them. It is often someone else’s voice that we hear and someone else’s opinion that we have come to believe over time.

But silence can give us time to weed the garden of our mind, declutter the dark corners in which we hold thoughts of shame and clear a space for the real beauty of our soul to flourish. Imperfection, suffering, making mistakes, failing and feeling inadequate are all part of the human experience. So take a deep breath and listen to the silence, allow it in and become friends with it.

When working with clients, my role as a counsellor is mostly to listen. I listen to the words and the emotions, but also to the silence. Just holding that silence for a few seconds longer than normal can give people the space to access memories, thoughts and images, enabling them to unearth something of significance that would otherwise be lost. And that really is the magic of the healing power of silence.

Helen Preston

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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Unearthing the joys of seasonal food

By Juliette Bryant, nutritional consultant

We truly have access to a global food market these days. Blueberries are flown to the UK from Peru, green beans from Kenya and apples from New Zealand, all causing pollution and releasing carbon emissions as they go. 

But despite the convenience of having our favourite foods available to us all year round, nothing beats the taste, flavour and nutritional quality of freshly picked, local goods. We are lucky to live in East Anglia, a region that is rich in good soil and has a great climate for food production. 

From our gardens at this time of year, we can enjoy lettuce, dandelion and mustard leaves, spinach and herbs, such as parsley, mint, lemon balm, sage, rosemary and oregano. But there is also a wide range of wild food on offer too, which definitely ticks the boxes in terms of low food miles, seasonal freshness and packing a nutritional punch.

These include young hawthorn leaves and flowers (called “bread and cheese” by some locals), young lime leaves, chickweed and one of the most plentiful and nutritious crops at this time of year, nettles. Nettles make an excellent foodstuff as they have a higher iron content even than spinach and also provide an array of other minerals. They help alkalise the blood, detox the system and, being a green food, are packed with chlorophyll, which is one of nature’s magical components. 

It is amazing how plants convert the sun’s energy into food that can sustain us. Each one interacts with the sun’s rays in different unique ways to provide us with a plethora of phytonutrients, which nutritional science is learning more about each day. But plants are also beautiful and ‘feed’ us in a spiritual way too.

Another one of my favourite seasonal foods is local asparagus. Asparagus takes patience and can be tricky to grow – it requires several years of effort to establish the trenches required to produce those delicious spears. It is also seasonal in nature, growing in the UK between February and June, but reaching its peak in April, which makes it all the more special when it is here.

As well as the vegetable’s ‘melt in the mouth’ flavour, there is also something quite appealing about its effects. An important belief in folk medicine terms from the Middle Ages up until relatively recent modern times was the ‘doctrine of signatures’. The idea was that foods resembling body parts had a beneficial healing effect on that area. 

Walnuts, which when opened resemble a brain, are a classic example – and interestingly, we now know that they contain high levels of omega 3 fats, which is an essential nutrient for brain health. 

The erect spear of asparagus also indicates one of its qualities as a libido-enhancing foodstuff. While easy to dismiss it as an old wives tale, recent research has shown that it contains high levels of B vitamins, including B6, which help to increase the histamine levels essential for a healthy sex drive. So there you go.

Juliette’s asparagus a gogo

1 bunch of local asparagus, with the woody ends removed

Lightly steam the asparagus, before putting it into a bowl with one teaspoon of coconut oil and a pinch of sea salt. Mix so that it is all coated nicely in the oil.

Hollandaise sauce

¼ cup cashew nutss

¼ tsp turmeric

3 tbs water

3 tbs extra virgin rapeseed or olive oil

pinch of salt

2 tbs lemon juice or half a lemon

1 tbs maple syrup

pinch of black pepper

Place all of the ingredients in a blender and whizz until it forms a smooth, creamy sauce to dip your asparagus into.

For more recipes, go to www.julietteskitchen.tv.

Juliette Bryant

Juliette Bryant is an author, nutritional consultant, superfood chef and presenter who runs courses, talks, workshops and retreats around the world. Her passion is helping people to thrive by showing them how to make delicious and healthy food. Juliette runs a busy practice providing nutritional consultations to individuals and businesses worldwide.

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Three ways to care for yourself following winter hibernation

By Anita Ramsden, kinesiologist

I love the springtime because of the possibilities and hopefulness it offers as nature never lets us down.

The countryside can look so bleak in winter, but in reality everything is simply resting, restoring itself and conserving its energy. So when the sun starts to shine and the days warm up, everything is ready to burst out with newness and freshness to exploit its full potential.

At the start of winter, I read a blog about how people go within and, like much of the natural world, adopt an attitude of hibernation. It prompted me to think differently about things: Could we be happier if we saw ourselves and our behaviour reflected in those seasonal flows?

Certainly, the cold, grey days have not bothered me as much as usual because I have appreciated lighting the fire and acknowledging that this is a time to slow up, rest and get ready – for spring and growth.

So as we begin to emerge from our hibernation, what do we need to do to care for ourselves effectively? Hydration, movement and a quiet mind are key and here is why:

1. Raise your energy levels by hydrating your mind and body

During the winter, most of us spend a lot of our time inside. But life indoors can be very dehydrating. There is central heating, hot fires and the electromagnetic fields of WiFi networks and mobile phones. Computers and other electrical equipment all produce heat when we use them, but all of these things take their toll on the levels of water content in our cells.

Indeed, according to the Hydration Foundation: “We are 99% water molecules and even a 2% reduction in hydration leads to measurable cognitive loss.” It is certainly a pity that more schools do not realise this fact as reduced hydration levels affect everything from the amount of energy an individual has, to their mood, their ability to concentrate, their hunger levels and their ability to feel joyful.

But the solution is easy: Simply drink more water, ideally eight glasses a day.  Build it up slowly, especially if you currently do not consume that much, or indeed any.

A really beneficial way to start your day is with a big glass (eight to 12 oz) of water, with a pinch of pink Himalayan or sea salt and/or a squeeze of lemon. If you make it the first thing you do, you will give your organs a really good soak and get the hydration message straight into your cells and brain. But do not be tempted to use table salt as it does not contain the same essential minerals as other forms. 

Plants and seeds can also hydrate us too. So add a tablespoon of ground chia seeds to your water and/or daily smoothie. Chia seeds form ‘gel water’, which is what we find inside plants – think of succulents, such as the Aloe vera.

Scientists have also recently discovered gel water inside our cells. This means they can absorb it instantly, giving us a great deal more energy and allowing the water to stay in our body for use rather than going straight through us. Find out more by viewing this TEDtalk by Dr Gerald Pollack.  

A daily smoothie, which includes hydrating green veg, fruit, added ground chia and other seeds and nuts, will likewise provide you with long-lasting hydration – as will eating juicy fruit like apples. But you might also benefit from reading a book called Quench, which was released in 2018. Jam-packed with vital information you may not have considered before, it also provides a five-day ‘Quench’ plan to ensure optimum hydration.

Photo by Godisable Jacob on Pexels.com

2.Get moving

Once you become adequately hydrated, movement is important to encourage even more hydration at the cellular level. Many of us spend large chunks of time crunched up over our computer at a desk. But sitting in this way compromises your organs, and sitting still for long time periods has been deemed as harmful as smoking cigarettes. Not only is it dehydrating, but as an article in The Guardian once put it: “When you’re sitting, you’re one step from being dead.”

So make sure you get up and move. If you are focusing on hydrating yourself, a positive side effect is that your bladder will remind you to move, which will in turn increase your oxygen supply and improve your blood and lymph flow.

Elsewhere, standing desks have been found to increase productivity and reduce the number of sick days taken – but even just doing head-to-chin and small spinal twists while sitting will help.

Also make tiny, little movements before you get out of bed. When you see cats and dogs stretching as they wake up, they are helping the cerebral spinal fluid flow around the head and down the back, which means they both energise and detox themselves at same time.

In order to prepare your body for spring though, go out to get lunch rather than eat at your desk and take advantage of the vitamin D that the sun will help you produce. Or walk the dog more often, get off the bus one stop early or park a bit further than usual from your destination. These may sound like simple things, but they can make a big difference to your health and wellbeing.  

Spending time outside also aids sleep as sunlight is required to set our circadian rhythms – and our gut microbiota respond to these natural cycles positively too. Even better, spend time outside with a friend who makes you laugh in order to boost your energy levels and release health-giving hormones. It really is about looking for the magic in everyday life.

3. Learn to quiet your mind

Finally, train yourself to quieten your mind using meditation, mindfulness techniques or simply a walk in the park where you focus on nature rather than on what is going on in your head. It is refreshing, relaxing and reboots your thinking.

Moreover, all it takes is a bit practice, and the benefits are huge. By stimulating your vagus nerve in this easy way, you are taken out of a fight or flight response, which physiologically reduces your stress response.

You can do it anywhere and only 10 minutes a day will help boost your mood, your energy levels and help destress you. A really helpful app here is Headspace. Complementary medicine advocate Deepak Chopra’s meditation programme is also great and he has a new one starting at the end of March, so why not give it a go?

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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Learning to eat in a more sustainable way

By Juliette Bryant, nutritional consultant

The world is changing in positive ways. For example, many people were moved by natural historian David Attenborough’s hard-hitting message in the BBC television series, Blue Planet 2, in which he revealed the extent of plastic waste in our oceans.

Sir David was very clear as to what he wanted to say: We must stop polluting our oceans with plastic because it is seriously harming ocean wildlife. Fish are consuming toxic amounts of micro-particles and the people eating the fish are being affected too.

As a result, it would seem important for each of us to take a long, hard look at our own plastic consumption and what we can do about it – something that can feel difficult when fair trade organic bananas (and many other items) come shrink-wrapped in non-recyclable plastic.

But the good news is there are other packaging options available that are better for the environment. Normal petro-chemical plastic does not degrade at all, and even so-called ‘degradable’ plastic is not great as it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces of the same toxic stuff.  

Biodegradable plastic, which is often made from plant-based materials, is better, although it may still take years to disintegrate too. So your best bet is compostable plastic, which actually biodegrades in your compost heap. 

Now that Sir David has sounded the alarm though, a lot of big companies are starting to look at how they can catch up with demand from supermarkets and fast food chains to start using natural, non-harmful packaging. So there is a powerful opportunity for positive change on the horizon.

Because if our children are going to live on a healthy planet, it is vital that we embrace more sustainable approaches. To do so, we need to ask ourselves a few basic questions:

  • Where does my food come from?
  • What practices are employed to create this food? For example, what chemicals have been used to grow it, what energy and resources were required in using the necessary farm machinery, what food miles did it rack up?
  • What un-recyclable or un-reusable materials were used in the packaging and transportation of this food?
  • Are there more sustainable ways to provide for our food needs?
basket of vegetables

Sustainable, locally-sourced food

The answer to the last question is a resounding ‘yes’. For example, transporting food around the world is a large contributor to global pollution levels, but home-produced or locally-sourced food has low, or even zero, food miles.

As for the issue of sustainable food production and packaging, there are solutions, as I made sure today’s recipe demonstrates. Most of the ingredients came in an organic veg box from Moyns Park Organics in the upper Stour Valley on the Essex/Suffolk border. The packaging consisted of paper only and the food travelled a mere six miles to get to me. 

I also used herbs and a bay leaf from the garden. Maldon Sea Salt, which added some flavour, came from just down the road and the veggies and spices were fried in East Anglian rape seed rather than coconut oil, saving a few thousand food miles in the process. 

But it was when I was looking for protein that I nearly came unstuck. As a vegan, I do not partake of produce from large-scale animal farming, which uses vast amounts of land, water and energy resources. But nuts and seeds are a good substitute as they add essential nutrients and a creamy flavour. 

In looking at their places of origin on the packaging though, I found the following: The hemp seeds came from Romania, the pecan nuts from South Africa and the hazelnuts from Turkey. Which meant that none of them would do for this particular recipe. 

But I remembered that, during a late summer outing, I had bought some walnuts from near the gate of a local garden.  They were still in good shape six months on and so went straight into the soup to complete a locally-sourced, sustainable meal.  

A small confession though – I did add an admittedly optional tablespoon of curry powder and a chilli brought back in a suitcase after my trip to India, but hopefully that does not amount to too much cheating.

Vegetable soup

Local winter soup

2 parsnips  

1 large potato

1 leek

1 onion

1 garlic clove

1 cup of cabbage

1 chilli

1 tsp sea salt

1 tbs rapeseed oil

1 bay leaf

1 litre of hot water

½ cup of hulled walnuts

herbs to garnish

Finely chop all of the ingredients. Heat the oil and fry the leeks, onion, chilli and cabbage with the salt for a few minutes. Add the water and other ingredients, and simmer for at least 30 minutes or until ready.

Juliette Bryant

Juliette Bryant is an author, nutritional consultant, superfood chef and presenter who runs courses, talks, workshops and retreats around the world. Her passion is helping people to thrive by showing them how to make delicious and healthy food. Juliette runs a busy practice providing nutritional consultations to individuals and businesses worldwide.

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Moving beyond the ‘New Year, New You’ culture

woman measuring her waist
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

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.

beautiful beauty blur close up
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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
Photo by Godisable Jacob on Pexels.com

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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