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Why Meditation Is Amazing For Your Mental Health

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There’s no denying that meditation has officially gone mainstream. Gone are the days where people turned their noses up and wrote it off as a bit weird. Now, there are a growing number of meditation classes being offered as well as some brilliant apps to help us find calm anytime and anywhere.

Taking a few minutes to meditate every day with the goal of becoming more mindful, or focused on and accepting of the present, is a great way to relieve stress. But it’s even more powerful than you think. Mindfulness meditation helps ease mental health conditions like depression and anxiety—so much so, that some clinicians are trying it as a course of treatment before turning to medication.

Here’s how meditation can help put you in control of your mental health.

Meditating actually changes your brain, and with it, the way your body responds to stress. Which works wonders on depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Studies have been suggesting for the past decade that meditation can bring big health benefits, but it wasn’t until recent years that research has looked into exactly how it can change the brain.

A recent study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, studied 35 unemployed men and women experiencing the major stress of searching for a job, and found significant changes to the brain on scans done after just three days of mindfulness meditation. Specifically, there was more activity in the portions dedicated to processing stress, focus, and calmness. In blood tests, the subjects also showed lower levels of an important marker of inflammation – even four months after the study!

It’s this impact on the body’s stress response that seems to make meditation so effective in treating mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and PTSD

Meditation can even take the place of medication for some people.

One study published in 2015 in The Lancet showed that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), a treatment that combines mindfulness meditation with traditional cognitive behavioural therapy, was just as effective at preventing recurrence of depression as antidepressants—even for those with a larger risk of relapsing.

For the best results, meditate every day, first thing in the morning. And you can start with just five minutes.

Research has yet to pinpoint the magic time requirement to see these brain changes and improve mental health outcomes. But  ideally you should try to do it every day for 10-12 minutes. Four to fives times per week is great too, if you really can’t get to seven. The key is to be consistent.

A lot of my clients are health conscious, so I equate meditation with going to the gym. Think of meditation as mental fitness, you’re not going to get fit working out one day a week; it needs to be several times a week. We’re changing mental muscles in your brain, and it takes repetition and consistency for those changes to occur. If you’ve never meditated before, start with just five minutes or even just noticing your breathe and being aware. For many people, that’s going to seem like an eternity! Get used to focusing on your breath and stopping your mind when it wanders, and once that five minutes is flying by, increase your time to ten minutes.

 

Rachel x

Please Note: if you are suffering from a mental health condition it is always best to speak to your GP, I have also included in this post links to the mental health charity Mind who can also offer help and advice.  

 

12 Signs You Could Be Magnesium Deficient

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If you read my post talking about food intolerances and intolerance testing, you will know that my nutritionist discovered that I was Magnesium deficient.  Magnesium plays an integral part in keeping us healthy and our biochemistry in balance. Magnesium, along with calcium, potassium, chloride, and sodium are all electrolytes, needed for our brain, nerves, heart, eyes, immune system, and muscles to function. When magnesium levels are optimal in our body, we thrive. When we are magnesium deficient, it throws our perfectly balanced biochemistry out of balance, and can cause a whole host of health problems.

Often one of the most overlooked nutrient deficiencies is magnesium deficiency, and that is a serious problem because your body needs magnesium to accomplish 300 incredibly important biochemical reactions. Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in your body, so if you are deficient (like 50 to 90 percent of us are)—then you are probably feeling some symptoms!

There are four main reasons most of us are low in magnesium:

  • Poor nutrition
  • Medications that deplete magnesium (such as antibiotics)
  • Soil depletion
  • Chronic gut problems (e.g., leaky gut syndrome), which compromise magnesium absorption

While these are fairly common issues and not always a sign of magnesium deficiency, here are some the things that can happen when you’re lacking in magnesium.

1. Adrenal fatigue

As someone who has personally struggled with fatigue (although not adrenal fatigue) , I can attest to magnesium’s role in calming stress levels and rehabbing hormones. Magnesium helps to regulate cortisol levels, allowing for more balanced hormone production.

2. Anxiety or depression

Magnesium calms down the excitatory NMDA receptor. Without it, calcium and glutamate activate NMDA, which can lead to depression and anxiety.

3. Chronic fatigue syndrome

A study published in the revered medical journal Lancet found that out of hundreds of people with chronic fatigue syndrome, half of them were deficient in magnesium, and magnesium injections of 580 mg saw improvements of their symptoms.

4. High blood pressure

Studies have shown that people who supplemented with magnesium were able to lower their blood pressure levels by up to 12 points.

5. Heart problems

A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that a lower level of magnesium intake increased the risk of coronary heart disease by 50 to 80 percent. In a different double-blind, placebo-controlled study, people received either magnesium or a placebo for one year. For one month, the magnesium group received 6,000 milligrams of magnesium orotate, and 3,000 milligrams of magnesium orotate for 11 months. Afterward, only 52 percent of the placebo group was still alive, compared with 76 percent of the magnesium group.

6. Inflammation

One commonality between just about every chronic health condition is inflammation. Magnesium has been shown to decrease CRP and NfKb – which are two inflammatory  markers in blood.

7. Migraines and other types of headaches

Half of people in the United Kingdom get at least one headache every month, and millions are debilitated by painful migraines. An estimated 50 percent of those suffering from migraines are magnesium deficient. Research has found that 60 percent of those with chronic migraines have genetic changes that decrease their body’s ability to metabolise magnesium, which relaxes blood vessels in the brain. Ionized magnesium administered through an IV significantly reduced pain within 15 minutes in more than 80 percent of patients.

8. Muscle cramps and spasms

Random spasms and cramps in your legs and other parts of your body aren’t actually random—they are the most common sign of magnesium deficiency.

9. Poor memory

MIT researchers found that magnesium plays a pivotal role in regulating brain receptors needed for learning and memory function, and that supplementing with magnesium helped clear ‘brain fog’. Magnesium can also enhance the brain’s ability to change, heal, and grow new neural pathways, which is essential to slowing down and even reversing cognitive decline.

10. Skin health

A Polish study found that people with skin allergies saw dramatic improvements in their skin with magnesium supplementation.

11. Sleep trouble

Research has found that magnesium supplementation helped improve all the major physiological markers associated with insomnia. One major example: GABA is the calming, restful neurotransmitter, and GABA receptors in the brain need magnesium to work correctly.

12. Weak bones

Magnesium is a key nutrient for strong, healthy bones. A randomised controlled study found that 300 milligrams of supplemental magnesium increased bone mineral content when taken for a year. Two American Journal of Clinical Nutrition studies found that the more deficient someone was in magnesium, the lower their bone density was, increasing the risk of Osteoporosis and fractures.

What to do if you suspect your magnesium is low.

If you have any signs of magnesium deficiency, talk to your doctor about getting your magnesium levels tested. If you are deficient, start adding more magnesium-rich foods to your diet, such as:

  • Spinach
  • Dark chocolate
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Almonds
  • Black beans
  • Avocado
  • Salmon
  • Kefir
  • Figs
  • Banana

It’s really difficult to replenish your magnesium just through diet, so if you feel like you can’t possibly eat any more spinach, or are still deficient,  I recommend taking a magnesium supplement. It is generally suggest to take around 500mg each day. Supplementing with magnesium is generally considered safe but can cause diarrhoea when taking too much for your body, so start at a lower dose and work your way up.

Always talk to your GP before starting to take any supplements.

Rachel x

Living Authentically: The Courage to be Yourself

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I recently had a conversation with a woman who ‘didn’t want to end up like me’. The context to this statement was based on the fact that I am not a homeowner or in a position to be one anytime soon and by societies standards I don’t appear to have a ‘career’.

At first I was hurt and obviously offended by her statement, however this exchange got me to thinking about how women in particular are pulled away from their authentic selves by the expectations of society, by models of success and our careers and a world that teaches us that ‘doing’ is better than being and that we have to hustle to have any sort of value and all that messaging becomes internalized for 20 – 30 something women like myself until they have a catalysing experience.

For many of the women I talk to or work with motherhood is a catalyst but there are many other experiences like the loss of a loved one, a breakdown of a marriage or a change in health or just feeling unhappy. It’s this catalysing experience were you think ‘this is not me, this does not feel like me or I feel like I am living someone else’s life’. It’s a sense of not living in alignment with who you truly are.

For me the catalyst has been my health and my ongoing battle to manage chronic conditions. That’s when I transitioned into alignment with my more authentic self and went from all the societal expectations of what I should be to the point of authenticity, being true to my authentic self.

In my work I am a Meditation Teacher, Crystal Healer, Spiritual Book Group facilitator and a Holistic Living Blogger. The theme that pulls of all these together is helping others to feel good and sharing experiences and information with others, particularly women, that inspires their personal growth.

It did take me a while to realise that maybe I could create a career that feels more aligned and better to me. I am still slowly nudging towards this as I do have a ‘day’ job as a receptionist in an organic spa, which I feel is also important to mention as a lot of the time people neglect to mention the realities of transitioning particularly from a financial point of view.

I also think that its good to have patience and an understanding that it might take longer than you might like to find the right way to pull everything together, I think as a multi passionate woman when you do find a way to pull everything together it becomes more sustainable. Because you are using different skills and knowledge and you’re constantly learning new things. It is also easier to sustain excitement when you’re not just picking one interest and going full speed with that. Which I have done many times before, I didn’t want to fall down the rabbit hole of one thing and then deciding it’s not for me and another thing and so on. For some people that works very well but it didn’t work for me. I didn’t want a career focusing on just one thing until it’s over.

It takes a lot of courage to create your own career and to live authentically, but when you do find a way to pull everything together it feels very exciting. So if you are currently dabbling or perhaps you are looking to create a more authentic life for yourself here are my my four top tips to help you get started:

  1. Redefine your values. It’s hard to behave in an authentic way if you do not know what you value and desire. Often, we hold tight to the same values we grew up with, when we need to re-evaluate what feels right to us now and align our actions around those things. Get clear on what you care about and authenticity will take root.
  2. Develop an open mind. Authenticity flourishes when we experience the world wholly, from every perspective. Rigid, good/bad thinking keeps us trapped in judgment and limitation, which causes us to shut down our vulnerable, authentic self. Challenge yourself to look at all sides of the situation. Be open.
  3. Notice when you are being inauthentic. Pay attention to those times when you are insincere in your speech, or when you are acting in a way that doesn’t align with your core values. Then explore the fears and beliefs that may create those barriers to your authenticity.
  4. Trust your intuition. Often, we feel out of sync when we are acting inauthentic. Things just don’t feel right. Pay attention to those hunches, physical sensations, and impressions. They can be your instincts telling you that you are not being genuine. When you are on track and authentic, you’ll feel that too.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and your stories!

Rachel x

How to practise mindfulness

The practice of mindfulness has the capacity to enrich and transform your life. But how do you actually do it?

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What is mindfulness? How can it be useful to me? 

Long practised by Buddhists, and the bedrock of Eastern psychology, mindfulness is now growing in the West. Perhaps you’ve seen books on the theme, or read about it in the papers. It’s both challenging and exciting those who desire psychological or spiritual change in their lives; or seek to promote it in the lives of others.

Advocates believe this practice can help alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and anxiety.

But it is not just a medicine for hard times. More profoundly, it’s a way of living for all, enriching every moment of our lives, whether at work, on holiday or in the shower.

It was Hafiz, the Sufi poet who said: “If you would help me, do not shine a torch on my life – but place in my hands a candle.” So let us see if we can find a candle for ourselves.

Stop thinking

Surprisingly, mindfulness encourages us to stop taking our thoughts seriously. It invites us to stop wandering off into the past or the future.

Instead, we stop thinking and focus on our breathing. We’re quiet, present and watch our thoughts as they arise. Soon, we become aware of the mad restlessness and capricious nature of our minds; and, in time, we begin to take our thoughts less seriously.

This is liberating, as we have been their unquestioning slave for too long. Our thoughts do not always offer us the ‘reality’ we imagine.

Become an explorer

Mindfulness makes explorers of us, and like all explorers we will have to be brave if we wish to discover new lands.

Mindfulness asks a hard question of us: are you willing to experience openly what makes you unhappy?

We tend to shy away from this because the thought of it scares us. And, of course, this is why we became unhappy in the first place, because we were scared. But if we are willing to face things, we will discover a fresh knowing; virgin territory, which restores happiness. If we are not willing to face things, then, sadly, we continue to walk the same mental circles we have always walked. There is a great courage in mindfulness.

Seize the moment

Mindfulness is concerned with the present; with keeping your consciousness alive to the present moment.

This may appear a simple task, but is harder than it sounds. Most of the time, our minds are either taking us back into the past or into the imaginary future. To help us to engage with the present moment, breath work is a great help; this is so because unlike our mind, our breathing is always in the present. So becoming aware of your breathing is a wonderful start to becoming present.

Notice what is now

We are also helped into the present by noticing things. If we’re turning a key in a lock, we notice we are turning a key in a lock; if we’re walking down the street, we notice the shifting cloud formations or the negative feelings arising in us towards a car driver.

It’s about noticing what’s happening now. When we make a cup of tea or do the washing-up without thinking of what we are going to do next, then we are mindful. We are happier when we notice the present and let the future take care of itself.

Protect the space

Add a tablespoon of salt to a glass of water and it makes a significant difference. Add the same spoon of salt to a jug of water and it makes some difference to the taste. Add it to a lake, however, and it hardly affects anything.

Mindfulness makes us larger containers. This happens as we remove from ourselves all the clutter of past and future concerns.

In the present, we have endless inner space, which is a great step towards happiness.

Difficult emotions, like salt, may remain, but their power to affect us is diffused. Previously they could ruin our day, but now they can barely ruin five minutes.

Judge by results

Our judgments of others arise in direct proportion to our self-judgment. But as we allow ourselves to notice self-judgment, we also allow ourselves to be free of it.

People at peace are those who both see and accept the truth of who they are, rather than avoiding it and blaming someone else. Such people are less likely to find fault with others, which diminishes us and them and is always a waste of our time.

Question the negative

We are shaped by what we do with our negative experiences. Depression, for instance, is a turning away from experience in order to avoid emotional pain. Mindfulness doesn’t stop negative thoughts or feelings, but does help us to question their believability. Are these negative feelings quite as solid as they appear? Life is all in the perception; how we perceive events.

Mindfulness practice creates in us a sense of water flowing, things passing through, rather than hard blocks of ice inside us, solid and immovable.

It’s your work

No one can eat lunch for you, and no one can be mindful for you. It’s your work, and your wonder.

Give up your opinions

You cannot be mindful while holding on to your opinions. That’s like trying to keep dry by jumping into the sea.

Don’t censor yourself — accept yourself

As you get in touch with your breathing, thoughts will arise in you, unbidden. Don’t censor them, whatever their nature, but rather allow them all.

In accepting them, you accept yourself. If you censor emotions as they appear, they will bury themselves even deeper within you and you’ll never discover anything you didn’t know already.

If you allow everything, it may well be that you meet what is making you unhappy, but this is good.

How can you say ‘goodbye’ to it until you’ve said ‘hello’?

Rachel x

Vegan Lemon Cake

My absolute favourite vegan lemon cake recipe, it’s so quick and simple but tastes amazing!

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Ingredients

100ml Vegetable oil, plus extra for the tin

257g Self-Raising Flour

200g Golden Caster Sugar

1 tsp Baking Powder

1 lemon Zested, 1/2 juice

For the Icing

15g Icing Sugar

1/2 Lemon juiced

Method

  1. Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Oil a 1lb loaf tin and line it with baking parchment. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and lemon zest in a bowl. Add the oil, lemon juice and 170ml cold water, then mix until smooth.Pour the mixture into the tin. Bake for 30 mins or until a skewer comes out clean.
  2. Cool in the tin for 10 mins, then remove and transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool fully.
  3. For the icing, sieve the icing sugar into a bowl. Mix in just enough lemon juice to make an icing thick enough to pour over the loaf (if you make the icing too thin, it will just run off the cake).

 

Rachel x

 

Recipe from Good Food magazine January 2018, no copyright infringement intended.

 

Fatigue Fighting Foods

Do you often find yourself crashing out halfway through the day and struggling to keep your eyes open? A lot of the time those feelings of extreme tiredness and fatigue are down to diet so I’ve found 8 foods you should try to boost your energy levels.

Crimini mushrooms

 

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These are a source of vitamin B6 which is a must for energy production. It protects the mitochondria from damage and in times of stress, supports adrenal glands and niacin which help to convert foods into usable energy.

 Pumpkin seeds

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A handful of these can help give you an energy surge in the middle of the day. A source of protein, healthy fats, fibre and essential minerals, they can be eaten plain or sprinkled over salads and cereal.

Water

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If you aren’t getting eight glasses a day, you really need to start! Dehydration is one of the main causes of tiredness, slowing down your metabolism and making your brain run slower.

Sweet potatoes

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Keep your carbohydrate cravings at bay by bringing more of this under-rated vegetable into your diet. The slowly digested starch can help you feel full and the vitamin C will help fight colds and illnesses which naturally make you feel more tired.

 

Eggs

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If these aren’t part of your morning routine, they should be. They’re an excellent way to enjoy sustained levels of energy without the insulin spikes or sugar crashes that eating a lot of sweet breakfasts like cereal and pastries can result in.

Oats

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Seriously filling and packed with protein and fibre, oats are great for people who experience blood sugar spikes and drops. Choosing plain versions is best as they have less sugar and you can then get creative and add fruit, honey and milk as you wish.

Spinach

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Popeye had the right idea getting his muscle power from my favourite green. Rich in iron, which improves mitochondrial efficiency, these greens make it easier for cells to convert the food you’re eating into usable energy.

Nuts

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Great for replenishing and boosting energy post workout, these are perfect for putting electrolytes back into your body that are lost during exercise. They’re filled with protein, fibre and magnesium which keeps your energy levels high and stable too.

Rachel x

What is a Dosha?

A dosha is one of three substances that are present in our bodies. Ayurveda describes how the quantity and quality of these three substances fluctuates in the body, according to the seasons, time of day and diet.

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The central concept of Ayurvedic medicine is the theory that health exists when there is balance between the three doshas, which are called Vata, Pitta and Kapha.

  • Vāta or Vata (airy element). Is characterised by properties of dry, cold, light and movement. All movement in the body is due to the property of vata.
  • Pitta is the fiery element or bile that’s secreted between the stomach and bowels and flowing through the liver and permeating spleen, heart, eyes, and skin; It is characterised by hotness, moist, liquid, sharp and sour, its chief quality is heat. It is the energy principle which uses bile to direct digestion and enhance metabolism. It is primarily characterised by body heat or burning sensation and redness
  • Kapha is the watery element, it is characterised by heaviness, cold, tenderness, softness, slowness and the carrier of nutrients. It is the nourishing element of the body. All the soft organs are made by kapha, it plays an important role in taste perception and joint health.

Doshas are the forces that create the physical body, they determine our conditions of growth and aging, health and disease. Typically, one of the three doshas predominates and determines your constitution or mind-body type. By understanding our individual habits, emotional responses, and body type, we can adapt our yoga practice accordingly. The same goes for Ayurveda treatments focused on alleviating any doshic excesses (illness) via powerful herbs and/or via the improvement of general lifestyle practices such as pranayama, meditation and yoga postures.

Something will indicate when you have an excess of a dosha, as it throws your system off-balance. For example, with excess vata, there can be anxiety and digestive disorders, including low energy and weakening of body tissues. With excess pitta, there is toxic blood that gives rise to inflammation and infection. With excess kapha, there is an increase in mucus and a tendency to be overweight. The key to managing all doshas is taking care of vata, as it is the origin of the other two.

Prana, Tejas and Ojas

Yoga is an alchemical process of balancing and transforming energies of the psyche. At the root of vata, pitta and kapha are its subtle counterparts called prana, tejas and ojas. Unlike the doshas, which in excess create diseases, these promote health, creativity and well-being.

Prana is our life force and is the healing energy of vata (air)

Tejas is our inner radiance and is the healing energy of pitta (fire)

Ojas is the ultimate energy reserve of the body derived from kapha (water)

Ayurveda seeks to reduce disease, in particular those that are chronic and to increase positive health in body and mind via these three vital essences that aid in renewal and transformation. Increased Prana gives us more enthusiasm, adaptability and creativity, all necessary when pursuing our spiritual path, in yoga this force is necessary to enable us to perform. Tejas provide us with courage, fearlessness and insight, important when taking decisions. Lastly, ojas gives us peace, confidence and patience to keep our development consistent and avoid giving up. Eventually, the most important element we want to develop is Ojas as it gives us physical and psychological endurance. This can be achieved via the right diet, tonic herbs, control of the senses, and devotion.

Rachel x

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