What exactly is Reflexology?

Do you take care of your feet?

In an lifetime, if a person lives until they are 80, our feet enable us to walk 110000 miles. A huge undertaking but how often do we consider our feet? We just take them for granted. Our cars, on the other hand, are serviced every year or every 12000 miles, whichever is soonest!

In modern life we are using our brains and thinking of a million things every day. There is often an imbalance between the amount of times we are in our bodies compared to the amount of times we are in our heads. When working, particularly from home, we are often so engrossed in our work and therefore don’t notice if we are experiencing discomfort in our bodies from poor posture. As this happens five days a week for a prolonged period of time we are left holding tension in our bodies which makes it even harder to balance body and mind

I recently had a break in beautiful Scotland staying by the sea. It was easier to be in the moment with the sound of the waves on the pebbled shore as a constant companion. I had been reading about “tap shek” a common form of reflexology in China involving walking barefoot on cobbled pathways. As the beach was stony I decided to embrace the practice and do it every day.

Tap Shek Scottish beach style

Reflexology increases the blood circulation around the body, which in turn stimulates the circulatory, nervous and immune systems, it can help lower blood pressure and is immensely relaxing. It is also grounding because your focus is removed from your head to your feet. It is a valuable self-care treatment.

After three days “tap shek”, I noticed I was less tense in my body. I was sleeping better, felt generally calmer and more in the moment. Now, on an evening I am trying to keep up the “tap shek” concept by pressing the pressure points on my feet before going to bed. An option for other people would be to book regular reflexology treatments with me.

£25 per session: 1 hour including initial consultation, a foot soak, exfoliation and reflexology.

Block book 6 treatments for £135 saving 10% of the total cost.

Essential oils to balance body and mind

In a recent blog I looked at happiness and discussed the idea of being in the moment. On reflection, I promised myself I would not resort back to rushing around like a busy fool once we emerged from Lockdown. However, we are now a few weeks into the new normal after the restrictions have eased somewhat and I have, unfortunately, slipped back into my old habits. I am, once again, cramming so much into my days that I am exhausted and my body and mind are out of balance so I am not sleeping well and I am finding it very hard to remain in the moment. My mind is overactive and my body is under active because after rushing here, there and everywhere in the car I don’t feel like doing exercise.

To break this routine and start a new habit I am going to turn to my essential oils to help me rebalance. In focusing on each oil and its beautiful aromas I will be, albeit momentarily at first, in the present. The oils each have different properties so will help me in a variety of ways. My four go to oils for when I am feeling rushed and harangued are, Frankincense, vetivert, lavender and bergamot.

Frankincense, Latin name Boswellia carteri, is the gum resin from the small Frankincense tree. It is commonly used as an incense in India and China and during religious services in the Catholic Church. This is due to the ability of the oil to slow down and deepen the breathing thus alleviating stress and nervous tension and encouraging meditation. It is an excellent oil to use in a vaporiser as it helps deepen the breathing as you inhale the aroma whilst going about your daily activities. Even putting a few drops in warm water helps disperse the aromatic molecules into the room.

Frankincense

Vetiver, Latin name vetiveria zizanoides, is a scented grass and the oil is extracted from its rootlets. The oil has a deep, distinct smoky smell with sweet earthy undertones. Often referred to as the oil of tranquility due to its relaxing and grounding properties, it is invaluable for lowering stress levels and calming and slowing the mind. I find the aroma too overpowering on its own so I blend it with lavender to make a soothing and relaxing scent.

Vetiver

Lavender, Latin – lavandula angustifolia, is probably the most well known of all the essential oils but also the most misjudged. All too often its synthetic equivalent is used in room fragrances and freshening cleaning products. This scent is a poor relation to the pure essential oil but as many don’t realise this they dismiss it as “an old lady smell”! In reality the pure essential oil from French lavender has a classic, light floral fragrance that is soothing, calming and relaxing. It can help ease insomnia, headaches and nervous tension. It blends well with most oils due to its balancing quality. Putting a few drops on your pillow can help you sleep, a few drops on your pulse points can calm the mind and rubbing it into the temples can ease tension and headaches. Lavender is also the only oil that can be applied, undiluted to the skin.

Authentic lavender

Bergamot- Latin: citrus bergamia, is an uplifting, refreshing and reviving essential oil that soothes the mind and balances the body. It is extracted from the peel of the fruit just before it has fully ripened. It can encourage feelings of lightness and happiness and blends well with Frankincense and lavender. Adding a couple of drops of each to hot water or a vaporiser will create a balancing, soothing and calming blend that uplifts the mood.

Bergamot

These four oils are versatile and can be blended all together or used on their own or with just one or two of the oils. Drop them onto a tissue and place on a warm radiator, add a few drops of your selected oils to a bowl of warm water or use in a vaporiser to enjoy the beautiful aromas and benefit from the healing properties.

Experiment, relax and enjoy.

Be in the moment.

Are you ready for Lockdown release?

Free at last…

How are you feeling now that a return to “normal” is looking like a strong possibility? Excitement? Relief? Some trepidation?

For over a year we have maintained a social distance of 2 metres from anybody not in our social bubble and have generally not been in a group of more than 6 people with the exception of weddings and funerals. At first this seemed strange but now watching people hug on films and sit next to each other on public transport seems wrong. Our idea of “normal” has slowly but surely changed and we accept wearing masks as the thing to do when out and about.

When animals are released from captivity back into the wild they stay close to the area where they have lived for many weeks. Slowly they venture a little further each day but always gravitate back to the security of the place they know when they feel threatened. Gradually over time they become more confident and finally strike out on their own without a need to return to the place they lived prior to release.

Will the transition out of Lockdown be simpler to handle than the move into it? Or will we be a little like animals released back into the wild? Over time, many people have become accustomed to being cocooned in their own homes, protected from COVID-19 and the rest of the world by their four walls. So, whilst the four walls at many times may have seemed like a prison trapping us and keeping us alone they have also provided a sense of being a safe haven. When we can venture forth once more our new found freedom may also bring with it feelings of anxiety and vulnerability. This is entirely natural. Psychologically we have endured heightened anxiety due to the perceived persistent threat of COVID-19 and been told we are safer at home. To then be released into the wild again increases our anxiety and confusion because we are suddenly back in the situation that was deemed too dangerous only weeks ago. A sense of fear will be heightened and this may cloud perceptions when people are out and about.

How can we handle this next transition and keep our fears in check? Many people are saying they will continue to wear masks in public when this situation is over because they feel protected. Whether this is true or not, if it helps people to mix in larger groups and feel safer doing so where is the harm? As long as the mask wearers and non-mask wearers respect each other’s choices there is no harm. Showing empathy rather than judgement for decisions made is important here.

The government road map out of Lockdown is slow but sure and hopefully this will enable people to gradually become accustomed to the changing boundaries. The slower it is the more chance people have of still doing the positive aspects that Lockdown brought such as slowing down, getting out into nature on a daily basis and being appreciative of the little things in life.

Children have experienced huge changes in their lives. The excitement felt by many on their return to school highlighted the unusual times we are living in. Until the lockdown, children looked forward to the holidays… The return to school created a stable routine for children but they are still cocooned in bubbles. How will they feel when walking into a whole school assembly? There may be increased anxiety at being in large groups again. This is understandable and children will need to be reassured that their feelings are normal.

The principles of Reiki will be useful guide lines for the weeks ahead.

Do not bear anger: anger is illusion. Do not be worried: fear is distraction. Be true to your way and your being. Have compassion for your self and others.

Following these will enable us to look out for and help each other. We are all in this together, we will all get out of this together.

For more information on Reiki, please see my website http://www.balancebodyandmind.co.uk

Happiness is…

Daffodils heralding the arrival of warmer days and lighter evenings

Have you ever asked someone “Are you happy?” Do you ever ask yourself if you are happy? What exactly is happiness? How do we get it? With International Happiness Day on 20th March I thought this was an apt issue to consider.

Earlier this week, the sun was shining, the sky was blue and the daffodils were showing off their yellowness in the breeze. So I decided to take an hour out of my day and walk through the fields. I noticed the grass is getting its fresh green spring hue. The buds are out on the trees and the birds are singing happily all around. I sat feeling my face warmed by the sun and hearing the curlews, a sure sign of Spring, lapwings and gulls claiming their territory. Lambs were bleating and leaping whilst hens were clucking as they scratched contentedly in the gravel. I suddenly noticed that I was smiling and a contented feeling was filling me from the inside. I was aware I was happy and I was literally doing nothing other than being present. Is happiness really as simple as this?

Before Lockdown I found I was in a cycle of FOMO, (fear of missing out) trying to ensure my children were attending after school clubs, having swimming lessons and arranging play dates for them so they could socialise. I would then spend my time battling to get them out the door as my blood pressure and heart rate rose to what felt like being off the scale. Who was happy with this arrangement? Nobody. I was always onto the next thing and rarely stopped to take in the moment. I would go to bed exhausted but not actually sure what I had done or achieved during the day.

Lockdown came and took away the sense of pressure. I no longer needed to look at Facebook and feel that I was missing out and everyone else was having a better time. To be honest it was a relief! I felt a degree of happiness at being free from expectation.

A year on and the country in general is looking forward to getting back out into the world but when I do it will be in a more circumspect way. I will not be guided by a need to fit in and a fear of missing out. I will focus on what I like doing and not what I think I should like doing. I will be pleased for other people’s success and leave it at that. I will not compare myself unfavourably and be my harshest critic. I am the only person placing unrealistic expectations on myself so will stop, or at least be aware when I am doing it. Hopefully, this way happiness lies.

I will also learn from my experience on Tuesday afternoon and try to give my full attention to each activity that I am doing. The present is the only moment we can actually interact with and do anything about. The past has gone and can’t be changed, the future hasn’t happened and is unknown so really we should enjoy the gift that is the present. Surely living like this will increase our happiness because we will not be living with regret for what has been or worry for what will be. It will perhaps also help us be more proactive about how we spend each moment if we are aware of the happiness that comes from making it count.

I am aware this all sounds simple but will probably be hard to do as we gradually slip back into our old ways. So to reduce self expectation (otherwise known as pressure) but still work on being present I will make sure I spend time (ideally at least an hour) every day doing something for me that I genuinely enjoy doing. Perhaps having a bath, walking in the sun or phoning a friend for a catch up. What will you do?

What are your thoughts on happiness? Do you think it’s as simple as being in the present?

How is your sleep hygiene?

After a good night’s sleep do you feel like you could conquer the world?

A good night’s sleep is good for our health, energy levels and mental well-being, yet it’s often something we can only dream of: seeming as unobtainable as finding gold at the end of a rainbow or spotting a unicorn on a lockdown walk. There are many products on the market, including my own pillow spray which I swear by, that help increase the chances of achieving that dream sleep. Unfortunately, on their own they cannot achieve a sleep panacea but when combined with a bedtime routine they can work wonders.

Sleep Hygiene is a new buzz word that’s frequently bandied around but, what exactly does it mean? We need to be aware of factors that affect our sleep and follow a regular routine before going to bed that eliminates these and prepares our body and mind for sleep. Trying to go to bed at a similar time each evening will help the body get into a sleep routine.

Our brains are active in the day but naturally towards evening they begin to produce the hormone melatonin. Melatonin makes us feel sleepy and helps us settle down and fall asleep quickly. It is produced as the lights dim, which explains why children struggle to sleep in summer when it’s still daylight. However, blue light, which is produced by technology, suppresses the production of melatonin. This can either prevent you falling asleep or staying asleep through the night. By switching off electronic gadgets and allowing the brain to slow down from the day will increase the production of melatonin.

As well as reducing blue light in an evening, it is important to get at least twenty minutes natural daylight each day. A walk around the block at lunchtime would achieve this. Natural daylight helps the pineal gland recognise when the light is dimming in an evening to start producing melatonin.

Alcohol, caffeine and sugar can also influence sleep patterns. Caffeine boosts energy and is a stimulant that remains in your system many hours after you have consumed it. As a general rule it is best to avoid caffeine after lunch to ensure any energy created by it has been used up by bedtime. Alcohol and sugar are also stimulants that should be avoided before bed. Initially they increase glucose levels which make you sleepy but after a couple of hours they work as a stimulant on your system. This is why you might fall asleep quickly after eating late or having a couple of glasses of wine but find yourself waking in the early hours.

Setting the scene is also important, your bedroom should be a serene place removed from the stresses and strains of the day. Subdued yellow lighting is more calming than bright white light. Aroma also plays an important part in creating a restful atmosphere. Using scented candles, a room or pillow spray or an oil burner with a relaxing blend of oils such as lavender, ylang ylang or geranium will help calm the mind and relax the body. A warm bath with salts and essential oils are an effective way to slow down and symbolically wash away the trials and tribulations of the day.

Temperature is also crucial to a good night’s sleep. If you are too cold or too hot you will wake up. Have a window on the latch for fresh air, turn the radiator down so the room is not too hot and stuffy and have at least two covers on the bed. Then if you are cold use both covers or hot use one and this should help you regulate your temperature and keep you from fully waking out of a deep sleep.

Finally, as you go to sleep, or if you are awake in the night concentrate on breathing deeply from your stomach. Focus on the beautiful smells from the aromatherapy oils and enjoy feeling comfortable and being able to lie and relax. Keep your mind on these things rather than starting a dialogue about needing to get to sleep. As soon as your mind gets active you will find it very difficult to still it. Remain as present as you can and hopefully you will soon be drifting off to sleep…

Do you have a sleep routine that works for you? It would be good to hear examples. I find reading stories that are not too dramatic and having a relaxing blend on my pillow helps and if I find it’s taking a while to drift off I literally count my blessings and that seems to work! What do you do?

Can we improve our sense of smell?

We usually take our sense of smell for granted until we lose it when we have a cold and blocked up nose. This hyposmia, partial loss of the sense of smell, is luckily only temporary and soon returns to normal. We feel relieved, revel in being able to to smell and taste again and then slowly but surely take it for granted until next time.

However, as we grow older our sense of smell decreases and subtle aromas are lost on us. The delicate perfume of a rose becomes undetectable and only strong smells reach our awareness. There is a close relationship between our sense of smell and taste so as we become less sensitive to aromas we also lose the sensitivity of our taste buds. Currently a symptom of COVID-19 is anosmia, the total loss of sense of smell, and whilst people recover well there are many cases where the sense of smell does not return to normal. As a result people are experiencing different tastes and anecdotally report feelings of depression.

Our sense of smell links straight to our limbic system which controls our memories and influences our emotions. It would therefore make sense that feelings of depression would be experienced alongside anosmia as smells trigger memories and in turn influences mood.

As an example, today and yesterday spring has been in the air. The smell of freshness and warmth in the air and the grass triggers hope and happiness for me, reminding me we are on the right side of winter and warmer, brighter days are ahead. This is all fairly subconscious and related to my sense of smell. Not being able to experience this would be a loss indeed.

So, is it possible to retrain your nose to smell again? Or in the case of hyposmia improve your sense of smell?

The good news is, yes it is possible. Sommeliers spend years developing their sense of smell as do perfumers. Training the sense of smell is proving relevant in the current climate with COVID-19. Breathing in deeply over a range of aromas twice a day for a period of weeks can restore and reinvigorate the Olfactory System. The system responsible for sense of smell.

So how to begin… choose four different aromas. I chose ground coffee, ground ginger, marmalade and black pepper corns and put them into air tight containers. These are strong aromas that are good to begin nose training. See above photo. Then breathe naturally and hold one of the bottles to your nose as you breathe. It doesn’t need to be there longer than 10 seconds. As you breathe focus on what you can smell and any associations that come to mind. You might want to write down your thoughts into a diary to track your progress. Perhaps drink some water to clear your palate and then take the next aroma. Do the same again but also compare the strength of this aroma with the previous one. Continue in the same way with the rest of them. If you can’t smell anything write that down in your diary. Still continue to hold the aroma to your nose anyway.

Follow this process twice a day, ideally in the morning and the evening, for a week. Observe if the smells get stronger as the week progresses. The following week select four different aromas to increase your range. Essential oils are good to use because they are consistent and have a clear, pure scent. Studies tend to use rose, eucalyptus, clove and lemon but use any you like, or more significantly, have to hand.

Continue this for twelve weeks, revisiting previous aromas and incorporating new ones. Get into the habit of increasing the use of your sense of smell. When you take the lid off products, open boxes or follow your morning routine inhale their aromas. Hold your shampoo to your nose before lathering up, inhale the delicate scent of tea or stronger smell of coffee, pay attention to the smell of your bread as it toasts: being aware of the aromas you are experiencing keeps you in the present moment. The perfect place to be. Smell training is a great opportunity to incorporate mindfulness into your day.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on improving sense of smell and your experiences of following the training so please do leave comments on this. If you need help with sourcing essential oils, please get in touch and I can make suggestions for you.

The Old Ways Are the Best

Cleopatra, a strong female role model and the first female pharaoh, was powerful, influential and successful. How did she achieve all this and remain balanced and beautiful? She followed a regular ritual of washing away the irritations, stresses and strains of the day by bathing in milk, honey and essential oils.

Taking inspiration from Cleopatra, it would be beneficial to regularly bathe with essential oils to soothe and unwind. Different blends of essential oils have different healing properties and can ease a range of imbalances created by modern lifestyles.

Whilst milk has many therapeutic properties and is nourishing for the skin, Himalayan pink salt is equally as beneficial in its own way. There are 84 minerals and trace elements in Himalayan Salt that are helpful for the body. Soaking in the beautiful pink salts will soothe and soften the skin. When specific essential oils are blended with this the therapeutic properties are increased.

I have created a range of bath salts with different blends to accommodate different needs.

Relaxation: The relaxation blend allows you to lie back, soak and forget the day. The essential oil blend of lavender and geranium is calming and balancing to body and mind. The beautiful aroma is relaxing and helps prepare you for a good night’s sleep.

Soak Away Stress: feeling stressed? Are you experiencing a prolonged period of stress, anxiety or both? If so, Pink Himalayan Salts with a Ylang Ylang and Bergamot essential oil blend maybe your answer. Ylang Ylang is calming and relaxing, acting as a sedative to the nervous system. Bergamot is uplifting and balancing to the nervous system, easing tension, anxiety and stress.

Soothing Muscle Soak: Is hunching over a desk all day or having to constantly check your phone creating aching shoulders and a stiff neck. Is the cold tensing your muscles so they hurt? Soak away muscular aches and pains in a soothing rosemary and marjoram salt bath. Rosemary stimulates the circulation allowing an increase of blood flow to aching muscles. Marjoram is warming and comforting for tired, painful muscles. Warning: not to be used during pregnancy or for those with high blood pressure or susceptible to epileptic fits.

Sleep Easy: having trouble sleeping? Soaking after a long day in a beautifully scented ylang ylang and lavender bath will help. Ylang ylang encourages slower breathing and has sedative properties to relax the body and calm it down ready for a good night’s sleep. Lavender is calming, balancing and relaxing

So unleash your inner Cleopatra and invest in relaxing, quality time just for you.

300g Himalayan Salts with one of the above blends and salt scoop £9 (P&P included). Lavender or rosemary petals can be added to the salt for no extra cost, please request when ordering.

3x 100g Himalayan Salts with a selection from the above blends plus salt scoop and lavender or rosemary petals if desired. £12 (P&P included)

Email me or fill in the contact page on my website if you wish to make a purchase.

Slowing down…

In the modern world we spend our time thinking and planning. We are onto the next thing before we have finished the current activity. As a result we are rarely in the present. We are so busy rushing from one thing to another that we don’t stop to listen to our bodies and what they are telling us. Our brains are overworking therefore, when we want to slow down the pace and relax our brain struggles to do this.

So how can we slow ourselves down? Even just taking a few minutes out in a day to give your brain a break will work wonders. Take deep breaths and focus on the moment. Be aware of what you are doing now.

This short activity will give you an idea of how to take a brain break at least once each day.

Breathe deeply, filling your lungs and expanding your stomach as you breathe in. As you breathe out be aware of your lungs and stomach deflating.

Watch the video clip. Focus on the flames. If your mind wanders bring it back to their colours, shapes and the way they move.

Be in the moment.

Try to be in the moment at least once a day. Slowly, build this up over the course of a week so you are pausing and being in the moment at least twice a day.

Does this help you slow down your mind?

Synthetic oils versus Essential oils? Which to choose…

In today’s world there is always a cheaper option. Why have diamonds when you can get cubic zirconia? They are just as sparkly but a quarter of the price of diamonds and you can’t tell the difference. Why have real leather when you can have synthetic? It’s cheaper and easier to clean yet looks almost as good. This is the same with essential oils. They also have a cheaper alternative: fragrance oils. Fragrance oils are synthetically produced to replicate the scent of true essential oils. They cost less than essential oils and smell practically the same. So why bother with the real thing?

As an aromatherapist I have always used essential oils and never even thought about fragrance oils. Perhaps I am being misguided here.

Synthetic oils are manufactured to recreate the aroma of essential oils. They have a much stronger smell that lasts longer and can be produced on a larger scale. Thus making fragrance oils cheaper than their plant equivalent. This means that products that use these need less oil but they still throw a stronger scent than their natural equivalent. They are particularly effective in candles, soaps and perfume sprays because they do not break down when they come into contact with the air or heat. Perfumers prefer synthetic fragrances because they are manufactured to the same consistency each time but the qualities of essential oils vary depending on the time of year they were picked and the country they are from.

Essential oils are entirely natural. They have a delicate aroma, are a pure concentration of the essence of nature and as a result have many therapeutic properties for humans. It can take a lot of flowers to manufacture a small amount of oil. It takes around 60 roses to make 1 drop of rose oil. A 3 ml bottle of pure rose essential oil costs around £40. This almost makes it prohibitively expensive to use in products. Rose fragrance oils on the other hand costs around £5 for a 50ml bottle. But, the complex chemical compounds that make up a rose cannot be manufactured so subtle elements of the scent will be lost. Equally the therapeutic qualities of the essential oils cannot be recreated either.

To compare the two types of oils I made up two reed diffuser blends. One with fragrance oils and the other with essential oils. The fragrance oil blend dominates the house and gives a strong aroma. My husband likes it but I find it too heavy with a chemical undertone that gives me a headache. On the other hand, the essential oil blend is subtle and delicate, it gently scents the room. I think it is beautiful but my husband can’t even smell it. I find it soothing and relaxing and my husband is calmer when he is in the room with it. So even though he is unaware of it it would appear to be beneficial for him.

In conclusion, I will be remaining with the essential oils. I now have an appreciation of the purpose of fragrance oils but if I am going to experience the gifts of nature I would rather have the real thing. The same with diamonds…

What are your thoughts on using cheaper alternatives is it really as good as it seems?

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Aromas and Emotions

I have been aware that from an early age my sense of smell has always played a key role in my life. I did not realise how significant this role was until I lost it for a week during a bout of sinusitis. My mood plummeted and the world seemed to lose its brightness and its depth. I struggled to cook and could hardly taste food. It was pure bliss a week later when I could smell the food I was putting in my mouth and the taste was many times stronger because of it.

The result of this was that I started to pay more attention to my sense of smell. I no longer take it for granted and have become more aware of how our sense of smell is intrinsically linked with our emotions.

When we breathe in scent molecules enter our nose and through a gland at the top of the nose access the limbic system of our brains. This area of our brain influences our moods and emotions as well as triggering memories. The feelings associated with these memories can also be experienced when smelling an aroma that takes our minds back to a past event.

Thinking about this made me aware of smells that influence my mood and emotions. Here are just a few examples. When I bake the smell always takes me back to coming home from school and the smell in the kitchen as my mum would have baked a cake, scones or some other treat. Consequently, I am aware of feelings of comfort, reassurance and a sense of belonging when baking.
Smelling freshly cut grass always makes me feel happy because it is associated with warm lazy days in summer when it never seems to get dark, nature is thriving and (in my mind at least) nothing seems that bad.

I could go on… wood smoke evokes feelings of excitement as it reminds me of the wide open skies and beautiful clear light I experienced when travelling around South Africa on my honeymoon.

The smell of burnt toast reminds me of my school work experience when I felt grown up and mature because I was working in a hotel waiting on the breakfast shift.
The heady scent of lilies rekindles the excitement, nerves and apprehension of having a baby. As well as the instant overwhelming love and protectiveness that arrives with their birth. I was surrounded by lilies in the hospital after his birth.

Anyway, I could go on but will leave it with you to think of the scents and aromas in your life and the memories and feelings they rekindle.

I would be interested to hear your experiences so please share with me in the comments section.