As the days start to get shorter and the temperature drops, I thought I would give you a few tips on how to support your body in this transitional time. Living according to the seasons can help us stay healthy in body and in mind. I hope that you will find these simple suggestions helpful.
1. Start wearing a Haramaki
These Japanese lower back-warmers are great at protecting your kidneys – especially useful if you cycle to work or spend a lot of time outdoors. As they warm the lower abdomen and they can also be helpful for digestion or difficult menses.
2. Switch to warming foods
It’s a good idea to move from salads to porridge in the morning, soup for lunch and stews for dinner. Warm food is easier for the body to digest and absorb nutrients.
3. Cook with pungent warming herbs and spices
According to Chinese medicine, and with similar benefits to eating warm foods, “warm” spices – such as turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, ginger and garlic – aid circulation, digestion and the absorption of key nutrients.
4. Skin brushing
Skin brushing is great for your immune system. Using a soft brush or rough towel brush your skin vigorously up your limbs in the direction of your heart. This is widely believed to assist normal lymph flow within the body and helps the body detoxify itself.
5. Don’t go out with wet hair and make sure to wear a scarf
A well-known “old wives’ tale” perhaps, but it’s important to protect your neck from the cold and wind because cold weather is a stressor on the body – so wrap-up warm and enjoy the changing seasons in comfort!
“The beat of drums and the blustering of summer fade away. Everything becomes quiet, more introspective, sad. Autumn always comes with such beauty.” Jaak Drees
“A miracle is a shift in perception from fear to love” Marianne Williamson
One of the most significant stresses for couples trying to conceive is the battle between the, often overwhelming, desire to become pregnant and the, equally overwhelming, fear of not becoming pregnant. Sadly, this battle isn’t the only stress that trying to conceive (TTC) can bring. My experience working with TTC women and couples always reminds me of the importance and benefit of taking time to manage stress and anxiety while trying to conceive.
Trying to conceive will take over pretty much every aspect of your lives. You may have significantly altered your diet, perhaps omitting the foods you love – chocolate and wine are often prime candidates. Finances may well be at an all-time low: IVF, regular acupuncture, organic food – it all mounts up! And, of course, the dreaded family gatherings where not only are you surrounded by proud, round bumps but huge efforts are made to dodge the dreaded question. I have known TTC women afraid to leave the house in case they come across a pregnant bump.
What is important to recognise here is that fear, anxiety and stress closes, they shut you down, life is on hold. Your happiness, it feels, depends on one thing – a blue line. While fear closes, love opens – it is by its nature receptive and transformative. Love offers a sense of connection with life itself.
I have two simple suggestions to share to help you take a break from the rigours of trying to conceive. The first offers ways of rekindling passion and intimacy with your partner. The second, and equally important, are tools for making time to reconnect to yourself with loving kindness.
What better place to start than in the bedroom!
If you have been TTC for a while than it is very likely that your sex life has taken on a monotonous or even gruelling quality. It has become a chore, your partner (if a man) has become a sperm machine and it is likely that he too dreads the mechanical aspect of your mid-cycle ovulation stick that says drop everything and go! Do you remember what it was like when you first met? When you wanted to spend hours just kissing because it just felt so good? All that delicious eye contact and hand-holding. When you got home and started tearing each other’s clothes off the very second the door closed. When you would go to bed at 7pm because a night under the duvet together was more fun than any movie or outing could possibly be? It felt so good because your love hormone, oxytocin, was at an all-time high. Things may have taken a downwards turn while TTC, but all is not lost – the magic of the chemistry of attraction is at your fingertips.
Oxytocin is a shy hormone – it needs gentle encouragement and no pressure in order to bloom. Hand-holding, gazing into each other’s eyes, stroking, a full-contact, head-to-toe hug for 20 seconds. All the above are even better when naked! Get your juices flowing with whatever rocks your boat: dressing up, props, outdoor sex, role play, erotic imagery. Stimulation is the key word here. Have fun! Try to broaden your emphasis away from trying to conceive and focus your energies into attracting each other and turning each other on. This openheartedness will trickle into other aspects of your life easing anxiety and strengthening bonds.
While trying to conceive I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to show yourself loving kindness – be your own best friend. Suffocating feelings of inadequacy can creep in in stressful times in our lives – and TTC is just such a time.
If you have practiced meditation you may well have come across Metta (cultivating loving kindness). This is a wonderfully simple way of inviting peace into the demands of trying to conceive. This beautiful practice awakens us to our connectedness with all of life. This practice has been taken from the book True Refuge by Tara Brach.
Start by sitting comfortably and quietly, and relax any areas of the body that may be tense or tight. Take some moments to feel the breath at the heart. Breathing in, sense that you are receiving warmth and energy. Breathing out, sense that you are letting go into openness.
Silently, or in a whisper, begin offering yourself prayers of loving kindness. To start, choose four or five phrases that resonate for you. They might include:
May I be filled with loving kindness; may I be held in loving kindness
May I feel safe and at ease
May I feel protected from inner or outer harm
May I be happy
May I accept myself just as I am
May I touch deep, natural peace
May I know the natural joy of being alive
May I feel true refuge within my own being
May my heart and mind awaken, may I be free
As you repeat each phase, open yourself to whatever images and feelings arise with the words. Approach the meditation as an experiment, sensing what words and images best serve you and open your heart. You might explore placing your hand gently on top of your heart to see if this deepens the experience of holding yourself in kindness. Take as long as you like, offering yourself these phrases and reflecting on them.
As you end your meditation, sit quietly for a few moments and notice the feelings in your body and heart. Is there a new sense of space and tenderness? Do you feel more at ease in your being? With this sense of openness and acceptance you can experience a sense of surrender and letting go. Surrender and letting go can be especially challenging when faced with the profound need to bring a baby into the world.
Offering your partner and yourself space and love in these ways can ease anxiety and help stimulate a connection with life and each other that can be lost through the anguish of trying to get pregnant month after month.
Finally, whether-or-not you end up carrying and birthing a child from your own womb, there are many more ways of connecting with your intrinsic femininity. If you have found reading this to be of benefit, please have a look at my blog Menstrual Seasons. It encourages you to tap into the wonderful power that lies within your own menstrual cycle. Your periods have great purpose if you understand them and use them wisely. Many of you TTC are charting religiously but all the focus tends to be on the mid-cycle. I hope that in reading Menstrual Seasons you will see that the rest of your cycle deserves equal attention for you are whole and awesome
One aspect of modern life that drains our reserves is that we no longer live seasonal lives. We have a much more 24/7 approach these days – anything goes, any time. For menstruating women, this can impact especially negatively on our monthly cycles. Demanding the same of ourselves, wherever we happen to be in the month, leaves us depleted. We become less attuned to our own fluctuations and how to care for ourselves in a way that creates harmony in our day-to-day existence.
I believe that we should listen more closely to our bodies and the needs of our menstrual cycle and make appropriate adaptions – where possible. The aim is to live in cooperation with this important cycle and in doing so reap the many benefits it offers us, from increased energy and confidence to better sleep and resilience to the difficult experiences life throws at us.
I find it helpful to compare the monthly menstrual cycle to the seasons of the year: summer, autumn, winter and spring.
Those days mid-cycle, ovulating and feeling fabulous, I liken to summer. Your oestrogen and testosterone levels are at their peak and you feel ready for anything. This is the time to make love, dance, change the world and express yourself. In terms of diary planning – have a party or take on a new challenge at work – now is the time to make the most of all that extra confidence and energy.
Following this peak, your oestrogen and testosterone levels naturally start to dip – this is your menstrual autumn. Now is a good time to begin to transition into your inner world. Rather than trying to plough on regardless, if you can, start to slow down. Tap into this quieter time for some solo creativity, having a bit of a de-clutter and if possible squeezing in the odd power nap. I know that many of you are insanely busy and it’s difficult to escape the daily routines – but remember that often small changes can have the most impact. For example, rather than traipsing around the supermarket with screaming toddlers, you could plan an online shop and make sure that the delivery driver brings the shopping right into your kitchen – anything that makes your life a little easier and that includes having pizza for dinner!
The menstrual winter descends for the few days leading to, and around 3 days during, menstruation. Your hormone levels have now dropped to their lowest level. This time is best dedicated to stillness, gentle stretching and peace – I am sure that allowing this slower pace will benefit those around you and they too will be thankful. In his book The Power of Now Eckhart Tolle says that we all have a ‘pain body’ which is an accumulation of stored and unprocessed emotional pain. He says the bigger our ‘pain body’ the bigger our receptivity to pain. He then goes on to tell us that if able to rest and be still, a woman in her menses can gently process and discard any difficulties she has had to take on that month. You have a natural emotional waste disposal system – use it!
After menstruation, your hormone levels begin to rise once again and you’ll feel more playful, flirtatious and adventurous. This fresh spring awakening is a prime time to take on new challenges, in preparation for the delicious extra confidence that the return of your menstrual summer (now just around the corner) will bring.
Ladies, this is so simple and not rocket science. All you need to do is keep a little track in your diaries of where you are in your cycle and plan accordingly – where possible. Even the odd simple tweak to your monthly routine can make a world of difference to your overall quality of life.
Simple suggestions to help new mothers maintain a healthy balance between their needs and the needs of their new born
Every new mother I have worked with agrees on this same point: nothing, absolutely nothing, can completely prepare you for parenthood.
Your beautiful baby has arrived and with it comes the realisation that this vulnerable little creature is completely and utterly reliant on you. The accompanying sense of responsibility can overwhelm and it is very easy for new mothers to overlook their own needs at this intense time.
Women are very good at looking after themselves when they are pregnant: beautiful organic food, yoga, massages, hypnobirthing, the company of other mothers-to-be at NCT and other such groups.
As soon as the baby is born, quite rightly, much of this energy is transferred to the new arrival – baby massage, cranio-sacral therapy, sing and sign, water babies – to name but a few distractions.
Having had three children myself, I am familiar with these early weeks. I know how powerful the desire is to devote yourself completely to caring for your baby.
However, you can’t be the best parent you can be if you are feeling run down to the ground. I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to make time for yourself – to ensure that you do have enough energy to support all this wonderful giving.
Your baby is thriving if she is producing regular dirty nappies, putting weight on and crying for a feed – and, crucially, she needs you thriving too.
A few small tweaks to your day is all it takes to keep a healthy balance between the needs of both mother and child.
Here are 5 suggestions I often offer mothers-to-be:
I hope these simple techniques and suggestions help you to establish a healthy balance, allowing both you and your baby to thrive, during this remarkable time in both of your lives.
For more information on post- natal and pregnancy massage as well as birth doula services please visit oxfordwellwoman.co.uk
Recently my 10-year-old son Louis has been in his element at school! Every day after first playtime his new teacher has been guiding his class, breathless from crammed play, through a Relax Kids routine. This is through a company that in it’s own words “Equips children with skills for life, promoting healthy habits and life long wellbeing”. Each day is different: sometimes its yoga style stretching, sometimes guided body scans and breathing techniques and sometimes, Louis’ favourite, self- massage. In fact he’s a bit of a fiend for massage, at night when I tuck him in bed he often stretches out his arms or feet towards me for a few minutes of kneading. To him it’s perfectly normal to have this expectation.
Of course being me I put this love of massage down to the weekly treatments I received when I was pregnant with him. They were a life -line; in fact my partner would gently suggest I book a treatment when he could feel temperatures rising. My hips sore from long nights of lying on my sides were eased, tight shoulders dropped down from my ears, swollen feet shrank back and my lower back was much happier. Above all however it felt like this was time to slow down and listen. Listen and take stock of what was happening to my body, my growing bump, home to a baby boy who would grow to be a bouncy, creative, and really quite stubborn massage monster with a sunny disposition.
Over the years I have worked with many pregnant women in my treatment room and, yes, most of them have similar complaints to my own when I was expecting my children. What never ceases to amaze me however is how pregnancy affects us all so differently and, sometimes, in very bizarre and unexpected ways. A strange itch in the upper arms, a dislike of a particular smell, dry skin behind the knees, crazy dreams and equally crazy sleep patterns … When a woman comes for a treatment she brings all of this with her. We can discuss and explore these changes and then, gently working with the body, say hello to all those peculiar ailments as well as the more common ones. The time a woman takes to honour and soothe her changing and yes, expanding body can make her feel more at home and more embodied. Who knows; maybe 10 years down the line she will see a tender foot poking out of the duvet. 'massage me, Mum!'
Last week I attended the birth of a very special little girl as her mother’s doula. As soon as I entered the home I was welcomed by the familiar and gentle ambience of early labour. I have experienced this very special atmosphere at many births, and while many things contribute to it, hormonally the main player is the hormone oxytocin. As our bodies can release oxytocin in response to touch, it can be thought of as massage therapy’s invisible tool.
You may know of it as our love hormone, involved in love making and hugs. It is also responsible for helping create uterine contractions (or ‘surges’ in the natural birth world). Oxytocin is a very shy hormone; it doesn’t like loud noises, bright lights, changes of environment or too many people. It needs privacy, safety and most importantly, quiet. This was very obvious in last week’s birth. In the peace left by the exit of the extended family labour came full swing. Her husband and I took turns giving her massage and whispering gentle words of support. The baby was born into her father’s arms in hospital (just!) shortly after.
Only the next day I found myself attending the other end of life. I also work as a massage therapist one day a week in a hospice.. It is humbling, inspiring, sad, thought provoking, life enhancing and of course has brought on some existential issues. This work has made me more aware than ever of the parallels between the beginning and end of life: Oxytocin is also released as our end nears. A dying person has the same needs for privacy, reassurance, and familiarity. Touch is just as important as in birth. It can create the feelings of safety and protection so important in these last days.
The pain relief techniques I was showing to the father-to-be also find their place in the hospice. Encouraging loved ones to take part by massaging feet swollen by days of bed rest or holding calming acupressure points, family members can help, using simple tools to provide relief. Where they might feel helpless they become empowered.
Whether at the beginning or end of our lives or anywhere in between our needs are the same: shifting focus from our heads to our bodies and making friends with them, particularly if we have suffered invasive intervention. I truly believe that massage and touch are invaluable in smoothing away anxieties, relieving our bodies and giving us the reassurance that we are supported and safe wherever we are on our journey.