As we find ourselves in this surreal lockdown situation, with all the uncertainty in the world, not knowing what’s going to happen from one day to the next, it is going to take a toll on our Mental Health.
Stress is the body’s reaction to a threat, and anxiety is the body’s reaction to the stress. Stress can have many different drivers but a major factor can be the brain’s primary function, that of survival. Part of that survival role is the ability of prediction. The brain is constantly making predictions about both our internal and external environments, every microsecond of every day.
Enter a worldwide virus that affects every aspect of our lives which you have no control over, and that prediction ability is now compromised, leading to uncertainty. The brain doesn’t like uncertainty, and perceives this as a threat and heightens the activation of the Sympathetic Nervous System, our alarm fight or flight system. Our body is regulated by the Autonomic Nervous System, and this system is always on. Like everything in nature, a balance (homeostasis) is required and it’s the Autonomic Nervous System’s job to balance out our physiology between stressful and calm states of being.
We have two distinct branches of the autonomic nervous system:
Parasympathetic State: Rest and Digest. This is when we are calm and at rest. Where we need to be most of the time.
Sympathetic State: This is our fight or flight response, which is when we are in a state of threat (stress). Now not all stress is bad. The problem arises when we are in heightened states of stress for long periods of time. Stress is crucial for your body’s normal functions, in controlled amounts it helps with a whole host of functions in the body. It helps with keeping our mind focused, helps us to learn, wakes us up in the morning as part of the Circadian rhythm cycle and drives adaption in the gym with fitness, strength and hypertrophy amongst other functions.
However we do not want to live in a sympathetic state. We want to enter into it when we need to, when we train for example, then immediately get out and return to a parasympathetic state when we are finished.
In today’s world, more so than ever experienced before, we are exposed to constant stress, the issue is that we spend too much time in a sympathetic state. Now, what defines stress? Anything and everything! In reality it all depends on you.
Lack of sleep
Poor quality food
Smoking, alcohol and drugs
Constant exposure to blue light devices
Long hours indoors
In the world we live in today, our stress is vastly different. It is less physical, and much more emotional. Every day we encounter small stresses from our partners, colleagues, boss, social media, environment and basically anything else. Every time these small stresses occur, the body believes we are in danger.
Get your body into a Parasympathetic State!!
This is where we want to be ‘living’. Below are some tips I use with my clients to help manage their stress levels
Sleep is the most bang-for-your-buck tool to decrease stress and promote recovery. Most people, a) don’t sleep enough and/ or, b) have poor quality sleep.
One of the reasons people have so much trouble with sleep is the inability to simply “switch off”.
Here we need to create an evening with some structure to help us get into a parasympathetic state.
Step 1 @ 8pm Turn off your smartphone/laptop/electronic tablet. This is hard for a lot of people, but it is a crucial step to reclaiming your sleep back. Phones and laptops have blue lights on their screens. Blue light signals to your brain that it is day time, which turns down melatonin production. Melatonin is the key hormone that regulates our sleep, and starts secreting into our system around 9pm, so we don’t want to turn it off.
Step 2 According to 2009 study at the University of Sussex, 6 minutes of reading each day can reduce a person’s stress levels by 68%, thereby helping individuals clear their minds and minimise bodily tension. For this reason, I advocate reading a book in bed until your eyes feel heavy.
Step 3 Nose breathe. Finish with a couple of minutes of nose breathing. When you breathe through your nose you produce a molecule called Nitric Oxide. Nitric Oxide is a Vasodilator and helps decreases blood pressure and heightens the parasympathetic nervous system. Rest and digest.
Step 4 Aim to go to bed and get up at the same time. Keep to a routine. As already mentioned, the brain likes predictability.
2. Morning sunlight
Seeing the natural light of the sun helps the brain work better. We’re not talking about staring at the sun, but allowing the eyes to be exposed to natural outdoor light free from contact lenses, sunglasses and windows etc. The free Vitamin D you get from sunlight, has powerful effects throughout the body, notably on the immune system. The sun also unlocks the brain’s natural pharmacy which helps the nervous system, hormonal regulation (happy hormones), muscle function and Circadian Rhythm (sleep).
3. Forest Bathing
Research has shown exposure to the natural environment is highly beneficial to human health, especially Mental Health. When taking a walk through woodland you breathe in the naturally occurring chemicals produced mainly by trees but also plants. These natural chemicals have been shown to have a direct physiological effect on the body which have a calming and mood elevating effect.
4. Take time to Breathe
Our Autonomic Nervous System regulates the rate we breathe. That means it just automatically happens under our unconscious awareness. We don’t think too much about it. When calm and relaxed we generally take 9-15 breaths per minute. However, if we are feeling stressed, anxious or scared, you will become very aware of your breathing and your breathing rate will increase. Again, this is your threat response activating your Sympathetic Nervous System. By simply taking turns in blocking one nostril and breathing in through the other at roughly a 5 second inhalation and then breathing out through pursed lips at a 10-15 second exhalation you will help to balance out your stress and calm systems. Try this for 5-8 minutes spread out through the day.
5. Fasted morning slow steady state cardio
Not all cardio will have the the same effect on the body. HIIT or interval sessions are fun and a great tool to use for increased levels of fitness, etc. but ultimately causes a stress response in order for the body to adapt and get fitter.
If we are trying to keep our stress levels down, this type of training will just add to an already highly stressed state and should be kept to once or twice a week. I have found morning steady state cardio to be brilliant for the management of stress. Steady state is determined at an intensity level you could maintain a conversation. I usually program 3-5 morning sessions per week, each lasting between 20-30 minutes.
Here’s why: the brain lives on aerobic respiration, and therefore promotes brain growth (oxygen); it up regulates happy hormones (neurotransmitters) in balance with the stress ones; helps protect against the corrosive effects on the brain from cortisol (stress hormone); it balances neurotransmitters (hormones) in the brain that promote focus; it regulates all the neurotransmitters targeted by antidepressants, thus waking the brain and improving self-esteem. You feel awake and ready to rock on with your day.
I prefer to do this in the morning on an empty stomach because of the anti-inflammatory effect fasting has. During a fasted state, the central nervous system and immune system activates its regeneration phase, reduces oxidative stress (inflammation) and improves mitochondrial function (energy levels), amongst other benefits.
These are just some of the strategies I use. The biggest take home is to keep to a routine, get outside in the sun and amongst nature, move more, move in novel ways (mobility, yoga, learn to handstand, etc.) make time to spend more time with loved ones, listen to music and watch your favourite funny films. Smile!
Pilates was pioneered by German born Joseph Hubertus Pilates in the early 20th century. During childhood he was afflicted with many conditions such as asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. The prognosis for Joseph was not good but he was determined to return his body to peak physical condition. He believed mental and physical health were closely connected. Through this determination he became a competent gymnast, diver, skier and boxer. He devised a series of exercises and training techniques, and engineered all the equipment specifications required to teach his methods properly. These are still the inspiration for the modern day reformer! In the 1920s Pilates emigrated to the U.S and opened a studio in New York where he taught his method of ‘contrology’ for many decades.
There are different types of pilates now from classical and mat pilates to reformer and Stott Pilates which may sound confusing if you haven’t tried them? Whatever pilates class you choose they should all focus on breathing, control, centring and flow. They maybe on a mat or using other equipment such as a reformer machine, and have different styles and influences. These types are also growing now incorporating for example barre or yoga.
Pilates is a great way to strengthen the body so find one that suits you and is right for the goals you want to achieve. Pilates uses a series of exercises designed to engage your core and lower back to improve posture, flexibility, stamina and strength. It is also used a lot to help reduce injuries such as back and neck pain and for general rehabilitation. It helps to get the body back in balance by a series of exact, controlled movements, targeting specific muscle groups and helping to identify where stronger or weaker areas are.
Pilates can be used for all ages and levels of fitness and ability as all the exercises can be progressed or regressed (modified) for each individual. It is great for toning the body by combining exercise and stretching into routines. This type of exercise is even more relevant due to lifestyle factors such as long working hours, being seated for long periods of times and for mental health aspects to name a few. It is important to find a certified instructor with a good qualification, someone who you enjoy working with. If you are very new to pilates or have specific injuries I would recommend either someone that specialises in your area of concern or find a small group class or one to one session to begin with.
So, it goes without saying that currently as individuals, our hands are under much more stress than usual.
With the much-needed constant hand washing and hand sanitising, our poor hands are certainly being put through their paces at the moment. When it comes to safety, we need to make sure we’re doing this, but how can we also protect our hands from becoming dry and sore?
By now we all know that each time we wash our hands with soap and water, it should be for a minimum of 20 seconds which equates to singing the Happy Birthday song twice. On top of that the hand sanitizers we carry around with us should contain a minimum of 60% alcohol…what does this mean? Put simply it means that unless you’re extremely unique to what is happening, then like me your hands must be very very very dry (I repeated that 3 times to place a lot of emphasis on how dry my hands get at the moment).
Now, I’m not a health professional, but I’ve spoken with a few that wash their hands over 75 times a day, and some over 100 times a day because of the work they do. As well as getting or exasperating dry skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea and psoriasis, what they also have is very sore hands…dry, sore and cracked hands! From your own experience, you’ll know that alcohol dries out the skin, and although soap and water wash away dirt and germs, they also strip away the natural protective oils in our skin, which causes our skin to dry out.
So, what can we all do to help our hands? Here’s a few recommendations I’ve tried recently:
During the day, each time you wash your hands, instead of rubbing them dry, pat them and leave them slightly damp.
Whilst your hands are still slightly damp use a good quality hand/body moisturiser, as this helps to lock in the moisturiser. Try to keep away from lotions as they have a high-water content and this can add to the dryness.
From experience I know body butters or oil-based creams are more effective, due to having no water or less water than lotions. Personally, I make and use my own blend of butters and oils which have no water.
If you don’t have a good quality oil-based moisturiser then try items from the kitchen such as olive oil, coconut oil or avocado oil.
If you’re taking your moisturiser out of the house, don’t share an open pot as this can spread germs
If you’re busy cleaning around the home, do wear rubber gloves when you’re using cleaning products. The harsh chemicals in the cleaning products can cause damage to the hands.
Before going to bed wash your hands in warm water, pat them dry and use a good quality moisturiser straight away. The more natural it is the better. The thicker it is the better
Put on a pair of gloves for either several hours or throughout your time asleep.
From my own experience, my preference is bamboo gloves. Just like bamboo sheets, tights or leggings, they help prevent the skin from drying out, are health and eco-friendly, biodegradable, antibacterial, comfortable and the bamboo fibre is cool to the skin. These are a must for those with dry skin conditions. You can wash them at 60 Degrees Celsius, so they can be used over and over again (we have bamboo bed sheets at home for my son’s eczema and he love them). Another added bonus is that you can wear your gloves inside your rubber cleaning gloves.
Cotton gloves are a cheaper alternative to wear at bedtime, but can be drying for those with dry skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea and psoriasis.
If you don’t have any gloves you can wear socks on your hands at bedtime as a last resort
If you have money to spare and really want to pamper your hands with luxury, there’s also silk gloves as an option. They’re naturally hypoallergenic and can also help your moisturiser penetrate deeper into the skin. They can be washed at 30 Degrees Celsius and can therefore also be washed over and over again.
If you have dry hands that aren’t sore, mix a tablespoon of oil (from the kitchen) with half a teaspoon of sugar and/or fine salt. Once you’ve combined the ingredients together in a bowl, use the mixture as an exfoliator for the hands. Wash the hands first, then exfoliate the hands (can also be used on the body), rinse off with warm water, moisturise your hands then pop your gloves on.
And there you have it!
I’m sure there’s lots of ideas out there for how to look after our hands so feel free to put some forward…the more the merrier
Chandra is the Founder of Yoga with Chandra, a wellness coach, Sacred ceremonial facilitator, Yoga, Pilates and Mindfulness meditation specialist, who runs workshops and events in Buckinghamshire and the surrounding ounties.
Chandra had been into her fitness since her twenties, never been body confident in her youth, keeping fit made her feel more confident in her own skin. After trying all different types of fitness classes, over the years, She decided to give Yoga a try, upon leaving her first yoga class, feeling, stretched and at peace, something she had never felt from any other type of exercise class. The spiritual and mindful perspective had such a profound effect on her, that she craved more knowledge in the historical and philosophical aspects of yoga.
After many years of practicing with several different teachers and suffering a wrist injury, which meant putting the training back a year, she finally enrolled onto her Yoga teacher training with the YMCA in London and in November 2017, she launched her first yoga class in a local village hall. Three years later after increasing her class schedule, she decided it was the right time to leave her part time administration role and to take the leap following her passions to teach Yoga and Pilates full time and to this day she has not regretted her decision .
Chandra has developed her own style of “slow flow” Yoga a mix of Hatha and Vinyasa, her classes will not leave you dripping with sweat, but you will feel you have worked every plane physically and spiritually, as she teaches you to fine tune your body and mind, creating space and fully embodying each movement and intention in the practice.
Chandra plans her class themes intuitively adding in a generous measure of spirituality and mindfulness. Having come from a spiritual background, she embraces all faiths and traditions blending Eastern and Western cultures.
Chandra Includes cultural celebrations into her varied class themes to aid diversity and inclusivity, along with Yoga philosophy and mindfulness, Chandra teaches what she likes to calls “conscious Yoga” Holding a safe space for her students to find awareness on all levels, enabling them to become empowered and nurtured in the same instance. Chandra values her students tremendously, and always has a warm welcome for all. Offering support during the classes and post session.
After her yoga teacher training with the YMCA in 2017 Chandra developed her practice and began her teaching career. Having always had an inquiring mind it wasn’t too long before she went onto train in Yoga philosophy with the Oxford Hindu centre in 2018. She also qualified in her pre and postnatal award and level 3 Pilates in the same year. Chandra personally found Pilates added strength and support to her own practice an additional ideal low impact compliment to Yoga that delivered postural strength and support and added diversity to her teaching portfolio. Chandra even introduces mindfulness to her Pilates class, always adding some relaxation time at the end of the practice.
Further training has led Chandra to qualify in Yin Yoga, Mindfulness meditation and Sacred Space facilitation.
In 2019 Chandra and artist, Rosie Hill, collaborated to create Evolve Collective, where they wove their own harmonious blend of skills and passions together creating offerings that support and inspire others in the community. These include Yoga and wellbeing events and facilitating Sacred space for ceremony, Art and meditation, including sound, song and chanting. Chandra was recently invited by Local radio station, Wycombe Sound 106, to talk about The Evolve collective Collaboration and their events.
During COVID 19 Chandra has successfully moved her classes online, with a regular weekly schedule.
Chandra and Rosie have also introduced online New Moon and Full Moon celebration events that have been well received. These include, breath work guided journeying / mindful meditations, sharing circle and Sacred Ceremony, plus more.
If You would like to find out more about Yoga with Chandra, and her online class schedule, visit her on website Rekindlewellness.co.uk. Subscribe to get regular updates on events. subscribers have access to free recorded yoga class sessions, meditations, breathing practices and more.
She can also be contacted on Facebook and Instagram as yogawithchandra.
Check out our new website, Evolve collective.co.uk, for current and upcoming events and where we share the meditations from past events, you can also join our community, become an evolver, join Evolve collective Facebook group.
Balance your mind, body and soul in a way that feels natural to you
Natures Balance has evolved from our family’s own life experiences. We ourselves discovered holistic therapies on our journey to find natural solutions to help as heal physically and emotionally. From our personal experiences and the positive effect it has on our lives, we decided we wanted to share the world of holistic living and wellbeing with everyone. We became qualified in many ancient therapies and protocols so we could support people in their quest to take the holistic journey.
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