‘Mindfulness is an integrative, mind body based approach that helps people to manage their thoughts and feelings.’
Mental Health Foundation
In an effort to stay ‘mindful’ of the influx of information out there about this very topic, I have decided to get straight to the point and perhaps be a little more pro active with this particular blog!
On looking online at the mountains of research there is on mindfulness as a recovery tool, I felt totally overwhelmed, I literally didn’t know where to start, so in an effort to save you guys the same (ever so mild!) panic attack, which of course would completely defeat the point, I thought I would blog a list of the mindful apps/books and courses that one can dip in and out of but that can also genuinely aid healing and recovery, especially after cancer treatment, without requiring a trip to a monastery in deepest darkest Tibet!
I’m going to dive in with the mobile option! I have to admit that when it comes to mindfulness apps, there are a lot out there! I could write a list an arms length but the one that has totally rocked it for me and actually has me practicing for three minutes at least, every night, is Calm: Meditation techniques for stress reduction.
I love the choice of scenes that fill your screen and their matching soothing sound affects. I have been known to simply have that playing in the background while working – this lot have ‘calm’ down!
The choice of meditations are inspiring and very practical, such as nine seven day programmes on topics such as managing stress or seven days of gratitude as well as a selection of times for various individual meditations on themes including loving kindness or deep sleep. There is also a kids option too (which my nearly six year old loves, though I cant promise that she keeps still through them!) Some are guided while others are not, but I have found this app to be the most affective in keeping me in a mindful routine.
COURSES: The Haven MBSR Course
Mindfulness is a way of learning to relate directly to whatever is happening in your life, a way of taking charge of your life, of doing something for yourself
I did this eight week course four years ago and loved it. I had to commute from Surrey to Fulham but it was worth the journey, even while undergoing seven weeks of radiotherapy! It is a very thorough course, exploring all the different forms of mindful practice and the theory and study behind it all. I loved finishing every two hour class with a mindful exercise, mostly lying down under blankets and listening to Caroline Hoffman, the leader of the course, guide us through body scans.
The homework is the key to the effectiveness of the course. They say it takes thirty two days to form a new habit so you are encouraged to practice every day and are given the appropriate CD’s and reading to help you. I found the homework a real distraction while waiting for my daily radiotherapy and it helped me feel less anxious and give the exercises a really realistic framework to practice them in.
We explored mindful eating, mindful walking, sitting and even speaking. From a post cancer point of view, it was the perfect course for me at that time, as everyone there had been affected by cancer so making for a very bonding and sharing environment.
My only negative feedback of a mindful course like this was that it merely felt I had scratched the surface of mindfulness and I felt like I needed to do another course to explore some of the themes more fully.
For more details check out: https://www.thehaven.org.uk/mbsr-8-week-course-london
020 7384 0099
Mindful Elephant Course
‘I love my clients and the process of teaching mindfulness – although, in reality, there is no ‘teacher’ and we discover the ‘learning’ together.’
– Gill Johnson, Mindful Elephant
For those based more around the Surrey area, there is a fantastic mindfulness course based in Godalming called Mindful Elephant (chosen because the name was quirky and memorable!)
Gill Johnson is a mindfulness teacher and facilitator for MBSR/MBCT group courses for the general public, schools, hospitals and workplaces. After a chronic pain condition Gill found herself attracted to the work of the famous Jon Kabat-Zinn and discovered links that helped her deal with her own physical pain. She started to share them with hospital patients as a volunteer and she found the improvements so dramatic that she enrolled on a training course.
Making mindfulness accessible to everybody is something Gill feels very passionately about and she is involved in a number of other initiatives though as she admits, it is difficult to keep up with the ever evolving research that is coming out of the rapidly growing area.
NEWS FLASH! Gill is offering a •• discount •• to any Samspace readers who might like to enrol on her course starting OCTOBER 12th so if you are interested please feel free to contact Gill;
Tel: 07785 921 950
‘It is a real honour to hold a safe space and offer guidance for people to explore mindfulness’
I came across Shelila and her amazing Lollipop Wellbeing a few years ago, through social media. Sheila has a huge presence on twitter and runs courses in the Manchester area and occasionally Brighton. Her tips and posts on social media are a brilliant way of continuing a mindful approach to life while not on a course or afterwards.
Sheila set up Lollipop to provide accessible support for people who want to reduce stress and improve their wellbeing when it saved her life after approaching burnout from work related stress. For those who are not local she provides as many free resources as possible via her website including audio meditations and a monthly practice plan combining ideas for mindful living.
Shelia’s main focus within her mindful teaching is around self kindness, which of course, is something we are all in a little need of! Her recent blog ‘Everyday Mindfulness’ will resonate with a lot of us; http://www.everyday-mindfulness.org/growing-fearless-mindfulness-public-speaking-and-performance-anxiety/
Sheila discovered the self kindness area of mindfulness by accident. The more she deepened her practice the more it helped her with things like anxiety, grief and self criticism. When she attended a Breathworks Mindfulness for Stress course after experiencing a lot of stress at work and in her personal life, she realised she wanted to teach because it felt like paying it forward. She is now a Breathwork associate as well as a Mindfulness teacher and as well as being a qualified personal coach working one to one with clients too, she is incredible active.
For more details; www.lollipopwellbeing.com
BOOK – Wherever You Go, There You Are
Believe it not, I was given this book my (very mindful) mum in law! I love the title!
Written by the man himself, Jon Kabat-Zinn, this explores all the ways we can include mindfulness in our lives, whether we be a beginner or professional! It maps out the ways of cultivating a more personal mindful frame of mind where we can appreciate each moment at a time and help make moments for rich and full.
Jon Kabat-Zinn is also the founding director of the renowned Stress Reduction Clinic and Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He teaches mindfulness and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in various venues around the world and has written a zillion books on it all (but this one, in my opinion, is one of the easiest reads!)
BOOK – Mindfulness; A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in A Frantic World
‘This is precisely focused to help ordinary people boost their happiness and confidence levels whilst also reducing anxiety, stress and irritability.’
Another good read, this book gives a fantastic background to all things Mindful with a focus on more mindful based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) This means that the practice is more about doing a little every day for there to be any sort of effect and they help you out with a little CD in the back of the book to guide you through setting out a new mindful routine. It is a great one to have to hand if doing any mindfulness courses.
It is specifically for people who just want to include mindful practice in their daily life for their own wellbeing rather than for depression or a specific problem and it is recommended by the UK’s very own National Institute of Clinical Excellence – in other words, it works!!
A mindfulness course may not be your thing but if getting creative is, have a go at this. Easy to find, easy to do and perfect at helping you tune into that tiny, undiscovered space that might be waiting for liberation (and a little clarity!)
There are umpteen colouring books on the market at the moment. I have seen a huge selection at supermarkets as well as bookshops such as Waterstones but whether you sit down and do it for five minutes or an hour, alone or with your child, it is a very easy and effective way of getting some space and mindful time into your day.
There is so much out there on this topic but I hope these ideas may be useful. I have to admit that I do not always find it easy to come back to my breathe and focus on the now but I have also learnt that the practice of mindfulness is exactly that, practice. It doesn’t need to be hours and hours every day but whether you prefer to find encouragement alone with an app or with a group in a class, it is definitely having a positive impact on many of us on many levels and if we can connect with that breathe on a regular basis and oxygenate our bodies and minds, healing has no limits.
“Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment. We also gain immediate access to our own powerful inner resources for insight, transformation, and healing.”
– Jon Kabat-Zinn
I am no nutritionist or health expert but with so many books available right now, I thought it might be useful to have some top tips to sum it all up!
1.The books that include meat and fish seem the best to ease into things but so much is available on line or as an app you don’t always need to buy the book! Deliciously Ella and Honestly Healthy have fab apps and the websites for all mentioned below, are brilliant.
2. I have found it really helpful to make a little time at the weekend to make substitutes for snacks and light lunches so you have healthy options ready to go. I often make a batch of chocolate balls or banana bread for the fridge in case of a snack attack and a soup to have ready to warm up.
3.I love having a vat of bone broth to have in the fridge so that you can add it to stews, soups and casseroles as and when needed. Then I know I am putting extra nutrition into my meals.
4.Gradually buy dairy and sugar replacements like almond milk and maple syrup and dates. Test recipes out and see what works for you and for your family.
5.You can buy cold pressed green juices now, at online supermarkets, so it can be worth buying a couple of them to have in the fridge in case the idea of scrubbing the juicer down for the umpteenth time puts you off.
6.Add whatever extras you can to a smoothie in the morning; oats, flaxseed, chia seeds, goji berries, hemp, flaxseed oil, maca poweder, spirilina, whatever works for you as a little extra zing and protein punch to help your energy levels. If you get it right in the morning the day can only get better!
7.I have been encouraged to stick to a 20/80 ratio. At weekends I let my hair down and enjoy the occasional glass of wine and with a four year old around, gradually changing a fluorescent cupcake into a black bean brownie is a slow process! You have to be realistic and set goals that mirror that. I have put way too much pressure on myself, and often still do, but as long as I feel ‘clean’ on the inside, which I have ever since I started dabbling in all of this, I know Im ok.
Move over Mary Berry and prepare to throw out the butter, snarl at the milk and growl in the face of sugar! Recently, there has been an assault on the genre of healthy eating/living cook books. If you haven’t been into a local Waterstones recently or on social media, you must have had your head in a bucket. Welcome to the new ‘Kale and Coconut Revolution,’ where its positively hip to be healthy and if a Nutri Bullet came in animal print it would be the new must have fashion accessory!
The market is currently saturated with a range of nourish and nurture yourself recipe books. (Note; not Diet Books!) Full to bursting with beautifully staged and stylised photographs of wholesome natural recipes written by equally gorgeous people who have trained as chefs and nutritionists, have meal planned for the rich and famous or have struggled with various digestive problems like IBS, as well as different forms of cancer and auto immune diseases. The Observer magazine, ES Magazine and the Sunday Times Magazine, among others, have all splashed these ‘Green Goddesses’ on their front pages, introducing us all formally to their different areas of expertise. They explore variations of completely back to basic raw food plans that they thank for keeping them and their clients, disease free and healthy.
As a cancer patient I have been curious to explore whether these girls are indeed walking, talking proof of a no fad promise of renewed energy, skin that glows like, well, a glow worm and cleansed guts, all thanks to raw green juices, gadgets that produce courgettie (courgette spiralled into spaghetti of course!) and every superfood you can imagine. Of course, make up, wardrobe and social media can certainly help influence the best of us but to explore the pros and cons I have jumped aboard this nourish and nurture train eagerly waving a muslin cloth in one hand and a packet of almonds in the other, to see for myself if cutting the dairy and sugar can really aid healing, recovery and help my well being going forward.
I am not exactly a natural in the kitchen! My mother and grandmother are and were amazing cooks so after announcing I was taking a last minute gap year, I was herded onto a costly cookery course for the first six months. Unsurprisingly for the non skier that I am, rather than applying this course to being a chalet girl in the glamorous Swiss Alps, I threw on the back pack and proceeded to learn more about cooking with a rusty old pressure cooker in a shed half way up a mountain in the less glamorous foothills of the Himalayas!
‘The Kitchen Shed’
I lived as a vegan for five months while teaching in India, not because I wanted to jump on any hippy traveller band wagon but more because the only meat we could buy was the caged, feathered variety, who after being ordered for someone’s supper, was clumsily and publicly beheaded while you waited, like some crazy backward drive thru! As nineteen year old westerners, myself and my fellow teaching pals, decided it might not be worth the trauma of watching some poor emaciated birds last desperate flap for freedom simply to compound our chances of Delhi belly! Twenty years and three breast cancer diagnosis’ later, I’m dabbling with vegan recipes all over again, but this time with a few more gas rings and much better hygiene!
The Stove in my Indian kitchen!
Since my experimenting in this area of healthy eating began, a lot of friends and other patients have asked me which books I have found the most useful so I thought I would put together this short list and give a general run down of what they are all about.
Clean and Lean by James Duigan. This is the first book that sucked me in! James, an Ozzy health and fitness expert has written a brilliant, clear, sensible guide to really uncomplicated easy to do recipes, introducing the concept of cutting the Carbs, Refined sugar, Alcohol and Processed foods (C.R.A.P effectively!) He guides you through a great two week meal planner and at a time when I wanted to feel pro active about nutrition (just after my second diagnosis) it did the job. His Clean and Lean Warrior book has even coaxed hubby to tuck into asparagus on rye for breakfast! I admit I wasn’t sure about eating spinach in a full blown meal for breakfast every morning, but it certainly lays the foundations, explaining why it is good to eat greens first thing. It is a brilliant first step, introducing the concept of clean eating with fish and meat and choosing ingredients in their most natural state.
Honestly Healthy by Natasha Corrett and Vicki Edgson. After I was diagnosed with PCOS and was made acutely aware of the dangers of a high acidic diet and ‘leaky gut’ (don’t ask!) I tuned into this. Having learnt from ‘Jimbob’ above that sugar and processed foods contain the most acid (cancers love an acidic breeding ground) I wanted to know more about alkaline foods. I found it all a little intimidating at first. I was scared off by the small fact that it was very much vegan, not a bone in sight! However, after braving the soup recipes, I realised how straight forward they were and then on p.156 my love affair with Chocolate Balls began, and I learnt I couldn’t live without my food processor! HH also host supper clubs and cookery classes. I took part in one of the classes last year (full review to come!) It was a great way to put it all into practice with professional guidance. I love Natasha’s second book Honestly Healthy For Life too and the ‘Sienna’s bolognaise’ and the Sundried Tomato pesto are frequently made. There are a few books by Natasha now on the market but I love the app as it has smaller chunks so is great for at a glance ideas.
Beans, pulses and lots of spices!
Crazy Sexy Diet by Kris Carr was recommended to me by a retreat that is sitting top of my bucket list (may take a while to save for it though!) It will throw you ‘in at the deep end’ but I have been buoyed by Kris’s enthusiasm for life and all things positive after she was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer. This is an amazing resource for anyone looking to overhaul their whole lifestyle. Again, it is very much vegan but gives great explanation of why it’s good to omit meat. However, this is a totally personal thing and though the ratio of veggie to meat meals in our household has increased ten fold since I read these books, much to the irritation of hubby, I have not omitted meat and fish entirely from my own diet. Kris puts across a solid argument for everything she promotes though and it makes for fascinating reading. Skin brushing and positive daily mantras have now become part of my daily routine. The style and design are colourful and uplifting, full of energy and very zen! Kris is a huge social media buff, with frequent Facebook posts and I love her newsletters and encouraging daily affirmations. She is a huge advocate for easing up at weekends as well as giving yourself a real pat on the back for simply being you and trying. This is a book to have as a ‘dip in and out’ reference as you tread carefully into the world of chickpea curries and yoga, focusing more on lifestyle as a whole than specific recipes.
Kris Carr’s gorgeous Crazy Sexy Love Notes offer a little extra inspiration for each day
The Art of Eating Well by Hemsley and Hemsley. A dear friend got me hooked on this when she showed me their website. I loved how clear and easy it was to navigate. In my opinion, these two sisters have got the ideal balance between veggie, meat and fish, offering a slightly different perspective to the others mentioned already. Jasmine was a model, Melissa in marketing. They realised a stressful lifestyle was causing their bodies to suffer so with a list of the ten most useful things to do today on p.9, you feel eased into the whole philosophy. The best tip is that wellness comes from within and making time to start dishes from scratch and making things like bone broth, to keep in the fridge and use as and when needed, can make you feel rather self righteous! I love this book for its originality. The moroccan chicken is delicious as is the veggie chilli and the chicken adobo illustrates more of the Filipono influence from their mother. It is a very practical book and the pages of this one are already looking very well thumbed.
I regularly freeze portions of veggie chilli for those evenings I can’t be bothered!
Deliciously Ella is probably one of the more well known books. According to The Times Magazine on Saturday 23rd May 2015, Ella has the ‘most popular food account’ on Instagram with 440k followers. Three years ago she started a blog of recipes using a strict plant based, gluten free and sugar free diet, after she was diagnosed with Postural Tachycardia Syndrome, affecting your autonomic nervous system. The photography is beautiful, as is Ella, but I am not sure how realistic it is to think that by eating her sweet potato brownies I will end up looking as good as she does while doing yoga in only a bikini on a Caribbean beach!!! However, on a practical level, I like how it proves that just because the ingredient list may look long, the method usually just involves ‘chucking it all in at once’ and voila! I particularly like the more ‘treaty’ recipes in this book, namely the chocolate spread recipe and banana bread but can’t say my four year old has been fooled!
My nifty spiralizer at work!
Get the glow by Madeline Shaw is another favourite. Only recently published, Madeline’s story is one that many women may relate to. Having had an obsession with controlling food, its refreshing to see that this book also includes meat and fish with a six week programme using a wide range of simple, fresh recipes, appealing to those of us keen to educate ourselves on how to simply quit the sugar and have a ‘go-to’ list of healthier alternatives. The warming turmeric milk is a total knock out! (In every sense) As well as being great for helping insomnia, now I know how vital anti inflammatory ingredients like turmeric are for cancer prevention, I feel even more relaxed while sipping this before bed! I love the vibrancy and up beat tone of this book. Another Instagram fan, her background in Oz has clearly given her the lifestyle bug that doesn’t just have to be accessible for those surfing on Bondi every morning!
As the cancer rates increase and intolerances are more widely discussed and diagnosed, we are being empowered to use better ingredients and consequently favouring natural and holistic over ready made, microwave labels and high impact exercise! Yet, had I not been unwell I am not sure how enthusiastic I would have been to experiment so extensively with these books. Lets face it, maple syrup and mejool dates, as well as cookery classes and food processors, do not come cheap. Having so much choice also means that repetition becomes unavoidable and it can all feel a little over whelming at times. One could also say that apart from those of us who have suffered with health issues, this is a genre that is very focused on a social media obsessed middle class 20-40 yr age group. Indeed, everyone has an opinion but with so much choice available, this revolution is far from boring! Playing with food has never been so fun! When Ella had her first front cover on ES Magazine, the quote written under her sassily eating a strawberry stated;
‘Being healthy doesn’t mean I can’t have fun’.
– Ella Woodward, ES Magazine 10th April 2015
It is how we feel inside that is influencing our choices and I think these guys have simply tapped into a thirst for the pairing of healthy eating with a healthy state of mind. True, they play on all the senses, inspiring on all levels and with social media being such a massive tool available for them to reach all corners, this revolution is more accessible, promoting not just food, but mindfulness, holistic exercise, supplements and toxic free skin care. To an assertive patient the interactive options of cookery evenings, yoga classes and supper clubs in every whole food market and yoga studio in London could be seen as brilliantly motivating as well as empowering a generation to have a better relationship with food and encouraging people to understand the benefits of ‘clean living’.
‘Its so awesome to see the health food scene become so mainstream. Its very exciting’
Ella Woodward, Instagram, May 2015
At the end of the day I am just a pro active patient who is simply trying to reduce her chances of reoccurrence and if that means being more aware of what I am putting in my body, I still want to have choices. However, its all about balance and I do fall ‘off the wagon’ now and again. Its not about being on a ‘get thin quick diet’ or about ‘this avocado making me look gorgeous’, its a gradual lifestyle change but I generally feel so much better than I did three years ago. I feel cleaner and healthier inside, my skin is clearer and I sleep better and have barely any bloating. More importantly, I now have more knowledge about the foods that make me feel good and bad and why, plus I have a greater interest in eating varied, colourful, natural, fresh food (with the satisfaction of blitzing it to a pulp in a blender here and there. Beats boxing any day!).
It has to work for you, for your routine, your family and your lifestyle. If you have been ill, it goes without saying that you will be more conscious of what you are putting in your body, perhaps consulting professional nutritionists and making that extra effort, but nourishment is key, whether you have been ill or not. It’s not just nurturing your gut, but your body, your mind and your spirit too. Optimum healing will not work unless they are all working together. Peal away the glamour and posing for the camera’s in a designer dress, cradling cauliflowers, its simply about getting back to basics, on every level and with all the medical evidence staring us in the face, its quite refreshing in itself that by cutting the C.R.A.P in all areas of our lives, this revolution is just as raw as they come.
For a full list of the books and details included in this blog go to the Space to Learn directory