Finding balance is the holy grail for most of us, more so now than ever. From work/life balance to mental balance, we all know that finding equilibrium is what leads to less anxiety and stress, and more peace.
Yet as humans we sometimes find it difficult to implement this. In this article by Stylist here are 8 tips from people working in wellbeing, which suggest a few approaches to consider.
I really like the one about self-awareness and instilling boundaries. This is so important. As is understanding our motives and reasons for resisting what we know is good or beneficial for us. In psychology there is a term called “secondary-gains”. Primary gains are tied to the original cause of an issue, whereas secondary gains are the result of an issue. Secondary gains include the psychological benefits from the physical or psychological symptoms. So for example. If we suddenly remove heightened work stress yet we find that we’re still just-as-stressed, because another part of our life suddenly feels “busy”, then we might need to explore why we are drawn to “busyness” and consider whether we have a secondary gain from the act of being busy – such as being able to avoid something else that is occurring in our life e.g. does being “busy” allow you to miss certain other commitments you wish to avoid. Or else is the “busyness” a distraction from something else that needs attention and perhaps feels “too overwhelming” to look at.
In many cases, it’s likely that it’s possible to make adjustments in our lives and for us to instil balance by making some simple yet considered changes to our lifestyle. Of course, there will be busy periods during our lives, this happens, it’s when our life feels chronically busy or stressful that we need to take stock and evaluate things.
In this same Stylist article, there’s also a tip from me on the benefits of affirmations and the best time to use them. (See below.) But please do check out the full article here if you’re looking for some inspiration in relation to finding balance.
Last week I spoke to staff at the University of East Anglia about mindfulness of dreams and sleep. Initially, the talk was supposed to happen in person at the University’s Enterprise Centre – this was the plan back in January. However, due to COVID-19, the talk ended up taking place on Zoom. It was a real pleasure to speak to staff at the UEA. Thanks to everyone who took part and for all the great questions!
Finbarr Carter, UEA Student Enterprise Officer said: “Leah is a joy to work with. The lucid dreaming workshop she ran for us was amazing. She made the session so accessible, engaging and enjoyable for all. I think her extensive knowledge and experience enables her to lead with such confidence it put everyone at ease. The response was amazing and think it left everyone hungry for more”
Recently I felt very honoured to be approached by the Norwich University of Arts to speak to the students and staff about one of my favourite subjects – mindfulness of dreams and sleep.
To mark Mental Health Awareness Week in May, I created a virtual talk for the Art School explaining just how incredible lucid dreaming can be to find inspiration for creative projects. Many writers, artists, film makers and creatives use lucid dreaming to inspire their work – to find out more about that and how to find inspiration using lucid dreams to support your creative projects and wellbeing, check out more on You Tube – just click the below screen shot.
I was very happy to see The Moon Lab in the Eastern Daily Press this week – a big thank you to the journalist Emma Lee who was fascinated by the subject of lucid dreaming. And many thanks to all the kind messages and replies from followers on social media. I will reply to all your booking enquiries by Monday. If you’d like to read the piece just click on the above link.
In case you missed it, here is an article I wrote for the November 2019 issue of In the Moment magazine about poetry therapy. Don’t forget, I’m running some writing therapy workshops in Norwich this spring. More here.
By Leah Larwood
In recent years creative writing, and indeed, poetry therapy has become an increasingly popular route for those looking for ways to improve their wellbeing. Yet putting pen to paper in order to process thoughts and feelings is actually an instinctive tool we learn very early on.
Over the years I’ve experimented with writing short stories, half a novel, a chapter of a memoir, a third of a screenplay and many journal entries. Yet for me, the most transformative and enriching writing form has been poetry. It’s offered a different ‘way in’, and on many occasions has channelled new awareness and insights from my psyche onto the page.
I’ve also experienced a real sense of accomplishment when writing a simple poem. Every word counts. A poem is succinct, packed with meaning. Unlike attempting a short story or a novel, it offers a faster dose of fulfillment – often it takes just a few hours to write a draft poem.
Poetry isn’t just a vehicle to express your feelings and opinions, it’s also a way to develop your voice, identity and character. In short, poetry hands you your power back, should it have ever left you.
Reading poetry is equally important too; the best poems will inspire you to reflect, dream, observe and grow. Poetry has of course experienced a revival in recent years. It’s partly thanks to modern poets such as Hollie McNish, Kate Tempest, Yrsa Daley-Ward and Rupi Kaur, who are masters (or rather, mistresses) at expressing contemporary concerns or truths.
In fact, truth telling is another reason why poetry continues to be universally loved. Briony Bax, Editor of leading poetry magazine, Ambit said: “Hollie McNish tells the truth in a way that makes us uncomfortable, she talks about the realities of living and uses her experiences to write about the caverns in our class system.”
You see, the therapeutic powers of poetry are not limited to just helping those through periods of low mood. It’s also an evocative way to be heard. Writing just a few lines of poetry can allow you to process experiences, often leading to new realisations about yourself and others. For others, it’s simply a way to work things out. Poet and Ted Hughes Award winner, Hollie McNish said:
“I’ve always written poetry. I guess at first it was confusion, or anger, or on a lighter level, humour. I liked working things out through poetry but also having a laugh too. It has certainly really helped me pick apart my thoughts on things and take my time more. As in, thinking things through, working things out more. It has also been an outlet of my honest thoughts on things, a place where I can just write for myself about whatever I want. What I then choose to share with other people comes second to that”.
Indeed writing for yourself, and no one else, is absolutely crucial. Being unedited allows you to authentically explore what maters to you. Also, by sculpting your emotions or concerns into a poem, it can give your conscious mind a holiday. It’s a great way to tap into the fountain of activity ‘beneath the iceberg’, within the subconscious mind. That’s where the ‘gold’ lies. Or as the Australian poet Les Murray describes poetry, “a zoo in which you keep your demons and angels”.
There are many other poets, myself included, who often use personal themes to explore past traumas, experiences or relationships. Poet, artist, tutor and Eric Gregory Award winner, Helen Ivory said:
“I found that using the character of Bluebeard, that famous wife-murderer (!) in my fourth collection Waiting for Bluebeard, enabled me to write about an abusive relationship I was in for eleven years. I found myself one day writing about a character called Bluebeard, which was around seven years after I had left him. Until that point I just had an amorphous dark shadow over that time. How could I be the woman living in Bluebeard’s house?
“I wrote the poems to understand how, and the poems began with my childhood and the shadowy figure of my father. In this way the writing process was extremely therapeutic for me, though I didn’t actually think that at the time. I didn’t force myself to write anything to help me organise things inside my head, but that’s what happened – I claimed my life.”
As a result, many people have connected with Helen’s poetry – her poems have enabled others to write or share their own experiences of domestic abuse too.
So what is it that makes poetry so therapeutic? Scherezade Sanchita Siobhan, psychologist and published poet said:
“Poetry’s therapeutic value is linked to its limitlessness. You can imagine yourself in newer, different places and thereby you can be transported away from the current clutch of worries or anxieties. You can create a collage for a world you wish to inhabit without being impeded by the notions of practicalities and borders.”
That was particularly true for me. I started dabbling in poetry just before I fell pregnant and then again when I started suffering from postnatal depression. As a busy and shattered new mother, I found it to be a manageable form. Writing poetry uplifted me in such a way that I was able to break through the feelings of isolation and grief by rediscovering my identify. I began to recognise myself again by communicating my reality onto the page. Sometimes this was executed with some ambiguity to the reader, which provided a ‘safe space’ where needed.
During those hazy mornings and difficult nights, what I was scribbling onto scraps of paper, in between feeds, wasn’t poetry. Much of my therapeutic writing did later transform into poems, but in those early days, words were fragments from my mind looking to escape. I captured all the dark thoughts, the things I couldn’t share with anyone. In fact, it was these most challenging times that brought a wellspring of inspiration. The page was a place I could go to make sense of things. Often, I’d end up finding missing pieces of the jigsaw – writing things I had no idea I was feeling or thinking.
Interestingly, I’ve recently discovered that there are specific types of poems you can explore, depending on how you are feeling. Psychologist, Scherezade Sanchita Siobhan added:
“Poems come in many different shapes and sizes. I have used haibun as a format for clients who have debilitating anxieties or OCD as part of their journaling practice. Elegies can be read and written to comfort one in times of grief or loss. There is a sense of companionship I derive from having read a poem that mirrors my current state of being. This can be true for others as well.”
However, I’m a big believer that you don’t have to fully understand technique or form to be able to write a poem or benefit from poetry therapy. Poets and teachers may argue that there is a great deal that can, and must be learned about form. With poetry therapy, what’s important is the process of writing, not the outcome.
Luckily, these days there are many opportunities to explore poetry seriously, for fun or as a form of creative therapy. There are also countless magazines, workshops, online courses, poetry schools, masters programmes, retreats, mentors, grants, competitions and regional 1:1 poetry clinics to choose from.
The most important thing to remember is to just write, from wherever is calling. Remain close to what matters to you, write free but stay true, and let the process unfold without overthinking it.
Must Read: Poetry Therapy Top Pick
William Sieghart has just launched a new book on the heels of his best-selling anthology, The Poetry Pharmacy. Poetry saved William’s sanity as an unhappy child and it became the thing he shared when he founded the National Poetry Day and the Forward Prizes for Poetry.His second self-help book, The Poetry Pharmacy Returns, is designed around modern anxieties, with poems prescribed to ease the mind. Themes include overthinking, pushy parenting, anxieties and insecurities, romantic exhaustion, misogyny and political apathy. From William Wordsworth and Robert Frost to Wendy Cope and Kate Tempest, The Poetry Pharmacy Returns is a collection from which to draw solace and strength.
I love anything to do with the subconscious mind and dreams. Though my interest in hypnotherapy really began when I became pregnant. It’s true that for some, hypnosis feels shrouded in mystery. So I thought, I need to blog about this to show just how helpful it can be.
What is hypnosis?
My favourite explanation of hypnosis is that it’s simply a guided meditation, it’s a completely natural state that we encounter many many times throughout an average day. The main difference is that, the majority of us don’t know the tools to tap into the full potential of this state of consciousness. If you practise meditation, yoga, lucid dreaming, mindfulness and reiki these are all obvious ways of evoking the state of hypnosis. We often pass in and out of hypnosis during the shower, driving our cars, walking the dog, running, as we fall asleep and as we wake up.
Hypnosis isn’t when we are asleep; it’s an altered state of consciousness. It’s when the conscious mind is so relaxed, the subconscious mind becomes accessible. Everything we’ve learnt is stored in our unconscious and when in a state of hypnosis, it’s possible to tap into the goldmine of your subconscious to change patterns. The hypnotherapist is simply the guide. It’s the individual receiving hypnosis, who has the biggest impact on the degree of change they experience. Largely through the strength of their motivation and intent.
It’s then about using a series of techniques to tap into the individual’s highest potential. For hypnotherapy to work, it’s crucial that you’re relaxed. Hypnotherapy is about focusing your attention, to maximise your responsiveness to suggestion in order to manifest positive change, to help change patterns, behaviours and your psychological state.
How does it work?
Daydreaming is the first of the levels in a trance state. Beta is the waking state, where we are fully conscious, logical and make decisions whereas alpha is known as a creative state – full of imagination. Theta can be a dream state and delta is where deep sleep occurs. Alpha and Theta are the states when we are the most susceptible to hypnosis, where behaviour modification will occur.
It seems Hypnosis is simply about being in a deep-enough state of relaxation to access the subconscious and affect positive change.
What do you experience?
When in the hypnosis state, both your conscious and subconscious mind usually enter into the alpha state, a relaxed dream-like state which allows these two parts to communicate. We don’t want one or both states to fall into an unconscious sleep but for the two to communicate.
It seems everyone is different in terms of what they experience during hypnosis. In terms of the psychological and physical aspects, sensations and overall experience. Some people are fully aware of everything going on, others feel sleepy yet still aware and others will do into a deep trance-like state, where they wake from the hypnosis with no recollection. Regardless of whether you go into a deep trance or a light stage of hypnosis, suggestions will still be effective.
What happens if you stay in hypnosis?
If you enter hypnosis and were to remain in a trance – with no hypnotic suggestions or further guidance – you would either simply fall asleep then wake from a pleasant nap or return to full consciousness on your own.
How can hypnosis help?
Hypnosis can be used to produce anaesthesia in the body, which can help with dentist appointments for example. It’s great for anxiety, phobias, helping you to stop smoking, drinking, over-eating. It can improve sleep, reduce stress and control pain. It can even help control bleeding and the heart rate! So it seems that the hypnosis state, which seems very focused, can enable you to powerfully remove your attention (and your mind) from psychical pain, taking you to a calm, peaceful, pain-free space instead.
Have you had any experiences of hypnotherapy? What did you have it for? How did you feel during the session and has it helped you to change any unhelpful patterns?
I made my first poppy tincture last summer and it was a success!
I harvested the petals last June, made a tincture a couple of weeks later and it’s been sitting on a dusty shelf in my kitchen for a while. I’ve literally only started using it recently since having a bout of insomnia. Apart from one particularly bad night, it’s worked every time. Now that poppy season is upon us, I thought I’d blog about it.
I’ve always been a big sleeper, as humans we all differ. I need a minimum of 8 hours and to feel normal I need around 9 – 10 hours a night. To feel on top of the world I need 11. I know, mad right? But it’s not a total waste of life, because I’m a lucid dreamer. But that’s another blog post.
However, being a Mum of a four year old, I only receive 9 hours sleep perhaps once a week or fortnight if I’m lucky. My average is around seven. As a result, I have had bouts of insomnia in anticipation of limited sleep, specifically difficulty getting off to sleep. Hence my exploration of poppy tincture!
Not only is it good for aiding sleep, it’s also…
Good for: Nervous digestion, irritable bowel, headaches, over-excitability, anxiety and nervousness.
Available: Flowers and seeds are used, harvested in summer.
Habitat: Arable land and other disturbed ground.
To make poppy tincture you need the common red poppy (papaver rheas) which is pictured above, and not to be confused with the opium poppy, pictured below, which has a much thicker stem, is taller and generally grander in appearance, and has grey-green leaves. The opium poppy flowers are usually lilac with darker centres, although we also have red opium poppies growing in our garden. So avoid this variety, it should be obvious but if in doubt look into it thoroughly. The opium poppy has a dangerous reputation because of its hallucinogenic and potentially harmful effects.
Apart from the red poppies pictured in the left-hand pic, all the other poppies in the above ’tiles’ are opium poppies: the lilac ones you see dotted around in the left pic, and also the red poppies top-right and bottom-left pics (above). Their stems are thicker, it feels as though you could snap them.
Just look out for the common red poppy, which is the one that grows in abundance in wastelands, fields and gardens. It’s stem is very thin and fuzzy, with paper thin silk petals. Though just be mindful that the opium poppies can grow next to the common red ones, as shown in the left had pic above.
It’s important with herbalism and making tinctures that you are certain that you’ve selected the correct plant. Always check with a herbalist if unsure. There are lots of identification books out there. And if you have any concerns or other health conditions it’s always best to seek advice from your GP first.
How to Prepare Poppy Tincture
It’s really easy to make! Simply fill a jar with fresh red poppy petals, then top it up with vodka. Shake well and add more vodka if needed to fill the jar. Store in a cool dark place like a cupboard for two weeks. Strain and bottle.
This tincture is very warming and is better for treating pain than poppy glycerite because its more rapidly absorbed by the body. It will keep for a couple of years.
Dosage: Start with half a teaspoon at bedtime and monitor effects before considering increasing to one teaspoon.
You can also make a glycerite with poppy petals, which is better for children, just buy a food grade glycerite and add 60% glycerite to 40% water. Stir well and place on a windowsill or somewhere sunny. Shake or stir the contents every day. Once the petals have faded white you can remove them and add fresh ones until you have a rich deep colour. It will keep for a year.
In addition to the other benefits already mentioned, the glycerite is also good for irritable coughs.
Disclaimer: It’s important with herbalism and making tinctures that you are certain that you’ve selected the correct plant. Always check with a herbalist if unsure. There are lots of identification books out there. And if you have any concerns or other health conditions it’s always best to seek advice from your GP first.
Wild daisies are one of the many flowers that you can eat and use in cooking. They make a lovely addition to salads and smoothies and you can also make medicinal tea from them too.
It’s timeless and well-loved and daisy tea is a great thing to make with small children.
Though, I should add a bit of a disclaimer here too, whenever we’re picking herbs from the garden or plants from the wild, I’m cautious about explaining to my four year old that it’s important to check with a grown up first before you eat any of these wild herbs or flowers. But I think with the right guidance and supervision it’s a beneficial thing and their knowledge of the natural world will only grow.
I first discovered the power of daisies during a foraging course I took part in last year. If you’re interested in foraging for herbs, you can find more here in my post from last year. This post also takes you to a weblink to a different article I wrote for Female First.
Wild daisies are great for lingering coughs, liver, kidneys and inflammation. They are also known to be a blood purifier. Daisy will also strengthens appetite and metabolism.
Country folk are said to use it for various other things too including swollen feet, digestion, and externally for rashes and wounds.
How to Make Daisy Tea
To make daisy tea, the first step is to make sure you harvest daisies that haven’t been sprayed with any chemicals. If you know your garden is free from chemicals, that’s probably your best bet otherwise find a secluded spot in the countryside, away from arable fields.
To make a small teapot of daisy tea, simply take a small handful of daisies with fairly short stalks, and steep in boiling water and wait for around 5-10 minutes.
Or you can add a couple of small spoonful to a cup of boiling water instead.
You can drink up to three cups a day and as with any herbal remedies if you’re breast-feeding or pregnant it’s best to avoid them just in case, as there isn’t the research available.
I haven’t done a recipe post with a poetry pairing for some time now! I used to do this often when I started blogging. Whereby I would post a favourite recipe and instead of selecting a wine to pair with the meal I would offer a suggested poetry pairing, a poem you might like to read with your meal, something that matches the tone, texture and mood of the food. The below is perhaps a bit ‘on the nose’ but I trawled through quite a few and I kept coming back to this. It reminds me of innocence, and youth. Plus I could quite imagine Emily approving of daisy tea.
Here is a round-up of three delightful wellbeing books Eddison Books Ltd sent me recently.
Natural Painkillers: Relieve Pain with Natural Remedies and Exercises by Dr Yann Rougier & Marie Borrel (£12.99)
This is an incredibly user-friendly book that breaks down how to manage pain naturally. It starts by explaining just how pain is transmitted in your body and then it goes onto suggest foods that can contribute to alleviating pain. I’m a firm believer in using the mind to support pain relief. Hypnobirthing worked really well for me during child birth and in this book it gives you some great advice on using deep-breathing and relaxation to support pain relief. The last section offers practical advice for common aliments.
I’m very interested in herbology after a short course I took part in last year. This is a great book for offering natural remedies for things like period pains, indigestion, bloating, chest pains, heartburn cramps, stiff neck and joint pains. It lists all the different types of pain you might encounter, including every-day things like head aches, bloating and ear ache, right through to blisters, back pain and reflux.
Did you know that pineapple has anti-inflamatory properties? And peppermint can relieve a headache? Or that you can alleviate joint pain by massaging specific points on the wrist?
The Ketogenic & Hypotoxic Diet: Lose Weight and Improve Health with This Low-Carb, High-Fat, anti-Inflammatory Plan by Olivia Charlet (£12.99)
This book claims to offer a revolutionary diet that fights disease and promotes healthy weight loss. It also shows you how to incorporate key ingredients into your diet. The idea is to eat more fats and a lot less sugar if every kind. It’s based on scientific research that is linked to helping to prevent things like diabetes, dementia and cancer.
So overall I did enjoy reading about this approach but I was less keen to read about certain ingredients being part of the plan such as meat, and particularly ham, which, even if you are a meat-eater, isn’t processed pork one of the most unhealthiest meats? So, although this one isn’t for me personally, there were some sterling healthy vegan recipes such as the Golden Turmeric Milk drink, Macadamia Nut Cheese and Almond Crepes, which I shall be certainly trying out!
Essential Oils You Can’t Do Without: The Best Aromatherapy Oils for Health, Home and Beauty and How to Use Them (£12.99)
My Dad first introduced me to essential oils when I was a teenager. Back then I thought they were just pretty fragrances and didn’t realise that they were so beneficial in a number of ways. They seemed a bit hippy, and faddy. But I was wrong. I later discovered some wonderful benefits for headaches and relaxation that continue to work for me today. This book offers 300 different ways to use essential oils every day.
I really enjoyed leafing through this; it offers some great solutions that can help with beauty care, housework, health and gardening. I love a practical solution that’s also better for the environment.
In this book you’ll find more about the six recommended multipurpose oils: tea tree, lemon, lavender, peppermint, rosemary cineole, and damask rose. All of these are ‘must-haves’ and the book shows you how you can also combine certain oils to help with various things. It offers ideas for using these oils to help with things like anxiety, insomnia and high blood pressure.
It also tells you how to use the oils to turn them into lotions and face masks. This is something I’ve done in the past and had plans to do more of this summer, so I’m looking forward to producing more now I have this useful guide to hand.
OK so we’re in the thick of it now. Winter. No signs of sweet berries, unless you stock piled some from the summer – this is the first time I’ve actually done this and I must say I’m feeling slightly smug about my freezer habits for the first time in my life. But if you haven’t, Sainsbury’s do rather good frozen fruits too.
As for other winter foods. There are heaps around that you can get all the best nutrients from. It’s best to avoid out of season veg if you can, for a few reasons.
Nutritionists and foodies both agree that it’s important to incorporate seasonal produce in your diet. Not only will it have a positive impact on your health and on the planet but on your purse strings too.
It’s also a great opportunity to vary your diet, try news things and experiment with different foods. Plus, you’ll probably find that your taste buds change (for the better) and it’s heaps healthier. So what’s all the fuss about seasonal foods?
Here are just five reasons why seasonal produce is a much smarter choice:
Seasonal Local Foods Taste Better
Firstly, seasonal fruit and veg will always taste fresher, lovelier, sweeter and riper. When that piece of fruit or veg has naturally ripened and has been harvested at the right time, it will have stacks more nutritional content and flavour too.
When overseas crops have been imported, usually they have been harvested early and then chilled so they travel well. However, when they are refrigerated, this reduces the flavour.
Before they even make it to the supermarkets, they’re often kept at a holding house where they’re heated so that they can complete the ripening process. This of course is artificial and doesn’t yield the same quality, flavour or texture.
I’m sure you’ve experienced this with things like watery, bland tomatoes and pale tasting strawberries!
Local produce that has been purchased in-season and close to its natural harvesting time, will have a better nutritional content. When overseas produce has been stored for some time, it will loose a lot of its goodness.
Local fruits and vegetables will also look brighter and less limp and dried up. Supermarkets often buy out of season produce that’s been treated to kill germs and sometimes they are preserved in wax to extend the shelf life.
When fruit and veg has been imported, you just can’t guarantee what’s happened to them after they’ve been picked! Regulations for pesticides and herbicides vary drastically. The UK is pretty good but there are loads of countries, even those within Europe, that have relaxed laws about chemicals being sprayed on fruits and vegetables.
Easier on your bank balance
It’s a known fact than when farmers have a huge crop of seasonal produce, the cost to consumers will go down. Plus, they don’t need to worry about travel expenses and storage, production and therefore this is passed onto us the customer!
Eating seasonally reduces the demand for out of season produce which further supports more local produce and supports local farming in your area which means less transportation, less refrigeration, less of those hot houses and less irradiation of produce.
It’s a no-brainer, right?
However, it’s easy to loose track of what’s ‘in’ and what’s out of season. So starting this winter, I’ll be blogging about foods from each of the seasons over the coming year. Below is a list of seasonal, local foods for the winter.
UK Seasonal Winter Vegetables
EAT THE SEASONS
Purple sprouting broccoli
In the Spotlight:
My Favourite Winter Seasonal Veg
I’m currently addicted to Romanesco. It’s half between a cauliflower and a broccoli. Try it roasted in the oven with a generous drizzle of olive oil and with slices of shallots or thin slices of red onion and some garlic. Cook for around 20 – 25 mins on 180 degrees. It’s great as a side dish to fish dishes and other veggie mains.
Fruit and veg stall pictures taken at Mike & Debs – Norwich Market, one of my favourite spots in Norfolk for local veg. www.facebook.com/MikeDebsandSons