• Mind Trap at Chelsea Flower Show 2017

    This is a much delayed blog post but one not to be forgotten. In May I attended the Chelsea Flower Show to take part in the Mind Trap, a garden designed with the purpose of raising awareness of mental health difficulties. Mind Trap’s designer Ian Price wanted to create a garden which can immerse the visitor in an experience that gives insight into what it is like to suffer from and live with mental health issues and I believe he did just that.

    Based on Ian’s personal battle with mental ill health and depression, every element of Mind Trap was carefully structured to symbolise a facet of mental ill health. From the black-water pond which gently rippled so as not to allow you to see a true reflection of yourself, to the harsh metal walls that loomed in on you making you feel caged with only a few rays of light at certain angles, each stone, plant and shrub carefully chosen to align with his mission.

    My role was to incorporate a mindfulness element in the garden, and I’m honoured to have played a small part in Mind Trap. The Duchess of Cambridge spent some time talking with Ian as she viewed the garden, I believe Mind Trap has gone some way to raise awareness and end stigma around mental health, causes that are clearly of importance to her.

    You can see more of the gold medal winning Mind Trap here. Thanks to Jonathan at Ginger Horticulture for the images.



  • The Yoga Summit - free access

    First there was the Mindfulness Summit followed by the Neuroscience Summit and now comes..... the Yoga Summit - all my loves all with their very own summit!

    Ok, so I'm a little late on this one as it's already started but there are still a few weeks of the Yoga Summit left to go. You can hear interviews with world renowned yoga teachers and access simple yoga and meditation practises. Access to each day's content on that day is free, all you need to do is register here and you'll be sent a daily reminder with details of who'll be speaking and what they'll be speaking about. Enjoy!



  • Harvard Medical School recommends yoga for a range of health benefits

    As part of their Harvard Health Publication series, Harvard Medical School (HMS) have just published “An Introduction to Yoga” to help you discover the many health benefits of yoga and to help you establish a practise of your own. Yoga is a huge area of interest for research and HMS recognise that there is a growing evidence-base indicating the myriad of positive effects that engaging in a yoga practise can bring about.

    As well as reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress and improving flexibility, balance, strength and co-ordination, HMS state that “yoga can help reduce the risk of heart disease, relieve migraines, fight osteoporosis, MS, IBS and fibromyalgia, and reduce the harmful effects of stress. It can be used to alleviate lower back pain and arthritis pain. Yoga revs up immunity, activates brain areas that increase a sense of joy, switches on genes that promote health and decreases the need for diabetes medication. The meditation component of yoga may even help to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and fight age-related declines in memory. In fact, yoga does so much for your health, studies show people who do yoga use 43% fewer medical services.”

    HMS also cite a study which has found that “yoga increased the flexibility of blood vessels by 69%, and even helped to shrink blockages in arteries without the use of medications!” The full research report by Sivasankaran et al (2008) can be found here

    Pretty amazing stuff! You can read more about the HMS report here.



  • Exercise boosts brains!

    Exercise is helpful for us for many different reasons. It’s one of the important ways that we maintain our physical health. It also helps boost our mental health by the release of endorphins – our natural painkiller that gives us that “feel good buzz” during and after exercise. Through neuroscience, the science of the brain and nervous system, we are discovering that exercise can be helpful in many other ways as well, especially in relation to mood and emotion – let’s have a look at some of the other effects.

    1. It lowers the resting tension of muscles thus interrupts the anxiety feedback loop to the brain – basically, it softens tightness in the muscles, calming the body. If the body is calm, the brain is less prone to worry.

    2. With exercise we can increase Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Every time we engage in any thought or behaviour, an associated pathway of brain cells will “fire” that pathway. The more we engage in that thought or behaviour the stronger that pathway becomes and hence we increase the likelihood of that thought or behaviour. This is why it feels so hard to change how we respond to some of our unhelpful thoughts and to reduce unhelpful behaviours. But with wilful effort, we can weaken those pathways and make those shifts. This change in pathways is also what underpins practise, the more we do something, the stronger those pathways become and practise gets easier. By becoming more mindful and practising engaging in helpful thoughts and behaviours we are developing more helpful ways to respond to situations and alongside that will be the development of brain cell pathways that fire each time we do. Those pathways will become stronger and thus practise feels less effortful over time. So, how is Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) involved in this?? Well basically, BDNF is like fertiliser for our brain! It helps to keep our brain cells functioning and growing, as well as spurring the growth of new brain cells. This is soooo helpful when we are learning new skills that need those new pathways to become stronger and stronger. Exercise really does help us learn!

    3. BDNF can also increase serotonin levels. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain and low levels of serotonin can be a factor in depression and anxiety.

    4. GABA is another chemical in the brain, low levels of which are associated with anxiety and depression. Many anti-anxiety medications work by increasing levels of GABA. When we exercise, guess what happens to GABA? It increases! So we can think of exercise as our own anti-anxiety activity.

    5. When we increase our heart rate through exercise, our heart muscle cells release a chemical called ANP which has the effect of reducing our body’s stress response. So it’s like our body becomes used to the increased heart rate and teaches itself to calm itself down. This is different to what happens when our heart rate increases when we feel stressed or anxious as psychologically, when we exercise we feel more in control of the increased heart rate. So by exercising we are boosting our resilience to stress.

    So, here we have some very clear reasons to help motivate us to do exercise, not only to keep us physically fit, but also to help us manage feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. If you’re unsure where to start you can speak to your GP about Exercise on Referral (if you think you are suffering with anxiety or depression) or think about starting small – even 5 minutes of exercise is better than none at all!

    Taken from “Spark” by Dr John E Ratey and Eric Hagerman (2008). With thanks to Heather Mason at The Minded Institute.



  • Yoga makes Harvard's top 15 in 2015

    Wow, I'm so happy to see that yoga has made Harvard Medical School's top 15 headlines of 2015! I've also this week started teaching a Yoga Therapy for the Mind 8 week course at Triyoga, and it never ceases to amaze me how much better I feel after teaching these sessions, even after a long day at the psychology service. Have a read of the Harvard article, it disucsses some of the health benefits of yoga that occur "beyond the mat". But more importantly, don't take their word for it, try it for yourself, plus there's loads more benefits to be had beyond those listed! Click here to access the article.



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Bring balance back to your mind and body using yoga and mindfulness - learn how to cultivate focus, develop resilience and improve wellbeing

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