Are You Getting Enough Vitamin Sea?

Vitamin Sea? What is this I hear you cry?!

During 2018 I discovered my love for wild swimming, and this has become a regular outing for me: in particular, sea-swimming, even during the winter.

What has this got to do with anything?

Well, there are many health benefits to cold water swimming, of which I won’t go into detail about here because they are not relevant to every reader.

What is relevant and universal to all, is the identification of that certain something that makes your heart sing, what excites you, what do you look forward to the most? What is that sparkly thing that gets you out of bed in the morning? What is that one element that keeps you going during the tough times?

We all have these special connections within our lives. Yours might not be sea-swimming, but it could be another sport, or it could be a particular place, activity, food, book, music, event.

It is also important to note that your special connection to something may change over time, and perhaps you fall out of love with it, or it evolves into something else. This is absolutely fine too. Don’t hold onto it if it no longer serves you. Change is always inevitable.

Continue to explore your life, try new things, keep going, be aware of everything, appreciate each moment and those moments that sparkle will stand out (if you are paying attention).

And if you do this, you will find a happiness, a contentment, an eagerness, and a drive that you wholeheartedly know.

But sometimes the hardest part is the identification. We don’t really know what it is we want, or what will bring us happiness or joy. This is where courage has to play a part; we have to face our fears. For example, it may be finding the courage to go forward alone, try something new, it might be doing something that gets the adrenaline pumping, it might be overcoming self-doubt, it might be perseverance, hard work, a struggle of some kind.

Set out to make small steps forward. The greater your fear the higher the sense of achievement. The more nervous you are, the more there is to gain. The steeper the learning curve, the further there is to travel and grow. Don’t compare yourself to others, go at your own pace. If you are surrounded in darkness, don’t try to pull the curtains drawn all at once. Be kind to yourself.

You are in control of your own well being, and what better way to be well? To find your passion and follow it.

[Yoga Series #3] Engage the Pelvic Floor for Spinal Health

When we talk about pelvic floor muscles it is usually relating to urinary and sexual health, pregnancy or post-partum issues and problems. But actually the pelvic floor is also fundamental to our spinal health.

ID-100197696The deepest muscles of the pelvic diaphragm run from front to back (pubic joint to coccyx). The more superficial layers are those including the anal and urethral sphincters. During yoga the focus should be on engaging the deeper fibres which encourage an upward motion of energy, permitting the diaphragm to lift the base of the rib cage forward.

I have a tendency to over extend my lumbar spine and stick out my bottom: this isn’t good for spinal health, and my yoga journey is now showing me this.

To be able to flex the lumbar spine, the psoas, abs and pelvic floor must concentrically contract. So my natural tendency to over-extend, in combination with attempting postures of deep lumbar-flexion (for example a standing or seated forward bend) without engaging the core muscles properly will lead to pain. Combine this with other personal issues such as emotional stress and poor posture during work (treatments, sitting at desk, driving) has led to much discomfort.

In yoga there are three main diaphragms (pelvic, respiratory and vocal) which come together in movements that are coordinated with inhaling and exhaling. These coordinated actions of the diaphragms (in yoga these are known as “bandhas”) create more stability in the body, protecting it from injury by redistributing mechanical stress.

For example, when performing a forward bend, if the thoracic, abdominal and pelvic cavities are not supported with the breath, then there is no single centre of gravity. This puts extreme pressure on the posterior spinal muscles with a pivotal point in the lumbo-sacral junction, which is vulnerable to damage (exactly where my back pain has been!)

Have you ever reached or bent over to do something and automatically held your breath? The body does this to try and protect our spinal structures.

Actively employing the breath which engages all three diaphragms including the all important pelvic floor muscles, offers the spinal column complete support during a forward bend, by centering gravity in the pelvis, legs and feet, and allowing the spine to relax and allow in space. Remember – build the foundation! This is explained beautifully in [1].

In understanding this during the yoga practice, as well as daily activities, I have managed to reduce my lower back pain considerably. As always, stepping onto the yoga mat takes us on a journey inside the body.

For some fabulous diagrams of the pelvic floor muscles see [2].

[1] Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff, Amy Matthews

[2] http://www.dailybandha.com/2015/05/the-pelvic-floor.html

Image courtesy of cooldesign at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Jackie Marsden MAR is a qualified reflexologist, promoter of healthy living and independent consultant (Team Leader) for Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic. Jackie leads and mentors a growing team of consultants (many of whom are therapists integrating organic products into their existing businesses) via the NYRO social selling channel, holding regular team meetings, one-to-one coaching via phone and facetime, and a closed facebook group. All views are my own.

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[Yoga Series #1] Yoga for Foot Health

Our feet are our foundation. We often use language like “take a stand” or “stand on your own two feet”; phrases that represent our feet as an action of autonomy, and one of independence. Our feet create a stable base for us to live our lives.

Much of this is covered during yoga. I love my regular yoga practise and it really is something that unfolds over time, and is always a journey of self-discovery. It helps me listen to my body and thus get to know it. But I have recently found that my focussing more attention to my feet during my practise can really make such a huge difference to the poses and what I get out of my practise. If my feet are positioned correctly and active, then everything else follows.

So let’s look at the feet in yoga and see this in action. Being a reflexologist I’m always interested in feet! So below are a few poses I’ve selected especially for the feet.

Tadasana (Mountain Pose) This pose is all about grounding through the feet, feeling the earth energy pulling us down but at the same time our cosmic energy pulling us up through the crown. Working with this pose will over time give you a great sense of stability, just like a mountain, and this largely comes through focussing on the feet. Spreading the toes and lifting up the arches while simultaneously grounding the foot down into your mat.

Thai Goddess Squat Pose. This pose is an intense stretch of the foot flexor muscles on the plantar of the foot. Start on your hands and knees with your toes curled under. Gradually over time decrease the weight bared by the hands and shift over to the feet until you are in an upright position. The intense stretch can be painful and intense for the toes so don’t attempt this if you have any contraindication in your toes or feet. This stretch also works into the plantar fascia and the Achilles tendon. It is a great foot strengthener. Start of with holding for just a few seconds and progress over time.

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Tree pose. This is a balance, and no matter where you have your other leg or foot lifted, the grounding foot and leg is always going to get a good workout. Concentrating on the foot here is crucial – the positioning of the foot must be good to maintain balance and prevent toppling over!

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog). This is a great overall stretch for the body, both a resting and active pose, however if you concentrate on your feet during this pose it will open out a new level of discovery. Once I’m warmed up and my heels start to touch the mat, this is where focussing on grounding through the feet and toes, but lifting up through the arches can really help with alignment of the hips and engage the root lock (pelvic floor area).

Trianga Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana. This pose is great for helping to correct dropped arches and flat feet, stretching into the foot flexors. It’s also a great stretch for the ankle. In a seated position bend one leg so that the foot is beside the outside of the hip. This can be intense for the knee so don’t attempt if your knee is contraindicated in anyway. Either sit tall for 5 breaths or bend forward at the hip holding onto the foot of the straight leg.

Please note that I a not a yoga instructor.

Read the second in this series [Yoga Series #2]: Feet are our Foundation.

Image courtesy of pat138241 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Jackie Marsden MAR is a qualified reflexologist and independent consultant (Team Leader) for Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic. Jackie leads and mentors a growing team of consultants (many of whom are therapists integrating organic products into their existing businesses) via the NYRO social selling channel, holding regular team meetings, one-to-one coaching via phone and facetime, and a closed facebook group. All views are my own.

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What can we do for Eczema?

Eczema is dry, itchy, flaky, red and inflamed skin (and sometimes worse). It is largely a chronic condition meaning that it is long-lasting and can be controlled but not cured.

Those suffering with eczema usually suffer also with other conditions such as asthma and hayfever. This is because they are all types of allergies; the body has an inapproprate allergic reaction to antigens that are usually harmless (e.g. animal hair, pollen, dust). When the body reacts in this way it releases huge amounts of histamine which then causes inflammation, itching, sneezing, wheezing etc. It is usually the immune response that causes the damage to the body, not the allergen itself. (1)

So what can we do for eczema, and why do people suffer with eczema? I believe it has a lot to do with the gut. If we don’t have good gut health then the toxic overload is too much for our bodies and the skin will try to help by excreting those toxins. Remember that the skin is an outlet as well as a protective barrier and receptor. So cleaning up diets, eliminating processed foods, sugar, caffeine etc. and increasing the intake of vegetables and water is going to have a profound effect in the long term. I think we all have room for improvement with our diets!

But in the shorter term something is needed to apply to the skin to reduce the symptoms and give relief. This is particularly true for children whom are a large group of atopic (hereditary) eczema suffers.  Any petroleum-based products are not going to do this. The skin might feel soft and moisturised initially but after continued use the product will block the skin’s pores, causing imbalances in the skin’s natural equilibrium and resulting in even more problems.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and its replacement, Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) are both known irritants. Beware of products labelled “sensitive”. Many products on the market are full of chemicals that have no place on the skin. However, most people can tolerate them. For those who can’t, the manufacturer removes the problem chemicals, and replaces them with some that are actually worse, on the basis that the customer is unlikely to react to both. (2)

The following products are those which myself and colleagues have seen to be helpful with treating eczema:

NYRO baby balm. This balm protects and calms the skin with a combination of gentle, moisturising ingredients, including olive oil, coconut oil and shea nut butter. Apply as required to affected areas. One mother kindly shared these amazing photographs of her daughter’s eczema, before and after using the NYRO baby balm for 6 weeks.

eczema before

eczema after

For small patches of eczema or dermatitis, consider the NYRO Stellaria Cream  which is fabulous at reducing itching. Chickweed, a traditional herb renowned for cooling and soothing itching or red skin, is the active ingredient in this formula.

Another fantastic product to try is the anti-inflammatory and deeply soothing Calendula and Oat Lotion, which is suitable for extreme dryness and sensitive skin.

calendula_oatOne particular customer has experienced great success with seemingly uncontrollable eczema by the daily application of organic virgin coconut oil. The Neal’s Yard Remedies coconut oil is raw, unrefined, unbleached, and processed without heat to retain its unique balance of nutrients. Applied directly to the skin, coconut oil makes an extremely effective conditioning treatment, gently soothing dry, sensitive skin or scalps.

As a reflexologist, I am very much aware of the power of stress and what it can do to the body. If you are suffering with eczema it could be exacerbated by stress, or vica versa. A course of reflexology might help the situation, calming the sympathetic nervous system and in turn stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system and allowing the body to regain a state of relaxation and homeostasis. During the reflexology sessions particular emphasis would be paid to specific reflex points, particularly those of the digestive system, endocrine system, lymphatics and immune systems.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the lungs are linked to the colon; they share the same meridian. This ties in with the commonalities between eczema, asthma and hayfever, and highlights another reason to look to improve digestive health. They are both organs of elimination.

Along with a cleaned-up diet, a cleansing and healing supplement such as aloe vera juice and/or beauty oil might also be used to help with the healing and replenishing process.  Aloe vera juice is an excellent digestive tonic. Beauty oil is a blend of avocado, hemp, flax and evening primrose oils.

(1) Ross & Wilson Anatomy & Physiology  in Health and Illness. p371

(2) Closed discussion thread

Jackie Marsden MAR is a qualified reflexologist and independent consultant (Team Leader) for Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic. Jackie leads and mentors a growing team of consultants (many of whom are therapists integrating organic products into their existing businesses) via the NYRO social selling channel, holding regular team meetings, one-to-one coaching via phone and facetime, and a closed facebook group. All views are my own.

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Reflexology and Fibromyalgia

What is Fibromyalgia? Fibromyalgia, also called Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS), is a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body. As well as widespread pain, people with Fibromyalgia may also have increased sensitivity to pain, fatigue, muscle stiffness, sleep disorders, problems with mental processes (“brain-fog”) e.g. problems with memory and concentration, dizziness and balance problems, headaches and migraines, digestive upsets. The exact cause of Fibromyalgia is unknown, but it’s thought to be related to abnormal levels of certain chemicals in the brain and changes in the way the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord and nerves) processes pain messages that are carried around the body. (1)

ID-100184055How might reflexology help Fibromyalgia sufferers? When we are stressed our bodies are on constant high alert, engaging our sympathetic nervous system ready to “fight or flight”. However this means that the parasympathetic nervous system is shut down, so things like digestion, relaxation and sleep patterns will not have optimum conditions to function properly. Pain is an obvious stress, both physically and mentally.

Reflexology is deeply relaxing which can help the body and mind break the constant stress cycle and seek re-balance. In general, we have around 7000 nerve endings in the feet, making them particularly sensitive and helpful for accessing the whole body. Reflexology might help manage and reduce the symptoms of Fibromyalgia through a tailored treatment plan specific to the patient’s particular issues. Depending on the level of intensity of pain, shortened reflexology treatments might be advisable to begin with. Below are the key symptoms of Fibromyalgia and the subsequent reflex points I can pay particular attention to during treatments:

  • Joint pain: concentrate on the relevant reflex points on the feet for joints concerned e.g. shoulder, knee, hips, jaw. Adrenal gland reflexes can be gently worked to stimulate the production of the body’s own anti-inflammatories and pain management.
  • Fatigue: pay attention to the adrenal glands and pancreas reflexes. This aims to increase energy and re-balance and regulate blood-sugar levels.
  • Sleep disorders: work the diaphragm reflex (to promote relaxation and calmer breathing), pineal and pituitary gland reflexes (to promote a re-balance of circadian rhythms and of the endocrine system in general).
  • Digestive upsets: general relaxation techniques to awaken the parasympathetic nervous system. Colon and small intestine reflex points in particular.
  • Headaches and migraines: concentrate on brain, spine, particularly cervical spine, head and neck area reflexes.
  • Dizziness and balance: concentrate on inner-ear reflex point.

Update Jan 2016 – Since first writing this blog I have trained in Reflexology Lymph Drainage and carried out a case study on a Fibromyalgia client. Further info to follow.

(1) http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Fibromyalgia/Pages/Introduction.aspx

Jackie Marsden MAR is a qualified reflexologist and independent consultant (Team Leader) for Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic. Jackie leads and mentors a growing team of consultants (many of whom are therapists integrating organic products into their existing businesses) via the NYRO social selling channel, holding regular team meetings, one-to-one coaching via phone and facetime, and a closed facebook group. All views are my own.

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Why Reflexology?

Many of my clients ask me, “what made you want to become a reflexologist?” and this is certainly an interesting question.

The short answer is that it just “came” to me. I woke one morning and knew that this is what I wanted to do.Feet together

Building up to this answer, I enjoyed regular reflexology during my first pregnancy. I always found it hugely relaxing, and liked the thought that by having reflexology my baby was receiving benefits from the treatment too. However, even back then, I still believe reflexology came to me; it found me.

I was introduced to Dr. Gowri Motha’s Gentle Birth Method by my yoga teacher, and was enlightened to improving my lifestyle and well-being in order to optimize my pregnancy and to give birth to a healthy baby. Throughout the book, each week of pregnancy gave information and advice and included here were various recommended complementary therapies. I wasn’t able to afford every treatment it suggested (however tempting it seemed!) but the one that leapt out at me was, yes you’ve guessed it, reflexology.

My reflexology training is hugely rewarding and satisfying. I have a greater understanding of the human body,  not just anatomically, but also those deeper aspects such as stress, emotions and thought processes – they each impact on our physical well-being and should not be underestimated. Taking an holistic approach to healing is something of which I am particularly passionate. I doubt I will ever stop learning and developing my knowledge and experience on this incredible journey.

Jackie Marsden MAR is a qualified reflexologist and independent consultant (Team Leader) for Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic. Jackie leads and mentors a growing team of consultants (many of whom are therapists integrating organic products into their existing businesses) via the NYRO social selling channel, holding regular team meetings, one-to-one coaching via phone and facetime, and a closed facebook group. All views are my own.

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Image copyright Jackie Marsden 2016