Wellbeing, it’s elemental. Part 1: Air

My pile of summer holiday reading has included this little gem. It couldn’t have come at a more apposite time. Standing in queues, spending hours in front of a computer screen zooming with pupils, calming anxious teens or fretful toddlers, worrying about what the ‘new normal’ will look like…..we all need to draw breath. But how do you know that you are doing this most fundamental aspect of life well?

Last time a book about breathing landed on my desk it was also a good time. I was uber-busy and about to introduce a learning program to help my students manage their time better. I know all about breathing in, focusing on something positive or colourful and breathing out a few times to reset my mental attitude or those of my children. I’m aware of the benefits of slowing down my breath to promote a feeling of calm, of keeping my airways clear, my posture open and balanced and my feet literally grounded to promote mindfulness. And yet I hadn’t really considered the benefits of nose-breathing or the pitfalls of over-breathing. Even a few small adjustments to the way we breathe can affect our health. It can “jump-start athletic performance, rejuvenate internal organs, halt snoring, allergies, asthma and auto-immune disease and even straighten scoliotic spines”. As a natural optimistic sceptic I want to believe that this is true, but I needed the evidence. James Nestor has drawn on thousands of years of medical texts and some recent cutting-edge studies as well as subjected himself to a fair degree of experimentation to provide it for me.

I know some people have got fitter and leaner during lockdown – but I haven’t. I suffer from an auto-immune disease – and it hasn’t miraculously cleared up whilst I have been wandering the garden in my pyjamas in the early morning with a mint tea in my hands. And someone (or some several) in the house snores! Being disciplined about breathing correctly is a relatively easy way to kick-start my journey back to tip-top health before school begins in September. The book has an appendix of ‘breathing methods’ and there are some video and audio tutorials of these techniques, and more at https://www.mrjamesnestor.com/breath

If you are feeling less than healthy or anxious or hopeless or like me busy but in need of a bit of a boost, begin by paying attention to your breathing. It’s fundamental to your wellbeing ….and it’s free.

 

 

Pembrokeshire promise

This week we took the teens whose summer plans had crumbled back to the scene of many of their childhood holidays. A last-minute booking of a comfortable cottage adjoining farmland in Lamphey, Pembrokeshire led to a few sunny days of coastal walks, beach cricket, reading, picnics, clifftop  ice creams, garden boules, sunset chip suppers, beer and a late-night box set of Foyle’s War.

More of a mini-break than the promised holiday but it did us all a lot of good to be together by the sea. Not that we’ve been short of time together since the end of March. It might be the only beach time we get this summer. I’m glad we made the most of it.

We’re planning a Winter version at the end of the year.

Smudging

Seven weeks in lockdown hasn’t been that bad. Truly. Yet the lack of a focus for three teens who have had their examinations cancelled and their holiday plans dashed and two parents working flat out from home could possibly stir emotions and make them bubble up periodically. It’s natural.

This morning I cut back a hefty bunch of sage which had been overhanging the garden path and it’s now drying in the kitchen. I think I may do some smudging around the house in the near future.

Before you roll your eyes and think I’ve lost the plot or reverted to my Druidic ancestry there is some science behind this traditional practice of cleansing your home of negative and stagnant energy. It releases negative ions that fight against dust and pollution. Research has also shown that it can clear 94% of bacteria (for up to 24hrs) which is why it’s great to use when you’ve been feeling a little under the weather.

Here’s how. You can buy beautifully packaged but slightly expensive white sage smudging sticks or make your own from cuttings. I’m using garden sage which is not strictly correct as you’ll see from the comments which follow. Artemisia is the plant to use. Bind round the leaves with string so that you have a tight bundle. Gather together a flameproof bowl, matches and the bundle. Open the windows, light the end of your stick and blow out the flame, leaving it smoking gently. Then make your way around your house carrying the sage bundle over the bowl, wafting the smoke into all areas as you progress. You’re  aiming for gentle puffs not thick black fumes that leave your neighbours phoning the fire brigade and all the smoke alarms ringing out.

It works. And no do I look like I would do this when the teens are around to engage in friendly banter about mum’s bonkersness (is that even a word?). First thing in the morning is a golden opportunity. Teenagers in lockdown don’t rise at 6am, unlike their working parents.

Easter highlights

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No trip to Stourhead followed by a coffee and cake, no egg hunts, no sunrise walk around the village fields, no church service.

It’s been a different kind of Easter this year but there was some chocolate eating, home-baked cake, a family roast dinner and gardening.

It’s been great to catch up virtually with what friends have been doing. These beautiful photographs tell me what is important about this time of year – new life and renewal.

Lunar living

Pop out into your garden at around 3.35am tomorrow morning and you’ll see a beautiful pink supermoon. It seems particularly significant whilst many of us are isolated from our wider family and friends. The moon is one of the few constants right now. When you look up at the moon, wherever you are in the world you can be sure that your loved ones can see that same  moon. It’s a way of bringing us together when we feel disconnected.

I’ve more than dabbled with biodynamics or sowing, pruning, mulching and harvesting according to the phases of the moon in the garden for a number of years. Read about it here. Times are tough but looking up at the moon always makes me feel connected.

Morning meditation


Meditation has a significant effect on stress management. It can build resilience over time but it can also help you feel more centred in minutes. 5 minutes a day will do the trick. It’s all I have and it works. Of course 45 minutes woudld be better. An hour in a spa woud be ideal but what’s a bust mum to do?

Regular practice is important. If you want to develop a regular habit it’s  easier to hang it onto something you do already. Trust me on this one – it’s psychologically proven. My students are probably sick of me telling them that they shouls learn quotes while brushing their teeth.

One of my regular early morning habits is making coffee. I do it every day, rain or shine. So I bought myself one of these stove-top  coffee pots and while the coffee’s brewing – and it helpfully makes a gentle percolating sound – I meditate.

5 minutes to get centred before the day kicks off and a delicious cup of coffee at the end of it.

Simple.

Wolf Moon

Helen Thompson is my ‘go to’ woman for enchanting pics of the moon

Tonight is the Wolf Moon – January’s full moon named because of the lupine howling which traditionally haunted the midwinter. If we’re lucky, it will look like this.

When my children were younger and bedtime stories were stiil popular, I remember reading them ‘The Wolves of Willoughby Chase’ whilst gazing up at the moon. For parents of primary school aged children it comes highly recommended from Country Gate HQ.  It was my favourite time of day. I miss it more than anything else about daily parenting tasks that are now a memory.

A wolf moon is said to symbolize a time to look to your community for creative solutions and to communicate with inspiring individuals to overcome challenges.

We need that right now, don’t we? There is a great comfort and power in getting to know your community well and working together to make it an inspiring and vibrant place for everyone.

What better way to start off the new decade than by immersing yourself in your local community?

All the teens are stiil at home after the Christmas break. Maybe we’ll share some family time tonight while gazing up at the moon.

 

 

Mindfulness and the beauty in winter

Picture shared by Dominic O’Connor

It’s the start of January and I drove to work in the dark and home in the drizzle. My timeline is full of comments from those suffering post-Christmas blues. For many deep Winter is a challenging time. Many of the labels we attach to Winter are negative ones – depressing, lifeless, cold, miserable – and yet there is beauty in every season if you look for it.

The moon poking through the clouds; a deer darting across a field; candlelight; firelight; snowdrops poking up through the brown soil, the glimmer of occasional low sun in the late afternoon and the pattern of moss on a tree.

Practice mindfulness and January has its beauties.

….in with the new.

I’m clinging on to the remnants of the slower pace of the school holidays. I have lessons to prepare, a presentation to write and a research project to work on but today is not the day. Instead I cooked a roast dinner for the family and read a Margery Allingham detective novel I received as a Christmas present.

There have been no grand resolutions, trips to the gym, gatherings on the beach with friends, walks in the countryside or frantic taking down of decorations and deep cleaning the house. Just a quiet determination to live in the moment and find the good things in every day. In truth, I’ve always found January 1st something of an  anticlimax. I’m not ready to embrace the new challenges, new opportunities and new adventures of a new year. They’ll keep until tomorrow.

Out with the old….

Change is in the air on New Year’s Eve. It’s always been a time to reflect over the past year – what’s been good and not so good – and to get to grips with how you want to move forward into the new year, or in this case the next decade. Deep winter is a good time to look closely at the structures in the garden, prune away the dead, overgrown and ugly and open up areas for new growth in the spring. With that in mind we’ve been doing a spot of pruning of the hazel at the bottom of the garden. The same is true of life in general. A spot of pruning does you good.

Twenty years ago today, on our wedding anniversary we took a trip into the Cotswolds for lunch and returned home to discover that we two would become three, some months into the new decade. Eleven years of being a couple were over and it was time to let go of old ways of being and embrace a different kind of life. In fact we became five within a couple of years. As we face the next decade we’re contemplating changes as gradually the children fly the nest and make their own way in the world.

Change is in the air.

In my classroom too it’s time for reflection about how to better inspire and support my students. The best teachers are always looking for ways to make the classroom experience better for themselves and their students. I’m focussing a lot on supporting independent learning strategies in the students I teach, letting go of resources and ways of working that have served their purpose, learning a few new tricks myself and making an impact beyond my own classroom.

Change is in the air.

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