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.

 

 

Welcome home

Photo by Alan Tyghe

I’ve experienced some enchanting views  this week. Some of them in daylight – misty views as I headed down into the village of Kilmerston as woodsmoke curled up from chimneys, thick Dickensian fog in Bradford on Avon and this one, near Great Chalfield Manor – one of my favourite places for a walk – posted by a friend who takes lovely, atmospheric pics.

But home is where the heart is.

January is when my front garden begins to bloom in earnest. Yes. Really. It’s a Winter garden. I blogged about it last year. Delightful Daphne is in full bloom, welcoming me home and  scenting my way to the front door, now that the Christmas lights are packed away.

The theme of the Chelsea Flower Show this year is loneliness and mental health and Jo Thompson helped a little by Zoe Ball has been commissioned to design a front garden which encourages conversations with neighbours and a friendlier community. 

I wanted to make our North-facing patch at the front of the house thrive and so I spend a fair amount of time in it. Certainly I’ve found that working in it has been a conversation starter. We’ve extended the patch by putting in an amelanchier lamarckii in a large painted oil drum container and repainting an old garden table as a pot stand. And I have plans for the summer for a few more pots.

It’s good to know that by creating and maintaining a garden that welcomes us home can also provide a place of beauty for others who live or pass nearby and an opportunity to have a chat with your neighbours.

 

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.

Woodpiles, fire and hunkering down in January

 

There’s something very satisfying about a full log store at the beginning of January. I’ve blogged about fire wood at this time of year before. It’s an annual experience. We had a load of kiln-dried firewood delivered on 2nd from Top Grade Logs in Bathford. When the weather turns wild and we’re all home for the evening,  we can put on our pyjamas, light the fire and hunker down, albeit with marking, homework or A Level mock exam revision to do. It will go some way towards making up for the lack of tree lights in the front garden and the loss of the Christmas tree in the kitchen.

I might buy some fairy lights for my classroom at a post-Christmas knockdown price. I’d install a wood burner if I could but I don’t think it would go down too well with the lady in charge of health and safety at school. She tolerates my penchant for houseplants and seed propagation. Some twinkly light in January is just the job.

Back to work blues?

Like many people I’m dragging myself towards being work-ready after the festivities. Haphazard and spontaneous by nature I know that routines are important for my work-life balance, my family and my own mental health. That back to school feeling never really leaves a teacher, the days when you realise it’s time to let go of slow living for a few weeks. Teaching is all-consuming for a few weeks at a time, punctuated by holidays when you catch up with friends, clean your house, bake, visit the dentist and plan for the next few weeks. It’s hard to get back on the work waggon.

This year I’m determined to set some time aside every work day for walking, gardening, reading, meditation, yoga, family or a spot of creativity – the things that make me happy. This turned up in my inbox and it looks like a great way of setting aside some time to be happy. I think I’ll adapt it for myself, any family members that fancy joining me andthe students in my classes.

Happiness begins at home, every day and the new year is a good time to start.

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