Legs Up the Wall – The Daily Yoga Pose for Instant Calm

Legs up the wall may seem like an odd phrase, but for me these words conjure up a feeling of calmness. Legs up the wall is one of the handful of yoga poses that I actually felt comfortable attempting when my LONG journey into this age old activity began several years ago.

Although the popularity of yoga continues to grow worldwide,  many people perceive that yoga is something potentially difficult and boring and would rather get stuck into a boxing session or other high cardio activity. Once upon a time this was me (although I do still love running, walking and stair climbing) but after finding my groove with yoga, I now understand that it is one of the best workouts available to us all.

I won’t lie and say that it has been all unicorns and rainbows.  It hasn’t and yoga and I have had a long history of shared emotions running both hot and cold. For many years I loved the idea of yoga but the actual reality of being able to do it, did not align with my physical (in)capability.  The turning point for me came with the right teacher, which then led to calm and acceptance of what my body could do, not what it couldn’t and the balance of these two is ever-changing believe me!).

In fact, I could never have imagined that today I would be running Yoga and Wellness Retreats in Italy!

We will get to legs up the wall in just a moment but there are three things I have learn’t through my yoga adventures, applicable to anybody trying to change any aspect of health and life that might just be handy to you right now:

What we want or need is not always available to us

I will never forget a yoga class that I attended some time ago when the teacher asked us to align ourselves into a position that looked even trickier than usual to me.

While we were all silently attempting the impossible (to me), the teacher announced that this particular pose was ‘not available to him today.’ I had to smother hysterical laughter at this point because for me, it was never going to be available, that day or any other. But you know what? We all have days when a particular behaviour, skill or practise is simply not available to us and sometimes we just need to accept it.  This doesn’t mean you have failed, it just means that investing your energy in something else that IS available to you and achievable today is a wiser choice. Plus, what is not available to you today might just be there for you tomorrow.

There is always turbulence in our lives

A howling easterly wind roaring around outside scattering dust and leaves every which way is one kind of turbulence but there are many ways disruption and distraction turn up in our lives.

The turbulence that we experience in our day-to-day lives can obviously be a lot more serious than a strong wind. It could be problems with your family, friends, health issues, financial concerns, job insecurity, moving house, relationship breakdowns or any one of life’s stressful events. All of these and more, represent turbulence. Quite often, turbulence or a shake-up in our lives is just what we need to take the first step toward real change for our physical and mental well-being. It is possible and often vital to acknowledge the turbulence and do it anyway.

Use your edge

A few years ago I was standing in line waiting to order in a cafe and noticed an interesting quote scribbled along the front of the coffee machine.  The author was anonymous but it simply stated,

“If you are not living on the edge, you are taking up too much room.”

To me, living on the edge has a negative connotation.   However, renowned Yoga Master and author Erich Schiffman, talks about ‘the edge’ in another way in relation to stretching in yoga. Schiffman explains that, “If you don’t go far enough, there is no challenge to the muscles, no intensity, no stretch, and little possibility for opening. Going too far, however, is an obvious violation of the body, increasing the possibility of both physical pain and injury. Somewhere between these two points is a degree of stretch that is in balance: intensity without pain, use without abuse, strenuousness without strain. You can experience this balance in every posture you do. This place in the stretch is called your edge.”

But what about applying that edge to other aspects of our daily life, where we tend to remain within a familiar but limited comfort zone by staying away from both our physical and mental edges? Schiffman suggests that staying within that zone would be fine, “Except that as aging occurs these limits close in considerably. Our bodies tighten, our range of movement decreases, and our strength and stamina diminish. By consciously bringing the body and mind to its various limits or edges and holding it there, gently nudging it toward more openness with awareness, the long, slow process of closing in begins to reverse itself. The range expands as the edges change.”

Legs Up the Wall

What is this legs up the wall you say?  

This yoga pose would have to be one of the most accessible to us all and can be achieved anywhere and anytime as long as there is a wall.

I could explain to you in writing how to do legs up the wall but it would much easier and less confusing for you all if you watch Adriene in action here as she demonstrates this pose perfectly.

Legs up the wall is an excellent restorative pose that improves circulation and is instantly restful for your legs, feet and lower back.  It is also such a wonderful pose to do just before you go to bed for a restful sleep or even during the night if you wake up and can’t back to sleep.

It is also perfect during the day if you are at work and need to take a breather – close the door and take just 10 minutes to regroup and reset before tackling the next part of your day.

Resting in this position will greatly improve the flexibility in your hamstrings and is a stealthy way of getting some meditation in your day too – you can’t go anywhere else at the same time and it puts you in the perfect mindset to do so.

What about you – are you willing to try or are you already a master of the legs up the wall?

 

 

Make a Choice Not a Sacrifice

To make a choice not a sacrifice is an interesting decision.

Take extreme helicopter pilot, David Adamson as an example. David was born with an innate competitive streak and this streak was put to good use during his childhood in Dumfries, Scotland by kicking around a soccer ball. This Scottish pilot can also juggle 5 balls and ride a unicycle.

So how did that attract him to flying? David suggests he is no different to the majority of males who like loud, noisy machines, with helicopters fitting right into this category. Add a high degree of difficulty to fly properly, their capacity to do spectacular things in the air plus a hefty price tag and he was sold.

Up Close and Personal

David is not your average helicopter pilot. More of the extreme type, although by extreme I don’t mean dangerous. He specialises in low level filming (up close and personal to the water, ground, car, athlete or any moving object) for television productions, documentaries, commercials and sporting events. This requires an exceptional level of skill, endurance, stamina and mental focus. David is engaged by production companies like Disney, BBC, CBS, Foxtel, Discovery Channel, Lonely Planet, National Geographic plus all of the Australian media channels and has worked on a number of films including ‘Drift’ starring Australian actor Sam Worthington.

David’s skills are in demand internationally and it is not uncommon for him to get his passport stamped in a couple of different countries each week.

David’s expertise is highly sought after in the sporting arena including motor sports, adventure races such as Anaconda, the Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Surf Ironman Series, Red Bull adventure events and Ironman Triathlon.  TV productions like internationally acclaimed Top Gear, Getaway, Postcards and Surfing the Menu love his work too. As a helicopter pilot, safety is the top priority and David is an Aviation Safety Consultant, Flight and Ground Instructor both in Australia and internationally for pilots, aircrew, general public and the film industry.

When I first saw a photo of David in his helicopter hovering a breath away from a surfer carving up a monster wave at the world-class surfing venue of Margaret River, I knew he would have some unique strategies for his own performance. 

The Committment

While training to be a pilot, David learnt a couple of lessons that he was able to apply to managing his own health when he needed them. Perseverance and commitment was key because the ballpark financial cost of training over a 6-month period was $70,000 AU and required a substantial loan. Getting his first job and runs on the board was very difficult and made all the more stressful with a weighty financial burden in the background. It was during this time that David had to frequently remind himself that although his desire to be a pilot often felt like sacrifice, it was in fact completely his choice.

Frequent and lengthy travel has directly impacted on David’s weight and well being in the past. To rectify these problems, he now consciously makes choices that will benefit his health such as choosing hotels based on the availability of a gym or pool or proximity to healthy food to maintain his fitness and focus.

Mental focus is clearly essential for David’s job as he has to integrate his expert flying skills, weather conditions, logistics of the event or ‘target’ and his own mental and physical well being. His calm persona is obvious in person and in the world of flying this is a highly desirable trait. To avoid stress, David plans ahead and ALWAYS has a contingency plan in place.  This has to be a bonus when in charge of a helicopter!

Which Road Will You Take?

Picture an Olympic year; everybody at home is on the edge of his or her seat glued to the big screen.  At the end of the race the athlete pants, “I’ve given everything to be here.”   It’s true; the overwhelming majority of Olympians have given everything to be one. For each of them, just qualifying for the Olympics has meant years of relentless training, often missing out on socialising with friends and family, continual juggling of work, school and other commitments and for many ongoing financial hardship. It’s not just the athlete but usually their parents and siblings too who have been there all the way supporting them, ferrying them to training and providing the financial back-up to enable to them to pursue their dream.

The big question here is whether these athletes have made a choice or a sacrifice.  A choice is an action you prefer over another action. You get to control it and we all make a myriad of choices each and every day without giving any thought to them.  Will I have cereal or toast for breakfast, what will I wear, shall I get up early and exercise or will I sleep in, should I drive the car or catch the train to work? 

You get to control each and every one of these choices and make a decision. Most of our regular choices fall into patterns and become part of our daily routine. Some of them, however, are important enough to define the quality of our lives.

And What About Those Sacrifices?

A sacrifice is something you “give up” because you’re forced to or because intellectually you know you should; but deep down, you still want it badly. You give it up because continuing would be worse…like smoking, spending time in the sun in the heat of the day without sunscreen or protective clothing, eating a family block of chocolate every day or drinking too much alcohol.

As an added bonus, sacrifices often come as a package deal with resentment and failure. Picture Australian Sally Pearson who won the gold medal in the 100m Hurdle event at the 2012 London Olympics by two-hundredths of a second. We know that there so many choices that this Olympic athlete made along the way to achieve her dream of being the best 100m hurdler in the world. This lightening fast athlete made a choice not a sacrifice to be the best in the world; nobody forced her to do it.

Elite athletes aside, for the everyday person, a health and well-being goal will be something you are contemplating or working toward, something you’d like to achieve that includes a degree of uncertainty and probably difficulty. It’s something you’re trying to accomplish…like losing those stubborn last five-kilo’s, finding calm, balance and happiness in life or starting that exercise class you have been wanting to join for ages. Goals are not a snap and are meant to challenge us and give us direction. 

Imagine This 

Imagine really wanting to do a 12km run that is conducted annually in your state.  You have never run in your life, unless you count the playground way back when. You are willing to train but you can’t fit it in because you are too busy. If you get up earlier, you don’t get enough sleep.  

If you attempt to train after work, you’re too tired. All of these things are choices and decisions that you have made, not sacrifices.  There are some things in your day that are non-negotiable like school and work but be honest with yourself, is there any fluff that you can clear out to make way for your running training?  Block that time out and then add in what you must do to achieve your dream of running 12 km.  If you are too tired to get up in the morning, stop watching TV and go to bed earlier.

Master Chef and MKR are not going to help you get up at 6am are they? If you know that distractions like kids, last minute deadlines, or just general fatigue often occur at the tail end of the day, don’t set yourself up for failure by scheduling training sessions at this time. Aim for the morning sessions and find a buddy to join you. While rest and recovery is essential in any training regime, it can be tempting to hit the alarm and roll over can’t it? Will just this once make a difference? Yes, because lots of ‘just this once’ add up to you not achieving your dream.

What will you do today, will you make a choice not a sacrifice?

 

 

Get Ready, Get Set and Go

Hello to my lovely community,

You may have been reading my blog for a few days, a few weeks or even a few years.  No matter how long you have been part of my gang – I thank you for being part of it.

If you have been here for a while you might have noticed that recently, my blog posts have been a little sporadic and infrequent at the best of times.

I really do love to write but over the last couple of years, I have written less and less as other parts of my business have taken up more and more time.  The thing is, one of the best parts of writing for me is interacting with my readers (that’s you) and providing you with solutions, ideas and inspiration in your quest for your best self and wellbeing.

Why?

I created this blog because I understand on a personal level how hard it can be to look after your mental and physical well-being.  Nobody is perfect all the time and only a robot would be able to eat well at every meal and snack, get eight hours of sleep every single day, not get stressed about anything at all and be blissfully mindful about every little bit of your life.

And that is why I am writing to you on a Friday afternoon as I am considering pouring a glass of wine (small I promise) to go with some lovely cheese as the week comes to an end.

This blog is about to be rebooted, reset and rejigged so that we can talk on the regular about all the aspects of living a healthy life that are important to you in a practical,  realistic way. Lets not forget that life can be busy, hectic, stressful and sometimes full of barriers that sometimes stop you from living your best life.

What?

Every week from here on, you will hear from me about my favourite recipes (obviously only quick and easy ones), new food products that you might like to try, fitness tips and tricks, mindset strategies, facts vs. fairytales and practical solutions on managing your sleep, stress and nutrition.

I’d like to hear about what tickles your fancy in the world of health and well-being and I’d like to give you inspiration and motivation, new information and hope that you can actually do this thing – all with a bit of humour, because really we all need that don’t we?

Lets do this!

 

 

 

Snacks and the environment – what do they have in common?

Long before I met Barb de Corti, she was in my life. She didn’t know it but every time I cleaned my house, this passionate advocate for the environment was right there next to me. Of course, Barb (aka ENJO) was in my home and many others around Australia, in a virtual rather than a physical sense. 

Born in a small Austrian village with a population of just 1000 people and the eldest in a family of eight, Barb moved to Australia with her husband and young son in the mid 80’s without fluent English. A former bleach queen, her liberal use of bleach and other chemically based products were taking their toll on her young son, Mark. He suffered debilitating asthma attacks, the cause of which turned out to be the chemical cleaners. An accountant by trade, though working as a fitness instructor at the time, Barb discovered a unique range of Austrian cleaning products using microfibre technology and just water. Using these mitts and cloths and ditching the chemicals, proved to be a lifesaver for her son as his health improved dramatically. Barb’s belief in this product was such that she decided to take a leap and invest her family’s life savings of $40,000 to import the ENJO products into Australia.

Like many businesses, ENJO has endured some really tough times, which have come close to destroying the company but Barb’s passion for helping people has never wavered. Barb explains that the main purpose of ENJO is to be planet friendly and it is this passion and purpose that has pushed her on through the speed bumps. In perfect alignment with the ENJO purpose, in 2007 Barb was chosen to become part of the Australian Conservation Foundation’s climate project and was trained by Al Gore to deliver cultural change around the area of climate change. If just 10% of Australian households possessed ENJO cleaning products, this equates to around $2.3 million people potentially having a smaller environmental footprint. This goal is quite real and a work in progress.

ENJO is not available in supermarkets but instead based on a party plan structure with a community of consultants known as ENJOpreneurs. Although initially sceptical of this method of selling, Barb knows that the face-to-face nature of their business has been a cornerstone of their success.  ENJO is also available online to enable customers 24/7 access. Over the past few years, several competitors have emerged in the microfibre cleaning arena in retail outlets but Barb believes there are none like ENJO. “Our products are designed to last a long time and they come with exceptional customer service,” she explains. “At the end of their lifespan the products are recycled into felt in carpet underlay used in homes and cars.

Life is not just about running a hugely successful company for Barb. For some years now, she has dedicated much time and effort in raising money for a charity very close to her heart, Youth Focus. She has been totally committed to raising the awareness of depression and youth suicide through taking part in the 5 day Hawaiian Ride for Youth, a 700km bike ride between Albany and Perth. This ride had its beginnings in 2003 when a small group of recreational cyclists in Western Australia decided to combine their resources with the aim of raising money to assist in the prevention of youth suicide. Since then, more than $17, 000,000 have been raised, which is truly remarkable. Barb has completed three Ride for Youth events with Team ENJO with her trademark enthusiasm and today the team continues to be part of the event. Not one to rest on her laurels, she is a very keen endurance runner and has completed the London Marathon. 

Just like her renowned cleaning products, Barb has a unique way of approaching her exercise routine. It is easy to see that this woman is highly motivated in all areas of her life and clearly dedicated to her physical well-being. However, her exercise goals and routines are all driven by something much deeper, the desire to help others.

Barb and I first met when she needed assistance with managing fatigue, which is not surprising when she packs so much action into her life, while immersed in the day to day running of a large company! Like so many others, Barb was continually under time pressures while juggling competing priorities and ensuring a regular food intake often took a back seat. Through trial and error, she has learnt that eating regularly is not just a luxury but also a necessity. This not only enables her to put 100% effort into her physical training but also to be present and engaged whilst running an international company. This way she is a role model for her team and the thousands of people that she speaks to each year.

 

Avoid the energy speed bumps with regular snacks

For some of us, snacking is an essential part of keeping energy levels high, whilst for others, it doesn’t even rate a mention. Snacking can be great for keeping hunger pangs at bay, controlling weight, satisfying small appetites and providing important nutrients. However, in our current climate of upsizing, snacks can contribute significantly more kilojoules (calories) than are required. Larger portions have more kilojoules and more kilojoules can mean weight gain.

Your lifestyle and routine will probably dictate whether you are a three meal per day person or a ‘grazer.’ The term ‘grazing’ is so called because cows like to do the same thing. You may not like to think of yourself out in the field chomping down on grass but ‘grazing’ usually means snacking or having five to six smaller ‘meals’ spread out over the day. It doesn’t matter if you have three large meals or three smaller meals and three snacks each day. Weight maintenance is achieved when your food intake matches your expenditure (exercise), regardless of when you consume them.

Snacking can be a great way of keeping your blood sugar and energy levels stable but keep a check on what and how much you are actually eating over the day. It can be easy to exceed your daily energy requirements through regular snacking, so make sure that you don’t fill up on biscuits, cakes, lollies, chocolate and chips or whatever is handy from the vending machine. These types of foods are high in sugar, fat and salt and low in fibre and are certainly not good for your health.

Snacker, snacker, snacker

To be a healthy snacker, organisation is a key ingredient. Shopping regularly and having healthy snacks on hand makes it less likely that you will reach for fatty and sugary foods containing massive amounts of kilojoules. It will also save you money as snacks purchased from vending machines and convenience stores are often priced at a premium. Regardless of whether you are at work, at school or university or at home, planning and packing your food intake the night before is a strategy employed by many to ensure healthy snacks. The routine of packing a lunch bag for school works just as well when heading off to work although your containers and boxes may not be quite as colourful as they used to be!

A problem area for many people is the third quarter of the day, which kicks off just after lunch and finishes around one of the least energetic parts of the day at 3pm. This is often when your body sends you a signal to do something to ward off the desire to lie down on the desk or carpet. Snacks are often required to boost blood sugar levels but they can be a nutrition trap. It is so tempting to grab something quick and easy, none of which will give you the long-lasting energy that you need for the rest of the day.

Watch out for Snacccidents

When choosing snacks, the following guide may be useful when looking at their size and energy value to ensure they don’t totally eclipse your total daily food intake:

For Weight Loss Choose 420kJ/100calories at each snack

For Weight Maintenance Choose 840kJ/200calories at each snack

For Weight Gain Choose 1260kJ/300calories or more at each snack

 

Quick and easy snacks 

  • 1 slice of fruit or raisin toast with thinly spread jam
  • Wholegrain toast or crumpet with a light spread of peanut butter or vegemite
  • Fruit Smoothie
  • Wholegrain crackers with cheese
  • 1 punnet of strawberries
  • Piece of fruit such as an apple, banana or pear
  • Low fat regular sized coffee (latte, cappuccino, flat white)
  • 200g low fat yoghurt
  • 20 almonds, cashews or pistachios
  • 1 boiled egg
  • 100g tin tuna in brine or spring water
  • 1 small pack of tinned fruit in natural juice

What about you – do you try and avoid the energy speed bumps like Barb?

So, what’s this yoga thing about?

Three years ago a dream of mine became reality.

 

It was a huge dream and there were SO many moments when I doubted my ability to actually make it happen.

 

Everyday, I show people how to weave movement, healthy food, sleep and less stress into their lives to enable them to access their best self on a mental and physical basis. Of course, I can advise people how to do this in person, over the phone, in an online course or through sharing the written word but these are all delivered over short periods of time in an otherwise hectic schedule.  

It is quite different learning how to transform your life in a setting that enables reflection, thought and the opportunity to work out exactly how to do this.

The way we live day to day just doesn’t allow us to do that. We need to do that.

There is no getting around the fact that of all the things that are important in life – your health is Numero Uno. Number 1. Top of the Charts. If you don’t have your health and well-being sorted then every single other thing in your life just can’t get a look in.

Sometimes, when I get asked about my retreat in Italy, I hear sighs and then more sighs.  I mean lets face it; there are very few people who would not love to go hang out in Tuscany.

However, I get that flying all the way across the world and spending an entire week focusing on self-care and well-being just seems well, frivolous. The truth is, it is anything but.

Most of the people that have attended one of my retreats over the past three years have been women.  Women are notorious for not dedicating enough time to look after themselves and not putting on their proverbial oxygen masks first before helping others. Looking after ourselves should not be luxury but a necessity. Sometimes it means travelling in the opposite direction to achieve that and investing in self both in a financial and time sense.

Silvestri once said

“To be able to see who we are, we must go far away and look from a distance.”

I think he is quite literally spot on.

So what does one do at a retreat?

Each morning starts with freshly brewed coffee or tea followed by an Iyengar yoga session. Let’s be clear from the outset, you do not need to be a yogi or an expert to be doing this yoga.  Every retreat I have run is made up of plenty of people who have never done yoga (but would like to), some who have dabbled occasionally and then some who are quite capable. Our yoga instructor Vicki Vollmer is adept at tailoring each yoga session for every person in that room.  I believe she is actually a magician.

Aside from yoga, each day usually includes moving your body – it might be a scenic walk, a bike and walking cultural tour of Lucca with the talented and entertaining Federico, a hike between the villages and over the mountains of the Cinque Terre with all its spectacular views and scrumptious seafood, or moving your arms mixing things in a delectable cooking lesson making pesto, gnocchi and tiramisu with Maria Angela our 76 year old chef.

 

“Julie’s Retreat in Italy was more than I could have dreamed of. It was an opportunity to pause, reflect, engage the senses, connect with other inspiring women and see the best Italy has to offer. The daily yoga practice and delicious healthy food, coupled with health and wellbeing ‘chats’ and suggestions helped me to recalibrate in a way I don’t think I ever could have at home in the bustle of daily life. If you feel that you need some time for you, time to reflect and re-energise, this retreat is perfect.”

Tash Broomhall

There is plenty of time and space to check in with your physical and mental wellbeing, the opportunity to create a plan for how you can implement positive changes in your day to day life (and the strategies to do it), increase the flexibility and strength in your body, experience the joy that comes from making new friendships and laughing a bucket load, increase your energy by putting the freshest, healthiest ingredients into your body and of course, your senses will be taken to another level by being soaked in Italian history, culture and countryside.

This is not an airy-fairy junket designed simply to enable an escape from real life.  Yes, it is an escape but one with a purpose. You.

If this has your name all over it, head over to www.juliemeek.com.au/retreats for the details.  Or if you feel like a chat, email me at julie@juliemeek.com.au

Italy, Yoga and Retreat – 3 Things That Should Be on Your Bucket List

You may remember me writing earlier this year about my rocky relationship with yoga. I am happy to say that although I am still no expert, each week it gets less rocky and to be quite honest; in the past few months it has been my saving grace.

This year marked the second round of my Italian Yoga and Wellness Retreats.

I have been fortunate enough to lead and meet some truly lovely people who have been looking for a mixture of things – yoga yes, relaxation yes, exceptional food yes and the beautiful Italian culture and history, all yes. Quite the international cohort, this retreat has attracted people from Australia, UK, Scotland, Canada, USA and Switzerland all looking for a slice of wellness.

 

 

As a Dietitian and Performance Specialist, I show people how to weave movement, healthy food, sleep and less stress into their lives to enable them to access their best performance on a mental and physical basis. The thing is, sometimes, it is not always possible to do this at your back door and distance and space are required. Sometimes the lessons that we teach others are the ones we learn ourselves.

On the last day of the retreat this year, my Dad passed away very unexpectedly. There are few words to describe how I felt being in another country without my family nearby, while the world crashed around me.

The beautiful people at my retreat went from having a fabulous week of yoga and completely immersing themselves in relaxation and wellness, to watching me having a complete meltdown. I will be forever grateful for their care and compassion on that day.

In the time since, whilst dealing with the loss of my Dad, regular yoga has been key to my mental and physical well-being. I could not have gotten by without it.

Like me, the yoga experience of the people attending the retreats varies hugely, all the way from never having done a single move through to occasional yoginess and then right up to getting bendy every other day. Somehow, our yogi Vicki caters to each level, making it comfortable yet challenging for each and every person. With gentle firmness throughout the session, she reminds us that we could do better or we could do more in particular poses and encourages us to imagine what could happen if we held a pose for just that bit longer. Vicki makes everyone want to go that bit further and not to forget that time and space are essential for anything to grow.

But let’s face it – for most of us, considering making a trip to Italy for a retreat might seem self-indulgent at best. Especially when many people have to consider the logistical challenges of child-care, work and finances to even make this happen. Committing to a retreat in another country is no snap decision and how do you know if it is for you?

It’s in the little and the big things and just like beauty, I think it is in the eye of the beholder. It’s having time and the space to check in with your physical and mental wellbeing, the opportunity to create a plan for how you could implement positive changes in your day to day life, feeling that sense of increased flexibility and strength in your body, the joy that comes from making new friendships and laughing a bucket load, the increased energy that results from putting the freshest, healthiest ingredients into your body and your senses being taken to another level by being soaked in Italian history, culture and countryside.

Registrations are now open for my 2018 Italian Yoga and Wellness Retreat, 18-25 August 2018. If you or anyone you know would like to find some Zen, drop me a line at julie@juliemeek.com.au

For more information and all the details, head over my the Italian Retreats Page.

Namaste.

Taking Anxiety Down with a Breath

Last weekend, I experienced something new. It was overwhelming and both a physical and mental storm. I experienced an anxiety attack.

To me, it sounds silly because in the scheme of things, what I was anxious about did not warrant my reaction. If I think about the times or events in my life that should have been more likely to produce such a severe reaction – this past weekend should not have featured even for a second.

My 13-year-old daughter, had her first gymnastics competition for the year. She has been in the National Development Program since early primary school, so this is not a new thing. And let me just establish that this girl is a seasoned professional and a total poker face when it comes to competition – she trains for 18+ hours each week and knows her stuff.

Despite this, over recent years – my nervousness and anxiety with competitions has been increasing.

But last weekend most certainly took the cake. I made myself physically ill with stomach pains, nausea and a migraine as a result of my anxiety and irrational thinking. I found myself holding my breath at various points of the day – and this was before the competition even started!

There was no sympathy at home either because I am very careful to hide this anxiety – nobody needs that kind of negative energy before they start swinging around bars and pirouetting on beams do they?

My husband is the anti-thesis of anxiety and not many things get his heart rate over 80 bpm. He just reminded me that our girl had done all the preparing and she was fully able to do the doing. Great.

Just before the competition started – one of the other parents who was sitting quite a distance away from me (and clearly had a telescope) called my name – quite fiercely I might add. I turned around and she calmly looked at me and said – ‘breathe.’ Oh yes indeed, thanks for the reminder.

There are many things that we can do to reduce stress levels in our lives – getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, meditation and so many other ideas from people who are far more qualified than I to provide advice on how to manage anxiety.

But you know the one thing that is available to all of us, 24/7? Breathing.

Of course, breathing is something that we do without a seconds thought and yet, when we feel anxious or upset we often start with the whole shallow breathing thing or interval breathing (my fancy way of describing holding ones breath). Every week when I go to my yoga class, its all about the breath. Lets face it, it is almost impossible not to feel calm after yoga (unavailable poses aside) simply because the focus for 75 minutes has been breathing.

Anxiety presents itself in all kinds of circumstances – the work place, at home, sport, in relationships and so many other nooks and crannies. Clearly, deep breathing alone is not the cure-all for anxiety and stress but the beauty of engaging the breath is that you can access it anywhere, anytime without anyone being aware.

Taking three deep breaths in and out through your nose automatically induces calm. Research shows that blood pressure starts returning to appropriate levels, lungs work more efficiently, your brain can do its thing and a churning stomach works a lot better when oxygen is circulating.

Try the simple routine below to dial down the anxiety in three breaths.

The Power of Three Breaths to Take Down Anxiety
  • Close your eyes. Take a deep breath in through your nose (with your mouth closed) and get every last bit of oxygen in that breath. When you reach the end of that breath, hold it for as long as is comfortable and then let it all out through your nose not your mouth. We are going to do two more of these breaths.
  • Again, take a deep breath in through your nose and get every last bit of oxygen in that breath. When you reach the end of that breath, hold it for as long as is comfortable and then let it all out through your nose.
  • For the last time, take a deep breath in through your nose and get every last bit of oxygen in that breath. When you reach the end of that breath, hold it for as long as is comfortable and then let it all out through your nose.

What about you? Do you have a breathing routine that you find to be effective for reducing anxiety?

The Perfect Pair – Food Nutrient Combo’s that Really Work for Your Body

It seems that there are so many nutrients that our body needs to function at its best. Think vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, carotenoids, trace elements……you get the picture right? The list is long and sometimes it feels like a mammoth task to get the whole bunch of them in our diets regularly.

The good news is, the nutrients in some foods love to pair up with nutrients in other foods, because together they are a perfect nutrition match. A single nutrient (Hans Solo) will work by itself but two and sometimes three nutrients (a bunch of battle troopers) can work even better.

The magic word is ‘bioavailability’ and when we talk about this in relation to food, it means that the nutrients are ready for the body to absorb and use effectively. This is why teaming up particular foods means a win for our bodies. On the flip side, sometimes we make decisions about food combo’s that actually interfere with the body’s ability to maximise the good nutrients, so for your best health and well-being it is good to know which foods are the team players.

My top food combo’s include:

Iron + Vitamin C

Iron deficiency is a condition in which the number of red blood cells or their capacity to carry oxygen is limited. The end result of this is tiredness and fatigue, breathlessness, repeat infections and failure to grow in kids. The thing is, dietary iron can be difficult to obtain and is found in two different forms – ‘haem’ iron which is found in animal foods and ‘non-haem’ which is found in plant-based non-animal food.
‘Haem’ foods usually contain more iron, which is well absorbed compared to non-haem iron, which is not.
Help is at hand though, as Vitamin C boosts the absorption of non-haem iron, if eaten in the same meal. The best sources of Vitamin C are fruit and vegetables, preferably in their whole form.

Top Food Combo’s = wholegrain breakfast cereal and sliced banana, baked beans on toast with fresh tomato or chickpea curry with fresh lime

Calcium and Vitamin D

Calcium is essential for strong bones and effective working muscles but without Vitamin D, its absorption within our body is greatly reduced.
Calcium can be found in the largest amounts in dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt and although it is found in other foods, they often contain much less calcium which is also inefficiently absorbed.

Vitamin D is also crucial to our well-being and is synthesised under the skin in the presence of sunlight. Of course, this can be hard to come by in some countries on a regular basis!

Regardless, it is very difficult to get enough Vitamin D through diet alone and most dietary Vitamin D comes from table margarine, canned fish and eggs.

Top Food Combo’s = Berry smoothie + a short stint in the sunlight each day

Antioxidants and Healthy Fats

The scientific explanation of how antioxidants exert their protective effect is that they prevent damage to body cells and tissues caused by free radicals and singlet oxygen.

The less technical and easier way of remembering what antioxidants do is to picture the 1980’s Pac-Man game where the aim is to get the Pac-Man to gobble as many ‘ghosts’ as possible. Pac-Man is the antioxidant and the ‘ghosts’ are the free radicals. For those too young to have played this 80’s game, go check out the 2015 movie ‘Pixels’ starring Adam Sandler and you will be all over it!

One of the most powerful antioxidants in food available to us is lycopene, found in tomatoes, watermelon, guava, and ruby grapefruit.

Lycopene is a carotenoid that gives tomatoes their red colour and its best friends include the healthy fats found in oils, avocado and nuts.

Top Food Combo’s = Fresh tomato and bocconcini salad with sliced avocado or tomato pasta sauce cooked with a drizzle of olive oil.

Carbohydrates + Lemon Juice or Vinegar

Carbohydrate foods are classified according to how quickly they are digested and absorbed into the bloodstream as glucose and this is known as the Glycemic Index (GI). Low GI foods are digested and absorbed more slowly and high GI foods more quickly. If we choose mostly lower to medium glycemic index carbohydrates, our energy levels are more stable, meaning we have greater endurance and less spikes and dips in our day which is always a good thing.

Many aspects of a meal can affect the overall GI including fat, fibre, protein, cooking methods and processing of the food.

But, there is something you can add to a meal containing carbohydrate that lowers the glycemic index and is just so simple – lemon juice or vinegar! The acidity of either of these combined with carbohydrate means longer lasting energy for you.

Top Food Combo’s = Baked sweet potato and a side of spinach and strawberry salad dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil or Linguine topped with lemon juice, capers and salmon.

What are your top food combo’s for the perfect partnership? Share away – I would love to hear about them.

Steptember – will you putting a spring in your step?

Yippee, just one more sleep until spring and Steptember. Nope, its not a spelling error, Steptember is just an innovative way of repurposing the first month of a new season in an energetic way.

Steptember has been initiated by the Cerebral Palsy Alliance and they are asking us to take 10,000 steps a day for 28 days straight to assist people with cerebral palsy – a condition that affects movement. I love that they are asking Australia to get stepping because the positive side effects of moving more are so many.

Imagine that you are in store looking at a label with the following benefits listed:

This product can assist in the prevention and management of heart problems, diabetes, cancer, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and lung problems including asthma. It can also aid in keeping the joints and muscles mobile, increase strength and balance and is a great way of putting bone in the bank. You will be more productive in the two hours after you take it with a 24-hour improvement and if you take it for 20 minutes every second day, it will halve the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. And last but not least, it makes you look and feel a million dollars.

If this were a description of a drug, everyone would be falling over each other to get it. Here we are describing a multi-faceted performance enhancer called exercise and the benefits are obvious immediately, impressive in their magnitude and wide reaching. Despite this, although backed by irrefutable clinical evidence, little or no cost and a glowing rap sheet, around 70% of Australians are not getting enough of it for optimal health.
In the world of health promotion, exercise is continually on the agenda and yet in many first world countries the rates are well below ideal with dramatic negative impact on almost all major diseases.

Regular exercisers are familiar with the feeling of endorphin release during exercise and many people report this as being a major factor in increasing their motivation for wanting to do more. Endorphins are the body’s natural pain medication and are neurotransmitters found in the pituitary gland and around the nervous system. Endorphins interact with human opiate receptors, which reduce your perception of pain. Serotonin, an endorphin associated with depression, is usually produced in response to pain and stress but there is increasing evidence that this also occurs during exercise. The good news is that the amount of exercise does not need to be excessive and around 20-30 minutes at a moderate intensity can cause endorphin release. Exercising to exhaustion can cause endorphin levels to drop significantly but on the upside new exercisers may experience stronger effects of endorphins than someone who has been exercising regularly.

The Australian Government has some practical advice for those contemplating an exercise routine:

  • Think of movement as an opportunity not an inconvenience -opportunities to improve your health include walking the kids to school, parking your car further away from your destination
  • Be active everyday in as many ways as you can
  • Put together 30 minutes of exercise each day – you can accumulate 30 minutes of exercise across the day when the opportunity arises
  • If you can, enjoy some vigorous exercise for extra health and fitness

But back to Steptember. On the back of a long and cold winter, spring seems the perfect time to kick-start a new exercise routine doesn’t it? Gunning for 10,000 steps each day for 28 days in Steptember, also seems like a perfect way to get yourself started.

There are a few different ways to keep track of your daily steps – you can try a Fitbit or similar device or most smartphones come with an inbuilt tracker you can use too. Measuring your daily stepping action can be a powerful way of being accountable and can provide the motivation you sometimes need to have to keep your health at the forefront of your mind.

But here’s the kicker. Its one thing to think about doing 10,000 steps every day but quite another to actually do them. Research shows when it comes to achieving goals, the chance of success increases by 33% if it is shared with others and by up to 72% if money is put on the line. A super cool concept called Promise or Pay combines these two approaches to help you stick to your goals by donating to charity if you don’t follow through and encouraging others to donate if you succeed. To me, Steptember and Promise or Pay seem to be the perfect marriage.

Are you joining me in stepping it out in Steptember?

Personal bests and PB’s – what are you striving for?

The past two and a bit weeks have been exciting, exhilarating, tearful, stressful and most of all extremely lacking in the sleep department. You may recognise these things in yourself if you have been following the journey of our Australian athletes (or your own country) achieving their personal bests in the Rio 2016 Olympics.

I love watching all the sports but for me some of them are extra special because some of the athletes competing have worked with me over the past 4-8 years. I have found myself holding my breath a lot, jumping up and down and screaming at the TV in every waking moment. No matter what the sport, it is hard not to urge on every single athlete out there who are doing their utmost to achieve their own personal bests when they have worked so hard and for so long to get to this international stage.

Of course, every athlete has their eye on the ultimate prizes – bronze, silver and gold with each countries success inevitably measured by the number and type of medals they win.

My three kids were glued to the TV right next to me, just in case they missed any demonstration of athletic skill and courage. This was a real fear, especially with the sprint events that are over in the blink of an eye! It was the perfect opportunity to talk to them about winning, losing and simply trying their best. They watched the joy, elation, disappointments, devastations and missed opportunities that come with elite sport and recognised the same emotions they experience in the grass roots sports they participate in. A valuable reminder to them all that winning is most certainly not everything.

As the Olympic Creed states, “The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

Many of our athletes achieved their personal bests. Imagine pole vaulting a height you have never conquered before, being the first Australian in 40 years to make the final of the 1500m track event or even qualifying for the Olympics for the very first time. All incredible achievements from athletes competing in fields of the best of the best and where races are won by teeny tiny fractions of seconds.

Watching those finely tuned athletes celebrate and acknowledge their personal bests got me thinking about how we do or perhaps don’t recognise our own personal bests in our everyday lives.

Lets face it, looking after your health and well-being is an ongoing job and one that requires dedication and discipline, which quite honestly at times can be rather testing and difficult. When was the last time that you congratulated yourself for eating a healthy breakfast or getting up to exercise on the dark, cold winter mornings or racking up five serves of vegetables in a day or keeping your productivity high by staying hydrated? I’m betting almost never.

We are so much better at criticising ourselves for NOT doing things like only eating one piece of fruit today or missing one exercise session in a week or not being able to resist one little piece of chocolate, rather than focusing on the positive actions that we take.
Think about the ways in which you can note and acknowledge your personal bests each week:

  1. What are you measuring? Get really clear about what this is for you – is it eating less salt, more fibre, daily breakfast or more water? Put some numbers next to your targets so that you know when you hit them.
  2. Take stock each week – use some weekend time to reflect on what you have achieved rather than what you have not. High fives all round if you tallied up some personal bests or if not, think about what you could alter to get them nailed next week.
  3. Get visual – I love a good list or chart and they are perfect for showing me where I am up to and what I have completed especially when looking at racking up ticks for good sleep, consistent exercise or eating well.

Focusing on the positives along with your small and not so small achievements will always propel you towards your own personal bests – don’t let them slip by unnoticed.