Category Archives: Benefits

SHOULD WE STOP TALKING ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH?

SHOULD WE STOP TALKING ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH?

There is a national realisation that mental ill-health is on the increase and needs our attention. This is true. But should we be talking about Mental Health per se? Here is why I am asking the question:

A new University student who is perhaps introverted and does not enjoy drunkenness may sit alone in her room feeling lonely and anxious. Another may go out ‘socialising’ each night and binge drink. Does it mean that the mental health of the first student is more in question than that of the second? What about the work colleague who has started to come in a bit late sometimes or isn’t paying so much attention to her appearance? Do we equate this to laziness or to mental health? Are we truly paying attention to ourselves and to those around us?

Up until recently if you went to the doctor with an ache or pain, and the diagnosis was ‘psychosomatic’, the underlying assumption was that it wasn’t real. Nowadays there is a much greater understanding of the interaction of mind, body and emotions. The physical pain is extremely real, although caused or aggravated by psychological factors. Psychosomatic is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as ‘caused or aggravated by a mental factor such as internal conflict or stress’ and ‘relating to the interaction of mind and body’.

I trained to teach the Alexander Technique (AT), which is based on the premise that the use of the whole self (body, mind and emotions) affects function. It is taught using gentle manual guidance with verbal instruction to help the person understand and work with unhelpful habits, be those physical, mental or emotional.

I have been working as an Associate at The University of York for six years now but prior to this I worked for several years in the NHS at the practice of a forward thinking GP, Dr Gavin Young. The doctors would often refer the patients with physical ailments who were not responding to conventional treatment. I discovered that many of the patients whom they had referred with intractable neck pain had lost a parent in the preceding year. This was a surprise to them, though not to me.

In the nearly 30 years that I have worked with AT, I have seen time and again, that people who suppress or repress mental and emotional pain, often manifest psychological issues in physical symptoms. The English are well known for their stiff upper lip and ‘keep calm and carry on approach’. It is easier to call in sick because you have excruciating neck pain and headaches than to tell your manager that you can’t come in to work because you are grieving the death of your mother.

I worked with another person at the GP surgery who was in great physical pain, but described herself as a hugely positive person. Over a period of months, we worked physically to relieve the pain, with little success, and at the same time, I probed gently into the incongruencies of positivity and pain. Eventually this person was able to tell me something she had never been able to share before, or even truly admit to herself, that she had been abused.

Once she was able to access and acknowledge this memory, true healing was able to begin, both in her body, and through counselling support offered by the GP practice. It is my contention that purely physical therapy alone would never have worked for this patient, because her pain was so deeply rooted in emotional trauma. However, I very much doubt that she would have been able to acknowledge the abuse without the body work and gentle questioning, for the simple reason that she could only acknowledge the physical pain, and was not presenting with a ‘mental health’ problem.

Professor Nickolaas Tinbergen was the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1973. He devoted half of his acceptance speech to extolling the virtues of the Alexander Technique and its impact on his life. He said ‘this story of perceptiveness, intelligence and persistence shown by a man without medical training [Frederick Alexander’s], is one of the great epics of medical research and practice.’ He described how he and his family had decided to test some of the seemingly fantastical claims. They found, after only a few months, ‘striking improvements in such diverse things as oedema due to high blood pressure, breathing, depth of sleep, overall cheerfulness and mental alertness, resilience against outside pressures and also in such a refined skill as playing a stringed instrument.’

Interestingly, 45 years on, terms such as mental alertness and resilience are widely used in discussion and approaches to mental health.

Tinbergen confirmed from personal experience that ‘many types of underperformance and even ailments, both mental and physical, can be alleviated, sometimes to a surprising extent, by teaching the body musculature to function differently.’ Advances in neuroscience since this time have elucidated further how the brain and body interact positively in this process to explain the ‘surprising extent’ of these improvements. My practice has reflected Tinbergen’s experience. Follow-up questionnaires, immediately after a 10 week treatment plan and 1 year post-treatment, indicated that the majority of patients from my work in the GP surgery found AT to be of ‘considerable help’ or ‘totally sorted’ their problems. Anecdotally, most patients reported to me that if it had not sorted their original presenting problem, it had helped them manage their lives more effectively.

As a result of this work, I realised that what I was doing via AT could also be understood to include, what is now called, Life Coaching. I trained in Relational Dynamic Life Coaching, and have found this to be a powerful synthesis with AT. (Relational Dynamics- the art of interaction with self and others www.relationaldynamics.co.uk)

My understanding based on experience is that the mind and body either act to support or to destabilise the other. Changing thoughts and beliefs can have a powerful effect on the body, just as releasing physical tension and improving physical functioning can free up the mind and give self-empowerment. Being able to work with people via these two techniques has enabled me to enhance overall well-being, not just ‘mental health’ or ‘physical health’. We can approach well-being via either working with the body (physical therapies) or mind (psychological ‘talking’ therapies). My conviction is that a combination of the two can be most powerful.

But, to return to my title, should we even be talking about mental health? In making a distinction between mental health and other health issues, we risk falsely attributing some issues to the purely mental sphere, and the stigma which is commonly associated with mental ill-health. We are all people comprised of bodies and minds, which are deeply affected by our emotions. Are we not missing a trick by failing to approach health as a synthesis of body and mind states?

If we understand that health and ill-health is a matter of the whole person, we can better identify these people and offer appropriate help. But if we separate the ‘mental’ from the ‘physical’ we are likely only to treat the symptoms and not the cause, or at the very least a contributing factor. In this I think we are failing to provide healthcare that meets the needs of the population.

We need a healthcare service that acknowledges how the body and mind impact each other and makes better use of the whole of ourselves to prevent and treat ill-health.

In my opinion, this means dropping the ‘mental health’ label and ensuring our conversations, concerns and treatments are about Health.

Julie Parker BSc, MSTAT
ILM level 7 equivalent accredited Coach
Www.creativetransformation.org.uk
https://www.facebook.com/creativetransformationuk/

Disclaimer: These are my personal views and do not represent the views of any organisation

Advice to my Daughter after two weeks at University

” Think of it like the sea – there will always be another wave and another high tide – sometimes you just have to wait”
When I was growing up in Africa, we used to go on holiday to the seaside for 3-6 weeks. Apart from anything else, it used to take a week of 8 hour a day driving to get there and back, so it didn’t seem worth it to go for less!
My brother and I were avid body surfers, and we spent hours and hours in the ocean, much of it waiting for the next perfect wave to surf
The first ‘wave’ of excitement is over, exhaustion has set in, and the real hard work of study has begun. It’s easy to feel discouraged, homesick and missing one’s special friends. But the next wave will come if you are patient….

Surreptitious Growth

Spring Flowers

It’s a ‘dead’ February Sunday morning – a sunless, muted chilled day. The kind where it is easy to descend into melancholy and retreat into oneself. I am sitting on my patio in socks, pyjamas and winter coat drinking my morning coffee, listening to Janis Ian and contemplating.

My gaze lights on the terracotta pot that one of Anna’s friends accidentally broke, which now looks sad and dilapidated.

Terracotta Pot

And my gaze softens and widens and instead of the broken pot I allow myself to see what’s in it and in the mass of winter dead leaves in the bed beyond.

And I realise that I have not really been paying attention in the last few weeks of morning coffee drinking, because there in the ground are the first signs of Spring.

Spring Bulbs

I’ve been talking to clients a lots recently about growth, and about spring bulbs – how we plant them in Autumn and then see nothing for months – but how in that dark, hard ground, something is happening. That without that time of winter – of darkness, of bare-ness, of hibernation, the bulbs don’t have the necessary strength and energy to find their way through the earth and up to the light in order to blossom..

Hyacinths in GrowthAnd I realise that wherever I look in my tiny garden, the signs of growth are everywhere – I just haven’t been really looking. And like the hyacinths that are budding in the safety of their leaf nests, my flowers of creativity are budding and ready to bloom.

I have been doing some work on website recently and came across quite a few blogs that I started and never published. I notice that for years I have been having ideas about things I want to write, to offer as workshops, and I have got some way to making them happen and then they have sat dormant. And just as I had the idea of this blog and walked inside and made it happen, so I realise that I am making all sorts of other plans, dreams and schemes happen organically – with energy but without forcing, and I notice by paying attention, that my creativity is budding and in the process of blossoming, because of all the surreptitious growing that has been going on in the dark.

And I realise that it no longer bothers me if I can’t see the sun because the light is inside me, and I am deeply happy…

On Demons, Compassion, Choice and the Interconnectedness of Life

Yesterday I was blessed and privileged to have a long  Facetime conversation with Lindsay Kyte – she just waking in Halifax Canada, and I just returning from a day out in nature in Yorkshire, UK.

Lindsay was one of my MA students about 8 years ago at LIPA (Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts). She is now an award winning play-write, TEDx speaker, and editor of The Lion’s Roar – the premier Buddhist magazine in N America.

When Lindsay first returned to Canada, she turned to me for some long distance life coaching and now I have been able to turn to her for for help with the re-writing of my website.

But yesterday we were reflecting deeply on our shared demons, and the need for compassion – in particular self compassion.

For the last couple of years, this month of August, when clients and daughter are away, has seen the rearing heads of my ‘not enough’ demons: ‘Not good enough, not hardworking enough, not published enough, not known enough, not rich enough, not spiritual enough, not kind enough…..’ My ‘not enough’ demons are legion.

This year, I am facing those demons down by deliberate choices based on compassion and recognition of the interconnectedness of life.

I love this image of the impact of single droplets into water – how individually they create expanding concentric circles, and how each of those interact with others to create differing patterns, impacts, stories and lives.

And it gave me great joy in talking to Lindsay, in hearing her talk of strategies that I had offered her all those years ago, and how they impacted on the choices she has made in her life, and how those choices impact on so many others with whom she comes into contact, both through her life and through her work. It helps me to reconnect to choices I often find hard to make. It helps me to give value to each individual interaction I have and gives me a sense of meaning and purpose.

We spoke too, of how often we each give energy to things that are not essential, and neglect the things we know will deeply nourish us. While we often give much thought and energy to finding compassion for others, the practice of self compassion is a more elusive one – especially for someone like me, brought up on the tenet of ‘think of others before yourself’.

Lindsay sent this link to Tara Brach’s 10 minute process she calls the RAIN of Compassion:

R -Recognise

A – Accept

I – Investigate

N – Nourish

Tara’s voice is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I have found her Mindfulness exercises valuable at times when I have felt unable to quiet my own anxieties.

Here is the link:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=

If you are interested in reading more about Lindsay and Lion’s Roar, here are the links to the magazine, and also Lindsay’s website

http://www.lindsaykyte.com/

https://www.lionsroar.com/

 

Top Tips for Managing Stress

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TOP TIPS FOR DEALING WITH STRESS

USING ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE AND COACHING PRINCIPLES AS STRATEGIES FOR STRESS MANAGEMENT.

Alexander Technique principles are very simple, yet very profound when diligently applied.

The Principles in Everyday Language are these:

  1. INCREASE AWARENESS (FORM A CLEAR INTENTION TO DO THIS!)
  2. PAUSE
  3. USE CONSCIOUS DIRECTION/INTENTION
  4. PAY ATTENTION TO THE PROCESS
  5. REPEAT UNTIL NEW HABIT IS FORMED.

INTENTION

 INTENTION is my all time favourite word! Learn to develop a clear intention for your life, for your term, for your week, for your day. Then when you get discombobulated, you can remind yourself of your intention about anything in general or specific. You can notice whether what you are thinking or doing aligns with your intention, and the stronger you can hold your intention, the easier it becomes to align your actions. Truly powerful people, I believe, are those whose actions are most closely aligned with their intentions. Scarily, that applies in the negative sense as well as the positive, so take care in developing your intention!

 BREATHE!

In one sense, breathing is an enormously complex activity, in that once again, it often reflects anxieties, fears and difficulties – and research has shown that this also includes difficulties that your mother had in pregnancy! That explains why we don’t always find it easy to breathe freely and deeply. However, once again we can go back to the word INTENTION, and have the intention to breathe deeply and freely (even when we encounter our deep/old fears, which can sometimes be the cause for the feelings of faintness when we begin to release tension and breathe).

So have the intention to notice your breathing, and how, very often, when you are concentrating hard, or you are tense/anxious, you will find you are hardly breathing. It is impossible to breathe deeply when you holding extreme tension in your body, but equally, it is impossible to retain that tension when breathing deeply. So noticing shallow breath/held breath and deciding to breathe deeply (and freely) at each point of your noticing, helps break the cycle of tension and allows something different to happen, even if momentarily. Over time, this can make a huge difference in your level of pain or tension.

So the answer is to FEEL THE FEAR AND DO IT ANYWAY. Don’t repress your pain/fear/anger, but keep breathing, and breathe into that pain and through it. Amazing what this ‘simple’ thing can achieve!

AWARENESS – BODILY AND OTHERWISE

Learn to use your awareness as you would use peripheral vision. So make that an intention, and then see if you can allow yourself to be more aware of your body while doing other things. I believe that the body doesn’t lie, and it can become your best friend. When you are confused as to what you are thinking/feeling, your body will usually hold the answer. If you try and repress/suppress your feelings, your body will usually at some stage flag up what you are repressing by demonstrating to you your emotional pain in some physical way that makes you stop and pay attention.

CHOOSING YOUR THOUGHTS/ DEALING WITH OBSESSIVE THOUGHTS 

We have +/- 40,000 thoughts a day and how many are under our control? Not very many is often the answer! This is the problem of the Pink Elephant – the more you tell yourself not to think of it, the bigger the image becomes in your mind! So we need to choose our thoughts, and once again we come back to the work INTENTION. If you have the intention to truly take care of yourself, then you will be more able to choose what to think, if you know that your obsessive thinking is not helping you.

PRACTICAL STRATEGIES FOR ACHIEVING THIS:

1.  Bring your attention to your body by simply placing a hand/hands on your centre of gravity (few fingers below your navel). Remind yourself of your stability and strength and

2. Breathe!

3. Keep taking your attention outside yourself  – I find it hugely helpful to notice nature – light, colour, water, wind, and particularly combining walking with noticing nature.

4. Create Boundaries. Notice whether talking about problems makes you feel better/feeds the obsession/makes you feel tense. Choose carefully to whom you speak/interact so that again, your INTENTION is to support yourself. Try and create time boundaries for dealing with/thinking about/talking about your problem, and if you are struggling with that, ask the other person to hold the time boundary for you. This way, you will still get to feel heard, which is very important, but will not be tempted to obsess.

5. Gratitude Diary – your Homework, should you choose to accept it.

Find at least 3 things each day, for which you are grateful.

The danger is that difficult issues can consume you, and of course there is so much else in your life about which you can choose to think and to which you can give your energy, which will nourish you, bring you joy and also support your INTENTION  for a full and happy life. Our thoughts create a DIRECTION for our lives, and to some extent, create our life itself, so what we choose to focus on, and to think about, is HUGELY important. Have the INTENTION to bring to mind one or more of those things for which you are grateful, whenever you start feeling anxious/angry.

I fully realise that while all these things are pretty simple, that is not to say that they are easy.

Neuroscience research tells us it takes 3,000 repetitions(!) to break old neural pathways, so this will not be sorted in a day, and can seem tedious if you feel that you are getting somewhere with it, and then the old thoughts and habits kick in.

Again, INTENTION will help you stick with it

Neuroscientists also tell us that our thoughts create our reality – we are processing a staggering 400 billion actions per second in our brain, and every thought that we build actually changes the structure of the brain and impacts on the health of the body. (Dr Caroline Leaf, Neuroscientist).

So Science is now able to confirm the basis of the Alexander Technique, where we use conscious thoughts, intentions and directions to alter the way we respond to our everyday situations. And we can better understand that even if our situation does not change, we can alter our reality by our response to that situation, and choose health and well being over stress.

APPENDIX

Most people do not really relate to the Language used by Alexander Technique, particularly as it was developed in the late 1800s! Hence my initial translation into everyday language.

But for those who do know the language, and who want to see how I arrived at my ‘version’, here it is!

In ‘Alexander Technique Language’ these would be expressed as follows:

  1. REALISE YOU HAVE FAULTY SENSORY AWARENESS
  2. INHIBIT
  3. USE CONSCIOUS CONTROL TO PROJECT NEW DIRECTIONS
  4. PREVENT END GAINING AND PAY ATTENTION TO THE MEANS WHEREBY
  5. REPEAT UNTIL OLD UNHELPFUL HABIT IS REPLACED BY NEW HABIT

 In ‘Coaching Language’ these would be expressed as follows:

  1. BECOME MORE AWARE SO THAT ‘CONSCIOUS INCOMPETENCE’ BECOMES ‘CONSCIOUS INCOMPETENCE’
  2. PRACTICE NEW HABITS TO CHANGE ‘CONSCIOUS INCOMPETENCE’ TO ‘CONSCIOUS COMPETENCE’
  3. REPEAT UNTIL ‘CONSCIOUS COMPETENCE’ BECOMES ‘UNCONSCIOUS COMPETENCE’

If I thought this might be my last Autumn…..

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Written after hearing that a very dear friend has secondary lung and bone cancer….

I would drink in the reds and russets of the leaves by the river on my morning walks

And revel in the incandescent light

Burning through the morning mist-

I would savour the damp earth fungus scents

And eat blackberries, blood stained

And apples, crisp from the tree, and stolen plums from the neighbour’s garden.IMG_1585

I would get up and climb a mountain, go rowing, play tennis – revel in the power of my limbs – if they worked.

I would tell all my loved ones that they were just that – loved – dearly and deeply

I would tell those who had blessed me how much it meant to me,

And let those who had influenced and changed my life know what part they had played in the canvas of my life, and

How their gifts had passed from them to me and onto many others, like the ripples

Of a stone tossed into the water.

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 I would ask forgiveness of those whom I had hurt

And set the record straight where misunderstandings had occurred.

I would plant….

Trees and roses and jasmine and honeysuckle..

And spring bulbs to celebrate the continuation of life after death,

And so that someone might be blessed by the rich scent of rose, or the dappled shade of a tree, the miracle of colour after a grey winter..

And maybe think of me, and grieve and be glad for my loss and my life.

I would paint pictures and write stories and poems for my daughter

That tell her important things I would like her to know

And give her wings to soar, glide and divebomb through this life-

And letters for her special occasions – graduation, marriage?,children?

So that she would deeply understand that

love does not end with deathIMG_1604

 I would make huge collages of our years together

And make great memories from our great memories…

 I would notice the little things about her every day

And let her know how beautiful she is, body and soul,

And how much she is loved and will always be loved,

And pray that she will be able to take that love and know that she is deeply worthy of being loved, of connection.. 

IMG_1699And if I had no energy, I would ask her to sit with me by the fire and read to me,

Or listen to heartbreakingly beautiful music,

And watch our favourite films.

 I would stop sweating the small stuff!

I would speak kindly to the fear that rises with me on waking

And know that I have faced my biggest fears and survived them.

 And if I had any energy left, I would try and change the world, to leave it a better IMG_1756place…………………………………………………

 But who knows our allotted span of days?

And if that is what I would do, maybe now is a good time to start!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Positive Thoughts for the Day/Alexander Technique Tips for the Novice Rower

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A calm September morning full of the promise of a glorious early Autumn day..

I stopped at the park on the way to York Rowing Club to do some stretching and Qi Gong. As my breathing slowed and deepened, I drank in the glowing golds and russets of the first Autumn leaves and quietened my irrational fear of getting out on the river in a single scull for only the third time ever, but the first time in four months.

I had just started rowing at the beginning of summer (and getting back to tennis, swimming and Ceroc), when I was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma, and several operations put paid to any form of exercise for a while.

It’s September, and a challenging month for me. After a couple of years in York, I am beginning to build a reputation for my work, but my main source of income is still York University Music Department, and for the students, it is still summer vacation.

For everyone else, it is a new year and subscriptions are due and I am having a mental argument with myself about doing things that take time and cost money, rather than that earn it.

I chose self belief, and to follow the advice I had read recently:

“If you want to double your income, treble your learning”

As well as something I learned years ago:

“It’s not the things you do that you regret, it’s the things you don’t do” – actually that has also got me into all sorts of trouble, so not necessarily to be followed slavishly, but it seemed reasonable to apply it under these circumstances!

I have had an absolutely wonderful morning on the river. I have exercised by cycling and rowing, I have returned home feeling the elation of  both exercise and the completion of a new and challenging task. I am sure that I will accomplish as much this afternoon as I would have done had I given myself the whole day for development, planning and administration of my business.

So here are my positive life thoughts from my morning:

1.  Feel the Fear and do it Anyway.

I don’t know why I felt so anxious about rowing today. I have spent a reasonable amount of time in my life in various boats/kayaks/canoes/sailing dinghies and I love swimming (though not in the Ouse River, preferably). Something to do with expectation maybe, as I had done well in my first two times out on the river, but was not feeling confident of being able to reproduce that today.

I countered this by making sure I was in the best shape for success – stretching, meditative movement, breathing, and a practise session on the rowing machine.

Then I showed up, felt the fear and did it anyway, and of course, guess what? As soon as I was on the water, using my Alexander Principles (tips to follow), I felt fine! Exactly the same thing happened when I went back to skiing after six years, only that time I put it off for a day, and felt physically ill by the time I got myself onto the slopes – then had to deal with the frustration of wasting an afternoon’s skiing for no good reason…. sound familiar? If not, you’re lucky!

2. If you are feeling down, get out of the house and exercise/meet people for a boundaried amount of time in order to shift gear mentally and return to your tasks reinvigorated.

I appreciate this may not apply universally or all the time. But as I have to motivate my entire life and work myself, I found after moving here that it did me the power of good to get out and make sure I knew the world was carrying on around me, to breathe in the balm of nature and the river.  And when occasionally I wonder if I am going to be able to keep making this all work by myself,  I find it’s a sound strategy to employ.

3. Say yes to life.

It’s amazing how simple this is – and how powerful. So when there is a choice – just say yes and see what happens.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back– Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”  Goethe

ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE TIPS FOR THE NOVICE ROWER

1. As with many practical skills, the first key to success is your mind. Was going to use the term mindset, but it is flexibility of thought that translates into flexibility of action.

2.Keep flexibility of eyes. Fixed vision often translates directly into fixed musculature. Maintaining the use of peripheral vision (check out my other blogs if you don’t know what this is!) maintains fluidity that is essential for smooth sculling.

3. Maintaining a constant relationship of head neck and back (Primary control in Alexander Technique Jargon) contributes positively to a smooth rowing action. In other words, don’t stiffen your neck, and conversely don’t let your neck bend backwards as you throw your hands and move forward in the seat. (Apologies to any serious rowers if my rowing jargon is not yet up to speed!)

4. BREATHE! This may seem obvious, but in my many years of working with people, I find that most people who are anxious hold their breath, only allowing minimal respiration. Of course, once you are rowing well, and competitively, you will have to breathe, but when starting out, and being tentative, it is not such an obvious requirement.

I have found it true that if one is tense it is impossible to breathe freely, and the corollary, if one is breathing freely, it is impossible to tense!

5. Be Brave!