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By West Norwood Therapies Team, Oct 10 2018 08:00AM

Sports massage specialist Lauren O'Sullivan shares some tips for training safely and effectively as the days get colder...

Many of my clients for Sports Massage are keen runners, cyclists or swimmers, or sometimes all three! They regale me with their tales of miles covered and stretches of water paddled, and I am constantly in awe of their determination and drive for their sport. I often think of their training regimes and processes, and as the weather is changing it turned my mind to the effect this must have upon them. Obviously training can be carried out indoors, on a treadmill or a stationary bike say, but how does this compare to the real environmental conditions that may be experienced in a race or event?

We were all aware of the drama surrounding the heat for this year’s London Marathon but as the temperature starts to drop, let’s turn our thoughts to what happens at the other end of the thermometer.

Your physiological responses to exercising in cold air are different to those that occur in more temperate environments. Research has shown that exposure to cold air can have perverse effects on the immune system. The cold enhances the effects of a type of ‘suppressor’ macrophage which depresses the functioning of the immune system. So what can you do to boost your immune system back up? More cold weather training! Prolonged exposure to cold air training can blunt this suppressor macrophage response, so keeping your outdoor training regular throughout the colder months will fair you in better stead than only venturing outside periodically, or only when competing.

Sudden and unexpected exposure to cold air carries the most risk and not just for your immune system. Cold air increases the heart rate and blood pressure, therefore putting more stress on the heart and it’s also known that our blood clots more easily in cold weather. It makes sense that if cold air exposure is sporadic then it will come as more of a shock to the body and increase these changes. To minimise the magnitude of our physiological changes, ‘getting used’ to training in the cold may be the answer.

But it’s not all bad. In fact, cold weather training is the best environment for aiding fat burn. Glycogen depletion is fast due to shivering and adrenaline from the cold and so the body quickly turns to its fat stores for energy. Training in cold air enhances the breakdown of fat, particularly the kind that clings to your internal organs which is most closely linked to high levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDLs). Other benefits may include faster times! Training in cold weather places greater pressure on the breath; this is a good thing! It helps train your lungs and whole body to utilise oxygen more efficiently, therefore boosting your overall athletic performance. Some research has found that as a result of this, regular training in cold weather has the potential to add an average of 29% to athletes running speed. And if you needed any more encouragement, it’s a fool proof way to beat those winter blues due to the mood-enhancing effects of exercise. So what are you waiting for?!

Here are some pointers you can start to implement as the weather changes. Although you may experience faster times in regular cold weather training, speed work should not consciously be added to your training regime during winter. In terms of clothing, dress like an onion and peel! You should be a little bit cold at the start of your workout so if it’s only moderately cold wear no more than 2 layers. If it’s really cold, wear up to 3 layers and think about how you can protect the face and neck areas as these can easily be exposed. Also think about protecting your hands and feet especially if you have bad circulation or low blood pressure. Swimmers think about full wetsuits in cold water and always have your head and feet covered. It’s useful to plan the time of day that you will work out as it’s colder in the early mornings and evenings, so running or cycling in the ‘heat’ of the day could be better, particularly if you are not used to cold weather training. Also think about your direction; go into the wind on the way out and have the wind at your back on your way home. Remember: mind over emotions. And don’t forget the lip balm and snacks!
Here are some pointers you can start to implement as the weather changes. Although you may experience faster times in regular cold weather training, speed work should not consciously be added to your training regime during winter. In terms of clothing, dress like an onion and peel! You should be a little bit cold at the start of your workout so if it’s only moderately cold wear no more than 2 layers. If it’s really cold, wear up to 3 layers and think about how you can protect the face and neck areas as these can easily be exposed. Also think about protecting your hands and feet especially if you have bad circulation or low blood pressure. Swimmers think about full wetsuits in cold water and always have your head and feet covered. It’s useful to plan the time of day that you will work out as it’s colder in the early mornings and evenings, so running or cycling in the ‘heat’ of the day could be better, particularly if you are not used to cold weather training. Also think about your direction; go into the wind on the way out and have the wind at your back on your way home. Remember: mind over emotions. And don’t forget the lip balm and snacks!

Lastly, ensure you have a full warm up before training and a thorough cool down/keeping warm afterwards! Do your warm up indoors where you can properly warm the muscles and deeper muscles ready for training. Take your time, do some light stretches and get the blood pumping around the body. When you get home or back to the car, ensure that it is warm. ‘Cool down’ with some light mobility exercises and as long as you are warm you can include some deeper stretches to maintain good flexibility and form. Importantly, listen to your body and train as you see fit – if you are not used to cold weather training take things slow and give yourself time to experiment with your clothing and distances. It also wouldn’t hurt to get a massage! As I mentioned before, your immune system may be slightly under-functioning as you begin training in cold air so a massage is perfect for increasing lymph flow which is packed with white blood cells. As well as lymph flow, massage increases blood circulation and skin hydration – so bust those winter blues and treat yourself to some regular cold weather training followed by a sports massage. You’ll feel like a superhero!

By West Norwood Therapies Team, Sep 26 2018 08:00AM

Acupuncturist Philippa Summers shares Part 2 of her interesting and informative snapshots of Chinese medicine approach to digestion - get some helpful tips on what, how and when to eat - and why - in the autumnal months ahead.

In my last newsletter piece a couple of weeks ago I looked at the influence of the Earth element and associated organs, the Stomach and Spleen, on digestion. (Remember that in Chinese Medicine what is referred to as the Spleen is actually a mistranslation that is in fact the pancreas). In this piece I’d like to take a look at what you can do to support your digestion, especially with regard to supporting the function of the Spleen (pancreas). In Chinese Medicine is as much about how and when you eat, as it is about what you eat. The emphasis here is not on diet but on supporting Stomach and Spleen Qi to aid digestion.

Eat breakfast and avoid heavy meals just before bed

The Earth element exerts its greatest influence between 7am and 11am and this is is the time of day when you can most effectively digest and transform your food to create the energy you will use for the day. A high protein breakfast will sustain you for longer – scrambled eggs with smoked salmon are great. If you are not in the habit of eating breakfast start with something light and build up to a regular routine. Avoid heavy meals late in the evening. There are several old adages that support this idea including “Eat breakfast alone, share lunch and give supper to your enemy!”

Chew well, eat lightly

Slowing down and chewing your food well is simple way to aid digestion. Chewing starts the digestive process in the mouth and well chewed food presents less work for the stomach and spleen. The mechanical motion starts mass peristalsis in the Colon helping to regulate your bowels. Overeating will congest digestion and is a major cause of stagnation and dampness. Stop just before you are full and you will find you have more energy available.

Relax and sit comfortably when eating

Allow space for the stomach by sitting straight to create space for the stomach by avoiding twisted and slumped postures, as in meals eaten off your lap while watching TV. Tension at mealtimes will hamper digestion so create a relaxed atmosphere. Take a few breaths before you eat as you contemplate and anticipate your food, this will get the digestive juices flowing.

Damp forming foods can be clogging and hamper digestion

Sugar, chemicals, refined carbohydrates, excess gluten, greasy and fried foods are damp forming and best kept to a minimum. Cheese and dairy, with the exception of cultured dairy like yoghurt, are also damp forming, but their dietary adjustment requires more careful consideration which may be worthwhile for people with weak Spleen Qi/Damp symptoms and related conditions. Old, stale, reheated foods also contribute towards damp so food should be fresh and full of vitality.

Eat Spleen nourishing foods

The spleen loves simple warm food based around complex carbs, like those found in lentils, chickpeas, beans, peas, root vegetables, sweet potato, corn, squashes and whole grain oats and brown rice. Complex carbs are packed with fibre, some soluble and some insoluble–which is essential in regulating the Earth element. The more complex the carbohydrate the longer the body takes to digest and the more it actually aids in stabilizing blood sugar. Simple carbs like refined grains, flours and pastas, and of course sugar, are too simple. They break down too quickly in the body often causing a spike in our blood sugar, which hampers the Spleen (pancreas).

In addition to the complex carbs the following foods, in smaller quantities, all help to support Spleen Qi: Chicken, ham, mutton, mackerel, herring, tofu chestnuts, dates, figs, cherries and molasses. Of course a much broader spectrum of food is required to complete a balanced diet but here I am focusing on spleen nourishing foods.

Include a few naturally fermented foods

Sauerkraut, pickled vegetables and natural yoghurt all contain probiotics and are good aids to digestion.

Eat Warm foods and avoid too much cold

Excess cold, raw foods and icy drinks that snuff out the digestive fire, can hamper our digestion. This runs contrary to modern trends advocating the nutrition of raw foods and juices, so balance them with warm nourishing soups and stews – the perfect Spleen foods. Add gently warming spices like cumin, cinnamon, caraway, fennel, nutmeg and ginger. If your digestion is seriously hampered, then eating nourishing good quality simple soups and stews on a daily basis is probably the best first step. Use a good quality stock, fresh ingredients and a few warming spices


Limit fluid intake at meal times

The Spleen is easily overwhelmed by too much fluid so limit intake to one glass of water or herbal tea at mealtimes. Drink plenty of fluids between meals instead.

Enjoy your food

Very importantly food should be enjoyed and the spirit in which one eats can have a profound effect on digestion. It is important to appreciate that food is nourishment and eat without guilt. An occasional rich indulgent slice of cake should be eaten with enjoyment and will be so much better digested when eaten with appreciation!


The Earth element needs activity to function well. This certainly doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon. It means appropriate exercise for your situation. For some, a walk around the park is an excellent starting place. Stretching muscles both lengthways and across their fibres can help to eliminate damp from the muscles, so consider gentle exercises like yoga or tai chi.


Finally, if you are suffering from digestive issues then acupuncture may be able to help you. Along with diet acupuncture is very effective at improving Spleen Qi. There is a good research evidence for acupuncture as an effective treatment to help Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Constipation while many other conditions can be helped but the formal research to support this is still lacking.

Here’s to your happy digestion!


Healing with wholefoods, Paul Pitchford

Recipes for Self-Healing, Daverick Leggett

Both books contain wealth of comprehensive advice, centred around Traditional Chinese Medical wisdom and plenty of delicious recipes.

By West Norwood Therapies Team, Sep 20 2018 09:33AM

Aromatherapist Veronica Massa shares some insight into our relationship with smell - the incredible way our brains process what this evocative sense brings us and the power it can have on our wellbeing

'…people could close their eyes to greatness, to horror, to beauty, and their ears to melodies or deceiving words. But they could not escape scent. For scent was a brother to breath. Together with breath it entered human beings, who could not defend themselves against it, not if they wanted to live. And scent entered their very core, went directly to their hearts, and decided for good and all between affection and contempt, disgust and lust, love and hate.

He who ruled scent ruled the heart of men.'

Parfume: The Story of A Murderer, Patrick Suskind

The sense of smell is set apart from other sensory modalities. Scents possess the ability to immediately trigger strong emotional memories, scents evoke many images and sensations. Odour perception, though olfaction, immediately involves the limbic structures instantaneously evoking emotions and facilitating the encoding of memories. This early involvement is not parallel in other sensory modalities.

Scented oils in the past.

Every major culture through history has used aromatics to create special moods.

In Egypt scented oils and incense has been used from the earliest historical times. Pharaohs indulged in sweet ointments, scented substances were provided for use in the Hereafter, and the Moringa oil used as base oil for perfumes was distributed for the enjoyment of the population outside the palace. In Egypt, perfume wasn’t like the perfume of today, oils were sacred and perfume was holistic, much as aromatherapy today.

It may be for its stronger scent and effect that the blue Lotus has appeared so frequently in Egyptians decorations. The effect of the scent of the lotus flower was used to open the heart of divinities, same as that of ordinary mortals, intimately affected by the ‘divinity ‘of its scent, which could be interpreted as sedative or hypnotic. Documents show as Egyptians were already aware of the use of scents for a specific psychic and spiritual purpose.

At a time when man’s senses had not yet been contaminated with modern artificial preparation, sensitivity to natural scents must have been more acute. For an Egyptian, to indulge on the beautiful smell of a lotus, had to be sufficient to provoke him a considerable effect enough to achieve an alteration of his consciousness.

A considerable number of aromatic plants produce the effect of liberating the mind and altering the emotions, with the ability to cause sedation or excitement, or bring back a memory. Through the sense of smell we can ‘manipulate’ our emotions.

But how does it happen?

The Olfactory System and the sense of smell in humans

The olfactory system, which senses and processes odours, is one of the oldest and most vital parts of the brain. A primal part of our brain responds to smell and is activated from birth. We smell and react to different aromas before we learn to differentiate between colors, sounds and textures. Olfactory communication allows the newborn baby to identify and locate his mother. Smell triggers nursing instinct in animals like in humans, in the same way a mother can recognize her own baby by odour. It is also know that during pregnancy the sense of smell is heightened by hormonal changes, bringing humans closer to their animal nature which in today’s ‘civilized’ society has been suppressed neglecting that powerful instinct, still unconsciously used for self-preservation or species preservation. Think about the protective mechanism that allows us to recognize a gone bad food or the primitive instinct related to sexual significance.

Humans are greatly influenced by odors of others, which is reason of attraction or repulsion between two people; this is an unaware mechanism. Odour is an involuntary method of communication. We send signals through subliminal smells called pheromone which are airborne chemicals involuntarily expelled into the air that affect the physiology or behavior of other members of the same species. Pheromones work in a subliminal way because humans are not aware of them, they are unique for everybody, like our very own ‘smell print’.

Odour, emotions and science

Studies on human psychological processes such as mood, memory and cognition, strongly support the notion that odours are powerful memory stimulants, which can spontaneously cue emotion and autobiographical data. They suggest that because of the uniqueness of the olfactory system with its direct contact to the limbic system and our emotions, stimuli are processed on a unconscious nonverbal level connecting past with present in a way very different from the other senses.

Considering the potent effect of odours on memory and emotions which research is increasingly illustrating, it is easy to see why aroma can be such an important tool in therapeutic action.

Studies have shown that thinking about the scent can be as powerful as the scent itself. Mentioning certain scents or asking about odors during a session can bring about a deeper discussion of feelings and emotions, allowing the client to tune into the experience more intimately, to feel it more directly, and to connect with it on a fuller level.

I remember a client who couldn’t stand Lavender because it was bringing on memories of her very unpleasant grandmother who used to wear the scent. In this case Lavender wasn’t serving the purpose as a relaxing, sedating oil!

In just one square inch of the brain, humans have the capacity to process about 10.000 different odors. The majority of aromas perceived involve a complex organization of hundreds of odor molecules, and through the simultaneous recognition of the individual odor molecules, a complex scent is recognized as a whole equal to the sum of its parts. 70 to 75% of what we perceive as a taste actually comes from our sense of smell. More specifically, it is the odor molecules that enter the passage between the nose and mouth that gives us most of our taste sensation.

A common junction where memories, emotions and odors meet

Recognition of the odour occurs in the limbic system where the transmitted signal is sent to. Here the signal is interpreted through a comparison to past experiences with the odour and relation of the smell to the emitting substance. The limbic system, which receives information from the chemoreceptors about a particular odour, not only mediates mood and emotions, but also serves as a memory storage area.

Olfactory information travels not only to the limbic system but also to the brain’s cortex, or outer layer, where conscious thoughts occurs.

This common junction, where memories, emotions and odours meet, explains why smell is often an intense trigger for distinct memories and potent emotions. When perceiving a particular aroma that is associated with a past memory, the recognition of the odor in the olfactory process will simultaneously evoke the correlated memory. Determining the links between specific odors and a produced behavior is a technique that scientists are still trying to perfect.

Smell could produce psychological effects similar to mood states, a pleasant smell produces a positive mood. Odours leave a lasting impression, long-term odour memory is even stronger than long-term visual memory, making of odours a powerful tool to recall memories even in cases of amnesia or comatose conditions.

Students exposed to pleasant smell while learning, remembered a considerably high percentage during examination if exposed to the same smell. In order to have a memory association, the same smell must be present at both learning and testing stage.

Essential Oils and Aromatherapy

Essential oils extracted from aromatic plants have therefore a remarkable therapeutic power. Bearing in mind the knowledge explained above, we can use our sense of smell and scents to consciously alter the way we feel. Essential oils can be a powerful tool to support emotional difficulties, low mood and depression.

Experience an Aromatherapy massage and explore the sensations you perceive when beautiful scents pervade your being.

Veronica welcomes you to experience essential oils to support you through the change of seasons and your moon cycles, balance your Chakras, energetically unblock and balance meridians and related organs, harmonize your mood, emotions and gift you with a stress relief experience that will be imprinted in your memory!

By West Norwood Therapies Team, Sep 13 2018 09:00AM

Acupuncturist Philippa Summers shares some Chinese medicine wisdom around supporting your digestive system particularly around this time of year.

It’s Late Summer, the short 5th season in the Chinese 5 element calendar, the time of Earth and the harvest. The Earth element and its associated organs – Stomach and Spleen – play a central role in digestion. In particular the Spleen has a very broad digestive function with an influence throughout the body, very importantly on the quality of qi, blood and fluids. When Spleen Qi is out of balance there is a knock-on effect and many aspects of our health can be affected. Giving attention to the Earth element and the function of the Spleen is frequently a starting point of treatment, so it seems an appropriate time to take a closer look at digestion.

Spleen means pancreas

I should clarify that in Chinese Medicine the Spleen was a mistranslation and the ancient Chinese texts were actually talking about the pancreas. For continuity the digestive system has continued to be named as comprising Stomach and Spleen. The actual spleen actually comes under the role of the Liver in Chinese Medicine and is more concerned with storage of blood. So, whenever we use the term Spleen in Chinese medicine, think pancreas, and the important role it plays in secreting enzymes into the intestines and controlling blood sugar.

A Healthy Earth Element

In health a strong Earth element with good Stomach and Spleen qi provide nourishment for the whole body. It keeps us strong, active and stable with endurance and a good appetite and digestion. It also provides qualities that enable us to nurture ourselves and others, and fosters free thinking, imagination and creativity.

Spleen Qi

When the Spleen Qi is weak we often experience tiredness and a tendency to bloat after eating. Stools may be loose and appetite low or erratic with a tendency to food intolerances It can manifest in other ways affecting concentration, food intolerances, menstrual issues, anaemia, weak limbs and give a tendency to prolapse, such as haemorrhoids. Difficulty regulating weight can be part of the picture, either overweight without overeating or thin and unable to gain weight. If it is allowed to worsen then signs of cold can also appear – cold limbs and a chronic aversion to cold. The Spleen likes easily digestible simple warm food.

Accumulation of Damp and Phlegm

When the ability of the spleen to transform fluids is compromised ‘damp’ builds up which often manifests as feelings of heaviness in the limbs and joints along with soreness and aching. Our head may be affected with foggy thinking, a heavy sensation in the head, mental and physical stagnation and a feeling of being ‘stuck’ which hampers creativity.

As damp gets worse the fluids become thicker, more cloying, toxic and gooey often causing mucousy discharges and encouraging the proliferation of microbes in the body with conditions such as candida and thrush.

If they become even more congealed and stagnation builds up then they can progress to phlegm in the lungs or cysts in the genitourinary tract. Weak Spleen Qi, certain foods and also living in damp conditions all contribute.

Stomach Qi

The stomach is responsible for preparing the food we eat for absorption further down the gastro-intestinal tract. Erratic eating habits, rich food and overindulgence play havoc and can lead to acid reflux, heartburn, burning pains, gas and bloating. The stomach does not like to be hot and dry, so dehydration and too many of the hotter spicy foods can affect the stomach. So can flooding it with too much fluid at mealtimes, overdiluting the digestive enzymes. It is about getting a balance.

Next time: How to Support Your Digestion

My next newsletter piece in a couple of weeks will focus on things you can do to aid digestion and keep your inner Earth element happy and functioning well.

Welcome to our blog where we share tips, advice and thoughts from our fantastic team of experienced practitioners