WNT founder Jennie Duck shares her thoughts on how shame get in the way of self care and how spending time with her own shame and prioritising self care has helped transform her life and relationships for the better.
The idea of shame as an impediment to self-care has been niggling at me for a while. I wonder how much our ideas of what we ‘should’ be doing get in the way of what we really want to do and what we feel is a justifiable use of our time. I wonder how much we sacrifice ways we can nurture ourselves for the ‘greater good’ of work, family and duty and I wonder how much of a negative impact this has on our lives, and those around us, that we don’t always see.
When I talk about ‘self-care’ I am talking about things that nurture our bodies, minds and spirits. The things we love doing, things that make us come alive. Self-care is the things that nourish us. Self-care can be exercise, nutrition and meditation. It can also be music, art, creating something, playing with a pet, talking with a close friend.
For me, the exercise, nutrition and meditation side of things are easier to get to. This is because my personal version of shame means that for me to feel worthy I must be ‘healthy’. But it took an outsider view from my husband when he told me a couple of years ago “I’m scared the mornings you don’t do yoga” to recognise that the value in taking time for myself extended beyond just me looking after myself, that it had a knock on impact on the rest of my family and life.
I used to feel a lot of shame, too, around the good feelings that came from looking after myself in this way. I felt good and then felt ashamed that I felt good – life is meant to be hard, I’m meant to strive, I have responsibilities, I can’t be relaxed and happy??! So this led to spirals in how I responded and the ‘healthy’ behaviours became undermined by excessive consumption of sugar or alcohol or I just wouldn’t make a positive choice and self-sabotage myself.
Two years later, now that my own self care is a priority in my daily life, I don’t have these battles. My husband doesn’t have to be scared the mornings I don’t do yoga because if I haven’t it’s probably because I have done something else nurturing or I know I will find the time elsewhere for it. It’s not so pressured and the overall benefits of making this a priority mean I don’t have the same level of desperation around it, I don’t need to escape regular life so much and I don’t have the same shame triggered in me to knock me off course. I am more resilient.
To get to this point I had to spend time with that shame that trapped me. The shame that told me that I wasn’t good enough and that my time wasn’t only worthwhile if it was spent slogging on something or doing something for someone else. We all have our own shame triggers but there are common themes. Shame and vulnerability expert Brene Brown says “shame drives two main tapes: ‘never good enough’ and ‘who do you think you are’”. Both of these resonate for me and are shackles that still restrict me, but they don’t have the same power that they used to have.
And now the next layer of freedom I am discovering is that I am now more able to move toward the things that I really want to do but aren’t as immediately ‘justifiable’ in my personal shame-frame of reference. I am spending time creatively, for the joy and fun of it – I still feel guilty about this and about choosing these solitary and ‘aimless’ ways to spend my time. I had to fight myself using the word ‘indulgent’ in this description!
We can’t let go of all of these other things – my family, my work and paying the bills are all vital to me – but maybe we can ease up on the limitations we place on ourselves in honour of these if we can face the idea that perhaps its more than the reality of those getting in the way, that perhaps it’s our relationship with them and our relationship with ourselves that needs some attention first. And perhaps if we can do that then these things we are making the sacrifices for will become richer because of it.
WNT founder Jennie Duck explores the competitive spirit that resides in her and looks at how the lessons of yin yoga helped her to let go of some of this striving and learn to live more gently and happily.
Over the past few years I’ve been working on letting go of a competitive streak in myself. This streak has a strong genetic influence and is not entirely unhealthy – it has helped me carve my own path, to meet interesting people and try interesting things, to build a career and business, to keep learning and growing and setting my sights high and far. It has given me ambition and for a long time I was grateful for that.
But I have learned that ‘ambition’ is far from a happy state and indeed is a barrier to wholehearted living and any sort of internal peace and contentedness.
The tool that has helped me shine a light on my relationship to competitiveness is yoga and, in particular, yin yoga. The irony is that it was my competitive streak that held my attention to yin yoga – proof that nothing is ever ‘good’ or ‘bad’, the richness lies in the ambiguity and dualities.
The first yin yoga class I did was called ‘deep tissue stretch’ and it was with Andrea Kwiatkowski on Movement for Modern Life, a blessing in the form of a subscription platform that has improved my life a gazillion fold with excellent teaching and ability to have daily classes for all moods and needs. I liked the sound of this class that would reach into areas ‘like a massage’ and looked forward to the results.
It was tough! I struggled to find ease in many of the poses and the idea of holding them for 2-5 minutes was new to me. Andrea held my attention with her acknowledgement that ‘you might find this quite a frustrating practice’ – so I understood that it wasn’t just me and I stayed with it.
I gradually learned to back off, to ease away from ‘the edge’ as it is referred to in yin and to approach each pose in a softer way. I learned that this allowed the release I needed to go further – that yielding in my striving led to the yielding my body was craving, that easing off my effort allowed me to find much more progress and development in the work I was doing with this practice.
My physical yoga practice, known in yoga as asana and how we often understand ‘yoga’ generally, is my training ground for life and a touchstone that helps me understand who and where I am and what needs to change and how that change can come about in my life off the mat. So these lessons of yin, of lessening the effort, of not pushing so hard or trying to override where you already are, of going with rather than against and of listening acutely and – importantly – staying with what arises became my pillars of life. My benchmark for ‘success’ has become more about how it feels and what comes out of it for my growth rather than any external validation or acceptance.
Of course this doesn’t happen overnight, I am still on this journey of listening and adapting and learning and I see it as a lifelong journey. As is the other side of the coin, the letting go of what others think and the doubt of whether I am ‘good enough’ for my place in the world.
Competitiveness may be a fun and helpful trait for many and in many circumstances. I love watching an exciting game of rugby or 100m sprint and that wouldn’t be the same without the competitive spirit. But when it is part of your life to remove you from the here and now, to validate yourself and to make you push when perhaps pushing isn’t right, then it is not healthy.
At this time of year when we set ourselves targets and insist we must be ‘better’ this year, may we have the self-compassion to approach this with gentle discipline and kind self-talk. My goal is to commit to things that appeal to me, to follow my path and grow every day without force and allow adaptation and change when I meet resistance. Happy new year :-)
Massage therapist Erika Zettervall shares her joyful and varied experiences of walking her dog Alfons in the winter and explores the benefits of getting out and about with or without a furry friend.
This month is national walk the dog month, supposedly due to the bad January weather dog owners are in need of encouragement to walk their dogs(!?). I find this a bit baffling since my experience of weather in winter is that it’s more dog walking friendly than summer weather. The heat is worse than sleet if you are a dog. There is, of course, the maddening amount of mud at the moment, resulting in muddy paws and boots to clean, but walking my dog has never been a chore, rather a great source of joy.
It was the main reason for getting a dog and I take great pleasure in walking, I enjoy long country walks as well as exploring urban environment.
With this winter lockdown, dog or no dog, walking will be an opportunity to meet and spend some time with friends. Don’t let the temperature put you off and prevent safe socialising and friendly support but sitting on a park bench is chilly and is not great for the kidneys. Instead, keep on moving, the walking will build your inner heat and you will keep warm. Walking and talking is very therapeutic, the gentle movement brings softness and flow to thoughts and conversation. It lends itself to a deeper conversation and is often preferable to facing each other stationary when touching on sensitive topics or resolving a delicate issue.
However with a dog or two put in the mix the focus will shift suddenly and abruptly, when urgent canine matters occur. Like balls needing to be thrown or to stop for a close inspection of a wall that may require a signature in the form of quick cock of the leg! It can be a good interlude at
best or a bit jarring if you are mid-sentence. I used to find it a bit annoying before becoming a dog owner myself. But the patience required, something I have had to cultivate with my dog, makes me slow down and notice my surroundings a bit more.
This disrupting and also playful quality of dogs is great if you are like me a bit prone to drift and disappear in thought. My dog, Alfons, keeps me firmly in the present by his demand for attention and in so doing prevents me from rumination and overthinking the many anxieties of the world and him from fox poo rolling or munching on unsuitable discarded food bits.
I can understand the hesitation to venture out for a walk when there is no dog insisting on an excursion, especially when the weather looks a bit wintery. Unless of course you are like me and love crisp cold weather, find a long brisk walk energising and crave that sweet feeling of returning home with legs tired and cheeks rosy. Then the enjoyment of staying cosy indoor is delightful, but without the exertion and fresh air you can end up foggy headed and sluggish.
London has many fantastic parks, big and small, as well as the commons. Many streets have beautiful trees and small patches of greenery and its apparent numerous Londoners are keen gardeners making pavement walking very interesting and pleasant. Most places are very accommodating and friendly towards dogs, then there are also the waterways to get to know; rivers and canals with paths running alongside. Lately I have exploring areas along the river Lea and East London and they are absolutely great. You can walk for miles on paths and marshes with very friendly crowds. Even cyclists are friendly!
If you not keen on roving and since we are all encouraged to stay close to home this winter, much discovery can be had repeating a favourite route. If you carry the mindset ‘you never cross the same river twice’ you can begin to cultivate awareness in the small changes in every day.
On a clear winters day the views are good and very different to the summer. With very little or no foliage you can see though the trees and what in the summer is obscured by leaves is now visible. You might also notice the naked branches’ beautiful structure, maybe there is a hint of preparation for new growth, stems tuning purple and swelling buds signalling a turning towards a new season.
If you still don’t fancy winter wandering and are dog free, take pleasure that you don’t have to take the dog out in the cold and be grateful you can choose. Then you cultivate a bit of gratitude! Although the wise part of you is hopefully aware a daily walk is would be a great benefit for maintaining good health and supporting your immune system.
Put a hat and gloves on, step out and enjoy winter walking, with or without a dog.
Sports massage therapist Lauren O'Sullivan shares her journey with veganism and how it is a lifestyle as much as a diet choice and encourages an open attitude to how we relate to our consumption.
I’m going to start this blog with a quote from the Veganuary website: “Since 2014, Veganuary has inspired and supported more than one million people in 192 countries to try vegan for January. Last year, more than 400,000 people took the pledge to try a vegan diet, while more than 600 brands, restaurants, and supermarkets promoted the campaign, and launched more than 1200 new vegan products and menus in the UK market alone.”
It is safe to say that Veganism has grown considerably and swiftly over the past 6 years or so. That is a very short amount of time for something that was unknown to many people to have become so popular and dare I say, trendy. Of course, a vegan lifestyle is a lot more than a trend to those that follow it, but I do think that its rise in popular culture has helped vegans navigate meals out and quick dinners with a lot more ease. I say ‘vegan lifestyle’ because it is not just about the food! Veganism cuts animal products out of all things that we use, from shampoo to the clothes that we wear. Vegan leather is now becoming fairly mainstream with some big brands, such as Dr.Martens footwear.
I have a personal story with veganism. I didn’t really understand what it was and when I first heard that people ate food without using anything that came from an animal I thought it was impossible! Then I worked on a cruise ship for 6 months and my cabin mate was a fully fledged vegan. I couldn’t comprehend how she did it on the ship as we had to eat from the Officer’s mess - buffet style - and everything at least contained dairy or eggs if not meat, apart from the salad bar at the end. She would duly eat some salad at meal times and then back in our cabin she had stashes of vegan cereal bars, dried fruit, nuts, and most importantly of all, peanut butter. Just the jar and a spoon, that’s all that was required!
It proves just how hard it was not so long ago to be vegan. You had to prepare in advance, otherwise you would be stuck with nothing to eat. It seemed to me at the time that you would be giving up so much and that it must be a constant struggle to live a vegan lifestyle. But I think subconsciously my cabin mate inspired the beginning of my interest and enthusiasm for veganism. I then read the book, ‘Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran Foer and it pushed me over the edge to make a change.
After trying to commit to being fully vegan for about a year and a half back in 2017/18, I have now settled into what some might call a flexitarian. At home, we eat plant based most of the time and buy organic free range eggs from the farmer’s market along with an occasional bit of cheese (mainly from sheep/goats). My main motivation of wanting to adopt a more plant based diet is now my carbon footprint and the impact that mass meat and dairy production is having on the environment. We make exceptions on meat for special occasions and really celebrate the cooking and eating of a good quality piece of meat, bought from a small, family owned farm.
We don’t need meat in every meal, or as a convenience product. What we choose to eat is very personal, but sometimes I think our choices are not conscious ones. We are shown what to eat from years of marketing and perhaps from what we learned at the dinner table as kids. But we can make a conscious change, or we can at least try, little by little. I think one of the best things we can do for Veganuary is to educate ourselves a bit. There is a whole lifestyle behind the movement and it is for the good of our fellow animals and the planet to pay it some attention. If you can give it a go for the month of January that is amazing. If you can commit to one fully plant based meal a week then go for it!
Acupuncturist Philippa Summers shares some local ways to enjoy the outdoors this coming festive season and encourages you to find beauty in the cold and sometimes grey winter
You may have seen Erika’s inspirational blog encouraging us to experience and appreciate the darkness of the long winter nights. By cherishing not just the dark but winter itself, the cold, the beauty of early morning frosts, long shadows, later sunrises and earlier sunsets, naked trees against crisp blue skies we can wrap up and allow ourselves to be drawn outside. And there is nothing like returning home to be embraced by the warmth, feeling refreshed and enlivened.
Christmas this year will be like no other. I imagine many people will be staying local and postponing gatherings. Not easy decisions and I know that even within families there are conflicting ideas and hard choices to be made between our dearest wishes and the risks. For me the getting together will be all the sweeter when we are through the worst of this pandemic and we have something to celebrate with gusto. Simply being together will be a joy and my focus is on a simple Christmas and a summer gathering to make up for all we have missed.
So, for those of you that will be spending a quieter than usual Christmas at home, maybe with children climbing the walls, I encourage you to wrap up warm, embrace the cold and get outside. Like many I have had more walks in Brockwell park this year than ever before and still it holds delight, with longer walks taking in Dulwich Park and Sydenham Woods. There is something new to discover each time, a different route brings a different view, the seasons create a changing landscape and our senses are drawn to the subtle transformations. So, even the familiar can hold surprise and nourish our souls and senses with new sights and smells. It’s good to get out and move, not least of all with all the feasting and indulgence that goes with Christmas.
So, for a change of scene here are a few outdoor events and activities, festive and otherwise, that may add some sparkle and fresh air. You never know what you’ll stumble upon along the way.
Embrace the winter, much as you may want to wish this one away, and maybe by spring or summer we can gather more safely in larger numbers, maybe even hug one another again. Virtual hugs for now. Wrap up warm, get outside and have a good time!
Sports massage therapist Lauren O'Sullivan shares why she is celebrating Thanksgiving this year and the benefits she's found in regularly practicing gratitude, even when - and perhaps especially when - things are hard.
Thanksgiving is a tradition celebrated by the United States and Canada. It began as a day of giving thanks and sacrifice for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. I have never personally given much thought to Thanksgiving but as I now live with an American who hasn’t seen his family in over a year, I’m giving it some thought this year!
This year has been a crazy one for all of us, at least in the sense that we were not expecting a full blown pandemic. Some days it might be hard to think about what we’re thankful for. So with this blog I want to remind myself and hopefully some readers to think of the small things that we have in our lives to be thankful for everyday.
Some time half way through this year I started a morning ‘ritual’ where I would write down my ‘24 hour win’, three things I am grateful for, and an intention for the day. It really grounds me right at the beginning of my day before I read any ‘doom and gloom’ news or expose myself to anxiety-inducing stimuli. Often, my three things I am grateful for are the same or similar to the day before or things I wrote last week. That’s OK. I am grateful everyday that I am healthy, everyday that my body is strong and carries me, everyday that I get to speak with a friend or family member, everyday that I take a walk outside in nature, everyday that I make myself some good food, everyday that I enjoy a cup of tea. The list goes on. I can be thankful for these things every single day. Being grateful and giving thanks for these everyday things reminds me of just how abundant my life is.
I, as well as many others, have lost work because of the lockdown. This is really hard, and in modern society we attach a lot of self worth and purpose to our work. So when we lose this work, we can lose our sense of purpose along with it. By being thankful for things in our lives every morning, we see that there is so much more to our purpose and self worth.
This Thanksgiving I encourage you to give thought to what you can be thankful for. If it is a certain friend or someone that has shown you kindness, show them that you are thankful with a little message or card (you will also feel happy from saying thanks!). As for me, I am celebrating my own Thanksgiving with my little family this Sunday, cooking and eating great food as a little gift to ourselves at the end of a hard year. Thankful that we have each other and the means to create and enjoy a good meal.
Happy Thanksgiving from ours to yours!
Massage therapist Erika Zettervall thoughtfully considers the importance of engaging with the physical darkness that surrounds us at this time of year as the days get shorter and encourages us to balance how we value light with dark.
Darkness. It’s that time of the year again. The daylight hours are reduced day by day until we reach the winter solstice at that point the day hardly begins before it starts to get dark again.
Seasonal darkness during our winter is inevitable. Our planet will travel continuously, journeying through the universe orbiting the sun with its axis tilting the way it does, whether we like it or not. In a world of uncertainty that is pretty certain.
These short winter days can of course be avoided by relocating to the other side of the planet for the winter or permanently move closer to the equator where there the daylight hours do not alter in the same way over the year. The longing for winter sun and light is a strong incentive for travel this time of the year seeking out longer, brighter days. I have been able to do so past but not for while, and this year that option is more unattainable than usual. But I often work in the evenings and have the benefit of time to be outdoors during the day.
With the wisdom of seasonal light/darkness being something that cannot be altered and, in accepting that, perhaps it’s possible to explore a different relationship to darkness.
I recently heard somebody on the radio being interviewed talking about the scarcity of darkness. The increased popularity of illumination of not only buildings but also trees and gardens, the dark night sky is being endangered. He related to darkness as visual silence and something to treasure.
True, we do relax better in darkness - putting an eye bag over your eyes in savasana deepens the relaxation. Our eyes are our most dominant sense and there is strong focus on visual stimuli in our society. But in the dark we need to slow down and rely on other senses. Feeling, listening to find the way, elevating our presence of mind. Slowing down and easing into the darkness, eyes adjust and sight is expanded so shades appear.
One of my favourite things this time of the year pre covid was walking through St. James’ Park early evening in the dark. Stepping into the peace, silence and darkness of the park contrasting with the busy West End streets sparkling with Christmas lights and bustling with shoppers. Letting the eyes adjust to the dark, enjoying the quiet calm and heading for Victoria station with my small dog in tow. Happy to see fellow commuters and a few tourists braving the dark.
We need the darkness as a contrast to the lights. Like stars in the sky only visible in the dark and that is the most beautiful sight to have. Milky Way or, as we call it in my language, Vintergatan Winter Street like the way you travel this time of year since in the summer the sky’s lightness obscures the stars.
In accepting the scarcity of light and immersing in the darkness, there is room to discover its own particular beauty. Begin by exploring the edges getting up before sunrise (not too early in November), light a candle and let the light come slowly. Go out before sunrise or at sunset experience the shifts. Let the eyes adjust.
There is also the other darkness. The internal darkness. That also needs befriending and that will be topic for another blog.
National Fitness Day - 23rd September 2020
Sometimes it feels as though we are constantly told, “just be more active”. It’s easy to say it, but with busy schedules and blinkered options it can be hard to actually make it happen. Perhaps the global pandemic has given you the time to explore some more active options, such as getting out for a walk, going for a run, cycling to work. These are exactly the types of things that you can work into your current day as a commute or lunchtime activity without needing to set aside separate time. If these seem pretty obvious activities but they don’t really give you much joy, then you need to look outside of your exercise blinkers! National Fitness Day (on the 23rd September 2020) can be a great starting point and really highlights the social and motivational aspect of fitness. From ‘plank-offs’, yoga and pilates classes to treadmill challenges, high-street HIIT classes, dance offs and mass walks.
With the surge of online technology and connection recently, there are even a whole host of activities you can take part in from home. Get Zoom installed and you’re ready to go! Always wanted to try Tai Chi? Or maybe dip your toes into some ballet shoes? If you search for it, it will be there. With online classes, make sure you always pick the beginner option if it’s something new you are trying and take it easy. Learning a physical skill online, the teacher is not always able to correct things properly, so just make sure you feel comfortable with every movement and don’t push yourself too far.
However, for me personally, online classes can be a bit lonely and lack the motivation of in-person classes and activities. In 2020 the aim of National Fitness Day is to demonstrate the inclusive power physical activity can have by celebrating how ‘Fitness Unites Us’. Especially now it seems more important than ever to be able to connect with people again and come together to help each other.
My nearest green space is Tooting Common and every morning when I walk my dog I see at least 4 different workout groups. There seems to be something for everyone, from a more gentle workout including yoga postures, to a more bootcamp style session that has a competitive element. The overriding theme is FUN. This is the key to continued exercise success! For many, exercise is viewed as a chore, it’s hard, it takes effort. I am not here to deny the effort and challenge involved in physical activity but if you are having fun at the same time it sort of cancels the hardship out. This week I’ve been lucky enough to be in Cornwall and I tried surfing for the first time. Yes it was VERY hard but I had so much fun, and I found it exhilarating. It’s that sweet rush of endorphins that physical exertion gives you that keeps you coming back!
A big barrier to exercise is cost, especially when you don’t enjoy things like running and cycling. A walk may seem tame or boring but if you have time on the weekend or on a day off it can be a great way to explore new areas. Walking for 2-3 hours (or more!) is a major form of physical activity, completely free and easily sociable with friends and family. If you love dogs but don’t have the means to own one, there are many apps which allow you to ‘borrow’ neighbours’ dogs and take them on a walk!
Think outside of the box...do you have a friend that teaches a form of exercise you want to try? Perhaps you could do a skill swap if money is tight. Or many studios around town have new sign up offers for the first month - how many are near you that you could take advantage of? Sign up to every studio, one after the other! If you hate the thought of running on your own, join a club: the social aspect is often enough to flip your perspective on something.
The days when I feel most tired, I always try and get my blood pumping a little. The endorphin release and boost of adrenaline wakes me up a lot more effectively than coffee! But remember, rest and recovery are also important. Especially with beginners, I see people go ‘gung-ho’ for exercise with all the best intentions but then burnout at the end of the week. Starting small and building up intensity is the best way to develop into a stable routine. Look after your body and give it the rest it needs. Try and incorporate some stretching and relaxation into your week. For the more experienced and frequent exercisers, a maintenance massage once a month can make you perform optimally in your workouts.
Remember, the key is FUN. Enjoy moving your body and get your friends involved, you’ll feel better.
Blogs from the WNT team. For our blogs from before June 2020 please see individual profile pages - it's a good way to get to know practitioners too.