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From finding a virtual yoga class to making time for mindfulness, our experts will help you to stay healthy at home
As we spend large amounts of time at home this winter, it’s more important than ever that we take care of our physical health and emotional wellbeing. Luckily, it’s not hard to build a few simple self-care rituals into your day, as our experts reveal…
Feeling frazzled? ‘A few minutes of deep diaphragmatic breathing will activate your parasympathetic nervous system, bringing feelings of rest and calm,’ says Aimee Hartley, author of Breathe Well. ‘A little and often approach to breathwork is the key. If you’re working from home, a few minutes of belly breathing before starting at the laptop and a few minutes of alternate nostril breathing before bed can help us to start and end our days in a more relaxed state of mind.’
Kids tend to mirror our breathing patterns, so it’s a good idea to get them involved, too. ‘Triangle breathing (breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 4 and out for 4) and box breathing (inhale for 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, hold for 4) are really simple breathing exercises that the whole family can practise together,’ says Hartley. ‘The breath hold is good for building the immune system and the balanced pace of the inhale and exhale brings calm to the mind.’
Like breathing, you can practise mindfulness anywhere, any time. Popular meditation app Headspace has unlocked a free, specially curated collection of meditation and mindfulness content called Weathering The Storm. It’s packed with guided meditations, sleep and movement exercises designed to help us navigate change, reframe anxiety, improve focus and deal with impermanence and uncertainty.
‘Just ten days of Headspace has been found to reduce stress,’ says Headspace’s director of healthcare partnerships, Sarah Romotsky. ‘Developing a regular meditation practice can help you let go of any impatience or anxiety you might be feeling from the changing environment around you.’
But being mindful often during the day is just as important. ‘Focus on your breath at regular intervals throughout the day as part of your daily routine, whether that’s while cleaning the house, making a cup of tea or simply mindful handwashing,’ Romotsky suggests.
‘Train yourself to notice moments throughout the day when you can begin to implement this, concentrating on your breath and the feeling of your chest rising and falling. This will help you practise being centred and bring your attention back to the body. The more you do this and create a habit, the more neurological pathways are formed, and the easier it gets.’
Staying fit and healthy needn’t mean pounding the pavements or hitting the gym – it can be as simple as streaming a home workout to your laptop. If you’re new or returning to exercise, take a look at the NHS Fitness Studio, which provides a range of fitness plans for beginners and intermediates, plus on-demand aerobic, strength, yoga and Pilates classes – you'll find everything from post-natal yoga to belly dancing.
If you’re looking for something a little more calming, why not combine mindfulness with movement? ‘When we feel isolated and cooped up, we need to connect and we need to move,’ says Naomi Annand, author of Yoga: A Manual for Life. ‘Yoga asana allows us to do these things together, as it encourages you to connect with your breath and your body, which allows you to drop out of the fight/flight mode and into the parasympathetic nervous system, where you can find calm and ease anxiety.’
Yoga doesn’t have to be done in a studio, nor is it about mood music or candles, so there’s no need to feel intimidated by the idea of starting a home practice, Annand assures us.
‘It’s about connecting to your breath and your being,’ she explains. ‘Five minutes is worthwhile whenever you can grab a moment – before you start work, at lunch, whenever. There’s a wealth of stuff out there. My book is full of sequences and self-practice tips and my studio, Yoga On The Lane, is running a timetable of live-streamed classes, so you can enjoy the connection of bending and breathing with others, from here to Brazil!’
Sticking to a healthy diet and building healthy meals from scratch can feel like a hassle during the winter months, but this is a great time to set healthy habits in place – starting with wholesome, nourishing food choices.
It needn't mean buying fancy ingredients – making the most of what you’ve got is key, says Dr Emma Williams, Partner & Nutrition Manager at Waitrose & Partners. ‘We’ve all got foods lurking in our cupboards, so use up what you have and love your leftovers,’ she advises. ‘Aim to include a variety of foods from the different food groups across mealtimes. Creating a healthy routine can help you find some order in your day. Establish set meal times, plan and prepare your meals and stick to it.’
Breakfast could be cereal or porridge with dairy or a milk alternative, sprinkled with dried fruit, nuts or seeds; or a slice of wholemeal toast topped with scrambled egg, or nut butter and a banana.
Lunch could mean a wholegrain sandwich or roll; soup made from tinned pulses stashed in your cupboard; or a baked potato topped with cheese, beans or tinned fish.
Dinner might be a hearty bean and vegetable chilli with rice (brown if possible); a noodle-based stir fry with fish, chicken or tofu; or pasta with fish, tinned tomatoes or veggies. You’ll find lots of inspiring healthy recipes on the Waitrose & Partners website.
Picking high-fibre foods and keeping yourself hydrated will help you stay full for longer: water, tea, coffee, milk, juice, sugar-free drinks, soups and stews all count. Habitual fridge raider? You can work one to two 100-calorie snacks into your daily meal plan – just stay mindful.
‘If you’re a snacker, make sure you have healthy snacks available,” says Dr Williams. ‘Think fruit or veg sticks; crispbread or rice cakes topped with cheese, Marmite, nut butters or banana; a wholemeal pitta with hummus; low-sugar cereal bars; unsalted nuts or popcorn (make your own if you can). Hide any unhealthy snacks, or limit yourself to one a day, or once a week – think about the 80:20 rule – try to be good 80% of the time!’
Creative play isn’t just for kids. Journaling, sketching and painting are all great ways to boost mood, express ourselves and build connections with others – even when we can't be with them in person. ‘Our data shows that being creative can significantly improve our mental health and wellbeing – and create an opening for connection,’ says Jemima Frankel, Communications and Community Coordinator at 64 Million Artists, a social enterprise that champions everyday creativity.
‘What we need more than anything right now is to stay connected – just not by holding hands,’ she continues. ‘Being creative can act as a vehicle to community and reflection – it is a conversation starter, a distraction; it can be surprising, inspiring, collaborative; and it’s a chance to use your brain and body a little differently, turning the ordinary into the extraordinary – whatever that means to you. Try new crafts, sing in your shower, plant new things in your garden, learn an instrument, “commute” around your house, make stuff out of loo roll tubes. Then share what you’ve done – start an online book group, knitting club or creativity cafe.’
Fancy flexing your creative muscles? Sign up for the January Challenge, which serves up a new creative challenge for each day of the month. ‘The challenges are very varied,’ Frankel explains. ‘They might involve poetry or crafting, singing or dancing, sketching or imagining – but each one offers a quick, fun and accessible dose of creative inspiration. All the challenges are suitable for children, grandparents and everyone in between. Use them to open up conversation, learn new things, create together, listen to each other and make the (creative) time to navigate this extraordinary period.’
Extravagant spa days might be off the menu, but bubble baths, at-home facials and some well-deserved ‘me’ time most definitely aren’t – so put them on your schedule. ‘Beauty is so much more than skin deep and employing some self-care rituals around your beauty regime can have a real impact on how you feel,’ says beauty editor Cassie Steer.
‘Even something as seemingly innocuous as cleansing your face can serve as a great opportunity to pause, take yourself out of your head and really focus on the “now”. In the modern world, we tend to rely on vision more than our other senses, but tuning in to our sense of touch and smell through simple massage techniques using beautifully scented products can be hugely beneficial to our overall sense of wellbeing.’
Permission to take some (mindful) time out, granted.
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