#36alive 341: Essential Oil Of The Month: Clove

A classic ingredient in festive cooking and mulled wine spice, cloves are indigenous to indonesia and madagascar. The spice may indeed be in your kitchen cupboard, but the essential oil has a host of benefits you may not already know about!

Clove oil can be used to remedy skin issues such as acne, sagging and excessive wrinkles, and its antiviral properties mean it’s great for boosting the immune system. Clove oil has been used for hundreds of years for dental health, can can help heal infections and wounds.

Inhaling clove oil can help lower stress levels, and it has a cooling, anti-inflammatory effect when mixed with a base oil like coconut or almond oil and rubbed on the skin. Clove oil can reduce symptoms of nausea and indigestion, and enhance circulation, as well as preventing premature ejaculation….

If that wasn’t enough – clove oil can be used as a natural insect repellant, added to cosmetics, as an effective pain-relieving massage oil, and a great way to create a naturally scented perfume when mixed with purified water and alcohol.

Give it a try – always buy organic and high quality essential oils when possible, and do not use if pregnant!

#36alive 291: Relieve Calf Tension With This Marma Point

Derived from Ayurvedic medicine, Marma points are a little like Acupuncture or Acupressure points – they help change physical and subtle aspects of a part of the body, and aim to bring all the systems into balance.

Tight calf muscles are common among those who either use them a lot or a little. Running, cycling, driving and sitting for long periods can all make calf muscles tight, which can then contribute to hamstring pain and tightness, and limited ankle mobility.

Indra Basti is a marma point located in the center of the calf muscle, but also in the center of the forearm. Stimulating this point in the leg by massaging it gently but firmly in circular motions can go a long way towards helping relieve muscular tension, but also works as a way to enhance the flow of blood throughout the body. The calves are also an important link to the heart; if they’re working well to pump blood through the body whilst exercising or even walking, the heart doesn’t have to work as hard, and the risk of issues as serious as heart attack can be dramatically decreased!

SO, if you’ve under or over using your calves, or if they feel a little tight, use your own hands to help reduce tightness and boost circulation.

#36alive 290: Pack A Tennis Ball On Long Journeys

Good news: You don’t have to suffer tight muscles and sore spots every time you face a long car journey or light. Just pack a tennis ball, and you’ll be able to boost your circulation and release muscle tension in no time.

London-based MD and surgeon Ali Ghoz recommends bringing the ball with you to roll out painful knots and adhesions; “If you have a tennis ball, you can increase circulation in your body by rolling it everywhere from your shoulders and lower back to legs and the bottoms of your feet, as well as any other trigger points”.

Use the ball a few times throughout your journey, and you’ll be able to prevent tightness from forming in your muscles, whilst giving yourself an all-over circulation boost too!


#36alive 208: Release Shoulder Tension With The Apalapa Marma Point

Marma points are used throughout the ancient Indian health system of Ayurveda, literally meaning ‘life knowledge’. This system is all about getting to know yourself, and then getting to know how to keep yourself well and healthy.

Marma points have a similar concept to the chinese medicine system of acupuncture and acupressure points. By pressing and massaging there points, physical and subtle layers of the body can release, relax, or energise and strengthen. Today’s marma point is all about releasing pain and discomfort in the shoulders, a common place many of us carry tension.

Apalapa: This marma point is located on the chest, and is a great way to ‘un lock’ stiff shoulders in the Autumn and Winter. Measure two finger widths down and two finger widths laterally from your collarbones, and massage this place with a firm, circular movement for approximately five minutes.

The key is to do this regularly, especially if your shoulders are your trouble spot, practice each day for a couple of weeks, and let us know how you feel!

#36alive 135: What Is The Fascia?

Fascia is the dense connective tissue that runs throughout our body making us the shape in which we are. It is made of three things:

  • Collagen which is the most abundant protein in the body and also found in bones, muscles, skin, tendons. It is increasingly used for medical and cosmetic purposes and helps heal and repair the body’s tissues as it naturally declines with age and also with a diet high in sugar, smoking. When we stretch the fascia it actually produces more collagen so we can repair the body and look younger without any of the nasty chemicals found in manufactured stuff – strong fibres
  • Elastin which provides the fascia with the ability to stretch and recoil which is very important and is what we are aiming to do in our sessions – elastic fibres
  • Ground substance holds it all together and together they form an extracellular matrix – extracellular molecules secreted by cells that provides structural and biochemical support to the surrounding cells.

There are three types of fascia:

  • Superficial which is just below the skin, and holds little pockets of fat. The reason why our palms and soles of our feet are tougher is because it is thicker in these parts. Some functions of this are it facilitates the movement of the skin, conserves body heat.
  • Deep fascia which surrounds our muscles, nerves and bones and this is what we will be working on whilst stretching. This is what defines our shape, controlling our posture. It is like a back up strength system to the muscles, proving extra surface for the muscle attachment and assists muscles in their actions. Fight or flight the fascia tenses up and then when released can result in extraordinary feats that people aren’t usually capable of. Bruce Lee’s one in punch.
  • Visceral fascia which holds organs in place and protects them

Without fascia we’d be a puddle on the floor, we can’t change our posture without improving its quality, it is an adaptable living structure.  So if we have a posture where our shoulders are hunched forward, that because our fascia has changed to do that, which is good and bad news. The bad news is that we’re now held in that position with bad posture, the good news is that if it changed to hold us in a bad position, it can be changed back.

There are a number of different techniques that can be used to work on the fascia, we have already covered a few of these on the blog and will continue to do so as we go on.

For a few things you can do today, check back at our previous posts below. Now you know what the fascia is why it is important, you may be more inclined to do these.






#36alive 45: Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve To Relieve Stress

Continuing with our theme of gut health….

If there’s one thing that’s often at the forefront of concern in the modern day world, it’s stress. Our bodies are hard wired to react to stressful situations, and these reactions have a whole host of negative effects, often leading to serious disease and illness.

If we become habituated to stress, we essentially start to think that feeling stressed is ‘normal’, and the body stays in the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight system), keeping blood pressure high, digestion compromised, adrenals working over-time, the brain and metabolism not working as well as it could, and out general mood and physical ability a mere shadow of what it could be.

Enter, the vagus nerve

We know by now that gut health is incredibly important, but it’s not just about good nutrition and digestion, it’s about maintaining the health of he gut-brain connection. Or really the gut-brain-nervous system connection.

vegusnervephotoThe word ‘vagus’ translates from Latin as ‘wandering’, which is just what this nerve does; it wanders from below the base of the brain, through the throat and oesophagus, continues through past the lungs and heart, and finds its way to the gut, where it culminates in a mass of nerves. The vagus nerve plays an important role in allowing the boy to move away from the sympathetic nervous system, to the parasympathetic nervous system, and the ability to access this regularly is what allows for real relaxation, healing, digestion, cognitive function and better physical performance.

I’ll let DeLora Frederickson a fitness coach and yoga teacher, explain a little more:

“Regardless of the system of relaxation and parasympathetic nervous system activation, there is one component common to all of them: the vagus nerve. Most of us are familiar with the central nervous system, the bundle of nerves that leaves the brain and moves into the spinal column. The vagus nerve is part of the sensory-somatic system, a subdivision of the peripheral nervous system. Peripheral nerves make their way directly out into the body. Most begin at the spinal column, but within the peripheral nervous system there are a group of nerves called cranial nerves that exit directly from the brain. The vagus nerve is the tenth cranial nerve. It exits at the medulla, part of the brainstem”.

There are a few ways to stimulate the vagus nerve, and when we’re able to do this regularly, we allow the body to release unnecessary stress. In this ‘more is better’ and ‘busy is best’ mentality we generally seem to have these days, the ability to relax (or atleast not stress so much) isn’t as valued as it could be. Whoever you are, you can benefit from working with the vagus nerve to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. When we allow ourselves to enter into this state of wellbeing, we also improve immunity, blood pressure,

breathing-colored10 ways to stimulate the vagus nerve

  1. Deep breathing directed into the abdomen
  2. Cold water exposure (switch your shower to cold for a couple of minutes and notice the release of endorphins you feel after)
  3. Singing or humming in a low, resonant tone
  4. Belly laughter
  5. Practice relaxing movement, like Qi Gong or gentle Yoga
  6. Massaging the stomach
  7. warm-water-and-garglingSurround yourself with people who make you feel happy, safe and comfortable
  8. Exercise in a way you really enjoy (movement releases endorphins and relaxes the nervous system)
  9. Lying on your right hand side when sleeping
  10. Gargling water

Try a few of these and let us know how you feel!

#36alive 7: Abhyanga (Self Massage)

Health and wellbeing advice changes all the time, making it difficult to know who to listen to and what to trust. When we look back throughout history though, there are a few things that have stood the test of time, and self-massage with the use of natural oils has been an important tool in healing and maintaining health.


The 1800s was all about face bleaching, tapeworm dieting, and eyedrops containing deadly nightshade. In the 1900s, men’s fashion even saw them wearing high, stiff shirt collars, which were so high and so stiff, they actually cut off circulation to the brain! Yes, we’ve done some silly things throughout history, but the fact is, even though we assume we’re more evolved and intelligent, we’re still making mistakes when it comes to wellbeing. The dangers these days may not be so visibly obvious as they were in the Victorian era, but that’s exactly what makes them so harmful. Read the small print on your favourite shampoo or moisturiser and you’re likely to find a whole host of ingredients that definitely don’t belong on your skin.

It’s modern-day 2016, and instead of chalk and charcoal, we’re slathering processed creams and subtly-labelled chemical-laden ointments onto our bodies. Despite the fact that they’re titled ‘natural’ and beneficial for skin, they’re actually more likely to be harmful than helpful. Moisturisers, shampoos, soaps and many skincare products often contain ‘endocrine-disruptingjournal.pone_.0116057.g001.pngcompounds’, which create hormonal changes, and can even contribute towards breast cancer. These ECDs can also be found in plastics, pesticides, herbicides, and household cleaning products.

Lots of modern-day products can be linked to early-onset adolescence, and the reason behind why many girls now begin menstruating much earlier than they have ever done historically. Microwaves, artificial bright lighting and additives in food are things we have around us all the time, and also things which are severely disrupting our circadian rhythms, hormones and health.

This is where Ayurveda and its natural healing techniques come into play; we can learn a lot from ancient traditions and nature.

ayurveda-1SELF MASSAGE

Abhyanga is a practice derived from Ayurveda, the ancient ‘science of life’ and India’s oldest traditional health system. This system works to bring the body and mind back into balance and harmony, and uses a multitude of ways to promote wellness, including a unique diet dependent upon each person’s dosha or ‘type’, exercise, mediation, mantra, visualisation, herbal supplementation, self massage with oils, otherwise known as abhyanga, and much more. One of the most important aspects of Ayurveda to understand, is that the health advice given thousands of years ago is just as relevant today, and it stillworks.* There’s no need for chemicals or anything artificial and unpronouncable, just nature and knowledge.

The word abhyanga implies a massage of the whole body, or all  ‘limbs’. The word ‘anga’ means limb, and ‘abhy’ can be understood in a few different ways. In this context the Sanskrit prefix means ‘to make smooth and glowing’. The Sanskrit word for oil is ‘sneha’ which also means ‘love’, which indicates that rubbing oil into the skin is a very real way to care for and show a little love and thanks to the physical body.

Abhyanga is often used to prepare the body for panchakarma, meaning ‘five actions’. This is the traditional and relatively hardcore Ayurvedic detox…. The five actions are intended to detoxify, balance, and strengthen the body, mind and immune system. It is a healing practice to restore and rejuvenate, and also includes Vamana (medical vomiting), Virechana (purgation – said to be effective for skin disorders), Niruha Basti (clearing the lower part of the gastrointestinal tract), Nasya (administering medicines via the nose), and Anuvasana (an oil enema).

Traditionally, abhyanga uses warm oil, pre-medicated with natural herbs. After massaging the oil into the body, svedana therapy is practiced, which means ‘to perspire’. This ‘perspiration’ includes lying out in the sun. Taking a warm bath is also an effective and traditional way to follow oiling. The types of oils used differ from person to person (depending upon their dosha or prakriti (nature)) and season to season. Coconut, sesame, almond, mustard, sunflower

massage3Self-massage is a simple and incredibly effective way to maintain health of skin, cell membranes, muscles and joints. It promotes healthy cell regeneration, healing and can even enhance mobility and flexibility.

Massage throughout the whole year is advised, but is especially important during the Winter months. The air in Winter is particularly dry, which in turn can cause dry skin and aching joints. Using oil on particularly vulnerable areas of the body, upon the joints, or choosing to slather the whole body in oil, can keep it supple and hydrated.

From personal experience, I began the practice of Abhyanga a few months ago, and genuinely noticed a huge difference in how supple and more comfortable I felt in my own skin. Previous aches and pains had disappeared or at least become far less uncomfortable, and my whole body literally felt more hydrated and alive.

Your own personal body type will determine the type of oil that is best to use; those who ‘run hot’ or have sensitive skin would do well to use pure coconut oil. For those who have particularly dry skin and aching joints, sesame oil can do wonders. Almond oil is generally useful and appropriate for all body types. In Ayurveda, the oils are usually infused with herbs or essential oils for specific purposes. Nutmeg essential oil is good for boosting circulation and easing aches and pains, lavender can soothe inflammation, and frankincense oil is useful for both relieving dry skin and reducing anxiety (FYI – skin issues can often be asymptom of anxiety or stress).

self-massageDO IT YOURSELF

There are a few different ways to practice Abhyanga or ‘self massage’. Start by choosing a pure, organic oil that feels good on your skin. If you’re able to, then purchase one that is natural and without any artificial ingredients. Remember; what goes on the skin, goes in the skin. Next, choose when to practice the massage. Self massage is best practiced at either of these times of day:

  • Upon waking: Massage a small amount of oil over the whole body, starting at the feet and ending with the head. Massage in long strokes towards the heart, and in circular motions over joints. Orange or Ylang Ylang essential oil can be a useful way to warm and uplift the senses in the morning, bringing a positive start to the day.
  • After a shower or bath: Massage the oil onto warm, lightly towel-dried skin. Massage in long strokes towards the heart, and in circular movements over joints. Sandalwood or bergamot oils are comforting and can be a good way to maintain good mood levels throughout the day.
  • Before Bed: As long as you don’t mind your sheets becoming a little oily, practicing abhyanga before bed can be a fantastic way to promote a calm mind and good quality sleep. Massage in long strokes towards the heart, and in circular motions over joints. If you’re using an essential oil, frankincense or lavender may be helpful for relaxing the nervous system.




*Please note: I’m not a doctor! In no way do I intend to give sound medical advice. Please consult a professional medical practitioner before using any oils or massage techniques upon yourself.

#36alive 4: Rolling a Tennis Ball Underfoot


img_0153It’s so simple that it seems almost too easy, but spending just a few seconds each morning rolling a tennis ball under your feet could to be the solution to chronic aches and pains, and a valuable method to prevent discomfort from occurring in the first place. So, how does it work?

Rolling a ball under our feet can help release fascia in different parts of the body, helping release tension and encouraging more mobility. The primary way it does this is that the gentle pressure and motion of the ball helps to release and re-integrate the body’s fascia.

fasciasuitFascia is a dense connective tissue that runs throughout the body, holding everything in place, and it seems to be the buzzword of the moment amongst health and movement professionals. This tissue was historically often neglected in human anatomy studies and dissections, where it was cut away to reveal the muscles and organs underneath. Recently however, the importance of this spider web – like substance has become – and is still becoming – apparent.


There are three types of fascia:

1)      Superficial which is just below the skin, and holds little pockets of fat. Amongst other functions, it facilitates the movement of the skin and conserves body heat.

2)      Deep fascia which surrounds the muscles, nerves and bones. This is what defines our shape and posture. It is used as a back-up strength system to the muscles, proving extra surface for the muscle attachment and assists muscles in their actions.

3)      Visceral fascia which holds organs in place and protects them.

fasciafuzzWithout fascia we’d be nothing more than a puddle on the floor. It is a adaptable living structure, and we can’t change our posture without improving its quality. So if your posture resembles shoulders hunching forward, that’s because our fascia has adapted and changed to enable that, which is good and bad news. The bad news is that we’re now held in that position with bad posture, the good news is that if it changed to hold us in a bad position, it can be changed back.

There will be more resources to follow throughout the year on how we can improve the quality of our fascia but we will begin with this simple technique of rolling a small ball under the soles of the feet. This technique can really loosen the hamstrings – an area where people often feel tight – amongst other areas (I often feel a difference in my hips). This may seem strange if we think of our body as a separate group of muscles and you may ask the obvious question “how will working on my feet loosen my hamstrings?”, but when we take in to account what we have learnt about the fascia and how it connects everything together in our body, then it makes sense. For more information follow the link to read the blog post from ‘myfiveminuteyoga’….

tennis-ball-foot-massageKeep a tennis ball in your bedroom and use it when you get up in the morning, keep one at work under your desk to roll under your feet throughout the day, or have one handy next to the TV so you remember to use it if you’re sitting down to watch something in the evening. Place your foot on top of the ball, and roll it back and forth along the sole of the foot, almost creating a massage-like sensation. Do this every day for a week and let us know how you feel!