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Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Importance of Sleep - Meditation and Yoga for Insomnia

I had always been a borderline insomniac/bed avoider.

All those times when worn out friends would vocalise their yearnings for their nocturnal nests at the end of a long night, I simply couldn't relate.

Even after watching hours of trash TV and 'straight to DVD' cringy tearjerkers on those dodgy true movie channels I still didn't get the urge to end the day and recuperate, even though I loathed the zombie-like haze I would have to endure the following day.

By the coffee machine, perky morning people would ask if I 'got up to anything crazy' when I moaned about the four hours sleep I had the night before. The truth was usually far less exciting and mainly involved something like my latest iPhone addiction (being a recent convert from Blackberry) and lying awake for hours, my mind buzzing with the hectic happenings of the day.

I was never able to understand my sleep-starving ways. As a child I would cause havoc at bedtime, making all kinds of excuses to stay up till naughty o' clock.

I would often wonder why I had this warped perception of bedtime, of saying goodbye to the day and yielding myself to merry slumberdom.

Was it because I didn't want the day to end as I was enjoying myself too much, London being the frivolous city of endless amusements that it is?

Or did I avoid my supposed haven of serenity because it was the very place where my mind was plagued by a thousand thoughts?

I was looking for answers so I consulted The Sleep Guru, also known as Anandi, on my troublesome sleep issues.

Anandi is a holistic sleep expert who dedicates her time to helping people improve their sleeping habits naturally using meditation, Ayurveda, whole foods and yoga.

It was with Anandi that I first experienced Yoga Nidra, an ancient form of yoga that involves lying completely still, palms facing upwards (Savasana pose) and guided meditation, involving the visualisation of each part of the body and tranquil imagery.

My kitteh demonstrating the Savasana pose for Yoga Nidra

The aim of this mind-calming practise is to induce full body relaxation and a deep meditative state of consciousness. After trying this for the first time with Anandi guiding me through the visualisations in person and then going home and listening to her sleep CD before bed, I slept for nine hours. Which was most unlike me.

I discovered how important it was to wind down and clear my mind before gracing my bed for the night.
In our hectic urban lives, troublesome thoughts of the day linger within us, preventing restful sleep, which is why meditation is so useful for treating sleep disorders in modern times.

Kitteh demonstrating how NOT to do Yoga Nidra

I now try to alternate between listening to Anandi's blissfully relaxing sleep CD and my favourite guided meditation video by Lilian Eden, which you can listen to here.

Doctors are quick to over-prescribe toxic sleeping tablets to exhausted patients who could benefit solely from holistic therapies.

In my opinion, yoga and meditation are all you need to still the mind and induce healthy sleep but there are some nights when were are tormented by painful thoughts that refuse to leave our minds. This is when I feel we should not turn to drugs, but to herbs.

I have always been a strong believer that medicine can be found in abundance in nature. Valerian, Wild Lettuce and the fantastically-named Jamaican Dogwood have been used for hundreds of years to help us drift off when our minds refuse to shut down.

The aptly-named Nod Off from herbal remedy gurus, Potters Herbals contain these hypnotic and sedating herbs to help you fall into a deep sleep when meditation alone is not enough.

mmm sleepy erbs

What I adore about this natural sleeping potion is that unlike sleeping pills, you wake up the next morning feeling refreshed, without a fuzzy head and the incessant desire to down five double expressos.

During my educational sleep quest I also discovered how various foods help us get a good nights sleep by releasing sleep-inducing hormones.

Anandi's top sleep-promoting foods are;

Pumpkin Seeds.

I know that yoghurt and rice help you feel sleepy from personal experience eating Iranian food as I have been known to practically pass out at the dining table in restaurants after feasting on them - much to the bemusement of the waiters.

I have found that practising yoga on a regular basis also helps me drift off quickly to a deep and restful sleep after a crazy day. That euphoric feeling I get straight after a vigorous Ashtanga class banishes all negative thoughts from my mind. When I get into bed that evening, my body is exhausted and my mind is still.

While all forms of exercise are good for aiding sleep, yoga goes one step further by stimulating the brain and nervous system, thus encouraging deep relaxation.

Sleep is important to us all. It is a vital process that rejuvenates us, enlightens our mood and keeps us in optimum health and as a beauty writer, I would say that it is the ultimate beauty treatment...

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Treatment Review: Holistic Massage and Aromatherapy Shower at Santi Skin Spa

After a hectic month mincing through the sales and hunching over my laptop, drowning in a sea of endless deadlines, I was greatly in need of a truly relaxing massage.

As January is also a month of sluggish systems and dull skin after frivolous festive feasting, I was in search of a massage that was also detoxifying in nature.

The Holistic Massage at South Kensington's Santi Skin Spa was clearly the answer. 

Beloved of well-heeled locals and the odd celebrity, this stylish urban sanctuary is renowned for its skin transforming facials, laser treatments and organic massages.

Upon arriving at the spa, I was impressed with its minimalist, calming decor. I was welcomed warmly and led to a seating area by a bookcase showcasing the latest books on luxury spas and holistic living.

After a calming chamomile tea I was led by my warm-natured therapist, Juta to an inviting treatment room, twinkling with an array of candles and evocatively fragranced with stimulating eucalyptus.

I was left alone for half an hour to relax in the aromatherapy steam shower - a sensuous steamy haze bathed in purple lighting. After a tumultuous journey trekking through the snow and battling with various armpits on the tube, this was a welcome moment of rejuvenation and the perfect start to my treatment.

Afterwards, when I had let go of all troublesome thoughts and rid myself of the city, I lay down on the treatment bed and focused on my breathing before Juta returned to begin the massage.

As with all Santi Skin Spa massage oils, the detoxifying and calming oil used for my treatment was hand blended by the spa themselves and certified organic.

A heady blend of anti-inflammatory liquorice, detoxifying fennel and purifying palmarosa in a silky base oil of sweet almond was smoothed over my skin as the tension I had been carrying with me for days began to fade away.

I succumbed to a much-needed blissful state as Juta used long, sweeping strokes to erase lingering stress and help disperse the toxins in my bloodstream.

After a zesty lemon and ginger tea, I left feeling deliriously relaxed, the usual rampant barrage of thoughts in my mind stilled, ready to face the fresh blanket of London snow.

The Holistic Massage with Aromatherapy Shower at Santi Skin Spa costs £100 and can be booked here.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Spa Hotel Review: Luton Hoo

The magnificent splendour of Luton Hoo, nestled between the leafy borders of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, truly is a place of serene escapism and grandeur.

This decadent mansion house was redesigned by the architects of the Ritz Hotel and dates from the late 18th century when it was home to an earl, a diamond dealer and a countess with a penchant for hosting high society parties.

I booked myself in for a much needed spa break and some bonding with my very good friend Roshana who left me many years ago for smug married life in Saudi Arabia and now graces me with her delightful company only once a year.

As we were driven down the sweeping pathway, through vast grounds, we marvelled at the grand building before us, complete with its own black London taxis with Luton Hoo number plates.

I say!

We were given a tour of the hotel, which was absolutely huge, and were in awe of its opulent antique furnishings and features. We were told that the spa was in a separate building, five minutes walk through the ground, (or a two minute drive in one of the taxis!).

I knew what option I would be choosing (Ugg Boots or no Ugg Boots!) I was there to relax after all.....

Our suite was massive and splendidly named 'De Hoo', consisting of a large living room with two sofas and a flat screen TV, a spacious twin bedroom and a lavish double bedroom with a gloriously regal bed.

Come to meh...

After lounging around and catching up we (very lazily) got ready for dinner in the hotel's coveted Wernher Restaurant, which has been awarded two AA rosettes and is known for its sumptuous culinary offerings.

As we scanned the menu, my fellow meat-loving buddy nodded with me in agreement as we decided on the roast beef - quite a naughty choice, considering that before departing on the (30 minute!) journey to the hotel we had already feasted on the exact same meal at a St Johns Wood pub.

 Oh the heartiness of it all.

Feeding time is now yarr?

The meat was served beautifully rare and was so tender it made me want to weep. (rare, succulent meats usually have this effect on me). The roast potatoes were better than home made and their glistening crispy skins and fluffy centres made me suspect the use of some fine goose fat.

Dessert was a debauched affair. A debauched affair indeed....

Yeah baby!

The photograph here exhibits the first course of our dessert feast. Per person. (We asked for a second portion to be brought up to our room).

There was the rich chocolate mouse which came accompanied with 'all you can eat' strawberries and (optional) clotted cream (which we opted for) and creamy New York cheese cakes which were simply epic and brought us much joy.

Hmmm. Maybe I should be a food critic. Forget spas and frivolous pampering! Its all about the hearty noms!

After rolling back to our suite to watch films, chinwag, continue feasting on merry puddings (with the random addition of monster munch), we passed out on the deliriously comfortable bed.

Finally, here comes the spa bit.

The next morning a car was sent to take us to the famous Luton Hoo Spa for a few laps in the pool and my holistic treatment - the Aromatic Full Body Massage.

The spa itself had a very calming ambience with a large swimming pool and spacious jacuzzi  where we spent most of our time after we hastily abandoned the unrealistic lap swimming idea.

One would imagine this pool would be good for lap swimming.

As I waited for my treatment in the relaxation room, comfortably swathed in my billowing dressing gown, I lost myself in mindful meditation as I stared at the tropical fish swimming seamlessly in the oversized tank in front of me.

My blissful treatment began with a relaxing foot bath before I lay down on a heated bed and was asked to choose which essential oils I felt most drawn to after being presented with a selection to smell.

I chose the combination of warming bay and revitalising rosemary which was combined with a nourishing base oil of grapeseed.

Lois, my friendly therapist with expert hands, used long, smooth strokes and medium pressure to not only relax and calm my active mind and knotted muscles but to detoxify my body by encouraging lymphatic drainage.

After the gluttonous feasting of the previous day, I believe this was exactly what the (holistic) doctor ordered....

The Holistic Body Massage at Luton Hoo costs £80 for 60 minutes. 
Rooms from £170 including breakfast.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Product Review: Shell Lip Balm

I loathe petroleum jelly with a passion.

There. I've said it.

I unashamedly confess to despising those deceptive little round pots of sticky gunge that tempt miserable chapped-lipped folk at the tills of supermarkets and pharmacies with the promise of smooth lips only for them to discover that it was all lies. LIES!!

Ok, maybe I am exaggerating here.

Petroleum jelly is not so bad. It doesn't actually moisturise the lips as some people may think but it does act as a barrier, offering some kind of satisfying temporary relief from the bane of dry, flaky lips.

It is however a by product of crude oil. Used to make petrol.

Therefore I would much rather smooth on a nourishing organic lip balm containing soothing natural ingredients rather than anything mineral oil and paraffin based.

Natural lip balms are more beneficial to the lips in the long term and contain more active ingredients to treat dry lips with powerful plant-based ingredients and soothing natural emollients such as lanolin which has been proven to moisturise the lips (and not just act as a barrier like petroleum jelly)

The colder winter months wreck havoc with my pout due to decreased humidity and the dehydrating effects of central heating, so after trying Shell Lip Balm, a 100% organic and natural lip balm gorgeously encased inside a natural sea shell sourced from the Australian coast, I am officially an addict.


Complete with a handy mirror, this balm is comprised of only 9 lip-smoothing ingredients including moisturising lanolin wax, soothing mango seed butter and nourishing coconut oil, along with organic beeswax to lock in vital moisture.

what ave we ere?!

These beautiful handmade balms also contain one of my favourite anti-ageing beauty oils - rosehip seed, which diminishes scaring and uneven pigmentation and moisturises dry winter lips.

There are five natural shells to choose from - Tiger Crown, White Frangipani, Mocha and Oriental Fan (my new lip-buddy) and come delivered in an adorable earthy looking brown and turquoise gift bag.

open meh

You can buy one of these lip-loving babies from here for £12.99 (or £33 for 3)

Product Review - Dr Berry Blueberry Body Wash

Being the type who recoils at the sight of a slimy bar of Imperial Leather and synthetically-fragranced bottles of coloured gloop, I am always on the look out for a good, foaming toxin-free shower gel.

So when I came across Dr Berry's fabulously fruity bathtime offering I was rather jubilant indeed and developed a sudden yearning to swathe myself in a glorious mass of berry bubbles.

Made by the same people (I assume Dr Berry himself doesn't exist, as mournful as this thought may be) who made the antioxidant-rich Blueberry Fruit Punch - the posh, wholesome Ribena (see my post on Revital's birthday event), this bubbling body wash is quite the find.

Dr Berry Blueberry Body Wash - its berry good.

Containing the 'antioxidising strength of superfruits', this product smells like blueberry bubblegum and foams delightfully,  transforming morning showers into a happy bubble of escapism, perfect before delving into the rampant onslaught of city life.

Yet again dear readers, I urge you to stay away from generic, mass-produced shower gels which grace the supermarket shelves, beckoning you with their garish packaging and cheap prices.

The foaming agents typically used in these delinquents of the cleansing world are derived from toxic chemicals that are actually harmful to the skin and have been proven to cause all manner of troublesome allergies and ailments.

Scan the ingredients of your favourite shower gel (and even your face wash and toothpaste) and you will see the common culprits are Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES).

These foaming agents are chemically known as surfactants and have been clinically proven to be absorbed into the skin, thus potentially causing disastrous effects. They are also regularly used in car washes and engine degreasers (lovely!).

The Journal of The American College of Toxicology published a report in the 80's proving that concentrations of these toxic ingredients as low as 0.5% could irritate skin and concentrations of 10-30% could cause skin corrosion. 

The possible side effects of these evil foamsters are numerous and include hormone imbalances (by mimicking the effects of oestrogen and lowering sperm count), eye irritation, eye deformities in children and even carcenogenicity (the potential to cause cancer).

Although the risks can be argued to be small, do we really want to risk causing such detrimental effects to our health when we can simply smother ourselves in the gorgeous, innocent bubbles produced by natural products such as Dr Berry's Blueberry Wash?

This cruelty-free, vegan body wash is free from parabens, DEA, MEA and phthalates and instead of toxic SLS/SLES, contains a natural foaming agent lovingly derived from wholesome coconut (sodium coco-sulfate).

Our showers should be havens of pure pampering bliss, not toxic torture chambers that on a daily basis increase our risk of developing a horrible skin irritation or something a lot more sinister...

Dr Berry's Blueberry Wash can be bought from the fantastic health store Revital, who always have a joyous abundance of natural and organic skincare.