Blog Archives

What a thought can do to your body

Most people know about fight or flight and how our bodies have a physiological reaction to a perceived threat.  Whether its a physical or psychological threat the outcomes to the body and mind are similar – we get braced for a fight or energise our muscles to run.  So whether its a caveman running from a sabre toothed tiger or your boss yelling at you the physical effects are similar in the short term:
  • your digestion system shuts down – absorbing nutrients takes energy and the body needs the energy for a fight – hence constipation, IBS etc
  • your muscles tense ready for a fight – you are braced, your body becomes brittle and armoured  – neck pain, lower back pain
  • your heart rate rises to pump blood to the major organs of movement – heart rate increases
  • hormones secreted constrict blood vessels to enable blood to be pumped to the major muscle groups quickly – blood pressure rises and your face gets red
  • the muscles of fight/flight are prioritised – there is a dramatic reduction in flow to non essential areas – like the skin, kidneys and re productive areas – so you wont look good and your bits and pieces wont work so well
  • your pupils dilate in order to pick up more information from our surroundings –you look a bit unhinged
  • proteins, carbohdrates and fat are stored in your body and during fight flight are mobilised and dumped into the bloodstream to provide energy for the major muscles of movement.  They circulate in the bloodstream as amino acids, glucose and fatty acids and can adhere to the constricted blood vessel walls –increasing your chances of heart disease or stroke.  
  • amino acids are not great sources of energy so during fight/flight the protein in muscles is dumped into the blood stream and then converted by the liver into glucose – this increases diabetes risk and makes it hard for the mega stressed to grow lean muscle mass
  • when the fight flight emergency ends the amino acids, glucose and fatty acids are re absorbed, often in fat store deposits – this requires a huge amount of energy to convert from one form of storage – hence we get tired easily and store fat deposits
Fight/flight was designed an evolutionary response to physical threat.  But human beings are amongst a unique group of animals who can live in fear of the past and the future and create physiological damage just through the power of our thoughts. However we have a number of positive options for trying to manage a mind that darts and roams to dangerous places ;

Physical exercise – say your boss makes you feel small in front of people you might have a fight/flight reaction – you may want to stuff his teeth down the back of his neck.  But you can’t so you sit there and take it.  Shaky legs because you want to kick him in the chops and angry dilated pupils so you can aim your foot in the right place.  So the solution is to be an animal.  Be your natural self.  Go to the gym and kick the crap out of a punch bag or run, like you are running away from a tiger.  Its what your body is made to do

Empty your head of thoughts every so often – if you try empting your head of thoughts you get into the practice of observing thoughts as they arise.  And as the observer of yourself you might note some pretty alarming ones – I’m fat, I’m old, I can never do that – these are self inflicted psychological and physiological wounds – you are hurting your own body and mind with a thousand small cuts that you might not even be aware of .  There are so many great techniques that help you banish these internal thieves (thieves of your present and future health and happiness).  For example by learning to focus on your breath you focus on the moment, clear thoughts and engage the parasympathetic nervous system, reversing many of the negative effects of fight flight

Mind therapies – another way to tackle these thieves is through discussion and observation of thoughts, emotions and actions with an experienced coach.  This is where our mind therapies business can help you build a positive internal dialogue which will help you create and nourish your body at the cellular level.  I’ve written about this many times – people who are able to develop an internal feel good  state (which is not just reliant on fleeting hedonistic events) live longer, are more resistant to disease and infection and find it easier to build strong healthy bodies.  Focussing on developing a positive internal world shines through on the outside.  As I set out above your skin will glow because blood is pumped to it, your eyes will be soft and gentle and not angry and demanding, and your actions and movement will be measured and considered.

Here is our mind therapies team !!!

Monica Black – Clinical Hypnotherapist and NLP Practitioner
As one of the country’s leading qualified Master Clinical Hypnotherapists, Master NLP Practitioner, EMDR Practitioner, Monica has successfully helped many people
overcome all kinds of conditions and ailments which manifest either physically or emotionally such as weight loss, addictions, building confidence, conceiving etc. She further coaches in mindfulness and public speaking as well as works as a Media Lifestyle Commentator.
Monica is a member of the Royal Society of Medicine, CNHC, GHR, GHSC, ANLP, BATtH.
Contact Monica on 07776230332 or 0207 419 2211 or see her

Marion Beauregard  – Sophrology practitioner 
Sophrology is a gentle non-intrusive technique improving quality of life, helping clients feel aligned with their environments, resources and values.  Marion has specialised in this cutting edge discipline, working both on the body and the mind, combining breathing exercises, muscular relaxation, gentle movements and visualisations. With a previous ‘life’ in marketing and extensive travelling experience, French-born Marion brings to the UK a new unique therapy practice and is qualified with the International Therapy Examination Council (ITEC) .
Contact Marion on 07929056135 and find out more about her at

Madeleine Mason – Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, Relationship Coach
With an MSc and BSc in psychology, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy training and a background in the mental health profession specialising in quality of life, Madeleine brings extensive expertise to PassionSmiths. Having experience in marriage, dating and relationships, Madeleine is passionate about helping people to understand their own needs and getting successful results. She is a member of the British Psychological Society and the International Positive Psychology Association.  Contact Madeleine on 07707689900 and find out more about her at

Daniel Williams – Psychotherapist and Relationship Coach
Trained as a psychotherapist, Dan is highly experienced in working with many different client needs, including couples with relationship issues. With a successful ‘previous life’ in the IT world as well as personal experience of dating and marriage, Dan brings crucial wisdom to the sessions at PassionSmiths. He is registered with the UK Council for Psychotherapy.  Contact Dan on 07557667137 and find out more about him at

Andy Roberts – Life Coach
With an MSc in Positive Psychology and training in Yoga, Andy specialises in stress management techniques including breath work and positive visualisation.  With previous experience working in finance, Andy understands the stresses involved with working in the city and combines his psychological and holistic trainings to help people focus on the positive in order to overcome life’s challenges.  Andy is an accredited Emotional Intelligence coach. Contact Andy on 07766343931 and find out more about him at

Dorinda Talbot – Psychotherapist and Mindfulness Coach
Trained in Core Process Psychotherapy, Dorinda combines her psychotherapeutic training with a Buddhism-based understanding of the transformative power of awareness.  Dorinda offers open-ended therapy incorporating voice dialogue sessions and mindfulness coaching to bring greater ease, intimacy and possibility into people’s lives.  Dorinda’s sessions are useful in dealing with many issues including (but not limited to!) anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties, low self-esteem, stress, grief, life transitions, addictions, feeling stuck and lost and emotional management issues.  Contact Dorinda on 07949868426 and find out more about her at

David Lewis – Cognitive Hypnotherapist, Psychotherapist and Coach
David has a comprehensive list of trainings in Hypnotherapy, Psychotherapy and Coaching.  Having worked as a psychotherapist at St Thomas’s Hospital from 2005-2010, David brings a wealth of excellent experience to his practice helping people tackle their anxiety, depression and relationship issues as well as phobias, fears and addiction problems. David’s professional memberships include the UK Council for Psychotherapy the National Council for Hypnotherapy. Contact David on 07545871504 and find out more about him at


City stress

City stress

Most of the wellbeing courses that I’ve taken in the last 15 years have been in India, Australia and Canada. We chose to set up shop in London because that was where the demand was. It’s also an exciting, fun and financially rewarding place to live. It attracts seekers, people who are looking for the most fun and the most meaning. Its a place for the young. It tests you. The historian Peter Ackroyd describes London as an energetic vortex that sucks people in and either they ascend or they are pulled down into the gutter.

Economically, people are drawn to cities because of an amazing relationship between wealth and population. Geoffrey West notes that for every doubling of a cities population average wealth per person increases by 15%. No wonder people have been drawn to cities for centuries. In 1800 only 4% of the US population lived in cities, now its 80%. Every week 1 million people around the world move to a city. This amazing 1:1.15 growth relationship also applies to other statistics, including crime. As we move to cities we become wealthier but the wealth grows with a widening normal distribution ie. the poorer are poorer and the richer, wealthier. The rest of us in the middle are therefore exposed to this wealth chasm. We fear the effect of the vortex – that we will end in the gutter. We aspire to use the force of the vortex to help us climb the materialistic ladder. Its all there, in our face, rich and poor, light and shade. For more details check out thisTed talks clip:

Numerous studies in Positive Psychology have compared how satisfied people say they are with their lives, with how much money they earn. The results of hundreds of studies around the world conclude that how much you earn has little to do with how satisfied you are with things. BUT…..lots of other studies have also indicated that we have a tendency to look upwards. We are aspirational.  We covet what our neighbour has.  We are jealous. We take this to an extreme so that in the workplace people who are offered salaries which put them near the top of their departments pay scale would rather this, than be offered a higher salary which puts them near the bottom of the departments pay scale.

So we are not profit maximisers, we just need to be alpha male, top dog, chief chimp. We value ourselves through money even when the reality is that if we are able to cover the basics like a nice house, car, education, holidays plus a little bit of F**k you money we don’t really care how much we earn.

Now back to cities. People arrive and they aspire to the rich fruits. People in cities work harder and compare themselves to others much more than our country cousins. A recent bit of research by Andreas Meyer Lindenburg in Mannheim demonstrated potential mental vulnerability in city dwellers. They compared city folk to town people and country people. They found that when people were asked to complete brain teasers in a test situation, city people were more conscious of their performance and more susceptible to criticism. They did this by occasionally interrupting the study and cajoling participants to get a move on and also giving them feedback that they were under performing compared to their peers. They measured brain activity in areas like the amygdala (one of the areas of the brain associated with emotional judgment and fight or flight). They found that city dwellers were much more sensitive to criticism.

In a follow up study the team found that an area called the perigenual anterior cingulate cortex (pACC) was much more activated in people who had spent many years living in a city. Studies indicate that the pACC has a positive impact of inhibiting the worst excesses of fight/flight (muscle tightness, breathing problems, inability to focus, short term memory loss). This over activation may prevent this natural inhibiting feature.

Why people living in cities are more susceptible to stress could include many factors such as social comparison set out above, as well as noise, lack of sunlight, constant visual distraction, lack of green space and increasing social isolation.

Another feature of city living is the rise of single person households. Add to this the reduction in team sports and rise of internet relationships at the expense of face to face contact and you build a picture of vulnerable, isolated people striving to avoid the traps of the vortex and aspire to the riches. The obvious conclusion to this is ever growing cities with ever increasing exposure to mental instability. This may be borne out by the relationship between schizophrenia and city living (Stanley Zammit, Cardiff University).

The good news is that a wide circle of friends has a powerful positive effect on the amyygdala/pACC relationship. During moments of bonding and touch hormones such as oxytocin and vasopressin are produced, which counteract the negative effects of fight/flight (or rather improve brain functioning such that we are able to deal with regular day to day stresses and strains in a balanced, relaxed way). Another way to manage fight/flight is by taking lots of exercise and learning techniques to concentrate the mind (such as breathing exercises, mantra and meditation)

I suppose this blog is just a long advert for the business case behind Breathe London. We are an integrated wellbeing business with a range of physical (touch ) and talking therapies which try to address many of the issues raised in this article.

Here are some quick tips to counteract the effects of city living:

– take a break, go to the countryside and turn off your twitter, facebook, phone

– cherish your friends and actually do something different with them

– be spontaneous – a friend of mine organises his life months in advance – when you do this you constantly package the future up

– enjoy the amazing things that London (or your big city) has to offer

Breathe is expanding!  Lesley is opening a new Breathe London in South Kensington in April and I’m in Australia setting up here

Hope you found this useful

Andy 🙂

Stress management

This weeks blog is contributed by Monica Black, Breathe London’s hypnotherapist and NLP practitioner.

Over the next couple of weeks  I’ll be taking about stress , and the causes and symptoms related to Stress

The Dictionary of Nursing Oxford Reference 1992 says that:

“Any factor that threatens the health of the body or has an adverse effect on its functioning, such as injury, disease or worry.  Constant stress brings about changes in the balance of hormones in the body

Stress is a totally normal re-action.  We need stress and it is perfectly healthy in limited amounts, however it becomes a serious risk when it occurs too often.  The results of which may result in emotional and physical burnout.

However no two people will re-act to stress in the same way.  What may be a positive stressor for one person could be a negative stressor for another – or to quote an old adage “What’s one mans meat is another man’s poison”. Not only that but each individual’s reaction to stress can vary, depending on the state of health, circumstances etc at the time of the stress occurring.

We humans respond to stress in one of two ways – fight or flight – .  In primitive times there was really only a few things that “stressed us out”, for example finding food, fighting enemies such as maybe the saber toothed tiger – basic survival instinct stressors.  This was what we call a fight / flight response i.e. stay and fight the tiger or run for our lives.  The decision was a simple one and the stress was over in a few minutes so the body could return to normal.  Today, however this is not so true; we have far more stressors to contend with, for example noise, money, relationship problems, financial worries, a frightening experience, bad news the list goes on and on. Our general health depends mostly on how we are able to fight stress and disease and depending on our body type, personality and lifestyle stress can trigger a range of health problems.

“Although the exact role of stress in human diseases it is not known it is clear that stress can lead to certain diseases”.    (Tartora & Grabowski)

Stress related disorders can include such illnesses as gastric ulcerated colitis,  IBS, peptic ulcers, hypertension, asthma, rhymathoid arthritis, migraine, anxiety and depression.  It has also been shown that people under stress are at greater risk of developing chronic disease or dying prematurely.


To give you an idea of  what’s happening I’ll describe stress very simply.

The nervous system is divided into 2 – the sympathetic and para-sympathetic nervous system – (think of it as a see-saw with the sympathetic system being the up and the parasympathetic being the down.

The sympathetic system is when all the = adrelin, cortisol, noradrelin and other chemicals and hormones are whizzing around our body.  That’s when we are stressed  – flight or flight mode.   Naturally we need stress to keep us going, but when we get an overload of it, that’s when things start to go wrong, and we get various symptoms that stress brings.

The para-sympathic is when everything is running at an even keel. But if it was always the predominant one nothing would get done and we’d all be walking around as if drugged.  Stress is good for us but we do need to keep an even balance, and recognise when it is engulfing us, so we can control it.

To do that try the following, it should help:

  1. Lie down with your feet elevated above your head, maybe raised on cushions.

2        Turn off the phone.

3.       Get rid of pets, partners and any nuisances that may be around.


If you’re the sort of person who gets “ants in the pants” and can’t relax after 5 minutes – then do it for 5 minutes. If you can do it for longer then great.

If you want to play some soft soothing music that’s fine go ahead

Don’t fall asleep.


Everyone has a “favourite place” they can go to so take yourself off on a mental holiday.  You’ll be amazed how much better you feel.

Basically what is happening is that you are allowing the sympathetic to calm down and the para to take over. If you can do this on a daily basis that is tremendous.

But remember if you can’t don’t force it – ‘cos that will only make you more stressed and that that’s defeating the object.

The reason your feet are raised is that it gets the circulation going which will bring more oxygen to all parts and organs as well as the lymphatic system will get going which helps to get rid of toxins easing those aches and pains.


Slow down and breathe slowly and from you stomach

Next time we’ll  have a look at the various different causes of Stress, which in some form or other we have all experienced and can relate to and most definitely recognise.

Book a session with Monica at Breathe London in Waterloo


Science playing catch up to the benefits of meditation and yoga

The stress response mechanism is way more complex than we previously thought

A number of recent studies on the stress response system have shown individual differences in the way we respond to stressors are much more varied than previously thought.  Many factors have been shown not only to influence what makes us stressed, but also to influence both physical and psychological reaction and coping mechanisms.  Influencing factors include the environment we grew up in as a child, social status, gender and the genes we inherit. 

The human stress response system, which has often been over-simplified in both academic and popular literature to describe the ‘fight or flight’ response, is now being recognised as encompassing a much larger physical and psychological realm than previously thought.  The fight or flight response has deep roots in our evolutionary past.  It occurs when activity in the parasympathetic nervous system increases (activating muscles needed to run or fight) whilst the sympathetic nervous system decreases (keeping our internal organs switched on, but in a kind of standby mode). 

Other stress-response behaviours recently identified include the “tend/befriend” response (seen significantly more in women) associated with turning to social networks of support when confronted with stressors, and social withdrawal and/or anti-social behaviour (seen significantly more in men).  Both these phenomena have been shown to operate at the same time (in some people) or instead of (in others) the fight/flight response.  The deciding factor, and the new buzzword in stress literature and indeed in other walks of life where “social” goals and activities have been thrust into the spotlight) is “context”. 

We can now demonstrate that meditation and yoga have huge benefits to mind and body

A new and holistic scientific approach is emerging that broadens the scope of the stress response system to acknowledge the social world, both from an evolutionary perspective, and in its current context.  This means for example, that the production and transmission of sex hormones and neurotransmitters actively used in our brain’s reward, motivation and control circuits (almost always unconsciously), are now often measured alongside more common metrics such as heart-rate or blood-pressure in experimental psychology and social neuroscience studies. 

One of the consequences of this new science of what makes us stressed and how we respond to our environmental pressures, is that more complex patterns are beginning to emerge that challenge classical psychology/psychiatry diagnoses and provide testable hypotheses to determine previously unproven benefits of alternative therapies or holistic practises such as yoga and meditation.  These are increasingly shown to mediate the effects of stress through what are known in neuroscience as interoceptive pathways.  These are pathways used (usually unconsciously) by the body’s physiological systems to inform other body and brain functions of their relative fitness or functionality.  Yoga and meditation practice has long been thought of by its practitioners to be the embodiment of a conscious exercise in interoception. We now we have the scientific techniques to prove the mental value of what sceptics have in the past regarded as simply a set of physical exercises.

“Stressed” people can be high performing happy individuals in many areas of their lives

But these physiological mechanisms only go part of the way towards building our unique stress response profile.  One of the more interesting findings, that stress response profiles (phenotypes) are more varied than previously thought and are highly correlated with activations in other physical systems has been labelled our “biological sensitivity to context” – and it means many more of our biological systems that have been previously disregarded when building psychological profiles are now seen as key determinants of the strategies we choose when faced with environmental stress.  In a recently published theory (Del Guidice, et al. 2011) four behavioural patterns emerge that are based in evolutionary life-history theory and are used to describe common stress-response patterns.  These don’t correspond so well to classical psychology’s stereotypical introverted/extroverted, high/low-stress-responsivity models, but they do correspond to findings that were previously seen as paradoxes, such as why people with very high stress-responsivity can be found performing very well in highly uncertain environments, but very poorly in low-stress environments.  Its all about context, and what we’ve become used to.  Also, the physiological and developmental changes we all undergo throughout our lives such as childhood growth, puberty, adulthood, menopause, etc., correspond to periods of high neural plasticity, when we literally carve out our future responses to stress from the biological and environmental tools we’re given (or create for ourselves).

 Developing a more tailored approach to stress management

Another consequence of joint research in psychology and the physiology of the brain in the context of social stressors is that emphasis on our biological sensitivity to context will provide more nuanced mechanisms for treating mental health problems related to stress such as ‘internalised’ symptoms of depression or low self-esteem, and ‘externalised’ symptoms like anti-social behaviour.  “Context”, encompasses a rather old-fashioned idea that’s suddenly been given a new lease of life and when taken together with the new data-rich environments currently being studied in social neuroscience (the study of how the brain works in conditions with a social context) provides a real opportunity to produce meaningful and coherent theories that explain common patterns of observed responses/strategies to stressful situations in a way that is consistent with cultural evolution and medical science – something that must surely be regarded as something of a holy grail to psychologists – and opens the way for tailored programmes of intervention through various means, such as life coaching, social engagement, nutritional change, in addition to medical and pharmaceutical help in resolving stress disorders.

 Today’s blog was produced by Tom TeWhaiti, co founder of Breathe London and Breathe Australia


Del Guidice, M., Ellis, B.J. & Shirtcliff, E. (2011) The Adaptive Calibration Model of stress responsivity, Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews, 35, pp 1562-1592