Put your hands up (perhaps do it in your head if you’re reading this in public) if you’re in search of a more “settled” mind. A mind that’s kinder, better at self-forgiveness, more rational, less cluttered, not so frazzled and free of negative chatter.
Who else quite fancies a happier, healthier gut? A one that doesn’t twist, churn and ache at the thought of tomorrow’s burdens and to-do lists. Or bloat like a beachball after a slice or two of bread.
Perhaps you’d like to learn how to feed yourself better. Treat your belly to fresher, more colourful grub. Ramp up your veggie intake. Curb those 4pm I-need-chocolate-now pangs. Maybe you’d like to cook more.
Oh, and while we’re at it, who also likes the idea of owning limbs that are less achy and more stretchy? A spine less stiff. Better posture. Lungs that know how to gulp up the air around you in a calm, relaxed manner, helping to clear your mind in times of chaos or uncertainty.
If you’ve answered yes, or “me! Every day!” to any of the above, you’d be wise to partake in one of Emma Haslam and Catherine Maclaine’s wellbeing workshops; day-long ‘retreats’, designed to help you on your way to becoming a perkier, better-fuelled version of yourself through mindfulness, yoga and honest, nutritious food.
I, along with around a dozen other North East women (plus two very open-minded men, not afraid to chat about feelings, hummus and tight hipbones) stopped by the pair’s first workshop, held at Newcastle’s Summerhill Bowling Club – a secluded and surprisingly serene oasis, away from the hurried buzz of the city centre.
Waiting there were our hosts, both of whom have become good chums through their shared love of all things health and wellbeing.
Emma, a mindfulness teacher with a post-grad diploma in Studies in Mindfulness from the University of Aberdeen, runs Settled Minds – a self-made business that sees her touring the region, delivering mindfulness training workshops, internationally-recognised courses and private one-to-one sessions, both in the workplace and the comfort of her clients’ homes.
Big names, such as Newcastle United Foundation and even Google, have benefited from her soothing work and she even stops by local schools, helping little ones, their teachers and their parents discover how introducing a little day-to-day mindfulness in the classroom can boost kids’ self-esteem, productivity and overall wellbeing.
Catherine, meanwhile, is the fresh face behind Honest and Gusty – a local foodie company specialising in wholesome, sometimes raw, sometimes veggie or vegan, grub, free of gluten, dairy and refined sugar.
The 28-year-old, who hails from Northern Ireland, threw herself into healthy home cooking a few years ago after months of battling crippling stomach pain, digestive woes and mixed diagnoses from her GP.
After a drastic switch-up in the diet department and falling in love with “free-from” cooking, her health improved beyond even her doctors’ expectations and, feeling inspired (and considerably less bloated), she made the brave decision to quit her law career to set up her own, small business.
You’ll now find her brewing her own fizzy batches of kombucha (fermented black, or green, tea, supposedly packed with probiotic, good-for-the-gut bacteria) and making her own range of freshly-made goods from scratch, which she currently sells at various pop-ups, markets and events in and around Newcastle.
Everything, from nutrient-packed, on-the-go lunch boxes to better-for-you sweet treats, like sugar-free granola, sweet potato brownies, paleo banana bread and ‘raw’ Twix bars, is made in her new, professional kitchen, where she hopes to soon host a series of cookery classes for those with food allergies and intolerances.
After a bit of circle-time and an introduction into the women’s backgrounds and the day’s blissful agenda, it was Emma who kicked things off – starting with an insightful workshop about the so-called stress-melting, yet often puzzling, world of ‘mindfulness’.
What does it mean, exactly? Is it the same as meditation? How do we do it?
Sure, ‘mindfulness’ has become quite the buzzword over the last year or two, but Emma’s non-preachy approach to the concept – and tips on how we can incorporate it into our daily lives – was refreshingly simple.
As we learned, it’s essentially about learning how to recognise and respond to our own emotions in the most positive way possible; which ones to focus on and let be, and which ones to ride out and let go of.
We touched on skills to help battle our own self-critical beliefs. Things like reminding ourselves that thoughts are not facts, tips on boosting self-compassion, kindness and care, as well as helpful techniques to put into action when anxiety comes knocking.
Gratitude being one of the biggest helpers, whether in the form of a journal, a note on our phone or even just a mental list, as well as honing in on our breathing and senses to help ‘ground’ us.
At the end of the session, it felt like a bit of weight had been lifted. Many members of the group had spoken of the uncertainty, lethargy and gloominess they’d been feeling during the first few weeks of the New Year, but after an hour or so in Emma’s hands, it seemed everyone was relishing in a brighter, clearer headspace, armed with a new, mini mental toolbox, ready to tackle whatever life had to throw at them outside of the bowling club walls.
Courtesy of Catherine, lunch came next – and what a (balanced) treat it was. Healthy options needn’t be bland or boring and this young woman’s colourful spread proved it right then and there.
Pots of homemade hummus, made with beetroot, tumeric, carrot and cumin and tummy-friendly sauerkraut, sat alongside bowls of crunchy crudités and hearty, leafy salads, protein-packed ‘bliss balls’ (dates, raw chocolate and coconut), straight-from-the-oven seeded crackers, fresh fruit and wedges of veggie-packed frittata – all nutrient-dense and delicious.
A few platefuls later, it was time for some downward-dog action in the form of a beginner’s yoga class. Local teacher, Debbie Hannatt from Newcastle-based yoga, pilates and fitness company, Yogatri, was on hand to administer our zen injection and I’m pleased to report it was nowhere near as painful as anticipated – even with a belly full of kale and chickpeas.
The class saw us practice the gentle basics; slow, easy-to-follow moves and some much-needed stretching (on my part), coupled with restorative breathing exercises, to help us get our ‘om’ on and mentally wind down as the day drew to a close. We were even handed heated eye masks (think warm, toasty bean bags) and encouraged to bag a few moments of shut-eye post-class if we wanted.
I left the retreat with a satisfied belly, a brain less foggy and a body that felt relaxed. Others emerged saying they felt like a “new version” of themselves, eager to spend the rest of their evening practicing gratitude and focusing on the goodness in their lives, instead of beating themselves up about shouting at their partner/child/dog that morning, or stressing over what to make for dinner that night.
Proof, I think, that retreats such as Emma and Catherine’s really do work and can make a world of difference to a person’s outlook and wellbeing – even in just the space of a few hours.
The pair plan on running more day-long escapes over the coming months, so keep an eye on their social media channels for updates.