About Catherine Turner

CATHERINE TURNER is a journalist, editor and stylist specialising in beauty, health and wellbeing with over 20 years experience in glossy magazines including a stint as Editor-In-Chief of Marie Claire Health & Beauty. Her ‘inside out’ approach to beauty has seen her having her chakras balanced, feet read and warm oil being poured on her third eye. In 2012, her love of yoga took over as she quit her job as Beauty & Health Director of Easy Living to take a sabbatical at an ashram in the remote Himalayas. Now back from her travels, she is juggling yoga study and teaching with the role of Acting Beauty and Wellbeing Director for Psychologies magazine and columnist for VH Editorial and getthegloss.com

Posts by Catherine Turner

Yoga: What’s Your Style?

yoga outline

In the age of the Insta yogi the ancient Indian art of practicing of postures to enhance our health and wellbeing seems to be ever more accessible. Yet there remains a mystical air about it and the Sanskrit names of the different styles can be baffling – the yoga schedule at one of London’s popular studios has a roster of around 300 teachers and roughly 30 styles of yoga to scroll through. On offer are tongue twisting classics such as Kundalini, Iyengar, and Astanga, as well as Westernised modern hybrids Forrest, Acro, Jivamukti, which, even as as a teacher with 500 hours of training under my belt, feels overwhelming when it comes to choosing which class to go to for myself.

So how do we find our own yoga style? Technically speaking, whenever we strike a downward facing dog, warrior or tree pose, we’re practicing Hatha yoga, which is just one aspect of a vast body of knowledge which encompasses all sorts of life enhancing practices, wisdom and teachings with the overarching aim of helping us become happier, healthier, calmer versions of ourselves – and maybe even a glimpse of bliss (known as Ananda).

Yoga’s evolvement into the modern styles we know today began in the 1930s when physical culture became popular in the West and began to merge with Indian yogic techniques. One legendary yogi of that era named T Krishnamacharya is widely credited as being the catalyst for making these practices accessible to us. His star pupils included Indra Devi, cited as the first Western female yogi who went on to teach the post war Hollywood elite including Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson. Also, BKS Iyengar whose eponymous, rehabilitative form gave us the now ubiquitous foam block and strap; as well as Sri K Pattabhi Jois – his athletic Astanga practice inspires the vinyasa flow classes so many of us love today.

That we now have such a choice of styles is a positive thing, and beyond the bendy hipster yogis on Instagram, there is a class for everyone – regardless of age, gender, faith, body type, flexibility and fitness level. Follow our guide below and most of all trust your instinct and try out the styles which inspire you the most.

Flow with it

Vinyasa styles are great if you want to get moving. It’s all about linking postures with the breath an idea which stems from Pattabhi Jois’s gymnastic, twisty Ashtanga. It can be physically challenging, like rock star-esque yogi couple Sharon Gannon and David Life’s Jivamukti fusion, so look for beginner level if you’re just starting out.

Rest deeply

Yin yoga is a restorative practice to deeply relax – a much needed counterbalance to our 24/7 switched on lives and full-speed activities including running, cycling and vigorous yoga styles. Classes involve very few postures held for several minutes and focus on letting go into connective tissue and stretch deeply.

Realign yourself

To improve posture, it’s hard to beat Iyengar’s millimetre precise alignment method. It makes even complicated yoga postures available to all through the use of props such as foam blocks, straps and wall ropes to hang off. Iyengar teacher training is most vigorous of all styles – good if you’re working with an injury or a particular postural imbalance. Also look out for Scarivelli – a softer take created by one of Iyengar’s first female students, Vanda Scarivelli.

Be playful

Sometimes yoga practice needs an injection of something new or daring to push the limits, and there are plenty of experimental styles to try. For example AcroYoga (where yoga meets acrobatics) is the one to challenge your fear trust issues as moves are performed with a partner. Challenge your fear by hanging upside down in  AntiGravity where postures are performed in a parachute silk hammock.

Go beyond

Self transformation is at the heart of all yoga, and Kundalini is one of the more ‘out there’ styles to take you out of yourself. A spirited system of meditation, chanting, and breath exercises developed by Yogi Bhajan, it became popular when its founder Yogi Bajan brought it to the US West Coast in the late 60s. No need to be put off by the white turbans! It’s a great way to uplift and energise.

Addicted To Stress? That Could Be A Good Thing

Glass with die drop in water

Not everything about stress is bad – it’s basically a state of arousal which can give us the drive, focus and energy to get things done. The butterfly stomach we feel on a first date, the nervous excitement of the first day of a new job or the tight muscular tension before public speaking are all signs of stress, but these are positive life events and challenges we actively seek. Yet, according to a YouGove study* 74% of people in the UK have felt so overwhelmed with stress in the past year that they’re unable to cope. And it is a fact that many on-the-rise modern malaises from IBS and eczema to diabetes, obesity and heart disease are related to the pressure cooker of 24/7 life.

So what turns good stress into bad? First, it helps to understand a little bit about the cascade of chemicals and hormones involved in the stress response and their effects on our minds and bodies. It starts in a part of the brain called the amygdala which regulates the autonomic nervous system and controls the automatic responses in the body including breathing, heart rate, digestion and sleep. There are two sides to the autonomic nervous system: the sympathetic or ‘fight or flight’ which effectively revs us up and the para sympathetic or ‘rest and digest’ which slows us back down.

When we go into ‘fight or flight’ mode, our adrenal glands release adrenaline into the bloodstream which causes heart rate, blood pressure and pulse to quicken. Breathing gets faster, increasing oxygen in the brain for higher alertness, also, adrenaline triggers the release of blood sugar and fats to increase energy levels. Because it’s an automatic response, these physiological changes happen before we’re even aware. A second stage kicks in where cortisol, another stress hormone, is released to keep us revved up until the ‘threat’ passes and the ‘rest and digest’ phase comes in to dampen the stress response.

The trouble is, things which trigger the stress response are rarely life threatening situations – it could be the ping of an email, opening a bank statement, or the train being late. Even so, we are wired to have that bodily response and because we so often override the ‘rest and digest’ response we end up accumulating stress. We’re on the go all day, pushing through fuelled with stimulants such as sugar and caffeine, subtly self-medicating to unwind whether that’s with a glass of wine in front of the TV, or pounding out tension on the running machine or at a sweat inducing yoga class. This can seem normal until we start to realise these tactics don’t work any more; it’s increasingly difficult to slow down and relax; our minds full of thoughts making it harder to sleep, which can become a vicious circle leading to feelings of anxiety, worry and even depression. We literally become adrenaline junkies – hooked on the highs of stress.

This can manifest in so many ways that it’s not necessarily easy to identify in our own lives. For me, I hadn’t realised that this continual hyper stimulation of the nervous system was the energy I was feeding off. Now looking back at my 20s and 30s I can see that I was running on adrenaline. I was enjoying the highs of what scientists call eustress or the good ‘seize the day’ motivational stress. I loved my job and so it felt good to enjoy every moment of it – and even on holiday I would like to keep active – rarely did I stop and just do nothing. And I got away with it until my late thirties when gradually it seemed I couldn’t bounce back from late nights, I’d have niggling health issues – poor digestion, reactive skin, inflexible body. I instinctively knew I needed to slow down somehow and took up yoga. But in the beginning, I was taking the ‘push through’ mentality into my practice – I would rush from work to push myself through extreme hot yoga classes, which would relax me in the moment, but never completely.

It took years to gradually realise that I was living off the highs of stress fuelled energy because it was a subtle form of enjoyable drive which gradually threw my body and brain chemistry out of kilter over the years. What did surprise me was how, once I’d accepted I needed to slow down, it was a relief and I began to feel the benefits straight away. For me, the big catalyst was discovering meditation which allowed me to ‘not do’, although it’s not a magic bullet. Good support from friends, family, a nourishing work network, doing something creative, and to feel that we’re contributing something all matter. What’s great to know is that given the chance, our nervous system will naturally re-balance itself, and when that happens we’re no longer fire fighting through, and that impacts positively on our health all round: physically, mentally and emotionally.

Simple ways to break the stress cycle:

  • Ask yourself why you can’t allow yourself a lunch break/holiday/yoga class/massage when prioritising your own health and wellbeing will impact positively at work, and at home.
  • Think of not doing as making a choice to just be – it is an action.
  • Avoid multi-tasking as it has been proven to stimulate cortisol.
  • Know that sitting with your eyes closed is meditation and that cutting out visual stimulation will help bring about calm fast.
  • The out breath is associated with the para sympathetic nervous system, so whenever you feel anxious or stressed try to lengthen your out breath.
  • Spend quality time with like minded people – we are hard wired to release happy chemicals such as oxytocin when are face to face with those who support us.

Why Your Diet Could Be Affecting Your Sleep

grated beetroot

As we lie awake at night with a million thoughts running round in our heads, it’s easy to blame our busy minds for stopping us sleeping. On the surface that might be the case, but of course many things influence how we sleep from the natural such as daylight – to what time we switched off our screens that evening. In truth, there is still much mystery surrounding the science of good sleep and the brain, but one of the most interesting areas of research at the moment is how the gut biome (the vast community of bacteria, fungi and yeasts which populate our digestive tract) could be a big influencer on quality and quantity of shut eye.

We already know that the gut biome affects the hormones which control our appetite, and now a recent study by scientists at University of Colorado suggests that prebiotics (a particular type of fibre which encourages the growth of good bacteria in the gut) can promote Non Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep, which is restful and restorative as well as helping to increase Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep after being exposed to a stressor. While the researchers say more studies are needed, this seems to indicate that regular intake of prebiotics could be helpful in supporting sleep patterns after periods of stress.

Gut biome aside, most of us are aware that what we eat affects how we sleep through experience – think of that old saying about cheese and nightmares. There’s some truth in that since heavy, fatty foods are more difficult for the body to process, therefore eating them late at night is not a good idea. Makes sense when we consider that good sleep relies on the release of a complex cascade of chemicals and hormones, and that eating well and allowing the body to absorb proper nutrients provides the brain with what it needs for this to happen.

Various studies suggest eating at a time when we’d naturally be sleeping could have adverse effects on weight and metabolic health and it’s all inter-connected via our circadian rhythm.  Our circadian rhythms are what keep our body clock running on time, which in turn keeps all of our bodily functions running on schedule — such as falling asleep at night, waking up in the morning, feeling hungry when we need energy and metabolising the food we eat. What, when and how we eat can help regulate this roughly 24-hour cycle our body follows each day.

Looking at things from a wider perspective often brings us back to ancient holistic wisdom. For example, in the yogic system of Ayurveda it’s believed that digestive fire – known as Agni – is at its most powerful when the sun is highest in the sky, therefore the best time to eat your biggest meal is around midday. And yet how many of us eat our main meal in the evening? This was always my habit – after all, going out for dinner is one of the most enjoyable ways we socialise these days. But, coming in late at night from eating a large meal would inevitably keep me awake, and even if I hadn’t drunk anything, I’d feel like I had a hangover next morning.

Having swapped timings in favour of main meal at lunch or more often brunch, I’ve found eating light in the evening to be a catalyst for better digestion and sleep. That’s not to say I never go out for a big dinner in the evening – it’s just I make it the exception rather than the rule. As always, it comes down to balance, and here are some suggestions for subtly adjusting eating habits in favour of good sleep.

  • Introduce prebiotic foods into your diet. These include lentils, chickpeas and hummus, butter beans, globe artichoke, leeks – all of which are a source of the particular type of fibre which encourages the growth of healthy gut bacteria.
  • Re-think meal timings considering dim light melatonin onset (DLMO) which is when the body winds down in preparation for sleep and starts producing the sleep hormone melatonin. For most of us, our DLMO usually begins around 8pm so it would be good to time eating before then. Or, allow two hours between eating and bedtime to allow time to unwind and digest.
  • Ayurvedic thinking suggests warm, liquid foods are the most easily digested in the evening. So for example, lentil dahl, which tastes great when made with leek; root vegetable soups or stews including lentils or chick peas; sweet basmati rice pudding made with dairy or non dairy milk with cardamom, grated ginger and dates.
  • Keep in mind it’s not great to go to bed hungry, considering that our bodies use energy at night when it goes into repair mode. Rather than reaching for typical midnight snacks (crisps, chocolate etc) try hot milk. At one of the best retreats I’ve stayed in in India they brought a pre-bed small cup of locally sourced organic milk, heated with a little saffron. To my surprise, it was the most satiating, satisfying sleep-inducing thing – not to mention delicious.

Coffee Culture

Coffee Machine Making Coffee

From memory, there are approximately six independent coffee shops within the first block of my local High Street – usually packed with neighborhood hipsters hot-desking on their laptops. Good job I’m a coffee fan – although I’ve had some caffeine driven highs and health lows along the way. At worst, I was relying on it as a prop to energise me through a busy lifestyle with lots of deadlines. But not even nauseating caffeine withdrawal headaches, or the jittery, edgy feeling of having had one cup too many could change the way I felt about a good cuppa when I was in the throes of my habit. Read More…

An Ayurvedic Guide To Spring

herbs closeup

Lighter mornings and evenings; the popping up of crocuses and daffodils; the budding of trees –  all the newness and lush growth surrounding us in nature signifies it’s the perfect time to give ourselves a kick-start. However, coming out of winter into spring can feel quite harsh, there’s a sense that we should be bounding with energy, yet we’re not quite in full swing. This is very natural – all holistic health systems recognise the need to support the body during seasonal transition.

In Ayurveda (the Indian ‘science of life’), it’s recognised that our inner systems are affected by our outer environment and the cold, damp air of early spring increases our susceptibility to catarrh, mucus, sniffles and colds as well as allergic rhinitis, hay fever and asthma when trees and flowers begin to release their pollen. This is seen as kapha imbalance – kapha being one of the system’s three doshas; sets of qualities relating to constitution which need to be in balance for good health. Kapha tendencies also include lethargy, water retention and weight gain which makes sense of the sluggishness we often feel after months of hibernating from the cold and dark. We might feel melancholic too, and coming into the brightness of spring light can literally and metaphorically leave us blinking. The good news is the Ayurvedic approach is to adjust our eating, exercise and body care routines subtly so we gently shake off the vestiges of winter and emerge into the longer days slowly and gradually. Read More…

Good Vibrations: The Power Of Sound Baths

chinese bells

Gong baths, crystal bowl meditation and chanting sessions are shaking off their rainbows and kaftans image and are now firmly on the schedule of London’s best yoga and meditation centres.Recently, the uber luxe Edition Hotel played host to a month of sound healing evenings where the hipster wellness crowd lay supported by Tempur pillows, wrapped in soft woollen blankets with silk masks covering their eyes as good vibrations from singing crystal bowls washed over them. So what’s drawing the in-crowd and how does sound help us relax our body and mind?

We instinctively know sound in all its forms has the power to transport us – we often automatically use it to self-medicate on many levels. Think of a mother’s voice soothing an upset child; singing in unison in a choir, at a festival or concert; the hypnotic rhythm of Tibetan monks chanting. Because sound is vibration, it’s not just heard through our ears, our whole body is affected. And we know this has tangible effects on stress levels. For example, a recent study showed that playing music to breast cancer patients could help them manage pre-operative anxiety when going through surgery, and another showed that stress hormones including cortisol are reduced in audiences at a live concert, producing relaxation effects. Read More…