Getting enough sleep: why a good night’s rest is our superpower (and how to have better quality sleep)

I think we all know that sleep is important. And I’m sure that most of us know at least some of the reasons why it’s important. But in the modern world of screens, social media, long working hours and multiple commitments, most of us probably aren’t getting enough of it – or, if we are, it’s not necessarily the quality, deep rest that we really need.

Sleep tends to fall by the wayside and become a low priority for many of us as we work or study late into the night, mindlessly scroll social media, or binge watch box sets until the early hours.

So how can we get more sleep? And how you can improve not just the amount of sleep you’re getting, but the quality of your rest?

Why getting enough sleep is so important

In a nutshell, regular sleep is essential for human health; we literally can’t survive without it. (Dying from sleep deprivation is extremely rare, but it can happen!)

While you’re sleeping, your body and brain are both hard at work. Your body is busy repairing itself, keeping your immune system and circulation functioning, and releasing hormones that help keep your heart and blood vessels healthy, while your brain is busy filing away the day’s memories.

Getting enough quality sleep keeps our bodily systems and organs functioning, as well as boosting our brains and mental and emotional wellbeing. Sleeping helps us to stay alert and have plenty of energy when we’re awake, and gives us the capacity to think clearly, learn new things, work, plan, build and maintain relationships with others, and do all the activities we want and need to do in our daily lives.

Here are some of the things that quality sleep does for you:

The effect of sleep on the body

Keeps your…

  • Heart healthy
  • Immune system strong
  • Blood sugar steady


  • Fights off germs (so you get ill less often)
  • Repairs damage to your tissues
  • Lowers your risk for serious health problems (such as diabetes and heart disease)
  • Helps you maintain a healthy weight
  • Improves your athletic ability

The effect of sleep on the brain

  • Keeps your brain sharp (helps you think more clearly)
  • Improves your attention span and ability to concentrate
  • Helps you learn and make memories
  • Improves your executive function (our ability to plan, focus our attention, remember things, and juggle lots of different tasks)

The effect of sleep on your mental health

  • Improves your mood
  • Reduces your stress levels
  • Helps you maintain good relationships with others

What happens when we don’t get enough sleep?

Of course, when we don’t get enough sleep – or enough good quality sleep – all these things can suffer. Lack of sleep can lead to or worsen all sorts of chronic health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease and stroke. It deprives us of the hormones we need to help prevent these conditions. 

And – as I’m sure you’re experienced, I know I have! – when we don’t get enough sleep, our brains suffer too, and we can find ourselves getting irritable, anxious or depressed, feeling tired during the day (especially in the afternoon), and finding it hard to concentrate or remember things. Lack of sleep slows our reaction times too, and can lead to accidents; studies have shown that staying awake for 24 hours can have a similar effect on us to having a blood alcohol level of 0.10%, which is above the legal limit in the UK.

How to get more (and better) sleep

Sleep hygiene is the idea of creating the best possible conditions for great sleep. None of this is difficult or complicated! But it does mean focusing on improving your habits around sleep, and making sleep a priority in your life.

So let’s take a look at the two areas you’ll need to focus on to help you get more and better sleep: your sleep environment, and your habits.

How to create healthy sleep habits and routines

Sleep hygiene starts well before you’re even thinking about bed. Healthy habits throughout the day, such as getting up at the same time each day, taking regular exercise, eating healthy foods and having regular screen breaks if you work on a computer can all help you get a good night’s sleep.

Here are a few more specific habits to build in nearer to bedtime:

  • Go to bed at the same time each night
  • Work out your bedtime based on getting 7-8 hours of sleep – work backwards from the time you need to get up.
  • Make a clear distinction between daytime and sleep time. Turn off the TV and other devices at least an hour before bed, and use low lighting as you prepare for sleep.
  • Take a glass of water to bed with you and drink a small amount before going to sleep.
  • If your head is full of plans and worries for tomorrow, keep a notebook next to your bed to make a list, or write your thoughts in a journal. If you syphon all these things out of your head before turning out the light, you’ll be less likely to ruminate over them in bed.
  • Do a calming activity, such as reading or meditating, before falling asleep.

Set up your bedroom environment for better sleep

If you want better sleep, create a calm and peaceful environment that makes you feel restful.

  • Remove any clutter from your bedroom. Put things away in drawers or cupboards, or spend some time doing a declutter and get rid of what you don’t need – or move it somewhere else in the house.
  • Invest in the best mattress, pillows and bedding you can afford. Don’t scrimp on sleep!
  • Keep lighting low/dimmed as you’re getting ready for bed – use low wattage lamps rather than bright overhead lights.
  • Turn off your phone and other devices. And remove the TV from your bedroom! Make a ‘no screens in the bedroom’ rule to eliminate the blue light which interferes with our sleep patterns.
  • Invest in an analogue alarm clock, with no lights
  • Turn your WiFi off overnight (you’ll also save on your electric bill – and help keep your connection stable)
  • Use blackout curtains or blinds, especially if there are streetlights or other sources of light outside your window.
  • Keep the temperature in your bedroom cool. Consider turning heating off in the bedroom in the evening, and/or keeping a window open at night (all year round) to let in fresh air.

A few things to avoid if you want to have better sleep


  • Nap in the day (once you establish healthier sleep habits you shouldn’t need to)
  • Drink caffeine before bed
  • Watch TV in bed (move that TV out of the bedroom completely!)
  • Exercise too soon before sleeping (give it a few hours)
  • Eat too soon before sleeping (there should be at least two hours between your last meal and going to sleep)

Don’t feel you have to make a lot of changes all at once – you can start with the ones you think you’ll find easiest and add a new healthy sleep habit each night (or even each week!). If you want to get to bed a lot earlier, start by going half an hour earlier, and build up gradually over a few nights or weeks.

What about when there’s a medical reason for lack of sleep?

Of course, sometimes there might be a medical reason for poor sleep. You might have tried all the things I’ve suggested and still not be getting the rest you want and need.

If you find that after a couple of weeks of following healthy sleep habits, you’re still struggling to fall or stay asleep, or you’re not feeling rested after regularly getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night, you might need to talk to your GP. 

One common cause of poor sleep is chronic pain, but there may be an underlying cause you’re unaware of, such as sleep apnoea or a thyroid disorder. If there’s no physical cause, visiting a therapist trained in CBTi (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for insomnia) might help you. 

5 benefits of Cold Water Therapy (and how to get started)

Bathing, showering or swimming in cold water might not sound like your idea of a fun time, but while cold water immersion might seem off putting, it can actually give you lots of physical and emotional health benefits.

I’ve been aware of the benefits for years, and I regularly go wild swimming in the sea – and have a cold water shower ever day! I’ve definitely noticed the positive effects of doing this regularly on my health and wellbeing.

So what exactly is cold water therapy – and what are these benefits?

What is cold water therapy?

Put simply, cold water therapy is the process of allowing your body to spend time in water that’s below 14 degrees Celsius. The idea is that this natural remedy activates the body’s natural healing power. Practising cold water therapy can give your body and mind a natural, healthy boost – and as well as promoting better general health and wellbeing, it can also help to relieve pain, and the symptoms of chronic illness. 

If you’re wondering if this is ‘just another new trend’ in health and wellbeing, well, it’s definitely not – in fact, it’s actually been around for few thousand years! Hippocrates documented the health benefits of cold water, and cold water therapy was practised in many ancient civilisations in places like Rome, Egypt, Greece, and China.

And it’s easy to see why this health remedy has lasted for millennia when you realise how many different health benefits it has.

What are the benefits of cold water therapy?

1. Boosts your immune system

What does cold water have to do with immunity?

This is all about your lymphatic system – your body’s self-cleaning system – basically a network of vessels that removes waste material from your cells. If your lymphatic system itself slows down or loses efficiency (for example, from lack of exercise), toxins will build up in your system, causing all sorts of health problems.

Being immersed in cold water makes your lymphatic system contract, forcing fluid through your lymph nodes and helping your system detox by stimulating the white blood cells that help you combat illness, and destroying those toxins. This gives your immune system a healthy boost! 

2. Improves your circulation

Why should we be concerned about our blood circulation? Bad circulation stresses your heart and can cause headaches, fatigue, high blood pressure, muscle cramps, and even heart attacks and strokes. Good circulation is really essential for good health.

And when you immerse your body in cold water, blood rushes to your vital organs. This makes you feel alive, awake and alert, because it forces your heart to pump more efficiently, sending oxygen and nutrients to the parts of your body where they are needed. 

So regular cold water immersion will improve your circulation and make you feel much better, as well as making you healthier!

3. Reduces inflammation

Ever wondered why professional athletes will often soak in an ice bath following a strenuous workout?

Well, cold can help to numb pain and reduce swelling, by lowering the temperature of your damaged muscle tissue and constricting your blood vessels. It’s what makes ice such a good remedy for stings and sprains: it reduces swelling and inflammation, and numbs your nerve endings, giving you immediate pain relief. 

Adding cold water immersion to your daily routine can give you a more natural way of recovering from strenuous activity, and reduce your reliance on painkillers and anti-inflammatories.

4. Helps with pain management

Cold exposure can sometimes help with pain caused by conditions such as fibromyalgia and rheumatism. Immersion in cold water has been shown to prompt a natural wave of sympathetic nervous system activity, which can alter your body’s perception of pain. 

And not only can cold water therapy help with managing existing pain, it can also help your body’s healing process, which may help break pain patterns and prevent future pain by helping you move more freely, starting a virtuous circle of improvement. 

5. Improves your mood and helps you build mental resilience

As we’ve seen, there are many physical benefits to be gained from cold water therapy – but it is also hugely beneficial to your mental health and wellbeing.

Immersing yourself in cold water on a regular basis isn’t easy! At the most basic level, doing this can help you build resilience and enhance your mental strength so that you can handle  the challenges of everyday life better.

But the mental health benefits of cold water therapy go deeper than that. It can help you sleep better and lower your stress levels, be more beneficial than prescription medications in lifting your mood and helping treat symptoms of depression, and can also help conditions such as anxiety and chronic fatigue.

A 2018 study found that cold-water swimming ‘led to an immediate improvement in mood following each swim and a sustained and gradual reduction in symptoms of depression, and consequently a reduction in, and then cessation of, medication’.

So how does this work? Here’s the science bit: your parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for slowing your heart rate, and a key part of this system is the vagus nerve, which connects your brain to your heart and lungs. If you have high vagal tone, your body can relax faster after stress. Immersing yourself in cold water can increase your vagal tone. It puts your body under stress, but the more often you do it, the smaller your stress response will get, and the better able you’ll be to cope with mental stress in the future.

In other words, the stress created by depression and other mental health conditions can be countered by the introduction of a new physiological stressor – such as immersing your body in cold water.

How to get started with cold water therapy

I’m sure you’ll be glad to know that you don’t have to dive straight into a freezing lake in order to experience the benefits of cold water therapy! 

There are a few different ways you can practice this therapy – from taking a cold shower to wild swimming in the sea or a lake or river. Whichever appeals to you (or is most practical!), the idea is to stay in water that’s ideally below 15 degrees Celsius for between 3 and 10 minutes.

Take a daily cold shower

I take a cold shower daily, which is probably the easiest way to start practising cold water therapy. Sounds simple enough – but also pretty daunting it you’ve never done this before. So what’s the best way to get started? Here are three methods you can try, depending on what appeals most!

Method 1: slow and steady

Start by slowly decreasing the amount of hot water you use in your shower and ease yourself into steadily cooler showers. 

Method 2: temperature transition 

Start showering under warm water as usual, then gradually lower the temperature to as low as you can bear for about 30 seconds, before raising the temperature again. Now repeat the warm to cold transition three or four times. 

Method 3: take the plunge

Standing outside the water spray, get the temperature as low as you think you can bear. Now enter the shower, wetting your hands first, then your feet, then gradually the rest of your body. Do your normal showering routine, but get out or raise the temperature as soon as you feel too cold.

As you get used to cold showers, you’ll be able to spend more time under the colder water, and gradually lower the temperature more and more.

Make yourself an ice bath

If you want to try cold water therapy at home but you don’t have a shower – or you’d just prefer to submerge yourself completely – an ice bath is a good option. Plus, there is evidence to suggest that this is a more effective treatment, as using ice will of course make the temperature lower than what you’ll achieve with a shower, even on the coldest setting. 

Fill up your bath with cold water, then start adding ice until the temperature reaches somewhere between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius. This will typically take around 10 minutes when using three parts water to one part ice.

Once the temperature is where you want it (use a thermometer!), gradually immerse yourself in the water, and aim to lie down and be as completely submerged as possible (depending on the size of your bath!).

Stay immersed in the water for around three to five minutes, then get out and see how you feel. As you become more comfortable with cold water therapy, try working your way up to eight to 10 minutes each time.

Cold water swimming

I regularly enjoy a wild swim in the sea!

You can do this all year round in the UK; if you go for a swim outdoors anywhere here at any time of year, you are pretty much guaranteed to be swimming in cold water. Our seas, lakes and rivers are pretty cold all year round, since the water here rarely gets warmer than 20°C even at the peak of summer (our normal body temperature is 37°C). And UK inland waters can be as low as zero in winter – a true cold water therapy!

The good news is that it’s pretty easy to get used to UK water temperatures in the UK, if you swim outdoors regularly. As with cold showers and baths, a big part of acclimatising to the cold temperature is mental, not physical – you just need to ‘get over it’ and embrace it!

So, what do you need to know to get started safely?

If you don’t fancy going it alone, there are wild swimming clubs and groups you can join in many parts of the country – a quick Google should find one in your area.

Firstly, as with the bath and shower options, unless you’re used to it, always get into cold water slowly and carefully (sudden exposure to cold water results in a ‘gasp reflex’, which makes you inhale the water). Once you’re in, keep your feet on the bottom and increase your exposure gradually. Splash some water on your hands and face. Don’t start swimming until you’ve got your breathing under control, which usually takes 1-2 minutes. 

Especially if you’re new to this, stay close to shore. Staying in too long can cause cold incapacitation, where your surface blood vessels constrict to preserve your core temperature. This means that your arms and legs become weak, stiff and numb due to the reduced blood flow to your extremities. If you find you can’t touch the tip of your second finger to your thumb, you are cold incapacitated, which will make it difficult to get yourself back to shore if you’ve gone out too far.

The cold will feel very uncomfortable at first, but stick with it. Try setting yourself small goals, like swimming to a particular (nearby) rock or tree. Then build up gradually as you get used to it and become more confident. In a few minutes your circulation will start pumping and you’ll start to feel alive!

How we can develop acceptance

I recently had emergency surgery – on Christmas Day. This was completely out of the blue. I was well up until the point I was suddenly not well and had to be opened up on the operating table, my life in the hands of the surgeons. 

In the days after the surgery I felt traumatised. Physically initially, but my body recovered quickly. What surprised me most was the emotional trauma. It’s a subject we don’t often talk about. I thought I would feel relieved after the operation; optimistic, hopeful, grateful. A great opportunity to learn another life lesson and practice all the self care tools I know. 

To be fair, I did have moments of positivity, but these were fleeting. 

In actual fact, I was on the opposite end of the spectrum of those positive feelings. Worthlessness, despair, hopelessness; this is unfair; I’m not good enough; shock, disappointment, shame. So many thoughts and feelings took me on a steep rollercoaster downwards. 

Fortunately, previous life challenges have taught me that there is no moving forward until you accept where you are. Only when you find your current location can you get directions to where you want to be. 

So the first step is acceptance of where you are and what you feel.

What is acceptance?

Acceptance is being willing to be vulnerable. It is turning inward, courageously facing our feelings and asking ourselves ‘How do I feel in this moment?’

It’s the bravery of staying to listen to the answer, and experiencing the feelings that come up. These feelings shouldn’t be suppressed, they should be allowed to rise up, so you physically feel the emotions in your body.

Our feelings can be difficult and uncomfortable to sit with. In fact, they can feel like all sorts of unpleasant sensations in both the mind and the body, including aching, pain, nausea and anxiety, to name a few. But developing awareness of your feelings means you can acknowledge them and know what you are dealing with. 

Acceptance is being willing to be vulnerable. It is turning inward, courageously facing our feelings and asking ourselves ‘How do I feel in this moment?’

Try not to suppress your feelings, because when we do that, we will often find that they bubble up at some point, whether we want them to or not.

Accept what you feel. Accept the situation. Don’t try to change anything; don’t try to find the positive or the lesson. 

Just accept. 

Develop the skill of acceptance

Regularly practising an acceptance meditation for 10 minutes a day can help develop the skill of acceptance. 

Try these words:

“I accept this moment in time.”

“I accept how I feel.”

“I have the courage to accept myself just as I am.”

“I am brave and can accept how I feel.”

“I am being gentle on myself and learning to accept how I feel.”

“Being here, as I am, is good enough.”

Over time the feeling of a weight being lifted off your shoulders will replace the heaviness of difficult emotions. 

Just to warn you, it is still a rollercoaster: you can practice acceptance, move forward and then the next day a new emotion or memory takes you on a steep ride downward. 

But overall you will still be moving forward.


Meditations you might find useful:

Meditation for Acceptance

Meditation to stay calm and boost the immune system

Meditation for healing

Simple morning routines to make you feel healthier, stronger and happier

morning routines

Have you got a morning routine?

Everyone has a morning routine of some sort. I presume you go to the toilet and brush your teeth etc every morning! Well, that’s a routine. It’s easy to forget these are routines, because you do them so often they become mindless habits.

And that is the secret to success that so many people have: they decide what daily action will serve them well, and then they repeat it so often it becomes a healthy habit.

What you don’t want is a morning routine that feels like an endless chore list!
You want a routine that will increase the chance of you having a good day; a day where you are not controlled by symptoms; where you are in control of your mind and your body.

Decide what you can add to your morning routine that will mean you start (and end!) the day feeling like the best version of you.

You need to decide what you can add in to your morning routine that will mean you start (and end!) the day feeling like the best version of you.

Simple morning routines you can try

Try adding in these two things to your morning routine and see how they make you feel:

1. Leave a pint of water next to your bed before you go to sleep. As soon as you wake, drink it all.

2. Then, before you get up, spend two minutes repeating these health affirmations:
“I am happy. I am healthy. I am strong. I am grateful for what my body can do for me.”

Try doing these two things daily for the next few days and see what difference it makes to how you feel.

How to add new things into your routine with ease

If you find it difficult to add new things to your morning routine, try and add them to the things you already do. My two examples above work in this way, as they are both connected to waking up.

When you tie new, healthy routines to things you already do without thinking – such as doing some stretches or light exercises while you are getting dressed – you’re more likely to stick at them.

The longer you keep at it, the easier it will get for these things to become your normal routine – and the happier your start to the days will be.

And the longer you keep at it, the easier it will get for these things to become your normal routine – and the happier your start to the days will be.

Start tomorrow and plan for a good day!


Want to add meditation to you daily routine? You can find my free meditations here or on my YouTube channel.

Social prescribing: The power of art in health

Social prescribing - the power of art in health

Early on in the pandemic I treated a gentleman in his 80s who had recovered from Covid-19. But despite recovering, and not having much in the way of lingering physical symptoms, he told me he just ‘didn’t feel right’. 

On further exploration, it turned out he thought he was going to die. 

That was the message he had understood from all the media he had been exposed to: that old people die from Covid-19. He had prepared to die, made sure his affairs were in order and felt ready. Once he was better though, he didn’t feel like himself anymore. Actually, what had happened is that he had lost his sense of purpose, and felt disconnected. 

When that happens to a person, it’s not pharmaceuticals that are needed. Although medicines can help us live longer, they often don’t create a feeling of being alive – that vitality we should all have.  This is where social prescribing comes into its own.

The power of social prescribing

As you may already know, my role during the Covid-19 pandemic was to be the medical lead for our health board’s temporary field hospital – and this man inspired me to improve my holistic care of patients with this new, unknown infection. I realised that I needed to help my patient evoke emotions, thoughts, memories and feelings. 

I needed to help him reconnect to society. 

This is the power of social prescribing: doctors prescribing community groups, activities, hobbies, mindfulness, meditation and exercise. This patient in particular enjoyed art, and told me how he felt when he looked at a particular painting of his. 

That was my lightbulb moment. This was an opportunity to bring a holistic approach to caring for patients and to shine a spotlight on the talents of other people in our community who improve people’s wellbeing. 

Art can be a powerful part of rehabilitation for the mind, body and spirit.

Fortunately, we have a fantastic Arts in Health team, who were keen to help develop my vision. They ran with it with such enthusiasm – and it was so helpful to me to feel their support. They shared their talent and turned an idea into a beautiful (and colorful!) reality. The artists volunteered their time to create wall murals designed to evoke positivity and happiness. They are a real wellbeing boost.

The National Museum of Wales have also been extremely generous in donating a collection of art from across the Cwm Taf Morgannwg Health Board area. 

Our aim is to create:

An interactive art gallery, where patients can walk for physical rehabilitation, while the paintings trigger memories and emotions for mind and spirit rehabilitation. 

Interactive sessions with patients. Our Arts in Health team and the art curators at the museum will also run interactive sessions with patients to support them in appreciating the art, and we plan on hosting art therapy classes for both patients and staff. 

An outdoor mindful art trail in the holistic garden space. We all know that spending time connecting to nature and breathing in fresh air is a simple and effective wellbeing boost. We have been very fortunate to have received recycled benches and chairs from plastic waste. They are beautiful in black and very comfortable. (A few of us on the team are eco warriors, and keen on focusing on the environmental factors and sustainability of healthcare.)

Creating an environment that supports wellness and healing

The combination of world class NHS care and the skills and talent of artists is a powerful force that can empower patients in their own journey to wellness. We can aim for a bespoke service for each patient that connects them to what makes them feel good emotionally, as well as physically.

We are creating an environment that supports wellness and healing. (Enough of the clinical white walls and more colour from now on, please!)

What are the benefits of Colonic Hydrotherapy?

In the interest of being an authentic integrated doctor that believes in western and alternative medicine complementing each other, I figured I needed to put my money where my mouth is (or rather my bottom!) is, and have colonic hydrotherapy.

Recently, I have felt increasingly fatigued (yet not sleeping well) more stressed, and I’ve been craving sugary, beige foods. My weight has gone up. I feel this is due to stress as opposed to any other undiagnosed cause.

This therapy is also known as colonic irrigation or (both amusingly and worryingly) a ‘botty blaster’. At this point I would like to state that I have never heard the term ‘botty blaster’ being used at any point during my colorectal surgical rotation as a junior doctor!

Where’s the evidence for colonic hydrotherapy?

The gut being our ‘second brain’ is something I hear frequently, and gut health seems to be the hot topic. So it seemed pure common sense to give my gut a good spring clean.

Apparently, though, there isn’t enough good evidence to support the effects of colonic hydrotherapy. I didn’t bother to read any studies, as I expected that the conclusion would be the same as always: “Better and bigger research needs to be done.” All I know is, everyone who I know has had a colonic has felt great afterwards, and has continued to have them.

Apparently Princess Diana, along with many celebs, was a fan of the colonic. The anecdotal evidence of a miraculous sense of wellbeing, mental clarity, bright skin, instant weight loss and enhanced energy make it appealing.

(Then the mental picture of an elephant trunk spraying water up your bum makes you feel you’ve actually grown attached to the brain fog, dull skin, cravings and bloating!).

The anecdotal evidence of a miraculous sense of wellbeing, mental clarity, bright skin, instant weight loss and enhanced energy make it appealing.

I have long been open to trying all sorts of methods to combat stress, on top of my usual REVIVE methods of rest, exercise, visualise, intake, vitality and environment.

Now it was time to pull out the big guns: the hosepipe.

It’s a serious case of FOMO when you haven’t washed your car in a good couple of months, but do book in for a washout of a self cleansing organ.

My concerns before booking in for colonic hydrotherapy

Before having the therapy, I had a few concerns…

  • Would it actually feel like an elephant trunk spraying water up my rectum?
  • Would the water pressure burst my bowel?
  • Could the water pressure be so high that everything could spray out of my mouth?!
  • If something did go wrong, would I be able to pull off the classic and often used line “I slipped and fell on it doc”?

All worthwhile worries, I felt.

However, the promises of youthful skin, sparkly eyes, plentiful energy, weight loss, reduced cravings, restful sleep and reduced stress was too appealing. I booked myself in and didn’t look back (or down).

What it’s actually like having colonic hydrotherapy

Dr Talwar was immediately welcoming and exuded a calm, caring energy. He is 75 years young but looked at least 10 years younger (crediting regular colonics for his youthfulness). He was also very positive and happy. Whatever he was on I wanted, so he is a good advert for his own clinic!

A retired GP, now solely practicing alternative medicine, he told me how busy he is providing colonic hydrotherapy. He continues to offer the service due to how impactful the therapy is on his clients. He wholeheartedly believes in its therapeutic value and the varied benefits it offers. For £60 (he has not increased his prices since the day he started) it’s an absolute steal if it does result in all the listed benefits.

Whatever he was on I wanted, so he is a good advert for his own clinic!

Fortunately, I don’t suffer with any digestive symptoms so I wasn’t expecting any revelations there, although Dr Talwar promised I wouldn’t be craving those sugary carbs anymore, so that would be a plus.

My main motivation was seeing if colonics reduce stress and improve energy. I didn’t want to miss out on the secret of healthful youthfulness either, so I gladly hopped on the bed after completing the usual standard consultation questions, removing everything from my waist down and donning a disposable gown. Dr Talwar explained everything and what was to come, and appeared so excited about how good I was about to feel that I was quite looking forward to it at that point!

I lay on my left side while Dr Talwar inserted the clear plastic hosepipe. This is where my breathing exercises came in very handy! I also felt this was karma for all the times I’ve performed rectal exams on my patients (although my fingers are considerably smaller than that pipe!). To be fair, it wasn’t painful. Then the water was turned on. I tried to keep relaxed and focused on Dr Talwar’s small talk.

He uses a closed system with disposable equipment. This means there is no mess, no smell, and no noise. Everything goes through the tube. I didn’t realise there was any other option, but apparently an open system is common, with water being pumped in and everything basically exploding out of the anus. (Apparently this gives a good sense of relief. It certainly doesn’t sound like my kind of thing, but who am I to judge – especially with a hosepipe firmly inserted in my rectum!)

He used a closed system with disposable equipment. This means there is no mess, no smell, and no noise.

Dr Talwar enthusiastically proclaimed that his clinic is the first and only clinic to use a mirror, so that patients can actually see what’s pouring out of the tube. He encouraged me to keep watch, so I could see all the stress physically disappearing out of me. You’d think you wouldn’t want to watch, but it turns out it’s one of those things you can’t peel your eyes away from. Or perhaps I just felt desperate for a sign it would be over soon, like an aeroplane flying a flag that reads ‘The end, it’s empty, all over’ flying out of my colon.

As the water filled me up it gave a sensation of cramping discomfort. Not pain by any means, but certainly uncomfortable, with a sense of wanting to be on the toilet (alone!). Dr Talwar stayed throughout the therapy, pumping the water to mimic the peristalsis of the gut and intermittently massaging my abdomen. After about 45 minutes it was over. You might think it would be awkward to have someone water your insides for 45 minutes, but actually Dr Talwar has such a caring and healing manner that I think it is likely to be a more effective procedure because it is performed by him.

Finally we exchanged pleasantries and I was given a course of probiotics to replenish my gut – and booked in for a repeat therapy in 4 weeks. After that I was advised to have it every 3 months.

The results

That night I slept really well. The next morning I weighed 4lb less, and my cravings were definitely reduced, so that was a good result for me. I also felt that my skin looked brighter and my energy more positive.

Interestingly, post-colonic I found could run for 40 minutes without stopping (this is quite an achievement for me). Usually it takes me a good few weeks to build up my endurance for running anything over 20 minutes. This was a notable change to my usual running ability. Was it the colonic? I haven’t done any running lately, and barely any exercise at all, so it wasn’t down to recent training. (Before anyone thinks I needed to run more due to reduce bowel control, that was not the case. I ran more because I just felt I could!! More of that please!)

Post-colonic I found could run for 40 minutes without stopping. This was a notable change to my usual running ability.

Did I enjoy it? Not particularly. I didn’t feel that instant sense of relief that lots of people report but I guess that must be for people who do suffer with constipation.

Do I feel better? Yes. Every day I focus on the lifestyle measures I need to support my health and wellbeing, but the colonic hydrotherapy was a new intervention and I did feel healthier, with more energy and the urge to eat healthier foods. I do feel I look less tired and my skin looks brighter.

Will I go again? Yes. I figure I need to keep trialling this intervention to see if it gives me continued benefits.

What was I most surprised about? How many people I know who are closet colonic goers!


Here is the link to Dr Talwar’s clinic:

Tried and tested: Using flotation therapy for deep relaxation

flotation therapy

What is flotation therapy? I share my first experience at Float in the Forest

I had never heard of flotation therapy before, but just the words ‘float in the forest’ were met by enthusiastic  ‘I am in!’ response from me. Turns out this isn’t a new fad; it’s been around for years. It was invented in the 1950s by neuroscientist Dr John Lilly, and has been the basis of fascinating research.

It’s thought to have both mental and physical benefits, and is a simple way to induce deep relaxation.

Fortunately, I have a friend who knows me well enough to spot an experience that is right up my street – and the good sense to buy it for me as a gift (thank you, Rhian!). Rhian met the beautiful soul that is Shari at an event, where she told her all about the recently opened Float in the Forest, a floating centre in the Forest of Dean. Rhian must have heard the word ‘relaxation’ and thought ‘I know a friend who’s into that!’

It’s thought to have both mental and physical benefits, and is a simple way to induce deep relaxation.

What to expect from a floatation tank experience

We were greeted by Shari and Will, who were fantastic hosts and ooze calming energy. Their tour and explanation of the floating tanks was so reassuring and answered all our questions.

Basically, you get an hour in a tank of perfect temperature water that’s denser than the Dead Sea. There’s calming music to start, but then silence. Beautiful calming colours of light can fill the tank, but the advised way to experience it is in pitch black. Of course we took expert advice, so enjoyed our floatation experience with no light or sound.

Will you feel claustrophobic? And other concerns…

I was wary that an hour may be too long, and that I might get too hot. I always think a bath is a good idea, but then I can just about stick it for 10 minutes. I was worried I might feel the same in the tank. But surprising as it may sound, this is NOTHING like a bath. It was the perfect temperature and an hour passed by in a flash.

Ian was worried he might get claustrophobic, but the size of the tank is similar to being inside a spacious car, so he did not feel any anxious thoughts about lack of space. (For anyone with true claustrophobia, the tank door can be left open throughout). Also the complete darkness and floating result in having no perception of where your body is in space.

It was the perfect temperature and an hour passed by in a flash. The complete darkness and floating result in having no perception of where your body is in space.

The benefits of flotation therapy

The absence of any external stimuli led to an unparalleled level of relaxation.  It was exactly like some of my experiences during a deep state of meditation, but with no effort required. It felt like a journey to another dimension, or what I imagine being in outer space would be like (but without any uncomfortable astronaut gear, or fear of lack of oxygen!).

It gave me a huge sense of wellbeing, happiness and gratitude, and was a fantastic opportunity for uninterrupted solitary reflection and to gain perspective. I felt focused on manifesting my goals and experienced clarity like never before. As the music gently came on to signal the end of our session, I couldn’t help but burst into laughter, I was feeling such joy and positivity.

I couldn’t help but burst into laughter, I was feeling such joy and positivity.

As I stepped out of the tank I had an overwhelming sense of being purified. I felt completely healthy in mind, body and spirit. I wish everyone could experience floating, as I know now how beneficial it can be.

If only this was available on prescription!

Find out more at

The science behind meditation

What’s the science behind meditation?

Meditation has caught the interest of the scientific, community sparking considerable excitement as more and more evidence of its benefits are recognised. But what’s the science behind meditation?

The 1990’s, known as the ‘decade of the brain’, saw an increasing amount of scientific evidence supporting the beneficial effects of meditation. It has been shown to have a measurable beneficial effect on both the brain and the body.

The science bit

Neurons transmit brain waves. These change depending on our thoughts, feelings and activity, and can be measured using an electroencephalogram.

Delta waves (1-3 Hz) are low, slow frequency brain waves. They are associated with deep, dreamless sleep. Theta waves (4-8 Hz) are known as the creativity waves. They are highly active in 2-5 year olds, the age at which we are most imaginative. In adults, they are seen in deep relaxation, meditation, dreaming and mental imagery. Alpha waves (9-13 Hz) are seen in relaxed wakefulness and in meditative states.

As a person meditates the waves slow and an increase in alpha waves is seen. Enhanced levels of alpha and theta waves signify relaxed alertness and are conducive to mental health.

Beta waves (14-30 Hz) are seen in awake, alert consciousness. These are fast waves and the more stressed we become, the more intense these beta waves become. Gamma waves (40-70 Hz) are the fastest brain waves. They allow a simultaneous passing of information from different brain areas and rapid processing of information.

As a person meditates the waves slow and an increase in alpha waves is seen. As a deeper state of meditation is reached there is an increase in theta waves. Enhanced levels of alpha and theta waves signify relaxed alertness and are conducive to mental health.

How meditation affects the brain

New neurons develop in the brain in response to experience (this is called neuroplasticity), and meditation has this effect.

MRI studies show that there following meditation there are changes in the areas involved in attention, executive functions and memory. There is better emotional regulation and reduced amygdala (the fear centre) reactivity seen on fMRI.

Numerous studies show that the structure of the brain is altered by meditation. Regional cerebral blood flow is enhanced to the areas of the brain responsible for executive function.

Meditation leads to improved memory, and an enhanced ability to cultivate positive emotions and retain emotional stability.

Meditation has also been shown to slow brain atrophy and increase cortical thickness. Increased grey matter in the the frontal and hippocampal areas of the brain following meditation lead to improved memory, and an enhanced ability to cultivate positive emotions and retain emotional stability.

Wider benefits of meditation

Benefits are also seen within the body, right down to cellular level. Meditation improves overall health and immune system function. A trial measuring the effects of a three month meditation retreat on the activity of the Telomerase enzyme, which is linked with improved cell longevity, confirmed a significant greater activity in retreat participants. This essentially means that when we practice meditation we do not age as quickly or become prone to disease so early.

Benefits are seen within the body, right down to cellular level. Meditation improves overall health and immune system function.

Meditation and the immune system

Another trial showed improved immune system function and less stress response in participants. Meditation was even shown to be better than exercise in its ability to improve our immune system against the cold virus!

Mediation, blood pressure and heart function

Blood pressure has also been shown to reduce during a trial comparing an 8 week mindfulness meditation to health education talks. Participants were similar in both groups, but randomised to each intervention. A significant reduction in blood pressure was seen in those practicing meditation after 8 weeks.

A statement from the American Heart Association following a study of over 400 trials is that meditation possibly reduces cardiovascular disease risk and so can be added to patient management, given the low risk of harm.

Meditation and mental health

Mental health can be improved with meditation. Stress, anxiety and depression is reduced, resulting in improved quality of life.

There is also a benefit in cancer survivors with a brief meditation program leading to less stress and less inflammation response within the body.

Benefits to both mind and body

Meditation appears to have benefits to both mind and body, as well as enhancing a sense of wellbeing and purpose in life.

Given the low cost and low risk of harm, it’s an exciting possibility that this can be implemented in anyone’s life and result in benefit. More research is currently being done, with better quality trials, and so the future is full of promising evidence.

A positive conclusion to a positive practice!


Want to explore meditation? Read my beginner’s guide on How to Meditate.

You can also listen to my free meditations here.

How meditation can improve your health and wellbeing

How meditation can improve your health and wellbeing

How meditation can improve your health and wellbeing

Over the last decade, there has been a significant increase in the interest in the beneficial effects of meditation, particularly in the scientific community. So how exactly can meditation improve your health and wellbeing?

What is meditation?

Meditation is a practice of quiet contemplation, in which we can reflect inward and be anchored in the present moment. There are many variations on how meditation is practiced, but all have been shown to result in benefits (and none have been shown to cause harm).

Benefits are seen to the mind, body and spirit.

The positive effects of meditation include improvements in memory, concentration, attention and problem-solving skills, as well as emotional regularity.

Meditation promotes wellbeing by fostering cognitive and emotional functioning. The positive effects that are achieved during meditation extend to daily life – such as improvements in memory, concentration, attention and problem-solving skills, as well as emotional regularity – are well documented.

Meditation and stress

Roughly half a million people in the UK suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17,  leading to 12.5 million working days lost. This leads to lost output for employers and the self-employed of £33.4 — £43.0 billion per year, and lost tax/ national insurance revenue to the public purse of £10.8 — £14.4 billion per year.

Meditation relieves stress in a safe and effective manner.

Clearly, there is a significant effect on the British economy; however, there is also a serious impact on the individual’s health and wellbeing. Stress increases the risk of mental health problems and is a risk factor for many diseases. Meditation relieves stress in a safe and effective manner.

Meditation, sleep and concentration

Insomnia is a serious problem. Lack of sleep is linked with poorer health and reduced lifespan. It also can cause daytime somnolence, which increases risk of accidents and reduces productivity in work. Meditation improves the quality of sleep by calming our thoughts and keeping us relaxed for longer.

Concentration is also improved with regular meditation. This is because our ability to focus is developed. We then have a clear thinking pattern and are not disturbed by random thoughts – and if we are better at concentrating, we are much more efficient and productive. I believe that because of this, meditation leads to better time management (and so the old adage of ‘not enough time to meditate’ does not make sense!).

Meditation, mood and addiction

Meditation also promotes happiness and reduces depressive and anxiety symptoms.

This is because when we meditate we focus on gratitude – and because meditation brings perspective on one’s fluctuating feelings. Meditation encourages us to look for the positive in a situation and learn from difficult experiences.

Meditation promotes happiness and reduces depression and anxiety.

Addictions have been shown to lessen with regular meditation. The need for escapism and an instant reduction in stress is reduced, and so a detachment is developed from the addiction.

Meditation, inflammation and the nervous system

Meditation triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the ‘rest and digest’ or ‘feed and breed’ system. This reduces breathing rate, blood pressure, heart rate, encourages healing and digestion.

Professor Herbert Benson was one of the first scientists to show that meditation relieves stress by triggering a measurable relaxation response. His findings show meditation neutralises the ‘fight or flight’ response, inducing the relaxation response.

Meditation reduces the amount of inflammation we have in our bodies, and improves our immune system function. This means we are less likely to develop disease and we can also fight off infections quicker.

More and more research is being published showing the beneficial effects of meditation on the body, right down to a cellular level. It has been proven that meditation can make our cells live longer in a healthier state. It also reduces the amount of inflammation we have in the body and improves our immune system function. This means we are less likely to develop disease and we can also fight off infections quicker. It can therefore lead us to live a longer, healthier life. Again, ‘not enough time to meditate does not make sense when meditation is the only thing that can make us live longer so ultimately, give us more time!

Meditation and the heart

There is also evidence that meditation reduces heart disease by reducing blood pressure and cholesterol. It also reduces pain in chronic pain conditions and benefits have been shown in cancer suffers and so the NHS often encourage meditation for patients with these conditions.

Meditation, physical appearance and ageing

Obesity is serious problem in the UK, with weight-related diseases becoming more prevalent. The hormone Cortisol is released in response to stress. Cortisol causes a craving for food, particularly fat and sugary carbohydrates. This in turn leads to more food intake and resulting weight increase. Most people will have heard of this as ‘comfort eating’. Cortisol levels are reduced with regular meditation and so leads to better weight control.

The skin is much better with meditation. The British School of Meditation actually state that meditation can make you look up to 10 years younger. This does make sense when we know that more stress make our cells die more quickly, so we age quicker. Meditation helps protect us from this process.

Brain imaging has proved that meditation changes the structure of the brain. Growth is seen in the areas involved in executive functions, emotion regulation, attention and memory. This is promising for those who are at risk of age-related cognitive decline, as it suggests that meditation can slow this.

Meditation as a spiritual practice

Regular meditation can enhance one’s sense of being spiritual and connected to source energy. Although it can be a secular practice, it is often part of many religious practices and can lead to a sense of enlightenment. With experience, meditators can feel a deeper connection to their surroundings and in their relationships with others. A sense of ‘oneness’ is felt. It brings a sense of purpose in life and increased self-actualisation.

Meditation brings a sense of purpose in life and increased self-actualisation.

A greater understanding and awareness of one’s thoughts is developed, and so these can be steered to more constructive patterns. Meditation also deepens our capacity for love and compassion. It enriches life and allows us to truly experience it.

The benefits of meditation

The benefits of meditation are vast and only a few are described here. The scientific community are publishing more evidence to prove the positive effects on the human body all the time, and so it is hoped that this will encourage more people to practice it regularly.


Want to explore meditation? Read my beginner’s guide on How to Meditate.

You can also listen to my free meditations here.

Harnessing the Power of Meditation to Quit Smoking

Dr Lisa Thomas is a GP in South Wales who believes in the power of meditation to help smokers quit the habit. Having trained with the British School of Meditation she now prescribes meditation for her patients and has even set up her own YouTube channel Revive Prescribed Meditation. ASH Wales met Lisa to find out more about how meditating can help smokers to quit the habit .

1. As a GP, what do you think are the main barriers smokers face when trying to quit?

I work all over South Wales but mainly in the deprived communities of the valleys. There continues to be a high level of smoking that is in stark contrast to the city of Cardiff, where I live. We know it is much harder to quit a habit when you are surrounded by it. I have whole families who smoke and live in confined spaces together or near each other and so young children grow up in environments where it is normal to smoke. We need a cultural shift in these communities so it is not normalised. There is also a mindset problem where I find patients have tried numerous methods in the past and because it didn’t work before, they feel there is no point trying this method again. They have a ‘hopeless’ mentality or a fear of failure so often trying to convince them to try or try again is tough. Unfortunately, the saddest thing I hear and hear frequently is ‘smoking is the only thing I enjoy in life’. They use it as escapism from stress. This is where I try to use meditation and mindfulness to replace that as a stress reliever and teach them how to find joy in their lives as it is.

2. Can you explain how meditation can help smokers to quit the habit?

Current scientific research suggests that meditation can aid smoking cessation. Abstinence, decreased number of cigarettes smoked, lower intensity of cravings and changes in attitude regards smoking are all observed in the results of trials. The evidence is promising despite the limitations of the studies and so more research is being done. Neuro-imaging data shows current smokers have less activity in the brain cells in the areas of the brain associated with attentional and cognitive control. Meditation reduces impulsivity, reduces reactivity to smoking cues and enhances a person’s awareness of their thought patterns and behaviours. It increases cognitive control and enables them to make better, positive choices. It is also a method to cope with stress and enhances mood and quality of life. Another positive aspect of meditation as a smoking cessation aid is that it does not come with the stigma of being ‘on a treatment’ that prevent some people from seeking help.

3. Is there enough awareness among smokers of how meditation can help them to quit?

No! Most of my patients have never heard of meditation, let alone its ability to help them stop smoking. There is a lack of meditation classes available to them locally hence why I have given them access to free videos to watch when they need it. A few have heard of hypnosis to stop smoking but most can’t afford that service.

4. How easy is it for a person to meditate if they have never tried before? Does it become more effective with practice?

Meditation is simple but it is certainly not easy! It is often referred to as a meditation practice because practice is key to learning this skill. Just like learning the piano, you would not expect to be a concert pianist without endless practice and the same is true for meditation. It needs to be incorporated in to your day to day routine to become a lifelong habit. Results won’t be seen immediately, the same being true for any new skill or therapy. Patience and persistence will soon lead to improvements in the meditation experience and then benefits become noticeable. It does become more effective with time and most research shows benefits after at least 8 weeks of regular commitment. There are plenty of classes, apps, books or online videos these days. I advise my patients to start with a 10 minute guided meditation, daily.

5.  As a GP you prescribe meditation for your patients. What are the main health and wellbeing benefits of meditation?

There is considerable excitement in the scientific field as more and more evidence of the benefits of meditation are recognised. It has measurable beneficial effects on the brain and the body. Most people are aware that it reduces stress, alleviates anxiety and improves depression. However, it also improves physical health as well as mental wellbeing. Meditation leads to neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to develop new nerve cells. Numerous studies show that the structure of the brain is altered leading to improved function. This is promising in clinical conditions associated with reducing brain size, such as dementia. On MRI scans, less activity is seen in the fear centre of the brain, resulting in better emotional regulation. Blood flow is also enhanced to areas of the brain responsible for executive function. Benefits are also seen right down to a cellular level. Meditation improves cell longevity. This essentially means we do not age as quickly or become prone to disease so early. There is improved immune system function, less inflammation and less stress response within the body. Meditation was also even shown to be better than exercise in it’s ability to improve our immune system against the cold virus. It is well known that meditation reduces stress and it has been proven to induce our parasympathetic nervous system leading to reduced heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure and encourages healing and digestion. It is also beneficial in cancer patients to improve symptom control and patients with chronic pain to help alleviate the severity of pain experienced. All studies report enhanced quality of life as a result of regular meditation. Ultimately, this is what everyone wants and everyone deserves.

6. Can you give some examples of how meditation has improved the health and wellbeing of your patients?

I have had such good feedback from patients who have improved their health and wellbeing through the regular practice of meditation as part of the lifestyle medicine I prescribe. Examples include stopping smoking, feeling less pain and therefore requiring less pain medications, reduced anxiety and depression and improved blood pressure control. I also have cancer patients who feel their quality of life is improved just by practicing a meditation for 10 minutes a day. Many patients are able to reduce medications or stop them and they become more motivated to control their health with other positive lifestyle changes. Meditation can be used as part of the treatment of any condition. I was honoured to be nominated by patients and win the RCGP GP of the Year Wales 2018 second runner up award for my work running lifestyle medicine workshops. I guide them in meditation practice and provide information regarding evidence based lifestyle interventions for improved health along with exercise and cooking sessions. It was great to see what impact this work has had on the lives of these patients and that has boosted my motivation to help more people.

7. What future plans do you have for Revive Prescribed and how do you hope to continue to work with smokers in future?

My plan is to develop my website to continually have up to date information regarding the evidence backing the use of meditation as a healing tool. I want to provide free guided meditation so that money is not a barrier to health and wellbeing and try to reach as many people as I can. These will be available on my YouTube channel so that people can use these at their leisure. I truly believe that having the right mindset and attitude is essential to improving health and that is why I believe meditation and it’s ability to enhance our awareness of our thought patterns and choices is a powerful tool that everyone should have access too. Of course, I will continue to spread the message about lifestyle medicine to the patients I see in surgery and use this as routine healthcare. I have a few speaking engagements coming up so that will provide further opportunities to educate my medical colleagues in this field. It has been great to see so many of my medical colleagues being open minded to learning more about using meditation in healthcare. When it comes to specifically helping my patients who smoke; it’s important for me to be working in partnership with other smoking cessation services. It will enhance my ability to signpost my patients to the most suitable option for them so I am keen to build connections in the community as I believe in the power of social prescribing.