My 2019 Review – MENTAL & PHYSICAL HEALTH 💪

Hello fine reader(s) (Hi mum) and welcome to my brand new blog, Clear-air Turbulence. If you’re wondering what it’s all about, please review my about page. Otherwise I sincerely hope you enjoy my very his first series of posts – a very personal review of my 2019. 

The first post will look at my health, both mental and physical. Following that I’ll review my career, writing and other work related projects, then family, home and travel, and finally finances, insurance and charity. A follow up post will outline my goals and pledges for the coming year. 

I should add that two simple questions drive my thoughts in these posts. These are:

What went well?

What could I do better?


MENTAL & PHYSICAL HEALTH 💪 

MENTAL HEALTH

I can say without a shadow of doubt, the greatest personal victory for me has been getting a handle on my personal struggles with depression and anxiety. It’s something I’ve been reluctant to share with most anyone for a long time. Honestly I’m apprehensive about bringing it up now, but I believe the time has come – as part of this journey – to put those demons to bed. To talk about it publicly is testament to that. I’m not afraid, or perhaps better said, I’m no longer afraid to be afraid. To be openly vulnerable is a strength not a weakness. I understand this now. 

One day I hope to share my story in depth and with a greater audience, but for now I’ll just open up by saying, I had a problem. One that has set me back for a long time. As anyone who has suffered with the same knows, it feels like you’re drowning silently. I should stress, I was never at the extreme end of the spectrum – always fit to fly if you, the reader, are in any way concerned – but that I definitely needed help. And it was help that I put off getting for a very, very long time. The personal victory that I’m most proud of this year is as simple as that (although I can assure for anyone who suffers, it is far from a simple act) – asking for and getting help. 

In doing so and working with my therapist, and on my own, I’ve come far further in four short months than I ever dreamed possible. The knock on effects have been significant influencing almost every aspect of my life. That’s not to say the journey is over – I guess it never will be – but I’ve certainly turned a corner. For the first time in a long while I’m genuinely excited about what the future has in store.

So, how exactly has this breakthrough changed my day to day life? Let’s break it down. 

ROUTINE and SLEEP

I’ve worked hard on perfecting my day to day routines over the last half year – in the process cementing a number of positive habits that has had a profound effect on my general mood, motivation and productivity. Not only have I been far more consistent in going through my morning routine, the implementation of an evening routine (as recommended by my therapist) has, among a number of other benefits, helped improve my relationship to sleep tremendously. Listed below is a breakdown of my current morning and evening routines in detail for any interested readers. (Side note: I am always looking to improve, tinker and expand upon it). 

Morning routine:

#1 Wake up – Drink a glass of water and make my bed first thing! (This sets the tone). 

#2 Go to the bathroom – brush my teeth and weigh myself. 

#3 Change into workout clothes – then Meditate for 10 – 20 mins without fail!

#4 Exercise for 5mins (if nothing else) to 1 hour (usually 30-40mins of HIT or Weights/Strength training)

#5 Shower, groom and get changed into my best clothes. 

#6 Make lunch – low carb/high protein -(I usually skip breakfast as part of my fasting window in which I only eat during a block of 8 hours a day) with coffee or tea. 

#7 Go to Office -review my day plan/goals and write in my 5 minute journal (5MJ for short).  

#8 Write or work for 1 hour. (Sometimes in the chaos of playing with my boy or doing other things I’ll ear-mark a period in the afternoon- usually when my son has his nap – for work and/or writing ✍️). 

Evening routine:

#1 Have dinner as a family at the table – mention one thing you’re grateful for today and one thing you could have done better (works well as a conversation starter).

#2 After dinner – run through Liam’s bed time routine and put him to bed. 

#3 Go to the office immediately after and write tomorrow’s plan/goals and also in my 5MJ. 

#4 Shower and change into pyjamas. 

#5 Make a cup of tea to enjoy on the couch – watch some TV/play games (Limit to 1 hour or 1 movie) and/or read. 

#6 Stretch (while watching TV) or 30 mins of Yoga. 

#7 Brush teeth then go to bed with Holly – TALK TO EACH OTHER EVERY NIGHT WITHOUT FAIL! (How have you been doing today? Are you OK? What are some things you have been thinking about or are bothering you?)

#8 Reading. 

#9 Evening meditation (visualisation) then sleep. 

MEDITATION🧘‍♂️ 

Meditation has been an enormously helpful tool for me. I’ve been meditating on and off for years, but have always struggled with consistency. I now rate it as the most important thing to do and prioritise as such making it the first thing I do in the morning. Finding that consistency has been crucial in dealing with my issues of depression and anxiety. It is because of this that meditation is a non negotiable item on my morning routine. No matter how rushed I will, at the very least, make time to meditate, even for as litttle as 5 mins. As we approach the end of the year I’m currently on a 100 plus day run streak. I fully intend to meditate every single morning of every single day in 2020. That is one of my pledges for next year. On top of which I want to look into doing a transcendental meditation course as well as attending a silent retreat to further my practise. 

EXERCISE and DIET

Continuing with the topic of health, I’ve been far more consistent with exercise as well, doing so almost every morning. I vary my exercise routines between High Intensity training (HIT), weights or strengthen training and core/mobility work throughout the week. I aim to exercise at least 5 days a week, if not 6, depending on how I feel physically, mindful of my body’s need to rest and recover. 

On top of this I’ve started a routine of intermittent fasting during the week, although I’m less consistent with this. On a perfect day I won’t eat till 12 noon and make sure I don’t eat anything after 8 pm, giving me an 8 hour block in which to eat (16 hour fast). This has proved tricky at times given my job, having to fly at odd hours while constantly managing a shifting body clock, but I’m trying hard to keep this schedule and stay on Hong Kong (home) time. It seems to be working, recovering from trips quicker and feeling less lethargic. This year I’ll try to schedule a few longer fasts from 1 to 3 days every 3 months. I’ve only just begun to learn about the health benefits of fasting but it’s clear they are significant. I will do more research before deciding on the length of my longer fasts for next year. 

In terms of diet I’ve been trying to eat a high protein/low carb diet 6 days a week (Got to have me a cheat day 😋). I’ve also cut down significantly on the amount of alcohol I drink in recent months – mainly as means to improve sleep but also because hangovers and children don’t mix! I now make sure I have one alcohol free week per month on top of at least 4 alcohol free days per week outside of that (unless on holiday of course 😎). As a result of everything I’ve lost a few kilos (from approx 80kg to 77kg) reducing my body fat percentage by 2-3% (from 21% to 18%) while looking leaner and meaner, but most importantly feeling immeasurably better. 

INJURIES and ACTIVITIES

Looking a little closer at what I could do better with regards to improving my overall physical and mental health next year I can think of a few things. Firstly my back continues to bother me as it has done for a number of years now since I injured it 🤕 training for a Marathon in 2014! I think it’s important I keep trying to manage it better. Not to let it get me down as it has in the past! I can, after all, still do all the things I want to physically. That said, I still need to think long term and understand that if I want to remain mobile as I age, I absolutely need to take better care of it. Finding more time to stretch it out – not only after exercise and in the evening as part of my daily routines – but when I’m sitting for any length of time (when writing or at work). GET THE F*** UP AND MOVE even if you’re tired. You’ll regret it if you don’t. Continuing treatment with the physio when I feel it’s necessary and looking to seek treatment with other specialists to see if I can actually mend this pesky problem once and for all are additional plans. 

The other thing I want to look at in 2020 is becoming involved in some kind of activity based hobby such as a martial art🥋, rock climbing or even dancing, that I can carry forward indefinitely. Something that I truly love doing. I’m not sure what this is yet, so goal number 1 in this department will be finding it. To that end, I’ll look to trial a number of activities until one sticks. Perhaps a different thing every week? A good way to do this might be scheduling a new activity before dinner every date night with Holly (seen as we have one, or at least try to, every week).

The Power of Routine in Cementing Habits, Lifting Mood and Increasing Productivity.

“Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.”

― W. H. Auden

I’ve worked hard on perfecting my day to day routines over the last half year – in the process cementing a number of positive habits that has had a profound effect on my general mood, motivation and productivity.

Not only have I been far more consistent in going through my morning routine, the implementation of an evening routine (as recommended by my therapist) has, among a number of other benefits, helped improve my relationship to sleep tremendously.

For those interested readers I have listed a breakdown of my current morning and evening routines in detail below. Hopefully it will serve as inspiration should you be looking to build upon your own morning and evening routines.

My Morning routine:

#1 Wake up – Drink a glass of water and make my bed first thing! (This sets the tone). 

#2 Go to the bathroom – brush my teeth and weigh myself. 

#3 Change into workout clothes – then meditate for 10 – 20 mins without fail!

#4 Exercise for 5mins (if nothing else) to 1 hour (usually 30-40mins of HIT or Weights/Strength trainingFor those interested in doing similar I can highly recommend checking out fitness blender online or via YouTube. They have hundreds of brilliant at-home workouts for all levels, that require nothing more than a yoga mat).

#5 Shower and get changed into my best clothes for the day! 

#6 Make Brunch – low carb/high protein – and take my vitamins (I usually skip breakfast as part of my fasting window in which I only eat during a block of 8 hours a day) with coffee or tea. 

#7 Go to Office –review my day plan/goals and write in my journal. (I keep my journalling very simple – tip hat to Tim Ferris for the inspiration – by asking myself a few questions. Those are: What am I grateful for? What is worrying you most today (and what can i do about it)? What would make today great (how would you spend it if it were your last)?)

#8 Write or work for 1 hour. (Sometimes in the chaos of playing with my boy or doing other things I’ll ear-mark a period in the afternoon- usually when my son has his nap – for work and/or writing ✍️). 

My Evening routine:

#1 Have dinner as a family at the table – mention one thing you’re grateful for today and one thing you could have done better (works well as a conversation starter).

#2 After dinner – run through Liam’s bed time routine and put him to bed. 

#3 Go to the office immediately after and write tomorrow’s plan/goals and also in my journal. (Again I ask myself a few simple questions. Those are: 3 amazing things that happened today? What did you do well? How could i have made today better? What did i learn?)

#4 Shower and change into pyjamas. 

#5 Make a cup of tea to enjoy on the couch – watch some TV/play games (Limit to 1 hour or 1 movie) and/or read. 

#6 Stretch – 30 mins of gentle Yoga (I usually do this while watching TV)

#7 Brush teeth/get ready for bed then TALK TO HOLLY EVERY NIGHT WITHOUT FAIL! (How have you been doing today? Are you OK? What are some things you have been thinking about or are bothering you?)

#8 Reading

#9 Evening meditation (visualisation) then sleep. 

Routine is massively underrated and something I now believe to be so so important.

Some key takeaways… 

Start small and do what you can. On a near perfect day I’ll tick every item off the list but I rarely do. Thats ok. I don’t imagine many would ever be able to run through their routines perfectly, so if you can’t do, for example, 20 mins Meditation then do 10. If you can’t do 10, do 5. If you can’t do 5 (really?) do 1. If all you have time for is 1 push up then just do that. Tick it off and improve the next day. The important thing is to show up. 

Change it to suit your needs on the day. I often have to change the order if I don’t have the time for something like getting in a proper session of exercise. In this case I’ll try reschedule it for the afternoon or count it as my weekly rest day. If it doesn’t get done don’t beat yourself up – simply get on the horse the next day. 

That said I have found that if I do just 3 or 4 out of 8/9 on each list, I’ll have a much better day than having done nothing. For that reason I have a few NON NEGOTIABLE ITEMS.

In the morning these are making the bed and meditating first thing. I also make sure to write in my journal (I’ll do it over breakfast if I’m really pushed for time as it only takes 5 minutes. This is about the same amount of time it takes to brush my teeth, so I feel there are no excuses).

In the evening my non negotiable items are making my plan for the following day and again writing in my journal. Also talking to my wife at the end of the day, if only for 5 minutes. I like to think of these non-negotiable items as my abbreviated MRs and ERs.

If all else about my day fails and turns to complete dog shite, I can at least to go to bed knowing that I’ve done these simple things. I showed up even on a bad day.

With the world in isolation because of the COVID-19 I might add that now is the perfect time to start implementing your own morning and evening routines. Ones that help to build healthier long-term habits to hopefully last far longer than this crisis does.

Notes from my journal – March 2020

Hello fine readers and welcome to my Monthly review! Every day I ask myself the question – What did I learn? – and write some thoughts in response. The following is a collection of my favourites.

I should say most of these thoughts and/or ideas are heavily influenced by what I’ve been reading and the people I’ve been talking to. In some cases they are simply quotes by others. I hope you enjoy.


Setting your intention matters a great deal. An intention to be mindful in all that you do. ‘Unitasking’ is key. Concentrate on the one thing you are doing and give it your undivided attention! You will derive much more pleasure in life when acting like this.

Mindfulness is only one part of the puzzle. Compassion is the other. Being compassionate has to start with yourself. Forgiving yourself for feeling tired and disconnected – Recovery from depression and anxiety takes time. You’re doing really well. Look what you managed to achieve today.  Be proud of yourself. 

Scrolling is the new smoking. You need to significantly reduce it. Otherwise it leads to cognitive fatigue. Idea – should aim to have a phone free day every week and keep my phone in another room to the one I’m in while at home (That way I’ll be going to it for a very deliberate reason – not just to mindlessly scroll)!

A good nights sleep starts the minute you wake up. Starting your day is just as important as how you finish it. Don’t look at you phone until out of the bathroom – ie Don’t make it the first thing you look at in the morning! Use it only to log your weight and write in your journal before meditation. Otherwise leave it in the bedroom till you’ve finished exercising and had something to eat.  

It matters that you care. It really matters. Pay attention. Small acts with great love everyday. 

The essence of bravery is refusing to give up on anyone or anything

Forgiveness in this world is really lacking. For me forgiving myself and also other people in this world I believe to be doing very bad things is something to pay more attention to. Every act I make has a positive ripple effect. No matter how small, if done with love and compassion, it will effect the world in a positive way. Keep going. Keep smiling. Remain hopeful. Love yourself and by extension the whole world and everything in it. 

Forgiveness is a natural process. It does not matter if you are able to forgive someone or yourself yet, what matters is the intention to forgive that other person or yourself. That way the door is open for the process – however long – to take place. 

Everything I need and want, I already have. The most important thing for me is to learn how to enjoy it. 

The path of awakening is simply a process of wakeful, profound relaxing. We see what is here right now and we let go into life exactly as it is” – Tara Brach 

Reaching out to friends and family and checking in on them is so important. Especially now during this difficult time. It’s important to let them know we are here and also that we are safe. Family and friends are everything. We are nothing without each other. 

I was wrong about the coronavirus. It’s not been an overreaction – people are dying and medical staff are stretched thin. We must all do our part to help protect the most vulnerable in society. COVID 19 is an opportunity to spend time at home with our family and practise mindfulness. It’s an opportunity to send love out to all our friends and family. To really connect from isolation. We live in an extraordinary time in which we are incredibly lucky to be able to do so. To know so much. To prepare and mobilise behind a common cause so quickly as a result. There is still so much to be grateful for. 

Life is one big lesson in acceptance. Now is the perfect time to practise that. There is so much out of our control but what we can control has the ability to empower us. 

If you see through yourself you will see through everyone. Then you will love them. – Anthony De Mello 

What we react to is self generated and has nothing to do with the outside world. A negative feeling comes from YOU – nothing else. It’s all part of our conditioning – illusions created by our minds – from attachments that we have been conditioned to believe are important despite reality. By remaining truly aware and questioning the tricks of our conditioned mind with both compassion and curiosity, we can began to see the illusions for what they truly are and break down the false identities we all cling to. This will bring you back to life. To the here and now which is, of course, the only reality. 

My emotions are a direct result of my thinking mind – nothing else. To stop negative emotions it’s me who has to change. Not the world. Not anyone else.

Think in terms of others. Helping your self is not selfish. It’s the opposite of selfish. Helping yourself helps others. Fixing your back means you’re no longer distracted by it – which means you can focus your attention on more important matters. Looking after your finances helps build security for your family. 

Good parenting starts with being compassionate towards yourself!

Show up to your children’s emotions with compassion. It’s ok to feel sadness or anger. Ask them what it is that they need?

Life is a long beautiful melody. You have to let it play out. Don’t cling. There will be long low sad bits and high happy ecstatic peaks. Don’t cling to them. Don’t think those parts of the melody define you. If you replay one part of it over and over it’s no longer a melody. It’s ruined. Let it play out. 

Taking to yourself in the third person is an awesome mindfulness hack.eg David is feeling stressed. David is thinking lots. David is looking at his phone. It helps to unidentify with your thoughts, feelings and emotions. You become the observer of your thoughts without falling into the trap of thinking you are your thoughts. It’s another reminder to wake up!

Everything is a process. All I have to do is observe. Observe with curiosity and compassion. Look at yourself with curiosity and compassion. Remain present and your natural wisdom will guide you. Have faith.

Everything is always now. It can’t be any other way. The past and the future come from the mind only. They are illusions that distract awareness of the present moment. Everything you need is available to you in the present. Stay there. 

Showing up on the bad days matters more so than on the good days. Remember your’e saying something to yourself every time you show up about who you are and who you want to become. The same is true when you don’t.

Am I making this decision because of love or fear? – Dr Vivek Murthy  – Such an insightful way of asking yourself why or why not you should do something.

A Pilot’s Guide to Self-Managing Back pain – Lifestyle and Sleep

“It’s not the job of sports medicine professionals to look after your tissues and joints, whether you hydrate or whether you actively work toward improving and maintaining healthy positions and range of movement throughout the day. It’s up to you. Spend 10 minutes minimum per day. No days off. No excuses.”

– DR. KELLY STARRETT, READY TO RUN

In my attempts to nurse my back to full strength, I have spent a great deal of time researching how to manage my pain, while also looking at the best home remedies/exercises to help fix my injury and prevent similar ones from happening again in the future. 

As a result I have decided to compile my research into this comprehensive guide regarding all the things I’ve found particularly useful for managing my back pain day to day, including some important what-not-to-dos!

Following on from my previous posts – Sitting, Standing, Swimming – and core strengthening and flexibility this post will look at some lifestyle tips and how to sleep properly. A final post will look at the use of drugs/other treatments plus some final thoughts. 

It goes without saying I’m not a medical professional in any way, shape or form, so please, please, don’t take what I’m saying as gospel. I’m simply relaying what has helped me in managing my pain. 

Back pain is a complex issue that I believe requires a complex approach from a number of different angles. Trial and error is necessary in figuring out what works best for youand your condition. 

Hopefully this guide will help you as well in some way, shape or form. As always seek advice from a professional (added advice – seek more than one opinion) and do your own research. 

I’ve left links to a number of articles throughout that I found useful/helped support my own findings. I should add I am in no way affiliated with any of the organisations mentioned or products that I recommend. 


LIFESTYLE MATTERS – FIND TIME TO MEDITATE

A study looking into Psychological Treatment Strategy for Chronic Low Back Pain concludes that many “people with chronic pain usually suffer from not only pain but also overlapping problems, such as depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, working with disabilities, drug overuse, and low quality of life.”

While I think it’s likely normal for someone to catastrophize the pain of an injury or illness, from personal experience I can say depression and anxiety make its extent far worse. 

One of the tools I use to help stop myself from falling down the rabbit hole is MEDITATION. I’ve found it invaluable for dealing with difficult emotions and negative thought patterns,  reducing stress and improving sleep. This has been especially important for me following this recent injury.

It’s helped me maintain a positive mindset – accepting how things are today and being grateful for the everyday things I can still do, such being able to walk!!! At the same time it’s prevented me from feeling sorry for myself/blowing the issue out of proportion while remaining proactive about trying to solve it (by writing this article for example). Some useful apps that I love include headspace and Insight Timer. 

For those, like me, who are battling the ugly demons of depression and anxiety, on top of chronic back pain, I can highly recommend a course in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). One study found, “people who attended MBSR classes were more than 40 percent likely to show “meaningful” improvements in their pain and daily activities compared to people who sought conventional care for their aching backs.” Worth a shot no?

Of course other lifestyle factors are equally important including maintaining a healthy diet, finding to time to relax, having some fun and getting quality sleep (more on that below). Ultimately finding ways to live a happier, healthier life are only gonna mean good things for your back and general outlook.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6698517/

https://www.webmd.com/back-pain/news/20160322/meditation-may-help-ease-chronic-low-back-pain

https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/how-meditation-helps-with-depression


SLEEP THE RIGHT WAY UP ⬆️

SLEEPING ON YOUR STOMACH IS ONE OF THE WORST POSITIONS for your back and especially your neck. Guess what? I sleep on my stomach. Oh, and I also have problems with stiffness in the neck. One of the major reasons for this is ‘because the head is usually turned to one side. This twists the spine and places additional stress on the neck, shoulders, and back.’ The truth is, almost any other position is better for your back.

SLEEPING ON YOUR BACK WITH A SMALL PILLOW UNDER THE KNEES IS BEST, “as this keeps your body in the utmost neutral position, therefore not adding any additional stresses to your discs or joints, and not putting your muscles in constant stretch or compressed positions.” It’s no wonder my pain is worse in the morning. 

With that in mind there is one thing I’d like to say – It can’t be understated just how important getting adequate sleep is so don’t force it. If you find yourself in a state of despair for your inability to change a lifetime of sleeping on your stomach, then roll back over. Excuse the pun, but it’s not going to be an overnight thing. I’m currently in the process of trying to change the position I sleep in. As it stands I start by meditating for 20-30mins on my back. Sometimes I drift off and sometimes I don’t. If I don’t manage it, I flip over. Sleep is just too important.

If you sleep on your stomach and struggle to sleep other ways, I’ve read that placing a slim pillow under your stomach and hips can help improve spinal alignment. This is something I do if I fail to fall asleep on my back. Whatever helps. One other method you might consider is to work your way around by moving to sleeping on your side with the support of additional pillows. I tired this but found that sleeping on my left side made my pain worse for some reason. As always listen to your body, do your own research and talk to an expert. 

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320870


A Pilot’s Guide to Self-Managing Back Pain – Core Strength & Flexibility

“It’s not the job of sports medicine professionals to look after your tissues and joints, whether you hydrate or whether you actively work toward improving and maintaining healthy positions and range of movement throughout the day. It’s up to you. Spend 10 minutes minimum per day. No days off. No excuses.”

– Dr. Kelly Starrett, READY TO RUN

In my attempts to nurse my back to full strength, I have spent a great deal of time researching how to manage my pain, while also looking at the best home remedies/exercises to help fix my injury and prevent similar ones from happening again in the future.

As a result I have decided to compile my research into this comprehensive guide regarding all the things I’ve found particularly useful for managing my back pain day to day, including some important what-not-to-dos!

Following on from my previous post – Sitting, Standing, Swimming – this post will explore core strengthening and flexibility. The following post will look at lifestyle tips and how to sleep properly. A final post will look at the use of drugs/other treatments plus some final thoughts.

It goes without saying I’m not a medical professional in any way, shape or form, so please, please, don’t take what I’m saying as gospel. I’m simply relaying what has helped me in managing my pain. 

Back pain is a complex issue that I believe requires a complex approach from a number of different angles. Trial and error is necessary in figuring out what works best for you and your condition. 

Hopefully this guide will help you as well in some way, shape or form. As always seek advice from a professional (added advice – seek more than one opinion) and do your own research.

I’ve left links to a number of articles throughout that I found useful/helped support my own findings. I should add I am in no way affiliated with any of the organisations mentioned or products that I recommend. 


CORE STRENGTH AND FLEXIBILITY ARE KEY

CORE STRENGTHENING aND FLEXIBILITY EXERCISES NEED TO be a top priority, not only to aid in recovery, but crucially prevent further injury down the line!

YOGA is an obvious go-to that COMBINES BOTH FLEXIBILITY AND STRENGTH well. It’s also easy to modify, as needed, depending on your pain/condition.

PILATES ALSO COMES HIGHLY RECOMMENDED by many health care professionals in aiding lower back pain.

Before you jump down to do 100 sit-ups there are a few things worth knowing.

NOT ALL CORE STRENGTHENING OR STRETCHING EXERCISES ARE GOOD FOR YOUR BACK. Sit ups, for example, put a lot of pressure on the discs in your spine and are best avoided. Other stretches such as forward bends can be equally bad for those who suffer from lower back issues.

I’ve found the following TO BE problematic TO SOME DEGREE:

SIT UPS – BICYCLE CRUNCHES – RUSSIAN TWISTS – BOAT POSE – DOUBLE LEG LIFTS – TOE TOUCHES/FORWARD BENDS – DOWNWARD DOG – HAMSTRING STRETCHES

This list is not exhaustive – just off the top of my head. That said, I have been able to modify a few of these exercises/stretches to work for me – Hamstring stretches on my back for example – as opposed to bending from sitting or standing – doesn’t cause me pain unless I over do it!

It goes without saying but EXPERIMENT TO FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU and as always use pain as your guide. IF IT HURTS BACK OFF (more on this below!).

With that in mind here are a few tips I’ve found useful.

A key aspect for most core exercises is KEEPING YOUR TAILBONE TUCKED AND ENGAGING YOUR CORE AND GLUTES.

Similarly when performing ab exercises from your back you want to KEEP YOUR LOWER BACK GLUED TO THE FLOOR (imagine drawing your navel towards your spine).

Strengthening and improving flexibility both upstream and downstream of the problem area is also important. For your LOWER back this means your glutes, quads, hip flexors, HAMSTRINGS, upper back and chest, as well AS your core.

Below are a list of exercises & stretcheS that I’ve found work well without aggravating my pain. As always these are exercises I’ve found work for me. That might not be the case for you. Be cautions and let pain be your guide.

Rather than bore you with a description I’ll leave it up to you to look them up and choose which ones you would prefer to incorporate into your daily routine.

FYI there are a million and one great workout videos you can follow on YouTube or other such media platforms. Simply Google exercise videos for lower back pain and away you go. I often follow fitness blender workouts when on a layover in my hotel room.

On your front:

PLANK

BIRD DOG

PIGEON POSE

CAT 🐈 COW 🐄 

CHILD POSE

SPHINX/COBRA POSE

SUPERMAN 

On your back/side:

SIDE PLANK

BRIDGE

PELVIC TILT

PARTIAL CRUNCH 

WINDSHIELD WIPERS

GLUTE STRETCH 

HAMSTRING STRETCH

HAPPY BABY

From standing:

WALL SIT

FORWARD/REVERSE LUNGE

QUAD STRETCH

SQUATS

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/multimedia/back-pain/sls-20076265?s=3

https://www.everydayhealth.com/back-pain-pictures/the-best-and-worst-exercises-for-back-pain.aspx

https://www.webmd.com/back-pain/ss/slideshow-exercises

https://www.self.com/gallery/core-exercises-for-lower-back-pain-relief/amp

https://www.self.com/story/the-abs-exercises-you-should-skip-if-you-have-lower-back-pain

https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/anterior-pelvic-tilt-exercises


LISTEN TO YOUR BODY BUT DON’T STOP MOVING

For the vast majority of injuries there is almost always a healthy and safe way to modify your exercise routines. Sure it might mean you have to stop running for a while or playing tennis (or whatever that sport you love may be) but it certainly doesn’t mean you should stop altogether. It’s not a death sentence.

I would argue NOT MOVING MIGHT BE THE WORST THING YOU CAN DO. I’ve certainly found this to be the case with regards to back pain. Remaining sedentary or trying to do nothing certainly hasn’t worked for me.

You need to move, stretch and strengthen everyday. You do, however, need to be smart about it. By this what I really mean is, LEAVE YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR!

It was leading up to a weight training session that I felt a small twinge in the back of my lower back. The alarm bells were there. It didn’t feel like much so I pressed ahead determined to ‘get ripped’ like a jackass. The result? I put my back out doing deadlifts…

LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. ONE MISSED WORKOUT IS ALWAYS WORTH IT TO AVOID INJURY. I’ll say again, if your body is trying to tell you something, listen. The same applies post injury too (something I’m also well versed in).

It might seem obvious but YOU SHOULD NEVER BE STRETCHING OR TRAINING TO OR BEYOND THE POINT WHERE YOU FEEL PAIN. .

When lifting weights you have to BE VERY CAREFUL NOT TO OVER DO IT. Once again leaving your ego at home is highly recommended! Start small and build slowly. Never ever sacrifice your form for amount of weight.

Equally important to consider is the type of lifting exercises – which matter greatly depending on the particular condition and severity of your back injury/pain. IF YOUR COMING BACK FROM INJURY GO SLOW!!

When testing the waters with weights last week, despite lifting only a small amount, my back decided to complain considerably the next day. It was too soon. Until you’re back to full strength, AVOIDING IMPACT FROM BELOW AND WEIGHTS FROM ABOVE ARE GOOD RULES OF THUMB to follow! My weights remain firmly in the closet for now. I’ve already done a fine job prolonging injuries over the years. This time my ego will have to wait. 


A Pilot’s Guide to Self-Managing Back Pain – Sitting, Standing, Swimming

“It’s not the job of sports medicine professionals to look after your tissues and joints, whether you hydrate or whether you actively work toward improving and maintaining healthy positions and range of movement throughout the day. It’s up to you. Spend 10 minutes minimum per day. No days off. No excuses.”

– Dr. Kelly Starrett, READY TO RUN

In my attempts to nurse my back to full strength, I have spent a great deal of time researching how to manage my pain, while also looking at the best home remedies/exercises to help fix my injury and prevent similar ones from happening again in the future.

As a result I have decided to compile my research into this comprehensive guide regarding all the things I’ve found useful for managing my back pain day to day, including some important what-not-to-dos!

This post will explore my best tips with regards to sitting, standing and swimming. Follow on posts will explore other exercises, lifestyle tips, how to sleep and the use of drugs/other treatments.

It goes without saying I’m not a medical professional in any way, shape or form, so please, please, don’t take what I’m saying as gospel. I’m simply relaying what has helped me in managing my pain. 

Back pain is a complex issue that I believe requires a complex approach from a number of different angles. Trial and error is necessary in figuring out what works best for you and your condition. 

Hopefully this guide will help you as well in some way, shape or form. As always seek advice from a professional (added advice – seek more than one opinion) and do your own research.

I’ve left links to a number of articles throughout that I found useful/helped support my own findings. I should add I am in no way affiliated with any of the organisations mentioned or products that I recommend. 

SITTING IS BAD

I like to think of sitting like drinking – something to be done in strict moderation! Of course I realise that’s not possible for all who have normal 9 to 5s (or non normal random pilot like jobs as the case may be), but you get my drift. A little bit of sitting ain’t a bad thing, but too much most certainly is. I’m guessing for the vast majority of us, we could all do with finding ways to sit (drink?) less.

While at home I like to CREATE A LYING DESK by laying a yoga mat on the living room floor (or hotel room if on a layover), instead of slouching on the couch should I decide to Netflix binge or work on my laptop. This way I can keep myself mobile, taking a break to perform stretches or core exercises while watching TV!

IF YOU HAVE TO SIT for long periods of time at work, or during a long haul flight for example, STAND UP AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE (at least 10 mins for every hour). It always surprises me that more people don’t get up to have a walk and stretch in flight. Even a couple of minutes can make a big difference. A little and often is best.

Should you find yourself wedged in a middle row seat or unable to move for some other reason during your commute, CONSIDER DOING SOME IN-THE-SEAT STRETCHING (granted not all will be suitable in an aeroplane seat 💺). See examples below.

HOW TO SIT PROPERLY

Correct posture while sitting is very important – not just for managing back pain, but preventing further problems in the long run. My basic rule of thumb is three fold.

1. SIT UP STRAIGHT – head and torso stacked – with your head facing forward (imagine your ears in line with your shoulders in line with your hips)

2. FEET FLAT ON THE FLOOR or foot rest with knees at the same height or slightly lower than the hips (avoid crossing legs or ankles).

3. BACK FULLY SUPPORTED against the chair including your lower back.

Most chairs are, sadly, poorly designed in this respect, which is why I always TRAVEL WITH A LUMBAR SUPPORT PILLOW. I use a Travel Pal Auto-Inflating Mini Lumbar Pillow. You can, of course, improvise with any pillow you find or by rolling up a towel or piece of clothing to place at the curve of your back.

See the picture below for a good idea of what correct sitting posture looks like. 

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321863.php

https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/how-to-sit-correctly/


WALKING IS GOOD

Walk yes, run no. You want to avoid impact from below for obvious reasons (especially if you have a dodgy back like mine).

Going up and down steps or hills has, on occasion, caused my pain to flair up, however, LONG GENTLE WALKS ON FLAT TERRAIN HAS PROVEN TO BE VERY HELPFUL.

A few notes.

DON’T WEAR HEELS. You’d think this might just apply to the ladies, but you’d be wrong. Heels are the devil with regards to back health. Even a small incline (ie the kind of elevation most shoes provide) ain’t great in the long run.

Your best solution is to WALK BARE FOOT WHENEVER POSSIBLE, otherwise finding shoes that have little to no difference in sole thickness from heel to toe (aka WEAR FLATS). I can highly recommend VIVO BAREFOOT for gym/outdoor wear.

Toss your flip flops in the bin 🗑 – they are also the devil for your back!

HOW TO STAND PROPERLY

Posture while standing or walking is also very important.

My best tips from the top down!

1. Hold your head up high and LOOK STRAIGHT AHEAD.

2.. PUFF YOUR CHEST OUT by squeezing your shoulder blades together slightly.

3. LET YOUR ARMS RELAX NATURALLY either side. Your ears, shoulders, hips and ankles should be aligned (have a look at other people walking while staring down at their phones – their ears are not even close to being in line with their shoulders and hips).

4. SQUEEZE YOUR BUT AND TIGHTEN YOUR ABS SLIGHTLY. If you look at yourself side-on in the mirror, if you have a little pot belly like me, it should look like its gone or significantly reduced (all the more motivation). The same with your but – it shouldn’t stick out like a horse’s arse (so much).

5. Keep practicing and practicing UNtill it Is automatic. I found the below article on anterior pelvic tilt (a common condition caused by sitting too much) and tips to correct it enormously helpful. 

https://acatoday.org/content/posture-power-how-to-correct-your-body-alignment

https://www.swolept.com/posts/fixing-anterior-pelvic-tilt-posture-tricks-to-make-your-butt-and-gut-smaller#.XkT4lSWlaEd


SWIMMING IS AWESOME

Following my recent back injury last month SWIMMING has proved to be an awesome LOW IMPACT WAY TO MODIFY. Not only did it help enormously with my back pain, it meant I could keep exercising to a level I was happy with. It also proved to do wonders for my cardiovascular system.

After months of regular exercise my resting heartbeat had settled in the very respectable low fifties. Following a few weeks of replacing that with swimming, however, my resting heart rate dropped into the mid to high forties for the first time in a long, long while!

A few things to note.

Although I found swimming massively beneficial on the whole, when I went at it too hard it did occasionally aggravate my pain. As always LET PAIN BE YOUR GUIDE. IF IT HURTS, BACK OFF!

Depending on the nature of your condition, THE TYPE OF SWIMMING STROKE YOU USE CAN MATTER GREATLY.  FRONT AND BACK STROKE WORKED WELL for me but BUTTERFLY AND BREASTSTROKE DID NOT.

Should all types prove painful, consider doing some gentle movements instead. Simply DAMPING THE AFFECTS OF GRAVITY BY GETTING IN THE POOL CAN MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE. I found the following article useful.

https://www.spine-health.com/blog/3-essential-tips-swimming-back-pain


Mission ImBACKible – How do you fix chronic back pain and what if you can’t?

My mother has suffered with chronic back pain and sciatica for many years now. Sadly she still does.  

Her story is very similar to countless others. A story of multiple misdiagnoses and scans which showed little, if nothing, out of the ordinary. 

Ultimately the frustration over many years led her down the path of trusting a surgeon to remove one of her discs and then fuse two vertebra together.

It didn’t work.

In fact, it made matters worse. 

Forgetting the fat cheque that private surgeon took home, or the many painful and frustrating nights that followed, the happy ending to the story is this. 

My mum can do more or less everything she wants. She can stand. She can sit (although not for too long). She can walk. Her overall range of motion is good. She can pick up and hold her grandson. She can play with and read to him while sat in her lap. And she can do all of this without too much pain.

BUT.

She still suffers from chronic back pain.

She manages her pain by doing a number of daily mobility exercises, walking often and sitting less. When she does sit she uses a pillow for support (to watch tv or have dinner) and stands regularly to stretch. On top of this she occasionally goes swimming or attends a pilates class. She also takes pain killers to help her sleep through at night. All of this means she can still have a decent quality of life.

The main point is this though:

SHE MANAGES HER PAIN. Her pain has not been cured, but SHE HAS MADE PEACE WITH IT. She doesn’t complain about it or let it detract from her day. She simply gets on with life. 

Her acceptance, despite many years of fighting this frustrating, heart-breaking battle, is truly inspirational.

It’s an important lesson I mean to take with me as I attempt to solve/manage my own issues with back pain. 


A WORD OF WARNING ⚠️ 

(I should say, for those who are considering back surgery as an option to help cure their own back pain, proceed with caution!! Surgery should be the absolute last call of action and even then, you better be damn sure you have an accurate diagnosis. 

Peter Ullrich, an orthopaedic surgeon, has this to say,

“The number one determining factor whether or not a fusion surgery will deliver the desired reduction in pain is an accurate preoperative diagnosis, meaning a diagnosis that clearly identifies the underlying cause of the patient’s pain.

Identifying degeneration of other changes in the spine is not sufficient—the diagnosis needs to identify that those changes in the spine are actually causing the patient’s pain. Many people have a bulging disc, herniated disc, stenosis, and other issues with their spine, but no pain.

I can’t stress this point enough.”

If you’d like to know more please have a read of this article).


So what’s wrong with me?

A lot of things but let’s stick to the topic of my back for now. 

I injured my back early on while training for the London marathon in 2014. Instead of backing off though, I ran through it, repeatedly… Stupid, I know. 

Following that I attempted to run a half marathon in new shoes, a month out from the main event, during which something in the back of my right knee gave way… Stupid, I know.

I limped home and didn’t train again till I ran the actual thing. 

On race day I wore a compression top for my back and had both knees strapped. Despite feeling pain in both, I felt committed (having asked so many people to sponsor my brother and I), so I ran the London marathon anyway… Stupid, I know. 

(Side note: I should write a piece on how not to run a marathon). 

I finished in what was probably a record slow time for my age, but I finished! It was an unforgettable day and one that I cherish.

BUT.

It came at a price. 

The long term result is, I’ve suffered on and off with a variety of different issues related to the back and neck ever since. While it’s clearly been nothing serious, as multiple MRI scans have shown, my back has never truly healed either. 

More recently (a few weeks back to be exact), I managed to put my back out lifting weights, bringing on a fresh wave of lower back pain and sciatica that has, quite frankly, scared the shit out of me. 

What if it’s something serious? 

What if I never can never lift weights again? 

What if I have chronic back pain for life? 

What if, what if…. I, I, I… Me, me, me….

STOP!

Take a breath. 

Observe. 

Proceed.

After a long period of catastrophizing and feeling sorry for myself, its clear I’m in a dangerous position of falling down the rabbit hole again.

I need a plan.

So, here it is…

1) Start treatment with my PHYSIO. (I know a lot of people who swear physio off as inconsequential, but I think it has its place. I can’t say it’s ever been a cure to my problems but I have responded positively to it, feeling better after – if only for a day or two. Nonetheless I believe it’s better than not having it, so I plan to continue)

2) Start treatment with an OSTEOPATH. I’ve had success with Osteopathy before, so I’m going to start here before considering other forms of treatment. (Those that I want to have look at include Acupuncture &/or Acupressure, Active Release Technique (ART), Biopuncture and Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilisation (DNS) should the physio and osteopath not prove affective).  

3) In the interim I’m going to get an MRI SCAN to help see exactly what is or isn’t going on in my lower back – hopefully ruling out some more nasty possibilities as a result. 

4) Following that I’m going to take MRI results to an ORTHOPAEDIC specialist for advice on the problem.

5) Research/test out the best WAYS TO MANAGE MY BACK PAIN AT HOME AND AT WORK including the BEST STRETCHING AND STRENGTH EXERCISES plus HOW TO SIT, STAND AND WALK properly. Also what not to do and what other things or tools (shoes etc.) one can use to help (A pilots guide to managing back pain – my next blog post will be a result of this particular research). 

6) Follow up with my results later this year, looking into HOW I CAN PREVENT SIMILAR INJURIES GOING FORWARD and to make sure I have a healthy back well into my old age. I also want to look at HOW TO IDENTIFY AND CORRECT IMBALANCES WITHIN THE BODY (One thing I want to look into is Functional Movement Screening (FMS)). 

7) Regardless of whether I find myself back to full back health or not, I want to look into the IMPLICATIONS OF PERMANENT CHRONIC BACK PAIN. How to manage that going forward? What are the best coping mechanisms people who are in this situation use? (Aside from what pain killers one might use I really want to explore the best PSYCHOLOGICAL TREATMENTS for coping with chronic pain including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)).

January Review

“How noble and good everyone could be if, every evening before falling asleep, they were to recall to mind the events of the whole day and consider exactly what has been good and bad. Then, without realizing it, you try to improve yourself at the start of each new day; of course, you achieve quite a lot in the course of time.”

Anne Frank 

STATS:

Meditated  – 31/31 days (currently 144 days in a row)

Exercise – 17/31 days (Injured back lifting weights)

Writing – 20/31 days – Published 1 post/week on blog (5 total)

Reading – 24/31 days – Finished 3 books (The 4 Hour Body – Timothy Ferris. Tools of Titans – Timothy Ferris. How To Self-Publish A Children’s Book – Eevi Jones).

Alcohol free days – 20/31 days – 1 x alcohol free week (1st – 7th)

10k + Steps – 21/31 days

WHAT WENT WELL?

Meditated every single morning. 

Got plenty of reading and writing done – resulted in reading a total of three books plus publishing a post on the new blog every week (5 total)! 

Diet has been consistent, keeping to largely protein rich/low carb meals during my fasting window of 12-8pm. 

Completed alcohol free week (1st – 7th). 

Body weight = 75.2kg and body fat = 17.1% as of Jan 31st. Although my body fat loss has plateaued in recent weeks I’m mindful of the fact I’ve not been lifting weights or doing HIT because of my back (see below). (Also I’ve been having a few more cheat days as Mum and Dad have been in town to celebrate a belated Christmas and Chinese New Year!) At any rate I’ve not gained weight which is a plus. 

Injury setback through weight training. Despite this I managed to modify my exercise regime – replacing planned weight and hit workouts with lots of swimming (FYI swimming is awesome!). It has also given me a few ideas for upcoming blog posts. 

In terms of admin got plenty done – filling my UK tax return and paying my HK ones. Also organised new mortgage for UK property. 

WHAT DIDN’T GO WELL?

Work – haven’t performed as well as I would have liked although, in my defence, I’ve not done much flying this month. At any rate, still plenty of room for improvement. Lack of motivation still an issue too. How might I resolve this and find my former enthusiasm for flying? Honestly I think I’m suffering a little burn out following nearly ten years of long haul flying. A longer break this year is planned for exactly this reason. As a way of resting, resetting and coming back stronger. 

Injury set back. Managed to hurt my back during weights training. This stopped me from working the second half of the month due to lower back pain associated with sciatica. The warning signs were there – a small twinge but definitely felt something before stupidly going ahead with weights training when I should have backed off. MISSING ONE WORKOUT TO PREVENT INJURY IS ALWAYS WORTH IT! Listen to your body!

At home I’ve not prioritised writing a will which I keep putting off – mainly because I’m lazy which is no excuse. Get it done!  

WHAT DID I LEARN?

Mentally it’s been a tough month with this back injury. I have felt angry and frustrated, failing to see the bigger picture – ie. it will pass and NOTHING IS PERMANENT. I think finding the time to BE MORE PLAYFUL and HAVE MORE LAUGHS with friends and family should be a priority for February. Mercifully I have some leave this month and plans to go to skiing in Japan (back permitting) with the family. I must make the most of it regardless of how much skiing I can actually manage. 

TALK TO YOUR WIFE more (insert expletive) head. She’s your partner and wants to help you (just like the rest of your family!). Communication clearly still a weakness for me. My idea of talking every night before bed is a good one but I must MAKE A POINT OF REALLY ENGAGING. Asking more questions and listening intently. Just as importantly TELL HER WHAT’S REALLY ON YOUR MIND

Two things I can think of implementing straight away: 

MEDITATE MORE OFTEN, not just in the morning. Meditation really helps but I think I’m simply going through the motions a bit with my morning practice. My plan is to experiment more with different times during the day when I have a quiet moment and to meditate in the evening just before I go to sleep! 

When talking to my wife in the evening come prepared with THE SINGLE GREATEST CONCERN you have had during the day and TELL IT TO HER. Don’t keep it to yourself.

There is always an opportunity with any set back and it’s important to look for it. Following my injury I told myself NO EXCUSES, that THERE IS ALWAYS A WAY TO MODIFY even if you have to scale way back! Adopting swimming has been a great way to do this given the circumstances and is something I’m particularly proud of implementing. It turns out SWIMMING IS AWESOME and I believe is what’s responsible for a marked improvement in my cardiovascular system. My resting heart rate dropped from the mid to low fifties into the mid to high forties for the first time in a long time! Not to mention it’s been brilliant for my back pain. 

Another silver lining regarding my back injury is I’ve had more time to read and write. TAKING NOTES OF THE BOOKS I READ is something relatively new I’ve been doing but has proven a GREAY WAY TO CONSOLIDATE MY LEARNING. One thing I’ve noticed is that I’m spending more time on writing blog posts then continuing with my children’s book. I must revisit notes from how to self publish a children’s book and WRITE A TIMELINE TO FOLLOW. Approaching an editor will be a close second objective.