The Colours of Christmas

Christmas will soon be here and along with it, the colours of red and green. As we have already discovered, red and green are complementary to each other. We bring greenery into our homes at Christmas with holly, garlands and Christmas trees. The holly, we hope, will have red berries and we often decorate our green Christmas trees with red lights and baubles.

Bringing complementary colours together can create balance at a time which is often fraught. Red is the physical of the colours and has the longest wavelength, the lowest frequency and slowest vibration. Known as a magnetic colour in colour therapy because it is stimulating, energising, warming and activating, red is also grounding and connects us to the earth beneath our feet, rooting us to life and physical creation.

Red is the fire of the spectrum and its hottest colour. The colour of blood, it stimulates our passions, releases adrenaline into the blood stream, raises our blood pressure and body heat. It increases the heart rate, gives us hot flushes, makes us blush, builds up blood cells and strengthens stamina. Red feeds the muscles and energises us but, in excess, it can make us feel agitated, anxious and angry, causing hyperactivity and insomnia. Red is the colour of life, war and the colour of sex and survival. It is good for speed and strength, but poor for memory and test performance. It also stimulates appetite so is good in dining rooms.

People who wear a lot of red tend to be impulsive, excitable and energetic. They are ambitious and can be impatient because they want everything yesterday. They like to be the best in everything, are naturally competitive and like to be the centre of attention. They are courageous, extraverted and fun but can become irritable if they don’t get their own way.

Green, on the other hand, is the colour of nature.

Green offers tranquility and health and is good for bedrooms. As Christmas can be one of the most stressful and busy times of the year, green helps to create a feeling of comfort and ease, calmness and space despite the frantic preparations and cluttering with presents and decorations. If there are fraught family get-togethers, dark green can also help emotional uncertainty.

However, people who wear a lot of green may well be cautious and hesitant to trust others easily. They may be observers who like to remain detached and they like a quiet life. They are benevolent and love to help others, having a natural empathy.

So, use these colours. If you are feeling tired, in need of a boost, fearful or in need of some laughter, try wearing red and if you are feeling stressed and hemmed in, in need of space, silence and stillness, try wearing green. Continue your experiment with colours and the way they affect your health, mood and mind and next time we will look at other ways to engage with the rainbow.

Wishing you a very merry, peaceful and love-filled Christmas.

Love Laurelle

What is Colour and How Does It Affect Us? Part Two

I hope you have enjoyed becoming more aware of the colours around you over the past month and observing the different ways in which they make you feel. As we deepen our experience of colour and its effect on us, it is helpful to understand how the eye sees colour. Light travels through the pupil and fluid to reach the lens which bends the rays so that they are focused on the retina at the back. Within the retina are cells that contain light sensitive pigments of two types: rods and cones. Rods are more numerous and light sensitive but only record shades of grey. Each cone is sensitive to one of the three primary colours of light: red-orange, green and blue-violet. The cones that are sensitive to green are in the middle of the retina and this is why green is the most relaxing colour for the eyes and the mind.

Light breaks down the pigment in the sensory cells, setting off a nervous impulse along the optic nerve to the visual cortex at the back of the brain, the hypothalamus, the pituitary and pineal glands. The visual cortex is responsible for sight but the hypothalamus, the pituitary and pineal glands are responsible for the hormones.

The hormonal system controls many of the body’s functions including growth, sleep, temperature, sexual drive, energy, metabolic rate and appetite. The hypothalamus responds to morning light, blue/green in particular, prompting the release of the hormone cortisol which stimulates and wakes us whereas it releases melatonin into the bloodstream so that we become drowsy when the amount of blue light in sunlight is reduced in the late evening. The pituitary gland, the ‘master gland’ of the hormonal system, and the pineal gland are also deeply affected by colour. Darkness stimulates melatonin production while light suppresses it. The pineal gland is also affected by changes in seasonal light so that in the summer we feel more energetic while in winter we incline towards rest.

Colour therapy is not simply a modern phenomenon. Egyptians, Greeks, and Chinese used colour in healing temples, a practice known today as Cromotherapy. Then, in 1933, Dinshah Ghhadiali put it on the modern map by writing the Spectro Chrometry Encyclopedia.

The effect of colour is very evident in different age group. For example, babies cry more in a yellow room:

 …pre-adolescent children prefer brighter primary and secondary colours and solid blocks of colour rather than patterns…

Adolescent girls love varying shades of purple and pink whereas older teenagers show a preference for black as they hide from the world while they discover their own unique identity.

Adults prefer more subdued colours, are less open to experimenting and tend to stick with their favourites. Mature 65+ year olds have a preference for clear and calming colours such as fresh blues, pinks, greens whereas mature women often choose colours in the purple range – hence the poem by Jenny Joseph: “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple, With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me…”

We will continue our exploration of colours next month with a look at the colours themselves. Until then, have a colourful November. Enjoy!

Love Laurelle

What is colour and how does it affect us? – Part One

As we enter autumn, nature feasts our eyes with a glorious display as she changes ‘clothes’ on her extraordinary catwalk. Everyday we are surrounded by colour and yet we so often take it for granted.

Colour is the same as sound: simply 40 octaves higher and the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to the human eye. Each colour has a certain wavelength and frequency of vibration: red has the longest and slowest frequency and violet has the shortest and quickest. At either end of the visible spectrum are many colours that we cannot see: infrared light and radio waves are beyond red, while ultraviolet light, X-rays and gamma waves are beyond violet.

Primary colours – those which cannot be mixed or formed by any combination of other colours – are red, yellow and blue. Secondary colours are the combination of two primary colours: yellow and blue make green, red and yellow make orange, and red and blue make purple.

Interestingly, white light is made up of the blend of three primary colours: red-orange, green and blue-violet whereas black paint is the combination of red, blue and yellow.

Complementary colours are pairs of colours which, when combined, cancel each other out and produce either white or black. However, when they are placed next to each other, they create the strongest contrast for those particular two colours and are therefore very important for healing. Try this experiment: stare at one of the primary colours: red, blue or yellow for a few moments and then look at a blank piece of white paper. If you look at red, you will see an after-image of green, if you look at blue, you will see an after-image of orange and if you look at yellow, you will see an after-image of violet.

Like everything else, colour is energy that we perceive in a particular way. We are most aware of colour entering us through our eyes but it also enters us through our skin, meaning that blind people are also affected by colour. Try holding your palms over a square of coloured paper or cloth and closing your eyes. Then try to distinguish between warm and cool colours and the feelings they give you.

There are many ways to become more aware of colour. We can walk out in nature and really look at the trees as they change; we can choose clothes more consciously to alter our mood; we can ponder our food cravings and observe which colours we instinctively need to eat; we can look at our homes and the colours we have chosen and see how these affect such aspects as our abilities to relax, make conversation and feel amorous.

Colour nourishes the body, affects the emotions, clarifies the mind and feeds the soul as Khalil Gibran, the Lebanese-American poet (1883 -1931) so beautifully wrote: “O let me bathe my soul in colours; let me swallow the sunset and drink the rainbow.”

So, whether it’s looking out of a window or enjoying a glorious walk through the woods, feast your soul, mind and body on colour and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!

Love Laurelle

How to Have a Holiday from the Comfort of your Own Home

While it can be inspiring to see photos of beautiful beaches, sun-filled seas and magnificent mountains on social media, it can be disappointing if you can’t go on holiday yourself. Because our summer has been spent decorating after a massive under-floor leak, we have not been able to get away but fortunately it is possible to go on holiday without actually leaving the house. All you have to do is to remember a previous holiday, trawl through the computer for pictures and information on far-away places or just use your imagination.

So I decided to revisit some previous travels and trust that my brain wouldn’t know the difference between something remembered and something real.

My first destination was to the mountains and a stay in a fisherman’s cottage high up in the Norwegian Arctic Circle at midsummer when the midnight sun poured over the mountains and fjords like liquid gold turning to aquamarine…

Then I took myself back to witnessing the Northern Lights in Canada – a very different type of magic which is just as haunting and utterly spectacular…

…where the lakes are painted in blues and greens more translucent than any jewel…

Then there was the desert which, at first view seemed desolate and barren but after a week became strangely compelling as the sun dripped down the rocks like dark chocolate icing furrowing down the sides of a cake…

Finally I thought back to a forest…

…where, once, I met a bear. My friend and I were sleeping outside Yosemite National Park in North America. Waking in the middle of the night, I looked up to see an enormous black bear standing on its hind legs looking straight at us from only six metres away…

On our travels we had heard about bear attacks and learned that when confronted by an aggressive bear you must either play dead or make a lot of noise. Usually I have a powerful voice – after all I was singing my way around America – but fear robs you of any ability to make a sound and so we ran for the bike. Unbelievably, it refused to start. Terrified, we banged together some saucepans and at last the animal dropped to all fours and moved away.

At that moment, I admit that was relieved only to be remembering rather than actually experiencing. However, my brain did think that the imagined was real and I do feel strangely refreshed although the scents of mountain flowers, lake water, desert sand and forest trees have been somewhat overtaken by the smell of drying concrete, walls and fresh paint…

Hoping that you have had, or are about to have a wonderful holiday whether it is in body, memory or imagination…

Happy September!

Love Laurelle

How to switch off from human doing back into human being

A couple of years ago I found myself wandering around doing nothing after a particularly intense period of writing. At first I felt guilty that I wasn’t being productive but the truth was that my brain was exhausted and in desperate need of a rest. In order to become a human being rather than a human doing again, I needed to give myself permission so I made up the word modge.

To modge means to wander round aimlessly, slowly, without purpose or goal until the mind is restored, the body relaxed, the emotions settled and the spirit renewed.

Many of us spend the year focussing on achievement, goals, creating, designing, marketing, blogging, networking and sweating over projects trying to make our way in the work place. Our brains are fizzing and over-active, and, according to research, we are getting three weeks less sleep a year than our grandparents.

With many of us on the verge of burn-out, August is time to make modging into an art form. Modging can be done anywhere but it is especially wonderful when we do it outside. Being in the fresh air is crucial for good health. It re-connects us with nature, brings our minds back into perspective, reconnects us with our spirit and enables our skin to make vitamin D.

The skin contains a cholesterol substance called provitamin D3 that reacts with the ultraviolet-B (or UVB) rays in sunlight to form vitamin D3 so our skin makes it when we are outside exposed in daytime. Technically a hormone, Vitamin D enhances our immune system, is essential for the proper absorption of calcium and helps us to form stronger bones. It also enhances muscle contraction, thereby reducing the risk of fractures and falls. Vitamin D benefits the lungs, regulates blood pressure and helps to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. It makes us feel happier and controls our appetite as Vitamin D deficiency makes us feel hungry all the time.

Modging outside therefore enables us not only to relax but also to make much needed Vitamin D. This is also important for children. Modern education and society teaches our youngsters to be obsessively busy. Between school, after-school clubs, activities and homework, they rarely have a minute to themselves. Many children feel completely lost when they are faced with silence and stillness and, like us, they feel guilty if they are not doing something. Teaching children how to modge allows them space in which they can grow, sleep better, be less anxious and reconnect with a greater reality.

Now we have arrived at the holiday month, give yourself and your loved ones permission to modge this August. Of course in the searing temperatures we are having this summer, we do need to be careful outside but modging in the early morning and evening can be utterly beautiful.

So give yourselves permission to switch off and be aimless, goal-less and purposeless for a while so you can recharge, rebalance and restore. Ditch your devices and be as technology-free as possible then smell the air, lift your face to the sky, drink in Vitamin D, smile and do absolutely nothing.

Have a happy, modging August!

Love Laurelle

How to take a holiday without going away

As we approach the much-needed holiday season, we often yearn to go away so that we can rest, recuperate and get away from our everyday lives. But what if we don’t have the money, time or opportunity to fly off to far-away destinations? Could there possibly be an alternative which costs absolutely nothing; a way we could travel beyond ourselves into new and unexplored regions?

Creativity has the ability to take us on holiday from ourselves in the most extraordinary ways. I had a rather surprising experience of this earlier this year when I came downstairs one morning at 2am to finish the trilogy of novels which had taken me nearly twenty years to write. After I had put some seemingly cold ashes from the previous evening’s fire into a large bag of very wet leaves, I set about my task which involved travelling to another world with the wonderful characters I had come to know over such a long time. At 7am I went back into the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea and returned to my imaginings. At 8.30, my husband, poked his head around the door, surprised to see that I was there.

It transpired that I had missed a rather colourful drama. At 7.15am, a neighbour had noticed plumes of smoke rising up behind our hedge. By 7.30, the smoke had turned into flames. He had called the Fire Brigade, run to our front door, repeatedly hammered on it and rung the bell, successfully waking Richard. Soon after, a Fire Engine had come screaming up the road. After several of the neighbours had battled with the firemen to extinguish the flames, the children in the road had been allowed to have a ride on the fire engine.

And I had heard absolutely nothing.

As a sound therapist, I purport to have more than unusually acute hearing so how had I managed to miss such noisy commotion?

The fact was that I had been concentrating so hard that everything else had been blocked out. Being ‘in the zone’ is like being on holiday. There is no need of aeroplanes, coaches, cars or queues when your imagination can take you away to wherever you wish to go. You do, of course, have be careful that you are safe. I was very lucky that day that others were minding the more practical side of life for me. (I should have realised that the apparently cold ashes were still hot, but at least I have learned from the experience and now put ashes in an iron bucket so that such an occasion can never arise again.)

The point is that we don’t need to fret if we are not able to get away or feel forlorn when we look at social media and wonder why we are the only ones not away in some exotic, sunny location. Instead, we can use our imagination to take us away to somewhere utterly amazing. If we are not feeling inspired then we can lose ourselves in an exciting novel, listen to a beautiful piece of music or watch a wonderful film, all of which will whiz us off to some far-flung destination, all from the comfort of our own home.

Our imagination gives us wings and is our connection to something far greater than ourselves. So enjoy creativity. Celebrate it and use it, wildly, exotically and with great, great pleasure.

Happy July and happy holidays, wherever they may be!

Love Laurelle

When you don’t know where you’re going…

Recently, I was in a foreign city where I didn’t know the language. We may all realise that life is a journey but I had arrived in a part of mine where I didn’t know where I was going. However, I knew this was an opportunity for me to get out of where I had been and move onto the unknown place I was going to.

Setting out with only a bottle of water and a phone for emergency, I looked for signposts and landmarks to show me where I was so that I could return if necessary. The river, railway line and shops should have orientated me but I am spatially challenged at the best of times and have no sense of direction whatsoever. I tried to memorise the directions I took as I started to walk but, as is my wont, I soon started to daydream and once I had lost my focus I was completely lost.

With no idea of where I was or from which direction I had come, my belly began to flutter with fear. It was a relief not to be in the frantic world I had left behind at home but getting lost in a forest which was one of the last natural homes of bears, wolves and lynx in Europe, was hardly sensible. At this point, I thought about turning round and using Google Maps on my phone to lead me back but I knew I needed to go on even if it was into danger.

Choosing not to become caught up with my emotions and determined to rediscover my instincts, I entered the forest and switched on a part of myself I do not usually use. As the dense canopy of trees closed over me, my energy naturally began to drain downwards away from my head into my belly. The moment I entered this new world I realised that I was in nature’s realm, not mine. Realising that I must tread gently and with consciousness, I slowed down my pace and my feet, as if by magic, began to move as though they knew where they were going. Little by little she opened up to me, revealing flowers that spanned the pathways like daisy chains and trees which reached majestically up to the sky as though in praise to something invisible that only they could see.

As though one line of energy was holding me upright from the crown of my head while another rooted my body down into the ground, the confusion of my life fell away and I began to stand straighter and walk taller. Connected like this, I started to trust both myself and the mysterious eternity that was out there. It was like being un-blinded. The walls of the box I’d crammed myself into simply fell away and at last I was able to expand into something greater. No longer was I putting my soul on a diet. I was free to eat as much of this wisdom as I wanted. There was nowhere else I wanted to be. I was here and I was now and that was enough.

In the end, my feet told me when to turn back and I was able to return to my normal life with a new sense of ease and trust. I had been hemmed in by my life and now I was free. No longer did I want to control the uncontrollable. Instead, I was now ready to embrace experience by being curious. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know where to go next. This was my journey and, as long as I trusted that magnificent antenna that was my body, my feet would take me forward when it was time.

So if you find yourself in a difficult place where you don’t know where to turn, or if you have wrapped yourself up so tightly in a comfort blanket that you can no longer move, go for a walk somewhere you have never been before and dare to get lost. Learn to trust yourself again and remember that the map of your life is yours and no-one else’s. If you tread the world you find yourself in with gentleness and respect, she will let you in and then you will be able to feed upon the bounteous wisdom she will offer you.

Happy June

Love Laurelle

Twelve Keys to Life

Recently, my mother had a stroke. In trying to help her, I have realised that many of the suggested techniques are in fact very useful for life in general. Here are twelve keys for recovery and life:

Self-Belief: If you don’t believe that you are going to improve then you won’t. Self-belief is key to living a happy, fulfilled life both personally and professionally.

Avoiding negative self-talk: Thinking negatively becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Practice, practice, practice: After a stroke, it is all too easy to give up on rehab exercises after a short period of no improvement. The brain needs a high number of repetitions in order to rewire itself successfully and heal.

Sleep and Rest: while repetition is important, over-doing it is not helpful. The brain needs sleep and rest so it can store new information in ‘files’ which can then be retrieved.

Passion: Motivation and vision are essential to keep us going when things get tough. When we are passionate about something, we don’t give up however disheartened we may become.

Perseverance: Stroke recovery can be tiring and exhausting. So can life. Sometimes it helps to have a schedule or even someone to keep us accountable. That way our pride can work for us, keeping us going even when we don’t feel like it.

Communication: Just as the brain of a stroke patient needs clear and concrete signs that the exercises being done are correct and helpful, we need to communicate with ourselves that what we are doing is working. If writing is an option, journalling at the beginning or end of a day helps us see the improvements we are making in our lives.

Know when it’s time to work harder: Plateaus happen in all sorts of areas of life from rehab exercises to diets and exercise. Recovery for stroke patients typically slows down after about three to six months but it will only stop when the patient stops trying. Similarly, we can begin a new hobby with great verve – learning to play the piano or a new language, for example. When the enthusiasm inevitably lessens, it is time to double your efforts.

Variety is the Spice of Life: The brain can become used to the stimulation it is being given. New challenges can get us out of ruts and promote a new sense of achievement.

The Importance of Friends: We do not have to be alone. There are teams of therapists and doctors on hand for stroke patients. Support helps us to enjoy our lives. Socialising with friends and family can give great pleasure and sharing concerns can help ease depression and anxiety.

Purpose: Realising that we have a part to play, however poorly we might feel, is vital for all of us.

Altruism: Being interested in others makes us feel good. Listening to others and trying to help them is an important part of being human. It can also be a privilege and teaches us how to be compassionate, gentle and loving. When someone finds it hard to communicate we have to learn to listen not only with our ears but with our instinct, intuition and heart. Such connection often only happens in times of great need and, hard as it is, it can also be extremely beautiful.

Love Laurelle

What happens when you put an orchestra into a failing school?

Imagine a school in a high-rise housing estate with a reputation for poverty, crime and where most of the pupils can barely speak the native language. If you had to find a way of cutting truancy, the high drop-out rate, the appalling exam results and the despair of the wider community, what would you do?

In an age where music is being shifted off the timetable at an alarming rate and learning a musical instrument is only for the rich, a musical solution might surprise you. Eleven years ago, when Bremen East Comprehensive School in Tenever, northern Germany, had a reputation for fighting, aggression and graffiti, it was suggested that one of Europe’s best-known orchestras – the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen – should be moved into the school for rehearsals.

Disaster, you might think; but you’d be wrong. Certainly, the suggestion initially caught both parties off guard. Although the teachers were already hard-pressed to find enough time for learning and the musicians dreaded the prospect of unruly noise and a violent atmosphere, a series of projects was devised to bring the two factions together, including class visits and talks by musicians and the promise of help with an annual opera which was to be written and performed by the students.

Once the orchestra had moved into the school, pupils were given the freedom not only to listen to rehearsals, but also to sit between the professional musicians as they played. This brought them close to the harmonising effects of music and helped them to calm down and find gentler ways to express themselves so that they became more ‘sound’. The students were also encouraged to talk with the musicians and share their stories, broadening perspectives, demonstrating new possibilities, breaking down social barriers and opening young minds to otherwise undreamed of opportunities. Furthermore, as had already been proven by research, the music helped pupils to improve their reading and comprehension, language development, IQ scores and creative skills.

The result of this extraordinary collaboration was that truancy was dramatically cut, drop-out rates fell to less than 1%, exam results improved enormously and the atmosphere of the wider community was transformed. Indeed, the school became so popular that students from all over Bremen, even the wealthiest parts, queued up to join. The experience even benefitted the orchestra because it was discovered that children sitting amongst the instruments improved not only the musicians’ concentration, but also inspired them to make more beautiful sounds.

So let’s bring music on a grand scale into schools and mix people from different educational and social backgrounds together. Let singing and playing, listening and enjoying, sharing and expressing in choirs, orchestras and bands help every pupil from every country to become an inspired member of the community so that we can all learn how to live harmoniously together.

Sounds hopeful, doesn’t it?

Wishing you a happy and joyous Easter, Love Laurelle

The Joy of Making Music, Animal-Style

It seems that we could all do with a little more happiness and calm these days. Animals seem to be less keyed up than we are and perhaps we could take a note out of their books…

Music making is seen as a human activity. However, animals also make music and not just using their own natural sounds. Mozart may have transcribed the melody of his pet starling in a diary; Beethoven may have included representations of real birds in his Pastoral Symphony, and whale songs may have been recorded for meditation purposes, but it seems that animals’ musical abilities go far beyond this.

Elephants, for example, can actually play instruments, especially gongs, drums and even harmonicas which they sometimes blow into their own ears using the flexibility like fingers at the ends of their trunks.

In 2000, Richard Lair, aka Professor Elephant, set up the Thai Elephant Orchestra along with Soldier, an accomplished musician and composer and professor of neuroscience at Columbia University. Together they built 22 giant instruments in a metal workshop, all designed to be operated with the elephant’s trunk or with a stick held in the trunk. Since then, they have gone on to prove that elephants can not only distinguish basic melodies but also set up original rhythms. Interestingly, elephants prefer their music well-tuned. They learn where the sweet spot is on the instrument without being taught and avoid dissonance wherever possible.

The Orchestra has now recorded several albums some of which are improvised and the only cues given to the elephants are when to start and stop playing. Others melodies are renditions of traditional Thai melodies using five note scales. When a (human) orchestra in New York performed an arrangement of one of the elephants’ own compositions, asking the audience who they thought the composer was, the answers came back with names such as John Cage, Dvorak and Charles Ives.

Elephants aren’t the only ones to perform original music. I once had a dog who would sing ecstatically to the harmonica, displaying a quite extraordinary vocal range. Peter Gabriel performed an impressive duet with a bonobo, a pygmy chimpanzee, playing a keyboard. Chimpanzees can play hand-bells and certain monkeys will form choirs and sing together. Philosopher David Rothenberg set up a duet between his flute and a white-crested laughing thrush and captive zebra finches have been known to sing when asked.

In all cases, music making seems to calm the animals and make them happy so perhaps we should consider taking a leaf out of their book by creating a little more harmony. The more of us that get together and make music, the happier and more relaxed we will all be. Our pets will enjoy it too and, you never know, they might even join in…

Happy March!

Love Laurelle