I started playing the piano at age 5, and for the next 13 years, I found myself in many situations – such as playing at concerts or competitions – where I had to perform well.

In 2004, I found myself in a highly stressful situation and ended up suffering from insomnia for more than a year. It had a massive negative effect on my studies and exams – and this was the year that I completed two degrees: An MSc in Biology and a BA in Events Management.

I had two final exams to prepare for. My first exam was Biology, and I had plenty of time to prepare. But I had only 10 days for my second exam, meaning that I also had to rest after studying biology for a month and find enough space in my brain for new information. 

Backache is a surprisingly common condition that often requires complete bed rest. This affects both the individual sufferer, and the country as a whole – working days lost due to back pain damage the British economy by an estimated £12.3 billion a year. Men are more likely to suffer back pain than women but both sexes can benefit from a variety of self-help measures and professional treatment. 

Some people choose to lie on the floor with a pillow under their knees while watching TV, while others invest in an orthopaedic mattress for their bed. Chiropractic treatment is another option, and offers an evidence-based approach to acute and chronic back pain.

Asthma (sometimes called bronchial asthma) is characterised by difficulty breathing. Its symptoms, which include coughing, wheezing and chest tightness, are common when sufferers experience an “asthma attack”, but with proper treatment asthmatics (of whom there are more than five million in the UK) can live well. There is no cure for asthma, but there are ways to control the symptoms.

Whether your asthma is allergic, exercise-induced, cough variant, occupational or nocturnal, the trigger is nearly always related to stress and anxiety.

The biggest story on the BBC News website for the past few days has been The myth of the eight hour sleep – surpassed by Segmented sleep – ten strange things people do at night. The first article discussed how the “ideal” night’s sleep hasn’t always consisted of a single eight-hour chunk – in previous times and cultures, people were used to sleeping for four hours, wake for two, and then return to sleep. The second profiled people who thrive on waking in the night, and show how their unusual sleep patterns can actually bring them peace, clarity, and an edge to their lives that was missing when they tried to conform to the expected societal norms of sleep.

But I can’t relax! I’m just a naturally stressed person. I tried relaxing before and it didn’t work”.

It’s all too easy to buy into the concept that you are an anxious or ‘highly strung’ type of person and go through life struggling to enjoy yourself. For may people, even though they say they’d like to change their life for the better – and are even shown the tools – they give it a half-hearted go and conclude that it’s just not for them.

I’d be willing to bet that you’ve had quite a few relaxed moments in your existence so far. Most of us listen to music, watch films, read books or go for walks. Everything slows down, you feel at peace. You may even lose your sense of time. Even if it was just momentary, your mind and body have relaxed before – and they can again. You just need to practise.

As they say in the face cream commercials – “now for the science bit”.

It’s funny how little things can throw us off course. Our body gets so used to its rhythms and patterns that any changes to our daily routine can have a big impact. I really noticed the phenomenon after the clocks went back at the weekend. Just the difference of an hour can affect how we sleep, and our feelings about ourselves as a result.

Sleep problems are increasingly common, thanks to the hectic pace of life today, and the 24/7 culture that expects us to be available whenever, wherever.  There are some sleep problems that are largely unavoidable, such as the fatigue associated with parenting babies and small children, nighttime shift work and international travel. But many people still struggle to drop off and sleep soundly, even without intervening factors.

It was problems with sleeping that led me to discover Autogenic Training (AT) in 2004. Despite the severity of my insomnia, it disappeared in a few short weeks as I learned how to take my body and mind into a deeply relaxed state. About a year later I began to experience sleeping difficulties again, and was worried that I had relapsed, or that the AT had somehow ‘worn off’.

However, I was reassured to discover that it was just another layer of my development, and that I had several more to go in order to help my body and mind to truly heal. A few things I learned from that experience were:

A lot has been written about pregnancy and birth, much of it contradictory, but one thing all the books agree on it the importance of preparation. We tend to focus a lot on the outcome of the birth (and you will often hear people say “the most important thing is a healthy baby, regardless of now it came out). But the process of ‘giving birth’ for the mother, and of ‘being born’ for the baby, are nonetheless very important events. The way you enter the world has more bearing on the rest of your life than you might think, as I discovered when I looked into the circumstances of my own birth.

You might have heard about the concept of rebirthing – in a nutshell, it is all about how what happens during those hours of labour and entry into the world is repeated during our later life. I found it quite astonishing to see how I was repeating the patterns set from my birth. So, for example, I tend to prefer working in isolation, am comfortable in my own company and find it hard to accept help or work well in partnership. How interesting to draw a link, then, with the circumstances of my birth, where I was separated from my mother for long periods and only given back for sporadic feeding. I learnt from the very first days that I had only myself to rely on, and over 30 years later I am teaching myself about accepting help and working as part of a team.

I remember that I became an aunt for the third time exactly a year ago, and I found it just as exciting and special as it was first time around. I couldn’t help but marvel at the perfection of my little niece’s tiny body and limbs – and of the process that had created her. For nine months she was growing in the perfect environment at the perfect temperature with just the right amount of light and shade. Everything she needed to become a perfect human being. When you think about it, you can understand why babies scream as soon as they’re born. What a shock to leave such a comfortable and familiar environment, what an assault on the senses!

Of course, there are also times that the baby will be affected by some of the goings on outside that warm, safe place. A physical shock (such as the mother falling or experiencing significant pain) or high levels of anxiety will disturb that calm and comfortable interior. While it is impossible to avoid everyday stress and worry (as life, sadly, doesn’t always turn out as we might hope) research has shown that high levels of stress can adversely affect the developing foetus, causing behavioural and developmental problems. A study conducted a couple of years ago found that babies whose mothers had experienced significant stress in pregnancy (such as a bereavement or severe relationship problems) had on average a 10 point lower IQ than those without.

Do you ever get the feeling of being so overwhelmed with life and its challenges that you just want time to stop completely? It was this urge that drew me to a retreat in France at a place called Plum Village. I knew I needed to slow down and reevaluate my life but, once there, I spent the first few days wondering what I’d let myself in for.

This was no swanky spa break, but a proper spiritual retreat, led by Buddhist monks and nuns, in accordance with Buddhist traditions and ceremonies.

One of the philosophies that struck a real chord with me was the importance of letting things happen without forcing. Three days into the retreat, I went on a walking meditation in the hills, which involved focusing on how your feet make contact with the earth, helping to prevent other thoughts and worries intruding and distracting you from the moment.

As a result of focusing on my moving feet I found it increasingly difficult to continue. I became aware of how each step contributed to a greater change and had to force myself to go up a small hill. This was a very significant experience which put me in mind of the rebirthing I had undergone a couple of years before.

Embracing the Way, you become embraced;
Breathing gently, you become newborn;
Clearing your mind, you become clear;
Nurturing your children, you become impartial;
Opening your heart, you become accepted;
Accepting the world, you embrace the Way.

Bearing and nurturing,
Creating but not owning,
Giving without demanding,
This is harmony.

From Tao Te Ching