Customer service – how much does it matter ?

Since coming back from the summer holidays, where shopping wasn’t high on my agenda, I dived straight into online retail, but came back for air with mixed emotions. The question that I keep on pondering is how much customer service impacts our perception of the brand or retailer and when do you reach a boiling point and choose to simply walk away?

In the last couple of weeks I needed to restock on some supplements, fancied adding a new bag to my wardrobe and wanted to experiment with a new cleanser. I also wanted to get to know a fashion brand better and ordered a catalogue.

Cefinn is a fashion brand created by Samantha Cameron, wife of former PM David, mother of three and a woman who helped breath new life into Smythson. Popular with the fashion crowd and practical women who want to look stylish, but not overdone or too trendy, the brand recently announced via Instagram that their new A/W 2018 catalogue was hot off the press. I ordered one via Cefinn’s website and within two working days it landed on my mat. Elegant. Effortless. Everyday. Fast on its feet, attentive to customers, existing and new.

Organic Burst was one of the first supplement brands that really made an impression on my in the last decade of wellbeing evolution. Having been launched in London, it disrupted the way we viewed supplements, but just as it has build up a loyal following among customers and retailers, Katya and Dimitri, OB’s founders took the products off the retailers shelves and re-located to the US, leaving many, including myself, somewhat bewildered by such an unpredictable move. Having said that, Organic Burst still make their supplements and ships them around the world. It has a loyal following, supports its suppliers and workers, raising awareness of the working conditions and being a conscious, ethical and responsible brand. My recent order of ‘old’ favourites, Maca and Baobab, as well as Wheatgrass, have arrived within three days of my placing the order. Pleasing to the eye, beneficial to the body, quick on its feet, with regular updates on dispatch and estimated arrival.

DeMellier London is a brand founded by a beautiful, practical and creative woman, Mireia Llusia-Lindh, who successfully combines motherhood with work and remains charming and inquisitive along the way, treating her customers with the same charm and discretion, as she does her growing celebrity and royalty cleintelle. Having recently rebranded (original brand name was Milli Millu), DeMellier London recently launched Autumn 2018 edition of their in-house customer magazine. After exchanging opinions with Mireia, I ordered their new miniature bag The Siena (the brand uses inspiring cities from around the world as the names for their bags & mini leather accessories). With a chic gold chain and in a seasonal shade of purple, this bag arrived super quickly, lovingly and carefully packaged in a protective cotton bag, and even though I tend to favour large bags, this mini assistant now doesn’t seem to be far from my side.

By the same token I recently had super quick delivery from across the pond, from Beauty Heroes, following the issue that I experienced with my subscription box with the Royal Mail and my bookish Boxwalla. Each took less than a week. Interestingly and tellingly, it is often the smaller brands and companies that tend to provided efficient, attentive and speedy service, even though their budget and staff capabilities are limited.

Cult Beauty is a well-known beauty retailer, which regularly gets mentioned in the press and on social media. Recently there have been tentative mentions that founders are looking to sell the business – whether it’s true or not I don’t know, but if that happened, it wouldn’t be surprising, considering their growth and size. However, having been a CB customer from early on, nowadays I rarely place the orders. I do sometimes succumb to my ‘shopping’ impulses, when they are the only UK retailer to stock a brand, which was a case recently. I placed an order and it was dispatched two days later. The quoted delivery time is normally 3-7 work days. Other parcels arrived, but no the one from Cult Beauty. I e-mailed, I tweeted. I got a DM and exchanged e-mails. More time passed. No parcel. Again I chased. CB phone wasn’t manned, instead it had an answerphone on. Suffice to say that the parcel didn’t arrive within the time stated and neither did the replies from the customer service team within the 24-48hrs they quote. I also realised that this has been more or less the same pattern of service I have received on most of my Cult Beauty orders in the last year. But what made this particular shopping experience even worse, is that when my order arrived, it looked like this:

My writing of this post was driven by my own internal dialogue about customer care and loyalty and how important it is to customers, particularly when they have short attention spans, busy schedules and desire for instant gratification. Is it too much to expect a reply when the parcel hasn’t arrived on time? Or an update, if there is a delay in dispatch? Do we want to shop with retailers, who let us down again & again or do we take this as an opportunity to slow down, breath and practise being more patient? Do we raise a fuss or do we stay silent? Do we continue to support retailers which are driven by their own profit targets & agenda because they stock something that others don’t, rather than the desire to please the customer and provide him or her with courteous service and a feel-good experience, while achieving their business plan? All those questions floated around my head before and during writing of this post. Question is, what do YOU think and how do YOU differentiate retailers you choose to shop with regularly? Is customer service important or is it secondary, as long as receive what you paid for? What makes you reach a boiling points & walk away from the retailer for good? Please share what you think and what matters to YOU when it comes to the customer service you receive or want from online and high street retailers alike.

Time for change: Curious Russian in London becomes The Curiosity Gap

Everyday we move forward and change. Our bodies change, so do our lifestyles, ambitions, attitudes, mindset and relationships. And sometimes because of that internal change we feel that something that worked in the past, no longer serves us in the present. That’s the reason why Curious Russian in London morphed into The Curiosity Gap earlier this week.

I started my website ten years ago in 2008 and called it ‘Galinka’, a nickname some of my friends used for me. In time I came to realise that it didn’t have the right feel, so I chose ‘Curious Russian in London’ and it worked well for a good few years, but last year I started churning and questioning things. I changed my website designer and together, combining our creativity, technicality and fluidity, we re-designed my website. Working with him is a joyous pleasure, as well as opportunity to learn – something that fuels my passion for both life and work. When the re-designed website went live, all of a sudden it’s name started to bug me. I am Russian by birth and I am proud of my roots. And yes, I am still London-based, but somehow the name no longer tied things together, nor gave you the clarity about my work & variety of subject that I am passionate about. I am driven by curiosity when it comes to exploring the width and breadth of England, as well as places, brands and people from around the world.

I played with words, but nothing felt right. I got more and more flustered. after all, I write because I have a way with words and communicate things that I think might be of interest to my audience. But if I don’t feel in tune with my website’s name, neither will you, my audience. This went on for months and made me feel quite frustrated. And then, a few days ago my dear friend Elijah Choo, founder of the British artisan beauty brand Bodhi & Birch, had a great idea, which he shared with me. Within a second, it made perfect sense. But not so quick – now I had to wait and see, if the right domaines were available and could be acquired. Serendipity was on my side and now I can proudly announced that CRiL, ak Curious Russian in London, has morphed into ‘The Curiosity Gap’.

I am still Galina, but I hope that my website’s name now makes perfect sense not just to me, but to YOU too. Curiosity is what drives and informs me professionally and GAP are my actual initials, but ‘Curiosity Gap’ is also a theory developed by academic George Lowenstein. According to him, ‘curiosity is a state that occurs when people can identify a gap between what they currently know and what they would like to know’.

Gratitude is something that I practise daily and I couldn’t be more grateful to Elijah and Dan, my website developer and technology wiz, for their power of thought, for their help and the superman’s speed with which they both acted. These two men helped me shake off my frustrations for good. Mind The Curiosity Gap .)

Judgement, social media and motherhood: thoughts on new mum Katherine Ormerod’s article in Grazia UK

Like many of you, I buy Grazia UK weekly and while I can’t say I read every page diligently, certain things or articles draw my attention more than others. Sometimes they give food for thought, sometimes I nod my head and sometimes I feel somewhat frustrated by what is being written. Motherhood is one of those sadly divisive subjects and the way I approached my life as a new mum is in certain ways different to how new mums approach theirs now. We all need to move with the times, for better or worse, as it is part of our evolutionary nature. When I read Grazia’s Katherine Ormerod article in this week’s magazine (she recently became a mum to a baby boy), about ‘sharenting’, I felt inclined to share my own thoughts in a spurr of a moment post. Call it a public diary entry on the subject, but please remember that it is only my own opinion and an opportunity for a friendly dialogue.

‘By the time their child is five, the average parent will have shared 2,000 images of them online’

This statistic somewhat horrified me. Thing is, not then, not now, do I feel compelled to share my kids images, where you can see their faces, on social media. They are not ugly, I am very proud of their achievements and milestones, but I just never felt the need to ‘share’ them with a big, wide world on social media. So much so, that some of my friends have gotten ‘in trouble’ with me when they posted our joint pictures with the kids on their social media pages. I always asked for them to be taken down straight away. I value my own privacy and don’t need to gain additional likes because of my kids – you following me on social media should have nothing to do with my kids. I do share parenting advice when I am asked or feel my experience can be helpful and do it with pleasure. I also accept with gratitude advice from fellow mums, as having someone else’s perspective and experience can only help me get better at being a mother to my kids. However, I don’t expect other people to coo over my kids, nor be particularly interested in their wardrobe, pastime or favourite foods.

‘By the age of two, 60% of children have a digital footprint’

There is also the question of safety and privacy. Would my kids be embarrassed in the future by something personal that I felt compelled to share with the world without their consent? Or can I be inviting evil in our lives by sharing their images online? Sadly I have heard some really scary stories from a friend’s husband, who throughout his career in the police force, has come across some horrendous cases of child abuse, which has put me off posting my kids images online.

Even as a young new mum, I never wanted to sit in Starbucks (yep, that was the venue of choice at the time, we didn’t have juice bars or cafes serving avo toast or poke bowls then) and discuss contents of my kids nappies or leaking boobs with fellow NCT mums. My best friend and I ran away to the park instead, kids giggling in their buggies and wind blowing away our already messy hair. Life was good, our mums and girlfriends were our greatest support network and I wasn’t addicted to my Instagram then.

Now we have parallel, perfected lives on social media and I am often bombarded with pictures of cute kids of complete strangers. Do I feel compelled to follow them or their parents? No, I don’t, because I value my life in the real world and would rather smile at real kids in the street. Do I judge those who choose to? Maybe I did in the beginning, but now I am mature enough to know that we are all different and something that works for one mum with her child, doesn’t necessarily work as well for another. Life is about learning and doing what’s right for you and your family. Is it bad, if someone gets paid to dress their kids in certain fashion brands or goes on a family, all inclusive, holiday and writes about it? No, it’s not and it would be cynical to say that most of us won’t say ‘yes’ to an opportunity like that, if it came along. Again, it is about YOUR choices, which you are entitled to make without being judged or vilified for, as was the recent case with Clemmie Hooper, midwife-turned-blogger @motherofdaughters Interestingly, her husband doesn’t get judged as harshly when he posts things about their daughters. I wonder why such duality of attitude still exists when it comes to women rushing to judge another woman’s actions.

Katerine has set up her son’s account within a week of him being born and there she shares her struggles to breastfeed, learning to cope with lack of sleep and other problems new mums encounter. At the time when my kids were small social media was in naissant stages, so we didn’t have those platforms to share advice, instead we talked to each other face-to-face ( or to health professionals) and read books. There is so much more information now available online, but does it help or confuse us? I remember how pregnancy guidelines relating to the diet changed between my two pregnancies, which was confusing enough. Now, the amount of information coming our way is staggering and some of it can actually be harmful, if taken onboard. At the time when you might be feeling vulnerable, confused or overwhelmed by the effect of hormones, during or after the pregnancy, seeing perfected imagery of a well-known blogger with her picture-perfect child can only make you feel even worse.

[...] read more

Galina Loves Books: ‘Educated’ by Tara Westover

I don’t know, if I read fifty books annually, like Bill Gates is rumoured to, but I can’t imagine my daily life without reading a few pages, something that is as important for my brain, as it is for my soul. Some books are read & easily forgotten, while others make a huge impact, so much so, you talk or think about them for weeks & months on end. Tara Westover’s ‘Educated’ undoubtedly belongs in the latter category for me.

Initially I saw ‘Educated’ in my local Waterstones & some unseen force drew me to it. As I read about a third of it, riveted by every page & the precisely beautiful way that Tara writes, 5 x 15 hosted one of their events, where Tara was a speaker. A slight, blond young woman in her early thirties, she stood with gracious poise in the limelight, yet she also seemed contained & reserved. Tara has a Doctorate in her professional title, something made even more remarkable, for someone so young, by the fact that she wasn’t schooled in the way most of the children in the Western countries, including America, where Tara is from, are. She held the audience in the palm of her hand, as she talked about her book & read a passage from it, with quiet confidence that I found extraordinary, considering the turmoils of her life’s journey. I left the event deep in thought & even more impressed than before by the resilience, determination & talent.

Tara was born in rural Idaho to the Mormon parents. Her father raised his children by instilling the deep fear of the fast approaching End of Days, wielding unbelievable control over his vast family. He started by alienating his wife from her own family & friends, then proceeding to do the same with each of their children. ‘Us’ versus ‘The World’. And yet there is a sense that in some ways he did love his children & on occasion managed to show glimpses of it to Tara & her siblings, yet his true ‘loyalty’ rested with only those, who were firmly under his control. He was a contradictory man with mental issues, yet this wasn’t questioned by his wife, who chose to defer to him on most occasions. To say that relationships within the family were complicated would be an understatement.

Tara hasn’t been registered for a birth certificate, had no school records, as she didn’t attend classes, nor medical records, as her mother treated the children herself with homeopathy (in time growing a very successful business).

‘When I was a child, I waited for my mind to grow, for my experiences to accumulate and my choices to solidify, taking shape into the likeness of a person.[...] read more

Slogan merchandise – a marketing trend or something meaningful

In the last week alone I had at least a dozen of e-mails, marketing their slogan merchandise to me. Neither of them convinced me to make the purchase, quite the opposite in fact and let me tell you why.

As a woman in my early 40s, I have lived a full life thus far and while I have always been vocal in my support for my friends, colleagues and strangers, when their work or deeds inspire me, I don’t feel the need to use tag lines or wear a slogan merchandise, as it doesn’t define who I am. A sweatshirt or tee doesn’t speak for me, my voice does in theory, but in actual fact it is my actions or written words that I expect people to judge me on and form opinion, not what I wear on my body or carry on my back or shoulder.

With the rise of MeToo, we are seeing a rise in the number of feminists and activists. It seems that everyone now has a story of abuse to tell, even when many years has passed. Everyone seems to be having mental problems. The longer all this goes on, the more cynical I am becoming of the motivation of certain brands and people. How do you tell the difference between genuine suffering or blunt cynicism and desire to make a profit on something that seems to be making the headlines, when you don’t know the person?

I have been in many situations when women who talk of supporting others, are in fact building their careers by standing on the shoulders of others and not necessarily acknowledging this. In some ways the situation now reminds me of the situation perfectly played out in the movie ‘Working Girl’. Women have always been very competitive with each other and in some ways in a more mean way than men. We smile, then we bitch when the person at who we were smiling at moment ago has left the room. We promise support, then move on swiftly, unless there is something in it for us. We ask for support, but don’t necessarily reciprocate, when later a person who gave us a helping hand asks for some assistance with something they need. Isn’t it time we started acting, rather then pretending to care, by purchasing merchandise with slogans that are in today and gone tomorrow?

We all are so multi-layered & so complex as human beings, that by simply judging a person based on a sweatshirt they are wearing, we are trivialising things that might be quite meaningful. Words have meaning, tag lines less so ( can someone explain to me what does Clean beauty or Clean eating actually mean ?), yet their use seems to be increasingly widespread, as retailers and publications want to please & placate the millennial segment of the marketplace. How do brands distribute the profits made on slogan merchandise & who does it actually benefit – the brand or the movement? That’s the question that I am pondering.

Crystal Bed Chakra Treatment review at Emma Cannon clinic

I have known Emma Cannon, acupuncturist, fertility specialist, mother of two and an accomplished book author for many moons. I saw her for acupuncture when I was expecting my daughter and my baby son had his first ever acupuncture session with her when he was a toddler. She is one of those calm life forces that listens and observes, then helps guide you in the right direction. Her clinics are always peaceful, yet vibrant in the energy that she imparts on them with creative flair. So when after doing a spiritual retreat in Brazil and trying a crystal bed treatment there, Emma brought the machine to her clinic and invited me to try it out, I didn’t have to be asked twice, jumping at the opportunity to try something that intrigued me.

On a rainy day & cold Monday I raced to Emma’s clinic in Chelsea’s Radnor Walk, looking forward to catching up with her. Climbing up the steps, I entered a serene room, with beautiful paintings, crystals, books, door knob tassels in vibrant colours and flowers that together make you feel like you are in someone’s cosy and warm home, rather than a clinic. A big hug from Emma only enhances that sentiment!

Time doesn’t change Emma’s beautiful face, with her huge eyes radiating wisdom when she looks at you. Dressed in her favourite (Marni) outfit, high platform wooden clogs, akin to those that Japanese geishas expertly wear on their tiny feet, with a beautiful flower necklace and ear hoops framing her earlobes, she comes across as a very modern bohemian. I settled into one of Emma’s comfortable rattan chairs by her work desk, my eyes swimming over the wall of cards and notes sent by women, whom Emma helped reach their dream of motherhood. You can’t help but smile at the joy emanating from babies and their parents on that board! Emma and I had a quick chat, with me observing with a giggle that both of us seem to be drawn to colour yellow when it comes to interior decorating (mind you, Emma manages to combine so many colours in her clinic, my eyes always widen in wonder at the vibrant atmosphere she creates, like God waving his wand and creating the beauty of nature).

When it comes to our health and well-being and taking responsibility for the factors that we do control, it helps to understand the functioning of our body’e energy system. Our aura has seven areas, called chakras in Sanskrit and translated as ‘wheel’, that work as depots for energy, related to certain organs in our bodies. Our aura is the result of interaction of two life forces – the cosmic, that is directed downwards, and the terrestrial, that goes upwards that cross each other in our bodies. The main purpose of each chakra is to transform the energy from those two forces, coupled with the energy that we get from things like food and human interaction, into the energy that our body, hopefully, puts to good use. The seven chakras in our bodies, in the descending order are Crown (violet), Third Eye (electric blue), Throat (light blue), Heart (green), Solar Plexus (yellow), Sacral (orange) and Base (red). it will be made even more interesting when you read about my experience with the Crystal bed below.

After Emma’s client left, she took me to another room, where she asked me to take my shoes and socks off and get comfortable on the treatment bed, as she positioned the crystal machine over my chakras. With the warmth of the bed lulling me to sleep, Emma asked me a few questions relating to my health, put a few needles into my hands and feet, turned the machine on, with crystals lighting up in pairs and left me to drift off in peace.

The chakra crystal bed allows Emma to work with bio-fields that have been long acknowledged in Ayurveda and yogic spiritual practises, but haven’t got wider recognition till the 1990s. The machine has seven crystals, each lighting up with a different light, according to your chakra. In each moment in time, two crystals light up, then go out, giving way to the next two, each coming through a specific way that the crystal was cut. Note to self – be careful not to rush when you get up post treatment, in order not to bump into the crystals sharp edge – but Emma will warn you about it .)

Our bio-fields are our first lines of protection, alongside our skin, from the negative impact of the environment that most of us live in, in busy cities, saturated with noise, pollution, environmental aggressors, radio waves and other factors that have a cumulative effect in how most of us feel emotionally. So while this particular treatment (you can have it on its own, but Emma recommends that it is combined with acupuncture and is particularly beneficial for women in their ‘lutteal’ phase or in ‘post transfer’ stage during the IVF, as it enhances the ‘accepting’ effect, as well as can help you feel protected and nurtured ) might not be for those of you who live in their head, rather than their heart, in time and with change, that comes on our highway journey called life, you might change your mind.

At the time when you feel vulnerable, overly dependent on something or someone, emotionally frustrated, this treatment can help you feel more in yourself, stronger, braver, calmer, or help your body be more ‘accepting’ during the process of getting pregnant, be it naturally or through IVF. This treatment is suitable to women of various ages, according to Emma, and works particularly well on parasympathetic part of our nervous system.

”The bed is made up of seven hand-carved clear quartz Brazilian precision Vogel cut crystals, all of which are carved out from one piece of crystal. Each of the Quartz Crystals has been cut to a specific frequency, a technique developed by the late Marcel Vogel. The crystals are suspended on individual arms from a stand above the therapy bed. These crystals are then aligned over the major chakras and pulsating coloured light is shone through them. As the colour relating to each chakra is transmitted through the crystal, the chakra is cleansed, energized, and brought into balance with all of the other chakras. This repairs and balances the human Biofield and allows the other aspects of our self, whether it is mental, emotional or physical to be brought into balance”.

As Emma left the room, initially I felt a slight buzz in my left ear – unobtrusive, but certainly peaking my attention, as I tried to settle on the bed, my eyes covered by a lavender pillow and music playing through the Sonos speaker. Now, to the part that might offer insights to the experienced and knowledgable of you, who are in tune the emotional core of your wellbeing – if you are a cynic, scroll down, as what I am about to describe will only make you chuckle and roll your eyes.

I started with seeing a white colour, that slowly, as my body ‘gave in’ and relaxed itself naturally into the treatment bed, gave way to blue and purple. I felt that I was floating on top of the lake, supported and gently caressed by the water, looking into the sky and clouds reflecting on my face. I felt calm and comfortable. Then some sad events from the past arose in my mind, but instead of feeling unsettled, I felt calm, peacefully acknowledged them and sent them away, in a puff of dark smoke.

Half and hour or so in, as I felt relaxed, listening to the changing musical soundtrack, my thought process slowed down to a trickle. Emma came in, checked in on me and my pulses and then told me she will let me be for another five to ten minutes. I savoured the music, a mix of Chinese and Brazilian melodies, medieval ballads and Pan Pipes of the Andes and then…. the treatment was over. Emma took the needles out, moved the machine out of my way and I was done. My face completely relaxed, my head almost devoid of thought, I exited into a busy crowd on the King’s Road and walked calmly towards the tube in my own privately calm bubble. This feeling lasted for the rest of the day, with me not raising my voice or feeling annoyed or frustrated, not even once. And when I came home and had a chance to re-read some of the books on chakras that I have, the colours that I was seeing and the issues that I have been struggling with or addressing lately made perfect sense.

In my opinion this is a treatment for those people who are in touch with their inner emotional compass, who trust their intuition, yet are always looking for answers and evolution of who they are on the emotional, as well as the physical level. Even if you are cynical, you might reach a state when you might be open to it. I didn’t have any specific expectations and Emma didn’t promise me anything specific, she just shared some things that I might experience, but it turned out to be a more meaningful, if not profound experience, that left me reflective on what such treatments, having been done regularly, can achieve. I haven’t tried a treatment like that in London, so if an opportunity arrises and you feel the need to nurture yourself on a spiritual, as well as physical level, give Emma a call!

To find out more about Emma, her clinic & treatments, please click here

The Crystal Bed Treatment is 30 minutes long, as a follow up session, but can be included[...] read more

Nutritional lessons from ‘The Beauty Chef’

I tend to put aside weekends for my family and loved ones, but on occasion I do allow myself a brief escape to do something for myself, so I can come back home reinvigorated and ready to nurture. Having been a fan of Carla Oates, founder of The Beauty Chef, I reorganised my schedule in order to make the 9am event with her at SpaceNK store in Chelsea a few days ago. Carla was in London visiting from her home in Australia to meet up with her retailers & customers and do various panels and events.

Beauty Begins in the Belly

Having left home on time, my progress was nearly stopped in its tracks by the announcement at Euston station that there were signalling problems on Victoria line and alternative routes should be used – it would have been helpful to get that announcement straight away and not after sitting on the train that refused to depart for ten minutes. I ran for the black cab (I might be a dinosaur, but I don’t have an Uber app), who not only made sure I arrived on time (nearly miraculous, might I add), but also was a great source of a factual conversation, on subjects ranging from Uber to current Mayor, political upheaval and double standards. Grateful for being on time and fuelled by an interesting conversation, I entered the store where staff and women (one came along with her young daughter) were waiting for Carla. We were offered some juices and a few nibbles and then a smiling woman with long flowing hair and dressed in a pretty, but unassuming long olive dress with side pockets, emerged from the back room. Smiling, she proceeded to tell us about the passion that fuels her life – nutrition.

Carla wrote her first book, ‘Feeding Your Skin’ thirteen years ago, thanks to the team at Penguin publishing. Since then, alongside raising two children, who are now 20 and 17, which is hard to believe as Carla hardly looks a day over 30, continued to research organic and natural solutions for radiant skin and gut health. Her own journey included allergies and eczema as a child, but thanks to Carla’s mother, who has overhauled her diet, she quickly learnt about the close connection between diet and healthy skin. Carla worked as a journalist and fashion stylist, but from early on had a passion for natural skincare and holistic approach to lifestyle, at the time when very few people paid attention to it. So when her daughter developped eczema, Carla was quick to eliminate dairy and gluten from her diet and zeroed on fermented foods, which was the foundation for her first product for her brand, The Beauty Chef, called ‘Glow’.

Sadly in our day and age, we don’t consume enough of good bacteria daily, due to the over-processing of our food. Often we feed pathogenic bacteria, when instead we need to be nurturing the good bacteria’ that is responsible for up to 2/3 of our immunity in our second ‘brain’, our gut. Our gut also produces more than twenty unique hormones.

Carla pointed out that we are ten times more bacteria than cells, so it is important for our body’s fabric to be healthy. So it is never a good idea to underestimate the importance of our daily nutrition and make sure that we have broad spectrum strains of bacteria in our gut, by ‘implanting’ and feeding pre and probiotics in our gut. We might think we are eating well, but examine the state of your hair, skin and nails – they are the last ones to get ‘nutrients’ from our body, so are a good indication of how healthy our diet and nutrition really are. Like a litmus test of sorts.

According to one of my favourite books about gut (if you already don’t have it, I urge you to buy and read ‘Gut’ by Giulia Enders), ‘while 100%of the cells that make us up when we start life are human cells, we are soon colonised by so many micro-organisms that only 10% of our cells are human, with microbes accounting for the remaining 90%). Yet only in the last few years we are starting to read more and more about gut health and slowly but surely there are also scientific papers offering insights into the functioning of our gut, as well as offering us tips on how best look after it. Considering that Carla was one of the pioneers when it came to gut supplementations, she falls into the ‘leader’, rather than ‘follower’, hence my interest in her work and the use of her supplements in my own diet.

‘Glow’ was launched in 2009 and at the time retailers didn’t know in which section to put Carla’s supplement, as the segment of ‘wellness’ was in its naissant state. Carla developed it for daily gut maintenance and said that the initial reception of retailers was ‘weird’. But thanks to word of mouth, the word started spreading and even her husband’s work colleagues (he works in plumbing) now make regular ‘requests’ not just for the Beauty Chef’s Protein powder (comes in chocolate and vanilla), but for ‘Glow’ too.

Glow‘ is the supplement that was developed ‘to make you look and feel great’, according to Carla. It is a supplement for daily gut ‘maintenance’, which has a ‘mother culture’, based around the starter culture and fermentation yeasts, that are macerated for 6-8 weeks (something that can’t be speeded up, even when retailers ask for more stock, but Carla now has bigger production facilities). With the added macro algae, beta carotene, antioxidants, queen garnet plum (native to Australia), Vitamin C, zinc, seeds, legumes this powder, which can be added to water, smoothies, cereals according to your tastes, is a powerhouse the effect of which you hopefully will see in your skin and possibly the way you feel within a month or so of taking it. According to Carla they have also done some clinical trials that show an improvement in certain pre-existing skin conditions with regular consumption of ‘Glow’.

Cleanse‘ is a supplement that Carla recommends taking four times a year ( I have done it twice last year, in autumn and in springtime). it was developed for times when you are stressed, overindulged regularly in processed foods or when you travel a lot. It helps to balance or restore your digestive system, while also assisting your body’s own daily detoxing process.

Carla also created ‘Inner Beauty Boosts’, which are ‘like serums to your moisturiser’. They come in liquid, not powdered form, and are called Collagen, Hydration & Antioxidant Inner Beauty Boost. We start slowing down in producing our own body’s collagen from the age of 25, so Carla included bio-fermented berries, which help our body’s collagen synthesis process. Antioxidant boost includes papaya and green tea, which help boost your body’s immunity and digestive process. As to Hydration, most of us probably don’t drink enough water daily – the simplest thing that we can but fail to do daily, noticing the cumulative effect in our skin. Carla’s boost tastes like a ‘healthy pina colada’ and includes lemon myrtle and natural electrolytes.

As to Protein Powders, of which I am a big fan, as there are always occasions when I have a busy day and don’t have the time to sit down and eat a proper lunch, a good quality one always offers you a liquid meal that will help sustain your body until dinner, without compromising your body’s nutritional needs. Carla’s powders are created around sprouted pea protein, which is easily digested and absorbed by the body. The product contains more than 40 certified organic ingredients, as well as fibre, which will help you feel fuller for longer, antioxidants and Vitamin C.

Later this year Carla also plans to launch a powder formula that will help those of us who have trouble sleeping and I hope that she will come to London again to share her tips and experience about SLEEP Inner Beauty Powder, that has already been launched in Australia. With her open and friendly personality, she is easy to talk to and as a mother of young children I can relate to her too. I asked her why we need to use supplements, which our grandmothers and mothers didn’t use, yet they were fine. Most supplements nowadays don’t come cheap and if you take several of them daily, the overall cost can be quite cringe-worthy. Carla didn’t shrug the question off, instead acknowledging the issue. She said that in her opinion previous generations might not have had the food variety we do now, but they ate in season, food came from the soil that isn’t as nutrient depleted as it is now and there weren’t antibiotics and genetically modified seeds used in crops. We both chuckled remembering how we both picked food off the garden grids & bushes ( potatoes in the autumn, variety of salads and berries in the summer at my parents country house in my case), we didn’t necessarily wash them, eating them there and then, ingesting soil particles. Our guts were exposed to kefir and kombucha and no-one made a big deal out of it.

Nowadays the picture of nutrition is completely different and many things that were beneficial for our bodies and guts have been phased out, giving way to pesticide-sprayed crops and germ-killing hand sprays. Many of us dash with hand wipes, as soon as our toddler touches something outside, be it a stick, a flower or a fallen leaf. Our mothers didn’t do that and yet we turned out to be just fine. Ultimately it’s not just genetics that determine our livelihood and wellbeing, so it’s worth taking the time to learn more about supplements before we take them or give them to the children. Eating fresh and in season, buying food from local markets, cooking at home involving, when possible, our other halves and children, talking about food and paying attention to how this or that food makes us feel – all those things matter, as do the supplements we choose to pop into our mouths or mix into our drinks or breakfast cereals. I enjoy cooking using the recipes from Carla’s book ‘The Beauty Chef: delicious food for radiant skin, gut health and wellbeing’ simply because the recipes are nutritious and benefit our bodies and not because it has beautiful imagery and is written by someone well-known. We only have one health and looking after it is not a matter of here today, gone tomorrow, which many celebrity endorsed products are all about. It is about enjoying everyday food, giving your body what it needs in the moment in time to thrive. And supplements should compliment what you eat, not be the latest fad that you momentarily decided to follow.

For more information about Carla and The Beauty Chef please click here The Beauty Chef is sold[...] read more

Self-care with Nadia Narain & Katia Narain Phillips

Self-care seems to be the latest buzz word, but in actual fact it is something that many of us have been practising or neglecting to do for many years. It is something that all of us need in our busy world to calm our minds, balance the bodies and make us feel more at peace with who we are. Yoga teacher Nadia Narain and her chef sister Katia Narain Philips recently published they first joint book, called ‘Self-care For The Real World’ based not only on their own life experiences, but the feedback of many women that they have met through work, as well on their personal life journey.

I bought the book as soon as I have heard about its publication and read it every night until I turned the last page. Divided into five sections – LOVE, HOPE, PEACE, JOY & LIGHT – each chapter acts as a thoughtful friend, who doesn’t judge your choices, but offers you ideas and tips for doing things a little bit differently in order to improve your life for the better. A mix of recipes, stories, massage tips, inspirational quotes and much more, it is a book not only to read once, it’s more akin to a training manual into which you dive in when the need arrises. My dog-eared copy ‘lives’ by my bedside table now & seeing its cover elicits an inner smile.

As I allow my curiosity to lead the way, when I heard about Katia and Nadia’s first joint workshop, following the book’s publication, at Triyoga Camden ( where Nadia teaches yoga & Katia runs an on-site Nectar cafe – try her tahini choc cookies or chocolate beetroot cake and try not to develop an addiction!), I promptly booked my ticket. Midway into my cold, I was determined to show up and listen and I wasn’t disappointed.

‘You can’t always choose what happens to you, but you can always choose how you feel about it.’ Danielle LaPorte

Having done Nadia’s yoga home DVDs and burning her candles for many years & with Katia teaching me the basics of baby massage when my daughter was just a few a couple months old, I arrived with an open mind, as it’s been a while since I have seen them both & was intrigued to observe their sisterly dynamic from the side-lines of a yoga studio.

Nadia, sinewy & somewhat more fragile looking, but with a wonderfully melodic voice that commands attention and Katia, who very much dislikes public talking, but when she speaks, you feel at ease and listen, are quite yin & yang. They look alike, yet are quite different in many ways – Katia dislikes yoga for example and prefers walking, for hours if she is upset or needs to think things over, Nadia can’t imagine life without daily meditation. To watch them in action, gently teasing each other, each in her element and adding her own unique perspective made for a very special workshop for a female-only (no men were brave enough to show up 🙂 audience.

As women of different ages sat down on their mats, (some of us weren’t sure if yoga was on the ‘menu’, hence our arrival not in yoga pants, but in jeans or dresses, while other devotees came in relaxed yoga attire) calm descended. Katia and Nadia talked, Nadia taught us some easy-flowing yoga – in-between we did partner work and that in itself was revelation. Many of us were complete strangers when we came to the workshop, yet we ended up sitting in pairs on the yoga mats, placing our hands on each other and guiding our partner in their breathing patters and correcting the posture. We told each other things that were quite emotional – imagine looking at a stranger and telling her the three things you like about her or what you are most proud of in you life and see how it makes you feel. For me, fairly easy, but also liberating. For some women it was a very emotional experience.

We all talked and shared. We breathed and whispered. We enjoyed the precious time that we had to ourselves and shared with wonderful group of strangers. Below are some of the tips that Katia and Nadia shared. I hope they will intrigue or inspire you to make some changes this year. If not, maybe just read and think about a thing or two that might jump out from the screen & plant a seed in your mind.

  • Nice mindset towards yourself allows you to have a positive mindset towards the world (and we can all do with a nicer world right now!)
  • Be kind to yourself. We would never be unkind to our friends or criticise them in the same way that we criticise ourselves, daily, denting our own confidence in our sense of worth and abilities.
  • Remember that your home is a sanctuary and cleaning & tidiness help to calm things down and create a peaceful oasis when you return to it at the end of the day.
  • Never underestimate the importance and value of face massage. Katia taught us some great techniques to help clear the sinuses and help shift colds by massaging above the brows, around the eyes, along the hairline, behind the ears and then downwards on both sides of our necks. She also intercepted this we gentle fist tapping on the collar bones to help speed up lymphatic drainage.
  • Start your day not only with a warm glass or cup of water with lemon, but by asking yourself ‘What would make my day great?’ rather than listing the pile of daunting tasks you have to complete.
  • Nadia shared a great quote by Dalai Lama along the lines of – If you don’t look after yourself, you aren’t equipped to look after the others. After all, the better YOU feel, the more you have to give. Makes for a good post-it reminder to put on your laptop or bathroom mirror.
  • Saying to yourself or moaning to a friend or partner ‘ I don’t have the time for this’ simply means it’s not a priority for you. Now pause and think about this and see what comes up. That was a biggie for me to contemplate! Katia simply suggested that ‘we have the time, we just have to change how we use it’ and shared the story of how she went from always being late, even when dropping her sons at school, to actually doing things on time and having more time to address things that need to be done on the day.
  • Once a day turn the radio up and dance like there is no tomorrow to your favourite song. Nadia made all of us dance and shake with our eyes closed – if someone was looking into the room, I am sure THAT would have been quite a site for their eyes!
  • Say ‘thank you’ to your partner. We often forget to verbally acknowledge our appreciation for what our loved one does for us, so just take the time to be grateful for their good deeds. It makes such a difference to a state of relationship (I put that tip into practise that evening and it made me feel SO good, I am sure to do it on a more regular basis).
  • If you forget gratitude, you will never have a proper relationship with kindness.

The class ended with a sound bath, but as everyone was settling in, I ended up with a sudden bout of coughing that just wouldn’t end. So I quietly tiptoed out of the room, drank the water, browsed the shop, drank more water, but the cough just wouldn’t go away, until the minute the sound bath was over. While it is a beautiful and deeply spiritual experience for some, sadly on a deep level I am not ‘matched up’ with it, as the previous time I was present during one I got quite restless, which proves that different things resonate with different people in their own way.

Overall it was a wonderfully nurturing experience that not only made those present reflect and learn new things, but it created a quietly happy environment with grounding energy. We cleared the room, queued for some delicious nibbles and kombucha that Katia and her team prepared for us and talked to each other, while having copies of the book signed by Nadia and Katia. I thanked my partner for that day, Bec, who allowed herself some precious time away from her young sons and was almost baffled that they were perfectly content while she was away. I also had a quick chat with the smiling Melissa Hemsley, who came to the workshop, having found a window in her busy schedule for promoting her new book ‘Happy’. She and her sister Jasmine, Hemsley & Hemsley sisters, seem to be forging their unique paths for the time being, following projects close to their individual areas of interest. A big smile confirmed that indeed it is a happy time for her.

I also had a touching conversation with a young woman and mum to a teething 18 months toddler. I shared in class that my special nurturing time comes from reading by myself, as well as listening to my children read or reading to them. A ritual that is serene and blissful and signifies one of the best things about motherhood – nurturing and love. A perfect activity to end the day with, to share in and to find contentment and knowledge. It clearly resonated with her and only expanded the serene happiness I already felt innately inside. My cold was still there, but I left the building content and walking towards the rest of the evening that was to be spent in the company of my family. Just proves that some self-care towards yourself allows you to expand and be content when facing the world.

‘Self-care For The[...] read more

In-conversation with flower alchemist Alexis Smart

I believe that serendipity plays a big part in our lives, we just need to trust the universe and our own inner gut feeling for the right things to come along. The secret is to grab the opportunity with both hands when it presents itself. When someone I have been quite curious about arrived in London in July – hello 

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