It is often revered by our contemporaries, that when one is presented with a conundrum, we run, we spectate or we commit. I can only admit to having done all three, even though I prefer to spectate at the actual event (once again, get your mind out of the gutter, will you?! I was, indeed, referring to horse events or music events). As I wrote in my last blog, running did play a huge part of my weekly life during my twenties and thirties; weekends too, especially those Saturday and Sunday Triathlons. These days, my running is usually from one venue to the next in order to prepare and teach Yoga. I will, however, admit to running from relationships, unless it is the relationship of my commitment to Yoga. Yoga, as you know, is my devotion, it is ‘home’ for me.
Yoga enables me to think about home a lot, as this is, for me, many things; safety, reality, goodness, and, of course, commitment. There is always the temptation to run, of course, and, believe me, when my sons were very young, and in the throes of their pre-teen hormone stage, I could have smashed my personal (10km) best on those days. The sense of commitment and feeling settled, (now that I am, officially home) never really leaves me. It is because the heart needs to ‘feel’ it, and some would argue that it must be a lonely existence, not having someone to share my home with, but, it is actually more connecting and more satisfying, to experience home with my own feelings, and not someone else’s. Truth is, there is a succinct difference between loneliness and being alone, once we understand ourselves, and how to identify love for ourselves, it is only then, that love begins to expose its true self.
‘Om Tat Sat’ (verse 17.23 Bhagavad Gita (Yoga Bible), literally means, ‘that is truth, that is reality, that is good,’ so, even in YogaLand, we are seeking exactly the same as we are in our Homeland, and, even though I did spend over twenty years in a land, far away, that did become my home, my heart and love is right here, in this little British country of connections.
I do want to share a deeper love though, love that came at a time when loss was bigger, bigger than earthquakes, bigger than being alone, and bigger than Yoga (at that time).
‘Alecasam’, was that deep love, and, ever since I first saw a black Friesian horse, I was, undeniably, awestruck. Myself and my two sons, were taking our Summer vacation in Nelson, New Zealand, house sitting for a friend, who, by the way, was and still is, a runner. A different type of runner though, as she does run competitively, and I don’t recall her going through "Hormone Land" with her four children, so maybe there is something in this running?
Anyhow, back to Friesian horses. We were having a BBQ, and it was fairly cold (cold weather is, actually, a very real Kiwi thing, even in Summer), therefore, we clustered together amongst fellow Citizens, who had abandoned their Home Land too, and shared our stories, past and present. One lady, an equine vet, trotted over, I use that word in collaboration with ‘equines’ because a horse conversation ensued. Her experiences resembled mine, although she had married an Irish guy from Cork, and, therefore, unashamedly, decided to breed purebred Irish Draught horses. All except one, this one was Friesian crossed with Irish Draught, which then led my curiosity and conversation passed Ireland and into Holland.
Post vacation, Holland, well to be exact, Friesland (through Google) found me searching ‘NZ Horses For Sale’ ads. Sunday evenings were always so cosy and restful for the boys and me, they were never lonely or without something interesting to do, but, it is fair to say, this one advertisement caught my attention, so I made contact. What harm could there be in talking to a prospective horse seller about a horse? The boys were worn out from sunny, and sometimes rainy, Nelson and they were happily full of food and tucked up in their rooms, TV was a trite banal, so no better time like the present. It almost could have been that first phone call to a new romance, and in a way, it was….
Alecasam, was grazing in Methven, a small town near the Western edge of Canterbury, about an hour away by car. It rains a lot, it is unspoilt, untouched and feral, as was Alecasam.
In New Zealand, a paddock is a like the size of a small country, but with fewer trees, lots of wire fences and usually full of sheep and cattle. But, on this day, Alecasam was grazing alone, not lonely, just alone. He was called to the gate by his owner, Murphy, who wore a tweed cap and used bale band to keep his trousers up (I knew of a similar farmer from my childhood) and this beautiful animal pulled up with a ‘front- hooved’ stop, his head high, his chest out and all 17 hands of this jet black gentle giant had me winched, hooked and, suffice to say, a little bit in love.
I bought Alecasam (it turned out that this delightful acronym was a moniker derived from Alec and Sam, the two grandsons of Murphy the bale banded farmer). Needless to say, after three months of getting to love this beautiful horse, Sam became his name around home, not just because it was easier to call out, but he was big and strong with thick black hair, and, according to the biblical Book Of Judges, Samson’s hair was his strength, and his father, whose name was ‘Manoah’, reminded me that love appears in many forms, as ‘Noah’ is also the name of my eldest son, so, Sam it was.
Sam and I spent hours together, it was my healing space and a sanctuary from old wounds and heartbreak. I had suffered the sudden and premature death of my beloved father in 2010, right before earthquake number one, and then, the loss of Christchurch City and its iconic buildings, (including my home). So, loss was something that Sam transformed into love. Getting home from work, weaving, to avoid potholes and endless road diversions from endless earthquakes and aftershocks meant that I had the comfort and solace of my black beauty to help restore myself, breathe with ease, and remind me that all was peaceful once again. I didn’t have to remind him to breathe and relax, as it was he who reminded me. He didn’t need to prepare for ‘Corpse pose’ or savasana, as I was the one laying in the grass, whilst he stood watch. I didn’t need to ‘feel’ anything, as he, would, voluntarily, wait, however long was needed, until I was ready to stand up and leave the field.
The Emotional and mental exhaustion we can experience, differs greatly from the physical exhaustion (I can testify from those Triathlon days), and sometimes all it takes is a strong, sturdy and unwavering creature to pillar those fragile days. Sam was, indeed, my pillar of strength, my pillar of faith and undoubtedly my salvation from loss. It took a rookie horse from Methven, a solid, and unspoiled feral creature, to undo the crumbling sadness within me. Taming him, and teaching him to carry me in a school ring was the simplest of sequences, teaching him to balance his weight and stretch was a heaven-sent cinch. He was actually teaching me, teaching me to really listen, especially to the silence. That silence was music to my ears, it became my meditation, my mantra of hope. Sam brought more Yoga into my life than any Vinyasa or Hatha sequence, he taught me silent savasana better than any Corpse pose, and he taught me deep meditation and breath, the essential essence of (Yogic) life force (pranayama), the life force of love.
To write and to live are two very different things, even blogging can emerge from a cascade of ones own perceptions and observations, thus, rendering the words ‘non-fiction’ a definite possibility when putting pen to paper. It is, nonetheless, a soulful and descriptive hobby.
As humans, we are meant to struggle, we are meant to maintain our endless strife for growth; mentally, physically and emotionally. I won’t include the spirit, because without the other three, the spirit can be alive or dead. I always think of those immortal words echoed by the founder of the Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who said, ‘The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.’
Today, in the busy lanes of working, raising a family and maintaining our lives, we lose our sense of real struggle. When life hands us a clover of difficulty, we look for four leaves instead of three. When the line at the Co Op becomes more than three people, we wait for the ‘call,’ and as sure as the rain comes during a British summertime, one, possibly two checkout fairies appear, to help assist us to a faster exit from Groceryland. I often find myself curious as to why a person needs to jump a queue, or why it is even necessary to not wait in line. I have a moniker for the ‘line-hoppers’, the ‘foot-tappers’ and the ‘tutters’, they are the ‘Artful Dodgers.’
Time has become so irrelevant to these ‘Dodgers’, these Jack (and Jill) Hawkins, (not that being a pick- pocket is on the rise) but dodging the art of living has become an epidemic way of life. For myself, as a Yoga teacher, it is both rewarding and paradoxically, heart-breaking to be standing in front of ‘Jacks’ and ‘Jills’ realising that speed has brought everyone to a standstill, yet standing still is what is meant to move us to struggle. Now that is, enigmatically, going to take some working out, and no asana (posture) based yoga sequence will allow a struggle to manifest in class, because, society wants us to bring softness and ease into Yoga practice.
Confused? Read on.
Cemented within us is our ‘blueprint’ of DNA, the inner map of what our ancestors layered into our tissues, our brain matter and our hearts. Unless this remains untampered with, we have a pretty good handle on what life tosses us, and not just in the form of an earthquake or the return journey to the Motherland, as mentioned in my first blog. So, when I see students losing pints of sweat in a challenging Vinyasa Flow Yoga class, I see struggle, but, I also see the real-life desire to
improve their Flow, their breathing and their strength. Yoga is often described as ‘lifestyle’ or ‘purpose’, but, I kid you not, after 31 years in the leisure life (style) business, it is the desire to move that brings these wonderful souls into the stillness that lifts their spirit. I can attest to having an
overload of gratitude following the Olympic- distance triathlons that I ran in my twenties. It really is the ‘fighting well’ that brings the overwhelming joy, expressed willingly, in those pints of sweat!
There is great satisfaction in achieving, especially when it is preceded by time, patience and careful readiness. Today, however, time is just a fast gallop to an unsatisfying achievement. A little bit like my Christmas Day encounter with my infamous pony, Toby jug, mentioned in my last blog.
We have everything at hand, at foot and at heart, within a fast gallop of time.
My re-entry into the UK culture, was indeed a fast forward launch into the foot tapping and frenetic way of life, yet the irony of teaching Yoga here, is, incredibly, satisfying. Yoga is where the stillness really happens. The transition of Yogis and Brogis moving from restless to restful, actually happens within a sixty minute class. Something moves them and brings peace to their soul, the foot tapping ceases and tutting dissolves into blissful, harmonious friendliness. Yoga really does shift people, it moves the movers to stillness and brings movement to the still. In between both of those reasons, lies the spirit, and only the spirit can inspire the struggle. It is often cited that our spirit lies within all of us and as the Chinese Proverb states: ‘The man who removes a mountain
begins by carrying away small stones’. We want ‘on demand,’ yet picking up that first stone shows a readiness to find our spirit, our soul and our joy. The awkward irony of struggling to connect our lives to our spirit can only be lived, and, as written in the first line of this blog, to write and to live are two very different things, to really connect we have to begin carrying small stones in order to
become an ‘Artful’ pursuer of our soul and our spirit.
Finding something you really love doing is almost like finding someone to love. It really does take a lot of heart and courage. Suffice to say, I seem to have had better luck with Yoga and horses. The mind battle with the heart is like a little precept that my late, and very much loved, mum used to say: ‘Nowt t lose but yer ‘ead, and only if it’s loose!’ I think I can attest to having a secure head, as that infamous rollercoaster showed me.
Having a secure head and an open heart is all I needed when I began riding ponies, at aged 9. My first real pony was Toby. Toby was more of a Toby jug than a Toby, as he did resemble a stout old man represented, in form, on a beer mug,. You know, the ones that were so infamously described, satirically, by the comedic genius of Norman Thelwell.
My parents soon realised that two years of Saturday riding lessons were best saved, in one lump payment for Toby. And, in true Yorkshire, cost-effective style, my late father, (who was a true, hard-
working and hard saving Yorkshireman), purchased my own little lump for 100 pounds. My dear parents were always thinking of the best (and cost effective) way to secure a Christmas surprise, so even though they had the best intentions at heart, their heads must definitely, have been a little loose in the week leading to up to my surprise. A surprise that had been stabled for just under a week, with a lovely selection of Sid’s (the local horse supplies outlet) pony nuts. Now, I’m no expert on how many kilojoules to feed a 350kg pony, who is in a low to sedentary exercise period, but, I did work as a personal trainer for 9 years, so, if that is a good reference to relate to, I do know
that, too much food + too little exercise = too much energy.
Ponies, however, are meant to graze, walk, graze, climb, graze, run etc. to manage all that energy, Toby, suffice to say, was in a stable, 10 metres square, for one whole week, gift wrapped, under his new Christmas stable rug. I have to say, that our first Christmas Day encounter was emotional. The heartfelt love that I had for Toby was immense. I had only ever dreamed of owning my own pony,
and, for me, my heart was just overwhelmingly full. As a child, I would draw endless pictures of horses, and my bedroom was wall to wall with posters of Harvey Smith, Caroline Bradley and Dick Turpin’s Black Bess. My love of horses has always remained constant and close, and Black Bess certainly made her presence known with one particular black horse, during my life in New Zealand, but that’s another story.
It’s often said, that horses are in the blood, and for me, that is powerfully true. I have undoubtedly nearly lost my head riding horses, but as my dad would say (usually following my latest trajectory from the back of one), ‘thas med o rubber’.
Toby was tacked up and ready, with a saddle and bridle from Sid’s, (on sale of course) selection of harnesses. It was momentous. There was fire in my heart and even more fire in Toby’s belly. I’m not sure if my head was even aware right then of the outcome and not even my secure head and one of Sid’s riding hats could change that. The ride lasted about as long as my rollercoaster ride at Thorpe Park, and I could relate, but, at least on Nemesis, I was strapped in. Hitting the ground at speed was definitely a stunt that not even Tom Cruise could train for, I was very hurt and completely winded and, I was aching and dazed... a bit like falling in love?
You see, that is where my late mothers’ advice made sense. She would be relieved to know, I haven’t lost my head, and my heart remains unchanged around horses, the only thing that has changed though, is my body is no longer made of rubber, but my (rubber) Yoga mat knows that.
I never really thought of myself as a blogger/writer, but, ironically, my thoughts have actually found me. Call it manifestation or even dreaming out loud, but whatever it is, it is fun. As a yoga teacher, I’m always seeking, observing and obtaining things for reference in my classes. It doesn’t have to be for a ‘peak pose’ or focus-based practice (peak pose is a sequential format of yoga postures or asanas that allow your body to tap into and, thus, prepare or accomplish a challenging asana) it can be what I witness on my journey to the supermarket to purchase my 46p broccoli, or it could be something I experience personally.
My last experience pretty much threw me though. Nope, we are not talking about a trajectory from a horse, although that story can wait for another blog, we are talking rollercoasters, fast ones and only done recently at a theme park. I think it’s fair to say, its terror with fun strapped to your body, and I knew, as soon as the strap was actually fastened to my body, that I was terrified. It brought back a distant memory of climbing the Helter Skelter, on the North Pier in Blackpool (I was ten years old). I climbed all the way to the top, yep, carrying a doormat to slide back down on. Trouble is, there were people following behind, and the steps were narrow and high and, they too were carrying their doormats. I reached the summit and bailed, terror set in, and to every ‘tutting’ person, I repeatedly excused myself, stair by stair, to the bottom.
This time though, there isn’t a ‘bail out’ option, so strapped in, I’m launched, twisted and rolled; it’s bit like a death roll without being eaten, and, no disrespect to those Australian crocs, but, I actually
loved the experience! Enough to gift me the inspiration for preparing handstands in the weeks’ following class sequences: fun but terrifying, flipped and ‘unflipped,’ with, of course, a bail out
There’s a child within all of us, that little person, who secretly wants to try something fun or ‘break out’ from their routines and regimes. Yoga is my work, my badge of decisions, my office of duty, and, like anything we are commissioned to do, it can own every thought, and take up residence in a tired mind. Blogging/writing allows my mind to exhibit and display another badge, and, it can be rollercoasters to earthquakes, although, as explained in my last blog, there is, actually, a stark relationship between the two.
I often get asked by my students how I unwind (no reference to that infamous rollercoaster again) and detach from Yoga, and, given that anything that is ‘unwinding’ probably is Yoga, I have developed a love of films, especially espionage, crime thrillers and of course, anything with a horse in it, so Netflix and an avid collection of DVDs (along with the odd visit to Thorpe Park) seems to fill my cup. It’s like the Yang to my Yin (and I actually teach Yin Yoga, so there you go, Yoga does get everywhere).
I have (secretly) sequenced juicy Vinyasa Flow yoga routines, after a few hours of watching Tom, freefalling from the Burj Khalifa, in Ghost Protocol, and, can, unashamedly, admit to weaving some
scenes from The Horse Whispering Rob into my ‘grounding’ (chair and downward dog) Hatha classes. Yin is a tricky one, because it’s a still, dark and deep practice, so, even though I haven’t yet done it, maybe Jaws could be the thing that precipitates into that class? But then that takes me back to the death rolling, terrifying Helter Skelter, the one which Nemesis, at Thorpe Park, ironically, changed my terror into strapped- in fun.
It begins with a slow rumble, then builds in speed, volume and tenacity, before you feel the earth moving like a travelator, but with side movement and no hand rails. No, I’m not talking about sex (get your mind off that), I’m talking about earthquake number one. This was what changed my decisions about life after spending 21 years in New Zealand.
Cast your mind back circa September 2010. It was a time never to be forgotten. Some of you were settling in to bed and some would have been enjoying breakfast, I was, literally, being shaken up to a new life………
It was a sign? A catalyst? Or just about the push I needed to find me, Aly Stringer. Some would call it an epiphany, some would call it panic, but, I was a 43 year old, mother of two boys, who had decided that panic wasn’t on my life menu, I mean, the boys seemed fine.’ She-be-right’ (a popular idiom, used in New Zealand and Australia that expresses belief that, whatever is wrong, will right itself with time) appeared to make its appearance, quite a lot. ‘She-be- right’ in body and mind, but in heart, ‘she’ was definitely not. No matter how things are ‘out there’, it’s inside that little pulsing muscle, where the ground stops shaking and that travelator slows down enough to be able step off, at least for a while anyway.
Hit fast forward and eight years later. England. Blighty. God’s Country. And, as a Yorkshire lass, born and bred, I can only say, ‘Tha can’t beat a good bit o’ soil!’
You see, it is about heart, it’s about love and it’s about that good bit o’ soil and the smell of that green grass from which it grows (which is, by the way, very green). This is where my ancestors began forging their incredible lives. I don’t really think I appreciated what I had, when I did have it. I didn’t really think the battle of Hastings in 1066 was that important, and I never took note of The Wars of The Roses in 1455. Guy Fawkes’ 1605 gunpowder plot had faded into the flames of New Zealand’s November heat, and I never really felt any pride or consideration that my Junior school celebrated a 100 years old anniversary (I was 5), but now that I’m half way towards being hundred years old, I realise it is important, and it does matter, to me, anyway.
I spent the first year back home, soaking in what England is: ancient history, kinship, quirky village people, Walkers crisps, broccoli at 46p, and Christmas. Yes, Christmas. It’s like an assault on my senses. It’s cold, it’s wet, it’s damp and very dark (usually around 4/4.30pm) which, I might add, is what Christmas is, for me, anyway. It doesn’t stop there, because we have Spring, which for me, means thousands, yes thousands, of daffodils, plump white Spring lambs (running around on that very green grass). I had even forgotten how solid and fat the lambs are. Everything is solid, even the horses, which come in every size, shape and colour.
These define my roots, solid and stable, not shaking and rumbling. Life is a fascinating parody of sarcasm and sincerity, moaning and laughter. One day I’m deep breathing and reciting yoga sequences at traffic lights, the next, my yoga brain is being challenged by TK Maxx, and it’s ability to beckon me to a smorgasbord of bargains, which, believe it or not, also come in every size, shape and colour.
Ping forward one year, and is raining. Lots. I start to wonder why? Then it occurs to me that, the weather is the ‘other‘ reason the grass is actually so green! Yes, yes it rains, but, it actually makes no difference to that sarcasm and sincerity, nor the moaning and laughter!
The satire and wit is profound here. It’s all about the delivery, the timing of the words said, the facial expression, plus the inaugural description of the event. I find myself ‘mentally’ at the event, with the person telling me. The punchlines are waggishly funny, yet said story tellers remain unmoved. Perfect sarcasm and a perfect antidote to the moaning. Moaning about everything, especially the rain. So, upon reflection of my first blog, I won’t let the rain dampen my spirits and the moaning? Well, ‘she-be right,’ because she be home.