I could, ruefully, lament endlessly about change, loss, love and Zoom. But, I am, unashamedly, going to draw on something thing that never fails to crack open a snorty and uncontrollable amount of laughter, and that is, the stories of my experiences in New Zealand. Most women that I relate to, can align with me, and share similar stories, ones where we can belly laugh so hard, that we stop breathing (and you know who you are!).
These women are smart, funny, assertive, and have ownership of their careers and talents; they do the work on themselves and they know their boundary lines. That’s why they make those ‘ex - boyfriend’ decisions when they are young, child free, and are able to dive back into singledom without losing their mind. Unfortunately, some don’t and I am one of them.
It was circa September 1996, almost two years after I had lost my mother, and that was a big hole, right there. I found myself, perpetually, trying to run away and block any shred of love and fun into my days, and each day was like ‘Groundhog Day.’ Groundhog Day was derived from a superstition, that if a Groundhog, which is a Canadian, squirrel-like rodent, sees its shadow, as it emerges from the hibernation den, it will, invariably, retreat back inside and remain there for six more weeks, if it doesn’t see its shadow, Spring will arrive early, and I really did relate to living in a late, Groundhog Spring. That, was before I met Damian. At the time, even my brother asked me to check the back of his head. Those who have never watched The Omen, need to add that to their ‘Covid 19 movie list’, so you can relate. I could have related his devil-like charm to those numbers, 666, but, it was more of a code, probably from my mother’s spirit, advising me, that it would be the sum total of how many days it would last.
So, I took a leap, well, actually it was the longest leap I had ever undertaken, no Yoga, not even Lord Hanuman, (the ancient Hindu God, and one of the characters in the epic story in the ancient Sanskrit texts of Ramayana, who leapt across the jaws of a sea monster, on his way to Lanka, as a means of helping his dear friend, Rama, reunite with his wife, Sita), would have been suitably impressed. I, however, landed, in New Zealand, without a single clue about what my leap would involve. Now, I’m not going to use this opportunity to pepper you with stories of a dark nature, nope, I am going to share with you with the hilarious and, somewhat, incredulous tales, of my life over the first half the 21 years in Aotearoa.
The descent into Christchurch, NZ, sweeps wide and the flight soars past the City, to give you a discerning view of the Coastline towards Woodend Beach and the more favourable Waikuku and Kairaki Beaches. It is rugged. The water looks deep and the surf looks ‘messy’. My first thought, would not have been dissimilar to Hanuman’s, before he jumped across that sea monster, and that thought was, ‘well, I’ve just flown over 27,000 miles, and over 24 hours, I’m not ready to bail yet. I can do this.
We landed, and it was a freezing Spring September morning. I quickly learned that ‘layers’ helped to contain body heat, and that a ‘beanie hat’ and thick socks were also necessary if I was going to make it to Summer. These clothing items were essential, and that’s also for bedtime. I didn’t really have time to acclimatise or feel my feet, let alone find them, as we were off, again, ascending, but this time up a hill. It was just a ‘wee run.’ Now, as you know, I ran Triathlons, and I did hold space for weekly runs, just not after the longest leap of my life, so, the feeling was akin to sitting and waiting for your favourite film to start and then getting a power cut. My power was cut somewhere over Singapore. Nonetheless, I donned my ‘runners’ (training shoes), my ‘trackies’ (running pants) and, of course, my trusted and essential beanie.
Dyers Pass Road was almost vertical, and, even though I could relate, yet again, to my Triathlon race days, racing Pendle Hill, at 557 metres, near Burnley, (which is, affectionately, known as ‘The Beast’) wouldn’t have quite felt the same as running a 330 metre elevation, post-long haul flight and endless black coffees to stay awake. The jet-lag is very real. The cream to my black coffee, was, that I did get to view all of Christchurch, pre- earthquake, and, on that particular day, it was a crisp, sharp and clear day with all the old and iconic buildings in fine view and the spectacular curtain of The Southern Alps, stood beyond.
My first impression, at ground level though, was mixed, as I can remember seeing endless car yards, which was slightly ironic, because most Kiwis seemed more than happy driving their utes (utility vehicles), their 1960 Ford Fiestas and old 1970 Holden Commodores. No one really drove polished, modern cars. I was later to learn that crossing rivers and driving ‘back roads’ would be less costly to an old car.
When someone mentioned camping, tramping and surfing in New Zealand, it was, usually, decided that day. And, as getting lost is pretty standard for me, I was more than happy to partake. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? These people knew the roads, they knew the beaches and, more importantly, they knew the ocean, well most of the time.
It was New Year’s Eve 1996, and we filled our old 1960 Ford Escort with all the important camping necessities such as a ‘chilli bin’ (cool box), a Billycan (cooking pot) and, of course, the essential beanie and thick socks. It was still below 15 degrees, and, according to everyone, it was ‘unusual and unlucky’ for myself, experiencing my first Summer in NZ. We set up camp close to Kaikoura, a coastal fishing town that was only 2 hours North of Christchurch, famous for Crayfish (which resembles a small lobster), Whales, Dusky Dolphins and Fur Seals. My plan, was to see them all, and in any spare time, attempt to surf. I may have been a little over zealous, with the dolphins and the surf.
On New Years Day, what better way to spend it, than a dolphin dive. I had my Triathlon wetsuit, my snorkel, and my swim fitness, and, just like those essential camping requirements, that was more than sufficient, according to the Kiwis. I had to remember, that, most of my swimming was done in a pool, usually 25 metres long and surrounded by half a dozen life guards, no wet suit and definitely no snorkel. We set off, 6 people in a motor boat, aptly named, ‘Lucifer’. Right there, again, was my mother’s spirit, blowing her whistle and waving her white flag at me, alerting me to the fact that dolphin dives, three sixes, and a New Year swim, in a big, mechanical swell, are three reasons to go and enjoy a walk and a cup of tea instead.
The South Pacific Ocean is deep, and often deadly, with upwelling currents. Kaikoura Canyon reaches depths of up to 1200 metres deep, where the waters are extremely cold currents, so, as I sat on the edge of the boat, listening to the guide, explaining this, my thoughts were still pondering the safety of Pontefract Leisure Pool and how it would be so lovely to swim there right at that time.
Once in the ocean, I soon realised that treading those currents was both a great warm up and survival, as there were no lifeguards, no safe zone, just her: The Great Vast Ocean: deep, swollen and merciless. Swim instincts are secondary to that, and, no matter how my front crawl looked in my swim sessions, it was breast stroke, all the way back to ‘Lucifer’, who, at that stage had moved to point B. It turned out, that by the time I had swum to point C, I was not only ingesting my yearly quota of water, but I was, unashamedly, a little scared of the playful Dusky’s, that were probably enjoying the thrill of, tapping my legs and encircling my space, like curious wild animals do. My fear was only dampened by the fact, that they were well fed, as apparently, there is an abundance of deepwater fish to support their food chain. Kai is the Maori translation for food, and Koura for Crayfish. By this time, in Kaikoura, that cup of tea, that my mother had ‘suggested’, would have been so lovely, and even better, washed down with a digestive biscuit.
It was time to head back to Christchurch, having opted to view the Southern Right whales from the air, and the Fur Seals from the land, my weekend was certainly a planes, trains and automobiles experience, with a fish and chip Kai en route back.
The journey continues……
‘A quiet but enthusiastic student’
Those words were said several times, before being handed to me on my Testimonial Certificate, before my High School Leaving Ceremony. I often preside over them and I can’t decide if I am withdrawn or over excited about life, or maybe somewhere in the middle. I guess, if I can keep the pendulum swinging in the middle, it will get me through this rather unusual and, challenging period, that started in March 2020 in the UK. This was the year of the Coronavirus (Covid19) Pandemic.
My childhood, was, in most parts, a happy and fairly normal one, one that allowed me to be ‘quiet and enthusiastic,’ for as much and, as long, as I wanted to be. I could withdraw to my walls of horses, to my TV, my books, sketch pads and my music. I can also attest to owning my first pair of weights at aged 15, so, there you go, an in-bedroom fully- equipped, cave of isolation. In retrospect, the only time of emergence from my room, was to ride my new, slightly bigger, ‘up graded’ pony, Gazelle, and to attend to my stable duties. Food could be consumed ad hoc and, usually, with the said pony. Creating a calm place of free choice, whilst loving my solitude, was, clearly, a premature and latent existence for where I am today. Even through hours of Yoga study, endless equine clinics and audits, and perpetual dedication to whatever my cause, I believe, that my ‘in house’ preparation was already done.
In the midst of a Pandemic, we are being contained and quarantined, indefinitely. This is both a reflective and submissive human experience that, in all truth, will be a blessing for some creative and divine souls. The writers, the artists and even the quiet and enthusiastic beings, who struggle with the ‘fast track’ mentality, will spring to life, and their hearts will burst open with ideas, that have been buried under the weight of inhumanity and oppression. Lives are now suddenly returning to the four walls of our home and, we now realise, that, the one thing that truly matters, is how we feed our mind, not how we lose our mind.
Albert Einstein, the acclaimed genius, defined insanity, as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. That alone, would surely encourage us to be more creative, and find our ‘cave’ of treasures within our souls. We reach out before we reach in, we grow big before we think small and we manifest ability before we ingest our preparatory needs.
Survival of the fittest is really in the hands of The Cosmos, survival of the mind, is in the hands of the creative. The core message is, about harmony with nature, with others, with your own body, your own mind, harmony in your home, and even being in harmony with your own expectations of life. In a word, Zen.
Zen is an offshoot of Buddhism, which focuses on the emptiness behind the ‘I’ or the ego, Zen is minimalism and mindfulness, it is an empty pause between words or activities. This silence or quiet, blank line, it is a pause, that contributes towards serenity and harmony. It is rather unbalancing and, iconic, that for the Western mind of turmoil, noise, busyness and speed, that, a virus became our gateway to Zen. Some would argue, that this is what was needed, that the constant ‘high speed train of life’ was going to crash and, there were going to be casualties, and now that there are casualties, we are listening. But, we are not listening to Sir David Attenborough speaking about the erosion of our planet, or the activist, Greta Thungberg , protesting about the slaying of the environment, no siree, we are now LISTENING, listening to the Zen. The slow pace, the blank line and, the silence.
‘SLOW DOWN, YOU MOVE TOO FAST
YOU GOT TO MAKE THE MORNING LAST
JUST KICKING DOWN THE COBBELSTONES
LOOKING FOR FUN AND FEELING GROOVY
LIFE, I LOVE YOU, ALL IS GROOVY’
Lyrics from ‘ Feelin’ Groovy by Simon and Garfunkel
Zen and mindfulness, are the paradigm of contemplative practice right now, it is the silent revolution, and, following on its heels, is compassion, something that humanity has been lacking for a long time, and, along with empathy, will, exponentially, bypass the Covid19 curve, like a naturally made antibiotic.
‘When you come out of the storm
You won’t be the same person
That walked in. That’s what
The storm is all about’
Whilst we wait for the storm to pass, we can cultivate a pedagogy for self-compassion and love for others, we can appreciate our ‘home’ within ourselves, and cherish this gift of life that we are privileged to reside in and we can practice meditation and mindfulness.
The most beautiful aspect of all this? Home was within us, the whole time, and, that home is the core of our creativity, the nucleus of our ‘in house’ happiness and the ‘quiet but enthusiastic’ seed of compassion for humanity.
As I write my tenth blog, which is, in fact, late and has a wider gap between blog nine, there is a sublime reason for this. I wanted to captivate authenticity, I wanted to really know myself as a writer and I wanted to understand the Self and our truth.
One of the first questions we ask when we embark on the path of becoming a Yoga teacher, is, ‘Who Am I?’ The famous Yoga sage, Patanjali, who wrote the Yoga Sutras, wrote, ‘the suffering in the future can be avoided’. Now, my teaching years wouldn’t cover a line of translation from The
Sutras, but, I get it, Patanjali wants us to love ourselves first and find our own truth. I can relate to the urge to shift but not change, I relate to the urge to emerge but not burst, and I can also relate to the urge for growth, but not to be rooted down. Yoga twists us, bends us and expands our minds. It frolics with our senses and offers so many pathways of Self learning. It widens our field of dreams and, for me, it always sounds me out. It is confrontational, it knows when we are losing our balance, metaphorically speaking, it knows when we need to open our heart to Self-love and it sure owns the night when the question of ‘Who Am I?’ pops up.
If Yoga is the practice of Self-love, then the true Self reveals this love, and, it may take a lifetime, depending on the depth of our Self-hate. If we can shift, emerge and grow, then we can resurface and embrace Self-love.
I am often found reading articles of either current or past stories of people who have experienced deep trauma and immense suffering, and as I have recently begun studying the modality of Yoga Therapy I realise that we are all seeking the need to be loved. There are, of course, many reasons to bring us to the point of wanting love. It could be a death that breaks one’s heart (as I wrote of regarding my beloved mum in my last blog), or it could be a romantic love that one desires, it could even be the love for a companion such as an animal or a pet. Each one is, profoundly, different, whether it is lost love, romantic love or unconditional love, it feeds our soul and fills our spirit, and, it feels warm and nourishing when we think of it.
There is a part of us that feels ‘shared’ when we love something or someone, we feel a cohort of existence, a unity, a togetherness. So, it is without reasonable doubt, that when we don’t feel any love, we feel trauma. We feel utterly helpless and, we lose ‘our Self.’
So, how do we learn to love ourselves exclusively? Is Self-love a parental condition that we teach to our children? Is it embalming ourselves with just the right dose of healthy surroundings, such as, sunlight, clean air and exercise? Or is it an ‘inside job’, by feeding our bodies with the necessary and wholesome foods that sustains us? It could be all of these, but, the most, yet fundamentally, important love of all, is Self- acceptance. Knowing that every single day, you can be exactly what you truly are. You can be a loving companion to yourSelf by creating a place within you, a place that oozes with truth, integrity and warmth. You can ‘romance’ yourSelf in luxurious warm baths and hand yourSelf a garnishment of flowers and food, whilst the serenade of softness and love caresses and enfolds you, like the arms (or legs) of a loved one. Once we begin to soften our hard-driven edges and accept more Self-care, we, inadvertently, share that with our soul. The soul is our partner, our friend, our companion. It is the very seed of our truth, it connects us to the deepest chasm of our birthplace, it is the umbilical cord of attachment to how our lives began. If we remain in love with our soul, we can remain in love with our truth. We may become displaced or experience events that derail our Self-esteem and our Self-confidence, but, we can then recalibrate our settings and soul search.
Life is a miracle of divine energy, and it is so frequently ignored. We are constantly seeking all the many different ways to live, that we forget about life and how incredibly beautiful we really are. We detach ourSelves from ourSelves with things that don’t really feed our soul, we permit aspects
of life to deny us a loving relationship with who we really are:
The spiral of living with someone who rejects your point of view with a tyranny of selfish and unloving words, the colleagues whom you thought were respectful and trusting, yet were really just grooming you in order to service their relentless ego, and by no means last, the family of humans that shared your personal space and shared their private temple of tears and heartache, only to reject you when your tears surfaced for the first time. If we love ourselves foremost, then our soul remains intact, our truth and Self-love doesn’t wilt, it continues to project an illustrious
radiance of sunshine that not even the darkest clouds can conceal. Reminding ourSelves of exactly how far we have made it on the road of life, telling ourSelves that we are enough when the stretch of mental exhaustion pushes the paperwork under your nose, and permitting ourSelves to
understand the real purpose of Self-love is to share yourself with those that matter, beginning with the most important one of all, YourSelf.
It has always fascinated me how we, as sapiens, characteristically, go searching for ‘things’ to enhance our sense of joy, happiness or deep fulfillment.
A vacation, a break, a detachment or even a change from what we do, is, ultimately, the most talked about topic, at least in my fold of friendships. My vacation, I’m writing about here, was for almost 22 years, and my detachment was from pain. I lost my mother when I was 24 years old, and, as I now have a (almost), 22 year old son, I can attest to how utterly ‘lost’ I was, as I am, unequivocally, devoted to both my 22 year old and 15 year old sons. These are the ‘bonds’ of the books that we read together, parks that we played in, every school performance, and, basically every single memory that we have shared. So, to suddenly find myself, detached from a similar bond with my mother, was never written into my plans. To find myself returning from a Christmas vacation, that was intended to be my ‘holiday joy’ and ‘restful happiness’ from working long hours on a gym floor, turned out to be one of the saddest and most harrowing times of my life. This too, wasn’t written into my plans.
Instead, that happiness literally fell from me, like a collapsed sink hole, a swallet of dissolution and a deep chasm of sorrow.
Those long days working on the gym floor became my ‘Road More Travelled’, and the pavements that I ran on, became longer roads, longer than the 10km that I managed. Yet, the time spent alone in my flat, became shorter, as, being without my mother to call and share my days with, filled me with delayed dread. This was never written into my plans.
It took months to finally realise, that, by running those hours and hours every week, that I was not going to find her, nor was spending time waiting at home, by myself. She was gone. Forever.
Those months became rebellious years, maybe in an attempt to be angry at her, for leaving my life, without so much as a goodbye or good luck. I was angry and yet hurting, both at her and at myself, and, there is the blame, if ever I saw it. These are those times when you can’t book a vacation, as there is nowhere to go where you can ‘feel’ anything again. So, there is the numbing down of the senses, if ever I saw it. Grief hits you like bullet, and continues to tail you, it appears whilst running those long runs, it confronts you in the car when you are driving, it stands in your mirror and looks you in the eye. It is only then, in that mirror, that we see how grief can take away our spirit. By this time, we can begin to sink or swim, self- destruct or detonate, we can choose another road of life or let the ‘Road Less Travelled’ appear before us.
My road, appeared in the form of New Zealand. The most remote and, geographically, the furthest point I could go to, in order to vacate from my grief. This was my detachment, my chance to seek joy and fulfillment again. At least that is what I thought…
What was meant to be 3 months in New Zealand, turned into 21 years, and two incredible sons, and, the growth of someone who could never be better prepared for adversity and diversity.
Sometimes the ‘Road Less Travelled’, is just a bypass, and sometimes it is the ‘Road of Reason. Sometimes, just as the song, ‘The Road Goes Ever On’ featured in Lord of the Rings, plays into our hearts, we keep walking until we reach our Shire. It can take a lifetime, which it almost did.
I did actually choose my path the second time, (rather than let it choose my journey) and, Lord of the Rings became a familiar presence, both during that journey and even today! The ardent and persistent yearning, the purpose, and the resilience that I was beginning to feel, in order to find joy and happiness, came from the life experiences in NZ. However long or short our journey is from grief to joy, the person who we become, cultivates an unwavering, deep gratitude, and a wholesome sense of love for life again....to be continued.....
Christmas. A prolonged road, destined to be an anticlimax of disappointment, or perhaps, a welcomed respite from those weekly routine duties. Wherever we are living, and whoever we are with, it wraps its tinsel around us, it lights up our Christmas faces and fills our mouths with both Christmas carols and too much food.
I lived (as you well know), in New Zealand for 21 years, and my first experience of Christmas in the Southern hemisphere, left me feeling, well, let’s just say, unwrapped, unlit and not enough carol singing! Decorating a Christmas tree in summer, means you don’t get to see the lights, nothing sparkles, except the sun and it just never felt fair to those reindeer, who were clad in heavy fur. All the ‘wannabe’ Santa Claus, would sit and sweat their way through hours of clicking cameras, usually in front of a backdrop of fake snow, fake holly and fake smiles, never ‘gonnabe’ to return! That’s what I couldn’t fathom. I feel, at least, in the Northern Hemisphere, that the yearly celebrations tend to fit the weather. I suppose Abel Tasman, the Dutch explorer, who was recognised as the first European to ‘discover’ NZ, wasn’t thinking of how Santa Claus and his reindeer would manage with the weather. Maybe that’s why the title of founder was given to Captain James Cooke?
When I actually returned to my homeland to celebrate my first English Christmas since 1995, everything immediately made sense. Not just the occasion, but the reasoning behind why we use more lights (it gets a little dark around 3pm), the reason the TV is great entertainment and there are so many shows and pantomimes, as it certainly diverts our attention away from the cold outdoors, and of course, those reindeers actually need their fur. Suffice to say, the Santa Claus ‘wannabes’ happily return to be ‘gonnabes,’ as, after all, wearing boots and a red suit is much more appropriate on a cold winter’s day.
I do, relentlessly, consider myself a perpetual student, and aside from the traditions of Christmas, that slot, adroitly, into our Northern hemisphere season of winter, I find myself fascinated by humans and their extraordinary, and, often misunderstood, management of winter. Is it because Abel and James were the trailblazers of travel, and, not only did they find a warmer and less inhabited, region of the world, they whet our appetites for the same yearning? The fact is, we are mammalian creatures, and our seasons of change and our traditions were formed from both our ancestors and our make-up, it is what defines us, in our own domicile. Once we step away from that, we step away from our four ‘B’s; Being, Belonging, Believing and Benevolence.
I did step away, for many years, and the sense of inner peace, self-acceptance and strength felt challenged. Traditions are constant, they offer patience, grounding and something to look forward to. The Christmas traditions in the colder countries are deeply etched into our souls, whether it is Christmas carols, that were originally sung by Pagan folk, or whether it is our Christmas pudding, that originated in the 14th century. Or it could just be the evergreen fir tree, that is a symbol of undying love. The Christmas tree of life.
One thing that is destined to be a decorated with love and life, is our Christmas tree. It will be a beacon of many lights that will bring a smile, amid the grey skies of winter and allow this winter nesting stage to patiently keep us safe, while Mother Nature takes her vacation. Let her rest awhile, until spring, and know that, in time, we can too, take a vacation. After all, that’s what the summer season is for, right? Definitely not for Christmas!
So, as I start writing this next blog, two words spring to mind; ‘incubation’ and ‘transformation’.
Having always been a deep thinker (which I inherited, inadvertently, from my hard-working father of Yorkshire wisdom), it comes with clear delivery, that, waiting for things to happen, could leave us waiting until we die. One infamous quote in ‘Shawshank Redemption,’ which is a movie made in 1994, about a banker (Andy Dufresne), who is wrongly incarcerated for a life sentence. Andy decides to use his prison time to plan the most unbelievable and incomprehensible escape. The quote that he drew from his ordeal, was, ‘get busy living or get busy dying.’
No matter how we decide to ‘escape’, the crucial, and little time we have, to ‘live’ as humans, is defined by our will to transform. We can easily morph into our surrounds, weld ourselves to the chains of disdain, even wallow in the mud of unclear waters, or, we can transform.
Shawshank Andy did wallow in mud (and worse), and I’m not suggesting we do that, but, allowing ourselves to thwart a new and challenging mantle is, to, undoubtedly, ‘get busy dying.’ So how do we define transformation or incubation? Do we implement change? Or do we keep taking a vacation from each challenge that we continually conquer? It would be like continually getting sentenced to life at Shawshank and proceeding to plan another escape! Madness!
So, the transformation really does begin within ourselves, the environment that we allow to ourselves to enjoy or not enjoy. Up until aged 5 years old, both my sons were Montessori pre-schoolers, and one of the key things about Ms Montessori’s Method, was developing a child’s own initiative and natural ability, especially through play. Young children could develop, using their instincts and senses, allowing a pathway of creativity and reasoning. I use this pedagogy within my
Yoga classes, as transformation begins by turning up to class and connecting to the Self. We don’t need to be sentenced to life, but we do need to be connected to life.
The simple things that we have available to us, our five senses, and the five elements that we can connect into are completely abundant and completely free of charge. Air, fire, water, earth and space, however, making space to connect to these elements is crucial. Every day we are surrounded by news talk, social media, advertising and advice. We engage, we read, and we discuss whatever we find, yet we still can’t find the Self. That internal dialogue that tells us to ‘do it
tomorrow’ begins to dampen the senses.
So, to those who, perpetually, return to their self -formed habits of denying themselves a life, why not do something that makes you screw up your nose, do something that startles you, do something that makes you lose time. Be present and wait for the silence, it is distilled by connecting to the Self.
When we sit, lie or kneel in a space of silence, it connects the breath to the mind and the mind to the breath, there is a muted conversation, an exclusive period of oneness, where air reaches into the skin and the skin reaches for the air. There is an adhesive skin contact to the earth and an earthly submission felt on the surface of the skin, and as we allow the feeling to pervade beyond the skin, that feeling ignites the fire within our soul. This fire is the flame of compassion, sensuality, love and gratitude. These are feelings that can remain within us, each time we sit, kneel or lie down with our senses fully awake. Awakening the senses is only the beginning of our transformation of life to the Self and Self to life.
One of my favourite verses (BG 6.20) from the auspicious Bhagavad Gita, reads ‘Yoga is the journey of the Self, through the Self, to the Self,’ which is profoundly accurate. We can persistently skim the
surface of our life with the odd trip to the stunning beaches of Spain, or maybe the occasional piece of delicious chocolate to whet our taste buds, and an odd massage thrown in to soften our weary skin. But, these are meagre nuggets of gold when it comes to transformation. They help, but they can’t re- route, reboot and reform the Yogic Self, for that, we have to show up on the mat with no suntan, no sugar highs and be body-tired and sore to the bone.
Yoga has no identity, it has no face, no badge. It welcomes all, like an old auntie, who has lit the log-fire, boiled the kettle and sits patiently knitting, whilst you natter, until you run out of words. But, old auntie never runs out of wool, she just remains a constant companion, a constant entity of love and unwavering support. That is Yoga, a constant, unwavering companion, that waits for you, no matter what you did or said. What matters is that you are welcomed.
Sometimes, I do run out of words, sometimes I do run out of ideas for sequencing, and sometimes I roll out my Yoga mat, and just wait. No expectation, no needs or wants. It takes a craving to show up, but to just sit with no expectation and not speak, that can feel like an empty cave. But, there in that cave, is silence, with the presence of only a very faint echo, that echo is the sound of your breath, the gentle rhythm of your heart and the sensation of space around you, as your senses
awaken to feel into your Self. This is where the journey
of Yoga really begins………..
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.