Getting past the ick…

When I mentioned the word ‘mooncup’ in passing in a Facebook post a while ago I received a couple of messages from female friends, some encouraging, one enquiring if this was my latest crusade.

Menstruation is not something we talk about really. But each month, half of the population will for almost 1/3 of their life bleed. Their body will renew. For some women it will barely register on the pain threshold. For others, it can be severely debilitating with days spent in bed, racked with nausea and cramps, devouring steak and spinach (aye aye Popeye) in order to restore their iron levels. I don’t believe the spectrum of menstruation between women is truly acknowledged, never mind by men!

Not only is this natural bodily function necessary to ensure the survival of the human race, we women also pay for the privilege of acquiring the necessary implements to absorb the bleeding. We are also taxed a higher rate of VAT for purchasing these ‘non-essential items’ (yes that is how they are currently categorised).  A petition about the VAT rate was put before the Government two years ago and it was announced in March this year that the Government is now taking steps to reduce the VAT rate which has to be approved by the EU. Apparently ‘tampon tax’ has even been used by some politicians as an illustration in support of a Brexit… the power of a period. I’m all for progress and applaud those ladies who waved tampons at George Osborne in protest but as a matter of principle I do not see why we should have to pay for tampons and other sanitary care items at all. In the UK, we offer healthcare exemptions for those over 60 years old, for pregnant women, and condoms are provided for free for when you ‘choose’ to have safe sex (I get that there are wider cost and health benefits in promoting safe sex).  But, sanitary products are necessary, they are part of ensuring a woman takes care of her health each month, not bought or demanded through choice and the cost mounts up month by month, year by year. And embarrassingly I admit that I hadn’t even considered the cost implications for women on low incomes before I carried out research for this blog. Harrumph…that bee is firmly back in my bonnet!

I remember when I got my first period. My mum welcomed me to the fold of womanhood and guided me through the myriad of sanitary options. I bashfully told a couple of my friends in school that it had happened to me and the next day, waddling in to school with what felt like a nappy on, I found a sticker on my chair displaying a large arrow and ‘insert upwards’. My ‘friends’ had found a label from a delivery… a bit of light playground bullying and nowt compared to Carrie.  My younger sister on the other hand never divulged when she became a ‘woman’ and if she hadn’t had a baby then I’d never have known for sure. Such are the different ways in which we deal with the simple functions of the body.

In India, I studied pregnancy yoga and with that entailed an exploration of a woman’s body, sex, pregnancy and childbirth from a physical, emotional, energetic and spiritual perspective. So not just a hospital, stirrups, and an epidural. It was the first time I had really considered the true wonder of the female body, the power it holds and symbolises (whether we can or can’t have our own children or choose not to). I felt proud of my mother and my sister. I felt thankful and inspired. And I felt in awe of my own body of what it does each day never mind what it could do in pregnancy and childbirth. I came home brimming with enthusiasm about my new found goddess love and one day embarked on an open conversation with my sister about my period. She screwed up her nose, dry wretched, and promptly changed the subject. The woman is 31. She has a child. But she’s still my little sister. And when I told her about this blog she added in her defence: “well I did have Nate through the sun roof!” I’m proud of her even if she still can’t talk about periods.

My sister illustrated that many of us, myself included, are sometimes scared to get to grips with our own bodies. Friends of mine in the past have been squeamish about the thought of non-applicator tampons never mind a mooncup! But before tampons and disposable sanitary towels were invented women had to re-use cloth rags. There was less waste and less man-made chemicals involved and just because we now have access to disposable tampons doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider other options.

I decided to try out a mooncup as I’ve been reading about how tampons are full of chemicals like bleach and leave residual fibres in you. I would also prefer a more environmentally sustainable way to care for my body which the mooncup provides. And so it became time to explore a new frontier of sanitary healthcare.

The mooncup (to my surprise) is readily available in Boots, in Southport, and therefore I safely assume it is available EVERYWHERE in the UK. It comes in a pretty cotton bag with a pink ribbon (as if we needed the gender stereotyping reassurance that this was a purely female designated product…) It looks like a little funnel and you have to boil the thing to sterilise it first. As I was doing that the other day my dad came home and asked if I was boiling eggs….. My dad used to buy my tampons, he’s also been married twice, has three biological children, two female step-children (and a partridge in a pear tree), he currently lives with me and my alleged PMT so he’s not unaware of menstruation. After supervising the rolling-boil, he merely raised an eyebrow and advised me to cool it down before inserting. Thanks Dad.

I’m currently three days in to trying my mooncup and yeah it took a bit of fumble to figure it out the first few times. I used a few yogic breaths to relax and a deep squat just like I encourage my pregnant ladies to do in Prenatal Yoga (“That’s Yoga!”) But already I am a convert. Tampons be gone. Cost wise it’s more expensive up front but once you’ve bought one that’s all you’ll ever need.

In prepping this blog I came across a TED talk on menstruation by Aditi Gupta from Mumbai,India: https://www.ted.com/talks/aditi_gupta_a_taboo_free_way_to_talk_about_periods. She discusses that in parts of India menstruation is a taboo – that menstruating women are refused access to temples for worship and that some young girls think they are dying when they get their first period because they have never been told about it, not by their parents or at school. I’m grateful I grew up in the UK, with money, an education and a mum and a dad who were both open about this natural process. But I still think we supress discussing the natural processes of our bodies whether that be pooing, weeing or menstruating and it is another example of how we, men and women, can be disconnected from our bodies, from what we truly need. Quite often we just rush to medicate, shut off any pain because we can. I used to take a contraceptive pill which stopped my periods altogether, for years. I loved it. Until I went to India and realised this was just another way I had distanced myself from the messages my body is trying to send me. One of the main reasons I realised I was broken with stress and anxiety and had to make some changes was because my body started failing me and I was sobbing in the doctors surgery repeatedly at only 31 years old.

Fear and judgement of the unknown, of something different, stops us from progressing and stops us connecting to our bodies. Just because we have regular access to disposable tampons and sanitary pads and that’s what we are used to does not necessarily mean that they are the best, safest and most sanitary product we can use.

So, the message I appear to be offering again is to encourage you to connect with your body, to think a little more about what you do with it and do to it. And men, I encourage you to think more about your body for yourself but also to consider the women in your life, and what happens to their bodies each month and also before, during and after pregnancy. I believe we would all be a little less fearful of pain, injury, pregnancy and childbirth if we saw our bodies differently and tried to listen a little more to what is going on. Maybe we’d even have more compassion for ourselves and would treat our bodies more kindly and with more respect. Perhaps then we’d also do the same for others around us.

 

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Stunted growth

I’ve got writer’s block which as a blogger is a bit of an issue. Normally I get a bee in my bonnet about something and that inspires me to write and plan a class theme but I’m feeling a bit stunted (not just physically) at the moment!

I’ve had the usual amount of amusing stimulus in my life like the insight that both my mother and I sound the same when we vomit (thank you Nate for the germs), that I over-think over-thinking and I managed my first unsupported tripod headstand last week in class (there is ab strength under there after all!) but nothing of note has really come up.

A few months ago when I was waxing lyrical about the joys of yoga I thought to myself sagely this phase shall pass. That I’m at that early stage of a new relationship when everything you do is fun, fresh and exhilarating. You hang on their every word. You’re lost without that person (or in this case the yoga mat), you crave their time and full attention and you feel like the sun is bursting out of  your heart as you float around smiling at butterflies, old ladies and little children. Yes, I have been doing that. It’s more normal outside of London. ; )

In Yoga Teacher Training, our teachers warned us that our growth, our excitement, our learning and our practice would plateau. I imagined what it must be like to see us – the new fledgling yoga teachers and know that the inevitable plateau is coming for us. The equivalent of when your new boyfriend starts to leave the loo seat up, the pet name they call you actually starts to get a little irritating and you begin to settle for the comfort and satisfaction of good old missionary…

As with everything in life, experience and practice takes the new shiny-shine (technical term) off things and quite often we chase the light of something new whether that is a new handbag, a new car or even a new Partner as we become more relaxed, more settled and more complacent with our day-to-day lives. The harder choice is often to stick with something, with someone, and to realise that we are actually responsible for our own happiness and that means we have to make an effort each day. That life, whatever your practice, requires diligence and sometimes you do have to fake it till you make it.

Life has its duller moments and I’ve reached a point with teaching where I don’t feel the need to rely on my notes as much. I can trust my instinct more, and command a room of people from downward dog to plank without the panic of ‘precautions’, ‘benefits’, ‘things not to say’, ‘what synonym can I use for breath’ rushing through my mind and blocking my instructions. I have a routine too – I know when I am teaching and whilst I could take more on, I don’t feel pressure about work coming in and I don’t panic when clients leave me partly because I’m heading back to India in November (yes I am bloody fortunate). That said, I get up at the same time every day and do my own practice. I keep myself focused ensuring my admin is up to date and I’m always working on new side projects outside of my classes. I may not skip out of bed to my yoga mat each morning but I know I need to be there – in order to teach my students well, but also for myself. That now is the time to dig in, to keep my head down and push through this funk. For this too shall pass. Like the high times and like the lows.

One of the first lessons my Guru taught me was that if your environment is making you stressed and unwell then you have two options: change your environment or change the way you react to it. I have changed my environment more dramatically and with more acceptance than I could have envisaged 12 months ago but my issues are still there. So now I will continue to work on myself, on my reactions.

Sitting with this quietness enables me to realise how unused to it I am, that I used to constantly panic about money, buying a home, settling down with a man, losing weight for the next holiday, generally just trying to ‘succeed’ at life, and that this calmer, slower, less exciting period is an opportunity, it’s the start of breaking down more patterns of behaviour, not reaching out for more drama in my life because that is as addictive as caffeine, chocolate, and cocaine but without the widely known health warnings. Everything in life requires diligence and effort and even my commitment to a healthier well-being doesn’t come for free. It’s just about realising what in your life is really worth investing your energy in.

P.S if you continued to read this post after that opening paragraph then you truly are a loyal fan! Thank you.

 

The sadness of Sex

This post discusses sex, violence and rape. Please read at your discretion. Thank you.

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Someone I know was raped recently. To imagine that kind of violation makes me feel sick to my stomach. I’ve discussed, more lightly, female fear in an earlier post and whilst I was writing that it did trigger deeper issues within me that have been brought back to the surface.

When I was too small to remember someone in my immediate family was raped. A man broke into her ground floor flat, raped and nearly beat her to death. I have heard about other people in my life having near-misses or being raped or assaulted, men and women, and it has always affected me physically and emotionally. I think that sensitivity has led in part to some of the trust issues which I have also touched on before.

When I was 17 I decided to have sex with someone for the first time. I was young, so young, but at the time I was one of the last of my friends to have sex. The ‘hot’ friends of mine told tales of huge penises and weird sex positions, and I had felt the urges, the physical desire to explore sex with boyfriends of mine by then but had never gone ‘all the way’. There were no fireworks, there was no love. It was just getting it done.

Around this time, Christina Aguilera released D.I.R.T.Y. Her music video had her parading around a boxing ring, in chaps, and nowt much else, grinding, and twerking (thanks Miley Cyrus for defining that ‘dance move’). I remember I was pretty pissed off about it at the time and had a heated debate with a friend who believed Christina was waving the flag of feminism – dressing and acting how she wanted, the modern day version of burning the bra. Some 15 years later during my travels, I took a bus between Battambang and Siem Reap, Cambodia. There were about 10 of us on this bus including a family with small children. To entertain us on the 8 hour drive, there was a TV which played Nicki Minaj music videos on repeat (until it broke an hour in (there is a God)). I had barely woken up and had a brew and there were Nicki’s breasts and crotch thrusting in my face on screen. To sell music.

In our Western society it’s all about sex baby. At this time of year in particular we are shown images of women ‘bikini ready’, with defined stomachs, waxed within an inch of their life, pumped up breasts, pouting lips. Men, ‘Real Men’, are pumped, strong and hard. Men and Women are ‘hot’, ready, waiting and wanting.

It appears to me that sex is often depicted and treated as a purely physical act – that women and men just ‘need’ to have that itch scratched. Men have seed to sow. Sex can be reduced to this in music videos, films, TV shows and then there’s porn readily accessible on the internet, on our phones, by adults and children. I felt a lot of pressure as a teenager (before the dawn of the Internet but after the dawn of the dinosaurs) to be pretty, thin and sexually active so god knows what present day teenagers feel, think and do with each other. Sex is available on demand, online and on your latest dating app and unfortunately I have seen many a penis on Tinder. Yup, just a penis profile pic. One guy even used a Coke can as a helpful measuring aid. There are websites designed purely so that people can have affairs. Sex is just another commodity. Something else we consume, demand and trade.

Age, experience and yoga have all changed the way I think about my body and sex.  I do not wish to calculate how much money I have spent on bikini waxes since the age of 22! From a yoga perspective, sex is more than just a physical act. It is an energy exchange, it is connecting two people, and apart from childbirth it is the most intimate experience we have as humans. How many of you get squeamish at the thought of getting a smear or an STD test? Heaven forbid a doctor prods your private parts but then you willingly have sex with other people, with or without protection?

When I was backpacking, I went to a beach party on an island in Cambodia. I drank a lot of beer and got pretty piddled. On one trip to the bar a pleasant looking fellow started bantering with me and asked if we could have a selfie. In good spirits, I turned my back on my open beer can and posed with him but something, something in my gut, told me to turn around and as I did I saw him put a pill in my drink. I called him out and he brazenly admitted it with a shrug of the shoulder! I left the beer can and returned to my friends. At best, that man wanted to give my evening a ‘boost’ and watch me stumble around out of it a bit later. At worst – well it doesn’t bear thinking about. Isn’t that what we normally say to avoid uncomfortable conversation? But let’s think about it. At worst he wanted to assault or rape me or give someone else the chance.

I feel truly saddened when I hear of sexual violence, and more so by the victim blaming that goes on afterwards. I do not believe that I made myself ‘vulnerable’ to assault or rape that evening in Cambodia. That night I went out to a beach party as an adult and consumed alcohol by choice with other consenting adults. I do not like to think that I had a ‘lucky’ escape either.

I wrote this blog initially to get down on paper how I felt so I could move on past the feeling in my gut. I am aware of how sensitive the issue of sex and sexual violence is and I have discussed whether or not to post this blog now, or at all. After much thought and debate I am sharing this blog with you because I hope to raise more awareness of the importance of connecting to your body, not just with Yoga. I’m not suggesting that I know what is right or wrong for you, or that we should all remain virgins until our wedding day (should you believe in Marriage). A lot of shame and judgement is connected to sex and I am just one young(ish) privileged White girl with views based on my current experiences and bias. And perhaps I owe Christina, Nicki and Miley an apology.

I hope that this post will encourage you to take a moment to consider that we, Men and Women alike, are bombarded by sexual imagery, subliminal messages, and misinformation every day. To bear that in mind, and to slow down, even slow sex down – the rush to have it and the way we have it. To consider spending less time comparing ourselves to how we assume others are having sex, and to connect to what we need, to what feels good, safe and pleasurable for our body, for our self.

Ignorance is bliss

Many people in the morning get a caffeine fix. Maybe it’s a cuppa with their slice of toast or a skinny, half whipped, freeze-dried, no foam, non-dairy, extra shot, double chocolate-d cappuccino from their vendor of choice en route to the office.

My morning fix is yoga. And boy did I need it this morning! I woke up on the wrong side of the wrong bed. Don’t get excited. It was the back bedroom as my nephew has my room each Wednesday. I’d gone to bed late after scrolling through past memories on Facebook. Photos of my last 4 birthdays were on there – me happy and actually rather slim (oblivious at the time), with friends, family, cake, presents and alcohol. There’s one photo of me on my 30th in a beautiful dress and it looks loose around the tummy (my oldest bugbear) and I thought to myself “will I still get in that dress?”  “I should try it on.” “No, don’t, in case it doesn’t fit”. Next my mind flitted to the old friends on the photos that I haven’t seen or spoken to properly for ages, like my old housemates, people who I shared my day to day life with. And I felt sad. I missed my old life, my London life, my independence. And then it all spirals doesn’t it? An exchange with a family member became fractious, and difficult personal issues in my life came up and I ended up sobbing in child’s pose for a good 10 minutes of my morning Yoga practice.

I hate to be the one to tell you that there’s no quick fix to being happy, to being content. It’s like when you book a holiday in paradise and for the first 2 or 3 days it’s just perfect. You’re moving there. Life is a beach! But by day 4, there’s a cloud in the sky, you’re sunburnt and sore, there’s a hair in your new favourite dish for dinner, or someone has taken ‘your’ lounger! You start thinking about what you have to do when you get home, the washing, the catch up at work, and even begin planning your next trip away.

So despite the change in lifestyle, the healthier diet, better sleep, and a more rewarding job, I still have struggles with myself and I am not happy 100% of the time. And as suspected, my pattern of reflecting back around my birthday is not dead and buried despite my sincere gratitude for my life and those 33 things.

I have realised that slowing down and living for each day as opposed to striving to ‘achieve’ the next promotion, buying a house, finding ‘the one’, getting married, having children, is hard. It’s unsettling. And once you let go of the distractions you are left with a feeling of emptiness, of silence, of space to engage with your self. And we’re not used to this.  I am still not used to it. I think part of my issue is getting caught up with the highs and lows – the flirtation of a new man, followed by the flatness of it failing to be anything, the class that’s full of 15 students one week but 4 the next. And what is it that is causing this cycle for me? Comparison. Comparing my day to yesterday. Comparing my birthday to last year’s birthday. Taking myself out of the present moment, getting caught up in my emotions and then spiralling down into negative over-thinking thought patterns like: “well, maybe now things are slower in my life I have no excuse not to find a boyfriend..” Putting pressure and judgement back on myself. No one else is doing it!

So today I will sit with these feelings and acknowledge that at least I am aware of what is going on in my ‘monkey mind’ and that I have a choice to indulge my sadness, my distractions. I can try and breath through it all and focus on one ‘real’ thing at a time (like cleaning my teeth, eating breakfast, writing this post). And I will avoid trying that dress on! Becoming aware is the starting point of finding peace and happiness within and if needs be then my yoga mat and child’s pose are always there. And that’s what Yoga is for me. A resting space. A safe space.

Finding the greys and finding my way

Normally on my birthday I would reflect back on the year that has passed, note that I am single again (as some kind of failing) and compare myself to what my friends and ex-flings had achieved via the medium of Facebook, Twitter and any other stalking facilitator. Come on, we all do it! This time last year, I was physically and emotionally exhausted and counting down the days until my flight to Delhi where my adventures would begin. I did not have the slightest inkling how rapidly and incredibly my life would change.

Today, on my 33rd birthday I am focusing on the present moment (“That’s Yoga!”) and the things I have in my life which I am truly grateful for. Here are 33 things for my 33rd year in no particular order…

I am THANKFUL for:

  1. Yoga – obvs. Each and every day.
  2. My dog, my date, my bundle of love.
  3. My nephew for teaching me patience as he starts to find and use his voice (that’s me being all ‘yoga’ about it) and for teaching me that I can actually handle dealing with sh1t – literally and figuratively.
  4. Cheese
  5. Halloumi
  6. Blue Cheese (ok, I’ll stop).
  7. My best friend’s husband, Neil. For being the best modern day role model for a husband, friend and father I know.
  8. My best friend, Amanda. For never failing to make me howl with laughter, for keeping me grounded but above all for always supporting me in all of my right and wrong choices.
  9. Making a teensy weeny profit from my new business as a Yoga Teacher!
  10. The Irish Sea – as grim and grey and as much as she hides from the shore in Southport! I see the vastness and freedom of the horizon, the crash of the waves, the smell of the salty sea air and I know I am connected to all the Oceans I have swam in, sat by, sailed and flown over, to those memories and to the people I adore who are spread all across the World.
  11. My Mum. For being the naughtiest Yoga student I have in class and for being my number one fan.
  12. My Step-Dad – who has taught me that a comma always follows ‘However’ and that love is unconditional regardless of blood. Oh, and for the wheelie suitcase so I can get my yoga mats into places more easily. From the depths of my lower back I thank you.
  13. The Manjushri Centre in the Lakes – a beautiful peaceful spot in Ulverston where I can connect and refresh at meditation retreats on home soil.
  14. My students. You humble me. You inspire me. You teach me. Thank you.
  15. Guru-Ji, Piriamvada, Rashmi, Krishna Mukti and Charat – you showed me a path to a happier way of life, to a happier me and gave me the space to figure it out for myself. True empowerment, true wisdom, true teaching.
  16. My sister – for your strength, your giggle and your hand-me-downs now I no longer have a ‘proper’ job.
  17. Avocados.
  18. Thai Rice takeaway – for having more than one vegetarian food option and for delivering when I’m too tired to cook and need a spicy hit to take me back to SE Asia.
  19. The local women in business I have had the pleasure to meet so far and who wish to share and teach wellbeing to all –Sharon, Aimee, Nicola, Paula, Mayuri, Cheryl x2, Sian, Heather and Jessica.
  20. My friends, near and far, old and new, who have supported me with ‘likes’, OMs, messages of encouragement, offers of advice and technical support!
  21. My car. I know it’s not environmentally friendly but I’m not sure I could get 24 mats, 7 bolsters, 14 blocks, 14 straps, 13 eye masks and 5 blankets on the back of my bike. Although to be fair they would in India….
  22. My faith in myself, my strength, my heart.
  23. Simon, my yoga teacher in Southport. For making me do evil, I mean challenging, postures I would quite frankly ignore if I was left to my own devices.
  24. Dates stuffed with peanut butter. Try it!
  25. Coconut Water. To hydrate me on the days after the night before (see socially acceptable addictions…) and to take me back to the beaches of Goa and SE Asia.
  26. My legs. As battle scarred as they are. For the strength in my ‘thunder thighs’ and the ability to climb sand dunes and mountains, to simply be able to place my feet on the ground and walk ‘left foot, right foot’. Simple happiness.
  27. To my Uncle John and e-harmony for matching with Mayuri 4 years ago. I am overjoyed to be working with her to make my dreams of yoga + food come true!
  28. To work in a role where I truly have the opportunity to help people.
  29. Jon Snow. GOT – not Channel 4. (I’m not objectifying, merely appreciating the man…).
  30. The financial freedom and opportunity to go back to India in November 2016!
  31. Left over Paneer Satay from last night which I shall devour at lunchtime. Yes, Paneer is cheese…
  32. Jaya Lakshmi for the beautiful song “This is the day” which reduced me to a snotty mess in a yoga class during my training in India and which reminds me each time I listen to it to continue to surrender and let go of the pretence of ‘control’.
  33. To age another year. For feeling the breath in my body, the beat of my heart, for being healthy, happy and free.

Namaste xx

P.S Did I mention cheese?

Changing my tune

Last weekend I had the pleasure and the privilege of hosting my second ½ day Yoga Workshop with the lovely Sharon. This time we focused on the Power of the Sun and the Elements within and around us.

Yoga is about unity, about connection, about literally stopping and smelling the roses. One way in which we explore connection in Yoga is by stripping it all down (not literally, well, not in my classes) and focusing on what we truly are. So, for example, have you ever considered that our bodies represent the five elements?

  • Earth – our bones, muscles, and connective tissue;
  • Water – our blood, our lymph. Our bodies are 75% water. We are held and born from water in our Mother’s womb;
  • Fire – our spirit, our digestive system which transforms our food and our emotions within us;
  • Air – our breath;
  • Ether – the space between our cells and our internal organs.

In Akhanda yoga (traditional Hatha Yoga), we focus on connecting postures and movement to the breath. And when we slow down and do that, we realise that all of us have the same tidal flow of the breath within us, and that each and every living being (human or animal) does too. Fundamentally, we also all share the same aim – to find permanent happiness. It’s why my dog likes to be walked and cuddled. It’s why I like to be walked and cuddled. It’s why people work themselves into the ground (or the Doctor’s surgery) as they try to better themselves or improve things for their families, striving for more and more.  It’s why I became a lawyer, it’s why I put up with bad behaviour from poor managers, it’s why I ran half marathons and it’s why I began to suffer.

Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook may have seen my slightly emotional post after the Workshop (and after a half pint – seriously my tolerance is poor these days!) but I was truly touched by the wonderful people who came to share their time and interest in Yoga with Sharon and I. On Sunday evening I went to bed exhausted and overjoyed. That positive feeling I had, and which I shared with others on Sunday is just one example of the connection which Yoga can bring within us and between us.

I also experienced a personal yoga highlight during the Workshop as not only did I get a room full of people to chant OM in my Akhanda Yoga class, they also indulged in chanting the Gayatri Mantra (the mantra of the Sun) as part of a guided meditation seminar! It was a total delight to hear the unashamed voices singing loudly and proudly and it took me back to India, to the home of my heart and soul.

As I explained to the group on Sunday, chanting is one of the most derided and undervalued aspects of a balanced Yoga practice. Sadly, I have even seen other teachers dismissing it on social media which only helps to compound the negativity surrounding chanting and the true traditional practice of Yoga.

Don’t get me wrong, I know it seems weird. There were moments in the Ashram in India where I laughed out loud to myself about how people at home would look on in horror (and possibly concern) as I danced around and chanted ‘Hare Krishna’ and ‘Shiva, Shiva, Shamboa’ at the top of my lungs – not just because I’m not the most tuneful of singer! (My mum recalls that when she came to a school Christmas show she heard me singing from the bottom of my boots before she even saw me!).

I know that it feels odd and uncomfortable to sit in a room full of strangers and chant OM, never mind a whole verse of the Gayatri mantra. And I also know that most people come to Yoga for Savasana – the lie down at the end!  I was one of those people.  So the fact that I now sit in front of a room full of people every day and chant OM does quite frankly astound me. (Sometimes students do literally laugh in my face!) And then to have a room full of people singing the Gayatri mantra on my cueing, on a Sunday, in Southport, a small seaside town in the North of England! Well, it rendered me speechless and proud. It took guts for me to sit on a stage and sing the Gayatri mantra, and it took guts for those sitting before me to sing back. I had a plan B should it all go wrong but those brilliant people on Sunday truly made my day.

I believe that Yoga is inclusive and that my ‘job’ is to offer a variety of Yoga tools for people to try, not have forced down their throat. So it is for that reason that I do not encourage my students to chant more than OM at the start and end of my regular weekly classes. A 4 hour Yoga Workshop however, is the perfect opportunity to explore Yoga more deeply and try out some of the less used, less known and less comfortable practices.

Chanting is just like singing, but without the need to hit the high note, or the drama of finding your inner Adele or Mariah. It releases endorphins so it will boost your mood and the vibrations from chanting help to balance the energy within the body. Chanting OM in a room full of strangers helps you take the stick out of your own arse, it helps you connect to the present moment, and connect your body and mind to the sound of the mantra. (You can read more about OM and how chanting has helped me change in The Power of OM.) And that’s the start of any transformation, letting go of your ego, the worry of what other people think and just giving something a go.

So how do you find permanent happiness? From my experience so far, the answer appears to lie in slowing down, and finding a connection to my body, finding a connection to life and that came to me through Yoga and Meditation. I had to break first though, and I had to want to change, to surrender all that I had in my life (the good and the bad) and accept that it wasn’t working for me. The hardest part so far has been leaving behind my friends in London, my life in London and accepting that I had to if I wanted to feel happier in myself. Change is scary. It’s hard. But so far, I can tell you it’s definitely worth it.

Om Shanti… Shanti… Shanteeeeeeeee….(Go on, just try it).

xx

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Friends with benefits

Alone. Being alone. Feeling alone. Sleeping alone. Dying alone. How are these words making you feel? Perhaps ignoring the wailing of Celine Dion and that Bridget Jones scene – how do you honestly feel about being all by yourself?

Think about how you spend your free time – how often do you sit alone in silence? On the rare occasion you have free time, all to yourself, do you always have the TV on in the background, or are you on Facebook seeing what others are doing that you’re not? Do you keep yourself busy doing endless jobs rather than stopping, resting, just being still, just being alone? Now maybe ask yourself why.

I was chatting to a student after class the other week and my travels came up and she asked me who I’d gone with. I replied, “I went alone.”, and I could see that this unsettled her slightly. I explained that in the 6 months I travelled around India and SE Asia I was only actually a billy-no-mates for about two days and one evening. Such is the nature of backpacking. Yes, I had to make more effort as a solo traveller, but I met so many wonderful people in each and every place which was a huge part of restoring my confidence in the good of people and in the world.

Before I went backpacking, I had done some travelling alone (Sydney, Australia for 3 days). I had also been on work trips in the UK living in a hotel in Powys, North Wales for 2 weeks (the Law is JUST like TV. Honest). I think in London it was more normal to go for lunch out, even dinner, alone, and no one would notice. A lot of my friends had been travelling alone and so when it came to my time to go solo I didn’t question it. I know my parents would prefer it if I didn’t go to weird far flung places particularly alone but they support me and my choices and I think they actually got a bit bored of it all once I’d been away for so long…

So, I do have a little secret to divulge. I have been dating. A man. Not Buster (the dog). Now before anyone gets too excited (Mum) we are just friends, with benefits. Minds out of the gutter people – not those benefits (although we did meet on Tinder). He is a wonderful bloke who is trying to reduce his stress and anxiety by exploring meditation and lo and behold, we both swiped right. As one male mate told me – “it’ll be rare to find a Northern bloke who is interested in that stuff love”. So I snuck out of the house for a couple of dates and on our third we committed to a whole day together at a Buddhist meditation retreat in the Lakes. For real – this is not code people. He is a fun guy, tells terrible jokes but has a heart of gold. And because of that, and because of my more open approach, we have shared a lot about ourselves and our respective struggles, fears and hopes for the future.

Over a lime and soda one night, I told him about my travels and how I saw shooting stars, beautiful sunsets, sparkling plankton in the sea at night. And he said he’d love all that but that it wouldn’t be the same without sharing it with someone special. I used to feel like that too. During my travels, I spent a couple of weeks with a friend and her backpacking boyfriend. They had an amazing love affair over 6 months after meeting on a train to Delhi in India. She is Mexican, he is German but they both gave into the opportunity and travelled together for 3 months (with me as their sidekick/third wheel for 2 weeks). I adore and miss them both and for the most part travelling with a couple was fun.  However, there was the odd time where I would go to bed alone after dinner and hear them giggling and chatting together in the next room (ear plugs always went in pretty swiftly) and I would feel more lonely than usual, that I’d think ‘what’s wrong with me’, ‘why haven’t I met anyone?’ But it became clear to me that I needed to sit with that feeling, that their experiences were not my journey and as I’ve said in a previous post this trip was an opportunity to learn to love myself, not someone else.

My solo trip was an opportunity to sit before a beautiful sunset, and feel the beauty of it for myself. To learn just to sit with myself. To realise that being alone isn’t scary, it doesn’t mean you’re not loved, or loveable. It is uncomfortable to begin with, I’ll admit, but now I crave silence. I enjoy my own company. My own space. Just for me. I believe that in order to experience beauty and freedom, you have to allow yourself to be vulnerable, to be alone sometimes. I’m not suggesting taking unsafe, unnecessary risks, but just putting yourself out there a little more.

By the end of date 4, He and I could see that we want different things from dating, from a relationship at this time, and we decided to be friends. Don’t misunderstand me, I could quite easily have dated him. He’s a good egg. I could have continued to let him hold my hand, become more of a support for me, my ally, my man. It was nice to have someone to text, someone to plan to see, someone to dress up for a date with. To wonder what would happen next. I am only human. But fundamentally, I’m not afraid of being alone anymore and because of that I could see that he and I were not in the right place to be more than friends. And sometimes friendship is more. I have found someone to go and meditate with. A friend with benefits.

For Mary x