Say You, Say Me

Hello. Last night I had the immense pleasure of seeing Lionel Richie in concert all night long. I appreciate that to some of you this may not be a pleasure at all but stick with me here…like I’m stuck on you.

On stage there was a 68 year old man, thrusting, dancing on the ceiling, smiling and throwing his heart and soul into entertaining around 5000 people. I knew 5 of those 5000 people and when my auntie started screaming ‘Lionel!’ at the top of her lungs when he first came on stage I wished I only knew 4…

At one point during the concert to We are the World we all swayed with our torch lights beaming on our smart phones (not quite the charm of a cigarette lighter but we live in an age where we cannot be trusted with bottle tops even at a Lionel Richie concert) and in that moment I felt connected to those 5000 people, and I felt a glimmer of hope, that endless love.

It’s been a funny old week and everyone (including our leaders who should be leading) is still reeling from last week’s vote. Again, the negative focus is leading the way on the News and Facebook and it is certainly depressing to read/hear/see the racist vein among us British abusing immigrants in this country and waving the English flag to support their hatred. It’s easy to lose faith in each other, in the kindness of people and see only despair for the future. I have been guilty of this too and it took a friend to point out that not all leave voters are prejudiced morons (despite the media focus) and that there were/are valid economic and financial reasons that swayed people to vote leave which I have not spent any time considering because I knew my own vote and the reasons for it.

Last week I implored people to stand together and avoid further separatism and yet I have been mentally separating myself from those I find offensive, stayed sulking (a little) and stopped engaging in the narrative of moving forward. Not only is that a ‘yoga fail’ for many reasons (holding onto my emotions, not staying present, not finding compassion for others) it also skews my perception of my neighbours, of people, and of the world. Every single one of us sees the world differently. This very screen will appear differently to you than it would to me because whilst we ‘see’ physically through our eyes our vision comes from our own perceptions, from our past experiences and through our emotions of that moment. It’s more than the glass half full/half empty analogy. A blue sky will look grey to someone going through heartbreak or the rain will be yet another frustration and another reason to hate the world for those of us stressed and depressed. So my destiny, my challenge for you too is to seek to find a positive in everything, in every day, instead of running with the night.

You may think you are a positive person but just begin to watch your thoughts, how much you gossip and what you are listening to, reading or watching on TV. You may then realise that if you’re that mean to yourself then your neighbour is probably as masochistic to themselves as well! And we can only build up positivity and happiness for each other by starting on finding that for ourselves first.  Failing that, I’m pretty sure the answer to finding unity and peace for us all is simply a combination of Lionel and cheap wine…

P.S. This week’s blog comes with the challenge of spotting 12 delicately placed Lionel Richie song titles. You are truly welcome.

 

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Week of 27 June 2016 – yoga update

Just a reminder that there are no classes on Wednesday 29 June and Friday 1 July due to non-yoga based social activities. Yes I’m shocked too. ; )

Prenatal Yoga classes are running on Tuesday 28 June and Thursday 30 June.

To make up for this yoga deficit how about joining me at the 1/2 day workshop two weeks today! Treat yourself to a relaxing and energising afternoon learning more about yoga and ayurveda – the Eastern science of good living.

Contact me for bookings.

Don’t go Brexit-ing my heart

This week I have rather ironically been teaching my students the meaning of Yoga – which is Union. It is the path and goal of uniting our body, mind and soul. In Akhanda Yoga we unite the breath to each posture and at its deepest sense Yoga is finding that connection to your true self, to the light that rests within each of us and connects us all, British, European, Dog, Cat, Male, Female.

Today, I woke up and I was told that I am British. Today, I have been told that being British means taking power back. Today, I have been told that we British are better off alone.

I was lured in to the drama of the News this morning and began scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed which had erupted with name-calling, blaming, more calls of separatism with cries for London to seek its own independence and chatter that Scotland will seek to separate itself from the United Kingdom, again.

Separatism, exclusivity, control, ego are all factors which have led to fear and negativity building up in this country and underlying the Referendum campaign. Both sides have used fearmongering to garner support. The Media and Politicians have for years fanned the flames of prejudice which I believe has led, in some part, to the decision today for Britain to separate itself from Union. From a Union that was brought together to build bridges following the atrocities of the Second World War.

We are all responsible for this outcome today. We are responsible if we voted, we are responsible if we didn’t. We are all responsible for the decision to leave even if we voted to remain because we have failed each other. We have failed to listen and respect differing views which is part of the reason why the majority of this country has voted to be alone without ‘interference’ – and we have all cultivated that attitude over many many years. We all wish to be the King of our own Castle.

I have been a Northerner all my life and I was a honorary Londoner for 10 years. There are realities in this divide which could not be clearer from the split of the Referendum vote. London is the powerhouse of this country. It is an International trading centre and it is vital to our economy that it remains so. However, those with power and wealth in London, distracted by their importance and the fast pace of life, forgot that there are disillusioned disaffected people all across the country who have felt ignored through the failures of our political system and the skew in valuing money and financial services over all. I believe that this negativity and despondency has led to today’s narrow decision. And it is easy to blame others but this isn’t the time to let division and separatism continue. We have to stand together and make this change a positive outcome for us all.

We are responsible for our reactions however extreme the provocation. And every day is an opportunity to work on respecting others and not losing our heads. We teach our children to share. We teach our children to listen to others, to learn the difference between right and wrong and not to have a tantrum when they don’t get what they want.

I consider myself to be a citizen of the World. I was fortunate to have been born in the UK but I am no more ‘entitled’ to live here than anyone else. That was just the luck of the draw. These boundaries – EU/UK, London/rest of the UK, England/Scotland/Wales/Northern Ireland are not real. Our ego is simply attached to the power they signify and we use them to find a sense of belonging which is missing in our lives and also sadly to justify our prejudices against those not like ‘us’.

The negativity of this decision and of the reaction to it has upset me. We are all a little lost and seeking to find happiness but blaming each other, separating ourselves and believing that we hold ‘greatness’ just because we are British is not the answer. The truth to happiness is finding peace and forgiveness in your heart first and then feeling compassion for others, all others.

Despite my political views, my sadness and my innate fear of change (stubborn Taurus) I hope that we can step forward and embrace this decision as the start of a great change – a wider and more honest change than just re-defining boundaries.

Finally, I would just like it to be known that should Donald Trump be elected then I will be seeking residence on Mars… Everyone has their limits.

 

For the love of Women

Today is the first day of Summer. It is Summer Solstice – the longest day and the shortest night and according to many yoga resources a perfect opportunity to observe whether we are in balance or not.

Yesterday, a friend and I went to a meditation class in the Park and we stood under a tree and did all sorts of delightfully odd things that scared and attracted passing dogs. One practice was to stand under the tree and connect to the elements – air, water, fire and earth. I am Earth. I am a Taurus and I am one of the most stubbornly entrenched people on this planet. Just ask my mum.

One way in which you can be too grounded is to become a tight arse, a stuck in the mud and fear change. Well, that was definitely the ‘old’ me before I shook myself down, packed in my sensible job and packed up the Beast and headed to India (the home of change and squat toilets amongst other things).

According to Yoga science both men and women alike have a balance of energies within them and at certain times of the day and times of life these will be more or less active. For example, we start the day with sun salutations which are energising and avoid them after sunset when we wind down for sleep. Hatha Yoga offers the simplest demonstration of that balance – ‘Ha’ means sun and ‘Tha’ means moon.  The Sun is active energy, yang – it’s our masculine energy. The Moon is more reflective and cooling – yin and feminine.

For 10 years I was a lawyer in what is one of the oldest Boys clubs. I focused in Litigation which meant I got paid (rather well) to argue (which some of you may believe I have not yet given up. Old habits die hard).  I thrived on the banter of being with the ‘Boys’, of being hard-nosed, driven, career focused and of being approved of by men. Don’t get me wrong, I worked with plenty of women too and I do not tar them with my own brush but I, for one, felt like a failure when I was emotional or sensitive – qualities attributed to the feminine and not welcome in the board room.

I was a feminist – supporting and hoping for women to continue to push for equality in life which meant achieving the same dizzy heights as men on the career pole. I didn’t wear the T-shirt a la Ed Miliband but I was enraged by the backlash against the label ‘feminist’ and during my travels I was particularly distressed when I met a couple of young women just starting out in their London careers who rolled their eyes at me for being one. I am still a feminist but my perspective has changed and I am sure it will continue to shift as I age (and continue to chant under trees). I no longer feel that my focus of the fight is to continue to push through that glass ceiling (which remains there and should not) but to re-balance our intentions, our values and our energies for men and women alike.

This week I had the great fortune to have two fabulous women come back into my life. Two very different women (to me and to each other) who I met and who became soul sisters of mine in India last year. At the same time, this issue of the balance between the masculine and the feminine has been flitting around me like an irritating mosquito and it bit me hard achieving my full attention after beginning to read ‘Awakening Shakti’ by Sally Kempton and getting to the heart chakra chapter in ‘Eastern Body, Western Mind’ by Anodea Judith. Both books have drawn my attention to the fact that femininity has been reduced by over sexualisation and that in modern day religion there is no Mother, no Universal Goddess, as there is the Father. In Christianity, Jesus is the Son of the Father, born without a Mother. And even in Hinduism, the top 3 Gods are male. Now biologically speaking it is self-evident there’s a woman shaped hole in this agenda. Just call me Clouseau.

By rushing through life and ‘achieving’ we are only using our masculine energy and that is how I became unbalanced and then ill. I felt like I couldn’t cut it when really it was just my body, my heart and soul telling me I was missing something. And it happens to men too and I think in some ways there is more of a stigma for men who fall off the hamster wheel with stress, depression and anxiety for being too ‘sensitive’.

Like the word ‘feminist’ which has been sullied, I am re-defining ‘sensitive’ which actually means “endowed with sensation; having perception through the senses”. It means that we ‘sensitive’ people are just more aware and why and when did that become a bad thing?!

The Goddess, the Mother, is the symbol of love, of unconditional love, and we live in a violent and disturbed world that could surely benefit from less greed and power and more love. As I write that I know that many of you (including my Dad) may well roll your eyes and disregard this as the idealistic wishes of a tree-hugging, OM chanting, hippy yoga teacher but I am just simply inviting you to be a little kinder, more tolerant and more loving towards yourself today, tomorrow and indefinitely.

Worst Boss ever?

I may have the worst boss ever. And I have worked for some particular a5Sh0l*s in my time as a lawyer. You may be a little confused and assume that I have taken an employed job again. No, no, I am still self-employed and my Mind is causing havoc!

I am a classic Type A personality. I just googled for a definition:

“A temperament characterized by excessive ambition, aggression, competitiveness, drive, impatience, need for control, focus on quantity over quality and unrealistic sense of urgency. It is commonly associated with risk of coronary disease and other stress-related ailments.” Hello Me.

I have achieved something great in the last week. I have made yoga stressful. Last week involved the following: a Birthing Workshop (in which I discussed sex, stimulating nipples and stretching the perineum with an ex-boyfriend and his pregnant wife), two Pregnancy Yoga classes, one Akhanda Yoga class, two one-to-one yoga sessions, two ‘yoga’ business meetings, a Restore and & Renew class, and I studied, stuffed samosas, and co-hosted an Indian Summer Satsang. I also began planning another ½ day Yoga Workshop and dented my car. Today, Sunday, the day of rest, after packing up my yoga stuff from the night before, I am heading to Manchester to see Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. No rest for the yogic.

Halfway into the week I stopped sleeping. There was and is too much going on in my mind. Good and bad. Worry and daydreams. I want to save the world and help people learn how to be happier through yoga (excessive ambition). I feel disappointed in myself when there are only a few attendees to my classes (focus on quantity but I hope my students don’t feel compromised on quality!). I want to be the best teacher for my students (competitiveness with myself). I have to have the next event in the diary to earn my keep (drive & unrealistic sense of urgency). I don’t know enough (aggression), and I want my own space to live and to teach in (impatience and to save my tennis elbows).

Some of you will have done far more in one day than I have done in the last week and this isn’t a virtual pissing contest. What I am seeking to illustrate is that it is not the events, people and circumstances around us that cause the stress, the health complaints and the sleeping problems. It is our individual patterns of behaviour that we have cultivated that lead us into repeated reactions and spiralling into stress. The positive from this is that I am aware of my behaviour and I am laughing at it. I am not panicking, getting upset or angry when I cannot sleep and I accept the present sleeping situation and I accept myself. Not once did it occur to me as a lawyer that I was facilitating my own decline.

At this time, I need to work on my self-care (don’t worry I do wash regularly unlike my backpacking days). I could do with tidying my bedroom (yes, Mum) as a tidy space leads to a tidy mind. Most of all I need to learn that my excitement for knowledge, for yoga, for sharing, for helping will come at a cost to myself if I don’t take care of myself first. So with that said, I’m putting this blog down and logging off for the rest of the day. I will take some time to meditate too as that always helps.

Leaving on a jet plane….

This time last year I was frantically stuffing ‘the Beast’ with my ‘essentials’ for a whirlwind 3 months travelling adventure. All my connecting flights were booked and as only a control freak would do my itinerary was planned, printed, stored in a plastic wallet, and emailed to my Dad.

My first stop was Delhi to catch a connecting flight to Dehra Dun and then a car to Anand Prakash Ashram in Rishikesh, the foothills of the Himalayas. That was my first stop, to de-stress, to re-engage and explore yoga and what it was that was calling me to the mat in the depths of my ‘boiled toad’, depressed and depleted state in London (see Samvega and the Toad).

The over-planned plan of those 3 months included 6 countries, 2 organised tours, and 9 flights (I need to plant a lot of trees to compensate for those carbon emissions). After 17 days in the Ashram, I was joining a 7 day tour of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, then a flight to Singapore to connect with a mate to spend 3 weeks together in Malaysia. Then I would fly solo onto Cambodia for 2 weeks, Thailand for 2 more and then to Beijing for a 10 day hiking tour of the Great Wall of China. I would then fly back to the UK on 2 September 2015 to the life and career as a lawyer in London that at the time I could find no light within.

Exhausted by the thought of that plan? Yeah, I was a backpacking virgin and a total fool. I had planned a London-paced Type-A backpacking affair. Not only were most of the clothes and gadgets I packed discarded and donated to various people and places in India and SE Asia, I also learned the hard way (and with flight cancellation fees) that plans change, life is about spontaneity and living for each moment and not trying to do it all in one go.

As many of you know, I didn’t return to London and I didn’t return to my job. During those first two weeks in the Ashram I knew my heart was telling me to let go and I was petrified. I still wanted and needed the approval of my parents to walk away from a career I had fought so hard to get and paid so much for (law school ain’t cheap!). I had no idea what would come next but taking that step and sending that email to my parents and then to my employer lead to a rapid change of events that left me unemployed and technically homeless in the space of two weeks! Ganesha removed many an obstacle and all that was left to address was myself and my blocked and fearful heart.

Freedom in travelling and unemployment gave me the space to seize the day and to return to India for Yoga Teacher Training and in that I found myself. I also found my calling – to teach, to help, and to begin to heal myself, to find strength in my vulnerability and learn for the first time (this lifetime) how to truly love myself.

This time last year I could not have imagined what the next week never mind the next 12 months would bring. I don’t feel that I can convey here how utterly grateful I am to myself for taking that leap to travel alone, to fly to India and to give yoga an opportunity to help me transform. I thought I knew what life was about – the sensible job, the status, the money, the Partner, the house, the kids, the dog, and maybe one day I will have some of that too but what I have now means so much more to me. I have hope, faith and excitement for my life. I have confidence and light within me and I have strength in the knowledge that I can lose my shackles and face the unknown and still be me.

So as I smile at my memories of that first flight to Delhi, of my nerves, the lump in my throat and my tears as I said goodbye one last time to my mum on the phone at the Gate, I also smile for today, and tomorrow. For the adventures still to come. Because every day is an opportunity.

P.S. I’ve said it before but thank you again to my parents, to my Uncle, and to Kate and Sarah for supporting me and helping to set me free. Sadly, Ganesha does not arrange house moving services and mere mortals had to do that for me in absentia. With love to you all.

 

 

Food for thought

Our diet, our eating habits, intolerances, allergies, eating disorders, fad diets, fasting, where our food comes from, how many air miles it travelled, what is in it (horsemeat, hormones, water and/or sawdust), what our food eats and how it lives, what it costs, and how much time it takes to cook/obtain, how we digest it… Food – just talking about it is quite frankly a minefield. But as this blog focuses on my personal journey, with yoga now firmly guiding my life, I shall limit (or seek to) my thoughts to that perspective. But it’s hard not to pass judgement especially for an ex-lawyer who still loves to be ‘right’…

Next week I will proudly co-host an Indian Summer Satsang combining my two loves – yoga and food. We are offering our guests a traditional Indian dining experience – a vegetarian Thali along with lassis (fresh fruit yogurt drink) and Indian sweet treats. Our aim is to offer the residents of Southport a sampler of the Indian cultural experience which both Mayuri and I share in our lives. Mayuri is of Indian heritage, a Hindu, a vegetarian, and a wonderful cook. I have travelled to India for holidays and I qualified as a yoga teacher in Rishikesh, India – the home of Yoga. During that time I became a vegetarian (something I have carried on since returning to the UK) and gorged myself on curry and other Indian delights travelling around India to the Tibetan inhabited mountains of Dharamshala and the golden sands and shores of Goa.

I am a foodie. I love cooking and eating, especially the eating part.  When I stayed in a silent Buddhist meditation retreat, in Chang Mai, Thailand, I was rather disturbed when they informed us that food is not a pleasure and that we over-attach to food in seeking pleasure and beauty from it. I tried not to recall my Michelin starred dining extravaganza at Restaurant Story in London. With its plant pot brioche, and its beautifully shaped and decorated 5 courses of food with wine to match. And I managed not to choke over this message each time we recited it in prayer before eating (yes smart arses (i.e. my Dad) that bit was not in silence).

I used to devour steak and seafood and never imagined I could give it all up. Living in London was a dream from an international food sampling perspective. I honestly ate some of the best Vietnamese food in East London and I have been all the way to Vietnam! Going vegetarian has changed my enjoyment of dining out partly due to the fact that I no longer live in London with the array of edible plant based options. Southport will offer me a veggie burger, a veggie lasagne, the odd falafel and even halloumi but to be honest it’s not the most exciting place to eat out and for note, you can keep your mushroom risotto! To add salt to my salad wounds, Pret has just opened a pop up Veggie Pret in London. To Londoners Pret is nowt special but I am sorely tempted to pay a small fortune on trains just to get down there and stuff myself silly…

Speaking of binging, I have had digestive issues since I can remember and they mainly relate to stress, anxiety and overindulgence. My best mate reminded me that I used to get a nervous tum before our nights out at the age of 16 – I think it must have been the pressure of getting in to drinking establishments under-age, of meeting boys, and getting home in time to turn my dad’s alarm off. NB my younger sister never had to go through that palaver. Bitter? Hold grudges? What, me?

One nasty side effect of my more recent stress issues was acid reflux. I’m not just talking about indigestion but constant bile and burn. It put me off my food and even put me off drinking wine. Before buying shares in Gaviscon I took myself off to the GP realising that enough was enough! In India, I then had my dosha assessed (in Ayurveda your dosha is your body constitution and there are three – Vata (air), Pitta (Fire) and Kapha (Water)). Guess what I am? Yep – fire – Pitta predominately, and when I am unbalanced I will be more bile-y. The evidence speaks for itself.

You may think that now I do yoga, speak yoga, breathe yoga and eat veggies that I am in perfect health. Well, I currently have tennis elbow (not from tennis but ‘lugging bolsters and yoga mats elbow’ just increases the word count), and my yoga teacher who is also an acupuncturist (Chinese medical treatment) told me that I have bile issues which is why I feel discomfort in side stretches. This apparently comes from too much sugar… guilty, I love a raisin. And a Cadbury’s chocolate bar. Part of the issue is that I teach in the evenings when I would normally eat dinner so I’ll grab a ‘healthy’ fruit bar to keep me going. I’ve also been monitoring my dairy intake recently to see how addicted to cheese I really am so it appears that following this latest sugar/bile revelation I shall mostly be eating nuts. And lettuce.

Being healthy is not easy. It’s about finding balance within your daily diet which can be as tricky as finding your balance in Tree pose on the yoga mat. Some days you just fall over and land gob open on a Dairy Milk.

I do now, to some extent, believe that food is not consumed for pleasure. That first and foremost it is fuel for the body and that we should eat more consciously and mindfully. I don’t eat meat for various reasons including the fact that meat takes longer to digest and I always felt uncomfortable after eating a steak or Spaghetti Bolognese. After working on a legal case objecting to an intensive Dairy farm I know more about the use of antibiotics, the conditions the animals are kept in and that we already have genetically modified cows in the UK so what else is going on? What’s next?  I do not believe we really know what is in our meat and I don’t think we care enough about ourselves, never mind the animals, to find out more. We’re busy, we’re stressed, we are too tired and the information isn’t on the packaging.

Our obesity crisis in the West is so widely known about these days that it’s now accepted as the status quo and therefore easier to ignore. We focus on shape, size and calorie intake rather than nutrition and compassion. And if we’re honest we are all addicted to some form of ‘fast food’ whether it’s McDonalds, a chocolate bar, a bottle of wine, M&S dine in meals or a smug vegan health ball because that’s how we are used to consuming everything. Demand, eat, over-eat, repeat. It just displays itself more obviously in some people than in others.

So before I go off to forage for my lettuce and nuts, I offer you this morsel to chew over – don’t fuss about the latest diet your mate is on, the portion size of chips your restaurant neighbour just demolished, or the cheese plate your Partner ordered when they should be on a ‘diet’. Just slow down and look at your own plate and take a moment to consider what you are eating and why. And if you decide to eat something you ‘shouldn’t’ then for gawd’s sake enjoy it. Guilt is also damaging to your health.