Thursday, 3 May 2012

Moving Within

Aaahh Lanzarote - the home of yoga. Ok, it's not actually the home of yoga, but it's MY home of yoga. It's where I discovered yoga, where I 'got' yoga. I found what it could do for me, how it could make me feel and it's where I realised that I needed its teachings for the rest of my life. I'm back to the source, in Lanzarote just now, and my body is thanking me for it.
I'm not in a peaceful retreat, tucked away from civilisation, with only the yoga to fill my day. Couldn't be more opposite actually. I'm in the athlete's Mecca that is known as Club La Santa. Every turn you take brings you face to face with another ironman triathlete (spot the tattoo) whether that's at the Olympic pool, running track, bike station station or sitting in the pool bar sipping a beer. You can fill your day with anything from step aerobics to windsurfing, or indeed yoga.

I first came here in August 2008, 1 month before the World Duathlon Championships, for which I had qualified and was hopeful of winning a medal at. I'd persuaded my husband Kenny that we should come here, and when he'd finally agreed i planned out a week of full on training. I was going to be the fittest I'd ever been and I was going for gold.
What actually happened by the time we got here was that I was struggling with injury and general body pain. I hadn't been able to run for weeks and biking was going down the same road. I wasn't in the greatest of places mentally by time we got here.

Kenny loved the place immediately (thankfully!). I on the other hand felt like a child standing outside the toy shop window watching all the others kids playing with the latest coolest toys. Everywhere I turned there was a triathlete wearing their 'uniform' as if to rub it in even more. I tried to run, no chance. I tried to bike, forget it. I tried to swim, even that hurt. I aqua-jogged, it felt wrong. I worked my way through everything I could on the timetable of activities and each time I reached a blockade. My body was telling me in every way it could possible that it had had enough. But still I was determined to make it move and 'do something productive'.

So on day 3 I tried yoga.

I remember sitting on the lawn, in the sun, thinking to myself that this was not what I'd planned for my week. I couldn't quite believe I was sitting there. To be fair, it was something that I'd always felt I should do, but i wasn't sure why. I'd just always been told it was good for me. So i thought I'd better just get on with it and see what happened. Then the teacher arrived. He was not at all what I'd expected to see. This man was strong, athletic, and dare I say it, tough looking. He looked like an athlete. He looked like the most athletic of athletic triathletes, but he was sitting on the stage barefooted, cross legged and about to teach yoga. He had an ironman backpack with him. i prepared to feel upset.

We sat for about 10 minutes crossed legged as he talked. His strong welsh accent was rich and mellow. It's tone was calming yet commanding. I was drawn in, and I was listening. He talked us through breath. He talked, I listened. As I followed his words I became aware for the first time of the band of tightness constricting me around my centre. I realised I couldn't breathe. I was an elite athlete, yet I couldn't breathe. I focussed on what he was saying and I found parts of me I had never before experienced. I was scared to breathe where he was directing breathe. I thought my breathe would stop and never start again, or that i'd split in two if I breathed the muscles looser. But I felt my breathe, and myself, start to open up. I concentrated on his words as he set the direction for the class. 'This is not a competition. There is no winning or losing. There is about YOU, YOUR body, and YOUR yoga. It doesn't matter what other people are doing, this is about you'. It felt like I'd been given permission to take a break and stop trying. For the rest of the class I just followed his words. When he told me to put my hands in a particular position I did. When he gave the harder option and I couldn't do it I stayed with the lower. He 'd told me it was ok, that this was about my limits, that I would get there, in my own time when I was ready. I trusted him. We didnt do a lot of moves, but i had moved a lot!

His classes became my sanctuary in the week. I handed over pain and worry and simply followed direction. In return I found newness. I connected with prana and I wanted to connect more.

Coming back home my life path and outlook changed. It was going to anyway, it had to. I was worn out, exhausted and heading for meltdown in one way or other. I gave up competing, i trained in pilates and completely shifted my working life. My health and quality of life increased dramatically.

I cant say that Steve's yoga was the start of the change. There were many factors at play at that time. But I can say that it was there at the beginning of the change. For that reason alone his teaching will always have an important place in my heart.

And so I'm here again, having a week of Steve's yoga. This time mixed in with a week of running, mountain biking, swimming and chillaxing. My body now embracing the variety. Yesterday I was there at his class, eagerly awaiting his direction. We sat and contemplated and listened to our body before moving at it's pace and will. It's my fourth year of being at his class and I'm still joyed at the simplicity of his teaching and the utter obviousness of his comments. Within a couple of minutes I was grinning inside like a Cheshire cat. My body released where it needed and found new movement. And the words that really struck a chord to me were as follows: 'your body will only go where it can go today. Do not force it, do not TRY to make it happen today. When your body's ready it WILL happen - trust the process, trust yourself, trust your body, trust life'. 'What you put in is what you get out. It's like that in life. Your body is a reflection of your life.'

And I also loved the moment when we were sitting in a twist and he stubbed his toe while unfolding. Under his breath, ever so faintly, hardly interrupting his flow, in a rich mellow welsh accent: ''f***'' I loved it because it showed me that he can tap into his centre, block out external distractions and focus into his depth. But at the end of the day, when you stub your toe and it hurts then sometimes you just gotta swear out loud. I like that.

Friday, 23 March 2012

It's Funny Where Your Feet Lead You

Yesterday I had a lovely day pottering about and going with the flow. I love those kind of days because you just never know what's going to come into your life. It turned out to be a day full of many fun filled little surprises but I'm going to tell you about meeting Steve.

It all starts with me having fungal toenails! A delightful thought I know, but I'm afraid it IS the beginning of the story. They started a few years ago but have gradually got worse and now they really are pretty disgusting. I love my feet, but unfortunately I have no such love at the moment for the nails on the end of them. In my head I have images of me padding about barefeet, a picture of health reflected through my now beautiful open and pink feet. But in reality it's only if no one looks too closely at what's hidden underneath the nail varnish! Action has most definitely been needed for some time. I knew i could easily toddle along to the doctor and get some potent drug which would course through my veins toxicating my system and resulting in seemingly beautiful toenails. But that's not really me. I wanted to try the homeopathic route first. It's much more my style, and belief system. The mud tasting tea, I'm ashamed to say, only lasted about 10 days (Sorry Jo!). The mineral supplements I took every day, but 6 months plus later I don't see any change. So I keep looking at my toenails with disgust. One evening after danceclass I threw the toys out of the pram and decided i'd just do the drugs. I desperately wanted beautiful toenails so I could fully show my amazing feet off!! I found myself a few days later blanking out the GPs warnings about potential liver damage and other horrific side effects while the junkie voice in my head was rattling over and over again 'yeah yeah yeah, just give me the drugs man, give me the drugs'. 4 days later, 4 days into the prescription, I was off work, my body in chaos, my liver screaming at me and my intuition shaking its head pitifully saying 'you knew this wasn't a good idea didn't you'. It was, of course, right.

So yesterday while on my wanders, I found myself in Napier's herbalists. I stood blankly looking at all the shelves of bottles hoping something would magically appear at me. Reluctantly I knew I was going to have to ask someone and admit to my less than perfect feet. I shuffled over to the man nearest me: 'eh, excuse me, could you give me some help please?'.

As he lifted his head and turned to me I was almost blown over by the health that radiated from him. Wow, this guy was beautiful. I mean, he was truly beautiful in the sense that I wanted to just stand back and admire the picture of health that he was presenting in front of me. It deserved to be admired. A look that healthy could only come from a great inner health. I was snapped out of my trance when he asked me what I think had caused it. 'Eh, too much time in trainers, not drying them properly and well, mainly a whole lot of emotional shit that I'm stuffing away there' was the reply that I didn't have the capacity to edit first. What the hell, I wanted some of what he was having! He'd get it, I was sure.

Like a magic wizard he started reaching for different bottles and potions, describing their ingredients, the benefits, how to use them and how they all worked in relation the each other. I was back in a trance looking at the luminescence of his skin, the depth and clarity of his eyes and the shine of his hair. His skin had this amazing glow to it and it was completely flawless. There were no patches of roughness, dryness, discolourment or marking anywhere. I know, trust me, I looked. His irises were huge big brown pools that you could almost see to the bottom of and they were surrounded by pure porcelain white. His carefully trimmed facial hair was shiny and I only then realised that I couldn't ever remember having noticed any man before with shiny facial hair. As I listened to all he was telling me I had to keep stopping myself from wanting to tell him how healthy he looked.

As our conversation progressed we talked about diet and the fundamental role it plays in achieving optimum health. This was evidently his passion. No, I'm wrong. This was evidently his way of life. He lives by a raw diet and I fully appreciated his passion and dedication to this system. Yet, I didnt feel I was being preached to. He was imparting just a fraction of his vast knowledge in the hope (I believe) that I would hear something that brought me further to my next level of health. He said something about living with cancers which I noted, but didn't dwell on. It did blow my mind a bit though. How could this man and cancer remotely go together in the same sentence?

So we talked herbs, oils, greens, nutritional medicines and I decided what it was that I needed at this point in time and what I would work towards. It felt really good to take forward action and one that I knew had no side effects, only long term healthful benefits.

It was at the till point that I knew I couldn't leave without saying what I'm been fighting not to say for the last 10 minutes or so. So I looked at him and said quite simply 'you are so healthy'. The story he then told me was inspirational beyond belief. He initially rolled his eyes and said' I don't feel it at the moment. I've been in America doing talks and I feel really tired'. If this was him tired then I definitely wanted some of what he was having!!!! He then told me that he is 40 in 3 weeks time and that he cant quite believe it (I would have put him at 30 if you'd asked me). As I told him that I was infact 40 in 2 days time he reminded me that it's only a number and we all having amazing potential to regenerate and increase our health as we grow older.

He then told me he was diagnosed with 2 types of cancer when he was 25 and given 5 years to live! Gobsmacked!

This man was the walking embodiment of just what is possible when we take our well-being into our own hands and find our own optimum health and way of living. A raw food life is not for everyone. I'm not sure if it’s for me, but I do know that I’m nowhere near to the diet and lifestyle that is optimum for me yet. I thrive on vegetables and fruit and wholesome foods, I love the cleanliness of clean pure water and I naturally reject what is not right for my body. Yet far too often for my liking I choose not to listen to my body's needs. So I shook Steve's hand, thanked him for our meeting and left armed with my marigold oil, a vision of what’s possible, a bucket load of inspiration and resolve, and Steve’s website written down on my receipt - ‘Radiant Health’* - now, there's the perfect name if ever there was! *

And if that meeting was what my foosty feet were hanging out for then thank you feet! You are wiser then I ever realised.

(NB: Written while feet soaking in Marigold oil)

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

When Paths Cross

People come into, and out of, your life for all sorts of reasons. Today I caught up with Caroline Williams who I have known for a good few years. We hadn't seen each other for a couple of years, at least, but have come back around into each others circle again through a mutual friend. Being in touch with Caroline again has reminded me of all the reasons that we met in the first place. We had a mutual client who reckoned we had such similar interests and outlooks that she told us to just get on and meet one another! I cant remember who contacted who first, but that's exactly what we did! I was so glad we had. Caroline is very upbeat, passionate about what she does, loves the outdoors, loves mountains and keeps putting herself way out of her comfort zone! My kind of gal!

Her business is called the Good Therapist, and let me assure you that Caroline has goodness knitted through her in the finest gold thread from top to toe.

Caroline also set up "When Paths Cross" in 2010 "to enable good things to come out of chance meetings". The story of how this came about has so inspired me. Please allow me to share it with you.....

Caroline leads treks in, amongst other places, India. In 2000 she met a kid working in the streets of Delhi. Despite everything she logically knew telling her to not engage in conversation with him, that he was out to con or rob her, something he said made her laugh and she couldn't help but be taken by him. They talked and walked and Champu, as he was called, told her about a festival that he could take her to that evening. Caroline agreed, was skeptical, but intrigued and felt somehow that she should take a trust in life. That trust led to a very true friendship being formed. Champu never once asked for anything from Caroline, and instead he proudly paid at least his own way when they had tea or shared a rickshaw, despite his obvious poverty. He told her he considered himself very fortunate, as he had a roof above his head, a family, and a good part of the street to work on. He invited Caroline to visit his home, at which she no doubt felt very honoured, to then feel incredibly overwhelmed. Having seen much abject poverty via her travels she was unprepared for the small tent in which he and his whole family lived in, along with the raw sewage running like a stream through the middle of it. Although he knew his poverty, Champu remained proud, and would take nothing from Caroline. I can imagine Caroline's distress at seeing all this, but understanding of her friend's wishes.

Back in the UK, Caroline remained in contact with Champu as a couple of times a year he was able to access a computer. At the beginning of 2010 she heard that the "clean up" for the Commonwealth Games meant that the street workers were being cleared from their streets and that Champu was for the first time ever worried about his situation. He didn't know how he would manage to provide for his family, but said he would find a way. He was determined to somehow save for an electric rickshaw so that he could make a better life. He proudly told Caroline what he had saved, which was a sheer drop in the ocean of what he needed. Caroline had always been determined somehow to help Champu, but had never quite known how. This became a no brainer for her. She decided she would somehow get his rickshaw for him - she had no idea how, she just knew she would!

What she actually decided to do was to enter the Trans Britain 6 day Ultra Run - 156 miles run over 6 days from Scotland to Wales. You assume Caroline was a runner already? Eh, that'll be a no! And that's exactly why she chose that event, this had to be a massive challenge for her. It had to be something that she was unsure she could do, that would be worthy of people sponsoring her, and it really had to take her out of her comfort zone (I wasn't joking about that side of her!).

9 months later she did it. She finished it, stress fracture and all. And she raised over £6000 in the process.

When in October 2010 she went to India to tell Champu what she had done (he'd known nothing about what she was doing for him), and to buy him his rickshaw, he was lost for words. That is until he understood what she had physically put herself through to which he told her, quite rightly, that she was "crazy, real crazy". Then he really understood what she had done for him and told her (quite rightly) that she was amazing. Caroline says that it was only when watching the video of the event with Champu that SHE finally realised what she had done. I can imagine that that moment felt very special for her.

I'm inspired in so many ways by what Caroline has done. I'm inspired by her trust in life which led to the friendship. I am inspired by her respect for cultural differences. I am inspired by the loyalty with which she remained in touch with Champu over the years. I am inspired by her decision to do something. I'm inspired by the sheer scale of the event that she took on and the mental, emotional and physical strength that it must have taken to complete. And I am inspired by this answer that she gave on her FAQ page on her website:

What about all the kids that need help in the UK?

I know, I know!! This is always a dilemma - but I’ve realised that I can’t help everyone and rather than get paralysed by that feeling of helplessness I’m just going to do my best to help who I can and hope it inspires others to do the same. If you feel your heart is more into helping someone else then please do’re under no obligation to donate to my charity. I just hope that what I’m doing reminds you that we all are capable of making a difference, and not to get put off by the enormity of it all. Everything and anything is possible.

I am so incredibly glad to have crossed Caroline's path again.

[oh, and since she needs to come out of her comfort zone again, she's going to be running 98km in under 26 hours, with almost 5600m height gain in August this year. "crazy, really crazy"]

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Let the dancing begin

I love "Got to Dance". One of the things that I enjoy most about this programme is that it's all about the dancing! We don't watch a collection of battles between judges and contestants when the contestant thinks they have a god given right to be put through, or where the judge thinks it's ok to ridicule someone who has got up and given it a go. What you are then left to view is a melting pot of those with outrageous talent, those with a burning passion and those who simply have fun dancing. The girl who isn't perhaps the most precise mover is applauded by the judges for giving it her all and really letting go. Those who don't quite make it are given proper critiques about where it was great and where they can up their game. And then there are those that just take your breath away! And there are many.

The stories that go with these dancers are also not sugary coated sob stories aimed at getting your vote. No one gets though on a sob story, if they're not good enough to go through then they're not good enough to go through! The stories compliment the performance and help you understand the role that dance has had to play in that person's life.

There was the girl who loved ballet from her early years yet was told as a young teenager that she'd never make it due to the scoliosis in her back. She'd lost her place at a top ballet school and was left to pick up the pieces herself. Here she now was, unable to live without dance she'd found contemporary dance with its less stringent rules and freer form. One of the judges was gasping
from the sheer emotion exuding from her performance (I was crying!). At the grand old age of 15 she'd decided that dance WAS her career regardless of what she'd been told and that she WOULD make it happen. She was well on the way.

There was the young boy who'd not been put through last year, but given lots of positive reasons why he wasnt quite ready. A year later he was stronger, more determined and unbelievably good! Infact there were a few faces from the year before, all who'd been given encouragement rather than ridicule and all who had made the experience a positive driver for improvement - and all who made it through this year.

And there was the group of lads who openly admitted that they had all been bullies, had all been in trouble and that actually they hadn't really been very nice. Little toughies they were, all no more than 15. And there they were cheerleading! Throwing their pom poms up and down and doing high kicks as if to say 'come on then, say what you will. We don't care because what we do know is that we feel good when we do this!" They rocked!

I've been watching the programme each week now since it came back on and have been moved to tears by almost every contemporary dance performance. It's a form of dance that draws me in and evokes a myriad of emotions in me. Last year I started doing contemporary and the feeling it gave me was like nothing else I have tried. It felt so freeing, strong, elegant, graceful, expressive and rebellious all at the same time. Then I stopped. I know why and essentially it came down to me just not being fully ready to let the dancer in me out! And instead I've been harping on about missing it, making excuses and saying that I must get back to it at some point. Watching these amazing dancers has made me realise that it's only me missing out and when you really want to do something then it's quite simple - just do it! So I've signed back up and am going to be back in the dance studio on Friday. I cant wait! When you've got to dance then you've just got to dance!