Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Not #yogaeverydamnday

This has been building up for a while, and I can contain it no longer: I really resent the #yogaeverydamnday hashtag. I don’t know why it riles me up me as much as it does, but I’ve properly taken against it. It hits a special nerve in my head, the one that sets off my neon BULLSHIT sign, and it flashes on and off and sounds a loud alert and I just can’t make out anything good about it through the din. It’s irrational, and probably very unyogic of me; every time I come across it, it gives me feelings akin to rage and rage, as all good yogis know, has no place in the #theyogaworld. If I were a good yogi, I should have the grace to namaste this thing with a respectful bow of my head and wish it well on its travels through a million facebook, twitter and instagram feeds, but I can’t. Because: why?
I confessed this resentment to my sister. Tentatively, because I know she’s used the offending hashtag more than once. She was very diplomatic.
    ‘Oh,’ she said, and cleared her throat. ‘You know it was started by Rachel Brathen?’
    I didn’t. I didn’t know who that was.
    ‘Look her up,’ she said. And I did, and she seems like a lovely person. And many others who use her hashtag in their posts, they’re lovely people too; I know, because I’ve met them. They’re my sister; they’re my friends. But still – why?
Why every damn day? What bothers me about it is everything. The intention is good, I’ve no doubt. And I can tell this is meant to be bold, empowering, motivating – but all that filters through to me is compulsion. And yoga: I don’t think it should be practised compulsively. I don’t think it can. I don’t think it’s even yoga if it’s compulsive because where is the mind in that? Where is the heart? Where is the soul? It might be exercise, this thing that you do, compulsively, every damn day, but not yoga; not as I understand it. But I may have misunderstood. There are lots of things in #theyogaworld that I don’t understand.
    I might be taking this the wrong way, but it feels wrong. It feels like an imposition and I don’t want anything – not even yoga, especially not yoga – imposed on me, on any day. It’s a statement when yoga, in my mind, is an understated practice. It’s a label, and labels divide as much as they unite. Slap that hashtag on anything, and you’re immediately creating separation between those who practice #yogaeverydamnday and those who don’t. And the good yogi scales tip on the side of the former. And now, all of a sudden, you don’t have yoga: you have competition.
    And that word, damn. It has me fizzling with frustration. What is it doing there? It has no power. It implies a defiance that’s completely unnecessary, a challenge where no resistance has been offered. It’s like putting obstacles in your own path, just so you can kick them out of the way. But nobody’s stopping you from doing yoga every day, if that’s what you want; there is absolutely no need to be defiant, and with such an impotent word. Because I suspect the intention here is to emphasise, to use the shock value of a swearword to reinforce a point, but damn just doesn’t do it. As swearwords go, it’s emphatically tame. No one but the deeply religious – for whom damnation actually means something – ever flinches at using that word. To the religious, it’s offensive; to the rest of us, it’s just one adjective too many. And if there’s an element, too, of “Hey, look, I’m a yogi and I use bad words!”, well: I’m a yogi, and I’m not fucking impressed. And if that makes you flinch, perhaps it’s time to worry less about shock value and more about the values by which you live your life. Perhaps it’s time to rethink your hashtags.
Yoga every day: it’s a wonderful thing. It would make for a better world if we all made yoga a daily practice. But it isn’t about hashtags, and it’s not even about how much time you spend on your mat. There are days when I do yoga. There are days when I don’t. There are days when I wake up longing to do yoga, aching for it, and days when it doesn’t even cross my mind. There are days when I think about doing yoga and then don’t, and days when I just throw my mat on the floor and do it. There are days when I need to be talked into it and days when standing in tree pose just makes perfect sense. I don’t do #yogaeverydamnday but it’s my daily practice, because: grace. I think grace is what it’s all about. It’s what yoga teaches us, and it’s in the way we carry ourselves through each of our days, in how we conduct ourselves in this world, not #theyogaworld but out here, outside of the hashtags. It’s about bringing that grace we’ve been taught into our lives, passing it on to those who cross our paths, without obstacles, challenges or resistance, without defiance or statements or superfluous words. Without any need to make a point, because grace has a way of making itself known, without labels or introductions, and it cannot be mistaken for anything else. Out here, where we’re all doing the best we can, if we make grace the value we live by, that’s the very best that we can do.

For similar posts, please check out This Reluctant Yogi on Amazon. It’s a bookful of yoga rants! 🙂

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Shanti om, bowel.

Did you know that it's possible, in the magical world of yoga, to pass a chair? You know, as in going to the toilet. As in number two. I bet you didn't. I'll let you ponder that for a while, breathing deep into your bowel as you do so, and come back to it.

I decided to do a juice detox. I decided this on Friday night, in the midst of a feast to celebrate Katerina's nameday, and that said detox would take place on the next day, the Saturday. Polyna happened to mention (while we all happily munched on patsitsio, the Greek version of lasagne) a concoction consisting of beetroot, celeriac, lemon juice and honey that's apparently good for cleansing the bowel, and I latched on to this, and decided to incorporate it. I picked up the ingredients on my way back home that evening, and thus began my haphazardly conceived bowel cleanse juice detox.

Day one was OK. I did my work in the morning, dutifully gave myself a glass of juice (which had to be chewed, on account of my blender being a bit of a bargain buy) and set off on a lovely, meditative walk to the port of Kamares, feeling all kinds of virtuous. I arrived at Syrma, Katerina's cafe on the beach, just over an hour later, serene and glistening with sweat, to be assaulted by the smell of food.
    'What is this?' I demanded to know, in lieu of good afternoon.
    'Polyna's lunch,' Dimitra supplied. 'What's the matter with you?'
    'I'm doing a detox,' I confessed.
    'What are you detoxing from?'
    'Everything! Except coffee and cigarettes.'
    Dimitra smirked. 'Coffee?' she suggested.
    'No. I've had one already. I'll have a green tea.'
    Dimitra gave me a look of utter disdain. 'A green tea,' she repeated, as if I'd asked for dry twigs to chew on.
    From the kitchen, Katerina sniggered. But kindly.

I took my (unsweetened) green tea outside, where Polyna, her husband and two friends were enjoying a spread of last night's nameday dinner leftovers.
    'Join us,' they said, but I shook my head bravely and explained my predicament.
    'I hate you all,' I added. 'You're bad people.' I took a sip of my green tea, and was overcome with remorse. 'I love you, really. Enjoy your lunch. I'm going for a swim.'
    And with that I disrobed, and threw myself into the cold November sea. Resolutely not hungry. Which, actually, was true: this being 2pm, I hadn't had a chance to get hungry yet. I often skip breakfast and go straight for lunch: my detox, at this stage, was entirely theoretical. Words, and a sour, chewy juice.

Katerina came over in the evening. We were going to do yoga, but she'd had a fall and bruised her shoulder and knee, so we had tea instead. A Fortnum & Mason blend that someone once brought for my grandma, scented with orange blossom and served in my mum's best, daintiest chipped china. We talked, indirectly, of food; of how it's a pleasure and a comfort, much less of a need than we imagine, and of the times - the exceptions - when thoughts of eating fall right out of our heads. Acute love, we agreed, and acute sadness. Being subject to neither, I confessed to dreaming of pasta. I showed Katerina the glass of juice that was to be my dinner, instead. We both sighed. 'Be strong,' she said.

Day two and I still wasn't hungry, but I was pretty miserable. The detox headache had arrived, and I was possessed by a strange, manic, desperate energy that did not translate into the desire to do anything. It was pure momentum, with nowhere to go. I decided, nonetheless, to martyr myself to my cause and stretch the cleanse to another day. I distracted myself with making things: I made smudge sticks out of herbs I'd picked the day before; I made jam out of bitter oranges; I made bangles with scraps of vintage fabric. I made promises: to be better, to eat better, to look after my digestive health so I would never again have to resort to such extreme measures for giving my bowel a break. To eat fewer crisps. I made tea from peppermint and lemon verbena leaves and drank it, unceremoniously, out of a mug. The will to juice had gone out of me completely. I made an infusion from wild sage, hoping for wisdom. I went nowhere and spoke to no one; I barely even spoke to the cats but resented them, silently, for the meal of Friskies croquettes that they crunched on. I thought about doing yoga.
    In the evening, I was suddenly taken over by the absolute certainty that I should have a steak. A steak, yes, and a salad, from my favourite restaurant in town, which, gloriously, stays open throughout the winter. I could call them up right now, and ask them to prepare this salvation for me, and I could walk down and pick it up and bring it home and put an end to this madness. A battle of wills ensued, between my virtuous, martyred self who shook her head sadly, so disappointed, as the glutton screamed her petulant argument But I want! The martyr won, assisted by the fact that I had exactly 1.55€ to my name. She settled down, smug and free of desire, with her cup of wisdom tea, and decreed that, in addition to not having steak, I would stretch the detox into the next morning, whereupon I would perform Shanka Prakshalana, the yogic bowel-cleansing ritual. Yes, I thought. What an excellent idea. I was clearly tripping.
    I did not sleep well that night. My head thumped and my stomach churned; I dreamed of crisps.

Monday morning, and as I prepared the mixture of warm water and salt that I was to consume and eliminate in aid of purifying my colon, I thought I might refresh my memory on the particulars of Shanka Prakshalana. I chose one of the many articles on Google, and was reminded how the process involved drinking up to 16 glasses of the saline solution and performing, after every two, a set of five asanas designed to move the liquid through the intestinal tract. After the fifth set, practitioners are encouraged to go to the bathroom and perform the Ashvini Mudra (a.k.a. clenching and unclenching of arse muscles) to stimulate peristalsis of the intestines.
    At which point the writer of the article imparted the following extraordinary piece of wisdom: "If the chair starts," he wrote, "great. If not, no problem." You just carry on with the salt water and the exercises, he reassured, until the chair comes. He went on to explain that "the chair will be solid at first, but as time goes on it will be cleaner and more watery".
    The chair? So frazzled was my brain that I accepted this as some sort of yogic lore, some super-technical/spiritual term that surely must be valid. Nevermind that in thirty years of actively studying the English language I had made my peace my shit being referred to as stool but had never, not once, heard of passing chairs. Solid or not. But it must be true, I reasoned, because the wise yoga man on the internet said so. Chairs would be passed and the bowel would be cleansed. Shanti om, brother.

I passed no chairs, but not for lack of trying. There came a time where I would have been happy to pass anything, any type of furniture at all, for the relief of emptying my bowel of all that salt water. I was drenched in sweat and bloated to fuck and even threw up a little bit (which was cheating, because throwing up salt water is actually Kunjal Kriya, the yogic stomach-cleansing technique). I did my asanas and my Ashvini Mudra and breathed and tried to relax, as advised, but no chair came. The stool did eventually, triumphantly, mercifully - and, on account of the two-day martyrdom that had preceded this exercise, it was as watery as advertised. It came several times over the next two hours. The rest of the day passed in a daze. There was food, which I ate, and there was furniture upon which I reclined. It was all very spiritual, I'm sure.

It is now Tuesday morning. I sit here, at my desk chair, with coffee and cigarettes and the bowel thoroughly at peace, and of clear mind once again, and ponder the lessons I learned during this weekend that, thankfully, passed.
    - A chair is an item of furniture that you sit on, and is not to be confused with a stool whose meaning can be dual.
    - Passing chairs must be avoided at all costs, especially in solid form.
    - The internet is a strange place, its strangeness matched only by the world of yoga. Venturing into either must be undertaken with extreme caution.
    - Decisions must never be made on an empty stomach.
    - When in doubt, eat a steak.
    - If you're gonna stop eating, do it for acute love. It's the best reason for everything.

Shanti om.

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Thursday, 7 January 2016

You're perfect.

I'm not sure what I’m doing here. I’m not sure who I am, writing this. Am I a writer, weaving words into sentences for the sake of it? Am I a massage therapist sharing my knowledge and experience to help others live better? Am I someone who’s got it all worked out? Am I some sort of expert, here to tell you what you’re doing wrong? And, while we’re on the topic, what are you doing here? What are you looking for? What do you want?

I recently signed up to be a Wellness Advocate for an essential oils company called doTERRA. I am aware this title – Wellness Advocate – makes me sound like a bit of an arsehole. I have a very low threshold for this sort of thing, being, as someone brilliantly put it recently, a cynical optimist. I am open to pretty much anything; I will follow you down paths that I’m really quite dubious about, but I will bring my sarcasm along, and whack you over the head with it if you try to push me over the line. That’s how I stay to true to my own centre of balance.

You won’t catch me floating by on a cloud of essential oils and positive affirmations; I keep a sliver of cynicism, always, in my pocket, as a counterweight. My feet may not always be on the ground, but I always know where the ground is. I am a writer and a yogi and a massage therapist and a nerd. I smoke, drink coffee, eat meat and believe in karma. I believe in coconut oil and aromatherapy and the internet and being kind to people. I can sit in half-lotus and say namaste without giggling; I use the word fuck in most sentences. I keep a gratitude diary and thank the Universe, out loud, every time I find a penny on the street; I can talk, straight faced, about manifestation and vibrational frequencies and living in the moment, and have a panic attack, out of the blue, because I don’t know what the future might bring. I am a good person. I can be an arsehole sometimes. I am deeply flawed. I am perfect.

Notice the absence of buts: there is no contradiction in any of this. We are all of us made up of different bits that somehow fit together to make the shape that we recognise as ourselves, and we weren’t meant to be contained in boxes. You know when sometimes you’re asked to “describe yourself in three words”? That’s crazy. You’d need at least a hundred just to get started, and that would only cover today. We are many things, all at once, and we are constantly in flux.

All the Universe ever strives for is balance, equilibrium, and you don’t find that in extremes and absolutes. There will be none of that here. There will be no middle ground either. I’m not a middle ground sort of girl, and balance isn’t about being average or staying neutral. It’s about finding your own equilibrium, and wherever you settle might look skewed to some, but it will be your place of freedom and ease. Neither restricted by other people’s lines, nor stretched further over your own than feels right. That is the place where I’m writing this from.

I think the best any of us can offer – better than expertise – is an open mind and an open heart. I don’t care how that makes me sound. Any knowledge we might have needs to be delivered with humility and the awareness, always, that for every one thing we know, there are another ten that we don’t. And that passing on knowledge is never a one-way street: we need to stay open to being questioned, and questioning ourselves, listening and learning. That’s how good things happen.

So I guess what I’m doing here is starting a discussion. Putting aside my own struggles with arsehole-sounding titles and advocating for wellness, for the things that have worked for me. I am standing up for a way of life that I believe in, but I am just as willing to stand down and listen to another point of view. And I think that’s the best I can do.

And who am I, writing this? I am one part Wellness Advocate and one part arsehole. One part therapist and one part someone who’s just trying to figure this shit out. And on your part, you can choose to trust all these different parts of me and the shape that they make, silent buts and all. You can follow me down paths that you’re not quite sure about, and see if you might find your own place of freedom somewhere along the way. And if I try to take you over any lines that you don’t want to cross, feel free to whack me over the head with whatever you’ve got handy. And forge your own equilibrium out of the extremes and the absolutes.

But whatever you’re looking for and wherever you arrive, know this: you’re not doing anything wrong. You might be doing it differently and you can choose to change that, if you want to. But you’re perfect.


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