Monday, 21 December 2015

Coming home - again

The last few weeks have been more stressful than usual. A cold-type virus which lasted nearly a fortnight, and a very heavy workload have meant that my regular yoga practice hasn't been at the top of my to-do list. Indeed, I began to think that my yoga practice could easily take a back seat for a while.

I was wrong.

For the first few days, my not practising meant that I could squeeze in a few more emails, or finish off another piece of written work. It also meant that I didn't have to slow down. But I soon began to notice how restless my mind was, and the extent to which my thoughts were occupied with nothing but work. Not good.

I also began to feel guilty about not taking time out for yoga. Why would I let something I love drift away? Where was my commitment, my discipline? What would happen if I didn't start up again?

Then I remembered this article, which reminded me what I was missing, and why it was important to restore the balance.

So today, I unrolled my mat, and came home again.

And as I began to move, and to find the breath in my body, I realised that yoga is always there, waiting for us to come back to it. There is no judgement and no demand for explanation; rather there is a welcome and the reminder that we are mind, body and spirit.

It was good to be home.

Friday, 23 October 2015


One of the joys of my day off is being able to take a longer yoga practice. Sometimes I revisit the poses and sequences from the yoga class I attend each week; other times I fall back on a routine of tried-and-tested poses which form the foundation of my practice. But today, I followed a video sequence from one of my favourite YouTube channels, Yoga with Adrienne. 

As I follow some earth-centred paths these days, I sometimes try to link my yoga practice with things that are going on in nature: shorter, darker days in Autumn and Winter might call for a more gentle practice; the energy of Spring and Summer may invite us to open up to the energy of the Sun.

Today, however, I felt inspired by where the Moon is in her cycle, and to focus on Half Moon Pose.

Half-Moon Pose (This not me, by the way!)

Although I'm no expert at it, this is one of my favourite poses; I am always amazed and delighted when I get anywhere near achieving it. The yoga teacher Judith Lasater says of this pose:

Combining balance and stretch, Half-Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana) partakes of the cool radiance of the moon in the midst of the heat of active standing poses... Remember the soaring feeling of Half-Moon Pose when you are stuck in the doldrums of life.  

I'm glad to say that, today, I wasn't in the doldrums, but I was reminded that when we practice yoga we are there in that moment, connecting mind, body and (hopefully!) spirit. We are moving beyond the usual experience of life, reaching for something both within and beyond ourselves. We are soaring. 

Monday, 21 September 2015

The Old Straight Track

Over the last few months, I have been obsessed with roads. And not just roads, but also tracks, lanes, byways, and paths - in fact the smaller the road, the more interesting it seems to become.

It really all began with two things: a holiday in Devon and Robert Macfarlane's wonderful book, The Old Ways.

In his book, Macfarlane tells the stories of journeys he has made along some of this land's oldest paths, such as the Icknield Way and the Ridgeway. As he walks he discovers the events, people and tales which have shaped (and been shaped by) the landscape through which the paths run.

It's a beautiful book: a mixture of poetry, documentary, history, cartography, nature-writing and autobiography. I read it with a sense of yearning for the road, and for the mystery into which the ancient paths lead us. And now that I've finished the book, I find myself poring over maps to discern where these old roads run, like pencil lines half-erased from tracing paper.

Mid-way through Macfarlane's book, I spent a week in Devon, where single-track lanes are the everyday highways for local residents and tourists alike. On turning right out of our cottage door, we quickly became the lone walkers on a track through an Oak wood. In response to the silence and the coolness of the mossy path, I took off my shoes and walked the track barefoot, as one would a medieval labyrinth.

At the sound of the Wren, I stopped, and immediately became aware of my role as the visitor, and her place as the resident. I made an offering to the wood and its creatures from my flask of water, the only gift I had with me, and felt at once both at home and a stranger there. The path led on, but I had come far enough for now, and turned back for home. As the Summer fades and the seasons turn, I feel that must go back again, to walk that path into the past and into the future.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Walking back to happiness

In the last few weeks, something in Nature has changed. Or, rather, practically everything in Nature has changed. Alternate days of very warm and wet weather over recent weeks has notched the setting of the garden up to 'lush'. There is now so much more of it! Every branch is feathered with leaves, and blossom hangs heavy, tempting sleepy bees and promising fruit.

Something changes in me, too. Outside is now where I want to be. This desk, which was a welcome observation point in the winter and early spring, is now a burden. The Earth is trading its energy with the Sun, and I feel that I want in on the deal.

So I take the quickest and easiest route I can think of: I head out into the garden, barefoot. I've been doing this for several weeks, of course, but only as far as the clothes-line, with the washing basket in my arms. The feel of the damp grass has been pleasing, but the trip has merely been a means to an end. This time, the journey is the beginning, middle and end.

Onto the grass - in the presence of Dandelions

In a sense, that is the most important part: I am walking for the sake of walking, and for the sake of knowing that I am walking. I am not going anywhere, I am just going. And I want to feel the journey, however short it may be, and to feel myself present on the earth.

As I walk, I feel the transaction between my feet and the earth. I feel that there is an energy, a presence, a life beneath my feet. I am aware of temperature, texture and traction. There is a give and take, an adjusting of pressure in each footstep, an awareness of the difference between stone and leaf. 

In the wood, with holly leaves, humus and stones

There is a sense also that I am empowered: I have chosen to walk barefoot, and to attempt to become more conscious of the natural environment. The busy world laughs at those who go barefoot, or is embarrassed by them, but those who choose to do so discern something of the richness that is gained only when we remove our shoes and dare to stand barefoot on sacred ground.

The earth leaves its imprint on us, too

Walking barefoot reminds us that we are part of this world, connected to this earth. It makes the link that is missing when we wear shoes - that there is a slower, more mindful way of going through life, one that takes notice, one that feels, one that concentrates on things one step at a time.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Walking backwards to the future

I love technology. I love to keep up-to-date with which companies are bringing out new devices, or updating their operating systems. I check out new releases of Linux distributions and have tried out literally hundreds of them on my own computer over the last few years. I also use a computer and a tablet every single day, and sometimes for four or five hours at a stretch. And as I work from home, I'm rarely out of reach of WiFi.

But more than technology, I love old technology. I adore any scene in a film where, about an hour into the movie, the main character searches out the only person in the city who can help to avert the alien threat. ('He doesn't do this sort of thing any more,' says his ex-boss at the underground government facility. 'He gave up on computers when he saw where they were leading civilization. You'll never persuade him to do it.')

When they eventually track down the guy who is their only hope, they find him keeping bees or tenderly trimming a bonsai tree. Of course, they persuade him to help, and then he begins to assemble a makeshift control centre from a Commodore 64, an Acorn A410 (which in the movie is incorrectly badged as an Apple Macintosh II) and one of those telex things where you put a telephone handset into a cradle (as seen in the film Wargames). 'I still know a trick or two,' he says, as he fires up the Commodore and begins to type, 'And these machines were built to last...'

Old technology: as I write this I am burning a couple of albums onto CD so that I can play them while I practice yoga. And to listen to them I will be using a small speaker linked to a Philips personal CD player which my sister gave me as a gift 12 years ago. Why will I be doing that? Because the CD player still works, and because my iPod can no longer hold a charge for more than about an hour and is, therefore, next to useless. And the smartphones? None of them is mine. I do have a new phone, a Sony Ericsson K501i, which was released in 2008 and which I bought last week from a local second-hand exchange store for £18. That, too, still works, and the battery life looks set to be about 7 days between charges.

I'm not sure where this mixed and contradictory approach to technology comes from, but I think there is sense of romanticism there. I simply love the idea that something built years, even decades, ago can still work and be useful today. And I cling to the idea that just because something was created in the last three months and is being sold today in a new wrapper, it doesn't mean that it does a better job than the old one, or the one before that.

Of course, I know that my personal CD player won't work for ever, though I can probably search on Ebay for a replacement. And I know that, one day, there will be no CDs available for me to burn music onto. Perhaps then I will open the windows, or take my yoga mat outside. All the music and technology in the world cannot improve on the song of the blackbird, which is here for a moment and then gone for ever.

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