Thursday 23 May 2013

The woods are talking...

The wind is wild today.  It slams cold into my face up at the hill fort and harries the trees, making the beech, with all their fresh, young, and oh so green leaves, tremble.  The oaks are slower, calmer, not so hasty. Their leaves are only just uncurling, amber drops unfurling, cautious. 

And I stand with my back to my tree and I think how young and fragile-strong it feels. How all alone. It? Not him? And I wonder. Is this just another projection?  Have I got it wrong again?  Is this my self-tree? And for the first time I notice another, on the other side of the track - larger, wider, more solid.  And he (for this one, surely, is he?) doesn’t stand alone like my tree.  Other trees bustle around. Young beech saplings crowd around his roots.  And the thickest ivy (as thick as my upper arm) sticks like a vice to his trunk.  I tentatively tug it but it’s clinging tight.  And again it bothers me. But then I figure he probably likes it like that, really.  But then again, if you’re a tree, what choice do you have?

There are bluebells everywhere. 
The scent sends me back, thudding through time, to Gaunts House.  I had gone to write about retreating, was only able to spare a few days – how ironic.  And I was restless, a bit lost without the flurry of deadlines and the thrum of the city.  And so I walked, mind-fretting – and came across a bluebell wood.  
And cried, if I recall.  And sank into it.  And that was a point at which I could have taken my life in a totally different direction because, I realized, I didn’t need anything.  And I meditated a lot and did yoga and helped out in the garden, planting stuff, and didn’t really talk, just smiled, and it was good.  But then I went home and ego said ‘Be normal! Be successful! Be a good cog!’ and soul shrank back again, shy as bluebells. 
Anyhow.  Every walk in the woods is a medicine walk for me.  Things appear on my path and talk to me.  A while back it was all death and decay.  Bones, skulls, a broken wing nearly every step I took.  So I picked them up and adorned the small wooden hut with them – an offering to Baba Yaga.  And I laid low, hoping the Morrigan would fly past.

Today, however, it was all runes.  Twigs and branches in shapes of the runic alphabet.  Futhark. Tree messages. Chatty.

And what did they say? What did they say? 

They said…

Protection. The Spiritual Warrior’s battle is always with the self.  

And they said….
Flow.  The River. The Self.  Conjunctio; the sacred marriage. 

And then they tried to say something else but the SP bounced on them and scattered them to the wind.  

Sunday 19 May 2013

Long, slow and deep...

Mostly we did Dynamic Yoga at Kaliyoga.  Years ago, I interviewed Godfrey Devereux, who popularized this flowing form of yoga and joined one of his classes. He tried to warn me, poor chap:  he advised that I start off with a beginner’s class but I ignored his gentle suggestion.  I was pretty fit, I said, and had done a lot of yoga on and off. Foolish idiot! (me, not Godfrey) Within minutes I was gasping for air, sweat pouring down my body.  I backed out the class after about twenty minutes. 

Anyhow.  Lelly’s brand of Dynamic yoga was much less athletic, far more gentle and soothing.  But even so, she said she wanted to introduce us to something yet more gentle, far more passive yet still hugely powerful.  Yin yoga. 

Instead of moving swiftly and even aggressively through postures, Yin yoga holds poses passively, still, for at least five minutes.  Lelly explained it works deeply on the energy of the body, as well as providing deep stretching of the fascia (connective tissue) and massaging the internal organs.  We did sessions to support the liver, kidneys and gallbladder.  

But, above all, I felt Yin yoga really reminds us that yoga is not about gymnastics, it’s not about striving, about  being competitive (either with others or oneself). It’s a preparation, a warm-up for meditation or, more accurately maybe, a meditation in itself.  Postures, held for relatively long periods of time, have a profound effect on the mind – they can shift one’s consciousness. 

Most teachers of Yin don’t suggest it as the only form of yoga to practice – rather as a counter-balance to the more energetic, more yang, styles of yoga that abound.  I loved it.  Found it switched off the restless brain and eased out the kinks in my stressed body.  If you don’t know about it, this site is a good introduction.  Or go to Kaliyoga, of course, and take a class with Lelly.  J

Friday 17 May 2013

The white horses of Andalucia

It wasn’t all yoga at my Kaliyoga retreat in Spain.  We walked, beautiful trails down into hidden valleys, the only sound the breeze in the trees and the occasional flute of birdsong.  And one day, three of us went riding out into the mountains. 

I love horses.  I was the archetypal pony-mad child, with a stable of about twenty assorted equines – from Brandy and Whiskey (the stolid Exmoor ponies) to Atlendor and Fenodyree (one pure bred Arab, one Arab cross).  So what if they were in my head?  In my imagination I talked to them, cared for them, rode them for miles upon miles. They were my dearest friends. 

I would save up all my pocket money so that, once a month, I could ride a real pony.  I’d walk to the stables and back without complaint (a round trip of about three hours) just for the joy of sitting on a horse for an hour.

Anyhow.  There is (to my mind) no better way to see countryside than atop a horse.  So Susie, Niki and I opted for a couple of hours trekking in the Alpujarras.  At Caballo Blanco (white horse) near Lanjaron.
Sarah, the owner, welcomed us and stuck helmets on our heads. Yup, the horrible motorbike skullcap type riding centres always seem to doll out (I swear it’s to make you look as hideous as possible).  And then we went to meet our horses.  

Sarah eyed us up, look one look at my hair and said, ‘You’ve got to ride Pasha – you’re the perfect match.’  Possibly the first time anyone has ever colour-coordinated me with a horse but I wasn’t complaining – she was beautiful.  And Sarah explained she had been a rescue case – when she arrived at the centre she was pitifully thin and nigh-on bald.  ‘She’s still not quite up to weight,’ Sarah said.  'So we are careful with her.'  
Sarah rescues a lot of horses.  They are lovingly brought back to fitness and health – sometimes it can take longer for the mental scars to heal than the physical (some of the horses had to learn to trust again, she explained).  But the happy news is that when people come for longer stays (the centre offer all kinds of trail-riding) they often bond with their horse and many end up taking them home (leaving Sarah free to rescue more needy cases).  With the economic situation in Spain still perilous, sadly there is an endless queue of horses in need.

Anyhow.  We clip-clopped down the windy road and then turned off and went cross-country, charging up a narrow track beside a gurgling stream, ambling past remote homesteads, splashing through a mountain stream.  It was gorgeous. 

So, if you happen to find yourself in Andalucia, do go check out the white horses…and their friends.  Just be warned, you might end up adopting one of them.  

All pics by Susie Turner

Thursday 16 May 2013

My stereotypical Swiss room-mate

So, I was all excited about going to Kaliyoga in Spain when I suddenly had a bad thought.  A big bad thought. You know how I am about sharing rooms with people on detox?  Well, to be honest, it goes beyond a dislike into downright phobia.  And it’s not just while detoxing; it’s sharing in general.  It’s not that I’m anti-social per se; it's just that I really really like my own space. Okay, so I’m kinda weird about my aura. 

So I checked and…aaaghhh.  I was sharing.  But, but, but…I spluttered.  In fact I begged, I whined, I prostrated myself on the floor and kicked my heels but they said, sorry, the retreat was full, there was no choice.  I nearly said I’d sleep in a field or up a tree but then remembered that Spain gets things like mosquitoes and wotnot so discretion was the better part of valor and so I just…fretted.

‘She’s a 47 year old Swiss woman,’ they said.  As if that would made everything okay.  When I shared this particular bit of information with my kettlebell group, they all looked a bit nonplussed. 
‘What are the Swiss like?’ asked someone. We debated it (while swinging into clean and snatch and hoisting ourselves into Turkish get-ups) and swiftly realized that our knowledge of the Swiss national characteristics was meagre.  Watches, skiing, banks, cuckoo clocks, mountains were suggested.  Toblerone got an honourable mention. Muesli came up. Cheese waved a flag.  What was the Swiss flag for pity’s sake?  Who were famous Swiss? 

‘Wasn’t Heidi Swiss?’ said someone else.  At which point I’m ashamed to say the whole class started yodeling and waving pretend pigtails at me.

‘How am I supposed to face this poor woman now?’ I said.
‘Wave a cow bell?’ someone suggested helpfully.  I despair, I really do. How we stereotype huh?

Anyhow, they got it all wrong.  My room-mate was actually an American (who just happened to be living in Switzerland at that particular moment in time) and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone looking less like Heidi.  She was absolutely lovely and, thank the gods of yodelling, the ideal room-mate.  Within the confines of our room, we passed one another like cautious ghosts, spectacularly polite and considerate. 

But, I don’t know about you but when I hear the word ‘retreat’ I suppose uppermost in my mind is going away somewhere a bit cut off, to be thoughtful, meditative, contemplative, or whatever.  All the retreats I’ve done have been solo; most have been either totally or majorly silent. So, quite apart from the room-sharing thingy, how come I spent my entire week at Kaliyoga talking and laughing my head off? Have retreats gone soft? Have I gone soft?

However, as the week progressed, I gradually realized that, actually, this was probably just what I needed.  I have been so isolated, so solitary (entirely of my own making, I should add) that all this interaction was probably good therapy.  Listening to people and their ‘issues’ and ‘challenges’ puts your own stuff into perspective.  Laughing gets the endorphins going.  And, as Lelly, our yoga teacher said on the first day: ‘Sometimes your yoga won’t be vinyasas in the yoga shala. Sometimes your yoga will be resting or sunbathing.’  And my yoga was all of that with an added dose of snorting.  

And yes, I was still able to slope off by myself when I needed to.  Okay, so not to my room (my usual place of refuge) but to a hammock or the wild flower meadow or to a squashy sofa in the boho living room.  I was often the first up and the last to bed, so found my privacy at the corners of the day.  And, standing under the stars, with the orange blossom heady in the dell, my senses reeled and I found myself tumbling out into everything, and everything tumbling into me…and the entire concept of being alone and separate felt suddenly suddenly quite quite …amusing.