Tuesday 29 April 2014

Esalen massage with John Orum - Let go and relax, damnit!

So I was lying on a massage table at the Emelisse Art Hotel in Greece, giving a little sigh of pleasure because truly there is little in life I like more than a damn fine massage. 

John Orum is one of the personal trainers at Hellenic Healthy Holidays.  He does far more than just make you sweat – he integrates bodywork, psychology, nutrition, strength and conditioning.  I tell you, if I lived in London (and, okay, if I had the dosh) I’d sign up for regular sessions with him like a shot.  He can tailor an exercise regime for anyone – regardless of age, gender, body type or time constraints.  And, no matter what your goals – weight loss, improved health and fitness, rehabilitation, or breaking behavioural patterns, he can help. In fact, forget a fancy gym membership - you'd get way more out of some private sessions with him, Jacqui, Henlu or James (the other trainers at HHH).

John is one of those lovely guys who are tough, strong yet also immeasurably kind.  And he does mighty fine bodywork – quite possibly the best I’ve had. 
Anyhow, back to the couch.  ‘Think back to a memory of a time when you were totally relaxed,’ he said.  Meanwhile he started gently shaking and shimmering my body (he incorporates elements of Trager in his work – if you don’t know what it is, check out this post I wrote on my journalism blog)
‘Umm,’ I said. 
‘It doesn’t matter what it is,’ he said. ‘It could be really simple.’

I tried, I really did.  Cos, if nothing else, I really am a trier.  But nope.  Couldn’t find anything.  Now it’s taken me years to come up with a ‘safe beautiful place’ (you know how nearly every visualization asks you to find ‘your’ spot?) but I’ve got that cracked now.  I have my spot.  J But a real time?  A real place? Really relaxed?  Tough call.  He carried on shaking and shimmering, and then started moving deeper into the muscles and the fascia, stretching, releasing.   I carried on thinking. 

His bodywork just got better and better.  He’s trained at Esalen and at Harbin Springs (home of Watsu) in California, amongst other places, and says he never stops learning.  He uses remedial and sports massage techniques and segues in Thai massage stretching, myo-fascial release and who knows what else.  Like all really good bodyworkers, he doesn’t follow a set routine, he listens to your body, he really feels what it’s saying, what it’s whimpering and wailing.  Or maybe what it’s not saying. 

‘Your legs are really toned but also really tight,’ he said, shaking out my thigh.  Then paused.
‘Jane, you can let go now.’ 
‘Let go.’
‘I have.’
‘Look at your leg…’
I raised my head and looked down my body and there was my leg, stuck up where he’d been holding it – except now he was standing back and my leg was still there, rigid as a board. 
‘Hypertonic,’ he said.  In other words, the poor muscles never relax.  They just clench and hold, on and on.
‘Don’t forget your relaxed place,’ he said, gently.
‘I’m still hunting,’ I said.  ‘I’m back to childhood now and I still can’t find a memory.’ 
And he carried on working on my hypertonic legs and my hypertonic…well, everything probably and I found myself thinking that, next time someone asks me that question, about a memory of a time and place when I felt relaxed, this might just be it.

If you live in London, do check out his website.  
Yup, still working on that report for Queen of Retreats…in the meantime, check out the Hellenic Healthy Holidays website too. 

Oh, and if anyone fancies a break at the Emelisse Art Hotel (with or without the mad crazy fitness), do get in touch – I can put you in touch with its lovely owner, who will offer you a special discount.  J

Thursday 24 April 2014

Om Shanti? F**k yeah! (Bandha me sideways)

Yay! Yoga day.  You know how I love my yoga, right?   Now I fully accept that not everyone shares my enthusiasm and, truly, I was the same for many years.  My mother got into yoga in the sixties – she used to wander around the house in her black footless tights and long-sleeved, scoop-necked, full-bottomed leotard with some kind of symbol on the front (no, not the Om, some kind of star).  
Sort of a bit like this...
Anyhow, when my mother embraced something, she saw it as her divine duty to get everyone else on board.  I, naturally enough, rebelled, and wanted nothing to do with yoga for years. I whined that it was ‘boring’ – I preferred high octane aerobic classes and squash.  Actually I’m kicking myself now because, if I’d got into yoga younger, I’m pretty sure I’d be levitating by now.  My mother was still as bendy as a reed and as beautiful as a lotus flower in her eighties.  Nutty as a fruit cake as well, but hey…

I was reminded of my old attitude while I was out in Greece, doing a week’s fitness retreat with Hellenic Healthy Holidays. * There were eleven of us on the trip and, while everyone had some kind of fitness regime going on at home, very few had tried yoga.  They felt (like young me) that it was boring. They said they were put off by the idea of po-faced purity of the Paltrow variety.  Or that they felt sure everyone would be pretzelling themselves while they could barely touch their toes.
She'd do a downward dog anywhere - even on top of a cliff! 
‘Oh, the hell with that,’ said our yoga teacher, the sublime Jacqui Porjes.  ‘There’s a yoga for everyone, even those who hate yoga.’  She paused and then narrowed her eyes and curled her lip.  ‘Om Shanti!’ she snarled, and we all gave grateful Namaste to the goddess of ‘Hell yeah yoga’ before collapsing in giggles. Jacqui has taught yoga all over the world but now mainly works in London as a personal trainer using a killer combo of cardio, yoga and Pilates.  Blissfully irreverent, with a dirty laugh, a big wide smile and the kindest heart, she makes yoga fun, so much fun.  Actually almost too much fun – it’s darn hard floating in plank when you’re laughing your head off. 

‘Bandhas! Bandhas, my darlinks,’ she crooned in a cod Jewish mother accent.  Jacqui’s big on bandhas.  These are the yogic body locks said to create inner strength, hold the spine in alignment and release tension in the body – at least on a basic physical level.  There are all kinds of more esoteric purposes behind your basic bandha but let’s keep it simple, Jacqui style. 
So, I went looking for a good bandha pic and found this chap.  Yeah.  Nice kit, fella.
So it’s a case of contracting and holding the muscles around the anus; contracting and holding the muscles that stop you peeing and contracting the muscles of the lower abdomen (pulling navel to spine as you would in Pilates).  Yup, all three at the same time.  And…hold.  Throughout the entire yoga flow.  Ye Gods!  Om hell!  This is supposed to release tension?? 
'Bandhas, darlinks, bandhas...'
But Jacqui was insistent.  ‘If you don’t have your bandhas engaged, everything is just so difficult,’ she insisted.  Then turned, fixed me with a beady gaze and hissed, ‘Bandhas!’  Truly, the woman was psychic – every time I forgot and let it all hang out, she’d turn round, raise an eyebrow and mouth the word. 
And, by heck, she was right.  If you keep it all tucked in, asanas do become easier.  In fact, everything  becomes easier.  So I’m sitting here, at my desk, focusing on my posture, tucking in my bandhas.  Because, if I don’t, I’m willing to bet my phone will bleep and there’ll be a text from Jacqui hissing, ‘Bandhas, darlink! Bandhas!’
Om Shanti?  F**k yeah!

If you live in London and want a kick-ass personal trainer or to overcome your yoga fear, check out Jacqui’s website. 

* Don’t let the name Hellenic Healthy Holidays put you off – honestly it’s not some kind of Saga-esque rambling around ancient monuments trip.  I absolutely loved it, every last bit of it (yes, even the bandhas) – I’ll be writing it up for Queen of Retreats so you’ll be able to read the full report there.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Why Kili and Tauriel won't snog in The Hobbit

So I watched The Hobbit – the Desolation of Smaug over Easter – cosied up by the fire with a dog on my knee, wearing a beanie.  Yes, yes, I know, I know.  I said I wouldn’t watch it; said I hated The Hobbit.  But a few people told me to stop being so picky, so finickity, that I should forget about how it bears precious little resemblance to the book and that I should ignore the fact that it’s been stretched so far that its plot might snap into three overworked exhausted pieces.  And then the nice people at ThinkJam sent me a copy, along with a very fetching beanie hat so, really, it would have been rude not to…right?

And, actually, it was fun.  But then it got me wondering.  About dwarves. They’re having a bit of a moment right now.  I mean Gimli in Lord of the Rings was a bit of a false dawn but those Hobbit dwarves are pretty darn cute (well okay, three of them) and then there’s Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones and then there’s…well…okay, but that’s still four dwarf sex icons going on, isn’t it? 

But then I started thinking about it.  In practical terms.  And there’s a problem, isn’t there?  I mean, you just can’t get around the height differential.  You can’t snog someone who’s a couple of feet shorter than you are, can you?  Well, you can, but it can’t be spontaneous - you’d have to sink to your knees or hoik your snogee up onto a handy nearby wall.  Okay, you might say, so skip that bit and go horizontal. But then…well… you can’t attend to both ends at the same time, can you?  

Am I being picky here?   I’m not being dwarfist btw.  You’d equally have a problem if your chap was mega tall.  I was looking at these pics of celebrities who have huge height differences and my neck ached just thinking about it.
It’s a funny thing this height thingy, isn’t it?  I clearly remember when I was at school, a (to my mind) hulking 5’ 8”, a veritable Sansa Stark, thinking that I would have to spend any date shuffling along the gutter in flipflops, dodging drains, while my hypothetical boyfriend strode along the pavement in stack heels.  I even started developing a bit of a hump from hunching over.  It took me years to walk tall.  
But why?  Why does it matter so much?  Why do women want tall men?  Or rather, why do they want men who are taller than they are (because it’s all a question of degree – if you’re 5’2” you’d probably settle for a Tom Cruise-alike, right?)?  And if you’re 5’2” and still going after the over-six-footers, basically you should back off and leave them well alone.  The gangly tall girls need them way more than you do. 

But really, why?  I hunted around and found very little research.  All that’s out there simply confirms that women like men to be taller than they are, and men like women to be shorter than they are.  The women surveyed said they wanted to feel delicate and secure, while the men said they wanted to feel masculine and protective.  Yee-awww…

But again, I started pondering practicalities.  Cos all the attraction stuff comes down to procreation, right?  Bottom line, we are hardwired to fall for people who will give us good babies (when we're young enough to have said babies, of course).  And big tall men could be perceived as being a better bet (to our slow-to-catch up primeval hardwiring) than stumpy little shrimps.  But then, if you’re a tiny woman you don’t want too big a guy, do you, or you’d be stuck trying to push out a monster baby through your size sub-zero pelvis (now I'm thinking of Twilight – yes, I watch way too many crappy films and no, I know he wasn't taller but he was dead for pity's sake and rock hard - yes, yes, enough already).  So basically I reckon it’s way better to stick to someone who’s kinda roughly the same as you – just a bit taller for those snog practicalities. 
Which made me think about that dwarf-elf romance going on in The Hobbit.  Are we going to see some elf/dwarf love action in part three?  Probably but they'll fudge it. Cos, let’s be honest, it’s just not going to work, is it?  I mean, the snogs would look downright daft (unless there’s a handy gutter). And yes, yes, I know he's 'tall for a dwarf' but still...I went checking for pics of Kili and Tauriel together and, yup, you guessed it - there aren't any - well, not standing next to one another. Game of Thrones, of course, is braver - no shilly-shallying there.  And, well, Tyrion Lannister...
What you reckon? Would you?

Anyhow.  The Hobbit – the Desolation of Smaug (which reminds me, something else - ‘Smowg’ rather than ‘Smorg’? – do they know that’s how Tolkien said it?  Cos I’ve always said Smorg) – not bad.  Sorry, very very infeasibly long bracket there.  Oh, and nice song at the end too.

What?  The beanie?  Sure.  Here you go.  J

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Noah, Ham, Eggs, incest and Arne Naess.

We never go out as a family...well, barely ever.  Should it worry me, I wondered?  I asked one of my family-friendly friends about it and she laughed bitterly.  'Sure, we go out,' she said.  'But it always ends in tears. Someone has a hissy fit, someone gets drunk, someone sulks, someone stalks off and we all come back not talking to one another.'  
'But at least you try,' I said wistfully.

So last Sunday I watched people talk about trips to the beach, to the park, to the cinema, to the...well anywhere and everywhere really. Even church.  And I thought, well really, this is ridiculous. If you want something, you have to do something about it, don't you?  You can't just sit and wish. Adrian was in Amsterdam, so he was out of the equation.  But surely James and I could do something?  So, when he came home from work, I smiled brightly.
'What's going on?' he said, suspicion etched across his face.  'What do you want me to do?'
'Nothing,' I replied.  'I just thought we could go out.'
'Go out where?'
'Taunton.  Grab a pizza and then see Noah at the Odeon.'
I shrugged. It seemed pretty self-explanatory to me.  'Well?'
'Not today.'
And he switched on his XBox.  I shrugged, lit the fire and sat and watched The English Patient until it got just too sad and so I switched off and just watched the flames instead wondering which would be worse - to be dying in the dark in a cave or to be unable to rescue the person in the cave.  And I figured the latter was definitely the worst.  By a long shot. 

Then, suddenly, on Tuesday.  
'So, are we going to the cinema tonight, Mum?'
'Yeah.  Y'no, Noah. Pizza. Pizza.  Noah.'  

It felt weird.  I haven't been to a pizza place for years.  Literally.  I don't even eat pizza, for pizza's sake.  But it was fine.  And Noah?  Well, having booked the tickets, we read the reviews. Yup, wrong way round, I know.  Dire. Really dire.  

But, you know, it wasn't that bad.  Okay, so every time someone shouted 'Ham!', we whispered 'Eggs!' to one another.  And I can't remember the Bible saying The Watchers helped Noah and Co build the ark, nor that they looked like stone giant transformers, but hey.  And it was quite a neat idea to turn Noah into a sort of deep green eco-warrior (Arne Naess might have approved) - though, again, not terribly Biblical.  And, of course, you have to suspend disbelief at...well, everything really.  But hey...
'You know they've still got a problem,' said James as we left the cinema.
'I mean, they'd have to wait for the babies to grow up and, even then, it's still incest, right? Pretty much.'
And then we fell to thinking about the animals. Whether the moment they woke up from their incense-induced sleep and got off the ark, the meat-eaters would just go nutty and decimate the herbivores or whether they would give them some kind of headstart.  And how would the carnivores survive if they were expected to wait for their food sources to get up their numbers?  
Not to mention the fact that, having been asleep for all that time, none of them would be able to move anyhow, cos of muscle wastage. 
'Why are we even doing this?' I said. 'You can't take the Bible literally.' 
'You can't take the Bible at all,' said James.  

Anyhow.  We did it.  Half a family outing.  In fact, we even managed to tie up all the ends very nicely and pick up Adrian on his return from Amsterdam.  And the fact he hadn't seen the film didn't make one iota of difference.  In fact he had far more opinions on it than we did.  *smile*

What about you?  Do you do family outings?  Are they a generally 'good thing'?  I mean, you could argue that there's Noah and his family off on a boat trip (with the family pets).  And how does it end up?  Bonding exercise?  Or... someone has a hissy fit, someone gets drunk, someone sulks, someone stalks off and they all come back not talking to one another?  :-)