I’m writing this in Malaga airport whilst waiting to board my flight back to Germany. I have spent the last five days in Spain with one of my closest and dearest friends. She lives in the UK and turned 40 in September, I am now living in Germany and turned 40 last month. These days with families and partners and of course the fact we don’t live in the same country, it is more difficult to find time to see each other and spend quality time together. 40 is a significant mile stone in life, and we wanted to mark it in some way together, to honour our friendship and all we have shared over the years, to soak up some sun and to have a bloody good laugh just as us. Not in our role as mothers, as partners, as professionals (although of course all of that is part of us) but just as us. Great friends.
This is Helen. It was taken at lake Ullswater about 4 years ago now. We were there for a friend’s wedding.
As it turned out, it rained for the whole 5 days in Spain, freak weather in the Costa Del Sol for this time of year. Costa Ne Sol as Helen started calling it!! Despite the lack of sunshine we had a fantastic time and in fact it reminded me of another holiday I spent with Helen 6 years ago in Sri Lanka on my first ever yoga retreat. We went in December in order to be sure to have missed the rainy season but arrived to find that for the first time in decades they were experiencing prolonged rains and it lashed down every day!
The retreat was Helen’s idea, she did all the research to find it and I am eternally grateful to her for that trip because it awakened me in startling technicolour to the true power of Yoga, to the lessons our bodies can teach us, the intelligence they hold if we can just tune in to them and I have never looked back.
It was a turbulent and emotional time in both our lives. Helen was struggling following a difficult breakup and wanted to do something positive for herself. I was still holding a lot of undigested emotions, grief and tension from my difficult break up two years previously (although for the most part I was quite unaware of that, I had buried them so deep). I had also lost a dear friend to cancer just two weeks earlier and was still trying to come to terms not just with his death but with the fact that I had not been able to make it to his funeral in Ireland to say my proper goodbyes.
We went to Ulpotha (here is the link if you are interested: http://www.ulpotha.com/ ), up into the mountains and jungle above Colombo, to do yoga, honour our bodies, still our minds and feed our souls surrounded by raw natural beauty. I had only just discovered that wonderful little yoga studio in Hong Kong, which I talked about in my first post the Beginning and the beautiful practice of yoga 6 weeks earlier, and could not have imagined the impact that this experience was to have on me.
Following our arrival and having settled into the little mud hut which was to be our home for the next week, we joined the rest of the yogis and yoginis on a gentle stroll through the luscious green jungle to a rock plateau in the hills affectionately known as Monkey Rock. It was here, immersed in nature, a feast for the senses, the sounds of the evening jungle, the monkeys, birds, and wildlife singing and calling to each other, the earthy smell of the wet jungle vegetation, and the beauty and majesty of the glorious evening sun setting over fields, and farms as far as the eye could see, that we did our first yoga practice.
There are no words to describe the wonder, awe, reverence, gratitude and connection I felt lying in savasana at the close of that practice. Leaving behind the noise and chatter, the alcohol and nightclubs, the long work hours, the horns and traffic, the designer labels, busy days and late nights of my life in Hong Kong, and with each breath feeling more relaxed, peaceful, alive and vibrant than I had felt in the longest time. Aware that with each deep breath in I was filling my lungs and my being with beauty, peace, vitality and with every long exhale I was letting go, letting go, letting go……….
In fact quite unexpectedly, letting go became the theme, or perhaps mantra is a better word, for the week.
On the third or fourth morning Deepa our yoga instructor led us through what was for me a particularly challenging hip opening class. It was the first time I had ever experienced pigeon pose and I found it excruciating. I was a new comer to Yoga and hadn’t yet learned the art of yogic breathing, the ujjayi breath, breathing into the stretch and letting go. My face was contorted, the agony of the pose written all over it, my body was tense, fighting to hold on to whatever it was that was stored so deep in the muscles and joints around my hips. No sooner had I assumed the pose than I immediately tried to release it, but Deepa came over to me and encouraged me to hold it a little longer, relax into it, breathe. She had been practising yoga since she was a young girl and been teaching it for many years. Seeing the effect that the pose was having on me I have no doubt her experience allowed her to read the situation and see the opportunity it presented to help me release old toxins, emotional and physical that no longer served me and make room for something new.
Throughout my life people have always opened up to me, and shared vulnerabilities with me. I have often been told that I am easy to talk to and have frequently had perfect strangers share intimate personal stories of grief, pain, hurt and hardship. Far from thinking those people who opened up, and laid themselves bare to me were weak, I admired their strength and courage in doing so. Particularly as I myself have always struggled with showing vulnerability and/or crying in front of others even close friends and family. Following my difficult breakup I began to realise that in fact, my inability or difficulty in showing or sharing my vulnerability was perhaps ironically my greatest weakness. I know that it was very hard for my friends to see me suffering, to know I was struggling but to feel like they could not help because I did not let them in. Indeed I am sure some of them were offended that I did not seem to trust them with my pain when they had trusted me so openly with theirs. I have since made a conscious effort to be more open and I guess this blog is part of that healing journey but it is not something that comes naturally to me. I don’t really know why that is, I have some theories of course and I am sure I will talk more about this whole theme in another post but for now I just wanted you to be aware of how hard it is for me.
Lying in Savasana at the end of that challenging practice, eyes closed, listening to the birds singing, allowing the weight of my body sink into the mat, releasing the effort of the practice, I remember starting to smile and then feeling overwhelmed with emotion. I hadn’t been thinking about anything, I had been so concentrated on the practice that my mind itself had been marvellously blank and free from thought during the class. As I lay there the tears started to come. I had no idea why I was crying, there had been no thought that triggered it. It was the practice, I had released something that had been stuck, held in my muscles and joints and now it just flowed out of me. I lay there, aware that everyone else was rolling up their mats and making their way to breakfast, feeling self conscious and vulnerable but I could not move, I was paralysed, completely engulfed in the agonising ecstasy of the moment. As the tears flowed, I did not feel sad, but rather with every tear I felt lighter, and the joy in my heart grew, I wanted to smile, I could feel myself smiling but still the tears came. Helen came over to me and saw I was crying, it may have been the first time she had seen me crying in all the years we had known each other. She asked me what was wrong. I had no idea, indeed despite appearances there was nothing at all wrong, it felt good, healthy, cathartic. I had just let go of something that no longer served me. Something I had held on to for far too long.
This is the first time that I became aware of the intelligence in my body. The wisdom held within. The opportunity to tap into this and come closer to knowing my true authentic self if I just tune in and listen. The realisation that this gift of Yoga that I had just begun to practice was a powerful healing tool that could open me up to so much more, and bring me back to me. The beauty of the practice is that it takes you out of your head, to experience that non-dreaming mind I wrote about recently, if only just for a short time, which allows your body the opportunity to share its wisdom.
It is not uncommon for people to experience emotional releases after an intense hip opening practice. We store a lot of tension and emotions in our hips, years of pain whether from this life, or past karma, be it our own or that of our ancestors, if we can learn to tune into this intelligence and be courageous enough to face it, we can learn to heal ourselves one pigeon pose at a time!!!
So I wanted to dedicate this post to my beautiful, sexy, funny dear dear friend Helen Morland. Our lives are so different now from when we first met, we have shared so much together, good times, hard times, wild times, laugher and tears. Although we don’t see each other nearly as often as we once did, our friendship just gets stronger and deeper and I know that we will still be making time for each other and sharing the highs and lows in both our lives well into old age. It is a blessed thing to have such a friend in life, someone with whom you can share your successes and triumphs as much as your vulnerabilities and failures in full honesty, love and humour and I will always cherish our friendship.
Namaste sista, thanks for all the adventures so far, bring on the next 40 years exploring and sharing life together!
This picture of Helen was taken in Amsterdam in early 2014, I was 12 weeks pregnant and we had a little spa weekend getaway together to catch up on life, liberty and fruit of the loom!!