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Category: Yoga life

Penfold: moving her body around since 1980.

I’ve always loved to move my body, whether something as simple as walking or as fun as dancing like no one is watching. I fell in love with yoga in 2014 and since then an obsession has been born.

I have taken great delight in advancing my own practice and then connection this has given me, so teaching for me is really about paying forward, and hoping that I can inspire other people to embark on this brilliant voyage of self discovery.

That time when I learnt how to lower my pain threshold

It’s pretty incredible just how much pain the human body can tolerate. I’m not talking about big, gut wrenching pain here, I am talking about the insidious day to day pain that troubles most of us when we move about in the world.

What’s even more incredible, is that a lot of the time we are only half aware that it is there. We glibly move through life, accepting of the discomfort we experience in the body at both ends of the pain continuum.

A big factor in this glib acceptance is the inability to actually hear what is going on inside the body. Our heads are so full of the swirl that is life and all the trappings that come with it, that we are often too disconnected to realise that our ankle is sore, or that our knee has been feeling a little weaker lately. These are obviously only potentially minor irritations, but minor irritations that left ignored can grow into a much bigger set of problems.

It is also important to note that these ‘minor’ irritations are actually cleverly crafted messages from our body to our brain about how we are living, like smoke signals from our innermost to draw our focus into something that is causing us harm. When I have been in a funk of regular niggles, illness or injury, these have almost always shown to be a marker for something that needs a little deeper enquiry about how I am operating at that time.

For longer than I care to remember, I experienced pain in my lower back. I’ve always had a big curve at the base of my spine that means that if I don’t stand in quite the right way, my spine is out of alignment. I accepted that as just being a part of who I am and how my body is made. In day to day life I just about got away with it, but if I had to stand for any longer than 30 minutes the ache would start to appear. What did I do about it? Honestly? Nothing. Like many other signposts or love notes from me to me, I chose to ignore them for an extremely long time.

Separately to this, I embarked upon my journey (which regular readers of my blog are well aware of) to reconnect to myself (though I had no idea that that was what I was headed at the outset). This took many different forms and I tried many different approaches, but in the end it was meditation that gave me the super power I needed to finally be still.

In the stillness came honesty, reflection and a whole heap of other emotions. One of the most profound things was the realisation of the pain I had been experiencing in my body and choosing to ignore. Whilst I had started to exercise by this stage, I was actually using it as another stick to beat myself with and causing yet more harm.

It was around that time I reached out to my dear friend Doug Robertson, who I can best describe as a kind of body mechanic. He works with people one on one to help them overcome the kind of habitual pain that I was experiencing. In just one diagnostic session, like all good mechanics, he was able to give me a steer about the configuration of my body and all the contributing factors that were creating this sensation of pain.

Doug has long been fascinated by the differences in the human body and has seen first hand how much impact he creates in the lives of those he works with. I have felt the same fascination around these differences when it comes to my yoga students.

Recently he’s begun to feel a growing sense of frustration when he looks around the world and more specifically at the human experience; around just how simple the fixes for this type of pain can be, and a sense of sadness that the kind of work that he does one on one is simply not accessible for the majority of the population – whether borne out of financial limitations or just a lack of awareness that there is another way.

Had I not known Doug personally I may well have just bumbled along for a while longer, trying different things to see what worked and probably abusing my body further in the process. What he gave me was a simple toolkit that I was able to work through in my own time; a series of exercises to reawaken the dormant muscles that needed to join the party and that would strengthen others that were already alive and kicking with one goal – balance.

After only a couple of weeks of work, my back pain started to ebb away. Magic.

[Side note: I then did what all good patients do; assume that because the pain has gone I can then stop doing the exercises that made it better. Wrong. I learnt that lesson the hard way and now make sure that the foundations he taught me feature in my weekly workout regime. You see change is essentially a brain thing, not a body thing. Until we commit to a course of action mentally and go all in, the physical stuff will only be temporary.]

This September I am delighted to say that Doug launches Balance; a short course to educate you around the basics of the human body and how to truly take care of the magnificent organism that you have. This course provides a phenomenal insight both for you and your body first hand, but also for teachers of exercise, to help you learn some of the simple fixes that can support the development of steady foundations within the body of your students.

“Balance is designed to make your body last longer, to help you experience less pain throughout your life and with the minimum amount of effort possible. The course will help you identify what your problems are or are likely to be, and what you can do to fix them or prevent them. The solutions are simple, practical and effective.” – Doug Robertson

I ask you now to sit and do a little scan of your body and consider what the niggles of pain are that you experience in your body (whether or not you are able to ignore them) and I ask you to think about whether you might like to choose a better experience like I did.

Balance can never be a fixed state as the human body is always changing and moving, but I continue to work to maintain and improve my homeostasis. I move from a place of conscious presence and connection, and in return my body is stronger and functioning more effectively that it has ever been. When the smoke signals of pain arise, I am able to to receive those important messages and choose the right response.

If you’d like to learn more about the course and content, either ping me and I can make an introduction, or take a little look here.

That time when I learnt about the importance of hearing

If I consider some of the most important things I’ve learnt along the way, many of those things have come in the form of people; of friends who pop up and teach me something special that enables the growth needed to level up to wherever I am going next. 

Cynics will say it is just coincidence, haters will say I’m drunk off the joy of life (I am), but for me, I know there’s magic to be found in those moments. 

One of those moments happened to me recently. 

Through my deepening connection to myself via meditation, I found myself becoming part of a project a couple of years ago called Just Breathe – an organisation that creates mass meditation experiences that bring meditation to a wider audience. 

Through this group, I met with Jerusha and Adam Shulberg, who are are the owners of an awesome Audiology practice in Marylebone called Cubex

At that time, I’d paid very little mind to cognitive health. My interest and commitment to meditation was an abundantly personal one; one that was borne out of the need to create calm in my world, to find a way to be peaceful with myself and to stop my emotional pendulum swinging quite so broad and wide.

Jerusha and Adam had become part of the project partly due to their own experiences with meditation but largely due to their extensive knowledge and research into the link between meditation and cognitive health. Put simply; meditation elicits a relaxation response, which reverses the effects of stress in our brains. This allows the space for new neural network connections to unfurl and our brains to become healthier. 

In the world we live in, our brains are continuously exhausted and depleted by trying to make sense of the noise around us. It is up to us to become aware of the impact that our neural network killing way of living has on our cognitive health and what our current health report looks like, so that we can make the changes needed to make it better. 

Cubex were incredibly generous and hosted many of the project’s volunteers for cognitive health checks, and through that experience, I became more aware of the importance of preserving cognitive wellbeing, and how hearing loss can drastically impact the lives of those suffering from it. 

Whilst interesting, this new data merely reaffirmed the path I had chosen to walk along, and I merrily continued with my daily meditation and stillness work. 

A few months later I became aware that one of my parents was starting to behave in just the way that I had learnt might be possible: the quiet withdrawal of oneself from social situations and conversations. 

You see; our brains can only handle a certain amount of cognitive load, and with hearing loss what happens is that our brains have to work extra hard to make sense of the sounds around us.

Hearing is actually a brain process (thank you Cubex), without the brain we only have a series of unfathomable sounds. Those suffering from hearing loss therefore start to become exhausted by trying to make sense of the world around them and for the most part may not even be aware of what is happening until it is too late. The less we interact, the faster our brains deteriorate and the more likely we are to experience things like dementia. 

Even if a person is aware of what is happening this can be something that is incredibly hard to face. It takes real bravery to seek help, and even when you do, it’s hard to find access to the right kind of advice. My parent was aware of what had been happening and had sought medical help, but the solution offered was something that made the sound quality worse rather than better; so hearing became an even more painful experience. 

Happily the Universe had our backs. I could see the signs I’d been learning about, and could see the current solution was having a negative impact, so reached out to Jerusha and Adam and they were delighted to arrange to spend some time assessing both my parents to see what kind of support they might need. 

Because of their open hearts and informal style, the Cubex team were able to provide exactly the right kind of thoughtful but comprehensive hearing support and advice that was needed. 

Today my parent is the proud owner of a state of the art hearing aid. They also laugh more, they tell more bad jokes, they interject into more conversations and we couldn’t be more delighted. The change is quite simply life changing. 

If you recognise any of the signs I describe here, either for yourself or for anyone in your world, please reach out and I’d be delighted to connect you to Jerusha, Adam and their brilliant team. 

Cubex: I am forever in your debt and am eternally grateful for the work you do with both individuals and businesses to bring awareness to cognitive wellbeing. 

That time I spoke with Girl and Tonic about sobriety in the modern age

I spoke with Laurie at Girl and Tonic about my decision to give up alcohol five years ago recently. Here is the full interview:

1.What led you to think differently about drinking?

I started drinking as a very young person and continued to do so through to my 20’s. At that time I started to experience severe stomach problems which ended up being IBS, so I stopped drinking whilst trying to alleviate the causes. From the age of 19 to 30 I was in a very damaging and detrimental relationship, and the stress of that I have since learned was also a significant factor.

When I finally left that relationship at the age of 30, I drank for a year again, finally being ‘free’ from the chains of my relationship and seemingly having ‘fun’ with the rest of the world. But it wasn’t fun for me. It was just another method of checking out from myself. Every time I would look in the mirror after a night of drinking I felt a feeling of shame at what I saw, a feeling of being at odds with who I really was.

In May 2012 I simply decided it wasn’t for me, and I haven’t touched a drop since. It’s one of the most significant choices and changes I have made to fully support my connection to me, and I have made a lot!

2.How would you describe your relationship with alcohol now?

It’s not something I really think about. A lot of the time it’s a bigger problem for other people. I often get asked why and told I must have amazing willpower. The thing is, when you know you are living in a way that feels true for you, it really doesn’t take any willpower to stay that way.

Since I stopped drinking, I have never craved or missed the taste of alcohol, I guess I’ve been lucky like that. It really was a natural progression.

3.What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced since your approach to alcohol shifted?

It was definitely other people as I mentioned above. Definitely when it came to dating also. People would be like; oh, er, so what do we do then? I think for a lot of people, alcohol is the main method of socialisation. My sobriety has made many people uncomfortable in that context. I really don’t mind people drinking, but people make themselves feel like you are judging them in some way I think, when actually you aren’t at all. For me, I’m simply making positive choices that support me.

4.What lessons have you learnt about life (and yourself) since your relationship with alcohol has changed?

That becoming the real me was the most important thing I was ever going to do in my life. That connection is huge. I live as the truest version of myself. I made a pact with myself to focus on trying to be the best version of myself each and every day a few years ago, and feeling great supports that. Sleep. Food. Exercise. Learning. It all supports that.

5. How do you start your day? Do you have a morning routine?

I wake up at 5am every day (sometimes earlier if my body clock dictates) and I generally do some form of physical activity for around 30 minutes. Then I meditate for 10 minutes. Then I get washed. Then I read for around 30 minutes. After that, I head to work and make my breakfast at the office. On the weekend, I am generally off to something yoga related, whether teaching or practicing.

6. Do you have any rituals you always make time for?

My morning routine has been pretty set for a while, but in the past couple of years I’ve been honing my wind down in the evening also, in terms of the way I cleanse, when I turn off the outside world in terms of internet and phone use, and also the simple act of putting my blind down. I aim to fall asleep lying on my back in a gentle breath meditation – I say aim as sometimes I roll over haha. Bedtime is ideally no later than 10pm and more like 9pm-9.30pm as long as I am home.

7. What’s your favourite thing to do (hangover free) at the weekend?

Eat amazing food and move my body in new ways. I am vegan and gluten free; again both supportive choices for my body that have happened very naturally. I love finding new places to eat, new things to see and just generally wandering about smiling at the world.

8. When it comes to your own personal development, what is one thing that you’re working on or learning right now?

Too many things to mention haha. Okay. Let’s think.

The biggest thing I am working on right now is my vulnerability. To get myself out of the myriad of different ways I was abusing myself throughout my 20’s; my choice of partner, my choice of mind set, my choices around consumption and so on, I needed to shift into warrior mode to really make that happen. That meant becoming my own personal badass, cheerleader and strategic lead on building my new life, but what that also meant was that I made myself a little inaccessible. Working on vulnerability therefore has been huge for me, and a big step along my journey towards building future relationships. I recommend reading ‘Daring Greatly’ by Brene Brown to anyone with a similar thing to work on.

9. What is the one thing you’re obsessed with at the moment that’s making your life better?

Yoga. And I don’t just mean the benefits of practice. Learning to teach has been a huge step outside of my comfort zone, and one I have learnt a HUGE amount from.

10. And finally, thinking differently about alcohol can be challenging and isolating, is there any advice you turned to or do you have any words of wisdom for people reading this?

You are not alone. There are tons of us out there. You are just part of a beautiful new movement. If you are reading this and want to reach out to me and say hello… say hello! Build a new network of like minded humans.

View people who are threatened by your choices lovingly and openly – they are only confused as they don’t quite understand it yet. Never underestimate the incredible inspiration that you might be able to give others by simply making choices that support you and choosing to stand by them. The inspiration I have taken from others along my journey has been huge, and most of the time when they have no idea that they have given me it. The tiny interactions can sometimes be the most profound of all.

The original post can be found here. Follow the brilliant Girl and Tonic blog across Instagram and Twitter to find out more about what Laurie is up to. 

That time when I realised that balance comes from within

Balance has been one of the things that has eluded me in different ways throughout my adult life, whether it be physically or spiritually. The pendulum swings in different directions, with the emphasis on one specific area at any one given time.

Yoga has been one of the things that has brought this front and centre for me and has made me to start to look at it in a little more detail. When I started to practice yoga I literally could not balance. Whilst my strength and flexibility improved throughout the rest of my practice, I struggled to see improvement when it came to balance for a long time. The shift happened just recently, when suddenly I realised that my intense wobbles had begun to subside, and that the hard fought battle I have been fighting to find my balance has almost been won.

What changed? In yogic terms, that took the form of deep core training, and learning to lift my core from it’s very root at my pelvic floor, to stabilise the rest of my being. From the point of awareness, its taken me 12 months to really see a shift, 12 months to start to feel the benefit of this new focus and training.

This got me to thinking about balance more generally, and how actually, more often than not, it’s something that can’t be achieved overnight. We have to put in the ‘core’ work, to create the stability at the roots that we need to be able to grow.

Another example of this would be in terms of my relationship with work. When you love your job and want to do the very best you can at something, it is very easy to give all of yourself to it. In my first year at Shazam, I was guilty of that very thing. I gave so much of myself to my work, that I left no space for anything or anyone else, least of all me. I lost my balance.

Just like the core work in yoga, I needed to train myself over time to put the boundaries in place that meant I was able to achieve balance. Simple measures like; not arranging calls after a certain time of day and being prepared to leave things to be completed tomorrow. Though both of those took some fairly significant mental shifts within me; I had to address my desire to be perfect, and to do perfect work, my desire not to let people down, my desire to be perceived in the best possible light always.

How did I do that? By a lot of study of self, discussion with others in the form of coaching support, and also reading. The feelings don’t go away – I will always be a perfectionist – but I am now able to rationalise them and let them go when they appear. I am now able to be good enough, and not strive for the impossible bar of perfection, or at least what I perceive that to be.

Another example of losing balance would be my love of music. This love saw me at one time, attending up to three gigs a week. I lost my balance. I had allowed myself to be caught up in something that, rather than enriching me, had begun to deplete me. The greedy lust for new experiences, the rush of new music. I was exhausted.

The step change there came in the form of learning to say no. To me as much as everyone else – actually probably even more so. That change took a similar form to the one described above, my connecting to myself and putting better parameters in place. Sure enough, over time I have got much better at saying no.

I now stick to a bedtime that supports me, supports my early rises and creates the space in my world instead for things that enable me to grow; creating time for reading being one of them. I still go to gigs. I just make sure they are the ones I really want to see, and that I am not just there because I don’t want to miss out on something.

Balance isn’t about being perfect, or being hard on ourselves when we notice things are a little off. It’s just about being prepared to have an honest dialogue with ourselves, and do the ‘deep core’ work if there’s an area that needs some special attention.

My balance in yoga still is far from perfect, but that’s kind of the point, we don’t need to be perfect. Balance isn’t something fixed, it’s alive, just like we are. It’s something that’s ever fluid and evolving. We just need to be prepared to alter the weight on the scales when we feel ourselves dipping too deeply in one direction.

Navigating these little battles is just another part of being truly alive, and a beautiful part at that. As is embracing yourself as the perfectly imperfect human you truly are. For that’s been one of the most important things I have ever done.

That time when I learnt just how much can be gained by establishing a real connection

I had an amazing experience this weekend on a yoga course I attended.

Let’s cover the course first. Because it really is amazing. It’s called Sunday School Yoga, created by Michael James Wong and Emily-Clare Hill, and is a course built for new yoga teachers like me, people who are looking to find their way in teaching from a place of confidence, truth and strength. (DISCLAIMER: I am not leaving the HR world for yoga folks, just loving the synergy of operating in both spaces).

Given most of you guys aren’t yoga teachers, the contents of the course (however awesome) is not what this post is really about. It’s about the platform for learning that they created, and the wonderful learning experiences that unfolded because of this. And that’s something that I think we all can learn from. Especially us HR’ish types.

Day one of the course I left knowing the name of and caring about all 20 people that had been in the room with me. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that before. There’s usually a handful of likeminded people you gravitate towards and you make them your crew quite early on. In this case though, it really was as if everyone was in my crew.

There was no comparison, no jealousy, just a group of humans who were 100% rooting for one another. And no, it’s not because we were all yogis (though that may have added to it) – humans instinctively react to one another in certain ways, no matter how evolved we might be. What was there instead was total trust, which meant total honesty and vulnerability from us all.

So how did they do it?

  1. By asking us to introduce ourselves, bring an offering of fruit to the group, and asking to share something real about why we were there, why we teach yoga, what we felt about being there, and what we hoped to achieve.
  2. They gave us all something silly that represented our spirit animal.
  3. By asking us to draw a picture that represents who we are and asking us to stand up and explain it to everyone, like grown up ‘show and tell’.

Let’s break that down:

Standing up in front of a group to introduce yourself makes it more real, more memorable. Offering something to the group enables you to feel like you have something to give, even in a situation when you might feel like you are slightly out of your depth, it helps you to feel empowered.

Asking us to share some of our feelings about being there, teaching etc. gave us all a human voice, and enabled us to realise that most of us felt the same way as each other; vulnerable, nervous, a little out of our depth but excited and committed nonetheless.

So what was created there was an immediate connection. Taking us beyond the confines of our own sense of self and enabling us to connect to the people around us.

Part two was about breaking the mood, giving us something fun to think about, making us feel important and valued, by the mere fact that they had cared enough to give us a little welcome gift (rather hilariously, mine was a dog named Rufus, chosen at random; a legitimate nickname of mine from different people over the years. It was brilliant).

Then in part three, by asking us to draw something that represents us, it kind of unleashes the inner child. It was fascinating to see how different people interpreted that and the things that they chose to share about themselves. Explaining ourselves to one another in this way, and sharing a little part of what makes us who we are, or what is going on on the inside, meant that we were taken to an even deeper level of understanding of one another, and in turn, a deeper sense of connection. It was a great feeling. Like a bunch of school children proud to display their homework project.

The platform that these simple things created, took us to a deeper level that we were then able to build the foundations of our course (and our relationships with one another) from. Simple but profound.

I’d love to hear from anyone who is in learning and development (or otherwise) about the things that have worked for them before, and whether they have experienced being able to truly establish a similar platform for learning in such a short space of time.

And in the meantime, any budding yoga teachers out there, check out what the SSY guys are up to. It will probably be the best investment in your yoga career you will ever make.

That time when I was reminded that three is the magic number

Recently I have been reminded of three important lessons to live by;

  1. It is worth the effort.
  2. Breathing is everything.
  3. Say yes to things that challenge you.

I love to walk along the canal as often as I am able. It’s one of my favourite things to do, and when I do it, I smile with every cell in my body. When I am heading into town, I try to allow a little longer, so that I can at least skip along the canal and at least jump on the tube a couple of  stops further along the line.

When I walk I feel like I radiate sunshine sometimes, it’s as if my soul is drinking from the elixir of life. When I pass people, I often smile and say; ‘hello’. On one particular occasion recently, I was doing this very thing, at first not really conscious of what I was doing. Suddenly I became aware that the more people I passed, and the more eyes and souls I came into contact with, the more I saw a common theme in the eyes that met mine. After the initial surprise of being spoken to (it doesn’t always happen in big cities), what was left with a look of thankfulness, gratitude for having been seen, and gratitude for having been met with love.

I spent the first seven years of my life in the North of England, and this sort of practice is just what we do there. But it struck me in that moment that this was abundantly rare for these people.

Continuing my theme of connection at the moment, I saw just how much my connection could bring to others, in an incredibly small but real life way.

In the wonderful way that the Universe unfolds, I found myself at a charity yoga event hosted by Lululemon one evening the very same week, to celebrate the work of the Africa Yoga Project.

There we heard from the founder, Paige Elenson, who told us her ridiculously inspiring story that led her to founding this amazing organisation that teaches people to teach yoga across Africa; 250 teachers and rising. Paige is the person who reminded me of the three important lessons to live by.

The event started with a short film and as it opened the presenter made a comment that someone had asked him why they were bothering, and that ‘Africa needs a lot of things more than it needs yoga’. But you know what; it might need a ton of other things, but it definitely needs yoga too, and absolutely needs all the elements that come along with it.

Yoga as a platform for people to work themselves out of poverty through teaching, but even more so, yoga to provide a means of connection to our higher being, and to ultimately heal whatever it is you might need to heal to move forward in positive momentum.

I can’t even begin to imagine the lives the people in the video have led and what they have experienced, but I can feel how I’ve healed my own through the many different ways that I’ve been learning to connect to myself and in turn, to others.

After the film we all practiced together, a heart expanding connective practice, where we hugged, tickled one another, held hands to balance and generally supported one another in practice. We finished with back to back seated meditation, largely with people we’d never met before. It was stunning.

I recently realised that I’ve actually been becoming a yogi for a long time before actually stepping onto a yoga mat. In how I live, in how I eat, in how I treat others and most importantly; how I treat and regard myself. I had no idea all of it was ‘yoga’. I just did what felt right for me, which has meant that I’ve lived and practiced various forms of yoga over the past few years, just not physically and spiritually up until the past two, when I fell in love with yoga practice in its entirety.

The movement based asanas have given me a sense of personal freedom, of joy, of physical expression. They’ve awoken the playful goon in me that loves nothing more than spending the day trying to balance on my hands. Play through various forms of movement. And it’s so worth the effort. All of it.

The spiritual practice has happened on and off the mat, but largely through my deepening connection to myself, supported by the hands on healing work, coaching and incredible meditation practice I have learnt with Sara Williams at Spherical Living. Meditation has become a daily practice for me and my journey to stillness continues. At the heart of everything I truly am is my breath.

I have begun studying yoga as an art form, with the hope of sharing so much of the wonderfulness I have learnt, both on and off the mat, with others. People have been saying to me for a while that I would make a great teacher, but it took me a little while to talk myself into saying yes, and to take on the challenge of learning something new.

I have only been able to heal, because I have learnt the tools to heal myself. We can’t heal others, we can only support with love, and give them the space to learn and grow. No one could have walked this path for me or made it any easier. Only me. So my step on this path is one that will afford me the opportunity to offer others some new tools for their own toolboxes. I said yes. To all of it.

So you see this post is about so much more than yoga. It’s a reminder to all of us that everything we do is worth the best of us, it’s ALL worth the effort. And that by connecting to ourselves, our breath and our truth, that is the glue connects us to everything.

From that place of connection we have so much more space within us to support and love the people we interact with, the same space that will, in turn, also enable us to allow them the space they need to be who they truly are and where they truly need to be on their own journeys.

So make the effort. Breathe. And say yes.

To find out more about supporting the brilliant work of the Africa Yoga Project please take a moment to read a little more about them here.

That time when I learnt not to judge a book by its cover

We talk about ‘not judging a book by its cover’ all the time, but I have to confess, when I was asked by someone to read ‘The Dance of the Lion and the Unicorn’ by Mark Waller, my initial reaction was exactly that. I judged.

I tell you all this first, because I suspect some of you may well do the same. But read it I did. And rather brilliantly, in a superb lesson to me not to be so judgemental; it turned out to be incredible.

It’s about relationships. All of them. Looking at the way we relate to one another, romantically or otherwise. Let me explain.

The Lion and the Unicorn represent two very different human animals.

The Lion functions from a place of needing approval. They pick a parent early on as their main focus, usually one who is withholding approval or who is unavailable in some way; emotionally or otherwise. They confirm early on in themselves that they aren’t good enough, and set about re-proving this fact to themselves over and over again. They follow the pattern of seeking approval, recognition, acceptance and love throughout their later years. The Lion’s response to not having their needs met (or  to receiving criticism) is one of defiance. The Lion can appear angry and ferocious, but this is to mask the deep pain of taking everything personally, and a feeling of not belonging.

The Unicorn functions from a place of needing safety. They too pick a parent early on as their main focus, but usually the one who is more emotionally volatile. They then set about confirming that they will never make anyone happy, if they try to do something they will fail, they will be shouted at and rejected. They then start a pattern of avoidance, avoidance of any and all emotionally demanding situations. They will either make themselves invisible and unavailable, or placate the other person, promising whatever they think they want or need to make them go away, even if it’s a lie.

These two very different beasts often find themselves in relationships together. The Lion erupts, and appears more obviously aggressive, but the Unicorn may well have passively aggressively orchestrated the Lion’s rage. People express from a place of fear or safety, most of our reactions in life, whether Lion or Unicorn, are borne out of fear.

What we learn as children becomes the blueprint for the way we function in relationships, and our instinctive reactions to things. Ultimately all of us, regardless of age, can still be governed by this very early blueprint.

This is no one’s fault. There is no ‘blaming of parents’ to be had here. We are all expressing from a place of childhood imprinted fear, whatever age or role we take. This stuff is almost all beyond control, and can form behavioural patterns in children who have had seemingly wonderful upbringings. Me being one of those very creatures.

I am a Lion, and made looking for the love and approval my focus from a very young age. Even though the people around me loved me dearly; they didn’t always display it in the overt ways (at the exact moments) that my little Lion was looking for and, being a Lion, I took that personally.

Feeling that my need for approval wasn’t met repeatedly, I then played out a myriad of self destructive behaviours over the coming years. All the while supporting and confirming the belief that I had no value and no right to love and be loved. This lovelessness and self abuse peaked with my 12 year relationship with my ex husband – a relationship that confirmed my low self esteem, lack of self worth and general lovelessness on a daily basis.

This book completely explained the very core of that relationship to me. My ex husband was indeed a Unicorn. He would placate, avoid and keep himself at an emotional and physical distance from me and everyone else. He showed us what he thought we all needed and wanted, but he never showed us him, when the real ‘him’ was the only thing most of us truly wanted.

My Lion sent a frequent message to him; I take everything personally, and don’t deserve to be loved and valued. You can therefore treat me however you like, because that is what I deserve. I will get angry, you will then see me as unreasonable and will have a bigger excuse to avoid me further.

Now don’t get me wrong, myself and my ex husband were two people that should probably never have been together. But in looking back on that relationship as a case study when reading this book it really came across as text book stuff. Our relationship ended of my choosing, when I chose a different flow for my life moving forward. I chose love. I took a monumental leap of faith and decided to start all over again, six years ago.

But for those of you reading this, let me share some of the practical solutions that the book gives for Lions and Unicorns living together in perfect harmony. Something that I look forward to exploring in my future relationships, both personal and professional.

Understanding where one another are coming from really is key to building the forgiveness and acceptance needed to form a solid partnership. Seeing one another as their vulnerable inner child, and feeling genuine empathy with the pain that they are re-living, over and over again. When you become truly aware of this pain in a person you love, your natural response will be one of compassion for the other person. Embark on a journey of self analysis together. Read the book. Learn where your behavioural patterns were formed. Share with one another. Learn together. Grow.

The book maps out the following practical stages to dealing with each scenario as it manifests:

VALIDATION

Acknowledging the other person has a right their feelings and that, given their perception, those feelings make sense.

ACCEPTANCE

Accepting the other person’s defensive behaviour as being just that. Defence.

RESPONSIBILITY

Taking responsibility for our own feelings, acknowledging that they are about us and our own pain, as opposed to this specific situation.

ASKING FOR OUR NEEDS TO BE MET

Once you have a platform of understanding between one another, asking your partner for help with your feelings, and help to meet the emotional needs that go with them.

For example:

“The problem is not your behaviour. It’s my reaction. When I react, I’m feeling pain. Will you help me with my feeling?”

I’ll let Mark Waller summarise;

“Once our pain is out in the open, we can finally ask for and get what we want in the relationship. If we’ve been yearning for approval, recognition, acceptance, importance, a sense of equality, specialness, or closeness, we can now ask for it and our motivation will be clear. If we want closeness without the pressure and discomfort that comes from taking responsibility for the other person’s happiness, we can ask for it. If we want to feel safe and close at the same time, it will make sense. If we fear failure and want support, if we’re jealous and want reassurance, if we’re intimidated or overwhelmed and want space, we can request it. Suddenly things make sense.”

I don’t know about you guys, but that sounds pretty good to me.

 

That time I decided to get myself connected

One of the most important things I have been learning in the past 5 years, is to re-connect to myself. I lived in a disconnected state for many years, and I suffered during every one of them. When disconnected, it’s incredibly easy to wrap yourself up in ‘busy’ and pretend that everything around you (and within you) is rosy. 

The brain will often look for the path of least resistance, the thing that will cause us the least immediate ‘stress’, but seldom considering the long term impact. The body though, is there to send us the deepest of messages and if we ignore it we are never really in tune with who we are. If you let it, the brain will win each and every time.

I used to think that the major disconnection happened for me when I was 19 and chose to attach myself to the wrong person. Given I was with that person for 12 years, and only got married after 8 years together, it could be natural to assume that it all suddenly went wrong after we got married.

The truth though, is that it was always the wrong relationship, and I was already disconnected. If I had been able to listen to the different parts of my body then, I would have realised quickly that this wasn’t the right choice for me and I would have changed it. Instead I swallowed the awkward feeling I felt in the pit of my stomach and carried on regardless, ignoring my instinct.

My body deteriorated gradually over the years, my weight fluctuated wildly, my skin was often in a bad state and I became a shadow of the person that I used to be. I chose to keep myself suspended in a state of lovelessness, physically and mentally and treated myself cruelly.

I’ve talked to you before about the different forms of inspiration I met in the form of people, who inspired me to live differently. Meeting those people sparked something in my brain that went against the way that I was living, and those thoughts ended up manifesting themselves physically. Shortly before I left my ex husband, I was physically unwell, with chest pains, intense tiredness and other minor aches and pains. My body had become tired of being silenced, and was starting to scream at me. The feeling in the pit of my stomach, became voices in my head that got louder and louder until I had no choice but to listen. And I left. 

In the years since then, through starting to make loving choices, my connection to my body has been re-established, and is forever deepening. Through my decision not to consume any form of stimulants whatsoever around three years ago, now when my body speaks to me, I can hear it. When I am tired I know I need to rest, when I ache in certain parts of my body, I consider why that is, and what my body is telling me. Also, and even more importantly, I am learning how to listen. Rest is not something that comes naturally to me, so I emphasise the word learning here!

Around the time I left my ex husband, I also turned off many media outlets and their influence on my brain. I’d spent the previous 10 years as an utter TV addict, watching something at every available opportunity. If I wasn’t watching I was reading, but never anything of any substance, just crappy magazines or newspapers. All of it was white noise. White noise to distract my brain and further re-enforce the disconnection from my body.

Turning off meant learning to spend time truly ‘with me’ and to be prepared for whatever that might expose in me. When the time came though, it wasn’t even a decision. The desire to fill my brain entirely with anything other than me had gone.

I’d like to tell you that it has all been as simple as that, but it hasn’t been. Sure, feeding myself with crappy TV and magazines was definitely not to be my future, but the brain is a tricky little fellow, and over the years I have discovered new and seemingly more positive forms of distraction; music, art and the internet at large.

Now these things are truly wonderful, and a true blessing in my world. But I have recently become aware of where those things have become my new ‘Big Brother’, the thing that I place in the way of me truly connecting to me. Things I will sacrifice my rest and general well being for.

Being an all or nothing kind of person, it’s important that I keep a check on myself and ask; what is my reason for doing something and is distraction at the heart of it.

Listening to music when walking/travelling is a big one. Music is my drug. When I listen to it, at times I am completely lost. When I am dialled into it, I might as well be walking through the world with my eyes closed. In being so connected to the music this can sometimes mean disconnecting from me. The thing I am working on right now, is spending as much time as possible connected to me and living as the truest version of myself.

That isn’t to say I don’t listen to music when I move around anymore. But when I do, I am choosing to listen and enjoy, and not just use it as a form of distraction. On the days when I am feeling a little low, or perhaps not quite ‘me’, I choose now to move around in relative silence to support my connectedness and be fully present in the moment.

It’s amazing, when you watch the world around you,  you start to become aware of just how disconnected we all are. One glance around a tube carriage will show you that. Distraction has become our modus operandi and almost entirely caused by consumption; mind, body and soul.

Stillness is key. As is learning to respect and honour the natural ebb and flow of your body, and its natural rhythm as much as possible. To re-connect we need to SLOW down and BREATHE. Sounds simple right? It isn’t. I’m sure I am not the only person that finds this hard.

Here are some of the meditations I have found most supportive, via UniMed Living – a constant source of positive inspiration for me. Stillness, just like most things, is something you have to keep practising in order to get better at, and I am definitely prepared to put in the work.

That time when I discovered that exercise is amazing

As a young person, I loved to move around. A lot. But I was also rebellious, so aside from dancing in nightclubs that I was far too young to be in (I love you Bristol), I ignored all forms of exercise during education, only discovering the gym in my late teens. I loved classes, and decided to qualify as an aerobics instructor (yes this is really true) at the age of 17 and set up my own gym one day. Strangely though, once I had the qualification, I never ended up teaching. Instead I moved to London to start University, and set up camp for the rest of my adult life so far.

I joined and left gyms over the years, always with the best of intentions, but my infatuation was almost always short lived. Until now. Now exercise is as much a part of my daily life as eating and sleeping. So how did I get there? Little by little. You can’t swallow the watermelon whole, you have to cut it into slices (favourite saying alert!).

We get used to what we are living in, and so do our bodies. Ultimately, exercise is hard work, and when we are used to taking it easy, our bodies become greedy in that sense, and want us to stay that way. Falling in love with movement has been a gradual process for me, a gradual build up of activity. Start small. You might just love it and keep adding bits in. That’s what happened for me.

I’ve told you all about my weight loss, and how I always thought that being slim, confident and happy with my body was something that only ‘other people’ could be. Well, even when I lost the weight, I never believed that I would ever have a ‘fit body’. Other people had abs and toned limbs, not me. It was therefore never an aim, because I simply didn’t think it was even an option.

At first my movement took the form of walking. A lot. To and from work (where I could), 3 hour walks around London. Whatever it was, I walked it.

In 2012, once the dust had settled post divorce, I fell in love with dancing again. It became my mission to dance as much as possible. Dance for me is almost always solo, and is the time when I feel truly free. I also love watching others dance. Learning routines has never been my thing, for me its about free movement, whatever that looks like. I dance wherever I can and like no one is watching – in the street, on the bus, at a gig, in my house, basically anywhere.

In love with movement again, this time last year, I started to discover other forms of exercise. My inspiration this time came in the form of my now friend, Knolly. We met in passing at the Tabernacle, and he invited me to join his new Monday night boxing circuits class, BoxWest. I went, and fell in love with their family style, full of love approach to working out, cheering each other on. They quickly adopted me as one of their own. The class is brutal but wonderful, I have never left one without a huge smile plastered across my face.

Around this time, various people had been talking to me about cycling. Cycling had always felt to me like something ‘other, braver people do’, but my interest had been piqued. It was my friend Clarissa who encouraged me to get on a Boris bike, early one Sunday morning in May. I was smitten. I spent the next 8 weeks Boris biking to work, and finally got my own bicycle. I love it, it makes me feel truly alive. It’s also helped me to overcome my intimidation of being on the roads in general, so now feel much more confident about driving than I ever did before. I cycle as often as I am able – even with the challenges of cycling vs hairstyles (= true commitment).

I decided around this time, that I want to be as fit and strong as I can possibly be. The best possible physical version of myself. Inspired by a number of people I met who worked out regularly, I joined Portobello Green gym. There I discovered 2 important new loves: Capoeira and Ashtanga yoga. This gym is awesome. I pay under £30 a month for unlimited classes. And in both of these new activities I discovered 2 new families.

Capoeira, I adore. The training is very tough but the experience is wonderful. For those that don’t know what it is, check out this Wiki link. My group is Abada Capoeira, led by Nelio Rodrigues. The group quickly adopted me and, true to Capoeira tradition, gave me the nickname of  Peaches (due to me announcing one day that I bruise like a peach). Sadly, I suffered a knee injury in practice last year that I am still recovering from, so I have been out of practice for 6 months. But I will be back.

Ashtanga Yoga has absolutely been the right yoga for me, but everyone is different. It’s incredibly dynamic, and very challenging, but from joining this class (led by Nils Thomas), I was inspired to start to learn self practice, so that I can do yoga whenever I want to. I have been learning since last summer and am still very much a beginner, I but I am overwhelmed and inspired by how far my practice has come within that time. I practice 2-3 times a week on average.

Next came Kayla Itsines. Another introduction via Clarissa. Kayla is a wonder woman from Australia, and her inspirational movement and fitness programme is followed by millions of women worldwide. I was already fit, but the strength I have gained through doing her programme each week has been awesome. It’s essentially circuits, on a handy e-book that I keep on my phone. I do 3-4 sessions a week and have done so since last summer.

They work for me because you can do them anywhere and they only take 40 ish mins. You don’t even need all the kit if you don’t have it, I just started where I was with what I had. Most of the stuff is using your own body weight to train you, so that’s all you really need to get going. I wake up early, and most days do the circuits in my own front room, before getting ready and heading to work. Yes folks, it really is that straight forward, but don’t be fooled; the sessions are hard.

In writing this I can’t fail to notice the common thread here – families. I have unearthed little pockets of love, that I can choose to be engulfed in, whenever I need to. I had a terrible day at work last week, and heading to boxing with Knolly and the boys literally changed my whole perspective again.

So whether you want to join a gym, or whether you prefer to be outside or inside, there really is something for everyone out there. Don’t be afraid to try new things. You will meet new people, and people you might never have met otherwise. An jnd if that isn’t your thing, maybe walk more, maybe cycle, or maybe try Kayla at home. Find your groove, whatever that is, and revel in it.

If any of you would love to move around more, and want to ask me any questions about literally ANYTHING here, please get in touch. I’d be delighted to help you however I can.

That time when I lost 2.5 stone

I want to share with you all another part of my story, and my journey to towards trying to be the best possible version of myself. This part is physical. You can see the journey clearly here in pictures. But I feel it is important to explain some of those steps in detail, and this was a big one.

In 2008 I was living in deep unhappiness. I am 5 foot 1 (and a half) and I weighed 10 and a half stone. That’s a lot for a little person. My vision of myself was so skewed, that I carried this extra weight with me, resigned to the fact this was what happened to people when they got older. I was 28.

Me, 2007-2008
This was me then. Aside from the difference in weight, the biggest difference for me here is the lack of sparkle behind my eyes, when I thought these were some of my happiest moments.

The first inspiration for this journey came in the form of my dear friend Emily in 2007. She oozed beauty and confidence in the most inoffensive way, though of course at first this was a completely alien concept to me. She encouraged me to start to taking care of myself in simple ways – whether that be starting to wear a little make up, starting to moisturise my skin and generally starting to show myself a little bit of love. This might sound pretty basic, but when we have lost all love for ourselves, these little acts become incredibly significant.

She also encouraged me to start to spend a little bit of money on myself. This in itself was pretty revolutionary, up until that point I spent everything I earned on my life with my ex husband, and trying to provide whatever he wanted, crazy huh? Let me also be clear here – I don’t blame him for this – we are both responsible for creating the relationship that grew between us, both as giver and as taker.

Meeting Emily was incredibly significant to me, because up until that time, I had been strong enough to keep everyone else out. But she was relentless, and kept gently pushing me out of my comfort zone, gently opening my eyes a little further with each push. I resisted at first, fighting to stay inside the prison I had created for myself. One of those pushes made me leave a job in 2008.

I had tried yoyo diets, fads and fixes throughout my 20’s, and by this time had resigned myself to just being a ‘curvier person’, other people could feel confident and happy with their bodies, I just wasn’t to be one of them. At my new job I met someone who was doing Weight Watchers. After 6 months of being inspired by her strength, in 2009 I decided to give it a go.

Weight Watchers has it’s critics, but for me it was revolutionary. By learning what was in the food I was consuming and the impact it was having on my body, I completely re-programmed my relationship with food. I’d spent my 20’s consumed by guilt at every meal. Now I make great food choices, and that means I exist (almost) guilt free in that sense.

It worked for me because I liked the structure and keeping track of what I was consuming made it real. I had been mainly cooking ‘healthy’ home cooked meals for my ex husband and I, but I would give us both an equal amount of food. He was 6 foot 3 and 17 stone – you get the picture! I also simply hadn’t realised what a person of my size was meant to consume in a day, and how much of that allowance something like the occasional muffin here and there would consume.

I thought that I was eating things in moderation – it was a stark learning for me to realise I was actually over eating. It was hard for the first few weeks of the programme, and you learn quickly how to make good food choices that will make you feel fuller longer, and not to let yourself feel hungry at all, as that can lead to temptation.

Once I got going, the programme was great. I never had a cheat day and followed the programme to the letter. Starving yourself doesn’t work, you have to give your body enough fuel to keep it running properly. This programme made me realise that.

After 6 months I had lost 2.5 stone and reached my goal. I went from a big size 12, to a size 6-8. I stuck to the programme for a further 18 months though and maintained my weight at 8 stone. Looking back, I honestly believe that is because I welcomed the structure it gave me. I had no control of the behaviour of my ex husband as it spiralled out of control, and I think having this kind of control provided me with some form of salvation from that. This level of control is not healthy or sustainable long term, and I have now found a better balance.

During this time I also didn’t go exercise mad by the way (that’s come later haha, and I will make that a separate post at some stage) I just walked as often as I was able and gradually re-discovered my love for moving my body around. Through my friendship with Emily, I also began to re-discover my love of dancing – something else I had completely forgotten in my 20’s.

I stopped counting my ‘points’ when I left my ex husband, and lost the need to be in such tight control of that part of my existence. I have re-visited the programme at times when I have felt my weight creeping up. But have happily fluctuated from 8 to 8 and a half stone for the last 6 years. I am still ‘curvy’ but in a way that compliments my petite frame. I am healthy and happy, and am completely comfortable with my consumption, on every level.

With Emily and Meredith, being brought out of my shell, and with my family on my 30th.
These were all take shortly after around 2009-2010. I’m here with Emily (and our other friend Meredith), being gradually coaxed out of my shell, lastly and with my family on my 30th birthday.

My weight loss though was an extremely important part of my journey towards really loving me. When I lost the weight, my self esteem sky rocketed. I still didn’t see myself as beautiful yet, but I did at least start to take more pride in my appearance, and bought some new clothes, and started to see myself as a girl I didn’t recognise and one that people noticed.

That part was hard for me to handle at first. My ex husband was very jealous and controlling, so I didn’t welcome this new attention on a conscious level, it freaked me out. I also felt sad that people hadn’t look at me in this way in my previous form, and grieved for her almost. Subconsciously though, my self esteem was rising. I was walking taller, and conducting myself in a more confident way. That was what people were seeing, and that’s why they were noticing me. I was starting to walk with myself again, I just didn’t know it yet.

If I hadn’t lost the weight, and experienced this lift in self esteem, and the change in the way I saw myself, I might never have left my ex husband at all. If I hadn’t, my life (and eyes) most definitely wouldn’t sparkle in the way that it does (and they do). All of this stems from pockets of inspiration from other people (and pushes in some cases haha). Taking inspiration from one another is so so important, and I continue to do so every single day.

Remember also that we are all different, and that different things work for different people. But please remember that, we can all be whatever we want to be. Don’t write things off thinking that they are just things that other people can/do/be. Anything is possible, with the right mindset.