Accidental techie (3): Transference California

Transfer effects, The Design of Everyday Things

[part 2]

In the ’90s I went to my first international conference to present some research. It was very exciting. I stayed in a hotel near Stanford University and got to walk about across the huge campus everyday.

At the drinkies on the first night, I ended up at the wrong ones. I seemed to be at a 20-year reunion which took me a while to realise as I was there thinking: I don’t remember all these people from today. They were very nice about it and we laughed as I squeezed through the hedge to the AI crowd. It turned out that my really nice wine glass stood out amongst everyone else’s plastic cups and it made for a nice ice-breaker.

At the drinks, I met two PhD students from Cambridge University who had planned a road trip when the conference was over and asked what I was going to do. Of course, I hadn’t planned anything, but I didn’t have to fly back out from L.A. for another seven days. So, they invited me to go along with them which I did and had a fabulous time. We saw everything San Francisco, Yosemite, Berkeley, Las Vegas, The Grand Canyon, Death Valley. California, baby! It was great fun and I was sad to say goodbye when they dropped me off at the airport.

I can’t really imagine doing that now. I have been a married sensible woman and mother for so long that the idea of jumping into the back of a car to drive all round California with two men I’ve just met is just so alien to me now, set as I am in my small life in it’s routine (yawn), that I can hardly remember how it seemed so easy and so natural. I wonder what happened to them, did they finish their PhDs? Did they get jobs? Stay in academia? I can’t even remember their surnames to google them. Although, I did have a bit of a crush on one of them (the nice one), I’ll be honest I used to google – well search online, was it Yahoo? – for him a bit afterwards.

But, on the last day of the conference when they offered to take me with them, I remember getting my things together whilst feeling really stressed. What if they went without me? What if they changed their minds? What if they thought it was a terrible idea?

As it was they turned up early and helped negotiate my hotel bill, I remember the louder one of them saying: Her going I am going to charge you an extra day for no reason, is that ok? is like: I am going to punch in the face, is that ok? And I was so grateful for his loudness. He told her that no she couldn’t charge me for an extra day for no reason, and no, it was not ok.

Several days later as we were standing in Death Valley, he wanted us to run about on the sandy earth barefoot to see how it felt. I didn’t want to, but he set up a series of stepping stones, like a towel and a book and stuff, and he was like: Go on try. And, I again I didn’t really want to but since he and his mate had already, I did too. I was part way through when he removed everything and took my shoes so that I had no choice but to run all the way back to the car over the boiling hot sand, but when I got there, he drove off, and there I was left in the middle of Death Valley. It felt like an eternity and I had that ground falling away feeling and a sickness in my stomach. They drove back round and were laughing. I got into the car and asked for my shoes, I was too choked up to speak.

I grew up right at the foot of the Cleveland Hills, you could see them from my bedroom, not too far from the part known as California as the local Iron Ore Rush was a bit like the Californian Gold Rush, so the story goes. On Sundays, my dad would tell everyone to get ready for a walk up the hills. But so many times, my brothers and my dad would set off without me. I would come downstairs all ready and excited to go and they would have already gone leaving me with that ground falling away and sick feeling. My mum would say: Oh but they looked everywhere for you. Yeah, like there was anywhere to hide in the two-up two-down on the council estate we all called Cardboard City.

Years later they told me that they would say: Shhh let’s sneak off before Ruth gets downstairs, and when I said that it was cruel, my dad said: Oh but you were such a whinger, and he didn’t want to have to carry me home when I got tired. I remember everyone laughing and making it clear in no uncertain terms that my feelings and opinions didn’t matter, I was to shut up and stop crying. In fact my mother’s favourite line was: You’ll never get through life if you cry like that, Ruth.

I cannot think who I am more disappointed in: My mum for going along with it, or my dad for being so feeble as to not hold an honest conversation with his only daughter. I am amazed I trust anyone at all, or perhaps that it’s, perhaps I don’t trust anyone, really, whether I’ve known you all my life or for the last five minutes, you may still lie to me and sneak off, or pretend to leave me stranded in a place where I would die, as a joke, how funny, and then laugh at my tears.

Psychologists call it transference when you transfer a past experience to a present one. I am sitting here all a bit trembly as I think about it, about how abandoned I felt at the bottom of Death Valley, which was really just a revisiting of being left behind whilst everyone was up the hills. And, I am so sorry for baby Ruth and how her parents thought it was a good idea to make the whole family complicit in a lie whilst encouraging their baby girl to believe that it was her own fault and that she just wasn’t enough. Wow!

Not long after I started my first lecturing position, the only other woman in the department came in and asked me if she could lecture my course instead of me: But what am I supposed to do and why was I hired if you can teach my courses? It baffles me even now. She certainly didn’t go around asking the men of the department whether she could do their jobs for them. She probably thought she couldn’t, but that she could do mine, ‘cos how hard could it be, right? I remember her calling meetings and forgetting to invite me, and criticising me for the most random of things. I don’t even remember asking her why she was so focused on me? I was just so used to that feeling of being uncertain and wrong footed around other women, that it felt familiar. Like the men go about the world doing things and don’t have to explain anything to me, I don’t count, I am uninvited, and the women are in their own sub-culture not quite telling the truth, fighting over a limited amount of resources, the crumbs left over from the men, with the unsaid message: This is the way it is. I think again, my transference.

In my 2nd year undergraduate, I shared a house with three girls. One night, we went to the pub in the car. On the way home, they all went out to get the car whilst I was still in the pub looking for my umbrella. Of course, when I went to outside to get into the car, yep, you’ve guessed it, they’d left without me. That wasn’t the first time I felt wrong-footed when I lived with them but it was the last.

I moved out shortly afterwards, and another female asked me if I would get a place with her. I said that I would, glad that I had a plan. We went home for the holidays and she wrote to me several times to remind me of the plan. When I went back to Liverpool, she was unreachable. I learnt a couple of days later that she had moved into my old room. Dearie me. What is wrong with an honest conversation? The friend who was driving the car never forgave me for moving out, and told me when she bumped into me not long after that I would never have any friends, that I would be lonely and alone: You know that’s your worst fear. I didn’t know that it was my worst fear, and sitting here today, I am wondering how much did I contribute to these upsets with my transference. Ssssh let’s sneak off before Ruth gets here.

Interestingly, the woman who wanted my job wrote to me some years later to apologise for her behaviour, and wanted to meet for lunch. And, then not long after that another woman with whom I had done some consultancy wrote a similar email, I wasn’t very nice to you, she wrote, Let’s meet for lunch. I hadn’t really gotten that upset about that one, I just thought she was a bit weird, a bit frosty. I guess I was so used to that funny feeling of shifting sands around women, who are not telling you the truth but you can’t quite put your finger on it. It’s such a familiar feeling, that I guess it feels like home. My auntie who died recently, used to regularly phone me up and tell me that my mother didn’t like me, which I think she thought would help me.

I still get transference, why wouldn’t I? I am trying these days to be, as they say, the sacred witness to myself. I take a breath to get beyond that sinking feeling and ask for clarification. If someone has done me wrong or been unprofessional and it has a negative impact on me, I will speak up. Often I do it as an experiment because I am still grappling with that idiotic voice inside myself which tells me that my feelings and opinions don’t matter, and I am not enough. And, also I have a very firm rule: If someone laughs when I cry then they are not very nice. No flex on that one.

I wonder then, if that is why I went into tech. Is that why I find technology so comforting? You see, when I am sitting in front of a computer, it doesn’t press all my buttons, and when I press its buttons, even the wrong ones, it really doesn’t mind, we can reboot and start again, it doesn’t make me wrong about who I am, it doesn’t want my stuff, or my job, or my boyfriend, it doesn’t criticise me, or tell me not to be me, it doesn’t sneak off when I leave the room, and it definitely doesn’t lie to me.

Oh my, how I love computers.

The accidental techie (2) : The uninvited

Rider Waite Tarot Ten of Swords

[ part 1 ]

The reason I wrote the last blog, aside from to entertain myself, was to ask: What makes a woman choose STEM?

I couldn’t answer this question even after reading the research, so I thought that I would start with me. After all, I am a woman, I didn’t want to go into tech, but have had a lovely time.

I already envisaged doing an overview about my undergraduate degree and the lovely men with whom I studied. In fact two of those men read the first blog soon after I pressed publish, shared it and then shared their experiences of Liverpool. I was joyful and glad they had reached out and joyful that I knew these friends, my male friends. I have always thought that I was an exception to the conclusions I came to during my Women series blogs. Lucky me!

So imagine my surprise on Saturday night when another man who was, at times during our four years in Liverpool, my best friend, posted a picture of these lovely male friends of mine on Facebook, out in the pub in Liverpool, enjoying a reunion to which I hadn’t known anything about. I was the uninvited.

I studied the photograph to see that there he was with eleven other men including the two men who had been so keen to let me know how they felt about my blog, but hadn’t been keen at all to tell me how they were all meeting up in two days time at a reunion for my course. That’s the kicker – they called it a reunion – the thoughtless, thoughtless men. And, then there was the bloke that everyone thinks is a dickhead, even he got an invite!

Today, I got an message from another man on the picture, trying to make light of it: It was just an oversight, we feel collectively guilty, you are a main member of the group, next time, smiley emoji, jokey-joke, I’m a great guy who treats everyone equally, don’t turn it into a feminist issue, thus really adding insult to injury.

It was the word collective which really triggered me. I have blogged about male group think in the workplace – women are not even seen, let alone considered – and silly woman I am, I blogged all that, all the while thinking how lucky I was to have a nice group of male colleagues with whom I studied and who were respectful and did see me. Little did I know, I was the uninvited, and not only that, I was then subjected to a #mansplaining message for me to not take on so, not overreact, don’t be that hysterical woman. Oh God, Ruth’s moaning again.

My best friend got it, or at least did a good impression of someone who got it last night, before the Ruth’s upset message he circulated which encouraged the other bloke to patronise me. He agreed that they are all thoughtless, thoughtless men, because a similar thing had happened to his son a couple of months ago and he is now one angry dad. I am sorry about his son too because a similar thing is happening to my youngest too at school.

She has a group of boys as friends who already practice social exclusion based on gender. Her best friend won’t invite her round on a playdate because he is worried that the other boys will make fun at him. I only got this information because I asked the boy’s mother directly and now I am angry too.

This mother hasn’t got the gumption to step in and parent her boy into being a respectful empathetic human being. Instead she and all the other boys’ parents are teaching them that it is fine to exclude girls, hurt their feelings and behave however the hell they like, one of the little charmers is forever calling my girl stupid and dumb. She had her birthday recently and she didn’t want him there, and yet he still turned up but had the good sense to get back into his car and get driven home. I don’t know which of his parents thought that was a good idea, but it broke my heart to see him put in that position, although there was no way he was coming in.

The irony is that the mothers of these boys would all describe themselves as feminists. Three of them have told me stories on the playground about the way they have suffered because of male groupthink, being passed over for promotion, and ousted out of jobs without any discussion because the discussion took place amongst the men probably in the pub when the women were not invited.

They have let my daughter down in an enormous way and by not teaching their boys how to respect girls, they are letting their sons down in an enormous way too. I am so disappointed in them.

We all have to take a collective hand in order to stop propagating the patriarchal patterns of females being the uninvited. It seems to be that these mothers have not even made the connection between their jobs and their sons and that one day these boys will be men who will treat them with no respect too. Feminism starts at home.

I tell my little girl through her tears that there is nothing wrong with her, she didn’t do anything wrong, nor should she try harder. The wrong lies with these parents who are teaching their boys that it is fine to take no responsibility for the impact they have on anyone around. They are socialising their boys to disrespect their female friends. Shame on them.

And all I can say, uninvited woman that I am, is that if my daughter is consistently and systematically shown by these little boys that her feelings are not important, then she has to take herself elsewhere and entrust her feelings to friends who will show respect and consideration for them. Otherwise she will end up like me crushed by a picture on Facebook.

Like the beautiful TEN OF SWORDS above, I am face down in the mud, but I will recover, the sun is already rising, and I will get up, it’s just that when I do, I will be scarred forever by the thoughtless, thoughtless men I thought were my friends but in fact were not thinking of me, at all.

[ part 3 ]

The accidental techie

In one of the first lectures I ever gave, I realised that I was actually cupping my left breast as I talked. Horrified, I had to nonchalantly put my hand down and act like someone who always fondles her breasts in public.

To be fair, I was explaining to 2nd year undergraduates how a breast cancer biopsy could be performed using a head-mounted display, augmented reality, baby, and since I was still new to lecturing and had an out-of-body experience every time I stood up in front of anyone, I could have been doing anything and not noticed. It was only when I got distracted by a couple of lads in the front row tittering away, as it were, that I realised what I was doing, and tried not to become consumed by my self-consciousness, I just had to press on and get to the end of that lecture.

I couldn’t even get irritated with them because as an undergraduate, me and a mate used to do impressions of one of our lecturers who would hold onto his pecs when considering the complexities of the formal languages: OBJ and Z. We would howl with laughter. Little did I know, that lo and behold, I would be there a few years later doing exactly the same thing.

Soon after Boobgate, I had a professor sit in one of my lectures to assess me as part of the teaching and learning course I was doing. He was astonished at the attendance I had. He had lectured the same group of students earlier in the term and was amazed that they were all still coming to mine. I didn’t like to say that they probably turned up to see what I would get up to next.

In the previous lecture, I had stepped backwards and cried out: Arrrgh, arrgh, arrgh, as I waved my arms around. For some reason, I fully expected to go crashing down off the stage. However, when I didn’t fall, I stopped flailing and turned to see what had happened. There was at least another foot of stage behind me. I smoothed my dress down and pressed on regardless as if to say: Well who doesn’t do a quick impression of someone falling off the stage before moving onto their next slide?

The professor gave me some really helpful feedback afterwards and asked during the lecture if I meant Gameboy when I said Playboy. I was explaining how to turn a Gameboy into an amateur head-mounted display. Gah, I do have a tendency when under stress, and particularly when trying to impress, to say the wrong word, especially if it’s a word I don’t use very often.

One time, I was at an alumni event in the House of Lords and was talking about traffic calming. Everyone was speechless until a lovely man stepped forward and said in his beautiful RP, I think the word you are looking for is boll-ard.

I’d been talking about road bollocks for at least 10 minutes.

I never set out to become a lecturer in computing. In fact I hadn’t set out to become anything, least of all in computing. Originally, I just wanted to go to university.

I came up with the idea to study English Literature after watching Educating Rita, (1983) but I didn’t get the grades I needed (three ‘A’s) and I didn’t have the money to get my ‘A’ Level History remarked, which everyone else did and is one of my few regrets, since everyone went up at least one grade. Nor, did I want to resit, I had been there, done that. I was keen to get on with my life but decided that I wanted to do something different as I was beginning to question how useful French, History and English Literature were. They couldn’t even get me on a course and I have a ‘B’ in English Literature. So, taking some random advice about applying to courses which had loads of space in the clearing list, I ended up on a computing degree at Liverpool Polytechnic.

My dad (who had left school at 16, my mum, 14) asked me the night before I was due to leave: Are you not worried about starting a degree in something you know nothing about? Me, with the breathtaking dazzling confidence of my 18 year-old self, said, Course not, how hard could it be? At which point, everyone reminded me of all the times I had said that when I hadn’t prepared for something and gone out and failed.

I spent my first night in temporary accommodation at the real university in a block which overlooked the street and indeed road sign of Strawberry Fields, which was painted on the wall, so it couldn’t get nicked. I think I must have gone down to dinner, I don’t really remember but I got talking to a load of part-time masters students somehow who were staying in the same halls and took me off to the pub. They were on a study-week as they were all fully grown up and working and so took the opportunity to give me lots of advice and beer whilst they reminisced about their time as students.

The next day, excited and fuzzy headed, I went off to the accommodation office, I thought they would give me keys instead they gave me a list of landlords and told me to get some 10p pieces. Charming.

It took a couple of days but I found a place and a friend. She was one cool chick with whom I kept crossing paths, so when she was in the phone box ahead of me, it felt like a sign. I waited for her to come out and introduced myself. We teamed up, found a place together, and became firm friends as we began our new lives.

Sometimes, I dream that I am back in Liverpool. I am always looking for a place to stay or searching for a friend. I welcome this recurring dream now, because it is a shift in my consciousness which signals to my heart that I will wake up to something new.

On that first morning it was to wonder why some Japanese tourists were taking pictures of a wall, but I took it to mean that there’s magic in the most unlikeliest of places and people, and proceeded through my day with that intention.

Sometimes I feel naive and silly to think the way I do. I feel like I’ve just been caught accidentally holding my breast in public and I will get distracted and won’t finish what I’ve started, but when I worry that I might fail I remember 18-year-old me shrugging and saying: Course not, how hard can it be?

And with a breathtaking dazzling confidence that I still dream about, I ask myself: Indeed, how hard can it be?

[ part 2 ]

The inner life: Tarot and technology

The other day I read this tweet: I just assume people who don’t have a twitter account have no inner life. I laughed a lot and got to thinking.

Lately, I have been contemplating my inner life using tarot instead of twitter and, I like it. I did a tarot course back in January at Treadwell’s and ever since, instead of picking up my phone first thing when I wake up on a morning, I pick up the tarot.

I have written thousands of words about technology, in particular social media, and the advantages it gives us, the connection, the reassurance, and that it is popular because we all want to be experienced, that we all want to be seen and heard and to feel that we matter. But I am beginning to see that it has to begin with ourselves. We need to see and hear ourselves, we need to have a space to be able to express ourselves without interruption and feel received, which is hard to do online.

When I give a tarot reading, I am giving my full attention to someone for them to be seen and heard and to talk about what matters to them. In a normal day, how often do we do that for other people? How often does someone do that for us? And, does that ever happen on social media? That interesting broadcasting to no one in particular model which is so compelling and yet at times, so indifferent. We don’t know if someone has heard, or if anyone is listening as you cannot be a silent comforting presence on twitter.

I have had magical conversations online with people before I’ve even met them, but they are few and far between. Most social media isn’t like that and from a person to person point of view, to feel seen and heard online, social media works best in a: Here is my news until we meet next. It is not a complete replacement. We need the physical, the being experienced and we cannot be present for others unless we are present to ourselves which is difficult to do if we are permanently distracted by seeking consolation in our phones, for we take ourselves away from our lives, which is for better or worse, where we need to be in order for us to be able to define who we are.

Of course there are times when we need to escape – we used to do that with a book – or we need to physically be somewhere else and that is when technology helps. It can get us to connect where there is just a void and in the moments when you can’t get to be somewhere to say goodbye – perhaps forever – then technology can make a moment happen by compressing time and space and for that it is a blessing. Ironically, the only reason I am writing this blog is because I read a tweet and got inspired.

But for the inner life, to connect back to oneself where there’s only a void which needs filling; that Sehnsucht : (German) yearning or inconsolable longing which sometimes happens, or perhaps, as as someone else tweeted today, that Hiraeth: (Welsh) Homesickness for a home that you cannot return to; grief for the lost places of your past. Those feelings are hard to manage using technology, though knowing other people have them too can help. Personally, I hate the idea that someone else is feeling as miserable as I am, especially if I can’t help, and if, they have typed out a whole scary story which doesn’t end well. Staring at a tarot card which embodies that feeling until I see other things on the card as the feeling dims and hope returns is a more calming way for me to manage as I hate the vulnerability hangover which comes from oversharing online.

Growing up, the tarot was always a bit of a taboo, right up there with the oujia board. (Does anyone try to contact the dead with technology? I wonder! ) I grew up in the Church of England which frowned upon my dad’s spiritualist community, which in turn took a dim view of ‘occult’ practices like tarot. My dad was quite clear on not dabbling with things you didn’t know about, but that was after his automatic writing phase in the cupboard under the stairs where the gas meter was kept. I think now perhaps there was a bit of a leak which caused the visions.

But given that he was pretty eccentric and into the scary esoteric – like those days when the seances in the front room got out of hand – I got the impression that tarot was something way, way out, which begged the question: Who the hell did tarot?

After going on the course now I know: People like me, that’s who. Normal people who are curious and want a different way to think about things. Some of the lovely people I met were into Jungian Psychoanalysis and social work and saw the tarot as a way to communicate. The tarot, and cards and games are as old as time itself and we connect to others through them and then back to ourselves to make sense of the world.

The tarot has 78 cards, 22 of which are the major arcana embodying the archetypes of life, the events, feelings and situations we all experience whether we like it or not: birth and death, love and fear, loneliness and happiness, and so on. Archetypes bring an energy to our stories and to our design processes, and stories and design (as in games or cards or indeed technology) are the way in which we communicate and how we change the world in real life or online. The minor arcana represent the cycles our mind, body, spirit and emotions go through and the court cards represent aspects of our personality or other people. All of it only has meaning because we give it meaning.

So say I pull out DEATH XIII in any reading, most people, myself included, will be able to look at their lives and see that there will be somewhere in their lives where they is the need for an ending to happen, even if they don’t want one, it could be for the best in a situation, a friendship, a job, because with each ending as painful as it is, there is a relief, a release and the promise of the sun rising the next day.

I love the fact too that in the deck I have (the classic Rider-Waite) DEATH XIII looks just like the KNIGHT OF CUPS – the romance card, and I guess falling in love with a person, a project, an idea, is a beginning and the very opposite of letting go and feeling stuck and diminished. A beginning is an ending, and an ending is a beginning.

With technology there is no beginning nor end and we don’t look at twitter and question it’s meaning or relevance. We immediately assume if it is out there then it has meaning, and we make it relevant to our lives, even if it is to our detriment and impacts our inner life.

We set our intentions and our opinions by other people’s stories because we are conditioned to do so– normally we know people or the source of the information and we trust it, which is harder to do online. Lately there are lots of stories about fake news, fake reviews online and even this week the Pope had his say, warning us about robots. But none of this is new, we have long had fake news and spin and propaganda, in wartime it’s a good thing, in peacetime it’s manipulation. Technology just facilitates all of this with a wider reach.

Technology has no message. The medium is message. It is up to us to define the correct meaning for it and for our inner lives but that is a hard thing to do. Currently, my inner life is doing well using tarot not twitter and I am not feeling the sharing is caring vibe at the moment but should I change my mind I can easily and instantly on my phone and will try not to mind when no one answers.

Three years of Bikram yoga

the 26 Bikram yoga poses

Last summer, during the holidays, I didn’t want to stop practicing Bikram, so I made the commitment to myself to get up at 6am to get to the studio to practice three times a week.

I am not a morning person. It was hard and sometimes the only way I got there on time was to go to bed in my leggings ready to run out the door. Don’t tell anyone!

True flexibility requires tremendous strength.

Now I can be quite a flexible girl. In the right heat when it’s all feeling good and juicy I can put my feet on my head in cobra pose which amazes me. So imagine my surprise when I found out that at 6am, my body was super stiff and I found it difficult to do any of the standing poses I thought I had gotten halfway decent at during the previous two and a half years. It was then that I had the revelation that true flexibility requires tremendous strength.

I have short arms, not like a T-Rex, but nonetheless my hands do not reach the floor in toe stand and I cannot fully bend over and hold my foot in standing head to knee pose. I don’t have enough arm length, something I came to realise on those early mornings. I had no choice but to use my leg strength to get my foot into my hand. And then in standing pulling bow pose, I was using my arm to pull my leg up but on a morning when my arm couldn’t stretch, I had to kick up with my leg. I had been using flexibility, not strength.

This made me see that I wanted to be strong and flexible enough to adapt both mentally and physically in any situation. So, if I couldn’t practice at my favourite time, in my favourite spot, with my body feeling just right, I would be ok with that. I realised that I want to do what I can, where I am. It is called a yoga practice for that reason and I realised that yoga is not separate from the rest of my life. I am me on and off the mat.

A more acceptable me

All my life I have believed that yoga will get me somewhere, like I will become the better more acceptable version of me. I will be a teetotal, vegan yogi who thinks only good thoughts. I will be tall and skinny with long arms and I won’t grow old. This is not only unrealistic. It is nuts. Life throws up all sorts of challenges and the way that you look doesn’t always help and there’s only one alternative to ageing. But, even though I have written loads about social psychology and women in society, I still think that if only I could be thinner and younger (I guess in reality sexier – but I have a theory about that) I could be more acceptable to me.

Moreover, I have heard all the stories of yogis like Bikram Choudhury who sexually abused his students and yet has created the best sequence of yoga I have continually and consistently ever experienced. And B K S Iyengar who would spit at and hit his students, and yet he wrote Light on Life full of wisdom and peace. I guess they were both aspiring to be their best versions when creating sequences and writing and then they turned back into themselves in the yoga room.

On and off the mat we are the same

On the mat I am the same so I get the same thoughts and fears as I do when I am off it. The clever thing about Bikram though is, because of the heat and the fact I listen to a dialogue of instructions, I am distracted from my daily thoughts and all my energies go into breathing and doing what I am told and then if there is any energy left to think about something not in the room then that is a dominant thought pattern that my mind keeps returning to, and the only thing is to let it go.

And then, once you get used to the dialogue it then takes great mental strength to keep listening, to be attentive, to follow every word and great flexibility to hear the dialogue as if it is new when you have heard it 1,000 times already.

After a discussion on Friday with one lovely teacher, today in class, I listened really hard in standing pulling bow pose and instead of just bringing my arm down, I brought my whole body forward and down, which meant I had to kick my leg up higher to retain my balance and there was a small shift inside and a new discovery and I felt a massive stretch all down my standing leg which meant that my kicking leg kicked higher than ever before. Flexibility and strength working together.

But back to last summer on the mat at 6am, when I was beginning to understand the balance of flexibility and strength, I found that more than ever I needed to do that off the mat too. Because it was early morning I took the car to Bikram rather than walking the 10,000 steps. And, because my mother had died a couple of months earlier I was exhausted from grief and began comfort eating. Consequently, I gained a lot of weight but kept thinking: How is that possible? I do Bikram. But Bikram as good as it is, is not a cure for everything.

It was towards the end of summer when I was getting really strong and chubby – I think I gained an extra 10lbs which is a lot for my five foot frame. I mentioned it to a yoga pal one morning who said: Oh yes you used to look so great. I was relieved by her honesty as I could tell when I bent over to pick up my foot that I had a couple of spare tyres in the way and I really thought I was going to split my yoga pants. And, from that I learnt again that it takes tremendous strength to look at yourself honestly and see what is going on and to be honest with others. There is no such thing as a free lunch, or cookie-fest, or an easy way to share difficult news. And I can tell you it takes tremendous flexibility to love the new chubby version of yourself in the mirror.

That said, I know I am the same chubby or normal weight. I prefer being slimmer as all my clothes fit better and I hate shopping. However, I won’t miraculously turn into a different person if I lose the extra weight. I will still be me, chubby or slim, on or off the mat. I am me, and I am me, and I am me.

Flexibility without strength could be damaging

When the summer ended and school started again I was able to practice again at 10 am. I noticed that I was stronger than before but bendy once more and it took a bit of adapting to not overbend because it is no good being flexible without strength. And, this is the same off the mat, if I am too flexible without knowing my limits and without respecting my boundaries, I could seriously damage myself or worse still allow someone else to damage me.

Lately, I have been practising Bikram three to four times a week, as life does tend to get in the way of a dedicated practice, but I have made my peace with that. Everything in moderation, including Bikram. My own experience is that three times a week is enough for a maintenance level, five times a week changes my body. I will never be a teetotal vegan either, I would be miserable. I like red wine and steak and beer and chips but I can do those things in moderation too. There’s no need to behave like Henry VIII.

I am still carrying some chub, and that is ok, but now that spring is coming, I am thinking that I am ready to do a 30 day challenge, and whilst part of me is excited thinking: Oooooh that would definitely shift the chub, part of me feels quite scared of committing to 30 days of straight up yoga and feeling super duper knackered. Or worse still, not following through.

Balancing Act

I guess I just have to take my own advice and know whether I do it or not, and whether I can or cannot finish it, to be truly flexible I must be strong enough to do what is right for me and the life I have. I will still be me, chubby or slim, meeting 30 day challenges or not, and some days I am my best version and some day I am not, I am me and I am enough and that is the gift Bikram yoga has given me over the past three years. It has brought me home to myself and allowed me to learn how to love and appreciate the fine body in which I dwell.

Namaste!