Just like me

Just like me but a baby…

When I was a girl and I used to go to my Grandma’s house with my mother, there was a picture on the sideboard of her (me mam) as a girl and she looked just like me. It was so like me, but not me, that I was mesmorised.

Now a mum with daughters, I am mesmorised when I look through old photographs which look just like them but are actually me. I have always liked my face, not least of all because it looks like my mother’s and whenever I look in the mirror, I see her and I am comforted.

One of my Bikram teachers has a thing about looking in the mirror. She is constantly saying things like: It’s hard to look at yourself in the mirror. Perhaps you feel old when you look in the mirror because you are grey and fat. And she says it with such passion and commitment that I find it hard to bear. It stirs all sorts of painful emotions within me.

I am very grey and occasionally fat, and most of the time I am okay with that. I actually like looking in the mirror at myself doing bikram, even when going through a mini Porker-Firth phase, like I did last year after eating all the cookies. I missed my mum and comfort ate my way through grief which created a prosperous roll around my midriff which my girls and I affectionately referred to as my cookie belt. I was okay demonstrating that if I comfort eat I put on weight, and it’s important to listen to our bodies, not our pain, where food is concerned. And, I was okay demonstrating that if I have grey hair, it’s ok embrace it and not dye it and not conform, as my youngest got her first grey hair at seven years old. Equally it is okay to dye it, though it took me long enough to grow mine out which was definitely less torturous than dying it every two weeks.

That said, I don’t know if it was the heat, but whenever my yoga teacher went on about feeling fat and grey and old, it made me want to say and do very un-yogic things even though Pantajali said that the first yama, or rule, of his limbs of yoga was ahimsa, do no harm. Instead, he advised that we act with loving kindness, or what the Buddhists refer to as mitri.

After writing the comfort blog, I asked my eldest if she minded looking like me, – I hadn’t always felt grateful to look like my mother – and this daughter of mine being smart and completely charming, mentioned Kung Fu Panda 3, when Po arrives at the secret Panda village and sees lots of pandas for the first time: You look just like me but a baby. You look just like me, but old. It made us laugh so much that we have been saying such things to each other ever since.

The day I came home from Bikram complaining about my teacher, saying that I just couldn’t believe that someone who practices yoga and teaches yoga daily is still focused on physical appearances, my daughter changed her phrase to : You look like me but old… and fat … and grey, until of course I was helpless with laughter, and that got me thinking: Why did I care so much what this teacher was saying?

I think it is because even though that I have made my decision about my grey hair, and I have shed my cookie belt after my bikram 30 day challenge last month, like my teacher, I still buy into society’s message for women who have grey hair, which is: I am disposable, invisible. This is utter nonsense of course (I stick out a bit with the grey) but the hair dye industry is so invested in selling hair dye to grey haired women that it has to tell us that we would look better with our grey hair covered up.

After all, selling is about making people feel less than, it is about hitting them as low down on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as possible. Consequently, it is hard sometimes to keep the grey hair faith, or the Graith, which disappoints me because it bothers me to look in the mirror and feel less than satisfied with my appearance, after everything I have lived through and all the meditation and yoga I do.

And if I am not squirming enough saying that out loud, I think just because that someone is a teacher, then they should have mastery over themselves, and be able to teach me things I cannot teach myself. I am so intolerant. It’s awful, and now I am judging myself as well as judging her which makes me feel less than.

I trained as a yoga teacher, and I have also lectured computing for many years, and one thing I have just come to realise and now know to be truth is that sometimes you have teach something in order to learn it. That is the beauty of teaching and learning, it is a magical exchange of energy. Even when I think I know something pretty well and I am teaching it, there always comes a moment part way through whatever course I am giving that I, the teacher, learn something new because someone in the room has a different experience and a different perspective regardless of their age and experience, hair, weight, lifestyle. Everyone in every part of our lives is a teacher, we just have to be willing to listen. And, this is why I love teaching. We are all in it together teaching and learning with each other, we resonate with a shared passion for computing or yoga or whatever it is that has brought us together.

This energy exchange puts me in mind of Tonglen, the meditation practice of breathing in and out and exchanging fear for love in those moments when life gets unbearable. It was something I started doing after reading buddhist nun Pema Chödrön.

So I was delighted the other day, when I was thinking about my feelings of intolerance and impatience with my yoga teacher, and I happened upon Chödrön’s meditation of equality practice, often simply called Just like me:

The equality practice is simple [..] You think, “Just like me, she wants to be happy; she doesn’t want to suffer.” …it lifts the barrier of indifference to other people’s joy, to their private pain, and to their wonderful uniqueness.

– Pema Chödrön, Tonglen in Daily Life

After a few rounds of just like me, I realised that my yoga teacher is teaching me all manner of things I do not want to teach myself. She echoes the thoughts in my head, the ones I pretend are not there. She really is just like me, only braver.

The truth is, I am not as sorted as I like to pretend I am with my grey hair, nor am I as tolerant and yogic as I like to think. My teacher has the courage to talk about her private pain, well our private pain, which is why her words disturb me, she is just like me, but speaks up, when I keep quiet so that I don’t have to feel that people will think that I am less than. She has shown me that by speaking up, I am not less than because I don’t judge her as less than either, I see her as brave and authentic, and perhaps that’s how people view me or perhaps they don’t, as Deepak Chopra says: What people think of me is none of my business. I need to let go of that thinking altogether.

Lesson learnt – well not quite, but I am looking forward to her next class. I am ready to step into that magical energy exchange of teaching and learning, of yoga and meditation, and come out slightly different at the end, but not too different, after all, she is just like me, but different and I give thanks for that and for everything she has to teach me.

Namaste!

38.5 hours and 51,426 words hath November

Eat my shorts – Bart Simpson

[Day 1, Day 10Day 20, Day 27, Day 30]

I did it!

On Thursday, Day 30 of my 30 days Bikram challenge #yogaeverydamnday, I put on my Wonder Woman pants and ran down to the studio and did 90 minutes of Bikram yoga.

My Bikram blogs have had so many hits after the Netflix documentary about Bikram Choudhury. I didn’t watch it and have no desire to think about it or him. He didn’t invent yoga or any of the asanas. They have been around for centuries. Passed down orally man to man, as women weren’t allowed into the yoga club.

His gift was to sequence a specific set of asanas and to crank up the heat. It works, it’s great, I love it, end of. My only wish is that the women (and men) he has abused, have their stories heard and validated, justice is done, and that they are held in a healing space so that they can feel better.

That said, I wish to add that even though we perform the same sequence of asanas everyday, everyday is different. My body, my mind, my spirit feels different and therein lies the yoga practice. It is not what happens on the mat which is the true measure of success. It is how we feel off the mat as we move forward through the world and how we respond to life and to everyone in it. That is the key.

Personally speaking, a month in the studio has helped me stop holding on so tight to people, places, labels, and so on. My greatest desire is that I continue to live in this more easy space so that I can hold it for others too. I have lived this realisation for most of November and it feels like magic. And that is exactly what I was hoping would happen during the 30 days.

Choudhury, in his best moments, says:

You’re never too old, never too bad, never too late and never too sick to start from the scratch [sic] once again.

Bikram Choudhury

Knowing that I can start again in any given moment is the greatest gift yoga has always given me since the first time I learnt what yoga was when I was eight years old.

So! After my 30th Bikram in a row, I stayed on for Yin yoga and then came home via Pret for some of their Red Thai Vegetable Soup, delish. I ate it outside so I could watch the trains go by.

I am a total trainspotter and even after doing it a zillion times, I still get a massive rush everytime I am on a train pulling in or out of King’s Cross Station.

Red Thai Vegetable Soup

Then I came back to Stalker HQ and hit the NaNoWriMo sweet spot 50k word target. I was so thrilled with myself that I had to lie down for a little Nana nap. Rock n roll!

On waking up, I spent time on my work project which really has improved in the way I was hoping it would with me being creative elsewhere. And, I am now really looking forward to giving it my full attention next week and making it sizzle and having fun doing it.

After that, it was time to run about to pick up my little footballers and make dinner – mushrooms on toast – then I put on some lippie and went off to Chinatown for cocktails and tarot. I had the best evening. My new favourite cocktail is Opium’s Ching Shih, named after a female Chinese Pirate.

Friday morning I woke up with the intention of going to Bikram and another 1,667 words but I looked at the bright blue sky and felt completely ecstatic at the idea that I didn’t have to, so I skipped Bikram, and wrote 500 words to remind me of bits of my NaNoWriMo plot I haven’t rationalised, which then freed up some time to go out to lunch at Barrafina with that nice husband of mine. After which, we had time for a walk in the winter sun round Covent Garden and a trip down memory lane.

In the evening we put up our Christmas decorations as we are all still super sad and missing our Pooh. But, fairylights, Tigger, and tinsel really helped. This time last year, Tigger was nil by mouth before a root canal and I caught him eating tinsel just before we had to leave, I guess he was hungry. I didn’t think it counted as food so I didn’t mention it.

Tinsel and Tigger

Today is the last day of November. I will write more words later, after the school Christmas Fayre. I’m on the mulled wine stall (one for you, one for me) and then I will call time on November.

I have loved having goals and directing all my energies into achieving them, armed only with industrial strength moisturiser and hair oil so that I didn’t dry out. Though I still feel so thirsty. It’s hard work keeping hydrated during Bikram and cocktails (ahem), though so exciting to experience both.

I love how I feel having achieved what I set out to do. Though now, I am very much looking forward to getting back to ‘normal’ blogging with me lurking in the background.

Thirty days hath November, all gone, like my Pooh, gone but not forgotten, leaving me richer, leaner, fuller, sadder, wiser, and a little bit different than before and for that I am so deeply grateful.

December, I am ready. In the meantime I will quote Iyengar, who spat on and beat his students in the yoga room, another yogi with feet of clay:

Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.

B K S Iyengar

Amen.

My Pooh, all love and gratitude. You made my life better.

Pooh: Thirty Days Hath November

[Day 1, Day 10Day 20Day 27Day 30]

Pooh, our cat, got run over, probably on Saturday, as yesterday afternoon the council came round and said that he had been found dead in the next street. I am brokenhearted. My little pal. He used to sit and watch me type, or sit on my computer, or on me, or besides me, or the window sill, or the sofa, or on my desk, and now he’s gone and the flat, my life, today, are all much emptier without him.

This morning I had to do my ecstatic breathwork without him sitting on my chest. I fell asleep last night without him chewing the wires on my earphones even though part of me kept listening for the catflap, as he never just climbed through it, he always ran in at a clatter, you could always tell it was him.

And, today I am lying on the daybed, on my front as I type, and Pooh would often pad up and down my back and legs and give me a little cat massage before falling asleep either on me or near me. I keep looking to all of his favourite spots and he is not there.

I’ve tried to keep it business as usual today. I went to Bikram as it is Day 27 and I cried on my mat all the way through and got a big lovely sweaty hug, much needed and appreciated, off a friend at the end. Now back home, I am part way through my words for today on Day 25 – my running total right now is 45,970 but I only about 400 words in as I am struggling. It’s just no fun without Pooh sitting on me. I used to explain my plot lines to him and he would just look at me bemused, waiting for me to finish so we could have a cat-snack tea-break.

I had always wanted a cat, all my life, and it was the most magical day when Pooh and his brother Tigger (who is hiding under the bed in case another human wants a teary, soggy hug) came home with us five and a half years ago.

Pooh survived one car accident when he was only a year old. He dragged himself home with a dislocated hip and broken leg and I drove him round London to get him operated on, and then we stayed up all night feeding him with a 20ml syringe every hour as I didn’t want him left on a drip by himself at the vets over the weekend. He recovered well and miaowed angrily when we kept him in a cage for five weeks as I made the rookie mistake of leaving the door open that first night he came home and he had legged it straight out the catflap and over the back wall with his recovering hip and leg still in a splint. I lied on the Monday when the vet asked me if he had been outside.

‘No idea where all that mud came from.’

He was such a lovely cat and I can’t bear to talk about him in the past tense. Oh Pooh, I will love you always.

[ Day 30: 38.5 hours and 51,426 words. I did it.]

Lost the plot: Thirty Days hath November

Searching

[Day 1, Day 10Day 20Day 27Day 30]

I am on Day 20 of my bikram 30 day challenge, and Day 18 of NaNoWriMo. So, far I have clocked up 27.5 hours of bikram and 33,799 words which is not too shabby, but I do feel a bit like I am losing the plot.

Bikram

Bikram everyday really is making a difference but I am just a tiny bit fed up of having to go all the time and can’t wait to have a day off, especially because, four times last week I was only able to practice early morning. It felt like I was getting up before the dawn chorus to go to the studio. My resistance is not a physical thing though, it is purely mental, because once in the room I am thrilled to be there, the heat is just fantastic. And, last Wednesday morning the waxing full moon was hanging heavy over the main road as I drove down it. That was a sight definitely worth getting out of bed to see. The best bit about early mornings is driving back feeling job done and yet the day is still fresh and brand new.

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo has been a lovely experience so far with lots of oooh, ahhhh surprises. It has been exciting to type in things and then say: Oooh I never knew that, that’s why she is behaving like that. So, I was disappointed by the last two days as there were no revelations and it felt like I had lost the plot. Yesterday, however, was the real low point, it felt like I was typing random words into my laptop. I am hoping that it’s just a passing phase, and that if I treat it just like yoga, i.e., I just show up and my body seems to remember how much it likes bending over in a hot room, then everything will be okay. Tomorrow, at nano time I will not overthink it and just show up at my keyboard so that my mind can remember how much it enjoys entertaining me and hopefully all the words I type will make sense. Tonight though, I may have to reread my notes so my subconscious has overnight to cook up something extra.

Outside of bikram and nano, I am once more super enthusiastic about my work project and I have decided to not rush it and really polish it up and make it as good as I can, which involves a bit more training before I can perform better. I also now have a long list of blogs which I would like to write, which is exactly what I was hoping would happen with bano-nikram and I really can’t wait to get on with everything.

Not yet, I still have 12 more days to go. I will keep on keeping on and try not to wish the days away. Wish me luck. My next update will be in December.

See you on the other side.

[Day 27: Pooh died]

A Third of Thirty Days

Bonfire night

[Day 1, Day 10Day 20Day 27Day 30]

I am a third of a way (Day 10) through my Bikram challenge as in the end I started on Wednesday 30/10/19. I decided to get on with it because I kept thinking about it and thought that I had to start before I lost my nerve altogether.

This is so me. I hate committing to things in the future and then thinking about it and working myself up into a lather. It makes me feel trapped. Anyway, now I know for certain that I like to see how I go, I intend to start all new adventures off gently with an option to start again. That said, I have told everyone in the studio so that I have to keep going (though now I wish I hadn’t as people keep telling me that I will be totally fed up around Day 15 – but honestly, I’ll be the judge of that!). Also, there’s a lovely chart at the studio and I am enjoying ticking the days off and sticking on the odd gold star and kissing my biceps every time I finish a class.

Physically speaking, Bikram everyday is easier than I thought it would be. I feel tired outside the studio as I wasn’t sleeping so well either with all the thoughts about Bikram waking me up, but each time I step into the heated room my body relaxes and is happy standing on one leg and the rest of it.

I am also doing Ecstatic Breathwork everyday too which takes the Bikram to another level, I find it’s best to do it straight after Bikram when my mind is more relaxed. Honestly, the combination is amazing.

NaNoWriMo

I started this on November 1st but I only had four scenes planned. However, so far so good. I am really enjoying the discovery of it all in a way I haven’t really experienced before or at least can’t remember experiencing for a very long time. Feeling slightly tired all the time, from the Bikram, really helps. I am a bit more relaxed and not listening to my inner critic, I don’t really have the energy to pay attention to negative self-talk, I just keep pressing on and writing to see what happens next. I am hanging on my every word and totally excited. I didn’t know I could do this and I have written 15,209 words.

So far this November is really nice. I feel a bit lighter, less resistant, more in the flow, which is just lovely. Long may it continue.

Part 3 (27.5 hours and 34k words)