Friday 17 November 2023

Can autumn leaves help shoulder tension?

Autumn must be the best time to take a photograph, nature is so generous in its beauty, with its richest colours and textures, the fire of summer burning through. I love the moment when enough leaves have fallen from the trees to be able to walk in them, but there are a few golden leaves still attached to the tree that catch the sunlight, giving space to see in this new seasonal cycle the pattern of its bark and the curve of its branches.

One of my favourite Wu Tao dances is the autumn, or the metal element. This represents the lungs, the emotion of grief and our ability both to protect ourselves from illnesses coming into the body and to let go emotionally and physically. It is a fantastic dance for shoulder tension and I love the image of the bird rising into the sky, letting go of the heaviness of the earth below.

Shoulder and neck exercises are a major feature of my yoga-shiatsu classes as I suffer myself in this area and try to pass on what works for me. Try this video I made during the early days of the pandemic for a quick fix.

A good massage can be helpful at any time for some 1-1 support. I am so glad to still see Lucy Teed is offering holistic massage at the Tree Room in Colchester. I like her attitude to tension, she holds and works with it and faithfully says “when it’s ready to release, it will”. I think muscle tension goes deeper than what fingers can manipulate, and Lucy’s way responds well to that.

As we prepare for the coldest days of the year, it is a chance to practise yoga that sustains and strengthens, whatever form that may take for each of us. For me, Womb Yoga has been a support for many years, and the simple Namaste Quartet seated sequence is an easy way to soften stiff shoulders and necks while strengthening the arms. It does not require much energy, time, or even skill, but invites grace and stillness of mind, using a soft breath to unite the movements to our attention.

Students might remember a Tai Chi or Womb Yoga warm up sequence that are very similar and are a great start or finish to the day for shoulders and pulling the body and mind together. In Womb Yoga, it comes with a song (ask me about red tent if you would like to know more) in Tai Chi it is done in silence, and like Wu Tao, reminds us of a bird spreading its wings, but this time horizontally. I learnt the Tai Chi version by a Scottish loch, pictured in the background to this blog. But as my teacher showed me, we do not need a postcard setting to get the vibe of nature in all its splendour and healing, our mind takes us there when we let ourselves feel it under our feet.

Perhaps then, autumn is not just a time to watch the leaves fall and let go of our tension, it is also a time to take flight in our liberation and be our own natural splendour with new projects that call us to our higher selves.


Friday 13 October 2023

Lost and found

One of my favourite things is getting lost. As I child I loved riding out on bikes with my brother and I would say, “let’s get lost”. I am not sure that he yearned for it as I did, but he did indulge me, or at least, he would pretend that we were lost and let me find the way back home.

Norah Jones said it beautifully in a Hat Full of Sky - no, that is a Terry Pratchett novel - I mean, a hat full of something, in I Always Take The Long Way Home. If that was the name of the song...?

This is menopause, for me, I start telling one story but soon veer off into another, and then sooner or later, sometimes days later, I remember where I began. Ah, rain, that was it, Norah Jones had a hat full of rain.

It is so lovely to give into my menopause brain, as my mind wanders and forgets and then picks up the trail again.

Because of course, the beauty of getting lost is being found again.

Thanks to an Instagram story a friend sent me, I learned about the heavenly beach huts at Holland-on-Sea in Essex.

I spent a day there with my parents and waded in the chilly sea with my dad. He is partially sighted at the moment, but does not lose his courage as he pulls me deeper into the water that he cannot really see but by some natural navigation knows where he is, I think he would swim to the original Holland if he could.

Fear of losing ourselves is easily remedied, just Lose Yourself, as Eminem told us. "You’ve only got one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, 'cos opportunity comes once in a lifetime" - but hopefully, neither menopause nor meditation will give us just one chance.

When we meditate, the opportunity to come back, to find ourselves, is always there. As my teacher, Michelle Locke reminds us, we never really left. Our energy, our awareness, the source of our being, is there waiting for us, to acknowledge it, use it, enjoy it.

Sitting in our superb beach hut, at £27.50 for the day, it is not much for a little piece of heaven, my eyes rested as I looked out to sea, I noticed myself breathing more fully and I felt gratitude expand within my chest and head, and realised. As much as I love getting lost, it only works because I love being found.

Wednesday 4 October 2023

What makes you feel powerful?

“What works for me is yoga”, a friend said to me recently. It is true for me too, and has been for nearly 30 years now. After just a few minutes of pranayama, asana or sun salutation, I can feel like a queen with my own imperfect self.

I may ache, have parts with little feeling, I may feel that I am my own worst enemy at times, but yoga can transform me into power and aliveness, and if I am lucky, into gratitude for what I have.

Maintaining a practice over many years is not easy. There are so many distractions! Not to mention excuses, reasons, envy, self-doubt… In those moments, if I see someone else doing yoga and feel envious or notice I am judging others or myself harshly, I can take it as a helpful flag, a courageous smile, a pill - as people say in Sicily, not to give a monkey’s and just please myself! (It is quite a bit ruder than that, but you get the gist).

It is an opportunity to turn towards myself and listen to what part of the body is calling for attention and needs support and challenge.

The daily yoga and meditation that never fails me is washing the dishes, and kindness to myself when I am in difficulty - these are the support, the running water, the making new, and the challenge, because kindness can be the hardest thing when I am backed against the wall.

When I am on the mat, I think it helps to question the posture, in a feeling way, is this working for me? Am I here or is my mind and energy elsewhere? It might be that talking to someone or doing some housework or sending an email is what I need to do more than holding a pose.

I remember my favourite asana, pranayama or yoga practice and ask myself why it is a favourite. Do I still like it, how does it make me feel in this moment?

It is important not to get hung up on what I think I should be doing, what matters is how it is for me now and whether it serves me as I am now.

Being open to what yoga can do for me in each moment is the best way that I can practise. I go back to old forgotten practices, I try something I never thought I would - with adequate support! I try something I have never heard of before, and I trust myself.

What makes you feel powerful? Does yoga help?

Peace, Om Shanti


Monday 13 April 2020

This is what the technology was meant for

If you would like to rest your eyes, you can listen to this blog post on audio here:

handmade lace international facebook group

Hallelujah! It is time for technology that serves us. I have been quite blown away by my friends, colleagues and teachers in the last few weeks in their efforts to offer their work outside of their usual environments and support their communities, reaching out to people they may never meet and without knowing that they will ever earn a humble living from it again or handle the stress of trying to use technology that simply is not ready to support so much activity online. We have been and are still in great danger of our lives being manipulated by technology that does us great harm, that distracts us and separates us, dulling our senses and our thinking, and yet while we are pulled even further apart from each other, we are also being brought closer together and we are being given opportunities for creativity and autonomy perhaps more than ever. This is a hopeful time, if we wish it to be so.

There is a growing concern about the damage that technology is inflicting on us now, but I haven’t always been so worried. The first time I saw the Internet and I started working as an Internet programmer in the 1990s, I was entranced by the possibilities. I dreamed of increased understanding across borders. I didn’t foresee social media aggression, competitiveness, illusion and narcissism, I didn’t imagine that technology that connected people would be used to abuse and humiliate, to control our opinions. But despite the terrible ways the Internet has been used, it is still up to us how are use it. For the last year I’ve been involved in ethics for artificial intelligence, and there is so much work to be done to defend people from technology that has gone wrong - so much has gone wrong. But programmers will not know how to make good technology unless we use it to enhance our lives rather than diminish us. This is a new world that requires courage, curiosity and awareness. We must treat technology with the same skills and meditation that we use in a yoga posture or a mindful walk or sitting practice.

I hope this is the time to develop practices that will serve us after this uncertain time, that increase our authenticity with each other and our ability to ask for what we need from people around us and to give openly without needing to receive something in return. I hope it is a time when we can enjoy our homes and our gardens and our local communities and for myself, it’s a chance to share practices that are very important to me like barefoot techniques that I haven’t had the chance to do until now.

While we are separated by physical distance, we are also brought spiritually, energetically and emotionally closer to each other, from clapping for the NHS, coming out onto our doorsteps, trains and cars sounding their horns, people shout hello to each other as we exercise outside, and we reap the advantages of slowness, of having fewer places to go and spending more time with the people physically close to us.

The world has been turned upside down and is shaking us about, this at least we can be sure of. Let’s connect into the calm and the sustenance of the present moment and the physical presence of those around us, placing boundaries where they need to be, offering our help and allowing ourselves to receive others’ help where others can help us.

Tuesday 21 February 2017

The Power of Skype

I'm surprised myself to be saying this, but I really enjoy teaching yoga and meditation over Skype. I thought that FaceTime, and all the video calling software, could be good for a meeting or a conversation with friends far away, but with students now in different places to where I am, I had to try it…

The first time I carried out a little test with a friend doing a mindfulness exercise. I remember his face going red when I told him that he was doing the exercise correctly... he said, how do you know that?! I promised him that I couldn't read his mind, I could just tell when he had his attention in his sitting bones...

Despite this, I avoided Skype because I didn't think it was possible to be really present with a student, that I would be able to see them or they would be able to see me. But time after time, it is confirmed to me that this happens, I feel a complete connection with students and trainees, that enables me to see what they are doing... energetically, not just visually. I can make suggestions that work for them and I get their immediate feedback. I can also see myself, which is interesting as I have never worked in a yoga studio with mirrors... I actually see what I'm demonstrating and this helps me demonstrate more effectively.

Most importantly, students tell me that they forget that we're not in the same room… there is something magical that happens.

I can't say how it works… perhaps as I can't say how yoga and meditation heal… but it is something that makes things possible, which is what technology is supposed to be about, after all.

In memory of Mariano who passed away this month. He created with his family Parco Jalari, my first retreat place in Sicily, with these sculptures that he worked tirelessly to carve from the rock of the mountain that Jalari stands on, which have moved, inspired and healed visitors over the many years since the park opened. Mariano taught me to use everything at my disposal to be creative, to listen, and let go of the fear of making mistakes...

Friday 20 May 2016

Mindful Eating at a Sicilian Carnival

Sicily is teaching me a lot about mindful eating. How to mindfully stuff my face is very important… As in every family in the world, giving and receiving food is an expression of love. The way that a person prepares food shows so much about how they feel about the people they are cooking for. The way that a person eats food, shows so much about how they feel about the people who prepared it for them, and how they feel about themselves in that moment. To refuse food in Sicily, a culture of great affection - I can't go through a single day without exchanging kisses on the cheek or hugging, or squeezing someone's hand - is to refuse their kindness, to deny their natural expression of a need to love.

One of the reasons I began teaching mindful eating was an article I read about one man's realisation about his obsession with "healthy eating". He wrote that he had diligently studied his body's needs… he had tested what he needed to eat, and what he didn't need. He was careful about the time of day that he ate, and the times he should avoid eating. He usually ate a little less than he wanted… Reading the article, I recognised many of my own techniques, and remembered countless others that I had tried, kept up or discarded over the decades since being a teenager, while I worked at improving my body and my health.

I realise now the sadness in this. The denial and restriction on my eating, treating myself like a machine that needed tuning. But at the time, this article was just a wake-up call for my way of thinking (rather than feeling) about food. The writer told the story of meeting a monk, and sharing lunch with him… the monk reminded the writer, as he left food on his plate, of how good it tasted and what a shame it was to leave it considering all the care that had gone into making it. And then while the writer felt uncomfortable with his full stomach and they were ready to leave the restaurant, the monk suggested they have a large serving of ice-cream, as it was so delicious and the chef had gone to so much trouble to make it… The writer already knew at this point that the monk was teaching him something, so he accepted the ice-cream, then went on his way to process the lesson.

My move to Sicily in early February happened at the same time as carnival, and it couldn't have been better timing. I arrived just in time to begin the dancing, the eating and the shouting… the drinking homemade grappa and so many things I really can't remember.

How can this be mindful eating?

For me, meditation is a gift… whether it's a spontaneous mindfulness while walking along a beach, or sitting on cushions with a straight spine and a clear intention… Mindful eating for the last few years has taught me about the love I give to myself and that I am able to receive. I no longer have a restricted diet. I don't calculate the qualities in the food I eat, the type of fat, the protein, the vitamins… In fact, I try not to think at all while I'm eating, but just experience it.

When I was "improving" my body in all of those years, I believe I was actually creating discomfort in my body, intolerances and a lack of ease with myself… a lack of trust in myself. As if, without the studying and the thinking, I would not eat properly and my body would suffer, and then my mind would follow. I believed that I shouldn't eat dairy, wheat, sugar… and when I ate them I had a physical and emotional reaction, sometimes immediately… I had stomach pains, tiredness, I was bloated and I reproached myself for doing myself damage.

Life is so different in Sicily. Not eating pasta at lunch is just not possible… as long as I spend time with Sicilians. Not eating cannoli pastries stuffed with ricotta or chocolate at carnival (and any other occasion… any excuse is good for a party) is not allowed… One of the words I most frequently hear is: "mangia!" "eat!" and they mean it… If I don't eat, I see unhappy expressions and realise that there is no way out, other than to eat my way through. But it's not an unkind threat… it is a loving insistence that this is the way things are done.

And the food is different to the UK… almost everything I eat here is homemade or handmade. Most of my fruit and vegetables are grown in gardens with volcanic earth and natural sunlight, the wheat is Italian, not from North America or Australia (where I have had violent reactions to wheat) and the dairy is often sheep's milk, goat's milk or buffalo milk. The wine and chocolate are made with ancient methods, so you don't know how a bottle of wine will taste, even though you know the vintage, until you open it… and the chocolate is so rich in cacao and so roughly processed, that it is an amazing stimulus for meditation (more about my September yoga and chocolate retreat soon).

Mindful eating, for me, is not about eating properly… it is about eating with kindness and as much awareness as I can… not just of the food… but much more importantly, my emotional and physical response to the food in each moment. For some people, alcohol helps increase awareness… for others, the greatest kindness is to avoid alcohol. It also depends on the circumstances, the people we are with and how we feel in their company, in that place, in that moment.

Mindful eating is not easy, as being kind to ourselves and being aware of how we are feeling in our body and emotions is not easy. But it can be learnt… or re-learnt… as we knew perfectly well how to do this as young children, when we played with our food, ate with our hands, threw our food when we didn't want it and ate happily when we did… As adults, we can use our intellect to help us… to remind ourselves to listen, to feel, and to say no when we don't want something… and allow ourselves to say yes when we do… even when our thinking tells us we shouldn't, but we can feel that our body is capable and willing to process all of that love and attention - not just from the maker of the food, but from ourselves.

Monday 28 December 2015

Teacher Training & Mentoring with TaKeShiatsu

This year I have been trialling a teacher training method for yoga, meditation and shiatsu teachers. It is not a fixed program, but responds to the needs of each teacher in training and existing teachers who would like mentoring and support.  

I have been training in yoga, meditation and shiatsu for nearly 20 years and I have experienced many ways of helping prepare people to teach. It has become my passion to support teachers in all moments of their careers, as I believe teachers need encouragement, nurture and inspiration and that working teachers have a need for time for themselves outside of the classroom to recharge their batteries and give up, for just a little while, the role of being in charge.

In the sessions, we train and meet in circle, so each person is responsible for themselves and their learning. My role is to encourage you, listen to you and help you develop your talents. We discuss teaching practices, ethics, how to set up and maintain your business and relationships with clients, venues and employers.

Self-care is fundamental in my courses. In all teacher training and mentoring sessions there is movement, meditation, creativity as well as deep listening in circle.

Teaching practice with real students is also really important, so students and I can give trainees feedback in a real class situation. This can be for a single exercise, a part of a class or a whole class. Trainees can also assist me or observe in my class, or ask me to assist or observe them in their class.

The practices that we work with specifically are self-shiatsu with the extra-ordinary vessels, classical yoga, womb yoga and compassion-led mindfulness.

Training and mentoring lasts as long as you need it to, and takes place at your own pace, as and when you can attend a session. There are quaterly weekend group training sessions in Colchester, UK, regular opportunities on retreat in Sicily and one-to-one sessions in person and by Skype.

All trainees and teachers studying with me qualify for insurance that is affordable and covers full professional indemnity and public liability.

I believe that teaching is a vocation that chooses us, so if you feel that teaching is what you need to do, you must follow that desire and discover wherever it will take you...

The next weekend teacher training in Colchester is 2nd & 3rd January. Take part, observe or assist in an afternoon retreat on Saturday 2nd (£20), then the group training session is Sunday 3rd 9am-3pm (£65). Please email me to ask about places:

My next Sicily retreat where you can take part in teacher training is 5th-12th February:

For a one-to-one teacher training session in person or by Skype, please check here for availability: