doing nothing and receiving all

August 9, 2014 § 5 Comments

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It’s been months since my last post but I’ve not known what to write or where to start so instead have practiced the art of doing nothing.

This doesn’t mean I have done literally nothing, but I have taken out the ‘effort’ and the ‘trying’ from my approach to what I do. I realised that I had become transfixed on the need to earn money and have not kept my focus on my daily practice to allow the energy created to permeate through all that I do. For a moment I had lost my way and it felt like I was grasping or clutching at straws to make everything ‘happen’.

Of course the irony is, everything is ‘happening’ all the time but the difference in energy feels massive when you stop and take out the need for ‘success’. Almost as soon as I had realised this and sat back for a couple of weeks the first change came my way.

The mayor of my village came to visit and asked if I would be interested to teach yoga to the children in the village school. This came as wonderful news for so many reasons. I’ve found it hard to put myself out there to meet people due to my lack of confidence in speaking French, but this opportunity is a push in the right direction. I will teach eighteen 7 – 10 year olds for 45 minutes yoga twice a week in French. It’s a slightly daunting prospect as my French is so poor, but it’s the incentive I needed to make it a necessity to learn the language and I am really looking forward to it. Children are the best teachers.

Soon after this, came my second invitation to teach yoga one day a week in a town about an hour away from me. Laure, a very connected expat who has spent many years living in India, now lives here and teaches French to the expat community. She owns a large house that has stood empty for a long time due to complications with her estranged husband. So while the house stands empty she decided to make use of it and provide yoga classes to her friends, students and for herself.

I have between 8 – 10 students coming every week who are a dedicated and lovely bunch. We practice together on a rooftop that reminds me of classes on the rooftops of Kerala, yet the familiar sound of crows that you hear in India has been replaced by a gentle chorus of native birds and the palm trees replaced with a view of rolling wheat fields and sunflowers. In the six weeks I have taught, they have made huge progress and it’s a joy to see a group grow and develop over time. Plus they are all so encouraging of my attempts to teach a posture every week in French .

So from these invitations I have landed back in the present with a purpose and focus based on the now. It feels like the magic is back and once again I am reconnected, able to place my trust in my practice, letting the energy it provides lead me forward. I could never have gone and found these opportunities. Grasping and clutching was only exhausting me. It’s a subtle shift in focus, but everything feels completely different.

no mud no lutus

April 25, 2014 § 9 Comments

Calla Lilly

I have sunk into a low.

I can’t remember the last time I felt so unmotivated and uncertain with what I am doing here. I am finding it hard to do anything and for the last week I have mostly slept.

This feeling is not helped and probably made a whole lot worse by the realisation I needed to cleanse, so am suffering the most blinding coffee detox hangover.

My current malaise seems to be a combination of a few things, but mostly tiredness and exhaustion from the effort to get things up and running and then the disappointment when things haven’t gone to plan as I hoped. Some of the retreats have not been able to run due to lack of numbers, but there have been two outcomes with this. Firstly feelings of ‘failure’ and secondly a feeling of surprise as the silver lining has been to discover I am more than capable of running retreats on my own, something I had feared on the onset of this adventure. I suppose just in this discovery alone, I can question and reevaluate what is the measure of success? The first scenario didn’t work, but the second scenario was one of personal satisfaction and joy.

I have in truth possibly tried to do too much by creating a program of retreats for the year. The energy to market these is huge. And what is unfolding is a feeling of exhaustion and the question about why am I marketing someone else’s stuff?  I felt I had to offer more than just me, but it turns out the guests who have stayed, have loved the peace and quiet here, they’ve loved my gentle approach to teaching yoga and they’ve loved having time to rest, relax and read.  All the things I love about this place, others love too. So maybe I just need to come back to centre again and remember less is more.

Stepping forward into a new life abroad is undoubtedly full of uncertainty, but then so is everything in life. I know this. I just hadn’t fully appreciated how I would feel or how hard it would be at times. Facing the facts that plan A hasn’t quite worked has been difficult, and yet it is not the first time a plan has not worked out here and it’s not the end of the world as it is making space for something else. Change is inevitable and it is better to keep a soft approach to allow the true reason for being here to reveal itself. ….

As Thich Nhat Hanh says, ‘No mud. No Lotus’. Out of murky times come great things…..here’s hoping!

we are all beginners

April 20, 2014 § 3 Comments

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Maria described herself as ‘an absolute yoga beginner in her early fifties, very over weight and a breast cancer survivor in need of a routine to incorporate into daily life’.

Having taken a huge leap of faith to leave her catholic community over the Easter weekend, deciding she was more in need of a yoga holiday and restful break than to go to church. But done with a sense of guilt that lay heavy on her. This was her first holiday on her own and her first step away from the familiar. She was anxious about what she would find and how yoga might be a potential conflict of interest that could divide her from her community. Yet despite her reservations and keeping her weekend plans a secret from her friends and colleagues, she came. Something led her here.

We went through the basics of yoga, with a snippet explanation that was enough to gain an understanding of its possibilities but not too much to take us away from our focus for the weekend. Which was to start from the beginning, focusing on the breath and simple exercises to reconnect. Coming back to the self, back to the body and knowing our individual needs, relaxing every step of the way.

I felt so much admiration for Maria over the weekend. For having the will and determination to take a step forward into the unknown, for being open to try something new that went against all her beliefs and to find a way forward to regain her health and a better work life balance so that she could live for the moment.

Life is all about finding balance and a path that works for you. To set realistic goals that support and help you in your life is so much more important than seeking perfection, or putting yourself in a situation that sets you up to either fail or feel alienated. Social media is full of images of gorgeous bronzed bikini / lycra clad yogini’s with beautiful toned bodies doing handstands. And it seems there’s a demand for it, but it’s not what yoga is about. If someone felt they needed to buy a new lycra outfit to practice yoga with me I would feel I had failed. Yoga is for everyone, regardless of your size, age and ability. We can all breath so therefore we can all start at the beginning.

My weekend with Maria just strengthened my love for yoga and the reason I enjoy teaching it. We spent three very relaxing days creating a gentle daily routine that she could take with her to continue at home and in between our time on the mat, Maria took it upon herself to give the terrace a makeover. Creating an outdoor room, whilst putting her gardening skills into action that she doesn’t otherwise get the opportunity to do living in an apartment.

This exchange is what it’s all about. Sharing our skills, our stories and opening our hearts together. I love it when guests want to get involved and leave something of themselves behind. It means I have something to remember them by and they also become a part of what I am doing here. I can be checking up on Maria to see how she is doing, just as she said she will be emailing me to make sure I am watering the plants she potted!

We are all the same, we are all beginners and we all have something to share and teach one another. Remembering to breathe and stay humble is a good place to be. A constant reminder that life can be simple.

dream building

March 5, 2014 § 6 Comments

DREAMS

For all the adversity of being here, I find life is now creative in a way I had only wished about for so many years. My rhythm flows with the seasons and the sun, embracing every day anew. I tend to keep a constant pace where work and life are intertwined moving steadily along, feeding each other with moments of contemplation and inspiration. Which as a friend recently told me, is a luxury.

Yes I suppose so, but it came at a price and I didn’t have to stick my neck out quite this far. But after loosing those I loved I no longer feel the same fear attached to risk. Instead its like I am free-falling, stepping forward in a new way and with much bigger strides. The worst that could happen has happened and so every day feels like a bonus. Here I am, grateful for these luxuries and grateful for this life, to live simply yet with high ideas and dreams a plenty.

And, as if it wasn’t enough to be here doing what I am doing on my own, I have recently stumbled across another piece to the jigsaw puzzle. One that ups the ante to a whole new league. A plot of land, with house and barn that is close by and could become an extension for accommodation, a much bigger yoga studio and a beautiful kitchen garden. It’s fairly wild to be contemplating this at this stage in the journey. They are both in need of restoration work, but the dream I had to be here seems to have taken on a life of its own.

Anyone sensible would probably tell me to put the brakes on, but there don’t seem to be any brakes. And yes, these dreams are scary but I know I can do this. I know I am meant to be here. My gut feeling has continually propelled me forward and helped me to make the decision to up sticks and move country.

So on top of launching myself into my first year here, I am also quietly sitting and working out how I can grow and expand, to add this new piece of the puzzle into the picture……This dream is definitely bigger than anything I was intending, but the opportunity feels like the beginning of a very magical future.

coming back to centre

February 21, 2014 § 3 Comments

Sofie

This week feels as though it has disappeared without trace.
Sucked in by an online vortex, grappling the world of social media and trying to discover how to become a visible entity in the world, putting Little French Retreat on the map.

I find in these moments, that focusing on my Sadhana  (spiritual practice)  becomes ever more important. Starting my morning on the mat sets the tone and creates the flow for the day. And sometimes, as with this week I don’t make time for my practice first thing and only get to the mat late afternoon. I realise when this shift happens the feel and quality I bring to my work is entirely different, I focus on ‘work’ rather than being in flow.

I could probably spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on marketing, but it defeats the point of being here and it defeats the point of trusting in my practice. After all what is the rush, what is more important than that morning meeting on the mat?…….I could list a load of excuses, but really, nothing is more important.

Yet sometimes this happens. Sometimes the balance goes the wrong way. This is the time I know to stop, check in and recognise what’s going on and remember to look and see what surrounds me. Like noticing the light that falls on my dog as I stretch on the mat.  A time to appreciate the stillness and peace of this place.

As Swami Govindanada (whom I served with last winter) once said, “we all have busy lives. Even running an ashram is not without its stresses, it  requires managing people, managing finances, and managing accommodation. What is important is maintaining your sadhana for this will guide you, then placing yourself in a peaceful environment with peaceful people. Like a lump of coal we are grey and cool. But when placed into the fire, we take on the qualities of the fire and become red hot.”

Coming back to centre is a constant process of awareness.

Asking myself the questions; ‘How am I spending my time, where am I placing my energies, do I need to do any of the things I am doing?’,  provides that moment to realign and put the magic back into the day. Rather than let it run away with itself.

So with that thought I am letting go of this week. Theres a weekend to be had and a flowing week ahead to look forward to!

Om Shanti, Shanti Shanti

in search of love

February 14, 2014 § 12 Comments

in search of love

When my mum died in July 2008, the most poignant realisation was the huge void of love from my life. I suppose it wasn’t something I had thought about before, as it was just the norm to be in a loving family, always having support and a shoulder to lean on. A mothers’ love is so strong and part of every inch of your being. Whatever the struggles we went through, love always underpinned everything in our lives and held us together.

This void was also ever more gaping as my father had died 13 years before and so at this time, parental and unconditional love was no longer there. And despite their physical absence, the love I felt for them remained in bucket loads. It was huge and completely welled within me and I remember then feeling so unsure what to do with it, where to place my love, how to share it and feel it as I moved forward in my life into a new and different space.

In the months after my mums’ death many things changed. The first wave of emotion that seeped into every aspect of life was a sudden inability to accommodate bullshit. Initial changes were to end my unsupportive relationship and quit my job, both of which hadn’t resonated with me for sometime. In the shadow of grief I no longer cared about answers and solutions, I just wanted rid of everything that didn’t work. Once this clear out had occurred I was free to move forward and booked a ticket to India to head to the Sivananda Ashram in Kerala, fulfilling a ten-year longing to get back to yoga.

I decided it was time to follow my heart and make some new commitments.

I wanted again to feel the peace and joy I remembered when I first started yoga with Sivananda at twenty three. Subsequently disappearing and lost to work commitments, only dipping my toe in occasionally to attend the odd class and retreat. I had no idea how this trip would change my life and how it would later lead me towards love in a different way to one I had imagined.

And its been a process, I haven’t always got the emphasis right. Firstly falling in love with a man thinking he would be the answer to everything and dumping huge expectations upon him, and of course our relationship didn’t last. But out of this love I gained an understanding that helped to realign my thoughts about how to love again and to know that romantic love is not the only love to give support.

The need to be loving and to care for others has always been at the heart of my journey over the past five and half years, along with regaining my health and creative self. But mostly its about love, bringing love into my life and making it part of every moment.  And yoga has been, and still is the backbone of support that has led me forward. I don’t mean that in a ‘re-born again’ ecclesiastical way, its more about how yoga has helped me to find and cherish the love I am worth giving myself. Love comes from learning to love and support ourselves first and from that place of understanding its possible to love others. As i discovered, when you love yourself you can open your heart to allow others in.

Through this journey and exploration of self-inquiring, I have made some wonderful friends; through yoga, through travel and by doing things I love. Putting myself first and not compromising my life, not settling for second best, being brave enough to just trust in the unknown, because life it is just too damn short to waste.

And now I find myself, in France setting up home in the house my mum bought as a retirement dream, turning it into a small retreat centre. This is a place where I can share my love and create a huge family, providing a space for others to rest, recharge and be re-inspired.  I am still single, I don’t have kids (recent addition of a dog has been wonderful) and I feel fulfilled and happy with the life I have created and grateful for the moments I share with others.

There is so much to look forward in life, and sharing it with others makes all the difference.

the certainty of uncertainty

February 11, 2014 § 11 Comments

the certainty of uncertainty

I found myself staring into these woods this morning, thinking about the times I have felt lost in my life.

That moment when everything changes, just when you think you’ve got it all sewn up and planned within an inch of life, to then be thrown of course, cast out, lost in the woods. It’s so real, so overwhelming and so raw.

Suddenly you don’t know where you are, what you’re doing or where you are heading. The plan you had no longer counts, the road you were on has disappeared and everything around you feels unfamiliar, as if your very foundations have gone from underneath you.

And for a moment, I was there, back in that space and remembering those feelings. Being reminded that life holds no guarantee; the only thing that counts is today. Change is inevitable and it’s good to step back and be humble, to appreciate that in the grand scheme of life, we are nothing and nothing really matters. We can’t control life, only navigate through it the best we can.

I saw beautiful trees in this wood, standing tall, coming together as one and supporting each other. In the space of uncertainty there is beauty, strength to be found and people to reach out to, helping you move forward.

I took a deep breath, let go and remembered that everything is about living in the moment, accepting that something greater than me is guiding me forward and to trust in that alone and let life flow.

bleak and beautiful

February 10, 2014 § 5 Comments

bleak and beautiful

Some days the dog and I look at each other before stepping out, with that knowing understanding that neither of us want to get wet. But once out and walking there is always so much to gain from the beauty of the landscape and the time for contemplation.

spicy split pea and winter greens soup

February 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

 Chard

Spicy split pea & winter greens soup
Serves four

During the winter months in South West France there are plenty of blette (or Swiss chard) celeriac and potato. This seasonal soup makes not only a wholesome, healthy, and tasty meal, but it also offers many health benefits too. The herbs and spices have healing and medicinal qualities to help protect against colds and flu during the winter months and the addition of spilt peas provides extra substance.

Split peas are high in fibre, good for lowering cholesterol levels and reducing IBS. Swiss chard has a high nutritional value. It is an anti-inflammatory, packed full of antioxidants and helps to regulate the body’s blood sugar levels. If you cannot find Swiss chard, kale is a worthy substitute.

Turmeric and Fennel seeds share similar qualities, both acting as an antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and aiding digestion. Chilli also has anti-bacterial qualities and adds a little fire to the system, at a time of year when the body is sluggish.

Ingredients
200g dried green split peas
1 small Swiss chard  (Or Kale)
2 medium potatoes
1 medium size onion
1 piece of celeriac the same in size as potato
2 tbsp sunflower oil
½ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp chilli or cayenne pepper powder
½ tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp dried basil
750ml vegetable stock
1 tspn marmite
Salt and Pepper to taste

Preparation – 1hr
Wash green split peas well before soaking in boiled water for 1hr.
After 45mins of the split peas soaking start to prepare the vegetables. Wash vegetables and chop chard into 1 cm strips and cut *potato into small cubes. Then peel, dice and chop the celeriac and onion into small pieces and keep separate from the chard and potato.

Cooking – 15 minutes
In a medium sized saucepan, place the potato, split peas and vegetable stock. Bring to the boil and then keep on medium heat simmering for 20 minutes whilst you make the Baghaar.

To make the Baghaar
A Baghaar is a traditional Indian technique of dropping spices into hot oil, which transforms them giving them a new concentrated flavour.
Place 2 tbsp of sunflower oil into a frying pan and heat till hot, then add fennel seeds and spices. Next add celeriac, onion and basil. Continue to fry until golden. Then add a splash of water and allow vegetables to soften. Once soften, move to a mixing bowl and blend into a puree to then add to the rest of the soup after it has cooked for 15 minutes.

Now add the Swiss chard to the soup and cook for a further 3-4 minutes.
Add 1 tspn marmite, salt and pepper to taste.

*Peel vegetables if they are not organic

life begins when you grow a garden

July 10, 2013 § 3 Comments

Giant Magnolia

I found the title for this post on my Yogi tea label this morning. Certainly for me a new life has begun and it does involve a garden. I have landed on French turf, to set up home and create a yoga, vegetarian guesthouse and retreat place.

In contrast to my flat where I had a few pot plants to care for, I now have an acre of land. Initially a bit daunting, but as the weeks have gone by here I find the time-absorbing qualities of the garden both relaxing and utterly back-breaking.

Strimming

mowing

It takes 3 days to mow and strim all the land; partly due to the size, partly due to the land being on the side of a hill and in 3 separate areas, and partly due to the second-rate mower that keeps cutting out. But for all the swearing and cursing in the beginning, once finished I feel a real sense of achievement. Just utterly exhausted, and ready for an early night. And of course it’s a never-ending task, on a monthly repeat cycle, but the strimming at least is a bit like a meditation.

Aside of grass and nettle maintenance I am starting to get familiar with some of the trees that surround me. My favourite is the Giant Magnolia, not only are the flowers beautiful but it has the most intense lemony fragrance, which when picked waft through the entire house. Then there are also two fig trees, an apricot tree, a persimmon tree, a Japanese Medler (bit like a quince) and a couple of plum trees. So I am all good to go with jam making!

Magnolia flower

And I am not always here alone. I knew that to take this project on single handily was a tall order, so I have invited friends and woofers to come and join in helping me to create the space. As they say, many hands make light work and sharing the experience has been lots of fun. Marie from Bordeaux taught me how to make fig and cinnamon jam, Bex showed me how to dig up a flower bed with gusto, Nicola glided around the weeds with grace and next week an Australian couple arrive to help clear the way for the log cabin.

Bex

Then when the day is done, there is time to sit back, relax and bask under the glorious sunsets, with a sense of pride of our joint efforts and enjoying the fruits of our labour.

Evening sky

For more information about the guesthouse and retreats you can find me here:

Little French Retreat or on Facebook 

one rupee

March 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

one rupee

I’ve been on the move for the last 10 days. Having left Varkala, I first head to Goa where I met with my stepdad for a good friends wedding and celebrations, then time travelling together. We are now spending a couple of days relaxing by the waters edge in Allepey.

Today we went on a tour of the backwaters in a small 10ft rowing boat, meandering our way through the canals, passing people going about their day to day business.

These two boys were swimming, and on seeing our boat tried to jump on board asking that we gave them one rupee. The trip was worth it just for this one shot.

An inspiring day on the water, surrounded by beautiful nature, wildlife and smiling faces from people waving as we glided by.

boat ride

birds of prey, savasana and a wandering mind

February 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

rooftop view

It’s been almost a month since I arrived in Kerala, southern India. I am here teaching one to one and small beginner classes on a beautiful rooftop surrounded by Palm trees, with birds of prey and kingfisher’s circling the skies above.

It seems relaxing is not easy, even in paradise. For when it comes to lying in Savasana or final relaxation, all the usual mental chit chat of daily life has been replaced by the wildlife in the sky.

Getting good at Savasana is one of the most difficult asanas in Yoga. It can be surprisingly hard to lie still, without falling asleep or fidgeting. But when you start to notice the mind wandering, the easiest way to let go of thoughts is to bring attention back to the breath. By simply counting four inhalations and eight exhalations, an inward focus will return again.

Practising this posture helps to develop awareness, is good for improving sleep and makes it easier to sit in meditation.

head over feet with love

January 20, 2013 § 1 Comment

feet of love

I have arrived in Kerala and getting into the Indian vibes……

Since I spend lots of time looking at my feet these days, especially when in Padahastana or forward bend posture,  I thought my henna heart tattoo would be a thing of beauty and constant reminder of feeling the love.

And not only am I feeling the love today, but it seems all the tuk tuk drivers lined up outside my guest house were too. As I walked past earlier, they asked me to stop and put my feet together to see the pattern. Big smiles for the heart all round.

Sending love from India, and me

x

view from my mat: 11

January 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

Brighton

I have been looking after a friends flat for the last 2 weeks in Brighton. A converted old bottle factory tucked away, in-between rows of houses. A lovely hideout before heading off to my next destination on Monday…..Kerala!

reflections in ramsgate

January 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

Beautiful light and blue skies surrounded the coast on New Years day. Perfect for pictures and meeting up with one of my friends Mike, who recently moved to Ramsgate.

We met five years ago at a photography exhibition in London. At the time I remember how he stood out from the crowd, as someone creative and down to earth. He is an english teacher with a passion for photography and writing. Since we first met we have periodically got together for days out, to take pictures and share stories of our changing lives.

lido

I never know at the beginning of the day what I will take pictures of, only after a little time can I relax and absorb the scenery. Ramsgate has an industrial beauty and is a ferry port to Oostende in Belgium. You can see the Flemish influence in the architectural gables of the Victorian promenade. I loved the town. It felt friendly and unspoilt, yet to be gentrified by property developers.

Although surrounded by boats, coastline and interesting architecture, only three images stood out from the hundred or so that I took. Soft, gentle reflections, soothed by the sun with a sense of nostalgia. Maybe unintentionally reflecting on another year passing and the new beginning that lies ahead.

Reflections for reflecting.

Happy New Year!

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